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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Roger Ascham (1515–1568)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THIS noted scholar owes his place in English literature to his pure, vigorous English prose. John Tindal and Sir Thomas More, his predecessors, had perhaps equaled him in the flexible and simple use of his native tongue, but they had not surpassed him. The usage of the time was still to write works of importance in Latin, and Ascham was master of a good Ciceronian Latin style. It is to his credit that he urged on his countrymen the writing of English, and set them an example of its vigorous use.  1
  He was the son of John Ascham, house steward to Lord Scrope of Bolton, and was born at Kirby Wiske, near Northallerton, in 1515. At the age of fifteen he entered St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he applied himself to Greek and Latin, mathematics, music, and penmanship. He had great success in teaching and improving the study of the classics; but seems to have had a somewhat checkered academic career, both as student and teacher. His poverty was excessive, and he made many unsuccessful attempts to secure patronage and position; till at length, in 1545, he published his famous treatise on Archery, ‘Toxophilus,’ which he presented to Henry VIII. in the picture gallery at Greenwich, and which obtained for him a small pension. The treatise is in the form of a dialogue, the first part being an argument in favor of archery, and the second, instructions for its practice. In its pages he makes a plea for the literary use of the English tongue.  2
  After long-continued disappointment and trouble, he was finally successful in obtaining the position of tutor to the Princess Elizabeth, in 1548. She was fifteen years old, and he found her an apt scholar; but the life was irksome, and in 1550 he resigned the post to return to Cambridge as public orator,—whence one may guess as a main reason for so excellent a teacher having so hard a time to live, that like many others he liked to talk about his profession better than to practice it. Going abroad shortly afterward as secretary to Sir Richard Morysin, ambassador to Charles V., he remained with him until 1553, when he received the appointment of Latin secretary to Queen Mary. It is said that he wrote for her forty-seven letters in his fine Latin style, in three days.  3
  At the accession of Elizabeth he received the office of the Queen’s private tutor. Poverty and “household griefs” still gave him anxiety; but during the five years which elapsed between 1563 and his death in 1568, he found some comfort in the composition of his Schoolmaster, which was published by his widow in 1570. It was suggested by a conversation at Windsor with Sir William Cecil, on the proper method of bringing up children. Sir Richard Sackville was so well pleased with Ascham’s theories that he, with others, entreated him to write a practical work on the subject. ‘The Schoolmaster’ argues in favor of gentleness rather than force on the part of an instructor. Then he commends his own method of teaching Latin by double translation, offers remarks on Latin prosody, and touches on other pedagogic themes. Both this and the ‘Toxophilus’ show a pure, straightforward, easy style. Contemporary testimony to its beauty may be found in an appendix to Mayor’s edition of ‘The Schoolmaster’ (1863); though Dr. Johnson, in a memoir prefixed to Rennet’s collected edition of Ascham’s English works (1771), says that “he was scarcely known as an author in his own language till Mr. Upton published his ‘Schoolmaster’ in 1711.” He has remained, however, the best-known type of a great teacher in the popular memory; in part, perhaps, through his great pupil.  4
  The best collected edition of his works, including his Latin letters, was published by Dr. Giles in 1864–5. There are texts of the ‘Schoolmaster’ in the Arber Series of English reprints and in the Cambridge English Classics (1904). The best account of his system of education is in R. H. Quick’s ‘Essays on Educational Reformers’ (1868).  5
 
 
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