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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Gentleness in Education
By Roger Ascham (1515–1568)
 
From ‘The Schoolmaster’

YET some will say that children, of nature, love pastime, and mislike learning; because, in their kind, the one is easy and pleasant, the other hard and wearisome. Which is an opinion not so true as some men ween. For the matter lieth not so much in the disposition of them that be young, as in the order and manner of bringing up by them that be old; nor yet in the difference of learning and pastime. For, beat a child if he dance not well, and cherish him though he learn not well, you shall have him unwilling to go to dance, and glad to go to his book; knock him always when he draweth his shaft ill, and favor him again though he fault at his book, you shall have him very loth to be in the field, and very willing to be in the school. Yea, I say more, and not of myself, but by the judgment of those from whom few wise men will gladly dissent; that if ever the nature of man be given at any time, more than other, to receive goodness, it is in innocency of young years, before that experience of evil have taken root in him. For the pure clean wit of a sweet young babe is like the newest wax, most able to receive the best and fairest printing; and like a new bright silver dish never occupied, to receive and keep clean any good thing that is put into it.  1
  And thus, will in children, wisely wrought withal, may easily be won to be very well willing to learn. And wit in children, by nature, namely memory, the only key and keeper of all learning, is readiest to receive and surest to keep any manner of thing that is learned in youth. This, lewd and learned, by common experience, know to be most true. For we remember nothing so well when we be old as those things which we learned when we were young. And this is not strange, but common in all nature’s works. “Every man seeth (as I said before) new wax is best for printing, new clay fittest for working, new-shorn wool aptest for soon and surest dyeing, new fresh flesh for good and durable salting.” And this similitude is not rude, nor borrowed of the larder-house, but out of his school-house, of whom the wisest of England need not be ashamed to learn. “Young grafts grow not only soonest, but also fairest, and bring always forth the best and sweetest fruit; young whelps learn easily to carry; young popinjays learn quickly to speak.” And so, to be short, if in all other things, though they lack reason, sense, and life, the similitude of youth is fittest to all goodness, surely nature in mankind is most beneficial and effectual in their behalf.  2
  Therefore, if to the goodness of nature be joined the wisdom of the teacher, in leading young wits into a right and plain way of learning; surely children kept up in God’s fear, and governed by His grace, may most easily be brought well to serve God and their country, both by virtue and wisdom.  3
  But if will and wit, by farther age, be once allured from innocency, delighted in vain sights, filled with foul talk, crooked with wilfulness, hardened with stubbornness, and let loose to disobedience; surely it is hard with gentleness, but impossible with severe cruelty, to call them back to good frame again. For where the one perchance may bend it, the other shall surely break it: and so, instead of some hope, leave an assured desperation, and shameless contempt of all goodness; the furthest point in all mischief, as Xenophon doth most truly and most wittily mark.  4
  Therefore, to love or to hate, to like or contemn, to ply this way or that way to good or to bad, ye shall have as ye use a child in his youth.  5
  And one example whether love or fear doth work more in a child for virtue and learning, I will gladly report; which may be heard with some pleasure, and followed with more profit.  6
  Before I went into Germany, I came to Broadgate in Leicestershire, to take my leave of that noble lady, Jane Grey, to whom I was exceeding much beholding. Her parents, the duke and duchess, with all the household, gentlemen and gentlewomen, were hunting in the park. I found her in her chamber, reading Phædo Platonis in Greek, and that with as much delight as some gentlemen would read a merry tale in Boccace. After salutation and duty done, with some other talk, I asked her why she would leese [lose] such pastime in the park? Smiling she answered me: “Iwisse, all their sport in the park is but a shadow to that pleasure that I find in Plato. Alas! good folk, they never felt what true pleasure meant.” “And how came you, madame,” quoth I, “to this deep knowledge of pleasure? and what did chiefly allure you unto it, seeing not many women, but very few men, have attained thereunto?” “I will tell you,” quoth she, “and tell you a truth, which perchance ye will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me, is, that he sent me so sharp and severe parents, and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly, as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea, presently, sometimes with pinches, nips, and bobs, and other ways which I will not name, for the honor I bear them, so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr. Elmer; who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because whatsoever I do else but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking unto me. And thus my book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles and troubles unto me.”  7
  I remember this talk gladly, both because it is so worthy of memory, and because also it was the last talk that ever I had, and the last time that ever I saw that noble and worthy lady.  8
 
 
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