entry author entry date entry editor document type
Fred Schurink 18.05.07 printedbook

The Schoolmaster

full name additional information

Roger Ascham


Margaret Ascham

author of dedicatory epistle

Publication Details

Composition date
Publication date
Publication site
quarto (148 pp.; signatures: [manicule]2, B-T4); The dedicatory epistle is printed in italic; the address to the readers in roman; and the main text and marginalia in black-letter, generally with names and English quotations in roman and Latin quotations in italic
Bibliographic number
STC (2nd ed.), 832
Stationers register
Entered Stationers' Register to John Day 1569-70: 'Recevyd of master Daye for his lycense for pryntinge of a boke intituled the scholemaster of Wynsore made by master Askecham ... iiijd' (Arber, i. 410)
full name additional information

John Day


William Cecil, first Baron Burghley


Latin (mainly quotations)
Greek (quotations)


Title page
THE | SCHOLEMASTER | Or plaine and perfite way of tea-|chyng children, to vnderstand, write, and | speake, the Latin tong, but specially purposed | for the priuate brynging vp of youth in Ientle-|men and Noble mens houses, and commodious | also for all such, as haue forgot the Latin | tonge, and would, by themselues, with-|out a Scholemaster, in short tyme, | and with small paines, recouer a | sufficient habilitie, to vnder-|stand, write, and | speake Latin. || ¶ By Roger Ascham. || ¶ An. 1570. || AT LONDON. || Printed by Iohn Daye, dwelling | ouer Aldersgate. || ¶ Cum Gratia & Priuilegio Regiae Maiestatis, | per Decennium. [within a frame of ornaments]
Preliminary Material ([manicule]2r-B4v)
1. Dedicatory epistle: Margaret Ascham, '¶ To the honorable Sir William Cecill Knight, principall Secretarie to the Quenes most excellent Maiestie.' ([manicule]2rv). Margaret Ascham dedicates the work of her late husband to Cecil, who is well able to defend it against any detractors, has the skill to judge its worthiness, and who has always supported the author. She expresses gratefulness for Cecil's support of her and her children after Ascham's death.
2. Address to the readers: '[fleuron] A Praeface to the Reader.' (B1r-B4v). Ascham describes the origins of the work in a conversation over dinner between various members of the Privy Council and other royal servants in William Cecil's room at Windsor on 10 December 1563. Following the recent news that some scholars of Eton had run away for fear of beating, the subject of the discussion was the education of children. After supper, one of the diners, Sir Richard Sackville, came up to Ascham and asked him to write at greater length about the topic for the benefit of his grandson. Ascham intended to prepare a small treatise as a New Year's gift for Sackville, but the work grew larger than he had expected. He worked on the treatise until Sackville's death (on 21 April 1566); then left it for almost two years, until Cecil encouraged him to finish it. He defends the importance of the education of children as a topic of writing and expresses the wish that the book will serve as an inheritance for his own children and a support to Sackville's grandson, as well as a help to all other parents.
'The first booke for the youth.' (C1r-K2v)
3. Double translation (C1r-C4r). Ascham first considers how best to teach children to write and speak Latin. He objects against the so-called 'latins' of authors such as Whittington and Horman: English sentences made up by contemporary schoolmasters as translation exercises for their pupils. Instead, he suggests a method which has come to be called 'double translation', which involves the translation of a piece of the best classical Latin into English, followed by the re-translation of the English into Latin, which is then compared to the original text. Ascham also disapproves of the common practice of having children speak Latin in school from an early age, which leads to bad habits that are hard to eradicate. When children improve their ability in double translation, they should in addition be taught to note literal expressions, metaphorical expressions, synonyms, words with different meanings, opposites, and notable expressions, which they should record in separate notebooks.
4. Hard wits and quick wits (C4r-E1v). Ascham announces that he will now explain in detail why gentleness in teaching is better than beating. His first argument, that schoolmasters often put hard-witted scholars off learning by punishing them excessively, leads him to an extended discussion of the opposition between quick wits, who are quick to learn but not to remember or apply their learning, against hard wits, who are slower on the uptake but often end up wiser and more virtuous. He follows this with a discussion of the signs of the best wits for learning in children, based on Plato's Republic. The first aspect of a good wit is '[Greek characters] Euphues' (D3v), having all the qualities of the mind and body that serve learning; the second '[Greek characters] Mnêmôn' (D4r), having a good memory, a necessary prerequisite of learning; the third, '[Greek characters] Philomathês' (D4v), loving learning; the fourth, '[Greek characters] Philoponos' (D4v), eager to work hard; the fifth, '[Greek characters] Philêkoos' (E1r), willing to take advice and learn from others; the sixth, '[Greek characters] Zêtêtikos' (E1r), bold to ask questions and desirous to resolve any doubt; and the seventh, '[Greek characters] Philepainos' (E1r), keen to be praised by his father or master.
