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Title-page of Scholemaster by Roger Ascham, 1570

Excerpt from

The Scholemaster (1570)

by Roger Ascham

A Preface to the Reader.

When the great plague was at London, the year 1563, the Queen's Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, lay at her Castle of Windsor, where, upon the 10th day of December, it fortuned that in Sir William Cecil's chamber, her Highness' principal secretary, there dined together these personages: Mr. Secretary himself; Sir William Peter; Sir J. Mason; D. Wotton; Sir Richard Sackville, Treasurer of the Exchequer; Sir Walter Mildmaye, Chancellor of the Exchequer; Mr. Haddon, Master of Requests; Mr. John Astley, Master of the Jewel House; Mr. Bernard Hampton; Mr. Nicasius; and I.  Of which number, the most part were of her Majesty's most honourable Privy Council, and the rest serving her in very good place. I was glad then, and do rejoice yet to remember, that my chance was so happy to be there that day in the company of so many wise and good men together, as hardly then could have been picked out again, out of all England beside.

Mr. Secretary hath this accustomed manner, though his head be never so full of most weighty affairs of the Realm, yet at dinner time he doth seem to lay them always aside: and findeth ever fit occasion to talk pleasantly of other matters, but most gladly of some matter of learning: wherein he will courteously hear the mind of the meanest at his table.

Not long after our sitting down, 'I had strange news brought me,' said Mr. Secretary, 'this morning, that divers scholars of Eton be run away from the school, for fear of beating.' Whereupon Mr. Secretary took occasion to wish that some more discretion were in many schoolmasters in using correction, than commonly there is. Who many times punish rather the weakness of nature, than the fault of the scholar. Whereby many scholars that might else prove well, be driven to hate learning, before they know what learning meaneth: and so are made willing to forsake their book and be glad to be put to any other kind of living.

Mr. Peter, as one somewhat severe of nature, said plainly that the rod only was the sword that must keep the school in obedience, and the scholar in good order. Mr. Wotton, a man mild of nature, with soft voice, and few words, inclined to Mr. Secretary's judgment, and said, 'In mine opinion, the schoolhouae should be indeed, as it is called by name, the house of play and pleasure, and not of fear and bondage: and as I do remember, so saith Socrates in one place of Plato.1 And therefore, if a rod carry the fear of a sword, it is no marvel if those that be fearful of nature, choose rather to forsake the play than to stand always within the fear of a sword in a fond2 man's handling.' Mr. Mason, after his manner, was very merry with both parties, pleasantly playing both with the shrewd touches of many curst3 boys, and with the small discretion of many lewd4 schoolmasters. Mr. Haddon was fully of Mr. Peter's opinion, and said that the best schoolmaster of our time was the greatest beater, and named the person. 'Though,' quoth I, 'it was his good fortune to send from his school, unto the university, one of the best scholars indeed of all our time, yet wise men do think that that came so to pass rather by the great towardness5 of the scholar than by the great beating of the master: and whether this be true or no, you yourself are best witness.' I said somewhat further in the matter, how, and why, young children were sooner allured by love than driven by beating to attain good learning: wherein I was the bolder to say my mind, because Mr. Secretary courteously provoked me thereunto: or else, in such a company, and namely in his presence, my wont is to be more willing to use mine ears than to occupy my tongue.

Sir Walter Mildmay, Mr. Astley, and the rest, said very little: only Sir Richard Sackville said nothing at all. After dinner I went up to read with the Queen's Majesty. We read then together in the Greek tongue, as I well remember, that noble oration of Demosthenes against Aeschines, for his false dealing in his embassage to King Philip of Macedonia. Sir Richard Sackville came up soon after, and finding me in her Majesty's privy chamber, he took me by the hand, and carrying me to a window said, 'Mr. Ascham, I would not for a good deal of money have been this day absent from dinner. Where, though I said nothing, yet I gave as good ear, and do consider as well the talk that passed, as any one did there. Mr. Secretary said very wisely, and most truly, that many young wits be driven to hate learning before they know what learning is. I can be good witness to this myself. For a fond schoolmaster, before I was fully fourteen years old, drave6 me so, with fear of beating, from all love of learning, as now, when I know what difference it is to have learning, and to have little or none at all, I feel it my greatest grief, and find it my greatest hurt, that ever came to me, that it was my so ill chance to light upon so lewd a schoolmaster. But seeing it is but in vain to lament things past, and also wisdom to look to things to come, surely, God willing, if God lend me life, I will make this my mishap some occasion of good hap to little Robert Sackville, my son's son. For whose bringing up I would gladly, if it so please you, use specially your good advice. I hear say, you have a son much of his age: we will deal thus together. Point you out a schoolmaster, who by your order shall teach my son and yours, and for all the rest, I will provide, yea though they three do cost me a couple of hundred pounds by year: and beside, you shall find me as fast a friend to you and yours as perchance any you have.' Which promise the worthy gentleman surely7 kept with me until his dying day.

We had then further talk together, of bringing up of children: of the nature of quick and hard wits:8 of the right choice of a good wit: of fear and love in teaching children. We passed from children and came to young men, namely, gentlemen: we talked of their too much liberty to live as they lust:9 of their letting loose too soon, to overmuch experience of ill, contrary to the good order of many good old commonwealths of the Persians and Greeks: of wit10 gathered, and good fortune gotten, by some, only by experience, without learning. And lastly, he required of me very earnestly to show what I thought of the common going of English men into Italy. 'But,' saith he, 'because this place, and this time, will not suffer so long talk as these good matters require, therefore I pray you, at my request, and at your leisure, put in some order of writing the chief points of this our talk, concerning the right order of teaching and honesty of living, for the good bringing up of children and young men. And surely, beside contenting me, you shall both please and profit very many others.'  I made some excuse by lack of ability and weakness of body. 'Well,' saith he, "I am not now to learn what you can do. Our dear friend, good Mr. Goodricke, whose judgment I could well believe, did once for all satisfy me fully therein. Again, I heard you say not long ago that you may thank Sir John Cheke for all the learning you have: and I know very well myself that you did teach the Queen. And therefore seeing God did so bless you, to make you the scholar11 of the best master, and also the schoolmaster of the best scholar, that ever were in our time, surely, you should please God, benefit your country, and honest13 your own name, if you would take the pains to impart to others what you learned of such a master, and how you taught such a scholar. And, in uttering the stuff ye received of the one, in declaring the order ye took with the other, ye shall never lack, neither matter nor manner, what to write, nor how to write in this kind of argument.'

I beginning some farther excuse, suddenly was called to come to the Queen. The night following I slept little, my head was so full of this our former talk, and I so mindful somewhat to satisfy the honest12 request of so dear a friend. I thought to prepare some little treatise for a New Year's gift that Christmas. But, as it chanceth to busy builders, so, in building this my poor Schoolhouse (the rather because the form of it is somewhat new, and differing from others) the work rose daily higher and wider than I thought it would in the beginning.

And though it appear now, and be in very deed, but a small cottage, poor for the stuff and rude for the workmanship, yet in going forward, I found the site so good, as I was loath to give it over, but the making so costly, outreaching my ability, as many times I wished that some one of those three my dear friends with full purses,13 Sir Tho. Smithe, Mr. Haddon, or Mr. Watson, had had the doing of it. Yet, nevertheless, I myself, spending gladly that little that I got at home by good Sir John Cheke, and that that I borrowed abroad of my friend Sturmius, beside somewhat that was left me in reversion by my old masters, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, I have at last patched it up, as I could, and as you see.


English Prose. W. Peacock, Ed.
London: Oxford University Press, 1921. 180-186.

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