Ascham, Roger

, an illustrious English scholar, was born at Kirby-Wiske, near North-Allerton, in Yorkshire, about the year 1515. His father, John Ascham, was of moderate fortune, but a man of understanding and probity, and steward to the noble family of Scroop; his mother’s name was Margaret, descended of a genteel family, and allied to several persons of great distinction but her maiden name is not recorded. Besides this, they had two other sons, Thomas and Anthony, and several daughters; and it has been remarked as somewhat singular, that after living together forty-seven years in the greatest harmony, and with the most cordial affection, the father and mother died the same day, and almost in the same hour. Roger, some time before his father’s death, was adopted into the family of sir Anthony Wingneld, and studied with his two sons under the care of Mr. Bond. The brightness of his genius, and his great affection for learning, very early discovered themselves, by his eagerly reading all the English books which came to his hands. This propensity for study was encouraged by his generous benefactor, who, when he had attained the elements of the learned languages, sent him, about 1530, to St. John^ college in Cambridge, at that time one of the most flourishing in the university.

Ascham entered Cambridge,” says Dr. Johnson, “at a time when the last great revolution of the intellectual world was filling every academical mind with ardour or anxiety. The destruction of the Constantinopolitan empire had driven the Greeks, with their language, into the interior parts of Europe, the art of printing had made the books easily attainable, and Greek now began to be taught in England. The doctrines of Luther had already filled all the nations of the Romish communion with controversy and dissention. New studies of literature, and new tenets of religion, found employment for all who were desirous of truth, or ambitious of fame. Learning was, at that time, prosecuted with that eagerness and perseverance, which, in this age of indifference and dissipation, it is not easy to conceive. To teach or t-o learn, was at once the business and the pleasure of academical life and an emulation of | study was raised by Cheke and Smith, to which even the present age, perhaps, owes many advantages, without remembering or knowing its benefactors.

