Life of Erasmus Essay

Life of Erasmus Essay

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Life of Erasmus
Erasmus of Rotterdam was born on October 27, probably in 1466. His
father belonged to Gouda, a little town near Rotterdam, and after some
schooling there and an interval during which he was a chorister in
Utrecht Cathedral, Erasmus was sent to Deventer, to the principal
school in the town, which was attached to St. Lebuin's Church. The
renewed interest in classical learning which had begun in Italy in the
fourteenth century had as yet been scarcely felt in Northern Europe,
and education was still dominated by the requirements of Philosophy
and Theology, which were regarded as the highest branches of
knowledge. A very high degree of subtlety in thought and argument had
been reached, and in order that the youthful student might be fitted
to enter this arena, it was necessary that he should be trained from
the outset in its requirements. In the schools, in consequence, little
attention was paid to the form in which thought was expressed,
provided that the thought was correct: in marked contrast to the
classical ideal, which emphasized the importance of expression, in
just appreciation of the fact that thought expressed in obscure or
inadequate words, fails to reach the human mind. The mediaeval
position had been the outcome of a reaction against the spirit of
later classical times, which had sacrificed matter to form. And now
the pendulum was swinging back again in a new attempt to adjust the
rival claims.

The education which Erasmus received at Deventer was still in thraldom
to the mediaeval ideal. Greek was practically unknown, and in Latin
all that was required of the studen...

... middle of paper ...

final shape they are a series of lively dialogues in which characters,
often thinly disguised, discuss the burning questions of the day with
lightness and humour. In all subsequent times they have been a
favourite book for school reading; and some of Shakespeare's lines are
an echo of Erasmus.

In 1529 religious dissension drove him from Basel and he took refuge
at Freiburg in the Breisgau, which was still untouched by the
Reformation. There he worked on, in the intervals of severe illness;
his courage never failed him and he was comforted by the affection of
his friends. In 1535 he returned again to Basel, to be at hand in the
printing of a work on preaching, the Ecclesiastes, to which he had
given his recent efforts; and there death, which for twelve years had
not seemed far away, overtook him on July 12, 1536.

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