Grocyn, William (DNB00)
|←Grisoni, Giuseppe|| Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23
GROCYN, WILLIAM (1446?-1519), Greek scholar, is described as 'filius tenentis de Colerna' in the Winchester College register. He was therefore born at Colerne, Wiltshire, where Winchester College owned property. His father was probably a copy-holder. The youth was admitted a scholar of Winchester College in September 1463; entered New College, Oxford, in 1465, and became full fellow there in 1467. Bristol is stated to have been his place of residence when he first went to Oxford, but there is no trace of his family in the records of that city. The date usually assigned for his birth is 1442, but he must, in accordance with the statutes, have been under nineteen in 1465 when he left Winchester, and he cannot possibly have been more than twenty-two when elected full fellow of New College in 1467. Hence 1446 seems a more probable date of birth than 1442. While at New College Grocyn acted as tutor to William Warham, who afterwards, when archbishop of Canterbury, was liberal in gifts of preferment. In 1481 Grocyn resigned his fellowship, and was presented to the college living of Newnton, or Newton Longueville, near Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. Soon after 1481 he accepted the office of divinity reader at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he held with his living. In that capacity he took part with three others in a disputation before Richard III and Bishop Waynflete in 1483, when he received a buck and a gift of money from the king. In 1485 he became prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral. In 1488 he resigned his post at Magdalen, and spent two years in Italy. Returning to Oxford in 1491, he rented rooms in Exeter College until 1493. The date of his appointment to the benefice of Deepdene, Surrey, is not known, but he resigned it also in 1493.
The interest of Grocyn's career at Oxford lies in the circumstance that he was among the first—if not the first—to publicly teach Greek in the university. Erasmus (Epist. ccclxiii.) and George Lily, son of William Lily, Grocyn's godson, both assert that Grocyn taught Greek at Oxford before his visit to Italy in 1488. This statement has been disputed on the ground that Oxford provided no opportunities of instruction in Greek before 1490. But Professor Burrows has shown that Thomas Chaundler, warden of New College in Grocyn's day, was a man of singular enlightenment, and that Chaundler invited Cornelio Vitelli, an Italian visitor to Oxford, to act as prælector of the college about 1475. Vitelli was undoubtedly a Greek scholar, and from him Grocyn could readily have obtained tuition in Greek literature at an early date. While in Italy Grocyn spent much time at Florence studying under Politian and Chalcondyles. His friend Linacre went to Italy in 1485, and another friend, William Latimer, followed in 1489; the three often met in Italy, and studied together. Grocyn also made the acquaintance of the great Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. On returning to Oxford Grocyn gave daily lectures in Greek in public. The work was done voluntarily, but the chief students of the day attended. When Erasmus arrived on his first visit to Oxford in 1497, he found Grocyn closely associated with More, Colet, and Linacre in spreading the light of the new learning in the university. Grocyn and Erasmus quickly grew intimate, but Erasmus noted that Grocyn, although a devoted student of the Greek classical writers, still studied the mediæval schoolmen. His preference of Aristotle to Plato was frequent matter of comment, and in his religious views he seems to have been more inclined to conservatism than any of his scholarly friends. About 1499 Aldus, the Venetian printer, printed Linacre's ‘Procli Sphæra,’ to which he prefixed a preface by himself and a letter he had received from Grocyn. Aldus, when introducing Grocyn's letter, describes the writer as 'a man of exceeding skill and universal learning, even in Greek, not to say Latin.' In the letter itself Grocyn thanks Aldus for his kind treatment of their common friend Linacre, and congratulates Aldus on preparing an edition of Aristotle before approaching an edition of Plato. 'For my own part,' he says, 'I think the difference between these philosophers is simply that between πολυμαθή and πολυμυθή' (sic), i.e. a world of science and a world of myths. Encouraging congratulations on other of Aldus's projects conclude the letter, which is dated 'Ex urbe Londini, vi. Calend. Septembris.'
The date at which Grocyn finally removed from Oxford is uncertain. In 1496 he became rector of St. Lawrence Jewry, a living belonging to Balliol College, but the appointment had lapsed on this occasion to the Bishop of London. One 'master Bell' acted for a time as Grocyn's deputy in the parish, and he does not seem to have resided in London doubtedly became his favourite home. At Colet's request he often preached in St. Paul's Cathedral. Very early in Colet's tenure of office he gave a remarkable series of lectures on the book known as 'The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Dionysius.' This mystical account of primitive Christian doctrine had been generally assigned (by Colet among others) to Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Paul's convert. Grocyn boldly contested that theory of authorship, which later criticism has demolished [see under Colet, John]. Mr. Seebohm has treated Grocyn's attack on the old views of authorship of the Dionysian books as wholly original. He was, however, anticipated by Lorenzo Valla. Erasmus described Grocyn's addresses on the subject in his 'Declarationes,' published in 1532.
