« PreviousContinue »
ritual, a mild and parental control;—that the edifice of sacerdotal power, wealth, and authority, which had been growing up for centuries, should crumble away before the gentle breath of persuasion. We who have read the whole history of the awful conflict for emancipation, the strife of centuries downwards, from the Thirty Years' War, for emancipation not yet nearly won, may pity the ignorance of mankind, the want of sagacity and even of common sense in Erasmus ; we may shake our knowing heads at the argument which he propounded in simple faith, that it was not a greater triumph than that achieved at the first promulgation of Christianity.'
Yet blinded-self-blinded, it may be—for a time by this, dare we say pardonable, hallucination, Erasmus stood between the two parties, and could not altogether close his eyes. He could not but see on one side the blazing fires of persecution, the obstinate determination not to make the least concessions, the monks and friars in possession of pulpits, new enemies springing up in all quarters against himself and against polite letters, which were now openly branded as the principal source of all heresy; the dogs of controversy—the Sorbonne, men of rank and station, like Albert, Prince of Carpi, Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Italians — let loose upon himself, or bursting their leashes, and howling against him in unchecked fury. On the other hand, tumult, revolt, perhaps—and too soon to come-civil war; the wildest excesses of language, the King of England treated like a low and vulgar pamphleteer, the Pope branded as Antichrist; excesses of conduct, at least the commencements of iconoclasm ; threatening schisms, as on the Eucharist; polite letters shrinking back into obscurity before fierce polemics; the whole horizon darkened with things more dark, more awful, more disastrous.
But the man of peace, the man of books, could not be left at rest. The unhappy conflict with Ulric Hutten, forced upon him against his will, not merely made him lose his temper, and endeavour to revenge himself by a tirade, which we would most willingly efface from his works, but committed him at
least with the more violent of the Lutheran party. Erasmus, in more than one passage of his letters, deplores the loose morals, as well as the unruly conduct, of many who called themselves Lutherans. All revolutions, especially religious revolutions, stir up the dregs of society; and most high-minded and dauntless Reformers, who find it necessary to break or loosen the bonds of existing authority, must look to bear the blame of men who seek freedom only to be free from all control
Who licence mean when they cry liberty. Of a far higher cast and rank than such men, but of all the disciples of Luther the one in some respects most uncongenial to Erasmus, was Ulric Hutten. Of Hutten's literary labours, his free, bold, idiomatic Latinity; his powers of declamation, eloquence, satire; his large share in the famous “Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum ’4 (now, thanks to Sir W. Hamilton and to Dr. Strauss, ascertained with sufficient accuracy), no one was more inclined to judge favourably, or had expressed more freely that admiring judgement, than Erasmus.
He had corresponded with him on friendly terms. But Hutten's morals certainly were not blameless. He was a turbulent, as well as a dauntless man-restless, reckless, ever in the van or on the forlorn hope of reform ; daring what no one else would dare, enduring what few would endure, provoking, defying hostility, wielding his terrible weapon of satire without scruple or remorse, and ready, and indeed notoriously engaged, in wielding other not bloodless weapons. The last that was heard of him had been in one of what we fear must be called the robber-bands of Franz Sickengen. Already Ulric Hutten had taken upon himself the office of compelling Erasmus to take the Lutheran side. In a letter written (in 1520), under the guise of the warmest friendship, he had treated him as an apostate from
* Erasmus is said to have owed his life to this publication. He laughed so violently while reading the letters, as to break a dangerous imposthume. He, however, not only disclaimed, but expressed, strong disapprobation of the tone and temper of the book,
the common cause. In the affair of Reuchlin, Erasmus, in Hutten's judgement (a judgement which he cared not to conceal), acted timidly and basely. He had at first highly lauded the • Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum,' afterwards treacherously condemned them. He had endeavoured to persuade the adversaries of Luther that the Reformation was a business in which he (Erasmus) had no concern. In a second letter, Hutten had endeavoured to work on the fears of Erasmus. He urged upon his adorable friend' that he could not be safe, since Luther's books had been burned : will they who have condemned Luther, spare you? Fly, fly and preserve yourself for us! Fly while you can, most excellent Erasmus, lest some calamity, which I shudder to think of, overtake you. At Louvain, at Cologne, , you are equally in peril.' He suggests to Erasmus to take refuge in Basil. Erasmus did retire to Basil, but retired to place himself in connection with his printer. Two years after, Ulric Hutten, in wretched health, in utter destitution, almost an outlaw, hunted down, it might seem, as one of Franz Sickengen's disbanded soldiers, who could find no refuge in Germany, appeared in Basil. The intercourse between Hutten and Erasmus took place, unfortunately, through the busy and meddling, if not treacherous, Eppendorf. This man, by some said to have been of high birth, was studying theology at Basil, at the cost of Duke George of Saxony, the determined enemy of Lutheranism. The unpleasant quarrel which afterwards took place between Eppendorf and Erasmus, in which Eppendorf tried to extort money from Erasmus on account of an imprudent and ungenerous letter of Erasmus to the disadvantage of Eppendorf, gives but a mean opinion of this man. On the instant of his arrival, Hutten sent Eppendorf to Erasmus, it might seem expecting to be received with open arms, if not taken under his hospitable roof. But Erasmus was by no means disposed to commit himself with so unwelcome a guest, who was
* This letter, recently published in two theological journals in Germany, we know only as cited by Dr. Strauss; it is addressed . Des. Erasmo Rot. Theologo, amico summo
• Opera Hutteni, Munch. 4, 49 53.
