Atlantic Monthly

Volume 74, Issue 443, September 1894

Pages 386 to 399


Whoever has had the curiosity to turn over a pile of sallow Latin books in a second-hand English bookshop, on a Parisian quay, or beside an Italian barrow has probably said, in his haste, that the learned writers of the sixteenth century produced nothing which has a permanent interest for any but the religious historian. So summary a judgment is of course quite wrong: great names presently arise in the memory to refute it, — Erasmus first of all, whose writings have an intense and undying human significance over and above their connection with the controversies of their day. Meanwhile, even among the supposed literary refuse of that memorable time one sometimes discovers a treasure. What can be more piquant, for example, than to open at haphazard a very small and black-looking octavo, modestly entitled Nic. Clenardi, Epistolarum Libri Duo, and to light upon a sentence like the following at the close of a long letter: “My desire is — if your Majesty will but deign to consider it favorably — that the books which are being burned up by wholesale all over Spain may henceforth be allowed to further my studies. For although this scheme of mine for helping on the cause of religion may appear novel to some, there should be nothing in it repugnant to an Emperor who is perpetually at war with Mahomet. This, then, is what I have felt bound to write your Majesty, partly because, when I was in the palace of the king of Fez, I stoutly declared that I would complain to you of the ill treatment I had received, and partly because the Emperor is one who can assist a pious cause without any inconvenience to himself. Farewell, most fortunate Caesar, and consider whether there be anything unreasonable in the request of a man who has been drawn by the love of learning from Louvain to Mauritania. Granada. January 17, 1542.”

The Caesar was of course the Emperor Charles V., but who was Nicolaus Clenardus? Well it seems impossible to find out much more about him than may be gathered from this same small volume of his letters. His name was properly Cleynaerts. He was born at the high noon of the revival of humanistic learning, in the small town of Diest in South Brabant, December 5, 1495: three and a half years, therefore, after the April day when Lorenzo the Magnificent died at Careggi, in the arms of Pico and Poliziano, one year after the untimely death of these two, three years before Marsilio Ficino followed his friends into the unknown; when Erasmus and Colet were in the prime of middle life, and Thomas More in the flower of his brilliant youth. Nicolas Cleynaerts was sent, when very young, to the excellent University of Louvain, less than twenty miles from his birthplace, and he soon became a proficient in the classic languages. He possessed himself of a Latin style which was quite his own, useful, flowing, and even picturesque, though by no means Ciceronian, and he did his best, in after life, to make his pupils use the stiffened speech of the Romans freely and colloquially; but his main strength was spent upon Greek and Hebrew. In 1529 he published a treatise on the Hebrew language, and in the following year a Greek grammar. Both these books found a ready sale at Paris, “insomuch,” he observes gayly to his friend Hoverius, “that I shall not starve this winter,” and the Greek grammar remained in favor for two centuries.

He had at this time already taken orders, and while waiting for preferment was studying theology at Louvain, - “though I was never” he admits, “a grandis theologus;” and he was also giving lessons in Greek and Hebrew. Louvain lives in the memory of the nineteenth - century tourist for two things: its Hotel de Vile a perfect gem of civic architecture, in ornate yet exquisite Gothic, and its very flat and unpalatable beer. Cleynaerts, or Clenardus, as he preferred to call himself remembered the beer with fond regret, during the long years of his exile; but of the building, though he must have seen it in the freshness of its beauty, he speaks not at all. His mind was upon other and in his own estimation more important things.

The letter to Charles V. from which we have already quoted begins with a short sketch of his own life, in the course of which he says:—

“Ten years ago, when I was studying theology at Louvain, and, having plenty of leisure, had also acquired enough Greek and Hebrew to lecture on them in public, I began to have a great desire to learn the Arabic tongue; having noticed in the Jewish commentaries how like it was to Hebrew, and feeling sure that either language would help in the acquisition of the other. But there was not a soul in all Flanders who knew a word of Arabic, or could satisfy in the least my Arabic cravings”(me Arabicaturientem).

He plodded on by himself, however, with great perseverance and some profit, and was oven beginning to compile a rude sort of Arabic lexicon, when there appeared on the scene one Ferdinand Colon, or Columbus, the son of the great Christopher, in search of a man to assist him in setting in order the collection of books he was forming, and which be proposed to present to the city of Seville. “At that time,” says Clenardus, “I was publicly expounding Chrysostom on the Dignity of the Priesthood, for the benefit of the Greek students, and I had a very big attendance; of which when Colon heard, and when he had presently learned something more about me and my ambitions from the Spaniards, he proposed that I should go to Spain. I acceded readily enough: first because the casuists were already beginning to make so much trouble for me that I longed to get away where I might pass my days in peace, and be rid of those makers of controversy and masters of strife; and then because I thought I should have special advantages there for learning Arabic.”

