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English Language begins to be cultivated. Earliest book of Criticism
in English. Examined. Soon followed by others. Early critical systems of the French and Italians. New and superb editions of Gower and Lydgate. Chaucer's monument erected in Westminster Abbey. Chaucer esteemed by the Reformers.
It appears, however, that the cultivation of an English style began to be now regarded. At the general restoration of knowledge and taste, it was a great impediment to the progress of our language, that all the learned and ingenious, aiming at the character of erudition, wrote in Latin. English books were written only by the superficial and illiterate, at a time when judgement and genius should have been exerted in the nice and critical task of polishing a rude speech. Long after the invention of typography, our vernacular style, instead of being strengthened and refined by numerous compositions, was only corrupted with new barbarisms and affectations, for want of able and judicious writers in English. Unless we except sir Thomas More, whose DIALOGUE ON TRIBULATION, and HISTORY OF RICHARD THE THIRD were esteemed standards of style so low as the reign of James the First, Roger Ascham was perhaps the first of our scholars who ventured to break the shackles of Latinity, by publishing his ToxoPHILUS in English ; chiefly with a view of giving a pure and correct model of English composition, or rather of showing how a subject might be treated with grace and propriety in English as well as in Latin. His own vindication of his conduct in attempting this great innovation is too sensible to be omitted, and reflects light on the revolutions of our poetry. “ As for the Lattine or Greeke tongue, euerye thinge is so excellentlye done in Them, that none can do better. In the Englishe tongue contrary, euery thing in a maner so meanlye, both for the matter and handelinge, that no man can do worse. For therein the learned for the most part haue bene alwayes most redye to write. And they which had least hope in Lattine haue bene most bould in Englishe : when surelye euerye man that is most ready to talke, is not most able to write. He that will write well in any tongue, must folow this counsell of Aristotle; to speake as the common people do, to thinke as wise men do. And so shoulde euerye man vnderstand him, and the iudgement of wise men allowe him. Manye Englishe writers haue not done so; but vsinge straunge wordes, as Lattine, French, and Italian, do make all thinges darke and harde. Ones I communed with a man, which reasoned the Englishe tongue to be enriched and encreased thereby, sayinge, Who will not prayse that feast where a man shall drincke at a dinner both wyne, ale, and beere? Truly, quoth I, they be al good, euery one taken by himselfe alone; but if you put Malmesye and sacke, redde
wyne and white, ale and beere, and al in one pot, you shall make a drinke neither easye to be knowen, nor yet holsome for the bodye. Cicero in folowing Isocrates, Plato, and Demosthenes, encreased, the Lattine tongue after another sort. This
because diuers men that write do not know, they can neyther folow it because of their ignoraunce, nor yet will prayse it for uery arrogancy: two faultes seldome the one out of the others companye. Englishe writers by diuersitie of tyme haue taken diuers matters in hand. In our fathers time nothing was red but bookes of fayned cheualrie, wherein a man by readinge should be led to none other ende but only to manslaughter and baudrye. If anye man suppose they were good enough to passe the time withall, he is deceiued. For surely vaine wordes do worke no smal thinge in vaine, ignorant, and yong mindes, specially if they be geuen any thing thervnto of their owne nature. These bookes, as I haue heard say, were made the most part in abbayes and monasteries, a very likely and fit fruite of such an ydle and blind kind of liuinga. In our time now, when
to know much rather than liue wel, very many do write, but after such a fashion as very many do shoote. Some shooters take in hande stronger bowes than they be able to maintaine. This thinge maketh them sometime to ouershoote the marke, sometyme to shoote far wyde and perchance hurt some that loke on. Other, that neuer learned to shoote, nor yet knoweth good shaft nor bowe, will be as busie as the best b.”
Ascham’s example was followed by other learned men. But the chief was Thomas Wilson, who published a system of Logic and RHETORIC, both in English. Of his Logic I have already spoken. I have at present only to speak of the latter, which is not only written in English, but with a view of giving rules for composing in the English language. It appeared in 1553, the first year of queen Mary, and is entitled, The ARTE OF RHETORIKE* for the vse of all suche as are studious of Eloquence, sette forthe in Englishe by THOMAS WILSON. Leonarde Cox,
euery man is
& He says in his Schoolemaster, written soon after the year 1563, “ There be more of these vngracious bookes set out in print within these few monethes, than have bene seene in England many score years before.” B.i. fol. 26 a. edit. 1589. 4to. [These ungracious books could not be recent productions of monasteries, says Dr. Ashby, and quere as to the fact ?-Park.]
b To all the Gentlemen and Yomen of England. Prefixed to Toxophilus, The Schole or partition of shooting, Lond. 1545. 4to.
