Theological controversy has a proverbial name for ferocity; in the sixteenth century other qualities were added to this. In 1519 a young Englishman named Lee, who was afterwards Archbishop of York, ventured to criticize Erasmus’ New Testament, with a vehemence which under the circumstances was perhaps unsuitable. Erasmus of course resented this; and his friends, to cool their indignation, wrote and published a series of letters addressed to the offender: ’the Letters of some erudite men, from which it is plain how great is the virulence of Lee.’ Among the contributors was Sapidus, head master of the famous school at Schlettstadt, which was one of the first Latin schools of the age. His letter to Lee concludes with a disgusting piece of imagery, which would shock one if it proceeded from the most unpleasantly minded schoolboy. One cannot conceive a Head Master of Rugby appearing in print in such a way now.
THE POINT OF VIEW
There is one thing in the world which is constantly with us, and which has probably continued unchanged throughout all ages of history: the weather. Yet Erasmus’ writings contain no traces of that delight in brilliant sunshine which most Northerners feel, nor of that wonder at the beauties of the firmament which was so real to Homer. He frequently remarks that the weather was pestilent, that the winds blew and ceased not, that the sea was detestably rough and the clouds everlasting; but of the praise which accompanies enjoyment there is scarcely a word. His utmost is to say that the climate of a place is salubrious. He often describes his journeys. As he rode on horseback across the Alps or was carried down the Rhine in a boat, he must have had ample opportunity to behold the glories which Nature sometimes spreads before us in our Northern clime, and lavishes more constantly on less favoured regions. But the loveliness of blue skies and serene air, the glitter of distant snows, the soft radiance of the summer moon, and the golden architrave of the sunset he had no eyes to see.
Such indifference to the beauties of Nature admits, however, of some explanation. With a scantier population than that which now covers the earth, there was less agriculture and more of waste and unkempt places not yet reduced to the service of mankind. Solitudes were vaster and more complete. In a country so well cared for as England is to-day, it is difficult to imagine how unpleasing can be the aspect of land over which Nature still has the upper hand, how desolate and dreadful the great mountain areas which men now have to seek at the ends of the earth, where the smoke rises not and even the lone goatherd has not penetrated. To-day our difficulty is to escape from the thronging pressure of millions: we rarely experience what in the sixteenth century must often have been felt—the shrinking to leave, the joy of returning to, the kindly race