“To Erasmus of Rotterdam, great philosopher and theologian, Huldreich Zwingli sends greeting: When I am about to write to you, Dr. Erasmus, best of men, I am on the one hand frightened by the lustre of your learning, which demands a world larger than the one we see; and on the other hand I am invited by that well-known gentleness of yours which you manifested towards me, when in the early spring I came to Basel to see you, for it was an unusual proof of kindness that you did not despise a man who is a mere infant, an unknown smatterer. But you have granted this to the Swiss blood (which I perceive is not so greatly displeasing to you); you have granted it to Henry Glarean, whom I see you have taken into intimacy with yourself.
“You may have wondered greatly that I did not remain at home, since [when I got to Basel] I did not even seek the solution of some most difficult questions (as your own vain talkers are wont to do from you). But when you discover by reflection that what I looked for in you was that far-famed efficiency of yours, you will cease to wonder. For, by Hercules, I admire boldly and even shamelessly this which you have in perfection, together with a friendliness of manner and pleasantness of life. So that when I read your writings I seem to hear you speaking and to see you, with that finely proportioned little body of yours, gesticulating with elegance. For without boasting you are so much beloved by me that I cannot sleep without first holding converse with you.
“But why am I wearying your most learned ears with these uncouth sounds? For I am not ignorant that jackdaws should eat from the ground. Well, that you may know how far it was from being the fact that I was sorry for the journey that I made to see you (as did those Spaniards and Frenchmen, who, as the divine Jerome says, once went to Rome to see Livy), I think that I have made a great name for myself and make my boast in nothing else than this, that I have seen Erasmus—the man who has deserved most highly of letters and the secret things of Sacred Scripture, and who so burns with love to God and men that he thinks that whatever is done for the cause of good letters is done for himself. All good men ought to pray that God will preserve him in safety to the end that sacred literature freed by him from barbarism and sophistry may increase to a more perfect age and that the tender shoots bereaved of their great father may not be left without protection and care.
“But now, to bring this tragedy to a close, I in return for all those kindnesses which you have shown me have given you what Æschines gave to Socrates,—though not an equal value,—myself.1 But you do not receive this gift which is not worthy of you! I will add, more than the Corinthians did when scorned by Alexander—that I not only will give it to no other but never have done so. If you do not accept it even thus, it will be sufficient to have been repelled by you. For nothing will more contribute to the correction of one’s life than to have displeased such men. So whether you are willing or unwilling, you will, I hope, restore me in improved condition to myself. Finally, when you have used your possession in whatsoever manner is pleasing to you, farewell.
“GLARUS, April 29, 1515.”
And Erasmus sends back this response:
“Erasmus of Rotterdam to Huldreich Zwingli at Glarus, a philosopher and theologian most learned, a friend beloved as a brother: Greeting.
“The fact that you are so well disposed towards me has been a very great delight to me, as is your letter, equally sprightly and learned. If I respond in short measure to this last, you must not lay it up against me. For by these labours, which seem to me as though they would never be finished, I am often compelled to be less kind than I would be to those to whom I least wish to be so; but to myself I am by far the most unkind, draining the resources of my intellect which not even a quintessence may restore. That the results of my lucubrations are approved by you, so approved a man, greatly rejoices me, and they are on this account less displeasing to me.
“I congratulate the Swiss, whose genius I particularly admire, upon the fact that you and men like you will embellish and ennoble them by your most excellent pursuits and customs, with Glareanus as leader and standard-bearer, who is not less pleasing to me on account of his marked and varied erudition than on account of his singular purity and integrity of life—a man, too, entirely devoted to yourself.
“It is my intention to revisit Brabant immediately after the Feast of Pentecost; at least so things are tending. But I do not willingly tear myself away from these regions.
“Be careful, my Huldreich, to use the pen now and then, which is the best master of speech. I see that Minerva is favourable if the training is maintained. I have written this at dinner, at the request of Glareanus, to whom I can deny nothing, no, not even if he should tell me to dance stark naked! Farewell. From Basel.”
Let’s hope Glarean never asked him to do that. Had Erasmus not been so afraid of Rome, he would have made a fine Reformer. Fear paralyzes even the great.