The Schoolmaster

These snippets come from Roger Ascham (1515-1568), noted Elizabethan educator and tutor to Elizabeth I.  His book The scholemaster or plaine and perfite way of teachyng children, to understand, write, and speake, the Latin tong but specially purposed for the priuate brynging up of youth in gentlemen and noble mens houses, and commodious also for all such, as have forgot the Latin tonge, was published in 1570. The fragments which follow regard the beating of children in schools, and Ascham’s recollections of a conversation with Lady Jane Grey. Both bear witness to an age in which education began to undergo its own renaissance.

When the great plauge was at London, the yeare 1563. the Queenes Maiestie Queene Elizabeth, lay at her Castle of Windsor: Where, upon the 10th day of December, it fortuned, that in Sir William Cicells chamber, her Highnesse Principall Secretarie, there dined together these personages, M. Secretarie him selfe, Sir William Peter, Sir I. Mason, D. Wotton, Sir Richard Sackville Treasurer of the Exchecker, Sir Walter Mildmaye Chauncellor of the Exchecker, M. Haddon Master of Requestes, M. John Astely Master of the Jewell house, M. Bernard Hampton, M. Nicasius, and I. Of which number, the most part were of her Maiesties most honourable privie Counsell, and the rest serving her in verie good place. I was glad then, and do rejoice yet to remember, that my chance was so happie, to be there that day, in the companie of so manie wise & good men together, as hardly than could haue beene picked out againe, out of all England beside.

M. Secretarie hath this accustomed manner, though his head be never so full of most weightie affaires of the Realme, yet, at dinner time he doth seeme to lay them alwaies aside: and findeth ever fitte occasion to talke pleasantlie of other matters, but most gladlie of some matter of learning: wherein, he will curteslie heare the minde of the meanest at his Table.

Not long after our sitting downe, I have strange newes brought me, sayth M. Secretarie, this morning, that diverse Scholers of Eaton, be runne awaie from the Schoole, for feare of beating. Whereupon, M. Secretarie tooke occasion, to wishe, that some more discretion were in many Scholemasters, in using correction, than commonlie there is. Who many times punishe rather the weakeness of nature, than the fault of the Scholer. Whereby, many Scholers, that might else prove well, be driven to hate learning, before they knowe what learning meaneth: and so, are made willing to forsake their booke, and be glad to be put to any other kinde of living.

M. Peter, as one somewhat severe of nature, said plainlie, that the Rodde onelie was the sworde that must keepe the Schoole in obedience, and the Scholer in good order. M. Wotton a man milde of nature, with soft voice, and fewe wordes, inclined to M. Secretaries judgement, and said, in mine opinion, the Scholehouse should be in deede, as it is called by name, the house of playe and pleasure, and not of feare and bondage: and as I do remember, so saith Socrates. And therefore, if a Rodde carrie the feare of a Sworde, it is no marvell, if those that be fearefull of nature, chose rather to forsake the Play, than to stand alwaies within the feare of a Sworde in a fonde mans handling. M. Mason after his manner, was verie merrie with both parties, pleasantlie playing, both with the shrewde touches of many course boyes, and with the small discretion of many lewde Scholemasters. M. Haddon was fullie of M. Peters opinion, and said, that the best Scholemaster of our time, was the greatest beater, and named the Person. Though, quoth I, it was his good fortune, to send from his Schole unto the Universitie, one of the best Scholers in deede of all our time, yet wise men do thinke, that that came so to passe, rather, by the great towardness of the Scholer, than by the great beating of the Master: and whether this be true or no, you your selfe are best witness.

Before I went into Germanie, I came to Brodegate in Leicestershire, to take my leave of that noble Ladie Jane Grey, to whom I was exceeding much beholdinge. Her parentes, the Duke and the Duchess, with all the household, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, were huntinge in the Parke. I founde her, in her Chamber, readinge Phaedon Platonis in Greeke, and that with as much delighte as some gentleman would read a merrie tale. After salutation, and dutie done, with some other talke, I asked her, why she would lease such pastime in the Parke? Smiling she answered me: all their sporte in the Parke is but a shadow to that pleasure that I find in Plato. Alas good folke, they never felt what true pleasure meant.

And howe came you Madame, quoth I, to this deepe knowledge of pleasure, and what did chieflie allure you unto it: seeinge, not many women, but verie fewe men have attained thereunto.

I will tell you, quoth she, and tell you a truth, which perchance ye will marvell at. One of the greatest benefites, that ever God gave me, is, that he sent me so sharpe and severe Parentes, and so gentle a scholemaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speake, keepe silence, sit, stand, or go, eate, drinke, be merrie, or sad, be sawing, playing, dancing, or doing anie thing else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectlie as God made the world, or else I am so sharplie taunted, so cruellie threatened, yea presentlie some times, with pinches, nippes, and bobbes, and other waies, which I will not name, for the honor I beare them, so without measure misordered, that I thinke my selfe in hell, till time come, that I must go to M. Elmer, who teacheth me so gentlie, so pleasantlie, with such faire allurementes to learning, that I thinke all the time nothing, whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because, what soever I do else, but learning, is full of grief, trouble, feare, and whole misliking unto me.  And thus my booke hath beene so much my pleasure, & bringeth dayly to me more pleasure & more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deede, be but trifles and troubles unto me.

I remember this talke gladly, both because it is so worthy of memorie, & because also, it was the last talke that ever I had, and the last time, that ever I saw that noble and worthie Ladie.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Comments are closed.

All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers:

© Shakespeare's England 2009-2014