The Age of Erasmus - Lectures Delivered in the Universities of Oxford and London
by P. S. Allen
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The importance of biography for the study of history can hardly be overrated. In a sense it is true that history should be like the law and 'care not about very small things'; concerning itself not so much with individual personality as with fundamental causes affecting the rise and fall of nations or the development of mental outlook from one age to another. But even if this be conceded, we still must not forget that the course of history is worked out by individuals, who, in spite of the accidental condensation that the needs of human life thrust upon them, are isolated at the last and alone—for no man may deliver his brother. In consequence, it is only in periods when the stream of personal record flows wide and deep that history begins to live, and that we have a chance to view it through the eyes of the actors instead of projecting upon it our own fancies and conceptions.

One of the features that makes the study of the Renaissance so fascinating is that in that age the stream of personal record, which had been driven underground, its course choked and hidden beneath the fallen masonry of the Roman Empire, emerges again unimpeded and flows in ever-increasing volume. For reconstruction of the past we are no longer limited to charters and institutions, or the mighty works of men's hands. In place of a mental output, rigidly confined within unbending modes of thought and expression, we have a literature that reflects the varied phases of human life, that can discard romance and look upon the commonplace; and instead of dry and meagre chronicles, rarely producing evidence at first hand, we have rich store of memoirs and private letters, by means of which we can form real pictures of individuals—approaching almost to personal acquaintance and intimacy—and regard the same events from many points of view, to perception of the circumstances that 'alter cases'.

The period of the Transalpine Renaissance corresponds roughly with the life of Erasmus (1466-1536); from the days when Northern scholars began to win fame for themselves in reborn Italy, until the width of the humanistic outlook was narrowed and the progress of the reawakened studies overwhelmed by the tornado of the Reformation. The aim of these lectures is not so much to draw the outlines of the Renaissance in the North as to present sketches of the world through which Erasmus passed, and to view it as it appeared to him and to some of his contemporaries, famous or obscure. And firstly of the generation that preceded him in the wide but undefined region known then as Germany.

The Cistercian Abbey of Adwert near Groningen, under the enlightened governance of Henry of Rees (1449-85), was a centre to which were attracted most of the scholars whose names are famous in the history of Northern humanism in the second half of the fifteenth century: Wessel, Agricola, Hegius, Langen, Vrye, and others. They came on return from visits to Italy or the universities; men of affairs after discharge of their missions; schoolmasters to rest on their holidays; parish priests in quest of change: all found a welcome from the hospitable Abbot, and their talk ranged far and wide, over the pursuit of learning, till Adwert merited the name of an 'Academy'.

Earliest of these is John Wessel (d. 1489), and perhaps also the most notable; certainly the others looked up to him with a veneration which seems to transcend the natural pre-eminence of seniority. Unfortunately the details of his life have not been fully established. Thirty years after his death, when it was too late for him to define his own views, the Reformers claimed him for their own; and in consequence his body has been wrangled over with the heat which seeks not truth but victory. His father, Hermann Wessel, was a baker from the Westphalian village of Gansfort or Goesevort, who settled in Groningen. After some years in the town school, the boy was about to be apprenticed to a trade, as his parents were too poor to help him further; but the good Oda Jargis, hearing how well he had done at his books, sent him to the school at Zwolle, in which the Brethren of the Common Life took part. There, as at Groningen, he rose to the top, and in his last years, as a first-form boy, also did some teaching in the third form, according to the custom of the school. He came into contact with Thomas a Kempis, who was then at the monastery of Mount St. Agnes, half an hour outside Zwolle, and was profoundly influenced by him. The course at Zwolle lasted eight years, and there is reason to suppose that he completed it in full. He was lodged in the Parua Domus, a hostel for fifty boys, and we are told that he and his next neighbour made a hole through the wall which divided their rooms—probably only a wooden partition—and taught one another: Wessel imparting earthly wisdom, and receiving in exchange the fear and love of the Lord. In the autumn of 1449 he matriculated at Cologne, entering the Bursa Laurentiana; in December 1450 he was B.A., and in February 1452, M.A.

By 1455 he had arrived at Paris and entered upon his studies for the theological degree. Within a year he conceived a profound distaste for the philosophy dominant in the schools; and though he persevered for some time, his frequent dissension from his teachers earned for him the title of 'Magister contradictionis'. After this his movements cannot be traced until 1470, when he was at Rome in the train of Cardinal Francesco della Rovere. In the interval he studied medicine, and, if report be true, travelled far; venturing into the East, just when the fall of Constantinople had turned the tide of Hellenism westward. In Greece he read Aristotle in the original, and learnt to prefer Plato; in Egypt he sought in vain for the books of Solomon and a mythical library of Hebrew treasures.

In 1471 his Cardinal-patron was elected Pope as Sixtus IV. The magnificence which characterized the poor peasant's son in his dealings with Italy, in his embellishment of Rome and the Vatican, was not lacking in his treatment of Wessel. 'Ask what you please as a parting gift', he said to the scholar, who was preparing to set out for Friesland. 'Give me books from your library, Greek and Hebrew', was the request. 'What? No benefice, no grant of office or fees? Why not?' 'Because I don't want them', came the quiet reply. The books were forthcoming—one, a Greek Gospels, was perhaps the parent of a copy which reached Erasmus for the second edition of his New Testament.

After his return to the North, Wessel was invited to Heidelberg, to aid the Elector Palatine, Philip, in restoring the University, c. 1477. He was without the degree in theology which would have enabled him to teach in that faculty, and was not even in orders: indeed a proposal that he should qualify by entering the lowest grade and receiving the tonsure, he contemptuously rejected. So the Theological Faculty would not hear him, but to the students in Arts he lectured on Greek and Hebrew and philosophy. For some years, too, he was physician to David of Burgundy, Bishop of Utrecht, whom he cured of gout by making him take baths of warm milk. The Bishop rewarded him by shielding him from the attacks of the Dominicans, who were incensed by his bold criticisms of Aquinas; and when age brought the desire for rest, the Bishop set him over a house of nuns at Groningen, and bought him the right to visit Mount St. Agnes whenever he liked, by paying for the board and lodging of this welcome guest.

Wessel's last years were happily spent. He was the acknowledged leader of his society, and he divided his time between Mount St. Agnes and the sisters at Groningen, with occasional visits to Adwert. There he set about reviving the Abbey schools, one elementary, within its walls, the other more advanced, in a village near by; and Abbot Rees warmly supported him. Would-be pupils besought him to teach them Greek and Hebrew. Admiring friends came to hear him talk, and brought their sons to see this glory of their country—Lux mundi, as he was called. Some fragments of his conversation have been preserved, the unquestioned judgements which his hearers loyally received. Of the Schoolmen he was contemptuous, with their honorific titles: 'doctor angelic, doctor seraphic, doctor subtle, doctor irrefragable.' 'Was Thomas (Aquinas) a doctor? So am I. Thomas scarcely knew Latin, and that was his only tongue: I have a fair knowledge of the three languages. Thomas saw Aristotle only as a phantom: I have read him in Greece in his own words.' To Ostendorp, then a young man, but afterwards to become head master of Deventer school, he gave the counsel: 'Read the ancients, sacred and profane: modern doctors, with their robes and distinctions, will soon be drummed out of town.' At Mount St. Agnes once he was asked why he never used rosary nor book of hours. 'I try', he replied, 'to pray always. I say the Lord's Prayer once every day. Said once a year in the right spirit it would have more weight than all these vain repetitions.'

He loved to read aloud to the brethren on Sunday evenings; his favourite passage being John xiii-xviii, the discourse at the Last Supper. As he grew older, he sometimes stumbled over his words. He was not an imposing figure, with his eyes somewhat a-squint and his slight limp; and sometimes the younger monks fell into a titter, irreverent souls, to hear him so eager in his reading and so unconscious. It was not his eyesight that was at fault: to the end he could read the smallest hand without any glasses, like his great namesake, John Wesley, whom a German traveller noticed on the packet-boat between Flushing and London reading the fine print of the Elzevir Virgil, with his eyes unaided, though at an advanced age.

On his death-bed Wessel was assailed with scepticism, and began to doubt about the truth of the Christian religion. But the cloud was of short duration. That supreme moment of revelation, which comes to every man once, is no time for fear. Patient hope cast out questioning, and he passed through the deep waters with his eyes on the Cross which had been his guide through the life that was ending.

Of Rudolph Agricola we know more than of the others; his striking personality, it seems, moved many of his friends to put on record their impressions of him. One of the best of these sketches is by Goswin of Halen (d. 1530), who had been Wessel's servant at Groningen, and had frequently met Agricola. Rudolph's father, Henry Huusman, was the parish priest of Baflo, a village four hours to the north of Groningen; his mother being a young woman of the place, who subsequently married a local carrier. On 17 Feb. 1444 the priest was elected to be warden of a college of nuns at Siloe, close to Groningen, and in the same hour a messenger came running to him from Baflo, claiming the reward of good news and announcing the birth of a son. 'Good,' said the new warden; 'this is an auspicious day, for it has twice made me father.'

