Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
 
The Decay of Learning among Gentlemen
By Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490–1546)
 
From the Governour

THE SECOND occasion wherefore gentlemen’s children seldom have sufficient learning is avarice. For where their parents will not adventure to send them far out of their proper countries, partly for fear of death, which perchance dare not approach them at home with their father; partly for expense of money, which they suppose would be less in their own houses or in a village, with some of their tenants or friends; having seldom any regard to the teacher, whether he be well learned or ignorant. For if they hire a schoolmaster to teach in their houses, they chiefly enquire with how small a salary he will be contented, and never do ensearch how much good learning he hath, and how among well-learned men he is therein esteemed, using therein less diligence than in taking servants, whose service is of much less importance, and to a good schoolmaster is not in profit to be compared. A gentle man, ere he take a cook into his setvice, he will first diligently examine him, how many sorts of meats, potages, and sauces he can perfectly make, and how well he can season them, that they may be both pleasant and nourishing; yea and if it be but a falconer, he will scrupulously enquire what skill he hath in feeding, called diet, and keeping of his hawk from all sickness, also how he can reclaim her and prepare her to flight. And to such a cook or falconer, whom he findeth expert, he spareth not to give much wages with other bounteous rewards. But of a schoolmaster, to whom he will commit his child, to be fed with learning and instructed in virtue, whose life shall be the principal monument of his name and honour, he never maketh further enquiry but where he may have a schoolmaster; and with how little charge; and if one be perchance founden, well learned, but he will not take pains to teach without he may have a great salary, he then speaketh nothing more, or else saith, What shall so much wages be given to a schoolmaster which would keep me two servants? To whom may be said these words, that by his son being well-learned he shall receive more commodity and also worship than by the service of a hundred cooks and falconers.
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  The third cause of this hindrance is negligence of parents, which I do specially note in this point; there have been divers, as well gentle men as of the nobility, that delighting to have their sons excellent in learning have provided for them cunning masters, who substantially have taught them grammar, and very well instructed them to speak Latin elegantly, whereof the parents have taken much delectation; but when they have had of grammar sufficient and be come to the age of fourteen years, and do approach or draw toward the estate of man, which age is called mature or ripe (wherein not only the said learning, continued by much experience, shall be perfectly digested and confirmed in perpetual remembrance, but also more serious learning contained in other liberal sciences, and also philosophy, would then be learned), the parents, that thing nothing regarding, but being sufficed that their children can only speak Latin properly, or make verses without matter or sentence, they from thenceforth do suffer them to live in idleness, or else, putting them to service, do, as it were, banish them from all virtuous study or exercise of that which they before learned; so that we may behold divers young gentle men who, in their infancy and childhood were wondered at for their aptness to learning and prompt speaking of elegant Latin, which now, being men, not only have forgotten their congruity (as is the common word), and uneath can speak one whole sentence in true Latin, but, that worse is, hath all learning in derision, and in scorn thereof will, of wantonness, speak the most barbarously that they can imagine.  2
 
 
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