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Popery was considered as a crime justly punished by exclusion from favour and preferment, and was not yet openly professed, though superstition was gradually losing its hold upon the publick. The study of Greek was reputable enough, and Ascham pursued it with diligence and success equally conspicuous. He thought a language might be most easily learned by teaching it; and when he had obtained some proficiency in Greek, read lectures, while he was yet a boy, to other boys, who were desirous of instruction. His industry was much encouraged by Pember, a man of great eminence at that time, though I know not that he has left any monuments behind him, but what the gratitude of his friends and scholars has bestowed. He was one of the great encouragers of Greek learning, and particularly applauded Ascham’s lectures, assuring him in a letter, of which Graunt has preserved an extract, that he would gain more knowledge by explaining one of Æsop's fables to a boy, than by hearing one of Homer's poems explained by another.
Ascham took his bachelor's degree in 1534, February 18, in the eighteenth year of his age ; a time of life at which it is more common now to enter the universities than to take degrees, but which, according to the modes of education then in use, had nothing of remarkable prematurity. On the 23d of March following, he was chosen fellow of the college ; which election he considered as a second birth. Dr. Metcalf, the master of the college, a man, as Ascham tells us, “meanly learned himself, but no mean encourager of learning in others," clandestinely promoted bis election,
though he openly seemed first to oppose it, and afterwards to censure it, because Ascham was known to favour the new opinions; and the master him. self was accused of giving an unjust preference to the Northern men, one of the factions into which this nation was divided, before we could find
any more important reason of dissension, than that some were born on the Northern and some on the Southern side of Trent. Any cause is sufficient for a quarrel; and the zealots of the North and South lived long in such animosity, that it was thought necessary at Oxford to keep them quiet by choosing one proctor every year from each.
He seems to have been hitherto supported by the bounty of Wingfield, which his attainment of a fellowship now freed him from the necessity of receiving Dependence, though in those days it was more common, and less irksome, than in the present state of things, can never have been free from discontent; and therefore he that was released from it must always have rejoiced. The danger is,
, lest the joy of escaping from the patron may not leave sufficient memory of the benefactor. Of this forgetfulness Ascham cannot be accused; for he is recorded to have preserved the most grateful and affectionate reverence for Wingfield, and to have never grown weary of recounting his benefits.
His reputation still increased, and many resorted to his chamber to hear the Greek writers explained. He was likewise eminent for other accomplishments. By the advice of Pember, he had learned to play on musical instruments, and he was one of the few who excelled in the mechanical art of writing, which then began to be cultivated among
us, and in which we now surpass all other nations. He not only wrote his pages with neatness, but embellished them with elegant draughts and illuminations; an art at that time so highly valued, that it contributed much both to his fame and his fortune.
He became master of arts in March, 1537, in his twenty-first year; and then, if not before, commenced tutor, and publickly undertook the education of young men.
A tutor of one and twenty, however accomplished with learning, however exalted by genius, would now gain little reverence or obedience; but in those days of discipline and regularity, the authority of the statutes easily supplied that of the teacher; all power that was lawful was reverenced. Besides, young tutors had
younger pupils. Ascham is said to have courted his scholars to study by every incitement; to have treated them with great kindness, and to have taken care at once to instil learning and piety, to enlighten their minds, and to form their manners. Many of his scholars rose to great eminence; and among them William Grindal was so much distinguished, that, by Cheke's recommendation, he was called to court as a proper master of languages for the lady Elizabeth.
There was yet no established lecturer of Greek; the university therefore appointed Ascham to read in the open schools, and paid him out of the publick
purse an honorary stipend, such as was then reckoned sufficiently liberal. A lecture was afterwards founded by king Henry, and he then quitted the schools, but continued to explain Greek authors in his own college.
He was at first an opponent of the new pronunciation introduced, or rather of the ancient restored, about this time by Cheke and Smith, and made some cautious struggles for the common practice, which the credit and dignity of his antagonists did not permit him to defend very publickly, or with much vehemence: nor were they long his antagonists ; for either his affection for their merit, or his conviction of the cogency of their arguments, soon changed his opinion and his practice, and he adhered ever after to their method of utterance.
Of this controversy it is not necessary to give a circumstantial account; something of it may be found in Strype's Life of Smith, and something in Baker's Reflections upon Learning; it is sufficient to remark here, that Cheke's pronunciation was that which now prevails in the schools of England. Disquisitions not only verbal, but merely literal, are too minute for popular narration.
He was not less eminent as a writer of Latin, than as a teacher of Greek. All the publick letters of the university were of his composition; and as little qualifications must often bring great abilities into notice, he was recommended to this honourable employment not less by the neatness of his hand, than the elegance of his style.
However great was his learning, he was not always immured in his chamber; but, being valetudinary, and weak of body, thought it necessary to spend many hours in such exercises as might best relieve him after the fatigue of study. His favourite amusement was archery, in which he spent, or in the opinion of others, lost so much
time, that those whom either his faults or virtues made his enemies, and perhaps some whose kindness wished him always worthily employed, did not scruple to censure his practice, as unsuitable to a man professing learning, and perhaps of bad example in a place of education.
To free himself from this censure was one of the reasons for which he published, in 1544, his“ Toxophilus, or the schole or partitions of shooting, in which he joins the praise with the precepts of archery. He designed not only to teach 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 censures for mingling exotick terms with their native language, and of whom he complains, that they were made authors, not by skill or education, but by arrogance and temerity.
He has not failed in either of his purposes. He has sufficiently vindicated archery as an innocent, salutary, useful, and liberal diversion; and if his precepts are of no great use, he has only shown, by one example among many, how little the hand can derive from the mind, how little intelligence can conduce to dexterity. In every art, practice is much; in arts manual, practice is almost the whole. Precept can at most but warn against error, it can never bestow excellence.
The bow has been so long disused, that most English readers have forgotten its importance, though it was the weapon by which we gained the battle of Agincourt, a weapon which, when handled by English yeomen, no foreign troops were able to resist. We were not only abler of body than the