INTRODUCTION

1. Edward Grant [d. 1601], himself a product of the Westminster School and latterly of St. John’s College, Cambridge, served as headmaster of the Westminster School from 1572 to 1592. NOTE 1 Besides publishing a Greek grammar (which was later rewritten in a simplified form by William Camden), he published an edition of Roger Ascham’s letters, first printed in 1576, under the title Disertissimi viri Rogeri Aschami, Angli, regiae maiestati non ita pridem a Latinis epistolas, familiarium epistolarum libri tres, magna orationis elegantia conscripti, and in the following year (for some reason disguising his identity under a pseudonym) a collection of Ascham’s religious writings, described here. Besides three Books of epistles, the letters volume also included a collection of Ascham’s poetry and Grant’s own biography of the author, Ad adolescentulos Latinae linguae studiosos Ed. Grantae oratio de vita et obitu Rogeri Aschami, ac eius scriptionis laudibus, cum adhortatione ad dictionis puritatem, eiusdem Rogeri Aschami exemplo [“Edward Grant’s oration to young students of Latin about the life and death of Roger Ascham, together with praise of his writings and an exhortation to purity of diction after the example of the said Roger Ascham.”] This last document occupies pp. Y iii - Bb 7.
2. Although designated an oratio, the present document was obviously written as an introduction to Grant’s edition of the letters, and it is hard to imagine that he ever assembled his students and read it to them. Indeed, in §47 he writes Sed si vestras aures attentae praebueritis, et haec quae a me arido quodam orationis genere proferentur humaniter et amice perlegeritis… [“But if you lend me your eager ears, and read this what is said by me in my arid manner of oratory with a kindly and friendly spirit,”] and his use of the verb perlego shows that he expected his audience to read rather than listen to his words. Then too, he did not end his discourse with the word dixi, in the manner of a genuine academic oration. Considered as a life of Ascham, this contribution is of limited interest save for whatever facts modern biographers may be able to glean from it, but it would be very wrongheaded to dismiss it for this reason. Rather, the Oratio possesses considerably greater interest for literary historians as a manifesto of Renaissance English Humanism. For Grant, the chief interest of Ascham lies in the fact that he was the apostle of Ciceronianism in England, just as his frequent Strassburg correspondent Johann Sturm was in Germany. Other than the fact that, at least as portrayed by Grant, he was a paragon (as a model student, tutor, scholar, loyal friend, assiduous civil servant, and pious Christian), the principal thing about him that interested Grant was that he was a master stylist at Latin prose composition — with good style defined as Ciceronian style — and a leading scholar, at least according to the assumption that the chief purpose of scholarship and erudition is the acquisition of polish and elegance of expression, summed up in the word eloquentia. Indeed, Grant’s motivation in publishing Ascham’s letters and religious tracts was that, in documenting these claims, he suffered under the embarrassment that all of the works Ascham has published in his lifetime (Toxophilus, The Scholemaster, and a short survey of current conditions in Germany) had been written in English, so that it was necessary to place specimens of his Latin writing on the public record. The singlemindedness of Grant’s interest is shown by what he writes at § 27. After he has gone to the trouble of amassing a collection of Ascham’s letters,

Vix crederes quo studio et contentione hoc postulabat in variis literis Anglice scriptis, quas ipse humanissime amplector et diligentissime servo. Quidam etiam a me contenderunt ut has aederem, cum ob suavitatem linguae in qua sunt scriptae, tum ob sentiarum splendorem quo sunt perpolitae. Sunt apud me huiusmodi complures, quarum ego invitatus iucunditate ad meam privatam exercitationem ex Anglico sermone multas in lumen transtuli, sed hae a me conversae lucem ferre nunquam dignabuntur. Si alias posthac eiusdem generis ullo modo comparare potuero, aut ab aliis extorquere, suis splendidis ornatae vestibus in lucem fortasse apparebunt.

[“You would scarcely believe the zeal and urgency with which he demanded this in his various letters written in English, which I myself most affectionately keep and most diligently preserve. Some men press me to publish them, both because of the grace of their writing and the splendor of the sentiments that adorn them. I have many in my possession, of which I, enticed by their pleasantness, have translated many out of English, but my versions will never be worth the publishing. If I can collect others of this kind, or acquire them from others, perhaps they will make a public appearance, dressed in splendid vestments.”]