From the moment he could walk, the boy was passionately fond of music; the sound of church bells would bring him toddling out into the street, or the thrummings of the blind beggars as they went from house to house playing for alms; and he would follow strolling pipers out of the gates into the country, and only be driven back by a show of violence. When he was taken to church, all through the mass his eyes were riveted upon the organ and its bellows; and as he grew older he made himself a syrinx with eight or nine pipes out of willow-bark. He was taught to ride on horseback, and early became adept in pole-jumping whilst in the saddle, an art which the Frieslanders of that age had evolved to help their horses across the broad rhines of their country. In 1456, when he was just 12, he matriculated at Erfurt, and in May 1462 at Cologne. But the course of his education is not clear, and though it is known that he reached the M.A. at Louvain, the date of this degree is not certain. He is also said to have been at the University of Paris.

Of his life at Louvain some details are given by Geldenhauer (d. 1542) in a sketch written about fifty years after Agricola's death. The University had been founded in 1426 to meet the needs of Belgian students, who for higher education had been obliged to go to Cologne or Paris, or more distant universities. Agricola entered Kettle College, which afterwards became the college of the Falcon, and soon distinguished himself among his fellow-students. They admired the ease with which he learnt French—not the rough dialect of Hainault, but the polite language of the court. With many his musical tastes were a bond of sympathy, in a way which recalls the evenings that Henry Bradshaw used to spend among the musical societies of Bruges and Lille when he was working in Belgian libraries; and on all sides men frankly acknowledged his intellectual pre-eminence as they marked his quiet readiness in debate and heard him pose the lecturers with acute questions. By nature he was silent and absorbed, and often in company he would sit deaf to all questions, his elbows on the table and biting his nails. But when roused he was at once captivating; and this unintended rudeness never lost him a friend. There was a small band of true humanists, who, as Geldenhauer puts it, 'had begun to love purity of Latin style'; to them he was insensibly attracted, and spent with them over Cicero and Quintilian hours filched from the study of Aristotle. Later in life he openly regretted having spent as much as seven years over the scholastic philosophy, which he had learnt to regard as profitless.

From 1468 to 1479 he was for the most part in Italy, except for occasional visits to the North, when we see him staying with his father at Siloe, and, in 1474, teaching Greek to Hegius at Emmerich. Many positions were offered to him already; gifts such as his have not to stand waiting in the marketplace. But his wits were not homely, and the world called him. Before he could settle he must see many men and many cities, and learn what Italy had to teach him.

For the first part of his time there, until 1473, he was at Pavia studying law and rhetoric; but on his return from home in 1474 he went to Ferrara in order to enjoy the better opportunities for learning Greek afforded by the court of Duke Hercules of Este and its circle of learned men. His description of the place is interesting: 'The town is beautiful, and so are the women. The University has not so many faculties as Pavia, nor are they so well attended; but literae humaniores seem to be in the very air. Indeed, Ferrara is the home of the Muses—and of Venus.' One special delight to him was that the Duke had a fine organ, and he was able to indulge what he describes as his 'old weakness for the organs'. In October 1476, at the opening of the winter term of the University, the customary oration before the Duke was delivered by Rodolphus Agricola Phrysius. His eloquence surprised the Italians, coming from so outlandish a person: 'a Phrygian, I believe', said one to another, with a contemptuous shrug of the shoulders. But Agricola, with his chestnut-brown hair and blue eyes, was no Oriental; only a Frieslander from the North, whose cold climate to the superb Italians seemed as benumbing to the intellect as we consider that of the Esquimaux.

During this period Agricola translated Isocrates ad Demonicum and the Axiochus de contemnenda morte, a dialogue wrongly attributed to Plato, which was a favourite in Renaissance days. Also he completed the chief composition of his lifetime, the De inuentione dialectica, a considerable treatise on rhetoric. His favourite books, Geldenhauer tells us, were Pliny's Natural History, the younger Pliny's Letters, Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria, and selections from Cicero and Plato. These were his travelling library, carried with him wherever he went; two of them, Pliny's Letters and Quintilian, he had copied out with his own hand. Other books, as he acquired them, he planted out in friends' houses as pledges of return.

In 1479 he left Italy and went home. On his way he stayed for some months with the Bishop of Augsburg at Dillingen, on the Danube, and there translated Lucian's De non facile credendis delationibus. A manuscript of Homer sorely tempted him to stay on through the winter. He felt that without Homer his knowledge of Greek was incomplete; and he proposed to copy it out from beginning to end, or at any rate the Iliad. But home called him, and he went on. At Spires, in quest of manuscripts, he went with a friend to the cathedral library. He describes it as not bad for Germany, though it contained nothing in Greek, and only a few Latin manuscripts of any interest—a Livy and a Pliny, very old, but much injured and the texts corrupt—and nothing at all that could be called eloquence, that is to say, pure literature.

When he had been a little while in Groningen, the town council bethought them to turn his talents and learning to some account. He was a fine figure of a man, who would make a creditable show in conducting their business; and for composing the elegant Latin epistles, which every respectable corporation felt bound to rise to on occasions, no one was better equipped than he. He was retained as town secretary, and in the four years of his service went on frequent embassies. During the first year we hear of him visiting his father at Siloe, and contracting a friendship with one of the nuns[1]; to whom he afterwards sent a work of Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, which he had found in a manuscript at Roermond. Twice he visited Brussels on embassy to Maximilian; and in the next year he followed the Archduke's court for several months, visiting Antwerp, and making the acquaintance of Barbiriau, the famous musician. Maximilian offered him the post of tutor to his children and Latin secretary to himself; the town of Antwerp invited him to become head of their school. He might easily have accepted. He was not altogether happy at Groningen. His countrymen had done him honour, but they had no real appreciation for learning, and some of them were boorish and cross-grained. It was the old story of Pegasus in harness; the practical men of business and the scholar impatient of restraint. His parents, too, were now both dead—in 1480, within a few months of each other—and such homes as he had had, with his father amongst the nuns at Siloe and with his mother in the house of her husband the tranter, were therefore closed to him. And yet neither invitation attracted him. Friesland was his native land; and for all his wanderings the love of it was in his blood. Adwert, too, was near, and Wessel. He refused, and stayed on in his irksome service.

[1] In view of Geldenhauer's testimony to Agricola's high character in this respect, we need not question, as does Goswin of Halen, the nature of this intimacy.

But in 1482 came an offer he could not resist. An old friend of Pavia days, John of Dalberg, for whom he had written the oration customary on his installation as Rector in 1474, had just been appointed Bishop of Worms. He invited Agricola for a visit, and urged him to come and join him; living partly as a friend in the Bishop's household, partly lecturing at the neighbouring University of Heidelberg. The opening was just such as Agricola wished, and he eagerly accepted; but circumstances at Groningen prevented him from redeeming his promise until the spring of 1484. For little more than a year he rejoiced in the new position, which gave full scope for his abilities. Then he set out to Rome with Dalberg, their business being to deliver the usual oration of congratulation to Innocent VIII on his election. On the way back he fell ill of a fever at Trent, and the Bishop had to leave him behind. He recovered enough to struggle back to Heidelberg, but only to die in Dalberg's arms on 27 Oct. 1485, at the age of 41.

Few men of letters have made more impression on their contemporaries; and yet his published writings are scanty. The generation that followed sought for his manuscripts as though they were of the classics; but thirty years elapsed before the De inuentione dialectica was printed, and more than fifty before there was a collected edition. Besides his letters the only thing which has permanent value is a short educational treatise, De formando studio, which he wrote in 1484, and addressed to Barbiriau—some compensation to the men of Antwerp for his refusal to come to them. His work was to learn and to teach rather than to write. To learn Greek when few others were learning it, and when the apparatus of grammar and dictionary had to be made by the student for himself, was a task to consume even abundant energies; and still more so, if Hebrew, too, was to be acquired. But though he left little, the fire of his enthusiasm did not perish with him; passing on by tradition, it kindled in others whom he had not known, the flame of interest in the wisdom of the ancients.

Another member of the Adwert gatherings was Alexander of Heck in Westphalia, hence called Hegius (1433-98). He was an older man than Agricola, but was not ashamed to learn of him when an opportunity offered to acquire Greek. His enthusiasm was for teaching; and to that he gave his life, first at Wesel, then at Emmerich, and finally for fifteen years at Deventer, where he had many eminent humanists under his care—Erasmus, William Herman, Mutianus Rufus, Hermann Busch, John Faber, John Murmell, Gerard Geldenhauer. Butzbach, who was the last pupil he admitted, and who saw him buried in St. Lebuin's church on a winter's evening at sunset, describes him at great length; and besides his learning and simplicity, praises the liberality with which he gave all that he had to help the needy: living in the house of another (probably Richard Paffraet, the printer) and sharing expenses, and leaving at his death no possessions but his books and a few clothes. And yet he was master of a school which had over 2000 boys.

Rudolph Langen of Munster (1438-1519) was another who was known at Adwert. He matriculated at Erfurt in the same year as Agricola, and was M.A. there in 1460. A canonry at Munster gave him maintenance for his life, and he devoted his energies to learning. Twice he visited Italy, in 1465 and 1486; and in 1498 he succeeded in establishing a school at Munster on humanistic lines, and wished Hegius to become head master, but in vain. Nevertheless it rapidly rivalled the fame of Deventer.

