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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1467–1536)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918)
 
IN any view of modern civilization Erasmus is a leading personage, for he is one of the two great militant literary men of modern times;—one of the two men of letters who have taken a stronger hold and exercised a wider influence on the thought of the civilized world than have any others, from the Roman Empire to this day.  1
  He was born at Rotterdam, most biographers say in 1467: Hallam thought that he had proved the date to be 1465: others see reasons for believing that it was 1466: Burigny insisted that no one knew the exact year—not even Erasmus himself. 1 But more important than a precise date is the fact that he was born only about ten years after the downfall of the Eastern Empire; only about a quarter of a century after the discovery of printing; about twenty years before Luther; and but little longer before the great age of discovery—the period of Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Magellan; the period also of a new awakening of scholarship in Germany, shown in the founding of new universities and the putting of new life into old ones;—the period of new horizons, hopes, and activities. He stood in the center of this great epoch, and acted most powerfully upon it. 2  2
  Though an illegitimate child, he took his paternal name Gerard, which, being interpreted to mean amiable, was put into Latin as Desiderius, and into Greek as Erasmios or perhaps Erasmos. So, in accordance with the custom of men of his sort in his time, he called himself Desiderius Erasmus; just as Schwartzerd or Black-earth translated his name into Greek and called himself Melanchthon.  3
  The first years of Erasmus were full of hardship. His patrimony was stolen from him by faithless guardians; his liberty was wheedled from him by zealous monks: but a remarkable keenness, shrewdness, and passion for knowledge asserted itself in him; though struggling against poverty throughout his early life, and against ill health always, he grew rapidly and symmetrically in the best knowledge of his time, and especially in the new learning;—that new study of Latin thought to which thinking men, weary of scholastic philosophy, had turned toward the close of the Middle Ages; and above all, to that study of Greek thought which had taken refuge in Western Europe at the downfall of the Eastern Empire, and especially at the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453.  4
  It happened, to the great good fortune of the world, that the scholarship in which Erasmus was nurtured had in it not only enlightenment, but manliness and earnestness. In the little town of Deventer in Holland, Gerard Groot had founded in 1400 an order called the Brotherhood of the Life in Common, or as they were more popularly known, the Good Brethren. The order was devoted to plain living and high thinking. Property was for the most part held in common. Manual labor was exacted of all. All showed a fervency in devotion and an energy in well-doing such as the older orders of monks had not known for many generations.  5
  Among other things, the Brethren devoted themselves to a scheme of education at once thorough and comprehensive; not disdaining to work in primary schools, not shrinking from the most advanced scholarly inquiry. This Deventer school acted powerfully in fusing what was best in mediæval thought with the new learning. Its influence was felt in all parts of Northern Europe. In 1433 the order numbered forty-five houses, in 1460 three times as many. Several of its scholars became famous; among them Thomas à Kempis, and Nicholas of Cues, the poor fisherman’s son, who became the Cardinal de Cusa,—scholar, statesman, and reformer,—the forerunner of Copernicus in teaching the new astronomy. 3  6
  From these men of the Deventer school Erasmus received the first strong impulse toward his great career; and though he remained at the school only until about his fourteenth year, he secured recognition as a youth of wonderful promise.  7
  Now came an evil period. He was entrapped into a monastery, and finally, about the time of his coming of age, was induced to take priestly orders. Yet even in the monastery the spirit of the Deventer school was still working within him; for now it was, in his monastery at Stein, about 1490, that he took up the work of the man who first brought the modern spirit of scholarly criticism to bear upon Biblical research,—the brilliant Italian scholar Laurentius Valla. Out of this grew Erasmus’s greatest contribution to the thought of Christendom,—a contribution which is doing its work in all lands to-day: none of Erasmus’s revolutionary work has ever shown such persistent vitality as this evolutionary work. 4  8
  He soon saw that a monastic life was not for him. Others saw it; among these the Archbishop of Cambray, who made him his private secretary, and finally supplied him the means with which to study at Paris. But these means were dealt out grudgingly. He still had to endure great privations in order to gain instruction from the accomplished teachers gathered there, and in one of his letters he writes:—  9
  “I have given my whole soul to Greek learning, and as soon as I get any money I shall first buy Greek books and then clothes.”  10
  During his stay in Paris his ability was noted by various men of influence; and now began his struggle to rid himself of monastic and clerical entanglements, in which effort he was finally successful. It was at this period—in 1500—that he published among other things the first edition of his ‘Book of Adages’ or Proverbs.  11
