The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives, on Humanism, War, and Peace, 1496-1535

By Robert P. Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
A TEMPEST OF WAR BURSTING UPON US (1510-14)

The golden age of early English humanism ( 1505-19) opened out in full splendor with the coronation of Henry VIII and the writing of the Praise of Folly in 1509. On the part of the London Reformers, the mightiest effort was to be the search for a working ideal for a peacefully reformed English culture, for the noblest and most practicable designs for a new social order. 1 If, however, the designs could be produced, what chance that the men in power would desire to execute them?

The chances rarely seemed better. Fortune had placed an ideal prince on the throne. Colet, Erasmus, and Thomas More were all very well and favorably known to the young King, so that from time to time they could communicate with him either face to face, or through personal letters, or through friends, or (finally) through published writings (usually giving the King what would now be termed an elegantly bound advance copy). If the men of learning could provide working ideals and designs and if so powerful a prince listened and initiated the labor of their realization in the everyday world, could not a cultural renaissance at least be vigorously begun in England? Given all these conditions, it hardly seems unrealistic of the humanists in 1509 to look forward to a flowering of what Erasmus called the peaceful "genius of this island." Shakespeare's patriotic idealism went to more lyrical extremes as the dying Gaunt brooded on

This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men....

Richard II, II.i. 42-45

Yet the London Reformers' ideal and that of Shakespeare are essentially one.

More precisely, Henry VIII seemed to embody the Christian humanist ideal of the prince. More and Erasmus, certainly, as their satire shows

-55-

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