So in 1532, at the age of thirty-seven, Clenardus departed for Spain, stopping for a night or two in Paris on the way. We hear little, after his arrival, about the Columbian library, though much for a time concerning his relations with Don Fernando, who finally granted him permission to stay awhile at Salamanca and deliver a course of lectures there. His success at the Spanish university was as great as that which he had formerly obtained in Belgium, and for a little he was charmed by the idea of taking a permanent chair at Salamanca and lecturing on Greek, while he pursued his Arabic studies. He thought it would be a fine plan, also, if his accomplished friend Vasæus, to whom there are some very lively letters, would qualify himself for a Latin professorship in the same place. “And have done with your compliments, ”he entreats, “and all that nonsense about being my client! We will have all things in common.” This pleasing plan was never realized. Vasæus, who had also been engaged by Don Fernando, and was now at Seville, came later to Salamanca, lectured for many years, and, at an advanced age, died there; but before the end of 1533 Clenardus himself had moved on to Portugal, having accepted from the king, João III the place of tutor to his younger brother, Dom Henrique.

From Évora, where his royal pupil lived, Clenardus wrote back on Christmas Eve a long and warm letter to Vasæus; pleading the prudential motives which had constrained him to accept the Portuguese offer, describing his new installation, and prognosticating great success as a lecturer at Salamanca for the friend whom he had left behind.

‘Methinks, ”he says, “I see some such notice as this put up on the door: Johannes Vasæus of Bruges will lecture to-morrow on Plato’s De Legibus, which he proposes later carefully to expound for the benefit of those interested. Presently a crowd collects. ‘Vasæus, — who is he?’ ‘Oh, don’t you know? He is a young man who is tremendously learned in both Latin and Greek. We had here, not long ago, one Clenardus, of whom we expected great things at first; but he had nothing to give us beside grammatical rules and stuff out of Chrysostom, which he expounded as if it had been a sermon instead of a professorial discourse. As if we hadn’t preachers enough already! But this Vasæus is going to tell us about Plato, — Plato, do you hear? What do we care for Chrysostom on the method of prayer? If Clenardus wants to pray, he can read his breviary; Vasæus and Plato are the men for us.”

Dom Henrique was ten years younger than the reigning king of Portugal, and had attained the respectable age of twenty-three before Clenardus came to put the finishing touches to his education. He was already titular Archbishop of Braga, and was destined to be both Grand Inquisitor and Cardinal before he himself ascended the throne of Portugal, forty-five years later. When Clenardus first came to Évora, he lodged in the house of some excellent people, who, he assures us, became very fond of him. Afterwards he had a house of his own, where he remained during the rest of his five years’ stay. The decaying little Portuguese town, situated some fifty miles inland from Lisbon, still contains beside the indestructible relics of its Roman occupation, some interesting memorials of the years of Clenardus’ residence. The great Church of San Francesco, architecturally very curious, was just completed at the time of his arrival, and King João was busy repairing the Roman aqueduct, in the rough but serviceable fashion which may still be noted. It was Clenardus’ pupil who founded the University of Évora, and the ruins of the palace where they pursued their studies still constitute one of the ornaments of the pretty public garden.

In March, 1535, Clenardus sends from Évora two long letters to his former professor of theology at Louvain, Jacobus Latomus, a celebrated controversialist, whom he seems rather to have neglected up to this time. He beseeches his old master not to think that he is losing sight of the main object of his exile, — the study, namely, of the Arabic language, with a view to the ultimate conversion to Christianity of the Mohammedan world. He has taken this place in the royal household at Évora precisely because it affords him so much more leisure for his own studies than he could ever have compassed at Salamanca. Here his duties as a pedagogue do not begin before two or three o’clock in the afternoon, and for the rest of the day his time is his own. He has found a learned physician at Évora who can speak Arabic, and in his society he feels that he makes rapid progress in that tongue. And at all events, he declares, he is glad to have quitted Salamanca, “where one must live always in broad daylight, and either make, or pretend to make, no end of those vulgar friendships which consist entirely in mutual salutations; and which, as they are conciliated by a single pull of the cap, are broken forever if you neglect to return a salutation.”

Clenardus, however, does not care much for the manners and customs of the people of Évora, concerning which be soon rambles off into gossipy details, as it is his amusing wont to do. He finds living very dear in Portugal. Native workmen are scarce, and it is not considered the thing for a merchant to expose his wares. “You have fairly to wring your meat out of the butcher, and if you want to he shaved, this is the process: You send your servant to beg that the barber will come to you. And what next? Why, after keeping you waiting a long while he arrives, but not by any means bringing his basin and ewer, as with us. No decent, self-respecting man would carry anything in his hands! Your servant your own servant, I tell you must fetch both ewer and basin, and carry them back, too; else you remain an unshorn Apollo. For we are all noblemen here, and to practice any kind of craft is a deep disgrace! Do you fancy that the mistress of a house goes to market, buys fish, makes a stew? I assure you she can use nothing but her tongue; and I could not get for the quarter part of my income a tidy little maid, such as we have at home, to look after me and my housekeeping. But how, then, you ask, do I exist here? Why, the place is overrun with slaves, Ethiopian and Moorish captives, * and they turn their hands to anything. I should say that at Lisbon there are more slaves, male and female, than free-born Lusitanians. You can hardly find a house without a girl of this description, who does the marketing, washes the linen, scrubs the pavement etc.; in short, a drudge, who has nothing but her form to distinguish her from the brute beasts. The rich have crowds of such, both men and women.”

* The power of Portugal, so soon to decline, was now at its height, and her recent conquests were extensive both in India and Africa.

