Page images

Erasmus had an opportunity of expressing his admiration of England in verse; and this is the most curious, and perhaps the most trustworthy, relation of his adventures during his first visit. When he was at Lord Mountjoy's country-seat near Greenwich, More, inviting him to a pleasant walk, conducted him to the Royal Palace at Eltham, where all the royal children, except Prince Arthur, were under education. Prince Henry was then nine years old, and, even in his boyhood, according to the words of Erasmus, blended high majesty with singular courtesy. On his right was the Princess Margaret, aged eleven, afterwards the wife of James of Scotland; on his left the Princess Mary, aged four, at play: the Prince Edward was still in arms. Prince Henry, whom More had accosted with some compliment in Latin, addressed during dinner a short Latin letter to the foreign scholar, who, as he complained to More, was taken by surprise, and was not ready with a reply. Three days after Erasmus sent him in return a copy of verses of some length. Of this effusion England's assertion of her wealth and fertility is no unfavourable example :

At mihi nec fontes nec ditia Aumina desunt,

Sulcive pingues, prata nec ridentia.
Fæta viris, fæcunda feris, fæcunda metallis,

Ne glorier, quod ambiens largas opes
Porrigit Oceanus, neu quod nec amicius ulla

Caelum, nec aura dulcius spirat plaga.

But the king, Henry VII., is the chief glory of the glorious realm.

Rex unicum hujus sæculi miraculum,

Hoc regnum ille putat, patriæ carissimus esse,

Blandus bonis, solis timendus impiis.

And so on through many lines of classic adulation, in which Decius, Codrus, Numa, Æneas, and we know not who, are eclipsed by the iron Henry VII. The children have each their meed of flattery, Prince Arthur, Henry, and the pearl' Margarita. It is curious that the poet Skelton, who had not

yet fallen upon his proper vein,-inexhaustible, scurrilous, Swift-anticipating, doggrel,--and was only known by his grave verses on the fall of the House of York, and had been crowned with the poetic laurel by the University of Louvain, is described as directing Prince Henry's poetic studies

Monstrante fontes vate Skeltono sacros.

In the dedication, Skelton is named even with higher praise, as the one light and glory of British letters. Erasmus of course spoke from common report, for he knew nothing of English. His conversation with the royal family must have been in Latin.3

The first visit of Erasmus to England was closed by an amusing, to him by no means pleasant, incident. Henry VII.'s political economy had rigidly prohibited the exportation of coined money. The rude Custom House officers seized twenty pounds, which poor Erasmus was carrying away, the first-fruits, and in those days to him of no inconsiderable value, of English munificence. There is a bitterness in his natural complaints, not quite accordant with the contempt of money which he often affects, but was too needy to maintain."

Before the second visit of Erasmus to England (nearly seven years after, 1505–6) he had become, not in promise only, but in common repute, the greatest Transalpine scholar. Reuchlin was now his only rival; but Reuchlin's fame, immeasurably heightened by his persecutions and his triumph over his persecutors, and by his vindication through the anonymous authors of the . Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum,' was chiefly confined to Hebrew learning, to which Erasmus had no pretence. Budæus, no doubt, surpassed him in Greek, not one in Latin. The

: Erasmus had heard of Dante and Petrarch, though, as we shall hereafter see, he knew nothing of Italian ; but England, he said, had vernacular poets who rivalled those celebrated Italians.

• His earlier letters are full of his pecuniary difficulties. He was not seldom reduced to a kind of sturdy literary mendicancy: later in life, by pensions, presents, dedications, his counsellor's place in the Imperial court (not from the profits of his works), he had a fair income. We cannot enter into details.

first, very imperfect, edition of his · Adagia,' at the vast erudition of which the world wondered, had appeared in 1500. In 1504 he had been summoned to deliver a gratulatory address at Brussels, in the name of the Estates of the Low Countries, to their sovereign, Philip the Fair, on his return to that city from Spain.

