Page images
PDF
EPUB

at his father's side, at Flodden. Erasmus at length descended a vain to Rome, to make, it might be, a long, a lifelong sojourn. Those of the cardinals who were the professed patrons of letters received him with open arms -the Cardinal St. George, the Cardinal of Viterbo, the Cardinal de' Medici, so soon to ascend the papal throne as Leo X. He describes in one of his letters his interview with the Cardinal Grimani, who displayed not only the courtesy of a high-born and accomplished churchman, but a respect, almost a deference, for the poor adventurous scholar, which showed at once the footing on which men of letters stood, and what Erasmus might have become, had he devoted his transcendent learning and abilities to the Roman court and to the service of the Papacy. Pope Julius himself, unconscious of the unfavourable impression which he had made on the peaceful Teuton, condescended to notice him ; he was offered the rank, office, and emoluments of one of the Penitentiaries. Julius put the scholar to a singular test. He commanded him to declaim one day against the war which he was meditating against Venice; on another, in favour of its justice and expediency. Erasmus either thought it not safe to decline, or was prompted by his vanity, in the display of his powers and of his Latinity, to undertake the perilous office, or probably treated it merely as a sort of trial of his skill in declamation after the old Roman fashion. By his own account he did not flatter the Pope by arguing more strongly on the warlike side ; but the weaker oration being in favour of the war, and recited before Pope Julius, could not fail of

After his departure from Rome, however, he disburthened himself of his real, heart-rooted sentiments; he wrote his • Antipolemo,' a bold tract, which at that time did not see the light, but was afterwards embodied in his . Querelı Pacis,' and proclaimed to the world all his intense and cherished and ineffaceable abhorrence of war.

Erasmus was not destined, nor indeed disposed, to bask away his life in the calm sunshine of papal favour, or under the sky

success.

of Italy. Intelligence from England summoned him back to our shores.

In April, 1509, Henry VIII. acceded to the throne. During the preceding year the Prince Henry had addressed a flattering letter to Erasmus with his own hand, in his own Latin, acknowledging one which he had received from Erasmus, written with that eloquence which, as well as his erudition, was famous throughout the world. Lord Mountjoy wrote from the Court at Greenwich, urging his friend to return to England; holding out the certain favour of the King, who had done him the unwonted honour of corresponding with him with his own hand; promising him the patronage of Archbishop Warham, who sent him five pounds towards the expense of his journey, and as an earnest of future favours. Erasmus set forth without much delay: he crossed the Rhætian Alps, by Coire, to Constance, the Brisgau, and Strasburg; then down the Rhine to the Low Countries, from whence, after a short rest in Louvain, he crossed to England. He beguiled his time on his journey by meditating his famous satire on the Pope and on the Cardinals, for which in Rome itself, and all the way from Rome, he had found ample food— The Praise of Folly. He finished it in More's house, who enjoyed the kindred wit, nor as yet took alarm at the bitter sarcasms against the Church of Rome and her Head. It was on this journey from the coast that he saw all the sacred treasures of the church of Canterbury. The stately grandeur of the fabric impressed him with solemn awe; he admired the two lofty towers, with their sonorous bells; he remarked among the books attached to the pillars the spurious Gospel of Nicodemus. He mentions, not without what reads clearly enough like a covert sneer, the immense mass of reliques, bones, skulls, chins, teeth, hands, fingers, arms, which they were forced to adore and to kiss; but he was frightened (an ominous circumstance) at the profaneness of his companion, Gratian Pullen, a secret Wickliffite, who, notwithstanding the

6 See Mountjoy's Letter, epist. x.

presence of the Prior, could not restrain his mockery, handled one relique, and replaced it with a most contemptuous gesture, and instead of a reverential kiss, made a very unseemly noise with his lips. The Prior, from courtesy or prudence, dismissed his guests with a cup of wine. At the neighbouring Hospital of Harbledon, Erasmus duly kissed the shoe of Thomas à Becket, an incident not forgotten in his pleasant • Colloquy on Pilgrimages.' Already had he gazed in wonder at the inestimable treasures of gold and of jewels, which the veneration of two centuries had gathered round the tomb of Becket; even Erasmus ventured to hint to himself, that such treasures had been better bestowed on the poor. He was sufficiently versed in Church History to know how immeasurably the sacerdotal power was strengthened in England by the death and saintship of Thomas à Becket. Little did he foresee how soon that

power, with the worship of the Saint, should pass away; that sumptuous tomb be plundered, and its wealth scattered abroad, too little, it is to be feared, to the poor.

Yet while he contemplated these treasures, these superstitions, and meditated on the character of Becket and of his worship, he seems to have had some prophetic foresight of the religious troubles of England.

