I HAVE already mentioned that the contemporaries of Thomas More's youth liked to associate his name with that of Erasmus. At this distance of time such a conjunction is a constant surprise and source of anxiety. If there had been nothing between these two humanists but a close bond of friendship, Greek, strictly speaking, might explain everything. But that loophole is closed to us. On both sides the sympathy was full and entire. No amount of searching will reveal one single line of More that could be construed as containing the slightest disavowal of the work and thought of Erasmus. On the contrary, there are many passages, and those decisive, in which the future martyr adopts all his friend's thoughts and defends them out and out. What course are we to take? Must we surrender the author of The Praise of Folly to the Protestants or the Freethinkers, and with him thirty years and more of the intellectual life of Thomas More? If the facts demand it, we will make the sacrifice, however heavy. Or, on the other hand, are we to join the early biographers of More in an attempt to establish a quarrel between the two friends on the earliest possible opportunity, and conjure up at all costs some means of separating them? We are prepared to do that too, on the understanding that justice and truth allow it. But in any case we must give them a hearing before we judge them. They have both taken us into their confidence, and if one of them seems a little too elusive, the other, and the only one to interest us directly in this chapter, offers a transparent sincerity. I am aware, too, that an unauthoritative biographer would be ill-advised to attempt to conduct so delicate an interrogatory on his own account, and mean to confine myself to following step by step the proceedings of two masters whose knowledge and orthodoxy are unquestioned, Dom Gasquet, the Primate of the English Benedictines, and Father Bridgett, the official biographer of Blessed Thomas More.
Erasmus, as every one knows, spent several fairly long periods in England. His first visit took place in 1497, when More was beginning his second year of the law. Erasmus was some ten years older than the young student. They met probably at the house of William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who had been a pupil of the already famous humanist's in Paris. Erasmus soon left London for Oxford, but from the tone of the letters he wrote at that time to More, it is clear that a firm and affectionate friendship was beginning between them. They could meet, too, from time to time. One day when Erasmus was resting at Lord Mountjoy's country house, More came to see him and proposed to take him to the next village. There they found the whole of Henry VII.'s family with the exception of prince Arthur. The king's children gave them audience in great state, Henry, aged nine, but already possessed with a sense of his own importance, two little princesses, and a child in the nurse's arms. "More," w