The second English visit, like the first, was short. He was introduced by Grocyn to Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury. On that occasion he presented Warham with a copy of his translation of the “Hecuba’ of Euripides into Latin verse, with an iambic ode and a dedicatory epistle. Warham received him with great kindness, and made him a present; but as Grocyn and he returned across the Thames, the present, on examination, turned out to be but of moderate amount. The wary archbishop had been too often imposed upon by needy students, and thought it not unlikely that the same work, with the same dedication, had been offered to others before himself. After his return to Paris, Erasmus, rather indignant, and to exculpate himself from such base suspicion, sent the work, in print, to the archbishop, and added to it a version of the • Iphigenia. Under the patronage of Bishop Fisher of Rochester, Chancellor of the University, Erasmus now visited Cambridge, but at present only for a short time. He is said, on doubtful authority, to have received a degree. It is not improbable that this visit to England was connected with the hope of raising funds for that which had been the vision of his youth, the day-dream of his manhood—a journey to Italy. To Italy, accordingly, during the next year, he set out from Paris. He had undertaken the charge of two sons of Boyer, a Genoese, physician to Henry VII.: they were gentle, manageable youths, --but their attendant, who had the care of their conduct, was rude, troublesome, impracticable. The connection soon came to an end. Erasmus, no doubt, had hoped to find Italy the pleasant and peaceful sanctuary of arts, letters, religion; in every city scholars pursuing their tranquil avocations under the patronage of their princes, quiet universities opening their

willing gates to students from every part of Christendom, the wealth of the Church lavished on well-stocked libraries, the higher Churchmen, the Chief Pontiff especially, in a court of enlightened men, whose whole thought was the encouragement of letters, and by letters the advancement of sound religion. He found Italy convulsed, ravaged, desolated with war, and at the head of one of the most ferocious, most rude, most destructive of the predatory armies, was the Pope himself. Turin was his first resting-place; and at the University of Turin, after a residence of some months, he obtained, what was then a high honour, the degree of Doctor. He passed to Bologna. Hardly had he arrived there when he heard the thunders of the Pope's forces, with Julius himself at their head, around the beleaguered city. He retired to Florence. He returned to Bologna in time to see the triumphant entrance of the Pope into the rebellious city. He made an excursion, for a third time, to Rome, where he again (in March, 1508) beheld the gorgeous ovation of the martial pontiff. The effect of this spectacle on the pacific mind of Erasmus, as he poured it forth in a dissertation added to his . Adagia' (printed at Venice during the next year), will hereafter demand our attention. On the more restless and turbulent mind of another reformer, himself not averse to the glorious feats of war, its revolting incongruity with the character of the Vicar of the Prince of Peace wrought with more fatal and enduring influence. Read Hutten's vigorous verses • In tempora Julii':

Hoc mens illa hominum, partim sortita Deorum,
Et pars ipsa Dei, patitur se errore teneri ?
Ut scelere iste latro pollutus Julius omni,
Cui velit occludat cælum, rursusque recludat
Cui velit, et possit momento quemque beatum
Efficere, aut contra, quantum quiscunque bene egit,
Et vixit bene, si lubeat, detrudere possit
Ad Stygias pænas, et Averni Tartara ditis,
Et quod non habet ipse, aliis divendere cælum.

Et nunc ille vagum spargit promissa per orbem,
Qui cæden et furias, scelerataque castra sequantur,

Se Duce, ut his cælum pateat. Qua fraude tot urbes,
Et tot perdidit ille duces, tot millia morti
Tradidit, et pulsa induxit bella acria pace,
Tranquillumque diu discordibus induit armis
Et scelere implevit mundum, fasque omne nefasque
Miscuit, inque isto caneret cum classica motu
Naufraga direpti finxit patrimonia Petri
Vindice se bello asserere atque ulciscier armis, &c. &c.

Oper. Hutteni, Münch. 1, 267. At Bologna Erasmus remained nearly a year. There is only one incident preserved of his pursuits; about his friends not much is recorded. The plague broke out, the physicians and watchers of the infected persons were ordered to throw a white cloth over their shoulders, to distinguish them. The white scapular of his order, which Erasmus wore, caused him twice to be mistaken for one of these officials. As the scholar took pride in not knowing a word of Italian, he was mobbed, and once narrowly escaped with his life. From Bologna he removed to Venice, to print a new edition of his “ Adagia’ at the famous Aldine Press. He became very intimate with the Aldi : his enemies afterwards reproached him as having degraded himself (such were the strange notions of literary dignity in those days) to the menial office of corrector of the press for some of the splendid volumes issued by the Venetian typographers. At Venice and at Padua he found himself in the centre of many men, then of great distinction, but whose names we fear would awaken no great reverence, or might be utterly unknown to our ordinary readers. At Padua a natural son of James, King of Scotland, a youth of twenty years old, but already Archbishop of St. Andrew's, was pursuing his studies. Both at Padua and afterwards when they met at Sienna, Erasmus charged himself with the young Scot's instruction. He was a youth of singular beauty, tall, of sweet disposition. The juvenile archbishop was a diligent student of rhetoric, Greek, law, divinity, music.” He fell afterwards

• See his character in the Adagia, or in Knight, p. 96. He is mentioned also in the letter to Botzemius.

« PreviousContinue »