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Grammar Schools Of Old England

( Originally Published 1907 )

IN some ways the most representative of the English grammar schools was that founded by John Colet, Dean of St. Paul's, London, of which the historian Green has said " The grammar schools of Edward the Sixth and of Elizabeth, in a word the system of middle-class education which by the close of the [sixteenth] century had changed the very face of England, were the outcome of Colet's foundation of St. Paul's." One chief reason for this preeminence of St. Paul's may be found in the fact that it was the first school established in accordance with the ideas of the New Learning —it was the first to enjoy that enrichment which came from the literary influences of the renaissance. As to its early history we have, fortunately, a fair measure of information.

It was near the beginning of the reign of Henry the Eighth that Colet entered upon the establishment of this school?. He erected buildings for the use of the school and its masters in St. Paul's churchyard and added an endowment that was liberal for the time, all from the private fortune left to him by his father. He placed the administration of this trust in the hands of the Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Company of Mercers, the City of London guild to which his father had belonged. This was regarded as an unusual proceeding, but was not without parallel. The statutes drawn up for the school by Colet provided that "There shalbe taught in the scole Children of all nacions and countres indifferently to the Noumber of a cliij acordyng to the noumber of the Setys in the stole." 1 It was from the outset a day school and not a boarding school. The number of children to be admitted is thought to have been chosen with reference to the miracle of the fishes (John xxi. 1l). The school was dedicated to the child Jesus. " Above the headmaster's chair," says Erasmus, " is a picture of the child Christ in the act of teaching ; the Father in the air above, with a scroll saying, 'Hear ye him.' These words were introduced at my suggestion."

The admission of children was subject to the following rules :

"The mayster shal reherse these artycles to them that offer theyr chyldren, on this wyse here followynge.

"If your chylde can rede & wryte latyn & englisshe sufficiently, soo that he be able to rede & wryte his owne lessons, than he shal be admytted into the stole for a scholer.

" If your childe after reasonable season proued be founde here vuapte & vnable to lernynge, than ye warned therof shal take hym awaye, that he occupye not here rowme in vayne.

" If he be apte to lerne, ye shal be content that he contynue here tyl he hallo some competent literature.

" If he be absent vi dayes & in that mean season ye shewe not cause reasonable (reasonable cause is al onely sekenes) than his rowme to be voyde, without he be admytted agayne & paye iiij. d.

"Also after cause shewed yf he contynue so absent tyl the weke of admyssion in the nexte quarter, & than ye shewe not the contynuaunce of his sekenes, than his rowme to be voyde and he none of the schole, tyl he be admytted agayne & pails iiii. d. for wrytinge of his name.

" Also yf be fall thryse in to absence, he shall be admytted no more.

" Your chylde shal on childermasse dale wayte upon the bysshop at Poules and offer there.

" Also ye shal fynde hym waxe in wynter.

"Also ye shal fynde hym convenient bokes to his lernynge.

"If the offerer be content with these artycles, than let his chylde be admytted." i

Further regulations for the school show in its founder a fine mingling of the devout churchman, the humanist, and the warm-hearted friend of children. The "Statutes " begin with the words : " John Colett, the sonne of henry Colett Dean of paules desyring nothing more thanne Education and bringing vpp chyldren in good Maners and litterature in the yere of our Lorde a mli fyve hundreth and twelff bylded a Scole in the Estende of paulis Church for cliij to be taught fre in the same." The purpose of the school is thus simply and broadly stated. The course of study is likewise prescribed in very broad and general terms :