Linacre, Lily, Colet, More, and Erasmus (when he was in England) were Grocyn's intimate associates in London. More, writing to Colet in Colet's temporary absence about 1504, tells him that 'Grocyn is in your absence the master of my life.' Erasmus a year or so later informs Colet that Grocyn, 'the most upright and best of all Britons,' has undertaken to distribute his 'Adagia' in England. About the same time Grocyn took Erasmus to Lambeth to introduce him to Archbishop Warham. In 1514 Erasmus wrote that when in London he lived at the expense of Grocyn, 'the patron and preceptor of us all.'
Grocyn's residence in London was interrupted in 1506, when his old friend Warham presented him to the mastership of the collegiate church of All Hallows, Maidstone. He contrived, however, to hold the rectory of St. Lawrence Jewry until 1517, and obtained in addition the rectory of Shepperton, which he held from 1504 to 1513, and in 1511 that of East Peckham, on condition of his placing a vicar there. His emoluments were considerable, but he was very generous in his gifts to Erasmus and other friends. Towards the end of his life he suffered from pecuniary difficulties, and borrowed money on his plate. An attack of paralysis in 1518 disabled him. He made his will on 2 June 1519, and died before the October following. He was buried in the church of All Hallows, Maidstone. A monument to his memory has been placed by New College in the church to which he was first presented—that at Newton Longueville. Grocyn was a clever talker, fond of a jest, and always expressing himself briefly and to the point. Until his death, as his will proves, Grocyn, despite his varied learning, adhered strictly to the old form of religious belief.
Except the letter to Aldus and an epigram on a lady who threw a snowball at him (cf. Fuller, Worthies, 1811, ii. 298), no writings by Grocyn are known. Erasmus explains in his dialogue called ‘Ciceronianus’ that weak eyesight made Grocyn chary of writing, but Erasmus praises highly his Ciceronian style in Latin, and was clearly acquainted with some works from his pen. Wood supplies the following list of works: ‘Tractatus contra Hostiolum Jo. Wiclevi,’ ‘Epist. ad Erasmum et alios,’ ‘Grammatica,’ and ‘Vulgaria puerorum,’ to which Tanner adds: ‘Notse in Terentium’ and ‘Isagogicum quoddam.’ Menckenius, in his ‘Life of Politian’ (Leipzig, 1736), refers to ‘Grocyn's epistles to learned men, and especially Erasmus, and other most excellent monuments of his ability.’ But these references are devoid of authority. Wood and Tanner obviously constructed their bibliographies out of vague rumours. It is possible that in his early days Grocyn may have written against Wycliffe's ‘Wicket,’ although the work has never been seen. An interesting catalogue of his library, found in Merton College in 1889, and printed by Professor Burrows for the Oxford Historical Society, illustrates the character of his studies. The inventory was drawn up after his death by his executor, Linacre, and some of his books were disposed of before it was compiled. Little can therefore be inferred by the absence of any well-known author. The printed volumes number 105, and the manuscripts 17. The works of St. Augustine are lavishly represented. There are the Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament, the ‘Concordantiæ Biblii,’ some commentaries on the Psalms and the Sarum Breviary, together with nearly complete copies of Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great. The schoolmen include Anselm, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Ockham, Bonaventure, and Nicholas de Lyra. In the Latin classics Cicero holds the first place, but all the leading authors appear with him, together with Valerius Maximus, Aulus Gellius, Boethius, and Cassiodorus. The Greek classics include only Aristotle and Plutarch. There are many books on astronomy, together with the works of such modern Italians as Ficino, Filelfo, Lorenzo Valla, Æneas Sylvius, Gaguinus, Perotti, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. There is only one work of Erasmus, the ‘Adagia.’ A few of Grocyn's manuscripts were purchased by John Claymond, the president, for Corpus Christi College, and are still in the library there. They include his ‘Theophylact,’ ‘Chrysostom,’ and Suidas's ‘Lexicon.’
By his will, which was dated 2 June 1519, and proved at Lambeth by his executor, Linacre, on 20 July 1522, Grocyn, after a few bequests to friends, including William Lily, his godson, leaves the residue of his property to Linacre, 'to bestowe such parte therof for the wele of my soule and the soules of my fader, moder, benefactors, and all Xtian soules as it shall please hym.' The manner in which Linacre fulfilled this direction is set forth in his accounts of his expenses, which are preserved among the archives of Merton College, Oxford. We thus learn that, besides providing relief for the poor, he purchased books at Louvain for distribution to studious Oxford scholars, and gave 'Master Lilly' 40s. to procure Greek books to give away.
[The most complete account of Grocyn is that appended by Professor M. Burrows to the list of Grocyn's books and Linacre's accounts, as executor, which he printed for the first time from the Merton College MSS. in the Oxf. Hist. Soc.'s Collectanea, 1890, ii. 319-80. See also George Lily's Virorum aliquot ad Britannia … Elogia, 1548, appended to Paolo Giovio's Descriptio Britanniæ; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 30-33; Seebohm's Oxford Reformers; Tanner's Bibl.
Brit.; Lupton's Life of Colet; Knight's Life of Erasmus (where Grocyn's will appears); Erasmi Epistolæ, ed. Leclerc.]