The good, even when they rule, do not always lead; nor are they always learned. Erasmus found the atmosphere of Steyn hopelessly distasteful. It was not that he was prevented from study. His compositions of this period show a wide acquaintance with the classics and the Fathers; and his style, though it had not yet attained to the ease and lucidity of his later years, has much of the elegance beyond which his contemporaries never advanced. The fact, too, that he left Steyn to become Latin Secretary to a powerful bishop implies that he must have had many opportunities for study and have made good use of them. But from what he says it is clear that the tone of the place was set by the mediocrities. We need not suppose that vice was rampant among them, to shock the young and enthusiastic scholar. There was quite enough to daunt him in the prospect of a life spent among the narrow-minded. Sinners who feel waves of repentance may be better house-mates than those who have worldly credit enough to make them self-satisfied.
Fortunately all houses of religion were not alike, any more than colleges are alike to-day. Butzbach’s lot was very different; and it is a pleasant contrast to turn to his experiences at Laach, an important Benedictine abbey some miles west of Andernach. In the autumn of 1500, when he had been two years at Deventer, there appeared one day in the school the Steward of the Abbey of Niederwerth, an island in the Rhine below Coblenz. What the business was which had brought him from his own monastery, is not stated; but he had also been asked to do some recruiting for the Benedictines at Laach. The Abbot there was nephew of the Prior at Niederwerth, and had taken this opportunity to extend his quest further afield. The Steward brought with him letters from the Abbot to the Rector of Deventer, now Ostendorp, and also to the Brethren of the Common Life, asking for some good and well-educated young men. The Rector’s first appeal evoked no response; so the Steward went on about his business. After three weeks he returned, having visited other schools, but bringing no one with him. Once more Ostendorp addressed the third and fourth classes in impressive words. But all seemed in vain. The students had paid their school fees for the half-year, and were ashamed to ask for them back from the Rector and other teachers—into whose pockets they appear to have gone direct. Their money paid for board and lodging would have been sacrificed also. It happened, too, to be exceptionally cold—not the weather in which any one would lightly set out on a journey. We must remember that the calendar had not yet been rectified, and that they were about ten days nearer to midwinter than their dates show.