Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Books That Do hurt
By Roger Ascham (15151568)
From the Schoolmaster
ST. PAUL saith, that sects and ill opinions be the works of the flesh and fruits of sin. This is spoken no more truly for the doctrine than sensible for the reason. And why? For ill doings breed ill thinkings; and of corrupted manners spring perverted judgments. And how? There be in man two special things; mans will, mans mind. Where will inclineth to goodness, the mind is bent to troth. Where will is carried from goodness to vanity, the mind is soon drawn from troth to false opinion. And so, the readiest way to entangle the mind with false doctrine, is first to entice the will to wanton living. Therefore, when the busy and open papists abroad could not by their contentious books turn men in England fast enough from troth and right judgment in doctrine, then the subtile and secret papists at home, procured bawdy books to be translated out of the Italian tongue, whereby over-many young wills and wits allured to wantonness, do now boldly contemn all severe books that sound to honesty and godliness.
In our forefathers time, when papistry, as a standing pool, covered and overflowed all England, few books were read in our tongue, saving certain books of chivalry, as they said for pastime and pleasure; which, as some say, were made in monasteries by idle monks or wanton canons. As one for example, Morte Arthur, the whole pleasure of which book standeth in two special points, in open man-slaughter and bold bawdry. In which book those be counted the noblest knights, that do kill most men without any quarrel, and commit foulest adulteries by subtlest shifts: as Sir Launcelot, with the wife of King Arthur his master; Sir Tristram, with the wife of King Mark his uncle; Sir Lamerock, with the wife of King Lote, that was his own aunt. This is good stuff for wise men to laugh at, or honest men to take pleasure at: yet I know, when Gods Bible was banished the court, and Morte Arthur received into the princes chamber.
What toys the daily reading of such a book may work in the will of a young gentleman, or a young maid, that liveth wealthily and idly, wise men can judge, and honest men do pity. And yet ten Morte Arthurs do not the tenth part so much harm, as one of these books made in Italy and translated in England. They open, not fond and common ways to vice, but such subtle, cunning, new, and divers shifts, to carry young wills to vanity, and young wits to mischief, to teach old bawds new school points, as the simple head of an Englishman is not able to invent, nor never was heard of in England before, yea, when papistry overflowed all. Suffer these books to be read, and they shall soon displace all books of godly learning. For they, carrying the will to vanity, and marring good manners, shall easily corrupt the mind with ill opinions, and false judgment in doctrine; first to think ill of all true religion, and at last to think nothing of God himself; one special point that is to be learned in Italy and Italian books. And that which is most to be lamented, and therefore more needful to be looked to, there be more of these ungracious books set out in print within these few months, than have been seen in England many score years before. And because our Englishmen made Italians can not hurt but certain persons, and in certain places, therefore these Italian books are made English, to bring mischief enough openly and boldly to all states, great and mean, young and old, everywhere.