Elyot, Sir Thomas

, a gentleman of eminent learning in the reign of king Henry Vlil. and author of several works, was son of sir Richard Eiyot, of the county of Suffolk, and educated in academical learning at St. Mary’s hall in Oxford, where he made a considerable progress in logic and philosophy. After some time spent at the university, he travelled into foreign countries, and upon his return was introduced to the court of kiiag Henry, who, being a great patron of learned men, conferred on him the honour of knighthood, and employed him in several embassies, particularly to Rome in 1532, about the affair of the divorce of queen Catharine, and afterwards, about 1536, to the emperor Charles V. Sir Thomas was an excellent grammarian, rhetorician, philosopher, physician, cosmographer, and historian; and no less distinguished for his candour, and the innocence and integrity of his life. He was courted and celebrated by all the learned men of his time, particularly the famous antiquary Leland, who addressed a copy of Latin verses to him in his “Encomia illustrium virorum.A similitude of manners, and sameness of studies, recommended him to the intimacy and friendship of sir Thomas More. He died in 1546, and was buried the 25th of March, in the church of Carleton, in Cambridgeshire, of which county he had been sheriff. His widow afterwards was married to sir James Dyer.

Had sir Thomas Elyot written only his book called “The Governor,” it would have entitled him to the respect of posterity as one of the best writers of his time, a man of acute observation, and of manly and liberal sentiments. The days of Henry VIII. were not very favourable to such, as the capricious will of Henry VI It. interfered so frequently with the progress of right thinking; but sir Thomas on some occasions was not afrai<$ to avour feis sentiments. In 1535, a proclamation was issued for | calling in seditious hooks; under which description were reckoned, and chiefly intended, such writings as favoured the hishop of Rome. Upon this occasion sir Thomag Cromwell directed letters to several persons, ordering them to send in all publications of the nature designed to be condemned. Among others, he wrote to sir Thomas Elyot, whom, though an old friend of his own, he suspected, from his having been intimate with sir Thomas More, to be attached to the Romish religion. In answer, Elyot declared his judgment of the need of a reformation of the clergy, and disclaimed all undue connection with papists. As to any of the prohibited books he might chance to have by him, and which were very few, he was ready to deliver them up. Part of the language which he uses is as foilows: “Sir, As ye know, I have been ever desirous to read many books, especially concerning humanity and moral philosophy. And, therefore, of such studies I have a competent number. But, concerning the Scripture I have very few. For in Questionists I never delighted. Unsavory glosses and comments I ever abhorred. The boasters and advancers of the pompous authority of the bishop of Rome I never esteemed. But, after that, by a judgment, or estimation of things, I did anon smell out their corrupt affection, and beheld with scornful eyes the sundry abusions of their authorities, adorned with a licentious and dissolute form of living. Of the which, as well in them as in the universal state of the clergy, I have oftentimes wished a necessary reformation.

The works of sir Thomas Elyot were, 1. “The Castle of Health,” Lond. 1541, 1572,“1580, 1595, &c. in 8vo. 2.” The Governor,“in three books, Lond. 1531, 154.4, 1547, 1557, 1580, &c. in 8vo. 3.” Of the Education of Children,“Load, irt 4to. 4.” The Banquet of Sapience,“Lond. in 8vo. 5.” De Rebus Memorabilibus Angliee,“for the completing of which he had perused many old English monuments. 6.A Defence or Apology for good Women.“7.” Bibliotheca Eliotae: Elyot’s Library, or Dictionary,“Lond. 1541, &c. fol. which woik Cooper augmented and enriched with thirty-three thousand words and phrases, besides a fuller account of the true signification qf word*. Sir Thomas translated likewise, from Greek into English,” The Image of Governance, compiled of the Acts and Sentences by the Emperor Alexander Severus,“Lond. 1556, 1594, &c. in 8vo. Bayle accuses him | of having pretended to translate this from a Greek ms. whereas he says he borrowed his materials from Lampridius and Herodian. Selden, however, thought that he translated a Greek ms. composed by a modern writer. It is not on Bayle’s authority that we should chuse to rank such a man as sir T. Elyot among impostors. He also translated from Latin into English, 1.” St. Cyprian’s Sermon of the Mortality of Man,“Lond. 1534, in 8vo. 2.” The Rule of a Christian Life," written by Picus earl of Mirandola, Lond. 1534, in 8vo.