5. Gentleness versus severity in teaching (E1v-E4v). These qualities of a good wit are promoted by the gentle treatment of a pupil by his schoolmaster. Beating leads to a hate of learning and turns pupils away from books, while gentleness and encouragement makes children love learning. To the argument that no wise man ever thought so, Ascham responds by quoting Socrates's opinion that no learning should be imparted with bondage from Plato's Republic. To the objection that children naturally love play and dislike learning, he answers that it depends on whether they are encouraged or punished in their learning and in their play. Moreover, young age is most inclined to and apt for learning and goodness. As an example Ascham adduces Lady Jane Grey, whom he once discovered reading a Greek text while all her family were out hunting. When he asked her why she was so inclined to book learning, she told him that while her parents always punished her severely for every transgression, her tutor was so gentle and encouraging that she learned to love nothing more than reading and study.
6. The discipline of youth (E4v-H3r). In addition to schoolmasters beating their children, there is another major impediment to the learning and virtue of the youth of England: the habit of giving children who are no longer of school complete freedom, which results in misbehaviour and undoes all the good which their education has inculcated in them. Ascham contrasts the approach of the ancient Persians, who kept their children under the guard of a governor until the age of twenty-one, and the attitude of Cyrus and Samson, who let their parents decide on a suitable marriage partner, however powerful they were themselves. This evil is particular to the children of noblemen, especially such as live at the court. As a consequence, children of more humble backgrounds often gain the most important positions in the commonwealth. Nobility governed by learning and wisdom is magnificent, but nobility without virtue is nothing. There are many good men at the court, but young gentlemen commonly follow the worst examples. In addition, virtuous behaviour is judged defective at the court, while vice is praised and encouraged. Bad servants further lead their young charges astray. Nor is it only at the court that manners and morals have decayed: pride, selfishness, and disobedience hold sway. They are God's punishment for England's rejection of the true (reformed) faith and the sins of its subjects. Ascham gives an example of a four-year old son of a gentleman, who couldn't say a simple grace but had learned from his servants how to curse. In Athens, in contrast, young men were brought up in virtuous discipline and honest company, with the result that the city produced more outstanding military leaders and writers in one century than any other country in its whole history. Some allege that they follow the gentlemen of France by counting it a shame to pass for learned or even honest, but Ascham counters that many French gentlemen are very virtuous. He also warns that experience is a dangerous teacher and that learning is to be preferred, giving the example of Sir Roger Cholmley, who rose to great eminence after a misspent youth, but whose companions all came to a bad end. Ascham does not object, however, to honest pastimes for gentlemen, such as tilting, shooting, wrestling, dancing, playing musical instruments, etc. Castiglione's Courtier, translated by Hoby, has many good precepts for young gentlemen to follow. In addition to books, the English court has many good examples for young gentlemen to follow: Edward VI, Henry Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, Henry Fitzalan, twelfth earl of Arundel, Sir John Cheke and John Redman at St John's, and Queen Elizabeth herself, the sum of all learning and virtue. Great men at the court should, however, be careful not to set a bad example in manners, religion, and apparel, but should encourage the practice of shooting. Finally, Ascham defends admonishing great men by arguing that he is merely offering advice for those who will come later.
