Nothing Ever Changes

early 1990s

An excerpt from a letter by Desiderius Erasmus to Pedro Ruiz de la Mota, Bishop of Palencia, written in Basel on April 21, 1522:

"...the life of those who like myself write books is no better than that of the actors of antiquity who presented a play on the stage before the public. They had to learn their parts, to rehearse their production, to do all that was humanly possible to satisfy their audience -- that motley throng, truly a beast of many heads, few of whose members have the same tastes, nor are they always consistent, and, what is worse, the greater part of them are led by prejudice rather than judgment. On their thumbs the poor mountebank is wholly dependent; he must worship the lowest of the mob, and after superhuman exertions thinks himself happy if he has secured a hearing for his play. If he is hissed off the stage, he must find a tree and hang himself. Surely books have to face critics who are no less various, no less difficult to please, no less distorted by prejudice. In one way our fate is the more unfair, in that we put on our show at our own expense, while the actors get their fee. And they, if the dance is a failure, merely look foolish; we, if we fail to please, are heretics."