Finally, Antony Vrye (Liber) of Soest deserves record, since he has contributed somewhat to our knowledge of Adwert. He also was a schoolmaster, and taught at various times at Emmerich, Campen, Amsterdam, and Alcmar. In 1477 he published a volume entitled Familiarium Epistolarum Compendium, the composition of which illustrates the catholic tastes of the humanists; for it contains selections from the letters of Cicero, Jerome, Symmachus, and the writers of the Italian Renaissance. But he chiefly merits our gratitude for including in the book a number of letters which passed between the visitors to Adwert and their friends, together with some of his own. The pleasant relations existing in this little society may be illustrated by the fact that when Vrye's son John had reached student age, the Adwert friends subscribed to pay his expenses at a university; and thus secured him an education which enabled him to become Syndic of Campen.

A few extracts from their letters will serve to show some of the characteristics of the age, its wide interest in the past, theological as well as classical; its eager search for manuscripts, and the freedom with which its libraries were opened; its concern for education, and its attitude towards the old learning; and the extent of its actual achievements. The earliest of these letters that survive are a series written by Langen from Adwert in the spring of 1469 to Vrye at Soest. Despite the grave interest in serious study that the letters show, there are human touches about them. One begins: 'You promised faithfully to return, and yet you have not come. But I cannot blame you; for the road is deep in mud, and I myself too am so feeble a walker that I can imagine the weariness of others' feet.' Another ends in haste, not with the departure of the post, but 'The servants are waiting to conduct me to bed'. Here is a longer sample:

I. LANGEN TO VRYE: from Adwert, 27 Feb. .

'Why do you delay so long to gratify the wishes of our devout friend Wolter? With my own hand I have transcribed the little book of Elegantiae, as far as the section about the reckoning of the Kalends. I greatly desire to have this precious work complete; so do send me the portion we lack as soon as you can. The little book will be my constant companion: I know nothing that has such value in so narrow a span. How brilliant Valla is! he has raised up Latin to glory from the bondage of the barbarians. May the earth lie lightly on him and the spring shine ever round his urn! Even if the book is not by Valla himself, it must come from his school.

'I write in haste and with people talking all round me, from whom politeness will not let me sit altogether aloof. But read carefully and you will understand me. At least I hope this letter won't be quite so barbarous as the monstrosities which the usher from Osnabruck sends you every day: they sound like the spells of witches to bring up their familiar spirits, or the enchantments "Fecana kageti", &c., which open locks whoever knocks. Poor Latin! it is worse handled than was Regulus by the Carthaginians. Forgive this scrawl: I am writing by candlelight.'

We shall have other occasions to notice the admiration of the Northern humanists for Lorenzo Valla (d. 1457), the master of Latin style, and the audacious Canon of the Lateran, who could apply the spirit of criticism not only to the New Testament but even to the Donation of Constantine.

2. VRYE TO ARNOLD OF HILDESHEIM (Schoolmaster at Emmerich): <? Cologne, c. 1477>.

'I have still a great many things to do, but I shall not begin upon them till the printed books from Cologne arrive at Deventer. My plan was to go to Heidelberg, Freiburg, Basle and some of the universities in the East and then return to Deventer through Saxony and Westphalia. But at Coblenz I met four men from Strasburg who declared that Upper Germany was almost all overrun by soldiers. This unexpected alarm has compelled me to dispose of the 1500 copies of The Revival of Latin amongst the schools.[2] After visiting Deventer and Zwolle I shall go to Louvain, and then, if it is safe, to Paris. I thought you ought to know of this change in my plans; that you might not be taken by surprise at finding me gone westwards instead of into Upper Germany.

'Please take great pains over the correction of the manuscripts.'

[2] particularibus studiis.

3. AGRICOLA TO HEGIUS : from Groningen, 20 Sept. 1480.

'I was very sorry to learn from your letter that you had been here just when I was away. There are so few opportunities of meeting any one who cares for learning that you would have been most welcome. My position becomes increasingly distasteful to me: since I left Italy, I forget everything—the classics, history, even how to write with any style. In prose I can get neither ideas nor language. Such as come only serve to fill the page with awkward, disjointed sentences. Verse I hardly ever attempt, and when I do, there is no flow about it; sometimes the lines almost refuse to scan. The fact is that I can find no one here who is interested in these things. If only we were together!

'My youngest brother Henry has been fired with the desire to study. I have advised him against it, but as he persists, I do not like to do more. For the last six months he has been with Frederic Mormann at Munster, and has made some progress: but now Mormann <who was one of the Brethren of the Common Life> has been sent as Rector to a house , and Henry has come home. If you can have him, I should like him to come to you. He will bring with him the usual furniture,[3] money will be sent to him from time to time, and he will find himself a lodging[4] wherever you advise. I should be glad to know whether there are any teachers who give lessons out of school hours, as Mormann does; and whether any one may go to them on payment of a fee, whether candidates for orders[5] or not. I should like him to get over the elements as quickly as possible; for if boys are kept at them too long, they take a dislike to the whole thing. The Pliny that you ask for shall come to you soon. I use it a great deal; but nevertheless you shall have it.'

[3] victui necessaria, vt solent nostrates. Victus is commonly used in the technical sense of 'board'; but here the meaning probably is 'the usual outfit for a schoolboy'. Gebwiler, in 1530, required a boy coming to his school at Hagenau to be provided with 'a bed, sheets, pillow, and other necessaries'. [4] diuersorium. [5] capitiati.

In answer to a question from Hegius, Agricola goes on to distinguish the words mimus, histrio, persona, scurra, nebulo; with quotations from Juvenal and Gellius. 'Leccator', he says, 'is a German word; like several others that we have turned into bad Latin, reisa, burgimagister, scultetus, or like the French passagium for a military expedition, guerra for war, treuga for truce.'

He then proceeds to more derivations in answer to Hegius. [Greek: Anthropos] he considers a fundamental word, which, like homo, defies analysis: but nevertheless he suggests [Greek: ana] and [Greek: trepo], or [Greek: terpo], or [Greek: trepho]. To explain vesper he cites Sallust, Catullus, Ovid, Pliny's Letters, Caesar's Civil War, Persius and Suetonius. (We must remember that in those days a man's quotations were culled from his memory, not from a dictionary or concordance.) He goes on: 'About forming words by analogy, I rarely allow myself to invent words which are not in the best authors, but still perhaps I might use Socratitas, Platonitas, entitas, though Valla I am sure would object. After all one must be free, when there is necessity. Cicero, without any need, used Pietas and Lentulitas; and Pollio talks of Livy's Patauinitas.' Other words explained are tignum, asser, [Greek: dioikesis]; and then Agricola proceeds to correct a number of mistakes in Hegius' letter. Rather delicate work it might seem; but there is such good humour between them that, though the corrections extend to some length, it all ends pleasantly.

4. HEGIUS TO AGRICOLA; from Deventer, 17 Dec. .

After apologies for not having written for a long while, he proceeds:

'You ask how my school is doing. Well, it is full again now; but in summer the numbers rather fell off. The plague which killed twenty of the boys, drove many others away, and doubtless kept some from coming to us at all.

'Thank you for translating Lucian's Micyllus. I am sure that all of us who read it, will be greatly pleased with it. As soon as it comes, I will have it printed. If I may, I should much like to ask you for an abridgement of your book on Dialectic: it would be very valuable to students. I understand that you have translated Isocrates' Education of Princes. If I had it here, I would expound it to my pupils. For some of them, no doubt, will be princes some day and have to govern.

'I have been reading Valla's book on the True Good, and have become quite an Epicurean, estimating all things in terms of pleasure. Also it has persuaded me that each virtue has its contrary vice, rather than two vices as its extremes. I should like to know whether the authorities at Heidelberg have abandoned their Marsilius[6] on the question of universals, or whether they still stick to him.'

[6] Of Inghen, first Rector of Heidelberg University (1386), the author of the Parua Logicalia.

5. AGRICOLA TO HEGIUS; from Worms, Tuesday , in reply.

After thanks and personalities he writes:

'Certainly you shall have the Lucian, and I will dedicate it to you: but not just yet, as I am too busy to revise it. My public lectures take up a good deal of my time. I have a fairly large audience; but their zeal is greater than their ability. The majority of them are M.A.'s or students in the Arts course;[7] who are obliged to spend all their time on their disputations, so they have only a meagre part of the day left for these studies. In consequence, as they can do so little, I am not very active.

'In addition to this I am trying to keep up my Latin and Greek (though they are fast slipping from me) and am beginning Hebrew, which I find very difficult: indeed to my surprise it costs me more effort than Greek did. However, I shall go on with it as I have begun: also because I like to have something new on hand, and much as I like Greek, its novelty has somewhat worn off. I have made up my mind to devote my old age, if I ever reach it, to theology. You know how I detest the barbarisms of those who fill the schools. On their side they are indignant with me for daring to question their decisions; but this will not deter me.