* [Puttenham tells us that “Master secretary Wilson, giving an English name to his Arte of Logicke, called it Witcraft.” Qu. whether this term was not the conceit of Ralphe Lever, who in 1573 published “The Arte of Reason, rightly term
ed Witcraft, teaching a perfect way to ar-
° Lond. 1553. 4to. Dedicated to John
a schoolmaster, patronised by Farringdon the last abbot of Reading, had published in 1530, as I have observed, an English tract on rhetoric, which is nothing more than a technical and elementary manual. Wilson's treatise is more liberal, and discursive ; illustrating the arts of eloquence by example, and examining and ascertaining the beauties of composition with the speculative skill and sagacity of a critic. It may therefore be justly considered as the first book or system of criticism in our language. A few extracts from so curious a performance need no apology; which will also serve to throw light on the present period, and indeed on our general subject, by displaying the state of critical knowledge, and the ideas of writing, which now prevailed.
I must premise, that Wilson, one of the most accomplished scholars of his time, was originally a fellow of King's College', where he was tutor to the two celebrated youths Henry and Charles Brandon dukes of Suffolk. Being a doctor of laws, he was afterwards one of the ordinary masters of requests, master of saint Katharine's hospital near the Tower, a frequent ambassador from queen Elizabeth to Mary queen of Scots, and into the Low Countries *, a secretary of state and a privy counsellor, and at length, in 1579, dean of Durham. He died in 1581. His remarkable diligence and dispatch in negotiation is said to have resulted from an uncommon strength of memory. It is another proof of his attention to the advancement of our English style, that he translated seven orations of Demosthenes, which, in 1570, he dedicated to sir William Cecile.
Under that chapter of his third book of RhetoRIC which treats of the four parts belonging to elocution, Plainnesse, Aptnesse, Compo
Edward Dimmoke; and that it originated from a late conversation with his lordship, “emonge other talke of learnyng.” It was reprinted by Jhon Kingston in 1560. Lond. 4to. With “A Prologue to the Reader," dated Dec. 7, 1560. Again, 1567, 1580, and 1585. 4to. In the Prologue, he mentions his escape at Rome, which I have above related; and adds, “If others neuer gette more by bookes than I have doen, it wer better be a carter than a scholar, for worldlie profite."
d Admitted scholar in 1541. A native of Lincolnshire. MS. Hatcher.
* (From a Prologue to the reader before the second edition of his Rhetoric in 1560, we learn that he was in Italy and at Rome in 1558, where he was “coumpted an heretike,” for having written his two books on Logic and Rhetoric, where he underwent imprisonment, was convened before the college of Cardinals, and narrowly escaped with life to England, “his deare countrie, out of greate thraldome and furrein bondage.”- PARK.]
e Which had been also translated into VOL. III.
Latin by Nicholas Carr. To whose ver-
[Barneby Barnes has a sonnet in Pierce's Supererogation, in which he speaks of our rhetorician as
Wilson, whose discretion did redresse
Our English barbarism. Haddon in his Poemata, 1567, pays twofold tribute to Wilson's Arts of Logic and Rhetoric; and Dr. Knox, in his Liberal Education, regards the latter of these as doing honour to English literature, if we consider the state of the times.- Park.]
sicion, Exornacion, Wilson has these observations on simplicity of style, which are immediately directed to those who write in the English tongue. “ Among other lessons this should first be learned, that we neuer affect any straunge ynkehorne termes, but to speake as is commonly receiued ; neither seking to be ouer fine, nor yet liuing ouer carelesse, vsing our speache as moste men do, and ordering our wittes as the fewest haue doen. Some seke so farre for outlandishe Englishe, that they forget altogether their mothers language. And I dare sweare this, if some of their mothers were aliue, thei were not able to tel what thei saie: and yet these fine Englishe clerkes wil saie thei speake in their mother tongue, if a man should charge them for counterfeityng the kinges Englishe. Some farre iournied gentlemen at their returne home, like as thei loue to go in forrein apparel, so thei will pouder their talke with ouersea language. He that cometh lately out of Fraunce will talke Frenche Englishe, and neuer blushe at the matter. Another choppes in with Englishe Italianated, and applieth the Italian phraise to our Englishe speakyng: the whiche is, as if an Oratour that professeth to vtter his mynde in plaine Latine, would needes speake Poetrie, and farre fetched colours of straunge antiquitie. The lawier will store his stomacke with the prating of pedlers. The auditour, in makyng his accompt and reckenyng, cometh in with sise sould, and cater denere*, for vjs. and iiijd. The fine courtier will talke nothyng but CHAUCER T. The misticall wisemen, and poeticall clerkes, will speake nothyng but quainte prouerbes, and blinde allegories ; delightyng muche in their owne darknesse, especially when none can tel what thei do saie. The vnlearned or folishe phantasticall, that smelles but of learnyng (svche fellowes as haue seene learned men in their daies) will so Latine their tongues, that the simple cannot but wonder at their talke, and thinke surely thei speake by some reuelacion. I know Them, that thinke RuETORIKE to stand wholie vpon darke wordes ; and he that can catche an ynkehorne terme by the taile, hym thei compt to be a fine Englishman and a good rhetorician'. And the rather to set out
* [i.e. accounts kept in French or Latin, be high in the departments of the law in size sous and quatre deniers.-Ashby.] queen Mary's time, and died in 1579.