The master of St. John’s college at this time, Nicholas Medcalf, was a great encourager of learning, and his tutor, Mr. Hugh Fitzherbert, had not only much knowledge, but also a graceful and insinuating method of imparting it to his pupils. To a genius naturally prone to learning, Mr. Ascham added a spirit of emulation, which induced him to study so hard, that, while a mere boy, he made a great progress in polite learning, and became exceedingly distinguished amongst the most eminent wits in the university. He took his degree of B. A. on the twenty-eighth of February, 1534, when eighteen years* of age; and on the twenty-third of March following, was elected fellow of his college by the interest of the master, though Mr. Ascham’s propensity to the reformed religion had made it difficult for Dr. Medcalf, who, according to Ascham' s account, was a man of uncommon liberality, to carry his good intention into act. These honours served only to excite him to still greater vigilance in his studies, particularly in that of the Greek tongue, wherein he attained an excellency peculiar to himself, and read therein, both publicly for the university, and privately in his college, with universal applause. At the commencement held after the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, in 1536, he was inaugurated M. A. being then twenty-one years old. By this time many of his pupils came to be taken notice of for their extraordinary proficiency, and William Grindall, one of them, at the recommendation of Mr. Ascham, was chosen by sir John Cheke, to be tutor to the lady Elizabeth. As he did not accept this honour himself, he probably was delighted with an academical life, and was not very desirous of changing it for one at court. His affection for his friends, though it filled him with a deep concern for their interests, and a tender regard for their persons, yet could not induce him to give up his understanding, especially in points of learning. For this reason he did not assent to the new pronunciation of the Greek, which his intimate friend, sir John Cheke, laboured, by his authority, to introduce throughout the university; yet when he had thoroughly examined, he came over to his opinion, and defended the new pronunciation with that zeal and vivacity which gave a peculiar liveliness to all his writings. In July 1542, he supplicated | the university of Oxford to be incorporated M. A. but it & doubtful whether this was granted. To divert him after the fatigue of severer studies, he addicted himself to archcry, which innocent amusement drew upon him the censure of some persons, against whose opinion he wrote a small treatise, entitled “Toxophilus,” published in 1544, and dedicated to king Henry VIII. then about to undertake his expedition against Boulogne. This work was very kindly received and the king, at the recommendation of sir William Paget, was pleased to settle a pension of ten pounds (now probably in value one hundred) upon him, which, after that prince’s death, was for some time discontinued, but at length restored to him, during pleasure, by Edward VI. and confirmed by queen Mary, with an additional ten pounds per annum. Among other accomplishments he was remarkable for writing a very fine hand, and taught that art to prince Edward, the lady Elizabeth, the two brothers Henry and Charles, dukes of Suffolk, and several other persons of distinction, and for many years wrote all the letters of the university to the king, and to the great men at court. The same year that he published his book he was chosen university- orator, in the room of Mr. John Cheke, an office which gratified his passion for an academical life, and afforded him frequent opportunities of displaying his superior eloquence in the Latin and Greek tongues. In 1548, on the death of his pupil, Mr. Grindal, he was sent for to court, in order to instruct the lady Elizabeth in the knowledge of the learned languages, which duty he discharged for two years, with great reputation to himself, and with much satisfaction to his illustrious pupil. For some time he enjoyed as great comfort at court as he had done at college but at length, on account of some illjudged and ill-founded whispers, Mr.Ascham took such a distaste at some in the lady Elizabeth’s family, that he left her a little abruptly, which he afterwards heartily repented, and took great and not unsuccessful pains, to be restored to her good graces. On his returning to the university, he resumed his studies, and the discharge of his office of public orator, his circumstances being at this time tolerably easy, by considerable assistance from lovers of learning, and a small pension allowed him by king Edward, and another by archbishop Lee. In the summer of 1550, he went, into Yorkshire to visit his family and relations, but was recalled to court in order to attend sir Richard Morysine, | then going ambassador to the emperor Charles V. Imia journey to London he visited the lady Jane Gray, at er father’s house at Broad gate in Leicestershire, with whm he had been well acquainted at court, and for whomie had already a very high esteem. In September followig, he embarked with sir R. Morysine for Germany, wherehe remained three years, during which he left nothing omitsd which might serve to perfect his knowledge of men as veil as books. As he travelled with an ambassador, he thought it became him to make politics some part of his study, ad how well he succeeded appears from a short but very cirious tract which he wrote, concerning Germany, and of he affairs of Charles V. He was also of great use to the anbassador, not only in the management of his public concerns, but as the companion of his private studies, vihich were for the most part in the Greek language. He read Herodotus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Demosthenes, three days in a week the other three he copied the letters which the ambassador sent to England. While thus employed, his friends in England, particularly sir William Cecil, procured for him the post of Latin secretary to king Edward. But this he did not enjoy long, being recalled on account of the king’s death, on which occasion he lost all his places, together with his pension, and all expectation of obtaining any farther favours at court. In this situation he was at first hopeless, and retired to the university to indulge his melancholy. But the prospect quickly became more promising. His friend the lord Paget mentioned him to Stephen Gardiner bishop of Winchester, lord high chancellor, who very frankly received him into his favour, notwithstanding Mr. Ascham remained firm to his religion, which was so far from being a secret to the bishop, that he had many malicious informations given him on that head, which he treated with contempt, and abated nothing in his friendship to our author. He first procured him the re-establishment of his pension, which consisted of but ten pounds a year, with the addition of ten pounds a year more he then fixed him in the post of Latin secretary to the king and queen, and, by her majesty’s interest and his own, kept him in the fellowship of St. John’s, and in his place of orator to the university, to Midsummer 1554. Soon after his admission to his new employment, he gave art extraordinary specimen of his abilities and diligence, by composing and transcribing, with his usual elegance, in | three days, forty-seven letters to princes and personaes, of whom cardinals were the lowest. He was likewe patronised by cardinal Pole, who, though he wrote e;gant Latin, yet sometimes made use of Mr. Ascharn’s pn, particularly in translating his speech to the parliaBsnt, which he made as the pope’s legate, and of which Unslation he sent a copy to the pope. On the first of June 1554, Ascham married Mrs. Margaret Howe, a lady of a rood family, with whom he had a very, considerable fortme, and of whom he gives an excellent character, in one oi his letters to his friend Sturmius. His favour with qteen Mary’s ministers was not less than what he enjoyed frtm the queen herself, who conversed with him often, and was much pleased with his company. On her death, having been previously reconciled to the lady Elizabeth, he was immediately distinguished by her, now queen, and from his time until his death he was constantly at court, very fully employed in the discharge of his two great offices, the cne of secretary for the Latin tongue, and the other of tutor to her majesty in the learned languages, reading some hours with her every day. This interest at court would have procured a man of a more active temper many considerable advantages; but such was either Ascham’s indolence, or disinterestedness, that he never asked any thing, either for himself or his family, though he received several favours unsolicited, particularly the prebend of Westwang in the church of York, in 1559, which he held to his death. Yet however indifferent to his own affairs, he was very far from being negligent in those of his friends, for whom he was ready to do any good office in his power, and in nothing readier than in parting with his money, though he never had much to spare. He always associated with the greatest men of the court, and having once in conversation heard the best method of educating youth debated with some heat, he from thence took occasion, at the request of sir Richard Sackville, to write his “Schoolmaster,” which he lived to finish, but not to publish. His application to study rendered him infirm throughout his whole life, and at last he became so weak, that he was unable to read in the evenings or at night; to make amends for which, he rose very early in the morning. The year before his death he was seized with a hectic, which brought him very low and then, contrary to his former custom, relapsing into night-studies, in order to complete a Latin | poem with which he designed to present the queen on the new year, he, on the 23d of December 1568, was attacked by an aguish ‘distemper, which threatened him with immediate death. He was visited in his last sickness by Dr. Alexander Nowell, dean of St. ’Paul’s, and Graves, vicar of St. Sepulchre’s, who found him perfectly calm and chearful, in which disposition he continued to the 30th of the same month, when he expired. On the 4th of January following, he was interred according to his own directions, in the most private manner, in St. Sepulchre’s church, his funeral sermon being preached by the before-mentioned Dr. Nowell. He was universally lamented, and even the queen herself not only shewed great concern, but was also pleased to say, that phg had rather have lost ten thousand pounds than her tutor Ascham. His only failing was too great a propensity to dice and cock-fighting, which the learned bishop Nicolson would persuade us to be an unfounded calumny; but as it is mentioned by Camden, as well as some other contemporary writers, it seems impossible to deny it. It is certain that he died in very indifferent circumstances, as may appear from the address of his widow to sir William Cecil, in her dedication of his “Schoolmaster,” wherein she says expressly, that Mr. Ascham left her a poor widow with many orphans; and Dr. Grant, in his dedication of Ascham’s letters to queen Elizabeth, pathetically recommends to her his pupil, Giles Ascham, the son of our author, representing, that be had lost his father, who should have taken care of his education, and that he was left poor and without friends. Besides this son he had two others, Dudley and Sturmur, of whom we know little. Lord Burleigh took Giles Ascham under his protection, by whose interest he was recommended to a scholarship of St. John’s, and afterwards by the queen’s mandate, to a fellowship of Trinity college in Cambridge, and was celebrated, as well as his father, for his admirable Latin style in epistolary writings.