'My greetings to your host, Master Richard (Paffraet), and his wife.

'Worms, in great haste, on the third day of the week: as I have determined to call it, instead of our unclassical Feria secunda, tertia, &c., or the heathen names, Monday, Mars' day, Mercury's day, Jove's day.'

[7] Scholastici, vt nos dicimus, artium.

We may notice the anticipation of the Quakers, who in a similar way would only speak of first day and sixth month.

6. HEGIUS TO WESSEL; from Deventer <between 1483 and 1489>.

'I am sending you the Homilies of John Chrysostom, and hope you will enjoy reading them. His golden words have always been more acceptable to you than the precious metal itself from the mint.

'I have been, as you know, at Cusanus' library, and found there many Hebrew books which were quite unknown to me; also a few Greek. I remember the names of the following: Epiphanius against heresies, a very big book; Dionysius on the Hierarchy; Athanasius against Arius; Climacus.

'These I left behind there, but I brought away with me: Basil on the Hexaemeron and some of his homilies on the Psalms; the Epistles of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles; Plutarch's Lives of Romans and Greeks, and his Symposium; some writings on grammar and mathematics; some poems on the Christian religion, written, I think, by Gregory Nazianzen; some prayers, in Latin and Greek.

'If there are any of these you lack, let me know and they shall come to you: for everything I have is at your disposal. If you could spare the Gospels in Greek, I should be grateful for the loan of it. You enquire what books we are using in the school. I have followed your advice; for literature which is dangerous to morality is most injurious.'

The library mentioned above was that of Nicholas Krebs (d. 1464), the famous Cardinal who took part in the Council of Basle and was the patron of Poggio. Cues on the Moselle was his birthplace, and gave him his name Cusanus. In his later years he founded a hostel, the Bursa Cusana, at Deventer, where he had been at school, and at Cues built a hospital for aged men and women, with a grassy quadrangle and a chapel of delicate Gothic; and there in a vaulted chamber supported by a central column he deposited the manuscripts, mainly theological but with some admixture of the classics, which he had gathered in the course of his busy life.

In 1496 we hear of another visit to it; when Dalberg, who was a prince of humanists, led thither Reuchlin and a party of friends on a voyage of discovery. Their course was from Worms to Oppenheim, where his mother was still living: by boat to Coblenz and up the Moselle to Cues: then over the hills to Dalburg, his ancestral home, and finally to the abbey of Sponheim, near Kreuznach, where they admired the rich collection of manuscripts in five languages formed by the learned historian Trithemius, who was then Abbot. Whether this gay party of pleasure also carried off any treasures from Cues is not recorded.

But lest this view of the Adwert Academy should appear too uniformly roseate, we will turn to the tradition of Reyner Praedinius (1510-59), who was Rector of the town school at Groningen, and whose fame attracted students thither from Italy, Spain, and Poland. He had in his possession several manuscripts of Wessel's writings, some of them unpublished; and he had been intimate with men who had known both Wessel and Agricola. One of these—very likely Goswin of Halen—as a boy had often served at table, when the two scholars were dining; and had afterwards shown them the way home with a lantern. He used to say that he had frequently pulled off Agricola's boots, when he came home the worse for his potations; but that no one had ever seen Wessel under the influence of wine. Wessel, indeed, lived to a green old age, but killed himself by working too hard.



Erasmus was born at Rotterdam on the vigil of SS. Simon and Jude, 27 October: probably in 1466, but his utterances on the subject are ambiguous. Around his parentage he wove a web of romance, from which only one fact emerges clearly—that his father was at some time a priest. Current gossip said that he was parish priest of Gouda; a little town near Rotterdam, with a big church, which in the sixteenth century its inhabitants were wealthy enough to adorn with some fine stained glass. There in the town school, under a master who was afterwards one of the guardians of his scanty patrimony, Erasmus' schooldays began, and he made acquaintance with the Latin grammar of Donatus. After an interval as chorister at Utrecht, he was sent by his parents to the school at Deventer, which, with that of the neighbouring and rival town of Zwolle, enjoyed pre-eminence among the schools of the Netherlands at that date. It was connected with the principal church of the town, St. Lebuin's; and doubtless among those aisles and chapels, listening perhaps to the merry bells, whose chimes still proclaim the quarters far and wide, he caught the first breath of that new hope to which he was to devote his whole life. The school was controlled by the canons of St. Lebuin, who appointed the head master; but, as at Zwolle, some of the teachers were drawn from that sober and learned order, the Brethren of the Common Life, whose parent house was at Deventer.

Of Erasmus' life in the school we have little knowledge. He tells us that he was there in 1475, when preachers came from Rome announcing the jubilee which Sixtus IV had so conveniently found possible to hold after only twenty-five years. From one of his letters we can picture him wandering by the river side among the barges, and marking the slow growth of the bridge of boats which it took the town of Deventer several years to throw across the rapid Yssel. He probably entered the lowest class, the eighth, and by 1484, when at the age of eighteen he left in consequence of the outbreak of plague mentioned in Hegius' letter to Agricola, he had not made his way above the third; thus giving little indication of his future fame. An explanation may perhaps be found by supposing that his time in the choir at Utrecht was an interlude in the Deventer period; but in any case the school in his time was still 'barbarous', to use his own word, that is, it was still modelled on the requirements of the scholastic courses, the literae inamoenae, which from his earliest years he abhorred. Zinthius (or Synthius), who was one of the Brethren, and Hegius 'brought a breath of something better', he tells us: but both of them taught only in the higher forms, and Hegius he only heard during his last year, on the festivals when the head master lectured to the whole school together.

A few years later the school numbered 2200 boys. It is difficult to us to imagine such a throng gathered round one man. There were only eight forms, which must therefore have had on an average 275 in each; and even if subdivided into parallel classes, they must still have been uncomfortably large to our modern ideas. On the title-pages of early school-books are sometimes found woodcuts which represent the children sitting, like the Indian schoolboy to-day, in crowds about their master, taking only the barest amount of space, and content with the steps of his desk or even the floor. Some idea of the character of the teaching may be derived from the experiences of Thomas Platter (1499-1582) at Breslau about thirty years later. 'In the school at St. Elizabeth', he says, 'nine B.A.'s read lectures at the same hour and in the same room. Greek had not yet penetrated into that part of the world. No one had any printed books except the praeceptor, who had a Terence.[8] What was read had first to be dictated, then pointed, then construed, and at last explained.'[9] It was a wearisome business for all concerned. The reading of a few lines of text, the punctuation, the elaborate glosses full of wellnigh incomprehensible abbreviations; all dictated slowly enough for a class of a hundred or more to take down every word. Lessons in those days were indeed readings. For a clever boy who was capable of going forward quickly, they must have been great waste of time.

[8] It is worth remarking that in the fifteenth century Terence was regarded as a prose author, no attempt having been made to determine his metres. As late as 1516 an edition was printed in Paris in prose. [9] Here, and later on, I follow Mrs. Finn's translation, 1839.

At Deventer Erasmus began with elementary accidence. The books which he first mentions, Pater meus, a series of declensions, and Tempora, the tenses, that is the conjugations of the verb, were probably local productions of a simple nature which never found their way into print. From this he proceeded to the versified Latin grammars which mediaeval authorities on education had invented to supersede the prose of Priscian and Donatus; metre being more adapted to the learning by heart then so much in fashion. 'Praelegebatur Ebrardus et Joannes de Garlandia', he says: a line or two was read out by the master and then the commentary was dictated—the boys writing down as much as they could catch. Let us see the kind of thing. Here are some extracts from the Textus Equiuocorum of John Garland, an Englishman who taught at Toulouse in the thirteenth century.

Latrat et amittit, humilis, vilis, negat, heret: Est celeste Canis sidus, in amne natat.

'Firstly it is a thing that barks': three verses of quotation follow.

'Secondly it loses; canis being the name for the worst throw with the dice': one verse of quotation.

'Thirdly it is something humble: David to Saul, "After whom is the King of Israel come out? after a dead dog? after a flea?"

Fourthly it is something contemptible: Goliath to David, "Am I a dog that thou comest to me with staves?"

Fifthly it denies, like an apostate: "A dog returned to its vomit."

Sixthly it adheres.' But here the interpreter goes astray under the preoccupation of the times: 'heret significat hereticum et infidelem; hence "It is not good to take the children's bread and cast it unto dogs, that is to heretics and infidels."

Seventhly it is a star; hence are named the dog days, in which that star has dominion.

Eighthly it swims in the sea; the dog fish.'

The qualities of the dog are also expressed in this verse: 'Latrat in ede canis, nat in equore, fulget in astris. Et venit canis originaliter a cano—is.' So Garland, or his commentator, abridged.

Of sal he says:

Est sal prelatus, equor, sapientia, mimus, Sal pultes condit, sal est cibus et reprehendit.

Here again there is a full commentary; but the only interpretation that we need notice is the first, 'Salt denotes a prelate of the Church; for it is said in the Gospels, Ye are the salt of the earth.' When he composed these lines, Garland must surely have had his eye on ecclesiastical preferment.

Another line is interesting, as illustrating the confusion between c and t in mediaeval manuscripts:

Est katonque malum, katademon nascitur inde.

