The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

I. Englishmen and the Classical Renascence

§ 2. Erasmus

The classical renascence recognised no one land in Europe as its own; it possessed all and belonged to all. Yet it is possible to describe its progress in Italy, Germany, France and even Spain, without introducing alien names. England is an exception. Erasmus belongs as much to the history of the classical renascence in our land as does Linacre, Colet, or More. The country received him when his fortunes were at a low ebb. He was about 33 years of age. The torments and temptations of Hertogenbosch, the midnight labours of Stein, the horrors of the Collège Montaigu and the penury of Paris had left their marks on his frail body. He had produced little or nothing. He was almost unknown and he had no sure prospects in life. In England he found friends, who gladly gave him hospitable welcome, whose cultured leisure enabled them to appreciate his learning, his humour, his untiring capacity for work and his ceaseless activity of mind. No wonder that the fortune-tossed wanderer was glad to fancy himself an Englishman and delighted in the men and women, the manners, the scholarship, even in the climate, of his new home—in everything English, in fact, save the beer and the draughty rooms.

He came, too, at the moment most fitting to make an impression. Scholasticism still reigned; but there were signs that its authority was waning. The honoured friend of English leading scholars, sought after by the educational reformer of one of its great universities, patronised by its archbishop, complimented by its young and popular king, Erasmus could not fail to make a deep impression on the country at a peculiarly impressionable time—an impression all the stronger because he appealed to the practical side of the English people in a way more directly than did any other humanist. They saw in him not a great classical specialist, but one who gathered the wisdom of the past to enrich and enlighten the present.