"If ever I take to writing dialogues,” he breaks out, further on, "I mean to paint the Spanish inns in their true colors. Let me tell you what befell us at an inn, not far from Victoria, I think it was, but the place matters little; they are all alike. When the table was spread, there was one goblet which went the round of the board until it came to our friend Vasæus, who chanced to let it fall and break; and after that we had nothing to do but to drink out of our hollowed hands, like Diogenes. At another time, there were nine fresh arrivals after we had sat down to dinner, and one cup had to serve for the two tables. I remember also, at Burgos, which is a reasonably large town, we could get but one bundle of fagots. There was absolutely not another to be had, and glad were we when the frost broke up. At Salamanca, however, there is plenty of everything. You may even, if you will, keep house in the Brabantine fashion, with men servants and maid servants and other things to correspond, as a free man should; but when I first came to Évora, it seemed to me that I was in a city of black devils, there were so many negroes about, beings whom I detest to that degree that they had nearly sufficed to drive me out of the place. In fact, if God had not given me a friend in the person of Johannes Parvus, from the University of Paris, I doubt whether I should have been in Portugal at the present time.”

Clenardus took a lodging near this friend, and consented to share his meals. While they were at table, a reader gave passages from the Old Testament in Hebrew, and from the New in Greek; "and then we discuss the doubtful points, and each gets the benefit of the other's learning. So far I have kept clear of slaves. I keep one old and tolerably capable servant whom I found at Salamanca, but who is a compatriot of ours, and understands my ways. He manages by himself, and I am not an exacting master. Had I followed the custom of the country, I should have set up a mule and four servants to begin with. And how could I have done that? Oh, I might have flaunted out of doors, if I would have starved at home, and swallowed the bitter pill of owing more than I could pay! “He goes on to describe with much humor the solemn pomp affected by les gens comme il faut when they take their walks abroad, accompanied by a dozen attendants, more or less.

But he soon got over his anti-slavery scruples, for we find him writing to Vasæus from Évora in November, 1536: “On the first day of last June I began to -play paterfamilias, having first bought two slaves, for whom I paid a round sum, for they are dear just now.”The younger of these “chattels”immediately ran away. The next day he was brought back, but only to fall seriously ill, and when cured by the care of Clenardus to decamp again. The next year we find our friend possessed of three negroes, bearing the imposing names of Michaelis Dento, Antonius Nigrinus, and Sebastianus Carbo, of whose education he has grand ideas.

“I never thought,” he says, “to have been a slave owner, but I am training these fellows to read and copy for me; and I don't see why, if God spares my life, I should not make them theologians, or why they may not learn to read Esaias as well as the Ethiopian whom Philip baptized. Then, if ever I possess a fourth, I shall have nothing to do but to teach them Chaldaic, which is what happened to those four in Babylon. Other smart folk make pets of monkeys; I mean, when tired of study, to get a little amusement out of these monkeys endowed with reason. Latin they cannot help learning, for they never hear me speak anything else, and they can already write it after a fashion. The youngest cost me something over thirty ducats, but I would not sell him for a hundred.”

In one of the last letters which Clenardus ever wrote, he inveighs against the law which frees all slaves who set foot in the territory of Brabant, and threatens never to go back to Louvain at all unless an exception can be made in his favor.

But to resume the thread of our story, Clenardus was still deep in his Arabic studies when, in the autumn of 1536, tidings came to Évora, four months after the event, of a great loss which had befallen the friends of humane letters everywhere in the death, at Bale, of Desiderius Erasmus. Clenardus, who appears to have known Erasmus personally when the latter was lecturing at Louvain, clung for a little to the hope that the rumor was false.

“We have here now,” he writes to Vasæus, “a certain Parisian baccalaureate, who was forced by a storm to put into an English port, and who professes to have heard there that the friend of the monks is dead; that letters have come from Germany to say so. I will not name the man, lest you accuse me of liking to spread bad news. The baccalaureate in question left Paris some three months ago. Pray ascertain whether Don Jacobus knows anything about it; and get him to say a requiem mass in any case. Not that I believe the report: I trust it is absolutely without foundation, for I heard that he was gone to Bale to prepare a revised edition of his complete works.”

The news, however, was only too true, and Clenardus was much affected by its confirmation. He immediately inclosed to the Portuguese poet Resendius, who had been in Belgium, and was a kind and helpful friend to Clenardus as well as a devoted admirer of Erasmus, a parvam elegiolam, closing with the words,

“Spirantem vulgus quod non toleravit Erasmum

Defunctum sero quæret habere senem.”*

Not satisfied with this, he called to mind the fact that Horace once addressed an ode to Virgil on the death of Quintilius Varus, and that he himself had a friend (Joachim Polita, or Politès) to whom Erasmus had been as dear as Varus to Virgil. “And so,” he writes to Polita, “if I could but play the part of Horace, you should receive a poem of flawless elegance; you must judge whether I have imitated the measure."

*The common herd, who could not tolerate Erasmus living, longs too late for the old man dead.

There follows an ode of six stanzas in Asclepiadic measure. It is not very good poetry, but it serves to show that Clenardus had some notion of the principles of Latin versification.