  The ‘Book of Adages’ was the first broadside sent from the new scholarship into the old, and it penetrated European thought widely and deeply. Erasmus became at once the head of the party supporting the new learning against mediæval scholasticism. Admirers sought his friendship on all sides; among them the leading mitred heads, crowned heads, and even the Pope himself. He received letters breathing the warmest friendship from Henry VIII. of England; Francis I. of France; Charles V. of Spain and Germany; the two successive popes, Leo X. and the schoolmate of Erasmus at Deventer, Adrian VI.; and still later from the two popes who succeeded these. In the ‘Adages’ Erasmus proclaimed war against the mendicant friars throughout Europe; and from time to time, in new editions, came new forms of ridicule, even more and more effective.  12
  Another manifestation of Erasmus’s boldness is yet more striking; for while he attacked bigotry fearlessly, he attacked tyranny with yet more bitter hatred. Strenuous as his attacks on bigotry were, he never really penetrated to its underlying principle—to the doctrine that salvation depends upon belief; but in attacking the oppressions of monarchy he went to its very heart. This will be especially shown in the extracts from the ‘Adages,’ as well as from the other writings given as an appendix to this article. He attacked its foundations; so that one might imagine himself within sound, not of a scholar admired in colleges and petted in courts, but of some modern French tribune or American stump orator.  13
  Curiously enough, this book, the ‘Adages,’ which aided powerfully to bring in the great revolution of the sixteenth century, became the fashion and fad among those at whom it really struck. Pope Leo X., as well as Charles V., Henry VIII., Francis I., and a host of royal personages, welcomed the ‘Adages’ of Erasmus; just as two centuries later Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, Joseph II. of Austria, Charles III. of Spain, and a multitude of eighteenth-century princes, welcomed the ‘Persian Letters’ of Montesquieu and the ‘Philosophical Dictionary’ of Voltaire: the book took hold upon thinking men throughout Europe, and it went speedily through more than fifty editions.  14
  The bitterness of the monks against him and the admiration of thinking men for him steadily increased. From almost every crowned head in Europe, including the Pope, came lucrative invitations to their respective courts. And here a remark should be made in justice to him. It strikes a modern scholar unpleasantly, in reading Erasmus’s correspondence, to see him insisting constantly on his needs, and demanding pecuniary aid. He seemed to feel that he had a right to it, and he obtained it: gold, silver, and pensions came to him from every land; from friends in England like Lord Mountjoy, and Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury; and from various personages on the Continent. But this was simply the way of his time among scholars. All this was in the old system of patronage. Men wealthy and high placed were expected to see that the republic of letters received no detriment, and that its main upholders were cared for.  15
  But for any proper understanding of this history, and of Erasmus’s character, one thing should be most carefully noted. It is vastly to his credit. The highest Church preferment was pressed upon him by the Pope, by the sovereigns, and by various eminent ecclesiastics, throughout the greater part of his life; cardinals’ hats, bishoprics, deaneries, would have been his had he signified a wish, or even a willingness to take them: but positions of this sort, lucrative though they might be, sinecures though they might be, he steadfastly refused. He determined to keep his freedom; to give no one a right to call him servant; to undertake no duties—no matter how splendid or honorable, no matter how easy—which should in any way deprive him of his liberty.  16
  And here sundry sources of Erasmus’s qualities should be noted. He was not only a scholar by the study of books, but by the study of men and events. For leading features in his training were his acquaintance with the men best worth knowing, and his knowledge of the history then making in all parts of Europe. Considering his limited resources and the difficulty of traveling at that period, the frequency and length of his journeys strike us with wonder. We hear of him in Paris, at Oxford and Cambridge, in various parts of Italy, in Germany, in Switzerland, and in the Netherlands. The extent of his correspondence amazes us.  17
  One thing, effective in determining his character, has perhaps not been sufficiently dwelt upon by those who have studied him; this was his intimate association with leading Englishmen. During his different residences in England he was thrown into close relations with some of the best men that the Anglo-Saxon race has ever produced. It was not only the time of the revival of scholarship in England, but of great seriousness in thought. Wycliffe had been dead more than a hundred years, but his spirit still lived; among Erasmus’s English associates were such scholars as Linacre, Grocyn, Latimer, and above all, Sir Thomas More and Colet. These English friends of his certainly promoted his zeal in scholarship and deepened his character. 5  18
  In 1503 appeared a work which showed strongly the influence of Anglo-Saxon devotion to truth, and to the exercise of reason in reaching truth. This was his ‘Enchiridion, or Christian’s Manual.’ It was in the main a quiet, strong argument against the substitution of fetichism for religious thought and action. Though pithy at times, it had much less of the biting, satirical spirit than had his better-known writings. In this he argued against all substitutes for real Christian life, of which Europe was then full, and indeed of which all ages and countries have been full. He fell back mainly upon the exercise of right reason as the God-given means of attaining to truth and righteousness. For this he was of course bitterly attacked. One charge against him was that he had denied the existence of real and literal fire in hell. He defended himself rather wittily by saying that he did not deny it,—that he only declared it to be more clearly taught in theology than in the Scriptures.  19