But he printed only the Latin ones. Only Ascham’s Latin letters, in other words, possess any interest or value, and his English ones are not worthy of inclusion in a published collection, unless, possibly, sufficiently good Latin translations can be procured
spacer3. Identifying the acquisition of proficiency in Greek and Latin and a concomitant achievement of eloquence as the chief object of scholarship and education was scarcely a new idea. John Leland’s epigrams, for example, were only published in 1589, but were written in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and collectively serve as a vivid witness to the heady excitement and self-confidence created by the advent of the New Learning in England. A number of his epigrams articulate this same attitude. One that can be quoted as a sample (VI) stands conspicuously near the beginning of the collection, and a number of its other items contain similar sentiments:

Cana bonas passim cantavit fama Camaenas
Alpinas nunquam transiliisse nives,
Ut Pandionias facundia liquit Athenas,
Venit ad Italicos Musa polita lares.
Fronte tamen salva dicam nunc, audiat ipsa
Roma licet, Musas transiliisse nives.
Nam penitus toto divisis orbe Britannis
Tersa Caemaena dedit verba rotunda loqui.
Illa vetus linguis florebat Roma duabus,
At linguis gaudet terra Britanna tribus.

[“Everywhere honest report has it that the goodly Muses have never crossed over the Alpine snows, that when eloquence abandoned Pandion’s Athens the polished Muse found an Italian home. But, even if Rome herself is listening, I can solemnly aver that the Muses did cross those snows. For the Muse has taught the Britons, though separated from the rest of the world, to speak elegant words with pear-shaped tones. Ancient Rome flourished with two languages, whereas Britain rejoices in three.”]

spacer4. In The Scholemaster Ascham elevated such thinking into pedagogical theory: reflecting the influential thinking of friend Sturmm he stressed the importance of the teaching of eloquence and writing ability based on the study and imitation of Cicero and other good classical models, as well as of absorption of the precepts handed down in such rhetorical textbooks as Cicero’s De Oratore. But Ascham was sufficiently pragmatic that he himself might have found some of Grant’s claims for eloquence breathtaking. In the third portion of his Oratio, in which he exhorts his students to strive for eloquence, Grant informs us (particularly in the passage beginning at §49) that eloquentia is one of the cardinal virtues. It, no less than reason itself, links Man to God, and, taken together with reason, can be equated with the Platonic λόγος:

Qua profecto eloquentia (praeterquam quod nihil cum bestiis commune habeat, sed tota ex ipsa divinitate hausta et delibata, et ita cum ea implicata et cohaerens sit ut haec tria apud Latinos sermo, ratio et Deus, apud Platonum tantum λόγου appellatione includantur, quod verbum nos eloquentiam aptissime dicere possumus), non certe ego video quid et homini ad spem optabilius, ad cognitionem iucundius, ad usum melius, ad gloriam maius, ad potentiam amplius, ad similitudinem divinae menti propius excogitari potest. Sine qua caeterae artes non modo suos fines non tueri, sed mutae, inutiles, nimisque sordidae esse solent. Ut enim hominis decus ingenium, sic illius ingenii lumen est eloquentia.

[“Besides the fact that it has nothing in common with the beasts, but is taken and imbibed from divinity itself, and so tied up and bound together that these three things, speech, reason, and God, are embraced by Plato in the single word logos, which we may most fitly interpret as meaning eloquence, I certainly see nothing more desirable for a man, nothing more favorable for his understanding, nothing better for his use, nothing greater for his glory, nothing superior for his power, and nothing can be devised more similar to the divine mind. Without it, the other arts not only fail to have regard for their proper ends, but become mute, useless and sordid. For, just as Man’s glory is his intellect, thus the light of his intellect is eloquence.”]