Very free, garrulous, and entertaining letters continue to be addressed to Vasæus at Salamanca, whom Clenardus regarded as his own particular protégé', and to whom he sometimes appears rather more prodigal of counsel than of sympathy. When, for instance, Vasæus writes that a marriage which he had been about to contract has been postponed for a year, Clenardus answers promptly: “I thank God for it with all my heart. Why you need have walked into that snare at all I cannot see. You were not in love, and there was no other imperious reason. If your heart had been engaged, I should have nothing to say; you would only have done what other men do. But now I see how silly you are; and you remind me of those youths who, when they are thwarted about marrying, rush off to a cloister, with no religious vocation whatever, but simply because they are such fools that they want to torment themselves somehow. However, I ought not to scold, perhaps, since there is nothing I can do for you. You will admit that I have freed my mind. Really, dear Vasæus, when I see you so troubled, I can only pray that you may not repent what you have done. Perhaps God has truly called you to another state, or she may die within the year, or get married to somebody else! “

Vasæus married, whether his first love or another we do not know, and in 1537, in spite of previous disclaimers, Clenardus procured him the place of principal of a school at Braga, where Dom Henrique was now installed as archbishop, and whither Clenardus himself was removing. Vasæus did not like the place, however, and soon returned to Salamanca, where, as has been said, he lived and taught Greek for twenty years after the death of his Mentor. The latter, as usual, finds material in his long inland journey northwards from Évora for a diverting letter to Latomus in Louvain, dated Braga, August 21, 1537:

“It would take volumes to describe all the incidents of my progress hither. With three sumpter mules and two drivers, and having purchased a horse apiece for me and my man, on July 30, in the cool of the afternoon, I set out from Évora. I took with me my three negroes, Dento, Nigrinus, and Carbo; and if you could have seen the pomp of my departure and the big luggage of the little grandee, you would have thought that a bishop, at least, was on the move. Tantae molis erat Eborensem linquere nidum. It was late at night when we arrived at our first halting place, for we missed our road, and went a league out of our way. There was no’ wine at the inn. I was informed that they sold it next door, but that every one was in bed. So we had to tap our own cask, which we had provided for such an emergency. Our horses were much better off than we, for they had such water as they had never drunk before. Now, in order that you may perfectly comprehend my story, it behooves you to remember the Portuguese mode of reckoning. The ducat contains four centusses, the centussis a hundred reis; ten reis equal about one stuyver of Brabant.* So then we ask where we shall take our horses to water, and the answer is that every well in town is dry. ‘What, have you no water in the house? ‘Oh yes, there are six pailfuls; and such is the liberality of mine hostess that I can have what I want for my beasts at three reis a head, exactly the price of vin du pays at Louvain. My bed was much too short to accommodate my feet, and if it had been cold weather I should have been frozen stiff up to the knees. My servants, who are used to very good beds at home, after repeated inquiries where they were to sleep, were offered some straw, which they declined. Such were the auspices under which we began our journey, and they proved prophetic.

* Ten reis to-day equal about a cent

“One night we arrived at a lonely inn on the banks of the Tagus, too late to ford the river. I go into the house and make my bow. ‘How are you, landlord? Have you any straw for my horses? ‘Polyphemus appears to hesitate about returning my salutation. ‘Have you any straw? ‘Still no answer, but the man is trotting busily about, and I fancy that he is making preparations for our supper. ‘Have you,’ I repeated, ‘any straw? ‘At last the answer came: ‘None.’ O wretched Lusitania! Happy are those who have not seen, yet have believed! "

 His request for food proved equally unsuccessful. “Presently I espied a small pipkin by the fire, with a strip of bacon in it, and said, ‘I will take some of that.' Well, I got perhaps a quarter of an ounce, and my servant William about as much more. ‘Have you no eggs? ‘‘Eggs are not yet in season.’’ Oh, you have no hens? ‘‘No, none.’ Then I cast my eyes about for something which might satisfy my clamoring stomach. ‘Hostess,’ I said, ‘can't you give me some of the liquor in which this bacon was cooked? ‘‘It is not wholesome.’’ Well, give me a little, at all events; I can at least soak my bread in it.’’ It is no good, sir.’’ William,’ I say to my man, ‘what on earth are we to do? Is there any of our own wine left?’ Fortunately there was about a cupful remaining from dinner, and I toasted a piece of bread and made what they call a sop.”

Requests for fruit and for fish were met, the former by the everlasting “It is not wholesome,” the latter by the remark that the day was not Friday. “All at once I thought of onions, which I used sometimes to eat roasted when a boy, and in fear and trembling I asked if they had any, and received the answer, 'I will see. ’ So we hung suspended between hope and despair; but Jupiter Hospitalis was propitious, and at last we got one apiece. I watched the cooking of them, my mouth watering as if for pheasants, and I sucked my fingers after mine; for they were done with oil and vinegar, of which last condiment there is plenty here, since what they call wine serves for both purposes. Our sumptuous banquet concluded, William asked if his master's bed was ready, and was informed that it was not the season for beds. However, we got one at last, for twenty reis!... The poets call the Tagus auriferous, not, Heaven help us! for the gold it brings, but for that which it takes away.”

