Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
 
A Plea for Music
By Roger Ascham (1515–1568)
 
From Toxophilus

Toxophilus.  Therefore either Aristotle and Plato know not what was good and evil for learning and virtue, and the example of wise histories be vainly set afore us, or else the minstrelsy of lutes, pipes, harps, and all other that standeth by such nice, fine, minikin fingering, (such as the most part of scholars whom I know use, if they use any,) is far more fit, for the womanishness of it, to dwell in the Court among ladies, than for any great thing in it, which should help good and sad study, to abide in the university among scholars. But perhaps you know some great goodness of such music and such instruments, whereunto Plato and Aristotle his brain could never attain; and therefore I will say no more against it.
  1
  Philologus.  Well, Toxophile, is it not enough for you to rail upon music, except you mock me too? But, to say the truth, I never thought myself these kinds of music fit for learning; but that which I said was rather to prove you, than to defend the matter. But yet as I would have this sort of music decay among scholars, even so do I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that the laudable custom of England to teach children their plain-song and prick-song, 1 were not so decayed throughout all the realm as it is. Which thing how profitable it was for all sorts of men, those knew not so well then which had it most, as they do now which lack it most. And therefore it is true that Teucer saith in Sophocles:
        “Seldom at all good things be known how good to be
Before a man such things do miss out of his hands.” 2
  2
  That milk is no fitter nor more natural for the bringing-up of children than music is, both Galen proveth by authority, and daily use teacheth by experience. For even the little babes lacking the use of reason, are scarce so well stilled in sucking their mother’s pap, as in hearing their mother sing. Again, how fit youth is made by learning to sing, for grammar and other sciences, both we daily do see, and Plutarch learnedly doth prove, and Plato wisely did allow, which received no scholar into his school that had not learned his song before. The godly use of praising God, by singing in the church, needeth not my praise, seeing it is so praised through all the scripture; therefore now I will speak nothing of it, rather than I should speak too little of it.  3
  Beside all these commodities, truly two degrees of men, which have the highest offices under the King in all this realm, shall greatly lack the use of singing, preachers, and lawyers, because they shall not, without this, be able to rule their breasts for every purpose. For where is no distinction in telling glad things and fearful things, gentleness and cruelness, softness and vehementness, and such-like matters, there can be no great persuasion. For the hearers, as Tully saith, be much affectioned as he is that speaketh. At his words be they drawn; if he stand still in one fashion, their minds stand still with him; if he thunder, they quake; if he chide, they fear; if he complain, they sorry with him; and finally where a matter is spoken with an apt voice for every affection, the hearers, for the most part, are moved as the speaker would. But when a man is alway in one tune, like an humble bee, or else now in the top of the church, now down, that no man knoweth where to have him; or piping like a reed or roaring like a bull, as some lawyers do, which think they do best when they cry loudest, these shall never greatly move, as I have known many well-learned have done, because their voice was not stayed afore with learning to sing. For all voices, great and small, base and shrill, weak or soft, may be holpen and brought to a good point by learning to sing.  4
  Whether this be true or not, they that stand most in need can tell best; whereof some I have known, which, because they learned not to sing when they were boys, were fain to take pain in it when they were men. If any man should hear me, Toxophile, that would think I did but fondly to suppose that a voice were so necessary to be looked upon, I would ask him if he thought not nature a fool, for making such goodly instruments in a man for well uttering his words; or else if the two noble orators Demosthenes and Cicero were not fools, whereof the one did not only learn to sing of a man, but also was not ashamed to learn how he should utter his sounds aptly of a dog; the other setteth out no point of rhetoric so fully in all his books, as how a man should order his voice for all kind of matters.  5
  Therefore seeing men, by speaking, differ and be better than beasts, by speaking well better than other men, and that singing is an help toward the same, as daily experience doth teach, example of wise men doth allow, authority of learned men doth approve, wherewith the foundation of youth in all good commonwealths always hath been tempered: surely, if I were one of the Parliament-house, I would not fail to put up a bill for the amendment of this thing; but because I am like to be none this year, I will speak no more of it at this time.  6
 
Note 1. plain-song = chanting, prick-song, music with the notation marked. [back]
Note 2. Sophocles.  The passage referred to seems to be that at v. 964 of the Ajax. But it is Tecmessa, and not Teucer, who utters the words—[Greek]. [back]
 
 
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