Page images

to the walls his famous Theses; he had held his disputations with Eck at Leipsic: but it was not till this year that the declaration of war startled Christendom—the issuing of the Papal Bull against Luther, the burning the Bull in the streets of Wittenberg.

Nothing can show more fully the position held up to this time in Europe by Erasmus, than that all the great Potentates of the Christian world had vied, or might seem to be vying, for the honour of his residence in their dominions. Even in their strife for the empire, Charles V. and Francis might appear to find time for this competition. Men of letters are often reproached with adulation to men of high rank and station ; it is more often that men of letters are objects of flattery by great men. Erasmus has been charged, perhaps not altogether without justice, with this kind of adulation; but we ought in fairness to take into consideration his poverty, his dependence for subsistence and for the means of promoting his studies, the usages of the time, and the language with which it was almost the law to address princes, prelates, and sovereigns, as may be seen even in Luther's language to the Elector of Saxony, to the Archbishop of Mentz, to the Emperor and the Pope. If Erasmus flattered, he received ample returns in the same coin: he was called the light of the world, the glory of Christendom, and other such titles. We have seen that he was tempted from England to the Court of Brussels by encouragement from Charles when Archduke of Austria. As Emperor, Charles by no means cast off the illustrious scholar whom he had favoured as Archduke. Erasmus ventured after the battle to Pavia, to urge the Emperor, flushed as he was with his victory, to generous and magnanimous treatment of his captive. Before this Francis I., through Budæus, and with the sanction of Stephen Poncher, Bishop of Paris, had endeavoured to secure him for his rising University of Paris. From time to time these invitations were renewed: Paris, notwithstanding the hostility of the Sorbonne, was jealous of his preference of Germany. Henry VIII. had allowed him to depart from

England with reluctance, and would have welcomed him back on almost any terms. The Emperor's brother, the Archduke Ferdinand, paid him the highest court. The Elector of Bavaria made him splendid offers to undertake the Presidency of the University of Ingolstadt. There may be some ostentation in the Epistle of Erasmus, in which he recounts the intimate footing on which he stood with all the Sovereigns of Europe; the letters, the magnificent presents which he had received from princes, from prelates, and from sovereigns: 6

From the Emperor Charles I have many letters, written in a tone of as much affection as esteem (tam honorifice tam amanter), that I prize them even more than his kindness to me, to which nevertheless I owe great part of my fortune. From King Ferdinand I have as many, not less friendly, and never without some honorary gift. How often have I been invited, and on what liberal terms, by the King of France ! The King of England by frequent letters and unsolicited presents is always declaring his favour and singular goodwill. The best of women in this age, his Queen Catherine, vies in this respect with the King her husband. Sigismund, the King of Poland, sent me a letter with a gift of truly royal value. The Duke of Saxony often addresses letters to me, never without a present-ουκ άδωρος και αυτός.

Then follows a list of prelates, including the Archbishops of Canterbury, Mentz, and Toledo, Tunstall of Durham, Sadolet of Carpentras, the Bishops of Breslau and Olmutz. Pope Leo in one way gave him important countenance. Whether it was that the polite Italian retained some covert scorn for the barbarous Transalpine scholar, or that he was immersed in his business, his fine arts, and his luxury, he had failed to realise the sanguine hopes of favour towards Erasmus, whom he had encouraged when Cardinal de' Medici. Nevertheless he accepted the dedication of Erasmus's New Testament, a privilege of inestimable value, as a shield behind which the editor retreated from all the perilous and jealous charges of heterodoxy, which were showered upon him by the Lees, the Stunicas, the Caranzas, the Hoogstratens, the Egmonts, and from more

Epist. 1132. · Queen Catherine was a great reader of Erasmus; he dedicated to her his tract De Matrimonio.

bigoted and dangerous adversaries, who, trembling at the publication of the New Testament itself, would have suppressed its circulation by calling in questiou its accuracy and fidelity. Pope Adrian had been the schoolfellow of Erasmus at Deventer; how far the timid and cold old man would have had the courage to befriend him, was scarcely tried during the few months of his pontificate. Adrian indeed offered him a deanery, which he declined; but the pontiff was supposed not to take in good part a letter, in which Erasmus, most highly to his credit, urged toleration to the followers of Luther, and a wide and spontaneous reformation of the Church. Clement VII. sent him a present of 200 florins, and made him more splendid promises. Paul III. (but this was after his writing against Luther, and after he had been harassed and frightened, and lured into a timid conservatism) had serious thoughts of promoting him to the Cardinalatė. He offered him the Provostship of Deventer, worth 600 florins a-year. .

