« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
studiously exercising himself in the writings of the great A postle, both at Oxford and Cambridge*. Erasmus also states io his character, written at large and in the warmth of affectionate admiration, that, while a youth, he acquired all that could be taught by scholastic philosophy, and well deserved his title of Master of Arts and Sciences, being perfectly versed in every one of them. Cicero's works he had read with a fond and eager attention; nor had he neglected those of Plato and Plotinus, and had pursued his studies through every branch of mathematical science, &c.
During his foreign travels he was inade a Prebendary of York, and installed by proxy on March 5, 1494; he was also advanced to the canonry of St. Martin's Le Grand, London, and the Prebend of Good Easter, in the same church. On his return to England in 1497, he was ordained Deacon in the month of December, and in July following he entered into Priest's orders.
It is a very attractive and interesting part of this admirable man's character, that he was a real philosopher, another Socrates, who mastered all his evil propensities, though under the guidance of a more exalted morality than the pagan sage is known to have enjoyed. Dr. Colet was inclined by nature to love, luxury, and sleeping indolence; fond of wine, and addicted to levity both in manners and discourse; of a very high and impatient spirit, and not without a tendency to avarice: yet these various and powerful propensities he so completely conquered, from a mental conviction of the consequences attached to their indulgence, that he became chaste, abstemious, indefatigable in his pursuits, temperate, grave, generous, and a rare example of meekness and humility.
He might certainly have made choice of his profession, if he had been disposed to the active pursuits of life, or have enjoyed the independence of ample fortune, having a sufficient estate for his support, and a fair interest to recommend him at court for any suitable office and employment, as he had the advantage, in the opinion of Erasmus, of a tall and comely person. “ Accesserat his fortunæ commodis corpus elegans ac procerum.' To the life of a courtier he might have been encouraged by his father, Sir Henry Colet, who, being accustomed to the figure of the high offices to which he had been elevated, and the consequence derived from his character and opulence in the city, and from his loyal conduct, had been an object of royal favor. But piety and love of learning prevailed ; and fixing his determination to enter into holy orders, he thus renounced the temptations of his birth and fortune.
* Polydore Virgil, lib. xxvi. fol. ult.-His studies at Cambridge were of a transient nature. That University, it seems, lay in the road from his resi. dence in Suffolk to Oxford, and he is supposed to have made an occasional stay there to derive any advantages wbich that seat of learning might offer 10 him.
With this excellent spirit, says Dr. Knight*, to whom this brief biographical sketch is so much indebted, the admirable young man would not, on bis return from the Continent trust himself among the allurements of the city and of the court, but after staying a few months at his paternal ho'ne, from a respectful sense of duty and affection to his family, and friends, he retired to Oxford to enjoy the opportunities of a pious and studious life ; yet not to be buried in learned obscurity and fruitless research. On the contrary, he commenced a new and active scene of public instruction, by reading lectures on the Epistles of St. Paul, which he continued during three years, without any reward or stipendiary remuneration : and though he had taken no degree beyond that of Master of Arts, there was not a Doctor in Divinity or Law, or Abbot, or any other dignitary in the church, who did not gladly attend him.
At Oxford he became personally acquainted with Erasmus, and a friendship between these admirable persons commenced, which continued inviolate to the close of their lives. Erasınus came to England about the latter end of the year 1497 ; and, after a short stay in London, hastened down to Oxford, where he was welcomed with a most courteous and hospitable reception from Father Richard Charnock, Prior of the Regulars of the Order of Austin, in the college of St. Mary the Virgin. This excellent divine, and amiable man represenied his guest “as a very excellent person endued with singular virtues.” This character given by the prior, added to the established celebrity of Erasmus, increased the wish of Colet to request the acquaintance and friendship of the illustrious visitor. This he immediately expressed in an
* Knight's Life of Dr. John Colet, Dean of St Paul's, and Founder of St. Paul's School, passim.
epistle, of which the following is an interesting extract. After stating his reputation for talents, knowledge, and virtue, he thus proceeds: “ For this reason, my Erasmus, as far as learning and insight into things, and a sincere goodness, can make impression upon one who rather wishes for these talents than he dares pretend to them; so far, in right of those accomplishments, you are and must be always most acceptable to me. As soon as I can see you, I shall, in my own person, do for myself what others have done for you in your absence, commend myself to you with a better grace than others have recommended you to me; for, in truth, the less ought to be commended to the greater, and the least knowing to the more learned. But if there be any thing in a person so inconsiderable, wherein I can, in any way, be agreeable or useful to you, I am entirely bound to your service. I congratulate your arrival in this island, and hope my countrymen will prove as pleasant to you, as I know, by your great learning, you must be useful to my country. I am sir, and always shall be, devoted to one whom I believe to be the most learned and best of men. Farewell.-From my chamber in Oxford*.”
