Erasmus: A Study of His Life, Ideals and Place in History

Erasmus: A Study of His Life, Ideals and Place in History

by Preserved Smith


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Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) was the most important literary figure of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. The first truly international author of the Renaissance, his influence upon his immediate contemporaries and following generations can hardly be overestimated. He was the arbiter of letters of his day, the first name in classical scholarship, the finest biblical scholar, the best satirist, and first, or nearly first in a score of other fields of intellectual endeavor. He was also a remarkable personality, perhaps the only important man in Europe who was able to keep his head through the incredible ferment of ideas and beliefs that permeated the age; he never yielded to extremes. He was the great stabilizer of his day.

This present work, written by one of America's foremost historians, is the standard English-language work on Erasmus. Extremely readable and fluent, it is also very thorough and very profound in its insights. It makes use of every known source of information on Erasmus to accomplish its threefold purpose: to present the known facts of Erasmus's life, to exhibit his literary genius, and to examine his intricate relations with the important figures of the Reformation and the Renaissance. It makes clear his almost unbelievable virtuosity in letters, analyzes his subtle personality, and explains how this unassuming, quiet, modest man really controlled the ideological destiny of Europe for decades.

For many years the study of Erasmus has been somewhat neglected, since we were still too close to the controversies and biases that had come down to us from his time. Now, however, it is being recognized more and more surely that he was a remarkable example in both achievements and orientation, and that our present culture owes much more to him than we had admitted. No student of philosophy, literature, European history, history of religions, theology, or of cultural history can afford to be without this book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781625641359
Publisher: Wipf & Stock Publishers
Publication date: 02/13/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Preserved Smith (July 22, 1880 – May 15, 1941) was an American historian of the Protestant Reformation. He was the son of Henry Preserved Smith, a noted scholar of the Old Testament, and inherited his name from a line of Puritan ancestors stretching back to the seventeenth century. He attended Amherst College and Columbia University, where he received his PhD in 1907, and continued studies at the Sorbonne and the University of Berlin. Like his mentor James Harvey Robinson at Columbia, he had a high respect for science and a belief that knowledge of history was a way to improve human prospects for the future. He taught at Cornell University as a member of the Department of History from 1923 to 1941.

Table of Contents

Chapter I Apprentice Years 1

The Renaissance represented by Erasmus

His birth, 1469

Schooling at Deventer

Reception as an Austin Canon at Steyn

Love for the classics


The Burgundian Court

The University of Paris

Revolt from scholasticism

Student life


Chapter II The Revival of Antiquity 33

The classics

The Adages


Panegyric of Philip

The "philosophy of Christ"

Jean Vitrier

Enchiridion Militis Christiani

Chapter III English Friends 59

First visit to England, 1499

Second visit, 1505-06

Third sojourn, 1509-14

Later visits

Teaching at Cambridge

English benefices

Pilgrimages to Canterbury and Walsingham

Dispensations from the Pope

Sir Thomas More and his family

The Utopia

John Colet

Chapter IV Italy 101

The journey to Italy 1506-09

The degree of Doctor of Theology at Turin

Bologna, Florence, Venice, Aldo

Padua, Ferrara, Sienna, Rome, Naples

Chapter V The Praise of Folly 117


Character of the satire


Julius excluded from heaven

Chapter VI The Rhine 129

Erasmus's fame in Germany, 1574



Letters of Obscure Men

Travel on the Rhine

Portraits by Matsys, Dürer, and Holbein

Holbein's illustrations of the Folly and the Paraphrase of Lake

University of Louvain

Chapter VII The New Testament 159

State of biblical criticism

Erasmus's edition of the Greek text

Criticism, translation, exegesis

Reception and influence of the work


Chapter VIII Miscellaneous Writings 189

Editions of the Fathers

Editions and translations of the classics

Political writings

The Institution of a Christian Prince

Republicanism and Pacifism


Chapter IX The Reformation: The First Phase, 1517-21 209

Erasmus's preparation for the Protestant revolt

His influence on Luther

His welcome for the Theses on Indulgences

Attacks on him by the monks

His plan for a court of arbitration

His meeting with Frederic the Wise at Cologne

The Diet of Worms

Neutrality of Erasmus resented by both sides

His Sight from the Netherlands

Chapter X Life at Basle, 1521-29 257

Erasmus's income, library, and will

Visits to Constance, Besançon, and Freiburg in the Breisgau


Relations with France and England

Chapter XI The Colloquies and Other Pedagogical Works 286

The Colloquies, their origin, success, and teaching


Pronunciation of Greek

Pedagogical method

The Ciceronian

Erasmus's style

Chapter XII The Controversy with Luther 320

Contact of the Renaissance and Reformation; their common origin and final divergence

Relations of Erasmus and Luther typical of this

The inevitable break precipitated by personal reasons

Quarrel with Hutten

The Free Will

Luther's reply and Erasmus's rejoinders

The Diet of Augsburg


Chapter XIII The Swiss Reformation 372


Reform at Basle



Departure from Basle

Controversies of Erasmus with the Catholics

The offer of the Red Hat

Chapter XIV Last Years at Freiburg and Again at Basle 404

Freiburg in the Breisgau


Last works

Correspondence with H. C. Agrippa, De Pins, and Rabelais

Deaths of Fisher and More

Death of Erasmus, 1536

Chapter XV The Genius of Erasmus and His Place in History 421

His works put on the Index of Prohibited Books

Later Catholic opinion

Protestant estimates

Rationalist appreciation

Character of Erasmus

As a representative of the contact of Renaissance and Reformation

As the exponent of "the philosophy of Christ"


I The Year of Erasmus's Birth 445

II The Correspondence of Erasmus and De Pins: Six Unpublished Letters 447

III Unpublished Poems of Erasmus and Gaguin 453

IV Bibliography 459

Addenda et Corrigenda 467

Index 469

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