The commentary runs: 'Kathon est idem quod malum. Inde dicitur kathodemon, i.e. spiritus malignus seu dyabolus, et venit a kathon, i.e. malum, et demon, sciens, quasi mala sciens.' You will notice also the inconstancy of h, and the indifference to orthography which allows the same word to appear as katademon in the text and kathodemon in the commentary.

Garland's Textus is mostly Latin; but in the last composition of his life, the forty-two distiches entitled Cornutus, 'one on the horns of a dilemma', he is mainly occupied with Greek words adopted into Latin: using of course Latin characters. Some specimens will show the mediaeval standards of Greek: I quote from the text and commentary edited in 1481 by John Drolshagen, who was master of the sixth class at Zwolle.

Kyria chere geram cuius phīlantrŏpos est bar, Per te doxa theos nectēn ĕt vrānĭcĭs ymas.

In the commentary we are told that Kyria means the Virgin: but we are to be careful not to write it with two r's, for kirrios means a pig (I suppose [Greek: choiros]), and it would never do to say Kirrieleyson. Chere is of course [Greek: chaire], salue. Geran (geram in the text) is interpreted sanctus, and seems from a lengthy discussion of it to be connected with [Greek: geron] and [Greek: ieros].[10] Philantropos (notice the quantities) is Christ, the Saviour. 'Bar Grece est filius Latine.' 'Necten in Greco est venire Latine: vnde dicit Pristianus in primo minoris, antropos necten, i.e. homo venit.' (For this remarkable form I can only suggest [Greek: enthein] or [Greek: hekein]: -en is probably the infinitive; ne might arise from en; and ct, through tt, from th.) Ymas is explained as nobis, not vobis. The construction of the distich is then given: 'Hail, sacred queen, whose son is the lover of men; through thee divine and heavenly glory comes to us.'


'Clauiculis firmis theos antropos impos et ir mis Figor ob infirmi cosmos delicta, patir mi.'

Impos = in pedibus. Ir = a hand (probably [Greek: cheir], transliterated into hir, and h dropped) and mis is explained as = mei, according to the form which occurs in Plautus and early Latin. The lines are an address from Christ to God, and are interpreted: 'O my father, I God and man am fastened with hard nails in my feet and hands (upon the cross) for the sins of a weak world.'

Another work dictated to Erasmus at Deventer was the metrical grammar of Eberhard of Bethune in Artois, composed in the twelfth century. Its name, Graecismus, was based upon a chapter, the eighth, devoted to the elementary study of Greek—a feature which constituted an advance on the current grammars of the age. A few extracts will show the character of the assistance it offered to the would-be Greek scholar.

[10] Cf. Gerasmus and Hierasmus as variations of the name Herasmus or Erasmus.

Quod sententia sit bŏlĕ comprobat amphibolīa, Quodque fides brŏgĕ sit comprobat Allobroga.

The gloss explains the second line thus: 'Dicitur ab alleos quod est alienum, et broge quod est fides, quasi alienus a fide'; and thus we learn that the Allobroges were a Burgundian people who were always breaking faith with the Romans.

Constat apud Grecos quod tertia littera cima est, Est quoque dulce cĭmēn, inde cĭmētĕrium; Est vnĭuersalē cătă, fitque cătholicus inde, ... Cāta breuis pariter, cātalogus venit hinc. Die decas esse decem, designans inde decanum ... Delon obscurum, Delius inde venit. Ductio sit gogos, hinc isagoga venit. Estque geneth mulier, inde genēthēūm.

Here the confusion of c with t begins the misleading; which is carried further by the gloss, 'Genetheum: locus subterraneus vbi habitant mulieres ad laborandum, et dicitur a geneth quod est mulier, et thesis positio, quia ibi ponebantur mulieres ad laborandum'; or 'Genetheum: absconsio subterranea mulierum'.

Estque decem gintos, dicas hinc esse viginti, Vt pentecoste, coste valebit idem.

Pos quoque pes tibi sit, compos tibi comprobat illud, Atque pĕdos puer est, hinc pedagogus erit. Dic zoen animam, die indē zōĕcăisychen.

This last word appears in eleven different forms in the manuscripts. The gloss interprets it plainly as 'vita mea et anima mea'; but without this aid it must have been unintelligible to most readers, especially in such forms as zoychaysichen, zoycazyche, zoichasichen, zoyasichem.

The 'breath of something better' which Hegius and Zinthius brought was seen in the substitution of the Doctrinale of Alexander of Ville-Dieu, near Avranches (fl. 1200), as the school Latin grammar. This also is a metrical composition; and it has the merit of being both shorter and also more correct. It was first printed at Venice by Wendelin of Spires (c. 1470), and after a moderate success in Italy, twenty-three editions in fourteen years, it was taken up in the North and quickly attained great popularity. By 1500 more than 160 editions had been printed, of the whole or of various parts, and in the next twenty years there were nearly another hundred, before it was superseded by more modern compositions, such as Linacre's grammar, which held the field throughout Europe for a great part of the sixteenth century. The number of Deventer editions of the Doctrinale is considerable, mostly containing the glosses of Hegius and Zinthius, which overwhelm the text with commentary; a single distich often receiving two pages of notes, so full of typographical abbreviations and so closely packed together as to be almost illegible. This very fullness, however, probably indicates a change in the method of teaching, which by quickening it up must indeed have put new life into it; for it would clearly have been impossible to dictate such lengthy commentaries, or the boys would have made hardly any progress.

Thirty years ago in England a schoolboy of eleven found himself supplied with abridged Latin and Greek dictionaries, out of which to build up larger familiarity with these languages. Erasmus at Deventer had no such endowments. A school of those days would have been thought excellently equipped if the head master and one or two of his assistants had possessed, in manuscript or in print, one or other of the famous vocabularies in which was amassed the etymological knowledge of the Middle Ages. Great books are costly, and scholars are ever poor. The normal method of acquiring a dictionary was, no doubt, to construct it for oneself; the schoolboy laying foundations and building upon them as he rose from form to form, and the mature student constantly enlarging his plan throughout his life and adding to it the treasures gained by wider reading. A sure method, though necessarily circumscribed, at least in the beginning. We can imagine how men so rooted and grounded must have shaken their heads over 'learning made easy', when the press had begun to diffuse cheap dictionaries, which spared the younger generation such labour.

Though they were scarcely 'for the use of schools', it will repay us to examine some of the mediaeval dictionaries which lasted down to the Renaissance in general use; for they formed the background of educational resources, and from them we can estimate the standards of teaching attained in the late fifteenth century. First the Catholicon, compiled by John Balbi, a Dominican of Genoa, and completed on 7 March 1286; a work of such importance to the age we are considering that it was printed at Mainz as early as 1460, and there were many editions later. Badius' at Paris, 1506, for instance, was reprinted in 1510, 1511, 1514. In his preface Balbi announces that his dictionary is to be on the alphabetical principle; and, what is even more surprising to us, he goes on to explain at great length what the alphabetical principle is. Thus: 'I am going to treat of amo and bibo. I shall take amo before bibo, because a is the first letter in amo and b is the first letter in bibo; and a is before b in the alphabet. Again I have to treat of abeo and adeo. I shall take abeo before adeo, because b is the second letter in abeo and d is the second letter in adeo; and b is before d in the alphabet.' And so he goes on: amatus will be treated before amor, imprudens before impudens, iusticia before iustus, polisintheton before polissenus—the two last being from the Greek. 'But note', he continues, 'that in polissenus, s is the fifth letter and also the sixth, because s is repeated there. A repetition is therefore equivalent to a double letter; and thus this arrangement will show when l, m, n, r, s or indeed any other letter is to be doubled. And in order that the reader may find quickly what he seeks, whenever the first or second letter of a word is changed, we shall mark it with azure blue.' His preface ends with an appeal. 'This arrangement I have worked out with great labour; yet not I, but the grace of God with me. I entreat you therefore, reader, do not contemn my work as something rude and barbarous.'

The most striking feature of the dictionary is its etymology. Almost every word is supplied with a derivation, often very far-fetched. Thus glisco is derived from 'glykis, quod est dulcis; que enim dulcia sunt desiderare solemus': gliscere therefore is equivalent to desiderare, crescere, pinguescere and several other words. After this we are not surprised at the following account of a dormouse. 'Glis a glisco: quoddam genus murium quod multum dormit. Et dicitur sic quod sompnus facit glires pingues et crescere.' Here is another piece of natural history. 'Irundo ab aer dicitur: quia non residens sed in aere capiens cibos edat, quasi in aere edens.' There is simplicity in the following: 'Nix a nubes, quia a nube venit.' Again: 'Ouis ab offero vel obluo: quia antiquitus in inicio non tauri sed oues in sacrificio mactarentur. Priscianus vero dicit quod descendit a Greco ... oys.' Besides his philology the good Dominican was also a theologian; and when he comes to the words upon which his world was built, he cannot dismiss them as lightly as the snow. So Antichristus has two columns, that is to say a folio page: confiteor 11/2, conscientia 21/4, ordo 21/2, virgo two columns.

