Archery, “an Imitation of most Ernest Things to be done in Manhood.” A Work of Great Importance for the Development of English Prose in the Age of Latin

Ascham, Roger (1514/15-1568)

Toxophilus: The Schoole, or partitions of Shooting contayned in two bookes . now newly perused . Pleasaunt for all Gentlemen and Yomen of England for their pastime to reade, and profitable for their use to follow both in warre and peace.

London: Published by Printed by Abell Ieffes by the consent of H. Marsh, 1589


Quarto: 19 x 13.5 cm. [vi], 63, [1] ff. Collation: ¶¶4, ¶¶¶2, A-H8 ff.

THIRD EDITION. (First ed. 1545.)

Bound in eighteenth-century red morocco, gilt ruled, with green spine labels. The text is in fine condition; one leaf is repaired in fore-margin with just a few letters skillfully supplied in ink. The title is framed by a border of ornaments. Jeffes’ lovely printer’s device with bell and slogan “Prase (sic) the Lorde with Harpe and Songe” on the final leaf. All three 16th c. editions are rare; the first is unobtainable.

The Cambridge-educated Ascham, one of the best known of the English humanists, produced two works that had a great influence on the use of English as a literary language as well as on the education of children and the conduct of English gentlemen. The first of these was his “Toxophilus” (1545), dedicated to Henry VIII, in which he set forth both the dictum that physical exercise is an indispensable part of a gentleman’s education, and set a new model for English prose style. In the second, “The Scholemaster”, Ascham set forth his pedagogical method- a system that he had perfected while tutoring the Princess Elizabeth- and established a philosophy of education as well as a code of ethical and moral behavior; in short, a philosophy of living.

From his schooldays, Ascham had himself practiced archery and became quite skilled in the art. At the time of the composition of “Toxophilus”, Ascham was suffering from recurrent bad health—probably bouts of malaria—and during his convalescence from one such attack he took up archery again. He came under some criticism in Cambridge from those who scorned the leisure pursuits so popular among undergraduates and who questioned his reputation as a scholar, and so Ascham felt compelled to defend this accomplishment.

“Toxophilus takes the form of a Ciceronian dialogue between Philologus (lover of study) and Toxophilus (lover of the bow), the latter of whom was nonetheless an irreproachable scholar who had put his learning at the disposal of the commonweal.

“Toxophilus became a model for his contemporaries and near contemporaries in several respects: as the first learned defence of a pastime, and as a model of English vernacular prose writing in terms of both style and organization of subject matter. Characteristically Ascham achieved this by applying his understanding of classical literary theory to the English case. In the preface he wrote that to write well an author must:

“follow this counsel of Aristotle, to speak as the common people do, to think as wise men do, and so should every man understand him, and the judgment of wise men allow him. Many English writers have not done so, but using strange words, as Latin, French, and Italian, do make all things dark and hard.”

“So, unlike Thomas Elyot and John Cheke, he avoided coining too many words and borrowing from other languages, and succeeded in making his English work as a vehicle of wide communication. While the conversation between the two men is in a plain style, enlivened by homely metaphors, colloquial speech, and accurate observations, the discussion, dedication, and preface are presented in a much more formal style. Some of the passages describing the environment (for example, the way in which the wind could interfere with the aim of an expert archer) were vivid and at the time unparalleled in English writing. He also achieved a sense of interaction between the two speakers, whom he made both likeable and full of vitality.

“Ascham dedicated Toxophilus to Henry VIII, knowing his interest in the revival of archery. Eager for patronage from any source, he simultaneously sent copies of the book to the prince of Wales, to Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, and to Sir Anthony Denny; to bishops Day, Gardiner, and Heath; to William Parr, brother of Katherine; and probably to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, William Paget, and Prince Edward's Irish companion, Barnaby Fitzpatrick. When Ascham wrote to Gardiner he explicitly mentioned that he had written the book either to secure a patron to replace Lee or to obtain a royal pension.

“Ascham achieved his aim. The privy council received the book favourably, and Henry VIII invited him to Greenwich. A royal pension of £10 doubled Ascham's university and college income at one stroke. Then Ascham was elected public orator of the university in Cheke's stead in 1546 at a fee of 40s. a year. It was a position he held until 1554.”(ODNB)

ESTC S100281; Cockle 9; Pforzheimer 18