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then new as a general study in England, and the most fashionable of all others. He is said to have acquired the language principally by teaching it to others, a course which he pursued by the advice of his friend, Mr. Robert Peinber, who told him that he would learn more by reading to a boy a single fable.of Æsop, than by hearing others read Latin lectures on the whole Iliad. He took his degree of B.A. on the 28th February, 1534 ; and on the 23rd March following was elected Fellow of his college. We shall give, at the proper place, the passage in his “Schoolmaster," in which he relates how he obtained his fellowship through the management of Dr. Nicholas Medcalf, the master of the college, although he had already made himself obnoxious to the authorities by the inclination he had begun to show for the reformed faith. In 1536 he took his degree of M.A. In 1544, he published, with a dedication to Henry VIII., his first work, under the title of “ Toxophilus ; the School or Partitions of Shooting, contained in two books.” It is a treatise in defence of archery, which was at this time Ascham's favourite pastime. Henry was much pleased with this production, and settled a small pension upon the author, who was also the same year chosen to succeed his friend, Sir John Cheke, as University orator.
Among Ascham's other accomplishments was great skill in penmanship. Such was his reputation in this line, that he was employed to teach writing to the king's children, Prince Edward and the Princess Elizabeth, as well as to many of the young nobility. In 1546, one of his pupils, Mr. William Grindal, had been selected to be
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tutor, in the Greek and Latin languages, to the Princess Elizabeth. He died in 1548, and upon this Ascham was invited to court to supply his place. After a short time, however, he appears to have taken offence at something that happened, on which he threw up his appointment, and returned to the University. But in 1550, while he was on a visit to his relations in Yorkshire, he was recalled to court to attend Sir Richard Moryeine, who was about to proceed on an embassy to the Emperor Charles V. It was while iourneying to London on this occasion that he paid the visit to Lady Jane Grey, of which we shall quote in the sequel the account given by himself in his Schoolmaster." He embarked with the ambassador for Germany in September 1550, and he remained on the continent for about three years, having in the course of that time visited Italy. In 1552, while residing at the Court of the Emperor, he wrote a small tract, which was afterwards published, under the title of “ A Report and Discourse of the Affairs and State of Germany,” in the form of a letter to Mr. John Astley, one of the persons of the Princess Elizabeth's establishment. He appears to have been still abroad when he was appointed, through the interest of Sir William Cecil, Latin Secretary to King Edward VI. The death of Edward, however, in 1552, deprived him both of his places and of his pension, which had been continued to him by that king. In these circumstances, he retired again to the University, conceiving that all his prospects of advancement at court were gone.
It is greatly to the credit of Bishop Gardiner, then
Lord Chancellor, that on the recommendation of Lord Paget, although perfectly aware of Ascham's attachment to the doctrines of the reformers, he replaced him in his post of Latin Secretary; and not only procured him the restoration of his old pension of ten pounds a year, but induced the Queen to double its amount. He retained, likewise, his place of public orator to the University, and his fellowship in St. John's, till the 1st of June, 1554, when he married Margaret Howe, a lady of good family, with whom he is said to have received a considerable fortune.
He continued in great favour with Queen Mary during the remainder of her reign; but his constant residence at court appears only to have commenced after the accession of Elizabeth. That queen both continued him in his office of Latin Secretary, and reinstated him in his former office of her tutor in the Greek and Latin languages. He continued to read the classics with her for some hours every day so long as he lived. Among several benefactions which he received from her Majesty was a prebendal stall in the cathedral of York, which she bestowed upon him in 1559, and which he held till his death.
It was in 1563 that he commenced the composition of his principal work, entitled " The Schoolmaster; or a plain and perfect way of teaching children to understand, write, and speak the Latin tongue, but especially purposed for the private bringing up of youth in gentlemen and noblemen's houses, and commodious, also, for all such as have forgot the Latin tongue, and would, by
themselves, without a schoolmaster, in short time, and with small pains, receive a sufficient ability to understand, write, and speak Latin.” The circumstances which led to his undertaking this performance shall be related presently.
He did not live to publish it. It has been supposed that the work was not even completed; but, in his preface, the author expressly says that it was. Ascham is said to have early injured his health through his application to study, and at last to have become so weak as to be unable to read at night. On this account he used to rise very early in the morning. A few years before his death (not the year before, as stated in the Biographia Britannica) he had a hectic attack, by which he was greatly reduced ; and having, while still suffering from this cause, imprudently resumed his night studies, in his eagerness to finish a Latin poem which he intended to present to the Queen at the new year, he brought on a severe fit of ague on the 23rd of December, 1568, which terminated his life on the 30th of the same month. On this event, Elizabeth is said to have declared, that she would sooner have thrown ten thousand pounds into the sea than lost her tutor Ascham; a saying which is of course admired, as every thing belonging to that able and successful princess is admired, from old English habits; though it proves but a moderately disinterested love of her instructor, and though all who knew the cold heart and selfish nature of that royal hypocrite must be aware that for twenty thousand she would have had him hanged.
A singular part of Ascham's character was his addiction to dice and cock-fighting. Collier, in his Dictionary, says, “ He was an honest man, and a good shooter, archery (whereof' he wrote a book called Toxophilus) being his principal exercise in his youth, which in his old age he exchanged for a worse pastime, neither so healthful for his body nor profitable for his purse; I mean cock-fighting, which very much impaired his estate, so that he died rich only in two books, his Toxophilus and Scholarcha, wherein lay both his estate and monument." He proposed, indeed, and seems to have actually begun, to write a treatise upon his favourite sport, under title of “ The Book of the Cock-pit," as we shall see from a passage in his “Schoolmaster,” in which he apparently alludes to some disrepute to which he had exposed himself by the habits we have mentioned. Both studious and religious as he was, Ascham was no ascetic, but seems to have had a keen zest for the pleasures of society. In a curious epistle written from Germany, to his friend Raven, one of the fellows of St. John's, he says: “ For understanding of the Italian I am meet well; but surely I drink Dutch better than I speak Dutch. (He means German.) Tell Mr. D. Maden, I will drink with him now a carouse of wine; and would to God he had a vessel of Rhenish wine, on condition that I paid forty shillings for it; and, perchance, when I come to Cambridge, I will so provide here, that every year I will have a little piece of Rhenish wine.” He is also said to have been a proficient in music.
Ascham left three sons, Giles, Dudley, and Sturmur,