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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From the ‘Adages’
By Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1467–1536)
 
          [The first edition of the ‘Adages’ was published in 1500. A great number of successive editions were issued, the number of proverbs dealt with being steadily increased until 1517, when an edition greatly enlarged was given to the press. See Hallam, ‘Introduction to the Literature of Europe,’ especially Vol. i., Chap. iv.]

I. Adages Relating to Monarchy

LET any one turn over the pages of ancient or modern history: scarcely in several generations will you find one or two princes whose folly has not inflicted the greatest misery on mankind.
  1
  I know not whether much of this is not to be imputed to ourselves. We trust the rudder of a vessel, where a few sailors and some goods alone are in jeopardy, to none but skillful pilots; but the State, wherein the safety of so many thousands is concerned, we put into any hands. A charioteer must learn, reflect upon, and practice his art; a prince need only be born. Yet government, as it is the most honorable, so it is the most difficult of all the sciences. And shall we choose the master of a ship, and not choose him who is to have the care of many cities, and so many souls? But the usage is too long established for us to subvert. Do we not see that noble cities are erected by the people; that they are destroyed by princes? that the community grows rich by the industry of its citizens, is plundered by the rapacity of its princes? that good laws are enacted by popular magistrates, are violated by these princes? that the people love peace; that princes excite war?  2
 
  It is the aim of the guardians of a prince, that he may never become a man. The nobility, who fatten on public calamity, endeavor to plunge him into pleasures, that he may never learn what are his duties. Towns are burned, lands are wasted, temples are plundered, innocent citizens are slaughtered, while the prince is playing at dice, or dancing, or amusing himself with puppets, or hunting, or drinking. O race of the Bruti, long since extinct! O blind and blunted thunderbolts of Jupiter! We know indeed that those corrupters of princes will render account to Heaven, but not easily to us.  3
 
  Let any physiognomist, not a blunderer in his trade, consider the look and features of an eagle,—those rapacious and wicked eyes, that threatening curve of the beak, those cruel cheeks, that stern front: will he not at once recognize the image of a king—of a magnificent and majestic king? Add to these a dark ill-omened color, an unpleasing, dreadful, appalling voice, and that threatening scream at which every kind of animal trembles. Every one will acknowledge this type, who has learned how terrible are the threats of princes, even uttered in jest. At the scream of the eagle the people tremble, the senate shrinks, the nobility cringes, the judges concur, the divines are dumb, the lawyers assent, the laws and constitutions give way; neither right nor religion, neither justice nor humanity prevails. And thus, while there are so many birds of sweet and melodious song, the unpleasant and unmusical scream of the eagle alone has more power than all the rest.  4
  Of all birds, the eagle alone has seemed to wise men the apt type of royalty: not beautiful, not musical, not fit for food; but carnivorous, greedy, plundering, destroying, combating, solitary, hateful to all, the curse of all, and with its great powers of doing harm, surpassing them in its desire of doing it.  5
 
II. Adages Showing Erasmus’s Political Philosophy

  PRINCES must be endured, lest tyranny should give way to anarchy, a still greater evil. This has been demonstrated by the experience of many States; and lately the insurrection of the German boors has taught us that the cruelty of princes is better to be borne than the universal confusion of anarchy.
  6
 
III. Adages Relating to the Mendicant Friars

  THERE is a wretched class of men, of low degree, yet full of malice; not less dingy, nor less filthy, nor less vile than beetles; who nevertheless by a certain obstinate malignity of disposition, though they can never do good to any mortal, become frequently troublesome to the great. They frighten by their ugliness, they molest by their noise, they offend by their stench; they buzz round us, they cling to us, they lie in ambush for us, so that it is often better to be at enmity with powerful men than to attack these beetles; whom it is a disgrace even to overcome, and whom no one can either shake off or encounter without some pollution.
  7
 
  NOTE.—For full information regarding the above passages, with specimens of the original Latin, see Hallam, ‘Introduction to the Literature of Europe,’ as above; also Jortin, Vol. iii.  8
 
 
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