Sir Thomas Elyot’s “Governor,” says Strype, waa designed to instruct men, especially great men, in good morals, and to reprove theirvices. It consisted of several chapters, treating concerning affability, benevolence, beneficence, the diversity of flatterers, and other similar subjects. In these chapters were some sharp and quick sentences, which offended many of the young men of fashion at that time. They complained of sir Thomas’s strange terms, as they called them; and said that it was no little presumption in him to meddle with persons of the higher and nobler ranks. The complaints of these gentlemen, who were always kicking at such examples as did bite them, our author compared to a galled horse, abiding no plasters. King Henry read and much liked sir Thomas Elyot’s treatise; and was particularly pleased with his endeavours to improve and enrich the English language. It was observed by his majesty, that throughout the book there was no new term made by him of a Latin or French word, and that no sentence was hereby rendered dark or hard to be understood.

Sir Thomas Elyot’s Castle of Health, we are told by the same author, subjected him to various strictures. When some gallants had mocked at him for writing a book of medicine, and said in derision, that he was become a physician, he gave this answer: “Truly, if they call him a physician which is studious about the weal of his country, I vouchsafe they so name me. For, during my life, I will in that affection always continue.” Indeed, sir Thomas’s work exposed him to the censures both of the gentry and the medical faculty. To the former, who alleged that it did not beseem a knight to write upon such a subject, he replied, “that many kings and emperors (whose names he sets down) did not only advance and honour that science with special privileges, but were also studious in it | themselves.” He added, “that it was no more shame for a person of quality to be the author of a book on the science of physic, than it was for king Henry the Eighth to publish a book on the science of grammar, which he had lately done.” What offended the physicians was, that sir Thomas should meddle in their department, and particularly that he should treat of medicine in English, to make the knowledge thereof common. But he justified himself by endeavouring to shew, that his work was intended for their benefit. As for those who found fault with him for writing in English, he, on the other hand, blamed them for affecting to keep their art a secret. To such of the college as reflected upon his skill, he represented, that before he was twenty years old, one of the most learned physicians in England read to him the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Oribasius, Paulus Celius, Alexander Trallianus, Pliny, Dioscorides, and Joannicius. To these sir Thomas afterwards added the study of Avicen, Averroes, and many more. Therefore, though he had never been at Montpelier, Padua, or Salerno; yet he said, “that he had found something in physic, by which he had experienced no little profit for his own health.

On the whole, sir Thomas Elyot was both one of the most learned, and one of the wisest men of his time. Having in the earlier part of his life served his king and country in embassies and public affairs, he devoted his latter years to the writing of such discourses as he hoped would be serviceable in promoting true wisdom and virtue. From his youth he had a great desire after knowledge, and an earnest solicitude to be useful to his countrymen. The books which he most diligently perused, and which he eagerly sought after wherever they could be found, were all the ancient works, whether in Greek or Latin, that treated of moral philosophy, and the right institution of Jife. Strype has produced some examples of the wisdom of our knight in those weighty sentences which often came from his pen. 1


Biog. Brit.—Strype’s Eccl. Memorials, vol. I. p. 221, App. 153.—Ames’s Typography, by Herbert, where is a fuller account of the various editions of his works.—In the Bibliographer, vol. II. and IV. are some specimens of his rarer tracts.—Ath. Ox. vol. I.—Wood calls him a poet, as does Philips; but there is nothing extant to justify that character.—See Bayle, in art. Eucolpius.