Much light is thrown on Balbi's work by the dictionary of his predecessor, Huguitio of Pisa, Bishop of Ferrara (d. 1210). The title of this, Liber deriuationum, indicates its character. Instead of the alphabetical principle the words are arranged according to their etymology; all that are assigned to a given root being grouped together. This made it necessary, or at any rate desirable, to find a derivation for every word; and with ingenuity to aid this was done as far as possible. Besides derivatives even compounds came under the simple root; and in consequence it must have been extremely difficult to find a word unless one already knew a good deal about it. It is no wonder that the book was never printed; although it occurs frequently in the catalogues of mediaeval libraries.

A few examples will suffice. Under capio are found capax, captiuus, capillus, caput with all its derivatives, anceps, praeceps, principium, caper, capus, caupo, cippus, scipio, ceptrum; and even cassis and catena. Similarly under nubo come nubes, nebula, nebulo, nix, niger, nimpha, limpha, limpidus. With such a book as one's only support it was clearly of the highest importance to be good at etymology; with ouis, for instance, not to be troubled by Priscian's fanciful derivation from the Greek, but to know that it came from offero, and was therefore to be found under fero; or again to look for hirundo under aer. Nor need we be surprised at the strange derivations upon which arguments were sometimes founded: that Sprenger, the inquisitor, could explain femina 'quia minorem habet et seruat fidem'; or the preacher over whom Erasmus' Folly makes merry, find authority for burning heretics in the Apostle's command 'Haereticum deuita'.

We are now in a position to understand Balbi's performance in the Catholicon. From the apologetic tone of his preface it is clear that he felt Huguitio's work to be the really scientific thing, the only book that a scholar would consult: but evidently experience had shown the difficulty of using it, and therefore for the weakness of lesser men like himself he reverted to the sequence of the alphabet. In cumbering himself with derivations, too, he shows that he knows his place. He may have had a glimmering that some of them were absurd; and that Priscian with his reference to the Greek was a safer guide. But to a scholar brought up on Huguitio derivations were of the first importance; and to leave them out would have been only another mark of inferiority.

Beyond Huguitio we may go back to Papias, a learned Lombard (fl. 1051), whose Vocabulary was still in use in the fifteenth century, and was printed at Milan in 1476. The editions of it are far fewer than those of the Catholicon; a fact which presumably points to the superiority of the later work. Papias also used the alphabetical principle; and his lengthy explanation of it, which lacks, however, the lucidity of Balbi's, probably implies that his predecessors had adopted the etymological arrangement by derivations, or the divisions of Isidore according to subjects. In a few cases he makes concession to etymology, by giving derivatives under their root, e.g. under ago come all the words derived from it: but he has regard to the weak, and places them also in their right alphabetical position. Not many derivations are given; but one of them is well known. Lucus is defined as 'locus amenus, vbi multae arbores sunt. Lucus dictus [Greek: kata antiphrasin] quia caret luce pro nimia arborum vmbra; vel a colocando crebris luminibus (aliter uiminibus), siue a luce, quod in eo lucebant funalia propter nemorum tenebras.' This in the hands of Balbi becomes 'per contrarium lucus dicitur a lucendo', or, as we say popularly, 'lucus a non lucendo.' December, again, is derived from decem and imbres 'quibus abundare solet'; and so too the other numbered months.

It is noticeable that Papias has some knowledge of Greek, for derivations in Greek letters occur, e.g. 'Acrocerauni: montes propter altitudinem & fulminum iactus dicti. Graece enim fulmen [Greek: keraunos] ceraunos dicitur, et acra [Greek: akra] sumitas'; and a great many Greek and Hebrew words are given transliterated into Latin, ballein, fagein, Ennosigaeus. Like Balbi, Papias travels outside the limits of a mere dictionary, and his interests are not restricted to theology. Aetas draws him into an account of the various ages of the world, regnum into a view of its kingdoms. Carmen provokes 7 columns, 31/2 folio pages, on metres; lapis 2 columns on precious stones. Italy receives 2 columns, and 3/4 of a column are given to St. Paul. Contrariwise there is often great brevity in his interpretations: 'Samium locus est', 'heroici antiqui', 'mederi curare'. His treatment of miraculum is interesting; 'A miracle is to raise the dead to life; but it is a wonder (mirabile) for a fire to be kindled in the water, or for a man to move his ears.' The next heading is mirabilia, for which his examples are taken from the ends of the earth. He begins: 'Listen. Among the Garamantes is a spring so cold by day that you cannot drink it, so hot at night that you cannot put your finger into it.' A fig-tree in Egypt, apples of Sodom, the non-deciduous trees of an island in India—these are the other travellers' tales which serve him for wonders.

The alphabetical method did not hold its own without struggle. It prevailed in Robert Stephanus' Latin Thesaurus (1532), the most considerable work of its kind that had been compiled since the invention of printing; but Dolet's Commentaries on the Latin Tongue (1536), are practically a reversion to the arrangement by roots. Henry Stephanus' Greek Thesaurus (1572) and Scapula's well-known abridgement of it (1579) are both radical; and as late as the seventeenth century this method was employed in the first Dictionary of the French Academy, which was designed in 1638 but not published till 1694. That, however, was its last appearance. The preface to the Academy's second Dictionary (1700 and 1718), after comparing the two methods, says: 'The arrangement by roots is the most scientific, and the most instructive to the student; but it is not suited to the impatience of the French people, and so the Academy has felt obliged to abandon it.'[11] The ordinary user of dictionaries to-day would be surprised at being called impatient for expecting the words to be put in alphabetical order.

[11] Cf. R.C. Christie, Etienne Dolet, ch. xi.

In mediaeval times there was one very real obstacle to the use of the alphabetical method, and that was the uncertainty of spelling. Both Papias and Balbi allude to it in their prefaces; but it did not deter them from their enterprise. Even in the days of printing language takes a long time to crystallize down into accepted forms, correct and incorrect. You may see Dutchess with a t at Blenheim, well within the eighteenth century, and forgo has only recently decided to give up its e. In the days of manuscripts men spelt pretty much as they pleased, making very free even with their own names; and uncritical copyists, caring only to reproduce the word, and not troubling about the exact orthography of their original, did nothing to check the ever-growing variety. Such licence was agreeable for the imaginative, but it made despairing work for the compilers of dictionaries. Some of their difficulties may be given as examples. In the early days of minuscule writing, when writing-material was still scarce, to save space it was common to write the letter e with a reversed cedilla beneath it to denote the diphthongs -ae and -oe. In the Middle Ages the cedilla was commonly dropped, leaving the e plain; and so mostly it remained until the sixteenth century revived the diphthong, or at least the two double letters.

At all periods down to 1600, some hands are found in which it is impossible to distinguish between c and t; and hence in mediaeval times, and even later, such forms as fatio, loto, pecieris, licterae are not infrequently found for facio, loco, petieris, litterae. An extreme example of the confusion which this variability must have caused is in the case of the fourteenth-century annalist, Nicholas Trivet, whose surname sometimes appears as Cerseth or Chereth.

The doubling of consonants, too, was often a matter of doubt, and the Middle Ages, possibly again for reasons of space, used many words with single consonants instead of two—difficilimus, Salustius, consumare, comodum, opidum, fuise. The letter h was the source of infinite trouble. Sometimes it was surprisingly omitted, as in actenus, irundo, Oratius, ortus—in the latter cases perhaps under Italian influence; sometimes it appears unexpectedly, as in Therentius, Theutonia, Thurcae, Hysidorus, habundare, and even haspirafio; or in abhominor, where it bolstered up the derivation from homo: or it might change its place from one consonant to another, as in calchographus, cartha. Papias found it a great trouble, and indeed was quite muddled with it, placing hyppocrita, hippomanes among the h's, but hippopedes and several others under the i's, though without depriving them of initial h. In France, h between two short i's was considered to need support, and so we find michi, nichil, occurring quite regularly. The difficulty of i and y was met by the suppression of the latter; so that though it sometimes appears unexpectedly, as in hysteria, it is only treated as i. Between f and ph there was much uncertainty; phas, phanum, prophanus are well-known forms, or conversely Christofer, flenbothomari, Flegeton. B and p were often confused, as in babtizare, plasphemus; and p made its way into such words as ampnis, dampnum, alumpnus. A triumph of absurd variation is achieved by Alexander Neckam, who begins a sentence 'Coquinarii quocunt'.

With the increased learning of the Renaissance these varieties gradually disappear. The printers, too, rendered good service in promoting uniformity, each firm having its standard orthography for doubtful cases, as printers do to-day. The use of e for ae is abundant in the first books printed North of the Alps; but it steadily diminishes, and by 1500 has almost vanished. In manuscripts, where it was easy to forget to add the cedilla, the plain e lasts much longer. There was also confusion in the reverse direction. Well into the sixteenth century the cedilla is often found wrongly added to words such as puer, equus, eruditus, epistola; in 1550 the Froben firm was still regularly printing aedo, aeditio; and in the index to an edition of Aquinas, Venice, 1593, aenigma and Aegyptus, spelt in this way, are only to be found under e. Other forms of error persisted long. To the end of his life Erasmus usually wrote irito, oportunus; in 1524 he could still use Oratius. The town of Boppard on the Rhine he styles indifferently Bobardia or Popardia: just as, much later, editors described the elder Camerarius of Bamberg as Bapenbergensis in 1583, as Pabepergensis in 1595. As late as 1540 a little book was printed in Paris to demonstrate that michi and nichil were incorrect.

