Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
The Force of Example
By Roger Ascham (15151568)
From the Schoolmaster
PRESENT examples of this present time I list not to touch; yet there is one example for all the gentlemen of this court to follow, that may well satisfy them, or nothing will serve them, nor no example move them to goodness and learning.
It is your shame (I speak to you all, you young gentlemen of England) that one maid should go beyond you all in excellency of learning and knowledge of divers tongues. Point forth six of the best given gentlemen of this court, and all they together show not so much good will, spend not so much time, bestow not so many hours daily, orderly, and constantly, for the increase of learning and knowledge, as doth the Queens Majesty herself. Yea, I believe, that beside her perfect readiness in Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish, she readeth here now at Windsor more Greek every day, than some prebendary of this church doth read Latin in a whole week. And that which is most praiseworthy of all, within the walls of her privy chamber, she hath obtained that excellency of learning to understand, speak, and write both wittily with head, and fair with hand,1 as scarce one or two rare wits in both the universities have in many years reached unto. Amongst all the benefits that God hath blessed me withal, next the knowledge of Christs true religion, I count this the greatest, that it pleased God to call me to be one poor minister in setting forward these excellent gifts of learning in this most excellent prince;2 whose only example if the rest of our nobility would follow, then might England be for learning and wisdom in nobility, a spectacle to all the world beside. But see the mishap of men; the best examples have never such force to move to any goodness, as the bad, vain, light, and fond have to all illness.
And one example, though out of the compass of learning, yet not out of the order of good manners, was notable in this court not fully twenty-four years ago; when all the acts of parliament, many good proclamations, divers strait commandments, sore punishment openly, special regard privately, could not do so much to take away one misorder, as the example of one big one of this court did, still to keep up the same: the memory whereof doth yet remain in a common proverb of Birching Lane.3
Take heed, therefore, ye great ones in the court, yea though ye be the greatest of all, take heed what ye do, take heed how ye live: for as you great ones use to do, so all mean men love to do. You be indeed makers or marrers of all mens manners within the realm. For though God hath placed you to be chief in making of laws, to bear greatest authority, to command all others; yet God doth order, that all your laws, all your authority, all your commandments, do not half so much with mean men, as doth your example and manner of living. And for example, even in the greatest matter, if you yourselves do serve God gladly and orderly for conscience sake, not coldly, and sometime for manner sake, you carry all the court with you, and the whole realm beside, earnestly and orderly to do the same. If you do otherwise, you be the only authors of all misorders in religion, not only to the court, but to all England beside. Infinite shall be made cold in religion by your example, that never were hurt by reading of books.
And in meaner matters, if three or four great ones in court will needs outrage in apparel, in huge hose, in monstrous hats, in garish colours; let the prince proclaim, make laws, order, punish, command every gate in London daily to be watched; let all good men beside do every where what they can; surely the misorder of apparel in mean men abroad shall never be amended, except the greatest in court will order and mend themselves first. I know some great and good ones in court were authors, that honest citizens of London should watch at every gate to take misordered persons in apparel; I know that honest Londoners did so; and I saw (which I saw then, and report now with some grief) that some courtly men were offended with these good men of London: and (that which grieved me most of all) I saw the very same time, for all these good orders commanded from the court and executed in London; I saw, I say, come out of London even unto the presence of the prince, a great rabble of mean and light persons in apparel, for matter against law, for making against order, for fashion, namely hose, so without all order, as he thought himself most brave, that durst do most in breaking order, and was most monstrous in misorder. And for all the great commandments that came out of the court, yet this bold misorder was winked at, and borne withal in the court. I thought it was not well, that some great ones of the court durst declare themselves offended with good men of London for doing their duty, and the good ones of the court would not show themselves offended with ill men of London for breaking good order. I found thereby a saying of Socrates to be most true, That ill men be more hasty, than good men be forward, to prosecute their purposes; even as Christ himself saith of the children of light and darkness.