"As towchyng in this scole what shalbe taught of the Maisters and lernyd of the scolers it passith my wit to devyse and determyn in particuler but in generall to speke and sum what to saye my mynde, I wolde they were taught all way in good litterature both laten and greke, and goode auctors suych as haue the veray Romayne eliquence joyned withe wisdome specially Cristyn auctours that wrote theyre wysdome with clone and chast laten other in verse or in prose, for my entent is by thys scole specially to incresse knowlege and worshipping of god and oure lorde Crist Jesu and good Cristen lyff and mailers in the Children And for that entent I will the Chyldren lerne ffirst aboue all the Cathechyzon in Englysh and after the accidence that I made or sum other yf eny be better to the purpose to induce chyldren more spedely to laten spech And thanne Institutum Christiani homines which that lernyd Erasmus made at my request and the boke called Copia of the same Erasmus And thenne other auctours Christian as lactancius prudentius and proba and sedulius and Juuencus and Baptista Mantuanus and suche other as shalbe tought convenyent and moste to purpose vnto the true laten spech all barbary all corruption all laten adulterate which ignorant blynde folis brought into this worlde and with the same hath distayned and poysenyd the olde laten spech and the varay Romayne tong which in the tyme of Tully and Salust and Virgill and Terence was vsid, whiche also seint Jerome and seint ambrose and seint Austin and many hooly doctors lernyd in theyr tymes. I say that ffylthynesse and all such abusyon which the later blynde worlde brought in which more ratheyr may be callid blotterature thenne litterature I vtterly abbanysh and Exclude oute of this scole and charge the Maisters that they teche all way that is the best and instruct the chyldren in greke and Redyng laten in Redyng vnto them suych auctours that hathe with wisdome joyned the pure chaste eloquence."

The absence of close prescription in these directions is worthy of note. It is. to be observed that the spirit of humanism is clearly present, although the good Dean still hesitated to put heathen authors into the hands of the pupils. His reference to Cicero and others of the masters of classical Latin may have contained a hint that he expected a time to come when boys might be permitted to drink of Roman eloquence at the fountain head. Hazlitt understands that the " laten adulterate " which Colet would " ° vtterly abbanysh " is the Latin of Juvenal and Persius. It would be quite in keeping with humanistic precedents, if these anathemas were hurled against the mediaeval Latin of the universities and earlier grammar schools.

Greek is touched very lightly in these statutes ; but it is significant that it is mentioned at all. The suspicion of heresy still clung to that language, and it was only slowly making its way into the English universities. " The Consciousness of want of Greek in Colet," says Knight, " incited him not only to attain to some competent knowledge of it him-self, but also . . . to be the Founder of the first Greek School in England." 1

Provision was made for a " hygh Maister," who "in doetrin lernyng and techyng shall direct all the scole." "A man hoole in body honest and vertuouse and lernyd in the good and clene laten litterature and also in greke yf suyche may be gotten a weddid man a single manne or a preste that hath no benefice with cure nor seruyce that may lett his due besynes in the Scole." There was to be also a " Surtnaister," and in case of a vacancy in the position of high master, he was to have the preference for that place. Finally, the school was to have a " Chapelyn " who should " attend allonly vpon the scole." The special religious services prescribed for the school were not onerous. In addition to the conduct of these services, the chaplain "shall teche the children the cathechyzon and Instruction of the articles of the faith and the X. commaundmentis in Inglish."

William Lilly, well known as the author of Lilly's gram-mar, was the first master of the school. After serving in that capacity for ten years, he was succeeded in regular order by the sub-master, John Ritwyse. The securing of a suitable sub-master in the first instance was to Colet a matter of serious consideration, and became the subject of interesting correspondence between himself and Erasmus. The account which Erasmus gives of a discussion which he had with a Cambridge don regarding the dignity and use-fulness of the teacher's calling, is highly edifying. Colet would gladly have made Erasmus master of his school ; and expressed the hope that he would at least "give us a helping hand in teaching our teachers."

