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Erasmus, Colet, and the Schoolboy Jesus

  • James Henry Rieger (a1)


And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers…

And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business;

(Luke ii. 46-47, 49)

In September 1511 Robert de Keyzere published five poems written by Erasmus in honor of the new school ‘quern nuper instituit Coletus’ and of its ‘president’, the Boy Jesus. These poems, which are usually grouped together under the title Carmina scholaria, were evidently intended to be sung as hymns by the boys of St. Paul's; they are still so classified in the 1896 edition of Preces hymni et catechismus Graece et Latine in usum antiquae et Celebris Scholae S. Pauli, etc.



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1 Erasmus, The Lives ofjehan Vitrier … and John Colet [‘Letter to Justus Jonas’], ed. J. H. Lupton (London, 1883), pp. 27-28.

2 Statuta Paulinae Scholae, in J. H. Lupton, A Life of John Colet, D.D. (London, 1887), Appendix A, p. 278.

3 ‘Proheme’ to the Accidence, in Lupton, op. cit., Appendix B, p. 291.

4 Statuta, apud Lupton, p. 280.

5 Sometimes called De studiis.

6 Note especially the large number of rhetoricians in the curriculum outlined by Erasmus in the De ratione studii.

7 This is Philip Wheelwright's Anglicization of Aristotle's term (in the Politics) for ‘illiberal’ learning. It derives from the Greek word for ‘workshop'; I agree with Mr. Wheelwright that its precise meaning warrants its permanent incorporation into English.

8 Lewis, C. S., English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1954), p. 160 .

9 Statuta, apud Lupton, p. 279.

10 Ibid.

11 As far as I have been able to discover, there is no extant English translation of the Carmina scholaria. The rough translations of certain passages used in this essay are my own. Little or no attempt has been made to reproduce the original Latin meter.

12 Seebohm, Frederic, The Oxford Reformers (2d ed., London, 1869), p. 220 . Seebohm is here paraphrasing a letter written to Colet on 29 Oct. 1511; the original text may be found in Opus epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, ed. P. S. Allen (Oxford, 1906), I, 477-479.

Erasmus, Colet, and the Schoolboy Jesus

  • James Henry Rieger (a1)


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