  Many things might be noted in this book, but two should be remembered. First, that Erasmus throughout appeals to right reason; not unnatural, then, was the declaration of Ignatius Loyola that these writings cooled his piety. The other point to be noted is, that while there is a similarity in the work of Erasmus upon the great revolution of the sixteenth century to the work of Voltaire upon the revolution of the eighteenth, here is a fundamental difference; here is a depth of moral and religious feeling, and an appeal to the underlying constitution of Christendom, such as appears in none of the French philosophers or Encyclopædists.  20
  In 1511 Erasmus gave to the world a book of a very different sort,—his ‘Encomium Moriæ,’ or Praise of Folly. It was dedicated to Sir Thomas More; and More’s name, in a punning way, was imbedded in its title. The work was received with delight from one end of Europe to the other. Later it was illustrated with caricatures by Hans Holbein, and so gained yet wider popularity. 6 In this book Folly is represented as preaching from her lofty pulpit to all sorts and conditions of men; proving that all are fools, and therefore her subjects; and that from her come the gifts they most prize. Especially does she claim credit for the superstitions of the Church; and above all for the monks and theologians, whom she exhibits as her masterpieces.  21
  The publication of the ‘Praise of Folly’ raised a terrific storm. The monks were especially violent, but they succeeded poorly. They were too angry. Strange as it may seem, even this work did not lead to any decided break between Erasmus and the higher ecclesiastics outside the monasteries. Pope Leo X., with his dislike for over-fervid religionists, and his passion for amusing literature, still held strongly to the bold thinker who expressed the leading thought of his time so pungently. So did those who succeeded Leo during Erasmus’s lifetime; though his immediate successor, Adrian VI., was an ascetic, and cared far more for theology than for literature. This book wrought more powerfully on Erasmus’s own time and on that which immediately followed, than any other he ever wrote. Here, to use the old phrase, was “the egg which Erasmus laid and which Luther hatched.”  22
  But far more powerful in its remoter consequences on the building up of modern Germany, and indeed on all thinking Christendom, was a book which he published five years later at Basle,—his first edition of the Greek Testament. His main object was doubtless to popularize Biblical studies and to bring them to bear upon the needs of his time. But he also wished to show what the Bible really was, and thus to beat back the dogmatists who used its texts to injure the new learning.  23
  This work was undoubtedly in some sort an evolution out of the earlier work of Laurentius Valla, the only great Italian scholar of the Renascence who had devoted himself to the problems of theology and Biblical criticism. But the spirit of Erasmus was very different from that of Valla. 7 Valla was a brilliant skeptic; Erasmus a profound believer in God and in righteousness. He stands among the first of those who have endeavored to bring the Scriptures within the reach of the world at large; without him the translations of Tyndale in England and of Luther in Germany would have been almost impossible.  24
  But Erasmus’s work did not end with his Greek Testament: he wrote a new Latin version, enriching it with notes; and finally a series of paraphrases in Latin of all the New Testament books, except Revelation. These were translated into various modern languages, and of the English version every parish church in England was supplied with a copy.  25
  The greatness of this work is shown in its remoter consequences. This it was which began the application of critical knowledge to our sacred books: Erasmus is the forerunner of that long line of devoted men in all countries who from that day to this have risked reputation and even life, in endeavoring to clear from the sacred text the errors which so many pious men have in all ages insisted on retaining in it.  26
  It is true that he had little of Hebrew scholarship, and that his critical apparatus and knowledge were small compared to that which scholars now consider indispensable; it is true that some of his annotations were fanciful; but as a whole, their acuteness and boldness are among the wonders of European history. He it was who dared strike out the famous verse in the fifth chapter of the first Epistle General of St. John regarding the “three witnesses.” For this he was fiercely attacked: in England by Lee, afterwards Archbishop of York; in Spain by Stunica, one of the most renowned of South-European scholars; in France by Budé, syndic of the Sorbonne; by the University of Paris; and throughout Europe by the friars;—but he kept on, and to-day there is no scholar who does not acknowledge that he was right. He it was who dared point out some of the mistakes in quotations made from the Hebrew Scriptures in the Gospels; and to show that the Epistle to the Hebrews is not the work of St. Paul; and that the Revelations of St. John, and the Gospel according to St. John, cannot be the work of the same person; and that the passage in Matthew which is now inscribed around the inner base of St. Peter’s dome—“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”—has no reference to the Papacy. For these things, which the great mass of scholars now accept as mere commonplaces, he was then called a blasphemer. But the ages since his time have more and more agreed in declaring all this a proof of Erasmus’s greatness as a scholar and of his boldness as a man. 8  27