Seebohm finds it necessary to defend Colet against the charge of harshness in the discipline of this school. There is, at least, some evidence of a pleasing sort which goes to show that the founder took a loving interest in his boys. A Latin grammar was prepared for the use of the school. The question of the authorship of this grammar has vexed the souls of antiquarians ; but that is neither here nor there. All seem to agree that the "lytell proheme to the boke " was written by Colet ; and this is too good to be passed unnoticed. It reads, in part, as follows :

"I haue . . . made this lytel boke, not thynkynge that I coude say ony thynge beter than hath be sayd before, but I toke this besynes, hauynge grete pleasure to shewe the testymony of my good mynde vnto the schole. In whiche lytel warke yf ony newe thynges be of me, it is alonely that I haue put tese partes in a more elere ordre, and haue made them a lytel more easy to yonge wyttes than (methynketh) they were before. . . . Wherfore I praye you, al lytel babys, all lytel chyldren, lerne gladly this lytel treatyse, and commende it dylygently vnto your memoryes. Trustynge of this begynnynge that ye shal procede and grove to parfyt lyterature, and come at the last to be gret clarkes. And lyfte vp your lytel whyte handes for me, whiche prayeth for you to god. To whom be al honour and imperyal maieste and glory. Amen."

It has seemed worth while to devote some little space to the beginnings of this school ; for a new movement began with it, though in an uncertain and hesitating way. It introduced some little measure of the new humanism into English grammar school education. A few years later, Cardinal Wolsey's school at Ipswich went a great deal further in this direction. In its-eight classes, instruction was given in such Latin authors as Terence, Cicero, Sallust, O sar, Vergil, Horace, and Ovid. By the seventeenth century, the grammar schools were schools of humanism as a matter of course, though much of medimvalism still clung to them, and much of their humanism was but little better.

We need not enter here upon any discussion of the question whether Colet's school was the beginning of a new movement in the establishment of schools, as well as in the conduct of schools. That subject has been handled with great frankness by Mr. Arthur F. Leach, l who has combated the common belief that Henry VIII. and Edward VI. were great founders of grammar schools. Edward VI.: Spoiler of schools, is the significant title of his first chapter.

This work has, moreover, thrown a great deal of light on the whole system of late mediaeval and early modern secondary education.

Mr. Leach estimates that there were, in 1546, in the neighborhood of three hundred grammar schools in England for two and one-half millions of population, or about one school for every eight thousand three hundred people. He finds evidence going to show that these schools were largely at-tended, their clientage being made up in the main from " the middle classes, whether country or town, the younger sons of the nobility and farmers, the lesser landholders, the prosperous tradesmen." 1 His comments on the teaching of Latin in these schools, and more particularly on the number of occupations in which Latin was needed to a greater or less extent, are highly suggestive. Latin was not only employed in diplomacy, in science, and in the learned professions ; " a merchant, or the bailiff of a manor, wanted it for his accounts ; every town clerk or guild clerk wanted it for his minute book. Columbus had to study for his voyages in Latin ; the general had to study tactics in it. The architect, the musician, every one who was neither a mere soldier nor a mere handicraftsman, wanted not a smattering of grammar, but a living acquaintance with the tongue, as a spoken as well as a written language." 2

The specialization of schools which the middle ages had passed on to sixteenth and even seventeenth century England, finds many illustrations in the documents which Mr. Leach presents. Reading schools, song schools, and Latin grammar schools are found side by side, ordinarily under different masters, though sometimes united under one management. It was no uncommon thing for the same boys to spend a part of their time in one of these schools and a part in another, vibrating between the two in the course of the day or week. Writing was taught sometimes in the reading school, sometimes in the song school, and in one instance, that of the town of Rotherham, separate provision appears for a grammar school, a song school, and a writing school.

At a later period, in the seventeenth century, this separate existence of the writing school was not unusual. One reason for such separation may be found in the fact that the various styles of penmanship then in vogue called for some considerable training and attainment of a technical sort on the part of the teacher. Besides, writing involved the use of appliances not always to be found in the primitive school-rooms of the time. The same appliances—ink and quills and some sort of desk — were needed in copying the rules of arithmetic and in setting down the steps in long calculations. This is sufficient to account for the fact that arithmetic was ordinarily studied in the writing school.