7. Young men travelling to Italy (H3r-K2v). The last major point on which Sir Richard Sackville asked Ascham for advice is the custom of young gentlemen to travel to Italy. Ascham thinks that it is very dangerous, unless they are accompanied by a tutor who has the wisdom and authority to keep them in check. While Italy, and Rome in particular, was once the model of the world, it is now a pit of sin, and therefore does not offer a suitable pattern for the youth of England. If a young noblemen must needs travel to Italy, he would do well to follow the wisest ever traveller, Homer's Ulysses, whose wisdom and honesty enabled him to avoid the great dangers of foreign travel. Many travellers to Italy, which Ascham compares to Circe's court, are however seduced by her vain pleasures which make them forgetful of all goodness, unreceptive to learning, unable to distinguish between good and evil, and disdainful of good manners. The only medicine against these diseases of the mind is the study of virtue, which Ascham likens to the herb molly. Too many, however, enthusiastically embrace the temptations of Circe's court, with the result that they are turned into animals, monsters, and devils. Even more dangerous than travel to Italy, because more common, are the translations of Italian fiction. Ascham presents these books as part of a secret Catholic plot: by drawing their readers' will to wanton living, they lead the mind to false doctrine, namely Catholicism. Some travellers to Italy even come to contemn all religion and become atheists. Ascham was once in Venice himself, and saw for himself how Italians both lack honesty in living and truth of religion. Finally, travellers to Italy not only bring home corrupt religion, but also licentiousness and contempt of marriage and such an arrogant belief in their own opinions that they think they can freely say anything about anyone.
'[fleuron]The second booke.' (K3r-T3v)
8. Introduction (K3r-L1v). Ascham picks up where he left off at the end of section 3. He advises that pupils should read Cicero, Terence, Caesar, and Livy speedily and diligently, not translating every word but parsing and construing difficult passages and marking the six points listed earlier. Then they should be given unseen passages translated into English by the master for translation back into Latin. Then they may also be given some fictional English letters and English translations of a tale, fable, or narrative in Aphthonius to translate into English. Ascham gives the example of John Whitney, a young gentleman who was his bedfellow when he first served princes Elizabeth. In under nine months, Ascham taught him to understand and write Latin by daily reading Cicero's De amicitia together. Whitney passed away shortly thereafter, and Ascham includes a poem on his death.
9. '¶ Translatio Linguarum.' (L1v-L3v). Ascham once more argues for the efficacy of his method of double translation. He cites the authority of the Younger Pliny and Cicero, and rejects the arguments of those opposing Cicero as self-indulgent. He claims that people exercised in his method will attain a knowledge of Latin perfectly and much faster than children who learn the grammar rules in school, and offers Queen Elizabeth as an example.
10. 'Paraphrasis.' (L3v-M3v). Ascham defines paraphrase as the expression of the same matter in different words. He rejects this as an exercises for grammar school pupils and university, because it teaches them to turn the best (classical) Latin into a worse style, although he does allow it for very advanced scholars. He also approves of changing medieval authors into classical Latin, turning one Greek dialect into another, and Cicero expressing a Greek passage in two different ways.
11. 'Metaphrasis.' (M3v-N2v). Ascham rejects metaphrase, turning poetry into prose and vice-versa, as an exercise for grammar school pupils for the same reason, that in examining different forms of expression it might lead students to choose the worse. He does allow the exercise for experienced scholars, and gives several examples from classical Greek and Latin literature of authors who practised this form of literary imitation.
12. 'Epitome.' (N2v-O1v). Epitome, or summary, is not particularly relevant to grammar schools. It has done much harm to learning, as it has led to the loss of classical texts and encourages readers not to read the best authors themselves, even if it can be useful for scholars who practise it themselves. What can, however, be of significant benefit, is another form of epitome, which involves writers paring down their exuberant style and excessive wordiness.
