Erasmus of Rotterdam: With a Selection from the Letters of Erasmus

By Erasmus; J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
ERASMUS'S CHARACTER

Erasmus's character: Need of purity and cleanliness -- Delicacy -- Dislike of contention, need of concord and friendship -- Aversion to disturbance of any kind -- Too much concerned about other men's opinions -- Need of self- justification -- Himself never in the wrong -- Correlation between inclinations and convictions -- Ideal image of himself -- Dissatisfaction with himself -- Self- centredness -- A solitary at heart -- Fastidiousness -- Suspiciousness -- Morbid mistrust -- Unhappiness -- Restlessness -- Unsolved contradictions of his being --

Horror of lies -- Reserve and insinuation

ERASMUS'S powerful mind met with a great response in the heart of his contemporaries and had a lasting influence on the march of civilization. But one of the heroes of history he cannot be called. Was not his failure to attain to still loftier heights partly due to the fact that his character was not on a level with the elevation of his mind?

And yet that character, a very complicated one, though he took himself to be the simplest man in the world, was determined by the same factors which determined the structure of his mind. Again and again we find in his inclinations the correlates of his convictions.

At the root of his moral being we find--a key to the understanding of his character--that same profound need of purity which drove him to the sources of sacred science. Purity in the material and the moral sense is what he desires for himself and others, always and in all things. Few things revolt him so much as the practices of vintners who doctor wine and dealers who adulterate food. If he continually chastens his language and style, or exculpates himself from mistakes, it is the same impulse which prompts his passionate desire for cleanliness and brightness, of the home and of the body. He has a violent dislike of stuffy air and smelly substances. He regularly takes a roundabout way to avoid a malodorous lane; he loathes shambles and fishmongers' shops. Fetors spread infection, he

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