Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/606

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held that the first step towards mitigating such evils was to disseminate as widely as possible the civilising influence of knowledge; and in humanism he found the knowledge best suited for the purpose. He overrated the rapidity with which such an influence could permeate the world. But he was constant to his object, and did much towards attaining it.

Thus, in all his work, his aim was essentially educational. He was an ardent and indefatigable student. But through all his labours there ran the purpose of a practical moralist, who hoped to leave human society better than he had found it. No aspect of the Renaissance interested him which he did not think conducive to that end. He cared nothing for its metaphysics, archaeology, or art. All his own writings illustrate his ruling motive. The Adagia are maxims or proverbial sayings, culled from the classics, which he often applies to the affairs of his own day. The Colloquia are lively dialogues, partly meant to serve as models of Latin writing, which convey, in a dramatic guise, his views on contemporary questions. The Apophthegms are pointed sayings from various authors, largely from Plutarch. An educational and ethical aim also guided his choice of books to be edited. His best edition of a classic was that of his favourite poet Terence. Next in merit, perhaps, stood his edition of Seneca. An equal importance can scarcely be claimed for his editions of Greek classics, belonging chiefly to the last five years of his life; though they did the service of making the authors more accessible, and of supplying improved texts. He also promoted a wider knowledge of Greek poetry and prose by several Latin translations. But that purpose which gave unity to his life-work received its highest embodiment in his contributions to Biblical criticism and exegesis. The Scholastic Theology had been wont to use isolated texts, detached from their context, and artificially interpreted. The object of Erasmus was to let all men know what the Bible really said and meant. We have seen that his edition of the Greek Testament was the earliest. He also made a Latin version of the New Testament, aiming at an accuracy greater than that of the Vulgate. He wrote Latin paraphrases of the books of the New Testament (except Revelation), with the object of exhibiting the thought in a more modern form. Lastly, he recalled attention from the medieval expositors of Christian doctrine to the Fathers of the early Church. He edited Jerome, and some other Latin Fathers; he also made Latin translations from some of the Greek Fathers, especially from Chrysostom and Athanasius, and so helped to make their writings better known in the West. He wished to see the Scriptures translated into every language, and given to all. "I long," he said, "that the husbandman should sing them to himself as he follows the plough, that the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveller should beguile with them the weariness of his journey."