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BURASMUS was a scholar and theologian of profound learning,
who, as a rule, condensed his thought either too much or ut too little to be classed with essayists. His « Adages," which are now more read than his more labored productions, have a reason for their vitality in such vigorous sentences as this: «The people build cities; princes pull them down; the industry of the citizens creates wealth for rapacious lords to plunder; plebeian magistrates pass good laws for kings to violate; the people love peace, but their rulers stir up war.” The same spirit governs « The Praises of Folly,” – a work in which, while he never completely attains the essayist's method, he opens the way for the most effective work of Swift. The book is a bitter satire in which the Goddess of Folly praises priests, popes, kings, and nobles as her special friends and eulogizes them for all possible virtues. Those who read any chapter of it will understand why Erasmus was called “the glory of the priesthood and the shame.” His learning was so great and his refusal to follow Luther so important in the politics of the time, that the incessant attacks made upon him could not be pushed to the last extreme, but he was one of the best abused men who ever lived, and it is said that his quarrels would fill a volume. He was not a bad-natured man or an ascetic, however, for he loved good red wine and bad puns. Early in his career he attacked the University of Paris because, while a student there, he accumulated vermin from its filthy buildings more easily than learning from its professors, and he illustrated the same habit of fearless and often brutal criticism during his whole life. But he lived in a brutal time which badly needed his work. Hardly any one else has done as much for modern civilization as he. He was born at Rotterdam, probably October 28th, 1465. He was an illegitimate son, and to this disadvantage the disadvantage of poverty was added to compell him to greatness. His father, Gerhard de Praet, died when Erasmus was thirteen years old, and the provision left for the boy's education was embezzled by his guardians. Having no other means of getting an education, he began to study for the priesthood; and the Bishop of Cambray sent him to the University of Paris. He became the leading classical scholar of Northern Europe, and he used his knowledge with high intelligence to force northern Europe away from
a barbarism which, as it distinguished the general life of the people, was, even then, only a few removes from the primitive conditions of Gothic and Teutonic heathenism. After a tempestuous life of the highest usefulness, Erasmus died July 12th, 1536. The effect of his work on civilization can never be lost. It will attest for all time the supreme value of “the scholar in politics,” when he really knows what to say at the right time, and is not afraid to say it.
W. V. B.
THE GODDESS OF FOLLY ON THE LUCK OF FOOLS The history of that prince of fools, Timotheus, affords, as you
must know, a striking illustration of my text. His very
name is viewed as a talisman, and, as to his successes, they were so singularly fortuitous that from them originated the familiar proverb, “Although the fool sleeps, yet his net gets full of fish!” Him and such as him we colloquially speak of as “lucky birds ! » And lucky birds indeed they are. But what of the wise? What are the proverbial sayings that apply most appropriately to them? Why, when we speak of a wise man we proverbially describe him as one who has been “born under an evil star," one whose “horse will never carry him to the front,” and whose gold is all of the Toulouse (to lose) kind!) I might quote numerous other familiar adages to the same effect, but I forbear, lest I should seem to have been pilfering them from the collection of my friend Erasmus.
To go on, however, with my remarks. I was saying just now that Fortune favors fools. I repeat the assertion. She favors, I maintain, harebrained, slap-dash fools — idiotic fellows fond of rushing into all kinds of risks, and who fearlessly trust their success to the turn of a die. Wisdom, on the other hand, renders men nervously timid of bold adventures, and therefore deters them from all sorts of projects which would result in their gain. The consequence is that, as a rule, you find wise men eking out a miserable existence in poverty, starvation, and squalor, neglected, unhonored, and disliked; whereas you see fools rolling in riches, promoted to offices of state, and flourishing in every manner conceivable!
And here let me ask you a plain question. Do any of you consider it a desirable thing to win the good graces of the noble, and to be received into the society of the jeweled magnates of
the court ? No doubt, you do. Well, then, let me tell you this
- they are all votaries of mine, and whoever wishes to commend himself to them can possess nothing more useless than wisdom, nothing more absolutely damning to all his prospects of success!
Again, some of you, probably, would like to get rich. Let me assure you, then, that no trader will ever get rich who puts faith in the sentiments of wisdom. Wisdom says, Avoid perjury, blush to tell a lie, commit no petty thefts, scorn dishonest gains. Such balderdash scruples must be scattered to the winds!
Again, perhaps, some of you may be fired with an ambition to get advanced in the church, and to obtain some portion of the spoils and honors that fall to the share of ecclesiastics. Steer clear of wisdom, then, my friends - steer clear of wisdom, or assuredly you will have the mortification to behold many a stupid dolt of a fellow, as witless as a jackass, and with a voice like a bull, passing you on the road to preferment!