  Here too we have utterances of his which throw light upon his view of his time, and of his own work in it. In one of his letters he says, “I would rather work for a month at expounding St. Paul than waste a day in quarreling.”  28
  Nor was he working for scholars alone. He had in mind also the plain everyday man. Regarding his translations of Scripture he said:—“I long that the husbandman should sing them as he follows the plow; that the weaver should hum them to the tune of the shuttle; that the traveler should beguile with them the weariness of his journey.” 9  29
  In 1522 Erasmus published his ‘Colloquies.’ These were conversations, written nominally for the instruction of youth. They are not, in general, phrased so sharply as the ‘Adages’ and ‘Praise of Folly’; they are more kindly, more genial. The purpose of this work seems to have been to infuse into the youth of his time more earnestness, and especially to bring in a better handling of religious questions. In this, as in preceding works, Erasmus firmly adheres to the Church, no matter how much he criticizes various parasitic growths which had attached themselves to it; and he will listen to no suggestions of separation from it.  30
  The twenty-nine ‘Colloquies’ formed an arsenal of argument and satire. Again the monks trooped forth and widely denounced him as satirizing Church fasts, virginity, monkery, pilgrimages, and other important parts of her system; but hardly any one read their tirades; they were too long-winded. The main attack on the ‘Colloquies’ was made in 1526; and in 1527 Colinæus printed twenty-four thousand copies of them, and sold them all. 10  31
  But while the popes and higher ecclesiastics still professed themselves pleased with this work, theologians here and there became alarmed. Luther had appeared on the scene; and though Erasmus during a large part of his literary life was in quarrel with Luther, the deeper meanings of the whole movement, and of their relations to it, began to be revealed. The book was publicly condemned by the Sorbonne in France, solemnly burned by the Inquisition in Spain, and after the death of Erasmus placed upon the Index in Italy. The Romanic countries thus sought to keep it out of popular reach. In the Teutonic countries its work continued. It held the field longer than did any of his other works, save his edition of the New Testament; nearly a century and a half after Erasmus’s time Milton spoke of it as in the hands of everybody at Cambridge; and even in our own time new editions of it have been published.  32
  With the ‘Colloquies’ ends the last of Erasmus’s most popular books. Further into the vast mass of his writings, which have been collected into ten great folios, we may not go, save to notice one field of his activity, in some respects the most important: this is his Correspondence.  33
  As already hinted, it was enormous. It embraces letters to and from the most noted men of his time, including not only four successive popes and all the principal monarchs of Europe, but the leaders of thought on both sides for some time after the outbreak of the Reformation. The subjects treated were the most important; educational, literary, political, and religious. The mode of treatment was flowing, bright, witty, often playful and apparently superficial; but beneath all was deep religious and moral feeling. Not conventionally so: Erasmus may well be called the first Broad-Churchman. To him the permanent element in Christianity was everything; the transient comparatively nothing.  34
  The influence of his letters was undoubtedly far-reaching and healthful. They penetrated and pervaded the minds of popes, monarchs, governors, councilors, professors, authors,—the principal men of light and leading of his time. He thus urged especially better education, better literature, peace, tolerance,—everything in the line of common-sense and right reason.  35
  As to the medium, it was always Latin. The language of France, of Germany, of England, of Holland, and even of Italy, was then considered barbarous—and not without reason. But his was not the Latin of the Italian precisians and German pedants. It was virtually a living language,—easy, flowing, sparkling, well adapted to use: and it is to-day easy reading, even to beginners in the language of Rome. 11  36
  The value of Erasmus’s writings caused much to be overlooked by the leaders of the older Church. Pope Paul III., the fourth of the popes whom Erasmus had known, wrote him in 1535,—a year before the great scholar’s death,—asking him for aid in the approaching Council. During this year previous to his death Erasmus gave us a final revelation of his feeling. In one of his letters he says:—“You talk of the great name which I shall leave behind me, and which posterity is never to let die;… but I care nothing for fame, and nothing for posterity. I desire only to go home and to find favor with Christ.” His desire “to go home” was granted in 1536 at Basle. Thither he had gone to seek solace from ill health and protection from enemies, with his old friend Froben, the renowned printer. His grave in the cathedral there remains a place of pious pilgrimage, and Holbein’s portrait of him, in the neighboring museum, a revelation of much in his work and character. 12  37