But the rollicking mood in which this epistle was penned soon became overclouded at Braga, and after a year's residence there (in September, 1538) we find Clenardus writing to another old friend in Brabant so discontented and homesick a letter that we hardly recognize it for his:

“I don't in the least know, dear Hoverius, whether this move will prove more profitable, as you put it, than my stay in Portugal; the one thing I do know is that no arguments can persuade me to linger on in this exile. I dream of my own country by day and by night. Now I am at Louvain, and now at Malines; now cracking jokes with you, and now with my dear Latomus. May I only live long enough to get there! Next spring, please God, I will go back. Pray for my safe return to my own people. One prince I certainly have found whom I cherished while I was with him, and whom I shall revere all my life, wherever I may be. No number of letters from Salamanca nor flattering offers from other and richer princes could induce me to leave him, and if I cared any longer to live abroad, and hang about courts, I should prefer the Portuguese court to any other. But my hair is turning gray, and I want to be buried among my kindred. My own country is good enough for me. Where will you find a sweeter spot than Louvain? It is high time I began to live for myself, whether in wealth or poverty matters little. Away with those who take thought for the morrow! I still cling to the old ‘Fiat voluntas Dei.’“

The elastic temperament soon begins to react, however, and the proselyting spirit to kindle, and a few weeks later Clenardus makes a fresh start. He can already read Arabic with ease, and speak it after a fashion; and what he now wants is a competent instructor in Mohammedan theology. Hearing of a learned pundit at Seville, he removes thither, only to find, to his ill-concealed disgust, that the man has become a convert to Christianity, and declines, on principle, to teach anything which has to do with the old superstition. Next he gets hold probably by purchase of a Tunisian prisoner of war, said to be deeply versed in all the sacred lore of Islam; and he is proposing to take this person back with him to Flanders, when the prisoner's ransom arrives, and he has to let him go. Finally he concludes an arrangement with the governor of Granada, whereby he is to give lessons in Greek to that functionary and his son, and to receive in return an apartment in the Alhambra, and instruction from an accomplished Moor in the governor's household. Meanwhile, Clenardus buys recklessly all the Arabic books which are offered for sale in Granada, or can be rescued from the Inquisition. “I can make more use of them than Vulcan can,” he dryly observes.

The fast-rising flame of his own controversial and missionary zeal is faithfully reflected in his letters. “Do not laugh,” he says to Latomus, by way of preface to an extremely circumstantial account of the joys that await the faithful in the Mohammedan paradise, “but rather deplore the degradation of a people much more numerous than the professors of the Christian faith. Oh, slothful and apathetic monarchs of old, not to have nipped this heresy in the bud, instead of allowing it to worm its way from Arabia to Greece! It appears, then, that we who have embraced celibacy for the kingdom of heaven's sake have been all our lives laboring under a mistake, and that we are to be embarrassed by having a multitude of wives thrust upon us in heaven! * My teacher went on to assure me of the absolute certainty of the fact that there would be a great many more women in paradise than men. Why, my dear Latomus,” our friend exclaims, by way of climax, “these people are less like us in Louvain than even the Lutherans! “

* One is irresistibly reminded of the emotions of Mr. Andrew Lang's Oxford don in the wrong paradise.

A new and highly adventurous purpose was now ripening in the mind of Clenardus, and this is how he communicates it in a letter addressed from Gibraltar to his old professor, on the 7th of April, 1540: -

“Although I first took up Arabic hoping to get fresh light on the Hebrew through its affinity with that language, it is a long while now that I have been pursuing the said study with quite other views. While I was in Granada, reading the Koran with my Arabic tutor, my attention was daily called to the deplorable errors of the Moslem people, and I could but think how base it was that for nine centuries those of our faith should tamely have accepted so great an outrage, and no one ever have arisen ready to go down into the arena of doctrine and fight the Mohammedans there. Certainly there have been Latin authors who have persecuted the impious sect with the pen; but what can controversies carried on in Latin signify to the Moslems? What do our enemies care for the swinging of our swords, if they are not made to feel them? Moreover, I do not consider that we need all this disputation to preserve ourselves from tumbling headlong into heresy. What does concern us is that so many nations are perishing through their severance from Christ. Nor should the wound be covered up because it is old, but, being so serious, a remedy should be applied; and this cannot be done without a knowledge of the Arabic. I want to train men both to speak and write Arabic, so that they may be capable of carrying on a controversy either face to face or by letter. By the grace of God, though I have had to give a portion of my time to teaching the marquis “(Luis de Mendosa, Marquis de Mondexas, the governor of Granada) “Greek, I have made such good use of my remaining hours that I can chatter with my preceptor on any subject you please. At all events, we understand each other perfectly, and in talking never speak anything but Arabic. But do you suppose, dear master, that I have done this merely to qualify myself for giving a year's lessons in Arabic, and no one of my pupils able to speak a word of it? No, no. I have a very different purpose. I mean, God willing, that my linguistic acquirements shall bear pious fruit. But more of this after I get to Africa. Let me now describe my late journey.”

He found, he says, that he must have certain codices which were not in Spain at all, so he determined to go where he was told they were. “And having left my tutor at Granada with the marquis, against my return, I set forth with the rest of my household, resolved to spend the remainder of this year among the Mohammedans at Fez, a city as famous in Africa as Paris is in France, where Mohammedanism is in great force, and there are multitudes of learned men.”