Had Erasmus departed from the world at this time, it had been happier perhaps for himself, happier, no doubt, for his fame. The world might have lost some of his valuable publications, but it might have been spared some, which certainly add nothing to his glory. His character, in spite of infirmities, would have been well-nigh blameless. Though not himself, strictly speaking, to have been enrolled in the noble and martyr band of the assertors of religious freedom and evangelical religion, he would have been honoured as the most illustrious of their precursors and prophets, as having done more than any one to break the bonds of scholasticism, superstition, ignorance, and sacerdotal tyranny, to restore the Scriptures to their supremacy, and to advance that great work of Christian civilization, the Reformation.

How then had Erasmus achieved his lofty position? What were the writings on which Christendom looked with such un

8 In the same letter Erasmus urges restrictions on the Press, by which, as Jortin justly observes, he would have been the first to suffer ; but he had been sorely pelted by personal and malicious libels.

bounded admiration? which made princes and kings, and prelates and universities, rivals for the honour of patronising him ? If we can answer this question, we shall ascertain to a great extent the claims of Erasmus to the honour and gratitude of later times. Erasmus may be considered from four different points of view, yet all his transcendent qualities, so seen, may seem to converge and conspire to one common end : I. As the chief promoter of polite studies and of classical learning on this side of the Alps. II. As the declared enemy of the dominant scholasticism and of the superstitions of the Middle Ages, which he exposed to the scorn and ridicule of the world both in his serious and in his satirical writings. III. As the parent of biblical criticism, and of a more rational interpretation of the sacred writings, by his publication of the New Testament, and by his Notes and Paraphrases. IV. As the founder of a more learned and comprehensive theology, by his editions of the early Fathers of the Church. In each of these separate departments, the works of Erasmus might seem alone sufficient to occupy a long and laborious life; and to these must be added the perpetual controversies, which he was compelled to wage; the defensive warfare in which he was involved by almost every important publication; his letters, which fill a folio volume and a half of his Works, and his treatises on many subjects all bearing some relation to the advancement of letters or of religion.

I. Consider Erasmus as one of those to whom the world is mainly indebted for the revival of classical learning. Here we may almost content ourselves with rapidly recounting his translations and his editions of the great authors of antiquity.' Nor shall we confine ourselves strictly to those which he published before 1520, as it is our object to give a complete view of his literary labours. His Translations from the Greek were made for the avowed purpose of perfecting his knowledge

• The list of his writings to a certain period is given in a letter to Botzemius. The bibliography of the works of Erasmus is elaborately wrought out at the end of the article in Ersch and Gruber.

of that language: they comprehend several plays of Euripides, some orations of Libanius, almost the whole of Lucian, most of the moral works of Plutarch. His editions, besides some smaller volumes, were of Seneca the Philosopher, Suetonius, with the Augustan and other minor historians, Q. Curtius, the Offices and Tusculan Disputations of Cicero, the great work of Pliny; at a later period, Livy, Terence with the Commentary of Donatus, the works of Aristotle and of Demosthenes. These editions have indeed given place to the more critical and accurate labours of later scholars, but they are never mentioned by them without respect and thankfulness. If we duly estimate the labour of reading and, even with the best aid, carrying through the press such voluminous works, without the modern appliances of lexicons, indices, commentaries, and annotations, the sturdiest German scholar of our day might quail beneath the burthen. Erasmus composed some valuable elementary and grammatical works, chiefly for Dean Colet's school; but perhaps among his dissertations that one which exhibits the scholar in the most striking and peculiar light, is his .Ciceronianus, a later work. This too prolix dialogue is a bold revolt against the Italian scholars, who proscribed in modern Latin every word which had not the authority of Cicero. There is some good broad fun in the Ciceronian, who for seven years had read no book but Cicero, had only Cicero's bust in his library, sealed his letters with Cicero's head. He had three or four huge volumes, each big enough to overload two porters, in which he had digested every word of Cicero, every variation of every sense of every word, every foot or cadence with which Cicero began or closed a sentence or clause of a sentence. Erasmus not only laughed at but argued with force against this pedantry. The perfection of Latin would be to speak as Cicero would have spoken had he lived in the present day. He dwells on the incompatibility of Ciceronian Latin with Christian ideas and terminology; describes with humour the strange paganization of Christian notions which the Italians had introduced. It nev er occurred to Erasmus that Christianity would outgrow the

« PreviousContinue »