« AnkstesnisTęsti »
among the high ecclesiastics of the time. He was one of a small group of eminent churchmen who aimed at a reconciliation between Protestantism and Catholicism on the basis of a liberal religion which would preserve the unity of Christendom, and thus avert the disasters which must follow a divided authority in the Church. But our chief interest in Sadoleto in the present connection is that from his hand we have the only characterisation of Wilson which enables us to realise what manner of man he was.
On a day in November, 1535, Wilson, with recovered health, walked from Avignon to Carpentras, a distance of some twenty miles, and reached Sadoleto's episcopal palace at nightfall. In a letter of Sadoleto we have an account of the interview that followed, and the letter, be it said, is one of the most generally interesting documents of the time that have come down to us. It is a representative specimen of the epistolary style in which the humanists of the period sought to emulate Cicero and Pliny, and it breathes the very spirit of that zeal for classical antiquity which created a bond of union between the scholars of all countries. Moreover, as has been said, it presents us with a portrait of Wilson which explains what it was in him that attracted so many different types of men. The letter was written four days after the arrival of Wilson at Carpentras, and is addressed to a cousin of Sadoleto's who had been commissioned to secure a suitable person for the vacant mastership. The letter is too long to be quoted in full, but even an abridgement of it will convey its general character.
Four days ago, Sadoleto writes, he had sat down for an evening's study, when his chamberlain announced that a stranger, by his gown evidently a scholar, desired to see him. He was annoyed at being disturbed, but he ordered the visitor to be admitted. The cardinal is at once arrested by the stranger's address, and by the refinement and choiceness of his Latinity. Questions then follow. Whence did he come, where had he been educated, what was his past history? To his surprise Sadoleto learns that the stranger comes from Scotland, 'that remotest part of the earth.' His name, he learns, is Volusenus, and he had come from Avignon to Carpentras partly to make the acquaintance of Sadoleto, and partly to offer himself as a candidate for the vacant post in the school at Carpentras. Meanwhile Sadoleto is every moment becoming more and more charmed with the modesty and evident accomplishments of his visitor, and is delighted at the prospect of having such a man in his neighbourhood. On the following day he invites the magistrates of the
town to meet the stranger at dinner, when Wilson displays such gifts and graces that the magistrates there and then offer him the vacant post in their school.1
Though introduced to his new position under such happy auspices, Wilson apparently did not find it altogether to his mind. His annual salary was a hundred gold crowns-a sum which Sadoleto must have thought inadequate, as in the following year he besought the Cardinal of Lorraine to renew his former pension to Wilson on the ground that he was as assiduous in his studies in Carpentras as he had been in Paris. Moreover, the subjects Wilson had to teach-Latin grammar and the rudiments of Greek -were uncongenial to him, as his own predilection was for the study of philosophy."
How long Wilson retained his post at Carpentras no authority informs us, but what further notices we have of him associate his last years not with Carpentras but with the neighbouring city of Lyons. Lyons was at this time the intellectual capital of France; from its printing-presses issued the most important publications of the day; and scholars from all countries found a society within its walls which was hardly to be found elsewhere. In Lyons Wilson must either have permanently resided, or have paid it long and frequent visits, as he was an esteemed intimate of the most distinguished men who resided there. Two references to him, which belong to this period, deserve to be quoted as showing the quality of his mind and the range of his accomplishments. One is from Conrad Gesner, whose encyclopædic knowledge gave him pre-eminence even in that age of prodigious acquirements. Gesner, who met Wilson in Lyons in 1540, describes him as being then still only a youth, and adds that from his erudition great things were expected to the benefit of all the learned." More specific as to Wilson's accomplishments is the reference of another scholar, who depicts him as having, in addition to his virtues and pleasant manners, not only a knowledge of the arts
1 Sadoleti Epistolarum libri sexdecim (Lugduni, 1554), p. 657.
2 In the letter just quoted Sadoleto states the salary as 100 gold crowns; Wilson in his letter to Starkey says the sum was 70 crowns.
3 Sadoleti Epistolae, p. 228.
4 Wilson to Starkey, 21st Nov., 1535.
5 His death at Vienne on his journey home may imply that he had started from Carpentras, where he may have been residing.
6 See Buisson, op cit. i. pp. 35-6.
7 Gesneri Bibliotheca Universalis (Tiguri, 1545), f. 245-6.
and sciences, but also an acquaintance with six languages-among them being French, Italian, and Spanish-which he had acquired in the countries where they were spoken. From these references and from other sources it is apparent that among the distinguished men in Lyons Wilson was among the most distinguished, and that his society was sought as an honour and a privilege.
The year 1546 is recorded as the date of his death. In that year he set out for his native land, which, so far as we know, he had only once visited since he had first left it. Scotland at this time was not an inviting place for men of Wilson's tastes and ways of thinking. In 1546 George Wishart was burned and Cardinal Beaton murdered, and, as affairs went in Church and State, Wilson who, as we shall see, was neither a sound Protestant nor a sound Catholic, might find himself between two fires. Before starting on his homeward journey, therefore, he consulted Sadoleto as to the course he should follow in a land so distracted by civil and religious strife. Sadoleto's advice was characteristic; the existing religious dissensions in the religious world, he wrote, were such as to try men's faith, but he recommended Wilson, as far as in him lay, to abide by the religion of his fathers and dedicate to its service the gifts which had been bestowed upon him.2
But Wilson was not destined to see his native land. On his journey home he died at Vienne on the Rhone, under what circumstances no record tells us. His death was lamented by one who, like himself, represented Scotland in the European society of letters. At some period which we cannot definitely fix, Wilson had met George Buchanan, probably in Paris, and, though their respective careers did not again bring them together, each continued to retain for the other an esteem, of which, as it happens, two memorials remain. In the library of the University of Edinburgh is preserved a Hebrew dictionary with this inscription: Georgius Buchananus: Ex munificentia Florentii Voluseni; and from the pen of Buchanan we have an epitaph on Wilson, the poignant brevity of which is the best evidence that it came from the heart. Hic musis, Volusene, jaces, carissime, ripam Ad Rhodani, terra quam procul a patria! Hoc meruit virtus tua, tellus quae foret altrix Virtutum, ut cineres conderet illa tuos.