Clenardus was detained in Gibraltar ("Gibalaltar in Europæ finibus,”he calls it) for nearly a month by bad weather, and when he did cross he found the sea very rough. He needs no further commentary, he quaintly observes, on the storm in the first book of the Eneid; and he owns that he paid his vows to Neptune after the customary manner of inexperienced sailors. “As for William, my elder servant, and, as it were, the pillar of my household, he did not say much, but swore quietly to himself: ‘Oh, if I had but lived a Minorite until now! Once ashore, I wouldn't embark again for a stall in Antwerp Cathedral.’ And though otherwise a warm admirer of Erasmus, he only wished Erasmus had been there, to see whether he would have laughed at sailors’ vows.”

The more experienced passengers encouraged the novices by the assurance that, though they had crossed the strait many times, they had never seen such a sea before; and, as a matter of fact, the captain could not make the harbor of Ceuta, but was forced to land his passengers at an obscure village, some miles away. “Thence we had fairly to crawl over steep and terribly stony hills, anything but practicable to a theologian in sandals; and dangerous, too, for there are rude huts sprinkled here and there about the mountains, and occupied by Moors who cultivate peace by neglecting no occasion for plunder. ‘Oh, what next? ‘groaned William. ‘What if we do get out of this without breaking leg or arm, though barefoot? There's the sea ready to swallow us at a gulp! And if any Moors run across us, the end will be that we shall have to carry stones, or drive mules and asses for a couple of years, and no hope of ransom from perpetual servitude except in your Prince Henry.' The sun was high when at last we entered Ceuta, and we did not get our luggage till the next day at dinner time.”

A few weeks later, Clenardus is giving Latomus his first impressions of Fez. A certain amount of fame had preceded him. “My tutor had, in fact, lied so plausibly on my behalf that as soon as the king heard of my arrival he sent me a safe-conduct for entering Fez. The first time I saw him his Majesty was struck with admiration at my being able to stammer a little Arabic; and, in point of fact, I could make myself intelligible, while the Fezians generally, although many of them are very learned, use in common parlance a patois which is about as much like book Arabic as the Greek vernacular is like the orations of Demosthenes.”

He then proceeds to give quite a detailed description of the place (which is the more remarkable as he had not found a word to say about the Alhambra), and the accounts of recent travelers lead us to conclude that the city has altered but little in its general aspect since that day: “Fez is divided into two parts, and the old town is large and populous. There are said to be about four hundred mosques in it, and an equal number of baths; for the Mohammedans wash a great deal, and may not even say their hourly prayers without lustration. But do not ridicule the ceremonies of those you do not know. They have innumerable mills where Christian slaves lead a deplorable life. The new town is about half a league distant from the old, and the royal palace is there. Close by is the Jews’ quarter, surrounded by its own walls, and paying to the king whatever tribute he chooses to exact. It contains, I should think, eight or nine synagogues and about four thousand inhabitants, many of whom are distinguished for their learning. If I could have had such a chance long ago “(for improving his Hebrew), "I should have made much more progress at Antwerp; but at present my zeal is cold for everything but Arabic. Nowhere else is the Koran studied as at Fez. Scarce any attention is paid to rhetoric, dialectics, or the like branches of study, but the custom is to teach the text of the sacred book to very young children, fixing the words in the memory before they are understood. No codex is ever seen in their schools, but the master writes out a passage from memory upon a wooden board, and the pupil learns it by heart; the next day the master writes out another, and so on, until, in between one and two years, the whole Koran has been committed to memory.”

The methods of teaching in the higher schools are then discussed, and pages follow of dry grammatical disquisition, interspersed with piquant reflections on the Mohammedan doctrines. At last Clenardus bids his friend farewell, requesting his prayers and those of all the faculty at Louvain for his own safe and speedy return to that “sweet place.” Then, suddenly, he bethinks himself of a postscript:

“You men of Brabant think that you know all about war; your ears are hardened to the clang of arms, but God has let loose upon this place an extraordinary sort of host. Had you been here a few days ago, you would have seen the heavens darkened by multitudes of locusts, who not only jump, in this country, but fly like birds. I have seen with my own eyes the plague of ancient prophecy. Whole crops are destroyed in a single night, and the peasants wage fierce war with these creatures. They are, however, 'brought to Fez by cartloads; for this sort of enemy is very generally eaten among us. But, for my own part, I am dainty enough to prefer one partridge to twenty locusts.”

In a subsequent letter to another friend in Brabant, Clenardus repeats much of what he had told Latomus concerning the city of Fez, and adds that he himself lives in the Jewish quarter, because he would not have ventured to set up housekeeping either in the old or new town. “Not that the Jews hate the Christians any less than the Mohammedans do, but they dare not show it so openly. I suppose I might live in the old town, among our own people; that is to say, the Christian merchants, who have established themselves in a spacious house commonly called the Duana “(that is, custom house, whose neighborhood would certainly be the most convenient spot for traders). “But, being a priest, I could not move about as safely as the merchants do. Even as it is, when I go into the old town, though I have one of the royal guards to protect me from injury, I am perpetually insulted in the streets. These things are not pleasant to remember. Yet in one respect the Fezians are to be envied: in all their vast city there is neither lawyer nor tax-gatherer. There are the Alphakii, * who sit before the mosques, and there is a judge, called an Alcadi, who may be consulted at his house. So, if any cause of contention arises, which often happens about their marriages, both parties apply to one or other of these officials, and the case is settled in a twinkling. Wherefore, reverend sir, if you wish to punish any advocates who may have mismanaged your tithes, send them to Fez: they will soon starve for lack of practice. I have learned an adage, which is not to be found in Erasmus’ collection: ‘Christians waste their substance at law, Jews in festivals, Mohammedans in weddings.' The Alphakii,” he adds, “are not at all proud, and though they are often rich men, they think it no shame to walk the streets without a servant to attend them. They go, like our professors at Paris, with a breviary in the sleeve and mud on the heel.”

