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Erasmus by Johan Huizinga

Erasmus (original 1924; edition 1924)

by Johan Huizinga, J. Sperna Weiland (Introduction), J.J.M.van de Roer-Meyers (Editor)

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344331,845 (3.72)12
Authors:Johan Huizinga (Author)
Other authors:J. Sperna Weiland (Introduction), J.J.M.van de Roer-Meyers (Editor)
Info:Rotterdam: Donker (2001)
Collections:Physical Copy, Your library, Read All Time, Read in 2012
Tags:Dutch Literature, Biography, Desiderius Erasmus, Hardcover

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Erasmus and the Age of Reformation by Johan Huizinga (1924)



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Erasmus loved books, he collected them, he wrote them, he printed them and he doodled in them. His interest and fascination with the early printing process enabled him to take control of the publication of his books to such an extent that for Latin readers (he wrote in Latin) he became influential in shaping intellectual opinions in Europe. Those opinions were in tune with the humanist movement and the Italian renaissance: Erasmus seemed to want to bring about a perfect fusion between antiquity and Christianity, he wanted to take the Christian church back to its roots. He believed that a wilful and at times ignorant misreading of the scriptures had resulted in a catholic church that relied on ceremony, fasting, indulgences, pilgrimages and a veneration of saints and their relics which was full of superstition and foolishness. He was attacked by conservative churchmen, but always managed to find favour with the Pope, however when Luther burst onto the scene heralding the Reformation, which challenged the church in the very areas that Erasmus had highlighted, Erasmus could not support the protestant movement and ended his life opposed to the new church. Huizinga's biography carefully explores the character and mind of one of the most eloquent writers of the renaissance, to present us with a study that explains and at times excuses Erasmus's actions.

The book is first and foremost a biography of Erasmus and only delves into the Reformation movement as it affected Erasmus himself and as he spent his latter years ducking and diving from the controversy it largely takes place in the background. The biography falls into four distinct parts. Firstly Huizinga examines Erasmus early life, his credentials as a humanist, his desire to be free of the monastery to which he was attached, his need to earn money to make himself independent so that he could devote more time to his studies and his writing. The Colloquies and In Praise of Folly were published at this time and Huizinga teases out their flavour and importance, giving a fine sketch of their content. Their follows three chapters on the character and mind of Erasmus and the man himself is brought vividly to life by some excellent and thoughtful writing. It is no surprise that this man who ranked peace and harmony above all other considerations and used these as guiding principles should be the man sitting on the fence when the storm of the Reformation broke around him.

Erasmus story is taken up again with his sojourn at Louvain where he again came under attack from the conservative's, this was at a time when Erasmus was hard at work correcting the misinterpretations he discovered in the New Testament, making his version which he believed was error free and which could be understood by all learned men ready for publication. He travelled to Basle to the printing works where he stayed to oversee the publication, he was in his element making corrections surrounded by printers and books. Now however the first waves of the reformation broke around him, he was badgered by both sides for his support and his letter to Luther is a typical example of Erasmus's position, begging him not to include him as one of his supporters, yet not condemning his stance. You can almost hear him saying "for goodness sake leave me alone to write my books" Huizinga also points to a more fundamental difference between the two men, saying that Erasmus did not understand the depth of Luther's faith he was unaware of the deeper mysteries that fuelled the movement. As he came towards the end of his life Erasmus finally lent his support to the catholic church, but by this time the world had moved on and he was yesterdays man. Huizinga concluded this section with a chapter on Erasmus's influence on the period of enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The final section is a selection of letters written by Erasmus. These letters were written in the foreknowledge that they would be collected and published and in themselves are fine pieces of literature. There is a long panegyric on Erasmus's friend Sir Thomas Moore, there is his famous correspondence with Luther. There is a letter to the head of the monastery to which he was trying to extricate himself explaining just why he was not suited to monastic life. There is also a long letter explaining the vicissitudes of travelling in the early sixteenth century as Erasmus journeys from Basle to Louvain almost convinced that a sickness that develops is the plague. Everything that Erasmus writes seems wonderfully convincing, full of gentle humour and written by a man who cares for others as much as himself. The letters alone are more than enough to lead me to read [In praise of Folly] and [The Colloquies].

Huizinga's biography published in English in 1924 does not have the advantage of modern scholarship, but that hardly seems to matter as his portrait of Erasmus is so convincing and well written that I do not feel the need to read another. A Five Star Read. ( )
9 vote baswood | Jun 4, 2013 |
In 1923, at the height of his fame as a historiographer, Scribner commissioned Johan Huizinga to write a biography of Desiderius Erasmus, to be published as the third volume in Scribner's series Great Hollanders (Volume 1 was William the Silent by Frederic Harrison and Volume 2 was Vondel by A.J. Barnouw. In 1919, Huizinga's seminal work, The Waning of the Middle Ages had appeared in Dutch, and in 1924, it was first published in English. Huizinga's biography of Erasmus, was scheduled to be published in the same year, in March 1924.

Huizinga wrote each chapter in Dutch, which was then sent to New York, to be translated by
Frederik Jan Hopman into English. The English-language edition appeared first, followed in the same year by the Dutch edition, published by Tjeenk Willink in Haarlem.

For many years, Huizinga's biography on Erasmus was considered to be the best in the field, and despite its age, it is still considered one of the best.

The Dutch edition, published by Ad Donker in 2001 is a luxury edition, containing all known portraits of Erasmus in large, A5-size full-colour photos, as well as reproductions of all known etchings, and photos of (commemorative) coins bearing his portrait, facsimile (cover) pages of all his works, and other photos of objects from his heritage, statues, etc.

In 1928, Huizinga had objected to a similar type of publication in Germany, claiming that in such a publication the illustrations would be considered more important than the text. Huizinga is right in that assertion, as even I was often distracted by the illustrations during my reading. In the Dutch edition, that happens because the text is printed in columns, undoubtedly a concession to the unusual size of the book.

Huizinga's Erasmus is not a very thick book, the original edition was published having just 276 pages. What made Huizinga's book so unique was that he had consulted all known correspondence of Erasmus for bibliographical details. In 1936, Huizinga added and verified this concordance by consulting with the 12-vols Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami by Percy Stafford Allen and Helen Mary Allen (Eds.) published between 1906-1958, containing all known and preserved letters by Erasmus.

Erasmus by Johan Huizinga is a very readable biography. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Jan 2, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Huizinga, Johanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reedijk, C.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suolahti, Eino E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 048641762X, Paperback)

In this very readable biography, a noted scholar traces Erasmus's youth, his years as an itinerant scholar, sojourns in England, France, Switzerland, and Italy, friendship with Sir Thomas More, and disputes with Martin Luther. The author also probes Erasmus's mind and character and discusses his writings.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:56 -0400)

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