In such a state of flux we need not wonder that the mediaeval writers of dictionaries found the alphabetical arrangement not the way of simplification they had hoped, but rather to be full of pitfalls; nor again that the men of the Renaissance thought the work of their predecessors so lamentably inadequate. We shall do better to admire in both cases the brilliance and constancy which could achieve so much with such imperfect instruments.

To complete our sketch of the books on which the scholars of the fifteenth century had to rely we may consider two more. The first is the great encyclopaedia of Vincent of Beauvais, a Dominican friar (c. 1190-1264). It was printed in 1472-6 by Mentelin at Strasburg, in six enormous volumes; and no one can properly appreciate the magnitude of the work who has not tried to lift these volumes about. Vincent was not the first to attempt this encyclopaedic enterprise, for his work is based on that of another Frenchman, Helinand, who died in 1229. In his preface he states that his prior had urged him to reduce his Speculum to a manual; being doubtless an old man, and appalled at these colossal fruits of his friar's industry. But this was too much for the proud author after all his labour. He did, however, consent to cut it up into portions. The Speculum naturale gives a description of the world in all its parts, animal and vegetable and mineral; the Speculum doctrinale taught how to practise the arts and sciences; the Speculum historiale embraced the world's history down to 1250; and the Speculum morale, which is perhaps not by Vincent, found room for the philosophies.

But few libraries can have possessed this work in full. Our other book was much more compassable and more widely circulated. Its author was a certain Johannes Marchesinus, of whom so little is known that his date has been put both at 1300 and at 1466. Even the title of the book was uncertain. Marchesinus names it Mammotrectus or Mammetractus, which he explains as 'led by a pedagogue'; but a current form of the name was Mammothreptus, which was interpreted as 'brought up by one's grandmother'. The book consists of a commentary on the whole Bible, chapter by chapter; and also upon the Legenda Sanctorum, upon various sermons and homilies, responses, antiphons, and hymns, with notes on the Hebrew months, ecclesiastical vestments, and other subjects likely to be useful to students in the Church, especial emphasis being laid on pronunciation and quantity. It was intended, Marchesinus tells us in his preface, for the use of the poor clergy, to aid them in writing sermons and in reading difficult Hebrew names; and from the sympathy with which he enters into their troubles, it seems clear that he knew them from personal experience.

From its scope the book might be expected to be as large as Vincent's Speculum, but in fact it can be printed in a quarto volume. It was not intended to compete with the great commentaries of Peter the Lombard, or Nicholas Lyra, or Hugh of St. Victor, which fill many folios. It was to be within reach of the poor parish priest, and so must not be costly. But the surprising part of the book is its triviality. With so little space available, one would have expected to find nothing admitted that was not important: but the fact is that it has nothing which is not elementary. There is nothing historical, nothing theological, only a few simple points of grammar and quantity. For example, in the story of Deborah, Judges iv, the commentary runs as follows:

2. Sisara: middle syllable short.

4. Debbora: middle syllable short. Prophetes masc., Prophetis fem.; meaning, propheta.

10. Accersitis: last syllable but one long; meaning, vocatis.

15. Perterreo, perterres; meaning, in pauorem conuertere. Active.

17. Cinci (the Kenites): middle syllable long.

15. Desilio, desilis, desilii or desiliui: middle syllable short in trisyllables in the present; meaning, de aliquo salire siue descendere festinanter.

21. clauus, masc., claui: meaning, acutum ferrum, malleus, masc., mallei: meaning, martellus.

tempus, neut.: meaning, pars capitis, for which some people say timpus.

For Daniel vi, the story of Daniel in the lions' den, the commentary is even briefer:

6. surripuerunt: meaning, falso suggesserunt. Surripio, surripis, surrepsi(!): meaning, latenter rapere, subtrahere, furari.

10. comperisset; meaning, cognouisset. Comperio, comperis, comperi: fourth conjugation.

20. affatus: meaning, allocutus. From affor, affaris; and governs the accusative.

We must not exalt ourselves above the author. He is very humble. 'Let any imperfections in the book', says his preface, 'be attributed to me: and if there is anything good, let it be thought to have come from God.' He gave them of his best, explaining away such as he could of the difficulties which had confronted him. But one can imagine the disgust of even a moderate scholar if, wishing to study the Bible more carefully, he could obtain access to nothing better than Mammotrectus.

Though Erasmus has not much to tell us of his time at Deventer, a fuller account of the school may be found in the autobiography of John Butzbach (c. 1478-1526), who for the last nineteen years of his life was Prior of Laach.[12] Indeed, his narrative is so detailed and so illustrative of the age that it may well detain us here. He was the son of a weaver in the town of Miltenberg (hence Piemontanus) on the Maine, above Aschaffenburg. At the age of six he was put to school and already began to learn Latin; one of his nightly exercises that he brought home with him being to get by heart a number of Latin words for vocabulary. After a few years he came into trouble with his master for laziness and truancy, and received a severe beating; his mother intervened and got the master dismissed from his post, and Butzbach was removed from the school.

[12] Butzbach's manuscripts from Laach are now in the University Library at Bonn, but have never been printed. I have used a German translation by D.J. Becker, Regensburg, 1869.

An opportunity then offered for him to get a wider education. The son of a neighbour who had commenced scholar, returned home for a time, and offered to take Butzbach with him when he went off again to pursue his courses for his degree. The consent of his parents was obtained; and the scholar having received a liberal contribution towards expenses, and Butzbach being equipped with new clothes, the pair set out together. The boy was now ten, and looked forward hopefully to the future; but the scholar quickly showed himself in his true colours. He treated Butzbach as a fag, made him trudge behind carrying the larger share of their bundles, and when they came to an inn feasted royally himself off the money given to him for the boy, leaving him to the charity of the innkeepers. At the end of two months the money was spent, and they had found no place of settlement. Henceforward Butzbach was set to beg, going from house to house in the villages they passed, asking for food; and when this failed to produce enough, he was required to steal. The scholar treated him shamefully and beat him often; and as it was a well-known practice for fags, when begging, to eat up delicacies at once, instead of bringing them in, Butzbach was sometimes subjected to the regular test, being required to fill his mouth with water and then spit it out into a basin for his master to examine whether there were traces of fat.

The scholar's aim was to find some school, having attached to it a Bursa or hostel, in which they could obtain quarters; apparently he was not yet qualified for a university. They made their way to Bamberg, but there was no room for them in the Bursa. So on they went into Bohemia, where at the town of Kaaden the rector of the school was able to allot them a room—just a bare, unfurnished chamber, in which they were permitted to settle. Such teaching as Butzbach received was spasmodic and ineffectual, and after two years of this bondage he ran away. For the next five years he was in Bohemia in private service, longing for home, hating his durance among the heathen, as he called the Bohemians for following John Hus, but lacking courage to make his escape from masters who could send horsemen to scour the countryside for fugitive servants and string them up to trees when caught. However, at length the opportunity came, and after varying fortunes, Butzbach made his way home to Miltenberg, to find his father dead and his mother married again.

For the substantial accuracy of Butzbach's narrative his character is sufficient warranty. He was a pious, honest man, and at the time when he wrote his autobiography at the request of his half-brother Philip, he was already a monk at Laach. But the picture of a young student's sufferings under an elder's cruelty can be paralleled with surprising closeness from the autobiography of Thomas Platter, mentioned above; the wandering from one school to another, the maltreatment, the begging, the enforced stealing, all these are reproduced with just the difference of surroundings.

Platter's account of his life at Breslau is worth quoting. 'I was ill three times in one winter, so that they were obliged to bring me into the hospital; for the travelling scholars had a particular hospital and physicians for themselves. Care was taken of the patients, and they had good beds, only the vermin were so abundant that, like many others, I lay much rather upon the floor than in the beds. Through the winter the fags lay upon the floor in the school, but the Bacchants in small chambers, of which at St. Elizabeth's there were several hundreds. But in summer, when it was hot, we lay in the church-yard, collected together grass such as is spread in summer on Saturdays in the gentlemen's streets before the doors, and lay in it like pigs in the straw. When it rained, we ran into the school, and when there was thunder, we sang the whole night with the Subcantor, responses and other sacred music. Now and then after supper in summer we went into the beerhouses to beg for beer. The drunken Polish peasants would give us so much that I often could not find my way to the school again, though only a stone's throw from it.' Platter wrote his autobiography at the age of 73, when his memories of his youth must have been growing dim; but though on this account we must not press him in details, his main outlines are doubtless correct.