still suffering under a loathsome malady; or to make his house the centre, in which Hutten would gather round him all the most turbulent and desperate of the Lutherans. He shrunk from the burthen of maintaining him. Hutten, if we are to believe Erasmus, was not scrupulous in money matters, ready to borrow, but unable to pay. Erasmus repelled his advances with cold civility, but there is a doubt whether even his civil messages reached Hutten. There were negotiations, no doubt insincere on both sides. One could not bear the heat of a stove, the other could not bear a chill room without one. In short, they did not meet. The indefatigable Hutten employed his time at Basil, sick and broken down as he was, in his wonted way, in writing two fierce pamphlets; one against the Elector Palatine, one against a certain physician, who probably had been guilty of not curing him, to distract his mind, as Eppendorf said, from his sufferings. After two months Hutten received cold but peremptory orders from the magistrates to quit Basil. He retired to Mulhausen, to brood over the coolness and neglect of one from whom a man of calmer mind would hardly have expected more than coolness and neglect. A letter from Erasmus to Laurentius, Dean of St. Donatian at Bruges, fell in his way. In this letter Erasmus endeavoured still to maintain his stately neutrality, disclaimed all connection with Luther, did honour to Luther's merits, to the truth of much of his censures, and to his services to true religion, but reproved his vehemence and violence; and at the same time he protested against being enrolled among the adversaries of reform. This letter contained a hasty, and not quite accurate account of Hutten's visit to Basil. The busy Eppendorf rode to and fro between Basil and Mulhausen, and was not the mediator to conciliate men irreconcilably opposed in views and temper. The conclusion, the melancholy conclusion, was the * Expostulation of Hutten, in which in fury of invective, in bitterness of satire, in the mastery of vituperative Latin,
· The account in Dr. Strauss's Life of Hutten is on the whole fair and candid.
Hutten outdid himself: only, perhaps, to be outdone in all these qualities by the “Sponge' of Erasmus. Luther himself stood aghast, and expressed his grave and sober condemnation of both.8
This unseemly altercation was not likely to maintain Erasmus in his dignified position of neutrality; it rendered his mediation next to impossible, if it had ever been possible to stem or to quiet two such furious conflicting currents. But worse trials followed; worse times came darkening over the man of books, the man of peace. The Peasant War broke out, desolating Southern Germany with atrocities, only surpassed, and far surpassed, by the atrocities perpetrated in their suppression.' The Peasant insurrections were not religious wars ; they were but the last, the most terrible in a long succession of such insurrections, to which the down-trodden cultivators of the soil had, from time to time, been goaded by the intolerable oppressions of their feudal lords. Luther denounced them with all his vehement energy. Luther held, according to his views of Scripture, the tenet of absolute submission to the higher powers in all temporal concerns. Some of the most abject of the English clergy under the Stuarts might have found quotations from the writings of Luther, to justify the extremest doctrines of passive obedience. Still, with the desperate struggles for social freedom were now unavoidably mingled aspirations after religious freedom. Among the articles exhibited by the insurgents was a demand for the free choice of their religious pastors. Some of the Reformed Clergy were among the fautors, some perhaps more deeply concerned in the revolt; many more were the victims of the blind, savage, indiscriminating massacre which crushed the rebellion. How to the quiet Erasmus might seem to be accomplished his gloomy and fearful
8 He writes in a lighter tone, 'Equidem Huttenum nollem erpostulasse, multo minus Erasmum extersisse.'—Epist. ad Hausman ; De Wette, ii. 411,
A.D. 1523. In one of the letters of Erasmus it is said that 100,000 human beings had perished in these wars. See Epist. 803. See also Luther's letters; De Wette, ji. 22.
See Sartorius. Bauern Krieg, Berlin, 1795.