What the grammar schools had come to be by the beginning of the seventeenth century, when American colonization began, may be gathered and guessed from JOHN BRINSLEY'S The grammar schoole. This book, first published in 1612, is thrown into the form of a dialogue between two schoolmasters, Spoudeus and Philoponus. Spoudeus represents the ordinary practice of ordinary grammar schools, especially in country towns. Philoponus is a reformer of methods, to whom Spoudeus comes as to an old friend, for encouragement and counsel. There is an air of candor and simplicity about the whole which wins the reader's confidence ; and incidental corroboration found elsewhere makes it appear reasonable to accept the representations of Spoudeus as fairly describing the schools of the time. The improvements proposed by Philoponus, too, give many hints of the state of things which he would improve.

Boys were commonly admitted to these grammar schools at the age of seven or eight. Theoretically the schools were for those who could already read the New Testament, if they had not even made a beginning in the Latin accidence. In practice, however, nearly half of the time of the teacher was devoted to beginners, who must be taught their A B C ; and these often were unable to read at all well when they had been in the school for two or three years or even more. The primer, the Psalms in metre, and the Testament, is the curriculum proposed by Philoponus for these beginners. After that he would have them enter upon the accidence.

When Latin was once begun, English was sadly neglected. "I doe not know any schoole," says Spoudeus, "wherein there is regard had hereof to any purpose." The study of numbers was even more generally overlooked. It was no uncommon thing to find scholars almost ready for the university who were not able to make out the numbers of pages, chapters, or other divisions in the books they were reading. There were few good penmen in the grammar schools, except such as had been taught by wandering scriveners, " shifters," as Philoponus calls them ; and these men did much harm to the cause of sound learning.

The accepted curriculum in Latin, to which the regular grammar scholar devoted nearly all of his time, was : Accidence, grammar, construing. With construing, there was parsing and the making of Latin ; and this making of Latin passed through several stages, as epistles, themes, declamations (disputations), and verse. The Latin texts which Philoponus has his pupils construe are given in order, as follows : Pueriles confabulatiunculae, Sententiae pueriles, Cato, Corderius (dialogues), Esop's fables ; "Tullies Epistles gathered by Sturmius : Tullies Offices, with the books adjoyned to them ; de Amicitia, Senectute, Paradoxes : Ouid de Tristibus, Ouids Metamorphosis, Virgil." Other texts spoken of as in use in the schools are : " Tullies Sentences, Aphthonius, Drax his phrases, Flores poetarum, Tully de Natura deorum, and Terentius Christianus ; " and to these are added, for more advanced study, Horace, Persius, and Juvenal.

English was employed in the accidence. The text-book was painfully committed to memory, without reference to the meaning of things. Meanings were to be gathered after-wards, by practice. The grammar consisted of rules of orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody, expressed in Latin ; and these were "learned without book," i. e., by heart, as we should say. There was more or less of construing of these rules, which would give the learner some little chance of getting at their meaning. But much of the process must have been purely Chinese. A later edition of Lilly's gram-mar had been made the official text-book of the realm, so boys in all schools learned the same lines. The rules in this grammar were commonly referred to by the first two or three words, like a papal bull. As in praesenti, or Propria quae maribus, carried its meaning perfectly to any one trained in these schools.

Making Latin was a great bugbear to both masters and scholars. One theme a week was required in good schools. Boys were punished so much for poor work on these themes that, according to Spoudeus, they "would rather desire to goe to any base trade or drudgery than to be schollers."

The boys were required to use only Latin in all of their intercourse while at school, and devices of all sorts were employed to keep them from uttering a word of English. Conversation books, as we have seen, occupied a prominent place in the earlier stages of the school curriculum — mere practical hand-books, such as travellers now use in picking up the more necessary phrases of modern French or German.