  In summoning up the work of Erasmus it is first of all needful to clear our minds of cant. Cant on this subject has taken various shapes; but its most usual statement is, that while Luther was brave, Erasmus was a coward. This is one of those superficial antitheses, popular in all times, but especially in periods of strife and struggle. That Luther was brave the whole world knows; that Erasmus was brave any one may know who will study his writings. He showed this bravery by fighting the strong army of ignorance throughout Europe in his books, and by telling unpalatable truths to the great men of his time in his letters.  38
  It also unjust to say that Erasmus was wavering. That his opinions showed varying moods and developed new phases, is true; but from first to last he stood consistently by his fundamental idea,—progress by evolution rather than by revolution.  39
  It is foolish to say that he had no convictions. He had deep convictions; and among them a conviction as to the great value in religion of what is permanent, and as to the small value of what is transient.  40
  It is trivial to say that as he became old he grew weaker. Most men do. Even Luther did at times. That is in the order of nature; but even in Erasmus’s last days we have noble exhibitions of strength, even as we have them in Luther’s last days.  41
  It is shallow to say that Luther was open, and Erasmus a trimmer. Each thought and fought in his own way. Luther soon thought it best to fight the Church from without; Erasmus thought it wiser to renew the Church from within.  42
  It is simply unhistorical to say that Erasmus was “false both to the old Church and to the new.” He sought to save the old Church; to renew it; to revive a better life in it. He sought to moderate the new Church; to prevent the monstrous riot and unreason which followed,—the ages of Protestant bigotry, far less excusable than Catholic bigotry,—the carnival of fire and murder which lasted through two centuries. He sought to weld both Churches into a new force—into a higher form of Christianity. He sought to clear and clean the dominant Church of its noxious growths, and hoped that in the air of new knowledge and right reason it would grow into a Church new and comprehensive, suited to the new and regenerate world. He foresaw justly that Protestant dogmatism would soon become as violent and unreasoning as Catholic dogmatism.  43
  He cared no more for Luther’s dogma, justification by faith, than for the mediæval dogma, justification by works. To him the one thing precious was the simple teaching of Christ and his immediate followers; all the rest was sound and fury, signifying nothing. What he labored for was not to establish a new Church and new growths of dogma, which he rightly believed would soon become an incubus upon the weary earth; but he sought to promote an evolution of righteousness, which is rightness. To find fault with him because he and his work were not like Luther and his work, is like finding fault with Emerson because his make-up and methods were not those of Garrison. 13 One class of minds will always prefer Erasmus, and believe in his work, and lament that he could not have had his way. Another class will prefer Luther, and believe in his work, and rejoice that he had his way. But it should be remembered that before Luther was heard of, Erasmus began, in political affairs and religious affairs, a course of astounding boldness, setting reform in motion; and this course, in spite of reproach and attack from both sides, he kept during his entire life.  44
  But it may be said that Erasmus’s idea of a peaceful evolution was not the right idea; that what was needed was revolution.  45
  Alas! history confirms this view too thoroughly. Just as Turgot, the greatest and wisest of French statesmen in the eighteenth century, proposing rational and peaceful measures which would have saved the ancient monarchy and developed liberty in France, was met by fierce opposition and unrelenting hate on both sides, so that the work had to be done far less satisfactorily, at the cost of millions of lives and billions of treasure and generations of sterile revolt and turmoil; just as Henry Clay, one of the wisest American statesmen of the nineteenth century, proposing rational and peaceful measures which would have gradually extinguished slavery and compensated the slave-owners at a paltry cost of twenty-five millions, was met by fierce unrelenting opposition on both sides, so that the work had to be done by a civil war at a loss of a million of lives and many thousands of millions of dollars: so Erasmus, seeking concessions from the old Church and moderation from the new, met opposition bitter and unrelenting from both sides; and the work of reform had to be accomplished by a schism which cost two hundred years of frightful war, with the loss of millions on millions of lives and of billions on billions of treasure.  46
  Such was the price paid that the Teutonic, Scandinavian, and Anglo-Saxon countries and their colonies might be saved from the fate of Spain and her colonies.  47
  The question now occurs: What was Erasmus’s work in its sum? What did he for Christendom in general and for Germany in particular? The Roman Church answers in the old saying, “Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched it.” Erasmus answers in the comparison of his work to the breaking of dikes. Luther answers in these words:—“Erasmus is very capable of exposing error, but he knows not how to reach the truth.” 14  48
  All these estimates of his agency in the Reformation concur in making him a critic and satirist; a forerunner of reformers and revolutionists. But if we consider him merely as a forerunner, we shall form a judgment sadly inadequate. In a letter to Jean Gachet, Erasmus says:—

          HERE, to sum up, is what I have done in my books.
