Erasmus’ Advice to Those Who Study

I mentioned in a previous post that I had packed a biography of the Reformation hero, Desiderius Erasmus, in my backpack to read on the return home from Europe. I couldn’t have made a better choice. Erasmus kept my interest from the time we took off in Budapest to the time we landed in Nashville. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. The author is British biographer David Bentley-Taylor, and bulk of My Dear Erasmus is made up of excellent translations of the letters of Erasmus. Over the next several months I want to occasionally share some of these. For example, here’s a letter written by Erasmus to students telling them how to make the most of their studies. I’ve found it very instructive and motivational for me. See what you think.

Your first endeavor should be to choose the most learned teacher you can find, for it is impossible that one who is himself no scholar should make a scholar of anyone else. As soon as you find him, make every effort to see that he acquires the feelings of a father towards you. Your friendship with him is of such importance as an aid to learning that it will be of no avail to you to have a tutor at all unless, by the same token, you have a friend.

Secondly, be regular in your work. Regularity produces by daily practice a greater result than you would suppose. But nothing is worse than excess, so you should from time to time abate the strenuousness of your studies by recreation. Indeed, a constant element of enjoyment must be mingled with study, so that we think of learning as a game rather than a drudgery.

Remember to devote part of your time to silent thought; in addition, the contest of minds wrestling together is specially stimulating to the sinews of human understanding. Don’t be ashamed to ask questions or to be put right. Avoid working at night. Daybreak is an excellent time for study. After lunch take some recreation or go for a walk. Just before you to go sleep read something of exquisite quality. Let sleep overtake you while you are musing on it and try to recall it when you wake.

Choose the best authors for your reading, avoiding like the plague those who are lax and indecent, specially at your present time in life, which is instinctively lewd and prone less to follow the good than the evil way.

From My Dear Erasmus by David Bentley-Taylor (London: Christian Focus Publications, 2002), 14-15.