13. '[symbol] Imitatio.' (O1v-S3v). Ascham begins with a digression on the interrelatedness of style and thought: the wisest Latin authors were also the best writers, and when the pureness of expression and concern for words declined, so did the learning, virtue, and religion. He distinguishes mimesis, or the imitation of reality in writing, from literary imitation, with which he will be concerned. He then identifies two main issues relating to imitation: which author to follow and whether to follow one or many; and which method to use in imitation. Starting with the second question, Ascham first offers a series of examples of classical authors who imitate others. Then he offers a series of tools or points by which to study imitation, such as what does an author add to his source and what does he change. He notes that imitation isthe best exercise to improve style and learning, but that it is too advanced for children. If someone objects that ancient texts are originals and not imitations, they need only look at Cicero's greatest work, De oratore, which follows Aristotle in its content and Plato in its form, to learn this is not the case. Ascham then considers previous writers on the subject of imitation: Cicero, Dionysius Halicarnassensis, Quintilian, Erasmus, Budé, Melanchthon, Camerarius, Sambucus, Paolo Cortesi, Pietro Bembo, Sturm, and Bartolomeo Ricci. These authors have focused on the rules of imitation, whereas Ascham would prefer a book with examples of the imitation of Greek authors by the best classical Latin writers, analysing in each case how each author changed his source. When he mentions that he would like to see some student from Cambridge take on this task, Ascham is led into a long digression on Cambridge. He praises the learning of the university, and especially of St John's college, when he first came there as a student, and attributes the flourishing of St John's to its master, the Catholic Nicholas Metcalfe. He then notes the decline of scholarship and morals under Queen Mary and the recent restoration of learning under Queen Elizabeth. Ascham next turns to the question which authors to imitate. After arguing that it is best for eloquence to follow a few of the best authors, he divides writing into its several genres and subdivisions (poetry, history, philosophy, oratory, etc.), each of which has a particular form and style most suitable to it. Drawing on the comments of his mentor John Cheke, Ascham then presents a historical survey of Latin authors, noting for each what to follow and what not. He starts with Plautus and Terence. Terence is the better writer of the two; the subject matter of both is low life; Plautus is more copious and Terence more pure and proper, as well as noble; the metre of both is inelegant and should not be followed. Ascham's comments on the metre of the Latin dramatists lead him to another digression, on metre in English poetry. He argues against rhyme, which is rude and barbarous and was brought into England by the Goths and Huns, and for quantitative verse in imitation of classical Greek and Latin poetry. He also incidentally defends the learning of the English of his time against the criticism of Cicero. Returning to his survey of Latin authors, he notes that the Latin language reached its highest peak in the time of Cicero. There are only four prose authors of the period whose work has survived, Varro, Sallust, Caesar, and Cicero, whose work he will now consider in turn (leaving the poets for advanced students).
14. '¶ Varro.' (S3v-S4v). Varro is a good author, but only for technical writing. His language is proper and copious, albeit sometimes archaic. Most of his works are lost, otherwise he might have been an excellent model, especially for the imitation of Greek literature.
15. 'Saluste.' (S4v-T3r). Ascham cannot recommend Sallust as a model for young men, as his diction (which is archaic) and syntax (which is strange and obscure) are defective by the standards of the purest classical Latin.
16. '¶ Caesar.' (T3r-T4r). Caesar is the only writer in whom no fault could ever be found, and he excels in both wisdom and eloquence. Because all that remains of him are two histories, however, his model has only limited application.
ornaments (manicule 2v, B4v, K2v, T3v)
an older man speaking the words 'ETSI MORS, INDIES ACCELERAT' to a younger one, pointing at a skeleton with the words 'POST FVNERA VIRTVS VIVET TAMEN' in a tree above: printer's device of John Day (McKerrow, no. 128) (T4r)
'AT LONDON. Printed by Iohn Daye dwellyng ouer Aldersgate. Cum gratia & Priuilegio Regiae Maiestatis. 1570.' (T4r)
Frequent marginalia giving references and summaries
“courtesy book” “didactic writing” “handbook” “invective” “literary-critical essay” “philosophical writing” “prose” “treatise” “verse”
“books” “booktrade” “children and childhood” “clothing and dress” “commonweal” “conduct” “corruption moral” “counsel” “court and courtiers” “education” “eloquence and rhetoric” “England and the English” “friendship” “gentility and nobility” “government and politics” “Greece ancient” “idleness or sloth” “immorality” “Italy” “language English vernacular” “language learning” “learning” “lechery and lust” “London” “love” “Middle Ages” “national characteristics” “gentility and nobility” “obedience” “oratory” “Queen Elizabeth” “reform manners” “religion conflict” “religion doctrine and worship” “Rome ancient” “Rome church of” “sport and recreation” “travel” “vice” “violence” “virtue” “wisdom” “youth” “wit”


