Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism

By John M. Major | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Erasmus

THE EDUCATIONAL ideals which had been formulated in Italy during the Quattrocento were taken up, augmented, and spread in the following century by the great Dutch humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam. As an effective champion of learning on a large scale, Erasmus has had few if any rivals in history.Largely through his efforts the new views on education, with their basis in a profound respect for the literature of classical antiquity, came gradually to be adopted in the countries of northern Europe.By virtue of his enormous output as writer and editor, readers everywhere were provided with the authentic materials for study and illumination, together with a most salutary example of a keen, rational, questioning but reverent spirit tirelessly at work upon many of the most vital problems of the day. The influence of Erasmus was especially felt in England, a country to which he was strongly tied by his admiration and affection for several of its most learned men, among them Colet, More, Grocyn, Linacre, Warham, and Fisher.

It is doubtful that Sir Thomas Elyot ever had the good fortune to meet Erasmus during any of that scholar's six or so visits to England, the latest of these having taken place in 1517, 1 when Elyot was still a very young man.Even so, one pictures him eagerly seeking information about the great humanist from acquaintances and friends who had known him personally—from More, say, or from Linacre, with whom (as it is thought) Elyot studied.The books of Erasmus, we may be certain, Elyot came in time to know well, to admire greatly, and to make liberal use of in his own literary productions.Many of his ideas on education were shaped by his reading of such works as De ratione studii ( 1511), Institutio principis Christiani ( 1516), and De pueris instituendis ( 1529). Other writings by Erasmus which were probably in one way or another useful to him are the Adagia ( 15oo), Enchiridion militis Christiani ( 1503), De copia ( 1512), Colloquia ( 1516), Antibarbari ( 1520), Institutio Christiani matrimonii ( 1526), Ciceronianus ( 1528),

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1
Preserved Smith, Erasmus: A Study of His Life, Ideals, and Place in History ( New York and London: Harper and Bros., 1923), p. 59.

-77-

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