* Fakih, savant. Clenardus elsewhere defines the Alphakii as men versed in the laws concerning “prayer, purification, marriage, and other Mohammedan ceremonies.”

After a year's residence at Fez, Clenardus found himself so much in debt that he was fain to ask loans from most of his regular correspondents. A request of this kind, preferred to a certain eminent ecclesiastic, * forms the prelude to a sufficiently bold criticism of the policy of Spain toward the Jews: “I live here among Jews, who are more surprised to learn that there should be such people as Christians than we to discover that any of them still survive. What wonder? All they know concerning us is our zeal for burning Jews. If as much money were spent in Spain on converting and keeping them alive as is now spent on destroying them, they would not throng hither as they do. It is a good thing that the people of France, Flanders, and other countries should be taught enough Hebrew to be able to read the Old Testament. But in Spain, where the study of languages has declined through the very multitude of casuists, there would be this additional advantage about a knowledge of Hebrew letters, that it might serve to purify the Christian faith itself. If these Hebrew books are bad, they will be burned by the Jews themselves when once you have converted them. Idols fell before the preaching of the apostles; not that they themselves threw the graven images into the flames, but they labored to imbue men's minds with the faith of Christ. We have expelled the Jews from Spain, and what good has it done us? Those who pretended conversion we have burned, and the rest we suffer to live in Africa! How much better to have kept them all as slaves than to have sacrificed them in such numbers free! When I have my way, which will be at the Greek calends, there will be a new order of things, and a certain number of Jewish rabbis will be invited to come back and teach the Christians Hebrew. And who, do you ask, will pay their salaries? Why, the king wastes his thousands on those blood-sucking lawyers who do their best to keep the world always at strife. Let this money go to pay the professors, and we will send the lawyers to Fez, that they may learn how to compose the biggest quarrel in one brief day. This is something which they have not known hitherto; but if, after they have learned, they will not practice it, let us crucify them, one and all, and thus make an end of litigation. Joking apart, the king might easily be persuaded to have over some distinguished Jew or other to teach at Coimbra. ‘Jew! ‘say you? Why not? There are immensely learned ones here at Fez, who know Spanish just as well as I know Flemish. Then there is another thing which might perhaps influence the Grand Inquisitor.” (He refers to his old pupil, Dom Henrique.) “These Jews lay almost more stress upon their Talmud than upon the four and- twenty books which we call the Old Testament. It is the Talmud which absorbs their chief energies. Wherefore for this, if for no other reason, some Jew might be maintained in the palace until he had translated the whole Talmud into the vernacular, in order that the Grand Inquisitor should be able to refer to it whenever he is called upon to perform the duties of his office. The books in question are not unreadable; they contain a great deal of interesting matter; and since we adorn our bookshelves with the works of the pagans, Plato and Aristotle, and even Homer and Lucian, I don't see why we should reject those which are entirely occupied with religious questions. The monks won't like it, and I know very well what dire things I have to expect from them on the score of my Arabic studies. The noble marquis writes me from Granada that the colloquies of Erasmus have been condemned to the flames, along with a lot of other books which are distasteful to the monks. What do you think will happen when they hear the word Alcoran? “

*Johannes Parvus, Bishop of St. James on the Green Promontory; that is, Cape Verd. His diocese comprised the islands of this name as well as the Portuguese possessions on the continent of Africa.

In the matter of the Arabic texts  which he had hoped to collect in Morocco Clenardus had been disappointed, and in a letter to Latomus, dated a few weeks later than the one just quoted, he explains how hard it was to obtain possession of such:

“Their schools are in the mosques, which neither Christian nor Jew may enter; and though there are so many students here, there is not a single bookshop. However, on Friday of each week, after the prayers have been said, there is a book auction at the principal mosque, to which both buyers and sellers resort. But very few old codices are produced, for the reason that the trade of copyist has been declining here for two hundred years, and the Fezians are sunk in sloth; so that when anything of the sort does appear it fetches a great price, and is immediately snapped up. If an author be in just repute, his works cannot be bought at all, except in fragments. You might spend a lifetime before you would get a complete copy of Zamakschari, or any other commentator on the Koran; but you must buy the half of your author here, and the severed hands of him there, just as you happen to find them for sale: and so, after many bargains and many years, you may get the whole of him together. They never heard of the printing press. Into the auction room aforesaid Christians and Jews may indeed enter, but they run the risk of being stoned to death, if discovered, so fiercely do the Mohammedans grudge their codices to those of another faith. The king here had promised to allow me to take away certain books, but it proved only another example of Punic faith. Still, I cannot call his Majesty to account, as I would any of the other bipeds from whose perfidy I have suffered in this last year; but if the Lord ever permits me to return hence, the truth shall out concerning this African monster. He has done all that in him lay to balk me of the pious purpose for which I undertook this terrible journey, and to make me lose my life in the quest of Arabic lore.”