Plato, Republic
Plato, Crito
Cicero, De oratore
Quintilian, Institutio oratoria
Thomas Elyot, The Governor (1531)
Johann Sturm, De literarum ludis recte aperiendis (1538)
Johann Sturm, De amissa ratione dicendi (1538)
Johann Sturm, Nobilitas literata (1549)
Johann Sturm, De educatione principum (1551)
Isocrates exerted a powerful influence on Ascham's prose style
Timothy Kendall, Flowers of Epigrams (1577), O7r-O8v (includes poetry from The Schoolmaster)
Gabriel Harvey, Ciceronianus (1577), G4r-H1r
William Kempe, The Education of Children in Learning (1588) (about a dozen borrowings from The Schoolmaster, especially on double translation and imitation (Robert David Pepper, 'The Education of Children in Learning (1588) by William Kempe of Plymouth: A Critical Edition' (unpublished doctoral thesis, Stanford University, 1963), pp. 175-76)
John Brinsley, Ludus Literarius (1612), passim
John Brinsley, A Consolation for our Grammar Schooles (1622), passim
According to the preface, the book is based on a dinner-time conversation between members of the privy council and other royal servants in William Cecil, Lord Burghley's room at Windsor Castle on 10 December 1563 about the news that some scholars of nearby Eton College had run away from school for fear for beating. After supper, one of the diners, Sir Richard Sackville, came up to Ascham and asked him to write at greater length about various points relating to the education of children for the benefit of his grandson. Ascham granted his request and expanded the treatise until Sackville's death on 21 April 1566, after which he apparently left it for almost two years. A surviving manuscript which belonged to John Lumley, first Baron Lumley reveals that a version of what was to become book 1 did in fact exist by 1563-64 (BL, MS Royal 18. B. XXIV; see G. B. Parks, 'The First Draft of Ascham's Scholemaster', Huntington Library Quarterly, 1 (1937-38), 313-27). The second book had been written or conceived by autumn 1568, when Ascham described it in a letter to Sturm (Giles, ii. 176 (no. xcix), tr. Letters of Roger Ascham, tr. by Maurice Hatch and Alvin Vos (New York: Lang, 1989), p. 267), and the preface was 'apparently written shortly before Ascham's own death, for in it he thanked Cecil for giving him the hope that enabled him to finish the book' (Rosemary O'Day, 'Ascham, Roger (1514/15?1568)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/732, accessed 13 Aug 2007] ). Nevertheless, the treatise remained unfinished at Ascham's death in 1570, and it was left to his widow Margaret to prepare it for publication. She dedicated the book to Cecil, who continued to act as a patron to her and her children (L. V. Ryan, Roger Ascham (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963), pp. 287-92).
In the preface to the book, as in the manuscript version and a letter to Queen Elizabeth (Giles, ii. 158 (no. lxxxvii)), Ascham claimed to have written the treatise for the education of his own children. However, as the title-page indicates, The Schoolmaster was also intended more generally 'for the priuate brynging vp of youth in Ientlemen and Noble mens houses'. (The term 'schoolmaster' was used to refer to a private tutor as often as to the master of a school in the period; OED, 'Schoolmaster', 1.e). Ascham, then, was mostly concerned with teaching children of the nobility to fulfil their role as political and religious leaders through private education, rather than with teaching of boys from more humble backgrounds in grammar schools (although a few references to the grammar schools were added by Ascham, apparently in a revision looking towards publication; T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke, 2 vols (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944), i. 265). The purpose of the book was recognized by the seventeenth-century schoolmaster John Brinsley, who pointed out that Ascham's methods were not always suitable to ordinary grammar schools (while at the same time frequently referring to Ascham as an authority on educational matters and adopting some of the teaching methods proposed by him; see Ludus Literarius (1612), *3v; A Consolation for our Grammar Schooles (1622), D3v). It is likely, however, that it was the treatment of broader educational, moral, and cultural issues of the book, rather than the teaching routines, which appealed to the majority of readers and caused it to become something of a bestseller in England in the 1570s and 1580s. These more general subjects are mainly treated in the first book of The Schoolmaster, which has the running heading 'the brynging vp of youth', while the second book, 'the ready way to the Latin tong', consists of a more detailed discussion of teaching methods.
The work is extremely digressive, and even the second book contains very frequent anecdotes, many of which are autobiographical. Ascham frequently writes about the history of St John's College, Cambridge (where he was educated and subsequently became a fellow); the humanist learning which flourished there; and especially his tutor, and later colleague and friend, John Cheke, on whose teachings many of the methods of The Schoolmaster are based. As Ascham wrote to Sturm, however, his work is concerned as much with the court (to which he has an ambiguous attitude) as with the academy (Giles, ii. 176; Vos, p. 267), and a concern with good Latin is consistently combined with an emphasis on good manners and behaviour and service to Queen and country for the good of the commonwealth. The work has strong reformation overtones, and Ascham's nationalism and his dislike for Italy are largely cast in terms of the opposition between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
Compilation editions
edition title information bib.no.

Huntington, 56247 (via EEBO)

Modern editions
edition title information bib.no.

EEBO full-text

Roger Ascham, The Schoolmaster (1570), ed. Lawrence V. Ryan (Ithaca, NY: Published for The Folger Shakespeare Library by Cornell University Press, 1967)

Roger Ascham, English Works, ed. by William Aldis Wright (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1904; repr. 1970)

Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster, ed. by Edward Arber ( London: [n.pub.], 1870)

The Whole Works of Roger Ascham: Now First Collected and Revised, with a Life of the Author, ed. by J. A. Giles, 3 vols (London: Smith, 1864-65)

Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster, ed. by J. E. B. Mayor ([n.p.]: Bell, 1863)

Early editions
edition title information bib.no.

1571, STC (2nd ed.), 834, quarto, John Day

1573, STC (2nd ed.), 835, quarto, John Day, title-page same as previous edition (i.e. dated 1571), but colophon dated 1573

1579, STC (2nd ed.), 835.5, quarto, John Day

1589, STC (2nd ed.), 836, quarto, Abel Jeffe