The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Queen's Teacher: Roger Ascham's Methods

by George Radford
Volume 1, 1890, pg. 705

The epoch which may be called by the name of steam is one in which the manufacture has been introduced upon a large scale of Textile Fabrics, Paper, Scholars, and many other products. Machinery as enabled us to obtain all these things in very large quantities and of regular quality at much lower prices than formerly. The only advantage which the old hand-loom weaving system possessed was a certain indefinable substance and beauty of result, to which we are harking back where we can afford to do so, but to which the world, which now provides for the million what it used to provide for the ten, will never again be allowed to sink.

But among the old hand-loom weavers there were always some few whose better taste in choice of colours and whose more careful regard of quality and skillful manipulation made them the leaders in their trade Their taste set the fashion, their skill incited others to improvement, and their productions were sought for and carefully preserved.

The manufacture of scholars which is now carried on by means of such gigantic and expensive machinery has passed through the same phases, and it has appeared to me desirable to look back upon one of the most successful of the hand-loom weavers in scholar making, -- one who worked so well that his patterns delight us at this day, and his material is not yet worn out, -- for the art which underlies the work of the hand and the work of the machine ought to be the same.

Roger Ascham "came out of" Kirby Wiske, and I have in another place quoted his wonderful passage describing his journey through the snow from Topcliffe-on-Swale to Boroughbridge. His account of the schools hereabouts is not complimentary. "I remember," he says, "when I was young in the North they went to the Grammer schole little children: they came from thence great lubbers." Dr. Whitaker, in his "Richmondsire," gives many interesting letters which, at that time, were new to the public. But my object at present is neither to connect him with Yorkshire, nor to criticize the memorials of his life; I wish only to join the group in Mr. Secretarie Cicell's chamber, and to hear the scholemaster's views upon the training of the young which emanated from the meeting.

"The Scholemaster" is divided into three parts, the preface, which is as charming a little piece of literature as we may readily find, and the first and second books. The first book teaches "the bringing up of youth"; the second "the ready way to the Latin tong." It will be conceded that, in these days, we have not much to learn from Ascham concerning the technicalities of Latin scholarship; it will perhaps be confessed on the other hand that in many of the things about which the early teacher writes we have taken up no better position, -- we have in fact no need to do so, -- then that which he occupied.

The first of Roger Ascham's methods was this: he strongly urged kindliness towards the pupil. This fact comes out most clearly in the Preface, where the discussion in the Secretary's room commences upon the report "that diverse Scholers of Eaton be runne awaie from the schole for fear of beating." The company was divided by opinion. The great Cecil himself, Mr. Wotton, and our author spoke up for mildness; Mr. Peter and Mr. Haddon leaned towards the dictum of Solomon, one argument being that "the best scholemaster of our time was the greatest beater." Mr. Mason poked fun both at "the shrewde touches of many courste boys, and at the small discretion of many leude scholemasters." Sir Richard Sackville was as quiet as a mouse, only because, like the parrot, he was thinking the more. It was the after-chat with Sir Richard that led to the little book of Ascham's. It is necessary to premise that he does not wish in his book to dictate to parents: "I, leaving all former care of their good bringing up to wise and good Parentes, as a matter not belonging to the Scholemaster, I do appoynt thys my Scholemaster than and there to begin, where his office and charge beginneth." If children are to be beaten before they reach the hands of the tutor it is no concern of his, the parent must decide this point, although he may be guided by the general argument of Ascham. This one thing is certain, the more a "leude" parent beats, the easier will be the work of the gentle teacher in making learning pleasant. But I should recommend rather a sacred jealousy or rivalry between parent and schoolmaster in the matter or gaining the love of the child.

When we come to the definite instructions as to the teaching of Latin, we find the same quality of "jentlenes" turning up. He says in his pithy and Elizabethan style, "I know by good experience, that a child shall take more profit of two fautes, jentlie warned of, then of foure things, rightlie hit. . . Let your Scholer be never afraide to asked you any dout, but use discretlie the best allurements ye can to encourage him to the samel lest his overmoch fearinge of you drive him to seeke some misorderlie shifte; as, as to seeke to be helped by some other booke, or to be prompted by some other Scholer, and so goe aboute to beguile you moch, and him selfe more." But this kindness is such an all-important question with the master that he argues it again and again. He brings the authority of Socrates from Plato's Republic to the effect that children must be taught by playing and pleasure rather than by compulsion and feare. He appeals to everyday life, and suggests that the difference in treatment makes "the young jentlemen" go slowly to school but fast to the stable. "Beate a child, if he dance not well, and cherish him, though he learne not well, ye shall have him, unwilling to go to daunce, and glad to go to his booke." Even older children, vain, willful, stubborn, and disobedient, may scarcely by gentleness, but absolutely never by cruelty, be weaned back to "good frame." Then he tells us the famous story of Lady Jane Grey, who praised God for the great benefit of "sharpe and severe parentes and a jentle scholemaster." Whatever she did in the presence of the Duke and Duchess must be done "even so perfitely as God made the world," or else "pinches, nippes, and bobbes" are brought to bear. Whereas with M. Elmer the time sped too fast. "I think the tyme nothing, whiles I am with him.:

It remains to be said that for moral delinquencies Ascham has no weakness. The parent must punish for sloth, lying, pilfering, and other faults, and of course, the schoolmaster in loco parentis must punish too.

