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BIOGRAPHY OF ROGER ASCHAM,
We shall commence in our next number the publication of Roger Ascham's great work—" The Schoolmaster;" one of the earliest and most valuable contributions to the educational literature of our language. As an appropriate introduction, we give a sketch of the author's life drawn mainly from Ilartley Coleridge's "Northern Worthies," and the “ Biographical Dictionary" commenced by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful knowledge.
Roger Ascham was the third son of John and Margaret Ascham, and was born in the year 1515, at Kirby Wiske, near Northallerton in Yorkshire, where his father resided as steward to the noble family of Scroope. His parents, who were highly esteemed in their station, after living together for forty-seven years, both died on the same day and nearly at the same hour. Their son Roger displayed from his childhood a taste for learning, and was received into the family of Sir Anthony Wingfield, who caused him to be educated with his own sons, under the care of their tutor, Mr. Robert Bond ;* and in the year 1530, placed him at St. John's College, Cambridge, then the most flourishing in the University. Ascham applied himself particularly to the study of Greek, to which a great impulse bad recently been given by the dispersion of the learned Greeks throughout Europe, in consequence of the taking of Constantinople. He made great proficiency in Greek as well as Latin, and he read Greek lectures, while yet a youth, to students still younger than himself. He took the degree of A. B. in February, 1534, and on the 23d of the next month was elected fellow of his college, through the influence of
* * To conclude, let this, amongst other motives, make schoolmasters careful in their place, that the eminences of their scholars have commended their schoolmasters to posterity, wh'ch otherwise in obscurity had been altogether forgotten. Who had ever heard of R. Bond in Lancashire, but for the breeding of learned Roger Ascham, his scholar ?" Fuller's Holy and Profane Stales— The Good Schoolmaster.
† Dr. Grant in his “ Oratio de vita et obitu Rogeri Ascham" thus compliments Sir John's College :-" Yea, surely, in that one college, which at that season, for number of most learned doctors, for multitude of erudite philosophers, for abundance of elegant orators, all in their kind superlative, might rival or outvie all mansions of literature on earth, were exceedingly many men, most excellent in all politer letters, and in knowledge of languages."
*“ Dr. Nicholas Medcalf"-writes Ascham later in lise, “ was a man meanly learned him: self, but not meanly affectioned to set forth learning in others. He was partial to none, but indifferent to all; a master of the whole. a father to every one in that college. There was none so poor, is he had either will to goodness, or wit to learning, that could lack being there,
the master, Dr. Medcalf, himself a northern man, who privately exerted himself in Ascham's favor, notwithstanding he had exhibited a leaning toward the new doctrines of protestantism, and had even been exposed to public censure for speaking against the pope. He took the degree of A. M. in 1536, at the age of twenty-one, and began to take pupils, in whose instruction he was very successful. He also read Greek publiely in the university, and privately in his own college.
In 1544, on the resignation of Sir John Cheke, he was chosen University Orator,* an office which he filled with general approbation.
In the following year, (1545,) appeared bis “Toxophilus, or, the Schole of Shootinge," a treatise on archery, which he composed with a double view; in the first place, to exhibit a specimen of English prose composition in a purer taste than then prevailed, and in the second, to attract the attention of King Henry VIII., then on the point of setting out on his Boulogne expedition, and to obtain the means of visiting Italy, which he much desired. He succeeded perfectly in the first object, and partially in the second; for the king was so well pleased, that he settled on the author a pension of 101. per
at that time a considerable sum, especially to a poor scholar. Ascham about this time acquired other great patrons. He enjoyed a pension from Archbishop Lee, acted for some time as tutor to Henry and Charles Brandon, the two sons of the Duchess of Suffolk, and attracted the friendly regards of the Chancellor Wriothesly, and other eminent men.
In 1548, on occasion of the death of William Grindal, who had been his pupil at Cambridge, Ascham was appointed instructor in the learned languages to the Lady Elizabeth, afterwards Queen, a situation which he filled for some time with great credit to himself and satisfaction to his pupil.
Of Ascham's own attachments, as well as methods of study and teaching, we have the best record in his letters and the Schoolmaster. He held fast the truth, that it is only by its own free agency that the intellect can either be enriched or invigorated;—that true knowledge is an act, a continuous immanent act, and at the same time an operation of the reflective faculty on its own objects. How he applied
or should depart thence for any need. This good man's goodness shall never be out of my remembrance all the days of my life. For vext to God's Providence, surely that day was, by that good father's means, dies natalis unto me for the whole foundation of the poor learning I have, and of all furthermore that hitherto elsewhere I have obtained." The hu. man heart is capable of po more generous feeling than the genuine gratitude of a scholar to his instructor. It is twice blessed; honorable alike to the youth and to the elder; and nev. er can exist when it is not just.
* Public Orator is Spokesman on public occasions, and corresponding Secretary of the University. It is an office of great honor and high precedency.
this idea to the purposes of education, his “Schoolmaster," written in the maturity of his powers, and out of the fullness of his experience, sufficiently shows. But the idea, though undeveloped, wrought in him from his earliest youth ; his favorite maxim was Docendo disces. The affectionate wish and strenuous effort to impart knowledge is the best possible condition for receiving it. The necessity of being intelligible to others brings with it an obligation to understand ourselves; to find words apt to our ideas, and ideas commensurate to our words; to seek out just analogies and happy illustrations. But, above all, by teaching, or more properly by reciprocal intercommunication of instruction, we gain a practical acquaintance with the universal laws of thought, and with the process of perception, abstracted from the actions of the individual constitution : for it is only by a sympathetic intercourse with other minds that we gain any true knowledge of our own. Of course we speak of free and friendly teaching, not of despotic dictation, than which there is no habit more likely to perpetuate presumptuous ignorance.
The study of the Greek language was at that time new in western Europe, and in England a mere novelty. To Ascham it was as “the trouble of a new delight;" every lesson which he gained he was eager to impart; he taught Greek, he wrote Greek, he talked Greek, no wonder if he dreamed in Greek. There might be a little vanity in this : but whatever vanity he possessed, (and he certainly loved to talk of himself,) was so tempered by modesty, and blended with such candor, such glad acknowledgment of other's merits, that the sternest judginents could hardly call it a foible. By this industrious communication and daily practice, he acquired, at a very early period, such a command of the Greek vocabulary, and so vernacular a turn of phrase, that his senior, Robert Pember, to whom he had addressed an epistle in that tongue, assures him that his letter might have been written at Athens. But the critical nicety of modern scholarship was then unknown, and it was very unlikely that Pember himself felt or understood that perfect atticism upon which he compliments his young friend. Pember's epistle of course is in Latin, interspersed with Greek, and curious enough to be worthy of translation. It is to this effect :-“Dearly beloved Roger,—I render thee thanks for thy Greek epistle, which might seem to have been indited at ancient Athens, so exactly hast thou attained the propriety of Greek phrase : of exquisite penmanship it is, as are all thine. Use diligence, that thou may'st be perfect, not according to the stoical, but to lyrical perfection, that thou mays't touch the harp aright. Continue to read Greek with the boys, for thou wilt profit more by one little fable of