This letter was written in April, 1541, and four or five months had still to elapse before Clenardus was able to satisfy the claims of his creditors in Fez, and get out of the now hated country. The faithful William, in spite of his dread of the sea, went twice to the continent to collect money for his hardly pressed master. Even the pension settled on his tutor by Dom Henrique was now in arrears, and Clenardus appears to think that the Grand Inquisitor may have conceived some suspicions of his orthodoxy, and may entertain scruples about continuing to nourish a potential heretic. But conscious of his ever growing zeal for the summary conversion of all that monstrous Moslem world, he treats this danger very lightly; says he should not starve even without the prince's bounty, and that he should not consider it altogether a misfortune if it were withdrawn. He had always thought poverty less dangerous than immoderate wealth, “and I am really in utrumque paratus; I will neither beseech the prince to keep his word, nor give him any good reason for breaking it. God's will be done! For I,” he naively adds, “am perfectly indifferent.”

Not only did William's first mission prove entirely fruitless, but immediately on his return to Africa he fell very ill of a fever, which occasioned Clenardus great anxiety. He was ultimately cured by a Jewish physician, who was also an astrologer, and insisted on casting Clenardus’ horoscope. A short debate ensued between the sick man and his master as to the day and hour of the latter's birth, a point on which they decidedly differed. But this indispensable preliminary having been settled, the scheme of nativity was drawn up in due form, and Clenardus learned, to his infinite amusement, that he was one day to be Pope. He does not see why not, he says, since he had already been for an entire year in Africa as much the “servant of servants “as ever the sovereign pontiff could have been in Italy; and he proceeds to give his episcopal correspondent for he is still writing to the Bishop of Cape Verd a facetious outline of some of the bulls which he proposes to issue. “So you need not think that I am coming back to Portugal in any desperate frame of mind, or that I intend to grovel to the prince for supplies. After what has passed, I couldn't so humiliate myself. And why take thought not merely for the morrow, but for the next three years, when my last day may be close at hand? Meanwhile, the promises of the astrologer near their fulfillment, and if they fail I shall have the means of confuting his vain science.”

The overflowing spirits of this and the other late letters from Africa would seem to show conclusively that Clenardus had then no serious premonition of his rapidly approaching end. But with a man of his mercurial temperament one can never be sure. After his safe return to Granada in the autumn of 1541, a dozen plans for the future were conceived and rejected by his eager brain. “Sweet Louvain “began to seem less attractive. “I am afraid that I have been away too long,” he says, “and that I shall find it impossible to adapt myself to the customs of my native land. I have so many relatives there that I shall be perpetually receiving invitations to weddings, baptisms, and dinners; and I would much sooner munch a crust of bread over an Arabic codex than be involved in such noisy assemblies.”

Soon the outbreak of war rendered the journey to Brabant impossible, and in the last of Clenardus’private letters we find him announcing his purpose of paying another visit to Africa in the immediate future, this time, however, without servants or luggage. There seems no reason to suppose that this project was ever realized.

Meanwhile, in the early days of 1542, he composed the long epistle to the Emperor Charles V from which our first random quotation was taken. It is as vigorous a piece of writing as he ever produced, strong both in defense and in appeal; and though he cannot repress an occasional sally of fun, it is for the most part very properly serious in tone. He then began to compose a general Apologia, which was inscribed, “To Christians, concerning the Teaching of Arabic, and the Inauguration of a Crusade against Mahomet.”

All the events of his life up to the time of his arrival at Braga are minutely recorded here, and most of the good stories contained in the letters to his various friends are retold. But the narrative breaks off abruptly in the middle of a sentence, and Carolus Clusius (Charles de 1'Ecluse of Arras), who edited a collection of Clenardus’ letters, published in 1566 by the celebrated house of Plantin at Antwerp, says that his own most diligent researches, both at Granada and Salamanca, had failed to discover another word of his author's writing; whence he (Clusius) is forced to conclude that death overtook him precisely at this point.

The hour and manner of that death are unknown. The swift and silent disappearance of so marked a personality  as Clenardus', taken in connection with the evident suspicious of his orthodoxy entertained by the great functionary who had once been his pupil, suggests irresistible thoughts of the Holy Office, which was at that time so active both in Portugal and Spain. It also seems, at first sight, rather significant that when the Antwerp edition of the letters was reprinted, forty years later, at Hanau, near Frankfort, there should have been added, by way of appendix, certain extracts from the life of the Elector Palatine Frederick which deal almost entirely with the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.

But Clenardus’ latest biographer, Félix Nère, himself a professor at the University of Louvain, says distinctly that his learned fellow-countryman was buried in an ancient mosque within the precincts of the Alhambra, which had been transformed into a Christian church; in which case his death was undoubtedly due to natural causes, and very probably to disease contracted in Africa. If a martyr at all, Clenardus was the martyr of letters rather than of religion; and even his chivalrous zeal for the conversion of the Mohammedan heathen was a fitful and intermittent sentiment, compared with his ardent ambition to open out a fresh field in the newly discovered realm of humane learning.  


Harriet Waters Preston

Louise Dodge.