One of the most important literary works of the English Renaissance. Printed by John Day

Ascham, Roger (1514/15-1568)

The Scholemaster or plaine and perfite way of teaching children, to vnderstand, write, and speake, the Latin tong, but specially purposed for the priuate bringing vp of youth in Ientlemen and Noble mens houses, and commodious also for all such, as haue forgot the Latin tonge, and would, by them selves, without a Scholemaster, in short time, and with small paines, recover a sufficient habilitie, to understand, write, and speake Latin. By Roger Ascham. An. 1571.

London: Printed by Iohn Daye, dwelling ouer Aldersgate, 1571


Quarto: 17.2 x 12.6 cm. Collation: [manicule]2, B-T4

THIRD EDITION (first 1570) of Ascham’s masterpiece.

John Day’s device appears on the final leaf. 19th c. calf, spine gilt, slight chip to ends of spine. A nice copy, a few headlines trimmed. Final leaf laid down. Some contemporary manuscript notes, esp. on final text leaf, where there is a catalogue of Greek and Latin authors. Provenance: Boies Penrose, Lucy Wharton Drexel.

“The indispensable link between the earlier Tudor writers and the great Elizabethan and Jacobean writers of English prose.”(Ryan, 292)

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.

“Between 1563 and the date of his death Ascham found some relief from his cares in the composition of his “Scholemaster”. In 1563, the year of the plague, Ascham dined at Windsor with Sir William Cecil, and among the guests were William Sackville, and his friends Haddon and Astley. After dinner Ascham was informed that certain scholars had run away from Eton for fear of a flogging, and the conversation turned on educational discipline, in which Ascham strongly condemned corporal punishment. Sir Richard Sackville was so impressed with Ascham’s remarks that he offered to educate Ascham’s son with his own under a master instructed in Ascham’s system, and others of the company begged him to write a practical treatise on education. He at once set to work, chiefly with a view to the bringing up of his own children. He freely confessed that his method was borrowed mainly from Sturm and from his old tutor Cheke, who had died in 1557, and whose memory he believed he might best honor by putting posterity in possession of the secrets of his teaching. For five years he was filling in a plan of the work, of which he sent a sketch to Sturm in the last letter he ever wrote, about December 1568.

“Of the greater portion, which he had then completed, the first book contained, with many autobiographical reminiscences, a general disquisition on education, arguments in favor of alluring a child to learning by gentleness rather than by force, a statement of the evils attendant on foreign travel, and an account of the immoral training acquired by young men at court. The second book detailed Ascham’s method of teaching Latin by means of a double translation which subsequent writers on education have invariably praised. He advised the master in the first place to explain in general terms the meaning of a selected passage, and afterward to let the pupil construe it and parse each word in two successive lessons. After an interval the child was to write out his translation, and after a further interval, was to turn his translation back into Latin. The teacher should then show him how the various constructions employed corresponded with, and were explained by, examples in the grammar book. The first reading book Ascham recommended was Sturm’s selections from Cicero, and the second a play of Terence. The advance to more difficult authors was to be gradual, and the boy was not to attempt to speak Latin until he was master of the grammar. Ascham added remarks on Latin prosody, which he looked forward to seeing adopted in English verse, and criticized the style of many Latin authors. But before the book had gone further, he died… His widow, [Margaret], published the “Scholemaster” in 1570 as her husband had left it, adding only a graceful dedication to Sir William Cecil, recently selected chancellor of Cambridge University.” (DNB)

“Ascham's principal project, and the most lasting memorial to him, was ‘The Scholemaster’. He saw it as showing his sons Giles and Dudley ‘the right way to good learning’ (Ascham, Works, 3.86). It consisted of two books: the first gives the character of the ideal tutor and scholar and draws heavily on Plato; the second treats the method of instruction by double translation using proper imitation of classical models, and draws equally heavily upon Cicero. He discussed how best to judge the aptitude of a pupil, how best to encourage a student, how best to inculcate a love of learning. He wrote in it: ‘that the youth in England, specially gentlemen, and namely nobility, should be by good bringing-up so grounded in judgment of learning, so founded in love of honesty as, when they should be called forth to the execution of great affairs in service of their prince and country, they might be able to use and to order all experiences, were they good, were they bad, and that according to the square, rule, and line of wisdom, learning and virtue.’ (Ibid. 3.138)

STC 834; cf. PMM 90