Perhaps the most remarkable of Ascham's points is the discrimination between "quicke and hard wittes," to the advantage of the latter. He stands up nobly for those unappreciated lads who have, according to his opinion, the makings of the best men in them. His own words cannot be mended:-- "A childe that is still, silent, constant, and somewat hard of witte, is either never chosen by the arther to be made a scholar, or else, when he commeth to the schole, he is smally regarded, little looked unto, he lacketh teaching, he lacketh couraging, he lacketh all things, onlie he never lacketh beating. . . And when this sadde natured and hard witted child is bette from his booke, and becummeth after eyther student of the common lawe . . . or bound prentice to a merchant, or to som handicrafte, he proveth in the ende, wiser, happier, and many tymes honester too, than many of their quicket wittes do, by their learning.:

"The trewe notes of the best wittes" he considers to be seven, the first of which, "Euphues," has been monopolized by Lyly. The scholemaster has the audacity to demand a comely person; he considers that the jewel of learning is worthy of the finest setting. He does not want anything "troubled, mangles, and halved, but sounds and whole." The second natural gift required is a good memory. His general summary of the seven is as follows: "The two first poyntes be special benefites of nature: which neverthelesse, he well preserved, and moch increased by good order. But as for the five laste -- love, labour, gladnes to learn of others, boldness to aske doutes, and will to wynne praise, be wonne and maintened by the onelie wisedome and discretion of the scholemaster, which pive poyntes, whether a scholemaster shall worke soner in a childe, by fearfull beating, or curtese handling, you that be wise, judge."

It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of this summary of those things which go to the making of a scholar. The many-sided influence of the master fits perfectly into the character of the child. How can a pupil love learning unless he sees it in something of an attractive guise? All have a certain curiosity, and it is this curiosity which may be directed by the teacher into and along a "philomathic" course. The feeling that the one who directs I himself full of this love may impart or bring to birth that latent sympathy which has such vivifying force upon the intellect. Then that "lust to laborer," how its sinews become strengthened and braced by constant visit with an old champion and athlete! How a patient energy and "will to take pains" produces soon a mind which abhors the very look of slovenly and slipshod work! This, which some consider to be the essence of genius is partly so because it is genius alone which can take full advantage of the power of taking pains; it is genius which properly applies the lust to labour so as to bring about great results.

The fifth and sixth points are parts of the same note, for he that is determine to learn is modest enough to seek from every teacher, however humble, and bold enough to show his ignorance, even at any sacrifice of self love. What vast opportunities are afforded to the schoolmaster in contending with the weakness, in these respects, of young scholars! The gentle tact which he may display is invaluable in exhibiting by his own conduct that gentle spirit of philosophical inquiry which will lead his young friends to search diligently until they find. The youngest is apt to take so much for granted, and to build his towers before the foundation has been laid. To commence again with the children, and grow up in learning usefulness to the stripling. A spirit of inquiry as perfect and beautiful as this will never allow the "fonde shamefastnes," which keeps the youngster closed up in his shell of reserve, to come to life at all. The fearless and cheerful spirit of inquiry encourage by the teacher will bring the scholar onwards by leaps and bounds: and the kindly praise bestowed upon diligent as well as upon successful work, will cement these good results. The grudging spirit, the withholding of genial praise, will keep back the sprouting shoot of promise, just as the seeds are left unloosened by the absence of the showers which water the earth.

The master and the scholar then are one: the latter is nourished by union with the former, in proportion as there exists in perfection this sympathy and unity of aim. As regards the teaching Latin, Dr. Johnson has stated that Ascham's system need not be improved upon. A short inquiry into this system will enable us to see how it "tallies" with his general principles of the treatment of youth. After a preliminary instruction in grammar, not too terrible, the learner is provided with "two paperbokes," but before using them his master chooses a simple piece of the best Latin prose for the subject of the lesson. This letter of Cicero, let us say, is introduced by an account if it, and especially of its subject-matter. When the lad knows what the father of his country is going to say, the epistle itself is clearly and carefully read over and translated to him. And this is to be done, not once only, but several times, and afterwards the passage is to be parsed "perfitlie." Hitherto the scholemaster has had the chief part of the work: next the scholar takes up the running, doing te above exercises till he "douteth in nothing." Now the little paper books are produced and the child makes the translation into one of them without assistance. This being corrected, Cicero himself is removed and an interval of an hour is allowed to elapse. After this interval the valuable part of the exercise commences, for the translation which has been made in one book must now be re-translated without assistance into the words of the orator. "When the childe bringeth it, turned into Latin, the master must compare it with Tullie's booke, and laie them both together, and where the childe doth well, either in choosing, or true placing of Tullie's words, let the master praise him, and saie here ye do well. For I assure you, there is no such whetstone, to sharpen a good witte and encourage a will to learning, as is praise.

What will strike the reader here is the retail kind of work involved in such a mehod. Some may object that it would be possible to carry it out if you were a "purveyor to the Queen," as Mr. Ascham was, but that it could scarcely be applied to large classes. There is, no doubt, some truth in the objection "jentlenes" is easier to purvey in retail than in wholesale quantities. Teachers differ so wonderfully, and some can be tender to a large class. But this is not the question altogether. I am speaking purposely of a handloom weaver and of the beauty and strength of his work. The article may be imitated to perfection perhaps in vast quantities and with very useful results. But what I am sure of is that "the redy way to the Latin tong" may be used as an example of the ready ways to every kind of learning. The method seems to me to analyse thus:- The first object is to give the student an interest in the work before him by a simple sketch of it, with explanations, the second step is a demonstration on the part of the teacher or Professor himself; the third move is to let the beginner hold the reins, -- to use one figure; to take your hand from under him in the water and let him flounder a little for himself, -- to use another. In the last place, by criticizing and showing, by encouraging and restraining, by challenging and giving a prize, "the young 'un" is brought on to "perfitenes."

Typed by happi, May 2017