Ascham on Teaching
This year I have been thinking about teaching and parenting and the wisdom in books. I had not planned to post this week and I do not have many words in me but this quote touches on all three topics.
And one example, whether loue or feare doth worke more in a child, for vertue and learning, I will gladlie report: which maie be hard with some pleasure, and folowed with more profit. Before I went into Germanie, I came to Brodegate in Lecetershire, to take my leaue of that noble Ladie Iane Grey, to whom I was exceding moch beholdinge. Hir parentes, the Duke and Duches, with all the houshould, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, were huntinge in the Parke: I founde her, in her Chamber, readinge Phaedon Platonis in Greeke, and that with as moch delite, as som ientleman wold read a merie tale in Bocase. After salutation, and dewtie done, with som other taulke, I asked hir, whie she wold leese soch pastime in the Parke? smiling she answered me: I wisse, all their sporte in the Parke is but a shadoe to that pleasure, that I find in Plato: Alas good folke, they neuer felt, what trewe pleasure ment. And howe came you Madame, quoth I, to this deepe knowledge of pleasure, and what did chieflie allure you vnto it: seinge, not many women, but verie fewe men haue atteined thereunto. I will tell you, quoth she, and tell you a troth, which perchance ye will meruell at. One of the greatest benefites, that euer God gaue me, is, that he sent me so sharpe and seuere Parentes, and so ientle a scholemaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speake, kepe silence, sit, stand, or go, eate, drinke, be merie, or sad, be sowyng, plaiyng, dauncing, or doing anie thing els, I must do it, as it were, in soch weight, mesure, and number, euen so perfitelie, as God made the world, or else I am so sharplie taunted, so cruellie threatened, yea presentlie some tymes, with pinches, nippes, and bobbes, and other waies, which I will not name, for the honor I beare them, so without measure misordered, that I thinke my selfe in hell, till tyme cum, that I must go to M. Elmer, who teacheth me so ientlie, so pleasantlie, with soch faire allurementes to learning, that I thinke all the tyme nothing, whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because, what soeuer I do els, but learning, is ful of grief, trouble, feare, and whole misliking vnto me: And thus my booke, hath bene so moch my pleasure, & bringeth dayly to me more pleasure & more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deede, be but trifles and troubles vnto me. I remember this talke gladly, both bicause it is so worthy of memorie, & bicause also, it was the last talke that euer I had, and the last tyme, that euer I saw that noble and worthie Ladie.From Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (1570) pp. 11v, 12r (Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership) as quoted by Erik of Sententiae Antiquae
Choosing Plato’s Phaedo over Boccaccio’s Decameron is a little nerdy even for me (although Boccaccio is a bit too relevant this year). Ascham does not say outloud that a short time after that meeting the adults in Lady Grey’s life had her married to the Duke of Suffolk’s son and proclaimed queen ahead of Mary and Elizabeth Tudor (she was very Protestant, Mary was Catholic); a few months later she was beheaded for high treason at the age of 16 or 17.
One thing about wisdom is that it is timeless. And Roger Ascham, archer and Cambridge scholar, didn’t need education and psychology departments to help him see some simple truths about teaching.