The Colloquies of Corderius is an example. A seventeenth century edition of this work, probably edited by the eminent scholar, Charles Hoole, is a short and thick volume of over four hundred pages. It contains a wide range of Latin conversation, together with a parallel English translation. Here is a specimen, from the beginning of the third book :

The master, in these colloquies, is kind and paternal beyond measure, and the pupil is an impossible little prig. The heart of every real schoolboy must have rebelled against such barefaced imposture But the dialogues let us into many an inside view of the daily employments of the school. So far, however, as banishing the mother tongue from the schools was concerned, Confabulatiunculae, Colloquia, and Sententiae pueriles, and all of the rewards and punishments added thereto, generally failed, as Philoponus sorrowfully admits.

Greek is touched in Brinsley's book much more lightly than Latin. It is evident that even yet it had not settled down into a well-established course. The Greek grammar was first studied, and after that the New Testament. Parts of Isocrates, Xenophon, Plato, and Demosthenes are thought most fit for scholars in the grammar schools, after the New Testament ; but it is agreed that boys will be admitted into the universities if they are well entered upon the Greek Testament. There was some attention devoted to Greek composition, but Philoponus would have little time wasted on such exercises, the ability to write Latin being much oftener called into use.

The two friends agree that too little attention was devoted in the schools to instruction in religion. Where properly looked after, this consisted of the teaching of the catechism, reports of sermons heard on Sundays, and the repetition of the Bible history. Philoponus would have occasional lessons in civility given in the time commonly devoted to the history. Readings in the Bible are said to have been employed in some of the best schools to reinforce instruction in Latin and Greek, passages read in the one language being translated into the other.

So far the studies of the schools. It is admitted that their discipline is often severe and ill-regulated. Philoponus is not ready to banish the rod, but he counsels mildness. School hours are long, and holidays very few, but greater leniency in these particulars is not regarded with favor.

Taken all together, the view of the schools which the book presents is indeed depressing. No wonder that Spoudeus remarks at the beginning of the interview : " For my time, I haue spent it in a fruitlesse, wearisom, and an vnthankfull office . . . . I heare of some others .. . whom God blesseth greatly in this calling ; though such be verie rare, some one or two spoken of almost in a whole countrey."

It is not to our purpose to devote much attention to the improvements which Philoponus proposes. They are for the most part genuine improvements ; and many of them might be found realized in the better teaching of the past century, or even in the more common practice of the schools. Some, having become established, have in their turn been painfully displaced by later reforms. 1 But the call which Philoponus utters for more attention to the meaning of things — more dependence upon the understanding sounds out in unison with the voices of educational reform through all the ages.

Brinsley devotes his book and his endeavors as a school-master to the service of the Church and the Commonwealth. The Reverend Doctor Joseph Hall, in " A commendatory Preface," declares that " Our Grandfathers were so long vnder the ferule, till their beards were growne as long as their pens : this age bath descried a neerer way." And Doctor Hall rejoices in these improvements particularly in view of the alarming progress made by the schools of the Jesuits. It is necessary, in his view, that some way should be found by which English masters may outstrip the educational achievements of the Society of Jesus ; and this book offers " not feete, but wings " for that purpose. Brinsley himself gives an occasional hint of his desire to make of the grammar schools a national bulwark against the danger of Roman Catholic aggression. He would have his scholars begin with the New Testament as their first Greek text, not only " for that eternall life is onely in these bookes, being truly vnderstood and beleeued," but also because of slanders circulated against our English translations, which "haue beene a principall meanes to turne many thousand soules, after Satan and Antichrist."

When all necessary deductions have been made, it still cannot be doubted that John Brinsley exercised a whole-some influence on the school practice of the time through this and the several other educational works which he published. He proposed to render instruction interesting to both master and scholars. He would make of the school a true ludus literarius, instead of the " earnificina or pistrfnum literarium," which the boys too often had reason for thinking it to be. He believed that, "all schollers of any towardliness and diligence may be made absolute Grammarians, and every way fit for the Universitie, by fifteene yeeres of age." He acknowledged freely his indebtedness to "Our learnedest Schoolemaster M. Askam." For himself he says: " I . . . onely desire to learn of all the learned, to helpe the vnlearned." There is a tone of kindliness running through the book, and every evidence of that lovableness always found in those who love to teach. The wilderness of English grammar schools of the seventeenth century could not have been all a waste when a few such spirits were to be found in it.

