Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
What Order Should Be in Learning?
By Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 14901546)
From the Governour
NOW let us return to the order of learning apt for a gentle man. Wherein I am of the opinion of Quintilian that I would have him learn Greek and Latin authors, both at one time: or else to begin with Greek, for as much as that it is hardest to come by: by reason of the diversity of tongues which be five in number: and all must be known, or else uneath1 any poet can be well understanded. And if a child do begin therein at seven years of age, he may continually learn Greek authors three years, and in the mean time use the Latin tongue as a familiar language: which in a noble mans son may well come to pass, having none other persons to serve him or keeping him company but such as can speak Latin elegantly. And what doubt is there but so may he as soon speak good Latin, as he may do pure French, which now is brought into as many rules and figures, and as long a grammar as is Latin or Greek. I will not contend who, among them that do write grammars of Greek (which now almost be innumerable), is the best; but that I refer to the discretion of a wise master. Alway I would advise him not to detain the child too long in that tedious labours, either in the Greek or Latin grammar. For a gentle wit is therewith soon fatigate.
Grammar being but an introduction to the understanding of authors, if it be made too long or exquisite to the learner, it in a manner mortifieth his courage: and by that time he cometh to the most sweet and pleasant reading of old authors, the sparks of fervent desire of learning is extinct with the burden of grammar, like as a little fire is soon quenched with a great heap of small sticks: so that it can never come to the principal logs where it should long burn in a great pleasant fire.
Now to follow my purpose: after a few and quick rules of grammar, immediately, or interlacing it therewith, would be read to the child Æsops fables in Greek: in which argument children much do delight. And surely it is a much pleasant lesson and also profitable, as well for that it is elegant and brief (and notwithstanding it hath much variety in words, and therewith much helpeth to the understanding of Greek), as also in those fables is included much moral and politic wisdom. Wherefore, in the teaching of them, the master diligently must gather together those fables, which may be most accommodate to the advancement of some virtue, whereto he perceiveth the child inclined: or to the rebuke of some vice, whereto he findeth his nature disposed. And therein the master ought to exercise his wit, as well to make the child plainly to understand the fable, as also declaring the signification thereof compendiously and to the purpose, foreseen alway, that, as well this lesson, as all other authors which the child shall learn, either Greek or Latin, verse or prose, be perfectly had without the book: whereby he shall not only attain plenty of the tongues called Copie,2 but also increase and nourish remembrance wonderfully.
The next lesson would be some quick and merry dialogues, elect out of Lucian, which be without ribaldry, or too much scorning, for either of them is exactly to be eschewed, specially for a noble man, the one annoying the soul, the other his estimation concerning his gravity. The comedies of Aristophanes may be in the place of Lucian, and by reason that they be in metre they be the sooner learned by heart. I dare make none other comparison between them for offending the friends of them both: but thus much dare I say, that it were better that a child should never read any part of Lucian than all Lucian.
I could rehearse divers other poets which for matter and eloquence be very necessary, but I fear me to be too long from noble Homer: from whom as from a fountain proceeded all eloquence and learning. For in his books be contained, and most perfectly expressed, not only the documents martial and discipline of arms, but also incomparable wisdoms, and instructions for politic governance of people: with the worthy commendation and laud of noble princes: wherewith the readers shall be so all inflamed, that they most fervently shall desire and covet, by the imitation of their virtues, to acquire semblable glory. For the which occasion, Aristotle, most sharpest witted and excellent learned philosopher, as soon as he had received Alexander from King Philip his father, he before any other thing taught him the most noble works of Homer: wherein Alexander found such sweetness and fruit, that ever after he had Homer not only with him in all his journeys, but also laid him under his pillow when he went to rest, and often times would purposely wake some hours of the night, to take as it were his pass time with that most noble poet.
For by the reading of his work called Iliados, where the assembly of the most noble Greeks against Troy is recited with their affairs, he gathered courage and strength against his enemies, wisdom, and eloquence, for consultations, and persuasions to his people and army. And by the other work called Odissea, which recounteth the sundry adventures of the wise Ulysses, he, by the example of Ulysses, apprehended many noble virtues, and also learned to escape the fraud and deceitful imaginations of sundry and subtle crafty wits. Also there shall he learn to ensearch and perceive the manners and conditions of them that be his familiars, sifting out (as I mought say) the best from the worst, whereby he may surely commit his affairs, and trust to every person after his virtues. Therefore I now conclude that there is no lesson for a young gentleman to be compared with Homer, if he be plainly and substantially expounded and declared by the master.