1 Les emblêmes de Seigneur André Alciat, de nouveau translatz en François, vers pour vers, jouxte la diction Latine, etc. (Lyons, 1549).
2 Sadoleti Epistolae, p. 639.
The work which preserved Wilson's name among the learned for at least two centuries after his death was his De Animi Tranquillitate. That it had a considerable circulation during that period is proved by the fact that it passed through four editions, the first of which appeared in 1543 and the last in 1751. The special charm it had for certain minds can easily be understood. It is written in a Latin style which, though interspersed with unclassical words and phrases, is fluent and easy, and it abounds with literary allusions which appeal to the scholar. But its chief attractiveness is in its fine vein of meditation, suggestive at once of a wide humanity, of refinement, and moral elevation, which we know to have been Wilson's characteristics. The book is written in the form of a dialogue-obviously in imitation of the philosophical dialogues of Cicero. There are three interlocutors, Wilson himself and two friends, who are represented as looking to him as their master, from whom they expect to hear words of wisdom. The scene of the conversation is a garden on the slope of a hill overlooking the town of Lyons and the surrounding country. The main intention of the book, a good-sized octavo, is to show the superiority of the Christian religion, compared with pagan philosophy, in furthering man to his highest good. At the period when the book was written, be it noted, this was not merely an academic thesis: it was an address to the times. In Italy especially, admiration for the Greek and Roman classics had gone so far that the Church itself seemed on the way to be paganised. Cardinal Bembo, one of the devotees of the ancients, warned Sadoleto against reading St. Paul's Epistles for the reason that they would corrupt his Latin style, and Erasmus expressed his fear lest Jupiter should one day be re-enthroned on the Capitoline Hill. In the exposition of his theme Wilson adopts the conventional device of a dream, in which he has a vision of two temples, one symbolising pagan philosophy, the other Christianity. In the first temple he is attended by a philosopher who expounds to him the conditions. under which tranquillity is attainable by man's own unaided efforts; in the second, he has for his guide St. Paul, who convincingly shows him that, not by his own good works, but only by the grace of God, can man attain salvation and the highest bliss. The fact
1It may be worth noting that a copy of De Animi Tranquillitate, which had belonged to Dr. Samuel Parr, was presented to the Elgin Literary and Scientific Association by Dr. Taylor in 1861. I. Taylor, A Memoir of Florentius Volusenus. Elgin, 1861. 2 Professor Robertson Smith says that Wilson 'ultimately reaches a doctrine as to the witness of the spirit and the assurance of grace, which breaks with the
that Wilson chose St. Paul as the exponent of Christian doctrine would seem to indicate his own leanings in the great controversy between Rome and Protestantism. That he had not actually broken with the Church of Rome is proved by the fact that before starting for Scotland, as we have seen, he had consulted Sadoleto as to the course he should follow in that country. It is certain, however, that there was much in that Church with which he was out of sympathy. In his Treatise, which we are considering, he speaks scathingly of the vice and indolence of the higher clergy, and he cordially expresses his approval of certain Italian reformers who were pressing for a religious renewal virtually along the lines of Luther. More significant, however, is the fact that he approved of Henry VIII.'s assumption of the Headship of the Church in England, and that, as we have seen, he actually wrote in defence of Henry's ecclesiastical policy. The truth seems to be that at the time of his death Wilson stood in the same relation to the Church as men like Erasmus and Buchanan. Both Erasmus and Buchanan were unsparing in their denunciations of its abuses, but both remained members of its communion, though in the end Buchanan went over to Protestantism. Had Wilson lived to settle in Scotland, the probability is that he would have done likewise.
From this sketch of Wilson's career, necessarily fragmentary as it is, we may yet conceive what manner of man he was. It is itself a striking tribute to his personality that he was admitted to intimacy with the first men of the age-men who were fashioning the destinies of kingdoms. That he should have commended himself to men so different as Wolsey, Cromwell, Fisher, the Cardinal of Lorraine, and Cardinal Sadoleto, is conclusive proof of the breadth of his interests, of his practical sagacity, of his tact in the ways of the world. But Wilson found his most congenial society, not among statesmen and diplomatists, but among men whose main concern was to make prevail that ideal of a pietas litterata, a cultured piety, which should combine the essential teaching of Christianity with the free outlook on life of classical antiquity. By his elevation of mind, his various accomplishments, and his gift of persuasion, Wilson was a natural leader in such a society. If we look for a kindred spirit among his
traditional Christianity of his time, and contains ethical motives akin to, though not identical with, those of the German Reformation.' (Article on Wilson in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.)
1 De Animi Tranquillitate, pp. 3, 5, 242.