A thought from Desiderius Erasmus

While I can hardly commend everything in Erasmus, I often find something in him I love. We were covering him today in my Renaissance class and I related how he become the tutor of William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, while both were studying in Paris. Blount took Erasmus with him to England in 1499 where Erasmus made the monumental acquaintance of John Colet, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and lecturer at Oxford (monumental because it was Colet who pressed Erasmus to study Greek more seriously than he had). Erasmus loved England, but wholly for the company (he became fast friends as well with Sir Thomas More). He complained that he hated the climate – – it rained too much – – and the the beer was flat; but nonetheless, he said, all the young ladies would greet him with a kiss. My students all took in the great irony with laughs: “He said that” that all intoned “after coming from Paris? Boy have things changed!” Anyway, here is a bit from his On the Education of Children

“It is beyond argument that a man who has never been instructed in philosophy or in any branch of learning is a creature quite inferior to the brute animals. Animals only follow their natural instincts; but man, unless he has experienced the influence of learning and philosophy, is at the mercy of impulses that are worse than those of a wild best. There is no beast more savage and dangerous than a human being who is swept along by the passions  of ambition , greed, anger, envy, extravagance, and sensuality. Therefore a father who does not arrange for his son to receive the best education at the earliest age is neither a man himself nor has any fellowship with human nature (The Erasmus Reader, p. 73).”


About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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One Response to A thought from Desiderius Erasmus

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