In London Erasmus took up his lodging in the Augustinian convent, with Bernard Andreas, the tutor of Prince Arthur, and Royal Historiographer, in which character he wrote his Life of Henry VII. A quarrel arose about the expenses of the

' He appears to have seen the reliques of Thomas à Becket on another occasion, in company with Colet. 'I myself saw, when they displayed a torn rag with which he is said to have wiped his nose, the Abbot and other standers-by fall on their knees and lift up their hands in adoration. To Colet, for he was with me, this appeared intolerable ; to me these things sremed rather to be borne with, till they could be corrected without tumult.'— Erasmi Modus Orandi, Oper. v. p. 933. A critic of Jortin's Life (Additions, ii. p. 706), to whom Jortin seems inclined to bow, supposes only one visit, and that Gratian Pullen was Colet; but the Wickliffism and rather coarse behaviour seem out of character with that derout

man.

* This, the only contemporary biography of Henry VII., has appeared, exceedingly well edited, among the publications for which we are indebted to the Master of the Rolls.

great scholar's maintenance, which was set at rest by the liberality of Lord Mountjoy. King Henry, however, whether too busy on his accession to the throne, and too much absorbed in European politics, hardly appears to have sustained the promise of welcome and patronage to the stranger whom he had allured into his realm: we hear but little of the royal munificence. Erasmus ever wrote with the highest respect of Henry ; propitiated him by dedications, in one of which he dexterously reminded him of their early intimacy; he afterwards vindicated the King's authorship of the famous answer to Luther; and Henry was certainly jealous of the preference, shown by Erasmus in his later life, of the Imperial patronage. King Henry appreciated Erasmus more highly when he had lost the fame which he might have conferred upon his realm by his denizenship. The great Cardinal, of whose splendid foundations at Oxford Erasmus writes with honest admiration, condescended to make noble promises to Erasmus, first of a canonry at Tournay (that see was one of Wolsey's countless commendams), which, as his friend Lord Mountjoy was governor of the city, would have been peculiarly acceptableafterwards of nothing less than a bishopric. But his hopes from Wolsey turned out, in the words of his friend Ammonius, dreams. He more than once betrays some bitterness towards a patron, whose patronage was only in large words, and contemplated his fall, at least with equanimity.' At this period Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, seems to have been his most active and zealous advocate. Even Fisher was an avowed friend of the new learning; as Chancellor of Cambridge it was his deliberate design to emancipate the University from the trammels of scholasticism : himself, at an advanced age, had studied Greek. Through his influence Erasmus, who, as we have seen, had visited Cambridge in 1506, was appointed first Margaret Professor of Divinity, afterwards Professor of Greek. He had

His Epistles to Henry VIII. and to Wolsey are couched in a kind of respectful familiarity. The scholar is doing honour even to the haughty King, as well as receiving it, and to his 'alter ego,' as Erasmus describes Wolsey,

lodgings in Queen's College; in the time of Knight his rooms were still shown; a walk is even now called by his name. His scholars were at first but few, his emoluments small, and he did not scruple to express his disappointment at Cambridge. He had spent sixty nobles, and got barely one from his lectures. His friends were obliged to solicit aid, chiefly from Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and Tunstall of Durham. He became, however, better reconciled to Cambridge, and preferred it, but for the society of two or three dear friends, probably Mountjoy, no doubt More and Colet, to London. After two or three years the Archbishop Warham took him by the hand (his dedications of his translated Greek plays had not been wasted on the accomplished and liberal prelate), and from that time Warham's liberality was free and unintermitting, and the gratitude of Erasmus in due proportion. There are several long passages in which, during the life and after the death of Warham, he describes his character with equal eloquence and truth.' Warham presented him to the living of Aldington, near Ashford, in Kent, to which he was collated March 22, 1511. Before the end of the year he resigned it, from scruples which did him honour : “He could not pretend to feed a flock of whose language he was ignorant.' Erasmus disdained English, as he did all modern languages. The Archbishop accepted his resignation, assigning him a pension on the living. Erasmus still remonstrated, but the Archbishop argued that Erasmus was so much more usefully employed in instructing preachers than in preaching himself to a small country congregation, that he had a right to remuneration from the Church. To the 201. from the living the Archbishop added another 201. Knight justly mentions, as a very curious circumstance, that Aldington was the parish in which, some years after, appeared the Holy

See especially the preface to the 3rd edition of Jerome, and the note to i Thess. ii. 7, quoted at length by Jortin, i. 612, Epist. 922. 1234:—The contrast of the pious, enlightened, and unworldly Warham with Wolsey is very striking. Compare the preferments and possessions of Wolsey on his fall with Warham's dying demand of his steward, what money he had. “Thity pounds ;” “Satis viatici ad cælum" Enough to carry me to Heaven,”'

« PreviousContinue »