One cannot help wondering where this placement of eloquentia in a position of centrality is supposed to leave such other pursuits as philosophy and theology.
spacer 5. Coupled with this is an argument particularly calculated to appeal to the Elizabethan mentality: that eloquence confers enormous prestige (§ 51): NOTE 2

Non ignoro hanc dicendi exercitationem quibusdam rem valde molestam ac laboriosam videri, ideoque illos difficulter adduci posse ut se huic rei penitus dedant, atque in ea comparanda summo studio elaborent. Sed qui magnarum rerum gloriam adamarint, illos neque difficultas quae huic rei inesse videtur absterrere, neque labor frangere, neque desperatio avocare ullo modo poterit. Sed hii potius fructus uberrimos, honores amplissimos, gloriam sempiternam, quae inde paratur, ob oculos sibi semper positam habebunt.

[“I am not unaware that to certain people this discipline of speaking seems very full of toil and trouble, so that it is only with difficulty that they can be induced to apply themselves to this thing wholeheartedly and devote all their zeal to acquiring it. But those who love the glory of great things cannot in any way be frightened off by the difficulty that seems to be inherent in it, nor be deterred by any feelings of hopelessness. Rather, these men will always keep before their eyes the very rich fruits, the lavish honors, and the enduring glory to be had from it.”]

spacerspacer6. In the next generation, there was a pronounced reaction in the form of the so-called anti-Ciceronian movement, in which Roman writers of the Silver Age largely replaced such canonic authors as Cicero and Ovid as objects of study and models for imitatio. Sometimes this reaction against Cicero and the English Ciceronian tradition could be very explicit. What Bacon had to say in The Advancement of Learning (I.iv.2 - 3) is worth quoting in extenso:

Martin Luther, conducted no doubt by a higher providence, but in discourse of reason finding what a province he had undertaken against the bishop of Rome and the degenerate traditions of the church, and finding his own solitude, being no ways aided by the opinions of his own time, was enforced to awake all antiquity, and to call former times to his succours to make a party against the present time. So that the ancient authors, both in divinity and in humanity, which had long time slept in libraries, began generally to be read and revolved. Thus by consequence did draw on a necessity of a more exquisite travail in the languages original, wherein those authors did write, for the better understanding of those authors, and the better advantage of pressing and applying their words. And thereof grew again a delight in their manner of style and phrase, and an admiration of that kind of writing; which was much furthered and precipitated by the enmity and opposition that the propounders of those primitive but seeming new opinions had against the schoolmen; who were generally of the contrary part, and whose writings were altogether in a different style and form; taking liberty to coin and frame new terms of art to express their own sense, and to avoid circuit of speech, without regard to the pureness, pleasantness, and, as I may call it, lawfulness of the phrase or word. And again, because the great la.bnur that then was with the people (of whom the Pharisees were wont to say, EXECRABLIS ISTA TURBA, QUAE NON NOVIT LEGEM) for the winning and persuading of them, there grew of necessity in chief price and request eloquence and variety of discourse, as the fittest and forciblest access into the capacity of the vulgar sort: so that these four causes concurring, the admiration of ancient authors, the hate of the schoolmen, the exact study of languages, and the efficacy of preaching, did bring in an affectionate study of eloquence and copie of speech, which then began to flourish. This grew speedily to an excess; for men began to hunt more after words than matter; more after the choiceness of the phrase, and the round and clean composition of the sentence, and the sweet falling of the clauses, and the varying and illustration of their works with tropes and figures, than after the weight of matter, worth of subject, soundness of argument, life of invention or depth of judgment. Then grew the flowing and watery vein of Osorius the Portugal bishop, to be in price. Then did Sturmius spend such infinite and curious pains upon Cicero the Orator, and Hermogenes the Rhetorician, besides his own books of Periods and Imitation, and the like. Then did Car of Cambridge, and Ascham with their lectures and writings almost deify Cicero and Demosthenes, and allure all young men that were studious, unto that delicate and polished kind of learning. Then did Erasmus take occasion to make the scoffing Echo: DECEM ANNOS CONSUMPSI IN LEGENDO CICERONE; and the Echo answered in Greek, ASINE. Then grew the learning of the schoolmen to be utterly despised as barbarous. In sum, the whole inclination and bent of those times was rather towards copie than weight.
spacer Here, therefore, is the first distemper of learning, when men study words and not matter.

spacer7. In a thoughtful and penetrating article essentially designed to refute Bacon, NOTE 2 Alvin Vos observed:

Even though they were inspired by De Oratore, Ascham and his equally Ciceronian friend in Strasbourg to nevertheless accede to notions about the relationship of words and matter, of rhetoric and philosophy, that are only quasi-Ciceronian. Without ever degenerating into an empty formalism, English Ciceronians enjoin a complicated alliance not merely of rhetoric with philosophy, but of speech and style with religion, politics, and social values. The result is that purity of Ciceronianism serves diagnostically as a gauge of the health of one’s soul and prescriptively as the remedy for all intellectual heterodoxy…Ascham knows very well that the hallmark of Cicero’s rhetorical theory is its insistence on the union of sapientia and eloquentia, on the harmonious partnership of words and matter.

Still and all, as a Professor of Classics, I am obliged to return to the question that eternally occupies members of my profession, why bother to read the classics? Should we not read them to learn what they have to say as much (or, in all probability, a good deal more) than just to observe the way they say it? And even if Humanists like Sturm and Ascham are to be absolved of charges of “empty formalism,” Ascham’s Ciceronianism does at times appear to produce what a modern would regard as alarming intellectual superficiality. In The Scholemaster, for example, he writes “I neuer saw yet any Commentarie vpon Aristotles Logicke, either in Greke or Latin, that euer I lyked, bicause they be rather spent in declaryng scholepoynt rules, than in gathering fit examples for vse and vtterance, either by pen or talke.” This suggests that, in his view, the main point of reading Aristotle was merely to rifle his works for useful rhetorical exempla rather than actual study of what he has to say. Statements like this make one inclined to share Bacon’s view that there was something perverse about Ciceronianism and its singleminded pursuit of eloquentia, and Grant’s Oratio serves as a perfect illustration of what Bacon was talking about.
spacer8. Grant’s Oratio has never been fully translated, but the biographical portion has been partially translated and partly summarized (with an initial blanket acknowledgment of indebtedness) by Dr. Johnson in his “Life of Ascham.” Since Johnson freely interlarded Grant’s information with his own commentary, the reader of that essay has no way of distinguishing the parts by Grant from Johnson’s own contribution. Comparison with the present translation will clarify the question.
9. Grant originally printed his collection of Ascham’s letters in 1576, containing his Oratio and Ascham’s surviving poetry, and then issued three more editions, progressively expanded, in 1578, 1581, and 1590. This last was the basis of the 1703 Oxford edition (which also contains the Oratio but lacks the poetry). The Oratio also appears in Vol. III of The Whole Works of Roger Ascham (ed. the Rev. Dr. Giles, London, 1864), beginning on p. 302. The text of the Oratio was subject to a certain amount of subsequent revisions by Grant, but the version employed here is the original 1576 one. I should add that a translation of sixty of Ascham’s letters themselves was published by Maurice Hatch and Alvin Vos (Bern - New York, 1989), and that a photographic reproduction of the 1703 text is available here (rather oddly, given Ascham’s reputation as a Latin prose stylist, with the exception of the photographic representation just cited, no specimen of his Latin appears available in any modern edition).

 

Notes

NOTE 1 There is a biographical sketch of Grant (by Stephen Wright) in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
spacerNOTE 2 Grant was not so crass as to state explicitly a more instrumental reason for acquiring eloquentia, although everything he writes about Ascham’s life serves to make the unspoken point: proficiency at Latin prose composition could lead to a very successful career. He was both Cambridge University Orator and Latin Secretary to the Privy Council under both Mary and Elizabeth (in this capacity he handled diplomatic correspondence and had a seat on the Council — John Milton performed a similiar function under Cromwell but, unlike Milton, I do not believe anybody has ransacked the diplomatic archives of Europe searching for examples of his writing).
spacerNOTE 3 Alvin Vos, “‘Good Matter and Good Utterance’: The Character of English Ciceronianism,” Studies in English Literature 19 (1979) 3 - 18. Cf. also Thomas M. Greene, “Roger Ascham: The Perfect End of Shooting,” ELH 36 (1969), 609 - 25. The quote is from Vos, pp. 4f. Cf. also J. W. Binns, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England (Leeds, 1990) 270ff, and index s. v. “Ciceronianism” (Binns mentions Grant’s Oratio on p. 176 but failed to appreciate its importance as a document of this movement).