+ [And yet Puttenham, a little after. Having told a story from his own knowwards, in the passage quoted by Mr. War- ledge in the year 1553, of a ridiculous oraton (Note f), alleges that the language of tion made in parliament by a new speaker Chaucer was then out of use, which made of the house, who came from Yorkshire, 'it unadvisable for poets to follow it. Spen- and had more knowledge in the affairs of ser however thought otherwise, and Webbe his country, and of the law, than graceseems to have applauded his practice.- fulness or delicacy of language, he proPARK.]
ceeds, “And though graue and wise counf Puttenham, in The Arte of English sellours in their consultations do not vse Poesie, where he treats of style and lan- much superfluous eloquence, and also in guage, brings some illustrations from the
their iudiciall hearings do much mislike practice of oratory in the reign of queen all scholasticall rhetoricks; yet in such a Mary, in whose court he lived: and al- case as it may be (and as this parliament though his book is dated 1589, it was was) if the lord chancelour of England or manifestly written much earlier. He re- archbishop of Canterbury himselfe were to fers to sir Nicholas Bacon, who began to speke, he ought to do it cunningly and elo
this folie, I will adde here svche a letter as William Sommer8 himself could not make a better for that purpose, -deuised by a Lincolneshire man for a voide beneficeh.” This point he illustrates with other familiar and pleasant instances i.
In enforcing the application and explaining the nature of fables, for
quently, which cannot be without the vse for the most part condescend: but herein of figures: and neuerthelesse, none im- we are already ruled by the English Dicpeachment or blemish to the grauitie of tionaries, and other bookes written by their persons or of the cause : wherein I
learned men. Albeit peraduenture some report me to them that knew sir Nicholas small admonition be not impertinent; for Bacon lord keeper of the great seale, or we finde in our English writers many the now lord treasurer of England, and wordes and speeches amendable, and ye haue bene conuersant with their speeches shall see in some many ink-horne termes made in the parliament house and starre so ill-affected brought in by men of learnchamber. From whose lippes I haue seene ing, as preachers and schoolemasters, and to proceede more graue and naturall elo. many straunge termes of other languages quence, than from all the oratours of Ox- by secretaries and marchaunts and traford and Cambridge.--I have come to the ueillours, and many darke wordes and lord keeper sir Nicholas Bacon, and found not vsuall nor well sounding, though they him sitting in his gallery alone, with the be daily spoken at court." Ibid. ch. iii. workes of Quintilian before him. In deede fol. 120, 121. he was a most eloquent man and of rare & King Henry's jester. In another learning and wisdome as euer I knew Eng- place he gives us one of Sommer's jests. land to breed, and one that ioyed as much “William Sommer seying muche adoe for in learned men and men of good witts." accomptes makyng, and that Henry the Lib. iii. ch. ii. pag. 116 seq. What follows Eight wanted money, such as was due soon afterwards is equally apposite: “This to him, And please your grace, quoth he, part in our maker or poet must be heedyly you haue so many Frauditours, so many looked vnto, that it [his language] be na- Conueighers, and so many Deceiuers, to turall, pure, and the most vsuall of all his
get vp your money, that thei get all to countray: and for the same purpose, rather themselues." That is, Auditors, Surveythat which is spoken in the kinges court, ors, and Receivers. fol. 102 b. I have seen or in the good townes and cities within the an old narrative of a progress of king Henry land, than in the marches and frontiers, or the Eighth and queen Katharine to Newin port townes where straungers haunt for bery in Berkshire, where Sommer, who traffike sake, or yet in vniuersities where had accompanied their majesties as courtschollars vse much peevish affectation of buffoon, fell into disgrace with the people words out of the primitiue languages; or for his impertinence, was detained, and finally, in any vplandish village or corner obliged to submit to many ridiculous inof the realme, &c. But he shall follow dignities; but extricated himself from all generally the better brovght vp sort, such his difficulties by comic expedients and as the Greekes call charientes, men ciuill the readiness of his wit. On returning to and graciously behauored and bred. Our court, he gave their majesties, who were maker therefore at these dayes shall not inconsolable for his long absence, a mifollow Piers Plowman, nor Gower, nor Lyd- nute account of these low adventures, with gate, nor yet Chaucer, for their language is which they were infinitely entertained. now out of vse with vs: neither shall he What shall we think of the manners of take the termes of northerne men, suche such a court ? as they vse in daily talke, whether they & Viz.“ Ponderyng, expendyng, and be noblemen or gentlemen, or of their best reuolutyng with myself, your ingent affaclarkes, all is a matter, &c. Ye shall there- bilitie, and ingenious capacitie for munfore take the vsuall speach of the court, dane affaires, I cannot but celebrate and and that of London, and the shires lying extoll your magnificall dexteritie above all abovt London within 1x myles, and not other. For how could you have adapted much aboue. I say not this, but that in suche illustrate prerogative, and dominieuery shyre of England there be gentle- call superioritie, if the fecunditie of your men and others that speke, but specially ingenie had not been so fertile and wonwrite, as good Sovtherne as we of Mid- derfull pregnaunt?”' &c. It is to the lord dlesex or Surrey do, bvt not the common chancellor. See what is said of A. Borde's people of euery shire, to whom the gen- style, at p. 73 of this volume. tlemen, and also their learned clarkes, do i B. ii. fol. 82 b. edit. 1567