In 1678, Christopher Wase, an Oxford man, published his little book on Free schools in England. It was intended to answer the question, then frequently raised, "whether the English Free Grammar Schools be overproportioned to the occasions of the Church and State of England." Wase speaks as if recalling a well-known fact when he says that "there are of late Grammar Schools founded and endowed in almost every Market Town of England," in which the children of the town are to receive instruction free of charge. But he declares, on the other hand, that some counties are not well supplied with free schools in actual operation ; that at the best, one may see "the maintenance but of very few in a County, such as may vindicate Masters from being necessitous and contemptible." Many of the free grammar schools, instead of bringing up the youth in learning, " are onely Nurseries of Piety and Letters, as preparatory to Trade."

He proceeds to show that these schools are not turning out more scholars than England needs. His argument is based on the assumption that a Latin training is needed for the three learned professions, and for many subsidiary callings. Some little attempt is made to give the question a definite numerical treatment, but it is evident that the statistical information which such treatment would call for was not at hand.

The objection that a preacher of the gospel needs not learning but rather the illumination of the spirit, was already abroad, and Wase undertook to answer it. "Morality," so the argument runs, " the Law written in our hearts needed not to have bin learn'd out of Books. . . But the Doctrine of Faith being an engrafted word, not from nature, but by culture, needed to be reveled ; to be couch'd in Holy Writt." In the case of the legal profession, it was commonly agreed that a knowledge of Latin was necessary, but a tendency had set in to dispense prospective lawyers from the study of poetry and of Greek. A vigorous protest is entered against this change, much of the argument being drawn from Cicero's oration in behalf of the poet, Archias.

But Christopher Wase goes on in a strain that reminds one of the nineteenth rather than the seventeenth century. It is said that the lower classes should be trained only for their calling in life ; and that particularly in matters political and ecclesiastical they should simply learn to obey those set over them. He replies that, "it may be seasonable to interpose, whether there be not a Generall as well as Particular calling. All . . . ly under some Duty towards God and Man.. . . That any nation can be too universally learn'd in the law of well-living, would be . . . hard to be conceived." " It is agreed on all parts, that Education is abso lately due to man, either as in his imperfect or corrupt estate." And again, "Kings of England have grafted upon these Policies, this conscience; that their Subjects pay them a rational obedience: that they ground their Faith upon principles of sound knowledge."

Taking such high ground with regard to the place and function of education, Wase urges that those who would make gifts and bequests for the establishment of new grammar schools be not discouraged, but given all possible furtherance in so praiseworthy an enterprise. He would have schoolmasters better paid ; would have the patronage of country schools annexed to the several colleges of the universities ; would have these schools made so good that the gentry would find it advantageous to send their sons thither, to be taught along with the sons of the common people. The practice of "our modern Januists," who "seem in great measure to leave Grammar and build upon Dictionary," does not find favor in his eyes. The writings of Comenius must have had some influence in England to have called out this protest. Wase prefers the example of those English "Master builders," Ascham, Hoole, and William Walker.

He devotes a brief passage to the question of instruction in writing and numeration. The proper instruments for these studies should be provided in the grammar schools, even if a separate room is not devoted to such use. Speaking apparently of penmanship and arithmetic both together he adds : " None, I think, in these days are of opinion that the skill and practice of this Art can be too universally propagated : some may with reason fear it is by many perverted from its noblest end, when emploid to this discouragement of other more excellent Arts and Sciences or restrain'd in a manner wholly to the service of secular advantage."

The large significance as well as the relative scantiness of Latin-school education in England in the later seventeenth century is well illustrated in this little academic dissertation. Thirty years before Wase wrote, a fresh and vigorous movement in secondary education was already in full progress in the American colonies ; and not long after his book appeared, it took, as it were, a fresh start. We are now ready to enter upon some examination of the records of this movement.

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