Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
The Oxford Reformers of 1498
Frederic Seebohm (1833–1912)
Oxford Reformers of 1498, The: John Colet, Erasmus, and Thomas More: A history of their Fellow-Work, by Frederic Seebohm (1867, 1887). A work not designed to offer biographies of the persons named, but to carefully study their joint work at Oxford. John Colet, a son of Sir Henry Colet, a wealthy merchant who had been more than once Lord Mayor of London, and was in favor at the court of Henry VII., had come home from study in Italy to Oxford in 1496; and, although he was not a Doctor, nor even a deacon preparing for full clerical dignity, he startled the conservatism of the church and the university by announcing a course of public free lectures on the epistles of Paul. It was a strikingly new-departure proceeding, not only in the boldness of a layman giving lectures on religion, but in new views to be brought out. What was called the New Learning, starting from study of Greek, or the world’s best literature, was taking root at Oxford. Two men of note, Grocyn and Linacre, who had learned Greek, were working hard to awaken at Oxford interest in the study of Greek. And among the young students Colet found one, not yet of age, who showed the finest type of English genius. He was called “Young Master More.” The fine quality of his intelligence was even surpassed by the sweetness of his spirit and the charm of his character. He was destined to be known as Sir Thomas More, one of the great historic examples of what Swift, and after him Matthew Arnold, called “sweetness and light.” Colet was thirteen years older than More, but the two held close converse in matters of learning and humanity. They were Humanists, as the men of interest in all things human were called. Colet and More had been together at Oxford a year when a third Humanist appeared upon the scene in 1497, the year in which John Cabot discovered North America. This was Erasmus, who was already a scholar, after the manner of the time, in Latin. He came to Oxford to become a scholar in Greek. He was scarcely turned thirty,—just Colet’s age,—and had not yet begun to make a great name. The story of the three men runs on to 1519, into the early dawn of the Lutheran Reformation. Colet becomes a Doctor and the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (1499), and on his father’s death (1510), uses his inherited fortune to found St. Paul’s School, in which 153 boys of any nation or country should be instructed in the world’s best literature, Greek as well as Latin; and not monkish church Latin, but ancient classical Latin. Colet declared that the “corrupt Latin which the later blind world brought in, and which may be called Blotterature rather than Literature,” should be “utterly banished and excluded.” Erasmus wrote a work ‘On the Liberal Education of Boys.’ Colet wrote a Latin grammar for his boys, by which he hoped they might be helped to “grow to perfect literature.” It was in line with the new learning, that Erasmus edited, and secured the printing of, the New Testament in Greek, hoping it would lead, as it later did, to an English version. He said of “the sacred Scriptures: I wish these were translated into all languages, so that they might be read and understood. I long that the husbandman should sing portions of them to himself as he follows the plow, that the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler should beguile with their stories the tedium of his journey.” It was in the same humanist spirit that More wrote his ‘Utopia,’ published in 1516, and embodying the visions of hope and progress floating before the eyes of the three “Oxford Reformers.” More was about entering into the service of Henry VIII.; and he wrote the introduction or prefatory book of the ‘Utopia,’ for the express purpose of speaking out boldly on the social condition of the country and on the policy of the King.  1

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