The Life Of Erasmus -- By: Enoch Pond

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 019:73 (Jan 1862)
Article: The Life Of Erasmus
Author: Enoch Pond

The Life Of Erasmus1

Rev. Enoch Pond

Several memoirs of Erasmus were written within a century after his death, as those of Rhenanus, Merula, Mercier, Birardiere, Bayle, in his Dictionary, and Du Pin, in the fifth volume of his Ecclesiastical History. At later periods, his life has been written by Knight, Beaurigny, Le Clerc, Jortin, Hess, and Adolph Müller. The memoir by Le Clerc is prefixed to his complete edition of the works of Erasmus, and of this the volumes of Jortin are little more than a translation. They are written in the form of annals, showing where Erasmus was, and what he did, and what befel him from year to year. Large portions of them consist of extracts from his letters, interspersed with explanatory and critical remarks. The memoir proper is followed by a copious appendix, and by an extended review of Erasmus’s character and works. The work of Jortin is called by Johnson “a dull book,” but we have not found it so. To be sure, it is not written in an easy, flowing style, — the plan of the author forbade it; but it is agreeable, instructive, full of anecdote and interest, touching upon the characters and works of the friends and correspondents of Erasmus, who were the most distinguished men of his age. It can hardly be called, however, a life of Erasmus. It is rather remarks upon his life, than a continuous biography. In the following sketch, we shall be guided chiefly by the volumes of Jortin, assisted occasionally by other writers, and especially by a very instructive monograph in the London Quarterly Review for July 1859.

Erasmus lived at a most exciting and critical period of the world’s history. He preceded the Reformation by almost half a century, and was one of those learned, gifted, laborious men who, without knowing exactly what they were doing, prepared the way for it. It was continually in the mouths of the monks, while the Reformation was in progress, “Erasmus laid the egg, and Luther hatched it.” To this Erasmus, who did not quite like the compliment, replied: “I laid a hen’s egg, but Luther hatched some other kind of brood.”

Not only did Erasmus prepare the way for the Reformation, he lived through the most tumultuous and critical period of it. The Reformation may be said to have commenced in the year 1517, when Luther published his theses against indulgences; Erasmus died almost twenty years later, in 1536.

The circumstances of Erasmus’s birth and early education, and indeed we may say of his whole life, were against him, and yet, to his credit it should be said, he so grappled with them and rose above them as to be justly regarded the most distinguished literary char...

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