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probably felt the effects of his imprudence to his death.
After having visited Cambridge, he took a journey into Yorkshire, to see his native place, and his old acquaintance, and there received a letter from the court, informing him, that he was appointed secretary to sir Richard Morisine, who was to be despatched as ambassador into Germany. In his return to London he paid that memorable visit to lady Jane Gray, in which he found her reading the Phædo in Greek, as he has related in his Schoolmaster.
In the year 1550, he attended Morisine to Germany,
and wandered over great part of the country, making observations upon all that appeared worthy of his curiosity, and contracting acquaintance with men of learning. To his correspondent Sturmius he paid a visit, but Sturmius was not at home, and those two illustrious friends never saw each other. During the course of this embassy, Ascham undertook to improve Morisine in Greek, and for four days in the week explained some passages of Herodotus every morning, and more than two hundred verses of Sophocles or Euripides every afternoon. He read with him likewise some of the orations of Demosthenes. On the other days he compiled the letters of business, and in the night filled up his diary, digested his remarks, and wrote private letters to his friends in England, and particularly to those of his college, whom he continually exhorted to perseverance in study. Amidst all the pleasures of novelty which his travels supplied, and in the dignity of his publick station, he preferred the tranquillity of private study, and the quiet of academical retirement. The reasonableness of this choice has been always disputed; and in the contrariety of human interests and dispositions, the controversy will not easily be decided.
He made a short excursion into Italy, and mentions in his Schoolmaster with great severity the vices of Venice. He was desirous of visiting Trent while the council were sitting ; but the scantiness of his purse defeated his curiosity.
In this journey he wrote his Report and Discourse of the Affairs in Germany, in which 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 gneuine English.
By the death of king Edward in 1553, the Reformation was stopped, Morisine was recalled, and Ascham's pension and hopes were at an end. He therefore retired to his fellowship in a state of disappointment and despair, which his biographer has endeavoured to express in the deepest strain of plaintive declamation. “He was deprived of all his support,” says Graunt, “stripped of his pension, and cut off from the assistance of his friends, who had now lost their influence; so that he had nec Præmia nec Prædia, neither pension nor estate to support him at Cambridge.” There is no credit due to a rhetorician's account either of good or evil. The truth is, that Ascham still had in his fellowship all that in the early part of his life had given him plenty, and might have lived like the
other inhabitants of the college with the advantage of more knowledge and higher reputation. But notwithstanding his love of academical retirement, he had now too long enjoyed the pleasures and festivities of publick life, to return with a good will to academical poverty.
He had however better fortune than he expected; and, if he lamented his condition like his historian, better than he deserved. He had during his absence in Germany been appointed Latin secretary to king Edward; and by the interest of Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, he was instated in the same office under Philip and Mary, with a salary of twenty pounds a year.
Soon after his admission to his new employment, he gave an extraordinary specimen of his abilities and diligence, by composing and transcribing with his usual elegance, in three days, forty-seven letters to princes and personages, of whom cardinals were the lowest.
How Ascham, who was known to be a Protestant, could preserve the favour of Gardiner, and hold a place of honour and profit in queen Mary's court, it must be very natural to inquire. Cheke, as is well known, was compelled to a recantation; and why Ascham was spared, cannot now be discovered. Graunt, at a time when the transactions of queen Mary's reign must have been well enough remembered, declares that Ascham always made open profession of the reformed religion, and that Englesfield and others often endeavoured to incite Gardiner against him, but found their accusations rejected with contempt: yet he allows, that suspicions and charges of temporization and compli
ance had somewhat sullied his reputation. The author of the Biographia Britannica conjectures, that he owed his safety to his innocence and usefulness; that it would have been unpopular to attack a man so little liable to censure, and that the loss of his pen could not have been easily supplied. But the truth is, that morality was never suffered in the days of persecution to protect heresy; nor are we sure that Ascham was more clear from common failings than those who suffered more; and whatever might be his abilities, they were not so necessary, but Gardiner could have easily filled his place with another secretary. Nothing is more vain, than at a distant time to examine the motives of discrimination and partiality; for the inquirer, having considered interest and policy, is obliged at last to omit more frequent and more active motives of human conduct, caprice, accident, and private affections.
At that time, if some were punished, many were forborne ; and of many why should not Ascham happen to be one? He seems to have been calm and prudent, and content with that peace which he was suffered to enjoy : a mode of behaviour that seldom fails to produce security. He had been abroad in the last years of king Edward, and had at least given no recent offence. He was certainly, according to his own opinion, not much in danger; for in the next year he resigned his fellowship, which by Gardiner's favour he had continued to hold, though not resident; and married Margaret Howe, a young gentlewoman of a good family. He was distinguished in this reign by the notice of cardinal Pole, a man of great candour, learning, and gentleness of manners, and particularly eminent for his skill in Latin, who thought highly of Ascham's style; of which it is no inconsiderable proof, that when Pole was desirous of communicating a speech made by himself as legate, in parliament, to the pope, he employed Ascham to translate it.
He is said to have been not only protected by the officers of state, but favoured and countenanced by the queen herself, so that he had no reason of complaint in that reign of turbulence and persecution ; nor was his fortune much mended, when in 1558 his pupil Elizabeth mounted the throne. He was continued in his former employment, with the same stipend : but though he was daily admitted to the presence of the queen, assisted her private studies, and partook of her diversions : sometimes read to her in the learned languages, and sometimes played with her at draughts and chess; he added nothing to his twenty pounds a year but the prebend of Westwang in the church of York, which was given him the year following. His fortune was therefore not proportionate to the rank which his offices and reputation gave him, or to the favour in which he seemed to stand with his mistress. Of this parsimonious allotmen it is again a hopeless search to inquire the reason. The queen was not naturally bountiful, and perhaps did not think it necessary to distinguish by any prodigality of kindness a man who had formerly deserted her, and whom she might still suspect of serving rather for interest than affection. Graunt