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by [?]

Erasmus was part and parcel of the Italian Renaissance. Over his head blazes, in letters that burn, the unforgetable date, Fourteen Hundred Ninety-two. He was a part of the great unrest, and he helped cause the great unrest. Every great awakening, every renaissance, is an age of doubt. An age of conservatism is an age of moss, of lichen, of rest, rust and ruin. We grow only as we question. As long as we are sure that the present order is perfect, we button our collars behind, a thing which Columbus, Luther, Melanchthon, Erasmus, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Gutenberg, who all lived at this one time, never did. The year of Fourteen Hundred Ninety-two, like the year Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, was essentially “infidelic,” just as the present age is constructively iconoclastic. We are tearing down our barns to build greater. The railroadman who said, “I throw an engine on the scrap-heap every morning before breakfast,” expressed a great truth. We are discarding bad things for good ones, and good things for better ones.

* * * * *

Rotterdam has the honor of being the birthplace of Erasmus. A storm of calumny was directed at him during his life concerning the irregularity of his birth. “He had no business to be born at all,” said a proud prelate, as he gathered his robes close around his prebendal form. But souls knock at the gates of life for admittance, and the fact that a man exists is proof of his right to live. The word “illegitimate” is not in the vocabulary of God. If you do not know that, you have not read His instructive and amusing works.

The critics variously declared the mother of Erasmus was a royal lady, a physician’s only daughter, a kitchen-wench, a Mother Superior–all according to the prejudices preconceived. In one sense she was surely a Mother Superior–let the lies neutralize one another.

The fact is, we do not know who the mother of Erasmus was. All we know is that she was the mother of Erasmus. Here history halts. Her son once told Sir Thomas More that she was married to a luckless nobody a few months after the birth of her first baby, and amid the cares of raising a goodly brood of nobodies on a scant allowance of love and rye-bread, she was glad to forget her early indiscretions. Not so the father. The debated question of whether a man really has any parental love is answered here.

The father of Erasmus was Gerhard von Praet, and the child was called Gerhard Gerhards–or the son of Gerhard. The father was a man of property and held office under the State. At the time of the birth of the illustrious baby, Gerhard von Praet was not married, and it is reasonable to suppose that the reason he did not wed the mother of his child was because she belonged to a different social station. In any event the baby was given the father’s name, and every care and attention was paid the tiny voyager. This father was as foolish as most fond mothers, for he dreamed out a great career for the motherless one, and made sundry prophecies.

At six years of age the child was studying Latin, when he should have been digging in a sand-pile. At eight he spoke Dutch and French, and argued with his nurse in Greek as to the value of buttermilk.

In the meantime the father had married and settled down in honorable obscurity as a respectable squire. Another account has it that he became a priest. Anyway, the little maverick was now making head alone in a private school.

When the lad was thirteen the father died, leaving a will in which he provided well for the child. The amount of property which by this will would have belonged to our hero when he became of age would have approximated forty thousand dollars.