On his return, Butzbach was apprenticed to Aschaffenburg, to learn the trade of tailoring; and having mastered this, he procured for himself, in 1496, the position of a lay-brother in the Benedictine Abbey of Johannisberg in the Rheingau, opposite Bingen. His duties were manifold. Besides doing the tailoring of the community, he was expected to make himself generally useful: to carry water and fetch supplies, to look after guests, to attend the Abbot when he rode abroad (on one occasion he was thrown thus into the company of Abbot Trithemius of Sponheim, whose work on the Ecclesiastical writers of his time he afterwards attempted to carry on), to help in the hay harvest, and in gathering the grapes. Before a year was out he grew tired of these humble duties, and bethought him anew of his father's wish that he should become a professed monk. He had omens too. One morning his father appeared to him as he was dressing, and smiled upon him. Another day he was sitting at his work and talking about his wish with an old monk who was sick and under his care. On the wall in front of his table he had fastened a piece of bread, to be a reminder of the host and of Christ's sufferings. Suddenly this fell to the ground. The old man started up from his place by the stove, and steadying his tottering limbs cried out aloud that this was a sign that the wish was granted. He had the reputation among his fellows of being a prophet and had foretold the day of his own death. Butzbach accepted the omen, and obtained leave to go to school again.

His choice was Deventer. One of the brethren wrote him an elegant letter to Hegius applying for admission; and though, as he says, he answered no questions in his entrance examination (which appears to have been oral), on the strength of the letter he was admitted and placed in the seventh class, a young man of twenty amongst the little boys who were making a beginning at grammar. But he had no means of support except occasional jobs of tailor's work, and hunger drove him back to Johannisberg. There he might have continued, had not a chance meeting with his mother, when he had ridden over to Frankfort with the Abbot, given him a new spur. She could not bear to think of his remaining a Lollhard, that is a lay-brother, all his days; and pressing money privily into his hands, she besought the Abbot to let him return to Deventer. In August 1498 he was there again, was examined by Hegius, and was placed this time in the lowest class, the eighth, in company with a number of stolid louts, who had fled to school to escape being forced to serve as soldiers. There was reason in their fears. The Duke of Gueldres was at war with the Bishop of Utrecht. A hundred prisoners had been executed in the three days before Butzbach's return, and as he strode into Deventer to take up his books again, he may have seen their scarce-cold bodies swinging on gibbets against the summer sunset. The schoolboy of to-day works in happier surroundings.

Butzbach's career henceforward was fortunate. He was taken up by a good and pious woman, Gutta Kortenhorff, who without regular vows had devoted herself to a life of abstinence and self-sacrifice; taking special pleasure in helping young men who were preparing for the Franciscan or the reformed Benedictine Orders. For nine months Butzbach lived in her house, doubtless out of gratitude rendering such service as he could to his kind patroness. From the eighth class he passed direct into the sixth, and at Easter 1499 he was promoted into the fifth. This entitled him to admission to the Domus Pauperum maintained by the Brethren of the Common Life for boys who were intending to become monks; and so he transferred himself thither for the remainder of his course. But he suffered much from illness, and five several times made up his mind to give up and return home—once indeed this was only averted by a swelling of his feet, which for a prolonged period made it impossible for him to walk. After six months in the fifth, and a year in the fourth class, he was moved up into the third, thus traversing in little over two years what had occupied Erasmus for something like nine.

Butzbach was by temperament inclined to glorify the past; in the present he himself had a share, and therefore in his humility he thought little of it. In consequence we must not take him too literally in his account of the condition of the school; but it is too interesting to pass over. 'In the old days', he says, 'Deventer was a nursery for the Reformed Orders; they drew better boys, more suited to religion, out of the fifth class, than they do now out of the second or first, although now much better authors are read there. Formerly there was nothing but the Parables of Alan <of Lille, fl. 1200>, the moral distichs of Cato, Aesop's Fables, and a few others, whom the moderns despise; but the boys worked hard, and made their own way over difficulties. Now when even in small schools the choicest authors are read, ancient and modern, prose and poetry, there is not the same profit; for virtue and industry are declining. With the decay of that school, religion also is decaying, especially in our Order, which drew so many good men from there. And yet it is not a hundred years since our reformation.'

He does not indicate how far back he was turning his regretful gaze; whether to the early years of the fifteenth century when Nicholas of Cues was a scholar at Deventer, or to the more recent times of Erasmus, who was about three school-generations ahead of him. But of the books used there in the last quarter of the fifteenth century we can form a clear notion from the productions of the Deventer printers, Richard Paffraet and Jacobus of Breda. School-books then as now were profitable undertakings, if printed cheap enough for the needy student; and Paffraet, with Hegius living in his house, must have had plenty of opportunities for anticipating the school's requirements. Between 1477 and 1499 he printed Virgil's Eclogues, Cicero's De Senectute and De Amicitia, Horace's Ars Poetica, the Axiochus in Agricola's translation, Cyprian's Epistles, Prudentius' poems, Juvencus' Historia Euangelica, and the Legenda Aurea: also the grammar of Alexander with the commentary of Synthius and Hegius, Agostino Dato's Ars scribendi epistolas, Aesop's Fables, and the Dialogus Creaturarum, the latter two being moralized in a way which must surely have pleased Butzbach. Jacobus of Breda, who began printing at Deventer in 1486, produced Virgil's Eclogues, Cicero's De Senectute and De Officiis, Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae and De disciplina scholarium, Aesop, a poem by Baptista Mantuanus, the 'Christian Virgil', Alan of Lille's Parabolae, Alexander, two grammatical treatises by Synthius and the Epistola mythologica of Bartholomew of Cologne.

This last, as being the work of a master in the school, deserves attention; and also for its intrinsic interest. As its title implies, it is cast in the form of a letter, addressed to a friend Pancratius; and it is dated from Deventer 10 July 1489—nine years before Butzbach entered the school. It opens with the customary apologies, and after some ordinary topics the writer, Bartholomew, says that he is sending back some books borrowed from Pancratius, including a Sidonius which he has had on loan for three years. At this point there is a transformation. Sidonius is personified and becomes the centre of a series of semi-comic incidents, which afford an opportunity for introducing various words for the common objects of everyday life; and a glossary explains many of these with precision. There is a long and vivid account of the waking of Sidonius from his three years' slumber. The door has to be broken open, and Sidonius is found lying to all appearances dead. A feather burnt under his nose produces slight signs of life; and when a good beating with the bar of the door is threatened, he at length rouses himself. Servants come in, and their different duties are described. They fall to quarrelling and become uproarious; and in the scuffle Sidonius is hurt. A lotion is prepared for his bruises, and he is offered diet suitable for an invalid: boiled sturgeon, washed down with wine or beer, the latter being from Bremen or Hamburg.

Afterwards the room is cleared up, and thus an opportunity is given to describe it. Then a table is spread for the rest of the party, and the various requisites are specified—tablecloth and napkins, pewter plates, earthenware mugs, a salt-cellar and two brass stands for the dishes. Bread is put round to each place, chairs are brought up with cushions; and jugs of wine and beer placed in the centre of the table. Finally a basin is brought with ewer and towel for the guests to wash their hands, and as one o'clock strikes, dinner appears, and all sit down together, including the servants. After the meal a dice-box and board are produced; but one of the guests demurs, and it is put aside. In the conversation that ensues it is arranged that Sidonius shall go back to his master next morning after breakfast. The servant who is to accompany him asks that they may go in a carriage; but this is overruled, because of a recent accident in which one had been upset, and it is determined that a Spanish palfrey of easy paces shall be provided for Sidonius. At six supper is served; and then the curtain falls, the letter relapsing into normal matters—inquiries for a Euclid, regrets at being unable to send to Pancratius Hyginus and the Astronomica of Manilius.

It is clear that the object of the book, which is of no great length, was to give boys correct Latin words for the material objects of their daily life: something like Bekker's Gallus and Charicles on a small scale. In carrying out this idea Bartholomew of Cologne has provided us with a sketch of the world that he knew.



Erasmus was not fitted for the monastic life. This is not to say that he was a bad man. Few men outside the ranks of the holy have worked harder or made greater sacrifices to do God service. But his was a free spirit. His work could only be done in his own way; and to live according to another's rule fretted him beyond endurance. His experience in the matter was not fortunate. In 1483 his mother died of plague at Deventer, whither she had accompanied him. His father recalled him next year to Gouda, but died soon afterwards; and his guardians then sent him with his elder brother to a school kept by the Brethren of the Common Life at Hertogenbosch—doubtless to a Domus Pauperum for intending monks, such as Butzbach entered at Deventer; for in this connexion Erasmus describes the schools of the Brethren as seminaries for the regular orders. After two years they returned to Gouda, and Erasmus begged to be sent to a university; but no means were forthcoming, and the guardian prevailed upon the elder brother Peter to enter the monastery of Sion, near Delft. Erasmus held out for some time; but he was without resources and the influences at work upon him were strong. One day he fell in with a school-friend, Cornelius of Woerden, who had recently entered the house of Augustinian canons at Steyn, near Gouda. In his loneliness any friend was welcome. He paid visits to Steyn and saw that the life there offered leisure and even possibilities of study; Cornelius, too, seemed inclined to be a ready companion in literary pursuits. Urged by his guardian, invited by his friend, he gave way at length to the double pressure and entered Steyn.

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