  I have raised my voice boldly against the wars which for so many years we have seen shaking all Christendom.
  Theology had degenerated into sophistic niceties. I labored to bring it back to its sources, and to its ancient simplicity.
  I endeavored also to restore their first lustre to those sacred authors of whom men generally have only fragments. I taught literature, which before me was almost pagan, to speak of Christ.
  I have aided, so far as I was able, the revived study of languages.
  I have censured various foolish claims of men.
  I aroused the world which was sleeping in ceremonies almost Judaic, and called it to a Christianity more pure; never condemning the ceremonies of the Church, but showing that which is best.
  49
 
  Although this claims much, every thoughtful student of the sixteenth century must now acknowledge that it claims too little. Let us sum up rapidly the work of Erasmus in the light of the history developed since his time.  50
  First, he did much to develop a better education, and to instill a fruitful scholarship into the minds of the younger thinking men throughout Europe.  51
  Second, he contributed more powerfully than any other to the spreading of the Revival of Learning, and therefore to the awakening of reform ideas.  52
  Third, he did more than any other to prevent the Revival of Learning in the North of Europe from degenerating into mere dilettantism, as it did in the South of Europe.  53
  Fourth, more boldly than any other, he wrought to mitigate the tyranny of princes.  54
  Fifth, a great service in which he was far beyond his time,—beyond the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, beyond the leaders of the Protestant Church,—he declared always for toleration.  55
  Sixth, he planted in European statesmanship a most beneficent germ, which has since come to great growth, in showing at all times and in all places the futility of attempting to crush thought by force.  56
  Seventh, centuries in advance of his time, he labored to discourage war and to substitute for it arbitration.  57
  Eighth, he stood at the beginning of the critical study of the Scriptures—of all that great work going on in our own time, which is giving religion new and broader foundations. With good reason has an eminent modern scholar said:—“Luther made the Reformation that was; Erasmus, the Reformation that is to be.”  58
  Any one looking at contemporary portraits of Erasmus, and especially at that painted by Hans Holbein, will at once see that we have no right to expect in the great scholar a leader in the rough work of revolution. There is a delicacy in the face, a play of sarcasm over the features, a bright light from the eyes, which all remind us at once of Voltaire’s portrait; but there is a quiet depth in it which we find in no portrait of Voltaire.  59
  So, too, his work in many respects was strongly like the work of Voltaire. Both exposed wrongs and satirized wrong-doers. Both reminded rulers of their duties. Both stirred the common-sense of their own times. Both spurred on bold thinkers of after times. Both fought bigotry. Both wrought powerfully for a thorough change in the world’s thought and action: one, without designing it, for the Reformation; the other, without designing it, for the French Revolution.  60
  And as Voltaire, the critic, satirist, and scholar, preceding the French Revolution, is to Mirabeau, the fearless orator of that Revolution: so is Erasmus, the critic, satirist, and scholar, preceding the Reformation, to Luther, the orator and warrior of the Reformation.  61
  Yet there was a deep difference between these two greatest of European men of letters. Erasmus’s is the more profound nature. Out of it grew no things more brilliant than out of Voltaire’s nature; but out of it grew things more beautiful and noble.  62