Some of you, again, it may be, have formed an intention of entering at some time or another of your lives into the condition of matrimony. And a very good intention too. However, a needful caution I must impart to you, and it is this: If you wish to get a wife, mind above all things that you beware of wisdom; for the girls, without exception, are heart and soul so devoted to fools, that you may rely upon it a man who has any wisdom in him they will shun as they would a vampire!
But, finally, whoever you are, and whatever may be your plans for the future, you will assuredly all of you regard a life of jollity as an object worthy of your seeking. Keep away then, above everything, from all contact with the wise; never mind what mere low degraded animals the people you consort with may be — prefer them to men of wisdom!
And now – to sum up much in a few words. Go amongst what classes of men you will; go amongst popes, princes, judges, magistrates, friends, foes, great men, little men, and you will not fail to discover that a man with plenty of money at his command has it in his power to obtain everything that he sets his heart upon. A wise man, however, despises money. And what is the consequence ? Every one despises him!
From «The Praise of Folly.”
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(1620-1706) VELYN'S «Sylva,» though perhaps not interesting for its matPater except to those who have the great good fortune to love
at the woods, contains notable examples of the quaintest elaboration of style in essay writing. His celebrated “Diary,” while its style is much looser, shows that he knew the secret of handling facts and incidents so as to give them their greatest possible interest. Critics are divided on their theories of his methods as a diarist. Some assert with confidence that he had no thought of publication); others are equally confident that after having found the advantage of the diary as a literary subterfuge, he wrote essays, descriptions, and anecdotes, and dated them to suit the subjects dealt with. In any event, the Diary” is a landmark in English literature. Evelyn was born at Wotton in Surrey, October 31st, 1620. After ending his studies at Oxford and in the Temple, he traveled over continental Europe, returning in 1647 to side with the king against Cromwell. When the Royal cause became hopeless, he accepted the situation and retired to Wotton to study the life of the woods and fields. After the Restoration he was a court favorite, and used his influence to promote the work of the Royal Society and for similar purposes, indicating his benevolence and liberality. Besides the “Diary” and the «Sylva,” he wrote «The State of France, « The Character of England,» «Fumifugium,” “The Garden Calendar,» « The Complete Gardener,” and other works which show that he had as an actual and practical fact of his every-day life the tranquillity of soul which philosophers say is the highest object of existence. He died at Wotton, February 27th, 1706.
IN AND AROUND NAPLES The next day, being Saturday, we went four miles out of town 1 on mules, to see that famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius.
Here we pass a fair fountain, called Labulla, which continually boils, supposed to proceed from Vesuvius, and thence over a river and bridge, where, on a large upright stone, is engraven a notable inscription relative to the memorable eruption in 1630.
Approaching the hill, as we were able with our mules, we alighted, crawling up the rest of the proclivity with great difficulty, now with our feet, now with our hands, not without many untoward slips which did much bruise us on the various colored cinders with which the whole mountain is covered, some like pitch, others full of perfect brimstone, others metallic, interspersed with innumerable pumices (of all which I made a collection), we at the last gained the summit of an excessive altitude. Turning our faces towards Naples, it presents one of the goodliest prospects in the world; all the Baiæ, Cuma, Elysian Fields, Capreæ, Ischia, Prochyta, Misenus, Puteoli, that goodly city, with a great portion of the Tyrrhene Sea, offering theinselves to your view at once, and at so agreeable a distance, as nothing can be more delightful. The mountain consists of a double top, the one pointed very sharp, and commonly appearing above any clouds, the other blunt. Here, as we approached, we met many large gaping clefts and chasms, out of which issued such sulphureous blasts and smoke, that we durst not stand long near them. Having gained the very summit, I laid myself down to look over into that most frightful and terrible vorago, a stupendous pit of nearly three miles in circuit, and half a mile in depth, by a perpendicular hollow cliff (like that from the highest part of Dover Castle), with now and then a craggy prominency jetting out. The area at the bottom is plane, like an even floor, which seems to be made by the winds circling the ashes by its eddy blasts. In the middle and centre is a hill, shaped like a great brown loaf, appearing to consist of sulphureous matter, continually vomiting a foggy exhalation, and ejecting huge stones with an impetuous noise and roaring, like the report of many muskets discharging. This horrid barathrum engaged our attention for some hours, both for the strangeness of the spectacle and the mention which the old histories make of it, as one of the most stupendous curiosities in nature, and which made the learned and inquisitive Pliny adventure his life to detect the causes, and to lose it in too desperate an approach. It is likewise famous for the stratagem of the rebel, Spartacus, who did so much mischief to the State, lurking amongst, and protected by, these horrid caverns, when it was more accessible and less dangerous than it is now; but especially notorious it is for the last conflagration, when, in anno 1630, it burst out beyond what it had ever done in the memory of history; throwing out huge stones and fiery pumices in such quantity, as not only environed