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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XIV. English Grammar Schools.

§ 9. The Merchant Taylor’s school.


The Merchant Taylors’ school, founded in 1561, was a no less conspicuous example of civic liberality and generosity of spirit than was St. Paul’s—its statutes, indeed, being little more than a transcript of those given by Colet to the earlier foundation, and its scholars, in like manner, being admissible from “all nations and countries.” Within five years of the time when the school was first opened, on a site between Cannon street and the Thames, it had already acquired additional importance by the fact that Sir Thomas White, a member of the company’s court, having recently founded the college of St. John the Baptist at Oxford, proceeded, on drawing up certain additional statutes for the society, to enact that forty three scholarships on the foundation should be restricted to scholars from Merchant Taylors’, such scholars to be “assigned and named by continual succession,” while, at the same time, he retained the nominations in his own hands. This measure—suggested, obviously, by the example of the founders of Winchester and Eton—was at once productive of a considerable increase in the numbers. In certain additional statutes for his college, the founder had also directed that, in elections to scholarships, poverty should weigh in favour of a candidate, and “Tobie Matthew,” the president of St. John’s, had, consequently, sought to evade the obligation to elect forty-three scholars entirely from a school in which a lower class element was, at first, undoubtedly large. He grounded his defence on the plea that the college itself was depressed by straitened resources. Fortunately, however, sundry bequests for the specified purpose of aiding poor students afterwards fell in, and served, to some extent, to alleviate the pressure while the institution of examinations, to be held three times in the course of the year, did much to raise the school in public estimation; and the company itself, assembled in court, was able to declare that Merchant Taylors’ was “a schoole for liberty most free, being open expressly for poore men’s children, as well of all nations as for the merchaunt tailors themselves.”  13  In 1607, a banquet, honoured by the presence of the king, when prince Charles was admitted a freeman of the company and Ben Jonson composed an interlude for the occasion, seems to have ushered in a period of growing prosperity, which lasted unbroken until the destruction of the school buildings in the great fire of 1666. It was not all parents, however, who could contemplate with equanimity the prospect of their offspring being educated along with those of the poor; and when, within a few years after the above banquet, Thomas Farnaby, a former postmaster of Merton college, well acquainted with the educational system of the Jesuits, opened a school in Goldsmiths’ alley, it was soon sufficiently obvious that he had ministered to a genuine want. He had boarders as well as day scholars; his class-rooms formed an imposing structure and his whole premises were palatial; his ushers were well drilled in their special work. His numbers, consequently, soon rose to three hundred, of whom the great majority were the sons of titled families.  14  He was himself an excellent classical scholar with a European reputation. At the royal request, he compiled a new Latin grammar avowedly designed to supersede the labours of Lily, and also brought out, in 1612, an annotated text of Juvenal and Persius which went through numerous editions, and was followed by other classical authors. It was about the same time, that John Brinsley, at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, propounded, in his Ludus Literarius, a new mode of translation, and invested the teaching of grammar with unprecedented importance by his elaboration of method.  15  His austere, though not harsh, discipline inspired parents with more than usual confidence; but, unfortunately, his puritan sympathies brought his flourishing school under the episcopal ban, and he was fain to retire to London.   13
  The majority of the grammar schools throughout the country continued to recruit their numbers from a certain definite area, represented by the parish or the county in which they had been founded, according to the conditions prescribed in their respective charters. Generally speaking, the free school—by which we must understand “a school in which learning is given without pay”  16 —was open to the sons of all freemen within the specified limits. A public school, on the other hand, was open to the whole kingdom,  17  and, in some cases, to scholars of other nationalities, and thus, almost necessarily, involved payment, at least for maintenance or board.   14

Note 13. Staunton, Great Schools of England (ed. 1869), p. 177. [ back ]
Note 14. See Autobiography of Sir John Bramston, the younger (himself one of Farnaby’s pupils), Camden Soc. Pub. (1845), p. 101. [ back ]
Note 15. Foster Watson, in his English Grammar Schools (pp. 262–7), has supplied us with a detailed comparison of Brinsley’s method with that of Roger Ascham. [ back ]
Note 16. “It has been denied that this was the meaning of ’free (grammar) school,’ Lat. libera schola grammaticalis, as the official designation of many schools founded under Edward VI,” but see Murray’s Dictionary, s.v. “Free,” § 32 b, for the evidence in favour of the affirmative. We have also to bear in mind how largely, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, teachers, even at the universities, taught gratis, and, more especially, the Jesuits. A passage cited by Leach, A. F., in his English Schools at the Reformation, p. 82, shows clearly, however, the sense in which the term was accepted in the year 1548, a chantry priest being there described as licensed “to kepe a gramer scoole half-free, that ys to saye, taking of scolers lerning gramer 8d. the quarter, and of others lerning to rede 4d. the quarter,” that is to say, receiving payment of only a moiety. [ back ]
Note 17. See Letter from Samuel Butler, D.D., to Henry Brougham, Esq., M.P., 1821, in which the writer, himself master of Shrewsbury, assumes the correctness of the above definition. Printed in Baker’s History of St. John’s College (ed. Mayor), II, 933–4. [ back ]

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