  Finally, as to the sphere of Erasmus’s influence. He wrought, as we have seen, on all Christendom; but most directly and fully upon Germany. His letters show this amply. Under all temptations he refused to break with German thought. He saw that in Germany the soil was deep, and that it was the garden where his ideas were to come to their first and perhaps their fullest bloom and fruitage. He himself has told us:—“I did my best to deliver the rising generation from the slough of ignorance, and to inspire them with a taste for better studies. I wrote not for Italy, but for Germany and the Netherlands.”  63
 
  NOTE.—The collected works of Erasmus were finally published by Le Clerc in 10 vols. folio, Louvain, 1703–6. The few selections here given are taken from his most popular writings.  64
 
Note 1. For Hallam’s argument regarding the exact date of Erasmus’s birth, see his ‘Introduction to the Literature of Europe’ (London, 1847), page 287, note; see also Drummond. For Burigny, see his ‘Vie d’Érasme’ (Paris, 1757), pages 5 and 6, and note. [back]
Note 2. Regarding the strengthening of university life and of thought generally in Germany at this period, see especially Creighton, ‘History of the Papacy during the Reformation.’ [back]
Note 3. For the value of the Deventer school, see Hallam, ‘History of Literature,’ Vol. i., page 125; also a reference in Cantù, which is very striking as coming from so devoted a Catholic; also Creighton as above, Vol. v., Chap. i. [back]
Note 4. For the evolution of Erasmus’s ideas in Biblical criticism out of those of Valla, see White’s ‘History of the Warfare of Science with Theology,’ Vol. ii., pages 303 and following; also Drummond, ‘Life of Erasmus,’ Vol. i., pages 26 and following; also Durand de Laur, ‘Érasme,’ Vol. i., pages 16 and following. [back]
Note 5. For very full and interesting details of the relations of Erasmus to Englishmen, see Knight, ‘Life of Dean Colet,’ Oxford, 1823, pages 152 et passim; see also Froude, ‘Life and Letters of Erasmus,’ pages 105–7; also Seebohm, ‘The Oxford Reformers,’ London, 1869, passim. [back]
Note 6. For the origin and character of Holbein’s illustrations of the ‘Praise of Folly,’ with specimens, see Woltmann, ‘Holbein and his Time.’ Chap. xi. [back]
Note 7. For a more thorough statement regarding the work of Valla as compared with that of Erasmus, see White’s ‘History of the Warfare of Science with Theology,’ Vol. ii., pages 303 and following. For the extent of Erasmus’s New Testament work, see Jebb’s ‘Erasmus,’ pages 44, 45. [back]
Note 8. For excellent statements regarding Erasmus’s relations to modern Biblical criticism, see Beard, ‘Hibbert Lectures for 1883 on the Reformation,’ pages 66 and following. For a very full detail of Erasmus’s account of his dealing with the text regarding the Three Witnesses, see Jortin (London, 1808), Vol. ii., pages 229 et seq. [back]
Note 9. For the citation above given, see Jebb’s ‘Erasmus,’ Cambridge, 1890, pages 45, 46, and 53. [back]
Note 10. For satires and squibs against Erasmus, see Schade, ‘Satiren und Pasquille aus der Reformationszeit,’ Hanover, 1863, passim. [back]
Note 11. The most accessible collection of Erasmus’s letters is the selection and abridgment of them by Froude. For some unedited and interesting epistles to Sadolet, Bembo, and others, see De Nolhac, ‘Érasme en Italie,’ Paris, 1888. For copious extracts see especially Jortin and Drummond, passim. For the difference between the racy, effective Latin of Erasmus and the stilted affectations of the purists of his time, see Jebb, ‘Erasmus,’ (Cambridge, Eng., 1890), pages 39 et seq. [back]
Note 12. For special details of the last days of Erasmus at Basle, see M. de Ram, in the ‘Bulletin de l’Académie Royale des Sciences de Belgique,’ 1843, pages 462 et seq. [back]
Note 13. For a very full expression of Erasmus’s view regarding Luther, see his letter to Cardinal Wolsey, given by Jortin, Vol. i., pages 130–1. It must be confessed that this view differed in Erasmus’s differing moods. [back]
Note 14. For a thoughtful estimate of Erasmus’s work from the moderate Roman Catholic point of view, see Döllinger, ‘Die Reformation’ (Regensburg, 1848), pages 1–20. [back]
 
 
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