Whether,” says Dr. Johnson, “Ascham was poor by his own fault, or the fault of others, cannot now be decided but it is certain that many have been rich with less merit. His philological learning would have gained him honour in any country; and among us it may justly call for that reverence which all nations owe to those who first rouse them from ignorance, and kindle among- them the light of literature.| The only works he published were, 1. “Toxophilus the school of Shooting, in two books,London, 4to, 1545, by Whitchurch; 1571, by Thomas Marshe and 1589, by JefFes. It has already been noticed, that he was fond of archery, and that he was censured for a practice unsuitable to a man professing learning, and perhaps of bad example in a place of education. This treatise was written as a defence, but his design was not only to recommend the art of shooting, but to give an example of diction more natural and more truly English, than was used by the common writers of that age, whom he blames for mingling exotic terms with their native language. 2. “A Report and Discourse, written by Roger Ascham, of the affairs and state of Germany, and the emperor Charles his court, duryng certain yeares, while the said Roger was there. At London, printed by John Daye, dwelling over Aldersgate. Cum gratia et privilegio regite majestatis per decennium” without a date. This treatise is written in the form of a letter, addressed to John Astley, in answer to one of his which is prefixed he was a domestic of the lady Elizabeth, and his letter bears date the 19th of. October 1552. The answer must have be^n written the same year, since there is no mention therein of king Edward’s death, which happened the year following. In this work he describes the dispositions and interests of the German princes, like a man inquisitive and judicious, and recounts many particularities which are lost in the mass of general history, in a style which, to the ears of that age, was undoubtedly mellifluous, and which is now a very valuable specimen of genuine English. After his death were printed, 3. “The Schoolmaster or, a plain and perfite way of teaching children to understand, write, and speak the Latin tongue; but especially purposed for the private bringing up of youth in gentlemen and noblemen’s houses; and commodious also for all such as have forgot the Latin tongue, and would by themselves, without a schole-master, in short time, and with. small paines, recover a sufficient habilitie to understand, write, and speake Latin, by Roger Ascham, aim. 1570. At London, printed by John Daye, dwelling over Aldersgate;” inscribed by Margaret his widow to sir William Cecil, principal secretary of state. The design originated, as we are informed in the preface, in a conversation on education, which took place at secretary Cecil’s apartments in Windsor castle, during the plague in 1563. This work. | which contains the best advice ever given for the study of languages, was reprinted by Day, 1571 by Jeffes, 1589; and by Upton, 1711. 4. “Apologia doct. viri R. A. pro coena Dominica contra Missuin et ejus prestigias in academia olim Cantabrigiensi exercitationis gratia inchoata. Cui accesserunt themata quaedam Theologica, debita disputandi ratione in Collegio D. Joan, pronunciata. Expositionis item antiquoe in epistola Divi Pauli ad Titam et Philemonem, ex diversis sanctorum Patrum Grsece scriptis commentariis ab CEcumenio collectse, et a R. A. Latine versa?.” Lond. by Coldock, 1577, 8vo, pp. 296.

Ascham’s epistles were published by Mr. Grant, master of Westminster school, in 1576, 1577, 1578, and 1590, London; and there were two editions at Hanau, 1602, 1610; and one at Nuremberg, 1611. The last and best edition is that published by Mr. Elstob, Oxford, 1703, who has added many letters not in the former, but has omitted Ascham’s poems. The elegance of these letters has been universally acknowledged, and the life prefixed by Grant is the foundation of all we know of him. Many particulars, however, might yet be gleaned from his epistles. Ascham’s English works were published by the Rev. James Bennet, 1767, 4to, to which Dr. Johnson prefixed a life, written in his happiest manner, and since added to his works. 1


Gen. Dict. Biog. Britannica. Johnson’s Works. Churton’s Life of Nowell. —Strype’s Cranmer, p. 162 170, appendix, p 81. —Strype’s Annals, vol. I. p. 337, II. p. 23, 29. —Strype’s Memorials, vol. I. p. 169.-*Wartoa’s Hist, of Poetry. Lloyd’s State Worthies. Wood’s —Ath. Ox, vol. I.