To this epistle Erasmus transmitted such an answer as might be expected from him, which is given, as the former has been, in Dr. Knight's translation of them from the original Latin. After expressing the extreme pleasure and honest pride which had been excited by the commendations of such a man, Erasmus proceeds in the following manner : “For my own part, I best know my own failings, and therefore shall presume to give a character of myself. You have in me a man of little or no fortune, a stranger to ambition, of a strong propensity to loving-kindness and friendship, without any boast of learning, but a great admirer of it: one who has a profound veneration for any excellence in others, however he may feel the want of it in himself; who can readily yield to others in learning, but to none in integrity : a man sincere, open, and free; a hater of falsehood and dissimulation; of a mind lowly and upright, who boasts of nothing but an honest heart. If, my dear Colet, you can love such a man, and think hiin worthy of your friendship, you may account me your own as fully and effectually as you
* Epist. Eras. 1497.
can call any thing your own. England is most pleasant to me for many reasons, but especially that it abounds with those blessings, without which nothing would relish with me, men of admirable learning, among the chief of whom I do not hesitate to mention you."
* * * * * * * * “ You speak whatever you mean, and you mean whatever you speak; words arise from your heart rather than from your lips : in short, you have that happy facility, that you can deliver without pains, what another can scarcely express without the greatest labor. But to yourself I refrain from your praises, that I may not offend against decency, know. ing how unwilling they are to be praised who deserve the highest eulogiums. Farewell.-Oxford, 1498*.”
This characteristic picture of these two illustrious friends may receive a pleasing addition from the introduction of Father Charnock, who was the intimate and valued friend of them both ; nor can a more honorable testimony be given of his merit, than his being united by Erasmus in all the virtues which he, with so much warmth, sincerity, and truth, attributes to Colet. Ina letter from Oxford, dated 1498, to his late pupil, Lord Mountjoy, then on his travels, he thus expresses himself : “ Nothing can be more sweet, lovely, and charming than the temper and conversation of these two men : I could live even in Scythia, or in any the remotest part of the world, with two such delightful friends and companions.”
In 1501 he was admitted to proceed in Divinity, or to the reading of the sentences. In 1502 he became Prebendary of Durnesford, in the church of Sarum ; and in January, 1504, resigned his prebend of Good Easter. In the same year he commenced D. D.; and in May, 1505, was instituted to the prebend of Mora, in St. Paul's London. In the same year and month he was advanced to the dignity of Dean in that church, without the least application of his own; and being raised to this high station, he began to reform the discipline of bis cathedral, which had fallen into disuse. He introduced a new practice of preaching himself on Sundays and great festivals, which he executed with great eloquence and ability, and called to his assistance other learned
* Epist. Eras. 1498.
persons, such as Grocyn and Sowle, whom he appointed to read Divinity Lectures; exciting in the nation by such means a spirit of inquiry after the Holy Scriptures, which had long been laid aside for the school divinity; and eventually promoted the Reformation, which soon after shone with its bright beam on this country
T'hat this excellent man was instrumental in forwarding that great event, there can be no doubt, though he did not live to see it. He had expressed a great contempt of religious houses and monastic institutions, exposed the abuses that prevailed in them, and set forth the danger of imposing celibacy on the clergy. This way of thinking, together with a free and public manner of communicating his thoughts, which were then considered as impious and heretical, made him obnoxious to a large part of the clergy, and exposed him to persecution from Dr. Fitzjames, Bishop of London, who, being a rigid bigot, resented the attack made upon the corruptions of the church; and therefore represented him to Archbishop Warham as a dangerous person, and went so far as to prefer certain articles against him. But Warham was too well acquainted with the worth and integrity of Dr. Colet to listen to such accusations, but dismissed the charges, without giving the dean the trouble to put in any public or formal answer. The bigoted prelate, however, mortified as he was by this fruitless attempt, zealously endeavored to stir up the king and court against him: and Bishop Latimer mentions the prosecution of Dean Colet for heresy, "and that he was not only in trouble, but that he would have burned, if God had not turned the king's heart to the contrary."'*
These troubles and persecutions seemed to have had the effect of turning him from the concerns of the world, and to produce the resolution of retiring from it. He had a plentiful estate, without any near relations ; for, as it has been already observed, he had survived all his numerous brothers and sisters ; and as he had already expended his annual revenues in the demands of piety, bounty, and charity, he resolved to consecrate the whole of his property to some standing and perpetual benefaction. Some doubts, however, appeared, as might be naturally expected from a mind anxious
*M. Latiiner's Sermons, 1595, p. 174.