Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Strode, Ralph

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STRODE, RALPH (fl. 1350–1400), schoolman, was perhaps born, like most of the name, in the west of England. The Scottish origin with which he is often credited is an invention of Dempster. He was educated at Merton College, Oxford, of which he became a fellow before 1360, and where John Wycliffe was his colleague. Strode acquired a high reputation as a teacher of formal logic and scholastic philosophy, and wrote educational treatises which had a wide vogue. His tendencies seem to have been realistic, but he followed in the footsteps of Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventura, the inaugurators of that ‘school of the middle’ whose members were called nominalists by extreme realists, and realists by extreme nominalists. An important work by him called ‘Logica’ seems to have perished, but fragments of his logical system have been preserved in his treatises ‘Consequentiæ’ and ‘Obligationes,’ which were printed in 1477 and 1507, with the commentaries of Sermoneta and other logicians. The ‘Consequentiæ’ explored ‘with appalling thoroughness’ certain departments of logic (Prantl), and provided an almost interminable series of rules for syllogistic reasoning. The ‘Obligationes,’ called by Strode himself ‘Scholastica Militia,’ consisted of formal exercises in scholastic dialectics. Strode at the same time took part in theological controversy, and stoutly contested Wycliffe's doctrine of predestination as destroying all hope among men and denying free-will. He argued that, though apostolic poverty was better than wealth, the possession of wealth by the clergy was not sinful, and it was capable in their hands of beneficial application. Wycliffe's scheme for changing the church's constitution he considered foolish and wrong because impracticable. Strode took his stand with Jerome and St. Augustine in insisting that the peace of the church must be maintained even at the risk of tolerating abuses. None of Strode's theological writings survive, but they evoked a reply from Wycliffe. This is extant in ‘Responsiones ad Rodolphum Strodum,’ a manuscript as yet unprinted in the Imperial Library of Vienna (No. 3926). Wycliffe's ‘Responsiones’ define Strode's theological position. The tone of the discussion was, it is clear from Wycliffe's contribution, unusually friendly and courteous. The reformer reminds Strode that he was ‘homo quem novistis in scholis’ (i.e. at Merton College).

Wycliffe was not the only distinguished writer of the time with whom Strode was acquainted. At the end of Chaucer's ‘Troylus and Cryseyde,’ written between 1372 and 1386, the poet penned a dedication of his work to the poet John Gower and the ‘philosophical Strode’ conjointly. Chaucer's lines run:

    O moral Gower, this booke I directe
    To thee, and to the philosophical Strode,
    To vouchensauf ther nede is to correcte,
    Of youre benignetes and zeles gode.

There is every reason to doubt the accuracy of the oft-repeated statement that Strode was tutor to the poet's son Lewis while the latter was a student at Merton College in 1391. For this son Chaucer wrote his ‘Treatise on the Astrolabe’ in that year, and in one manuscript of the work (Dd. 5, 3, in Cambridge University Library) the colophon at the end of pt. ii. § 40 recites: ‘Explicit tractatus de conclusionibus Astrolabi compilatus per Galfridium Chaucier ad Filium suum Lodewicum Scholarem tunc temporis Oxonie, ac sub tutela illius nobilissimi philosophi Magistri N. Strode.’ These words were evidently added towards the end of the fifteenth century, long after the manuscript was written. The script is ornate, and, although the initial before Strode's name is usually read ‘N,’ it might stand for ‘R.’ In any case it seems probable that the reference, though a mere erroneous guess, was to Ralph the logician, and may be explained as an attempt to throw light on the ‘Troylus’ dedication.

Lydgate and others of Chaucer's disciples, as though merely following Chaucer's precedent in the dedication to ‘Troylus,’ often linked Strode's name with Gower's, but Strode himself seems to have essayed poetic composition. The ‘Vetus Catalogus’ of the fellows of Merton College, written in the fifteenth century, adds to Strode's name the gloss: ‘Nobilis poeta fuit et versificavit librum elegiacum vocatum Phantasma Radulphi.’ No mention is made in the catalogue of Strode's logical or theological work. John Leland (1506–1552) [q. v.], who had access to the Merton ‘Vetus Catalogus,’ expands, in his ‘Commentarii’ (Oxford, 1709), its description of Strode into an elaborate statement of Strode's skill in elegiac poetry, but does not pretend that he personally had access to his work, and makes no mention of Strode in any other capacity than that of an amatory poet. Bale, in the first edition of his ‘Britanniæ Scriptores’ (1548), treats Strode exclusively as a logician and a depraved adversary of Wycliffe. Incidentally he notes that Strode was an Englishman, though John Major had erroneously introduced his name into his ‘History of the Scots’ in 1521. In the next edition of Bale's ‘Scriptores’ (1557), where Strode's biography was liberally expanded, he was described as a poet of eminence. Chaucer was credited with having designated him as an English poet at the close of ‘Troylus.’ To Strode Bale now allotted, in addition to his logical and theological tracts, two new literary works, viz. the ‘Phantasma Radulphi’ and (on the authority of Nicholas Brigham [q. v.], in a lost work, ‘De Venatione rerum Memorabilium’) an ‘Itinerarium Terræ Sanctæ’ (Bale, Scriptores, edited by R. L. Poole from Selden MS. Sup. 64, f. 107). Pits and Dempster recklessly amplified, after their wont, Bale's list of Strode's compositions. Neither of the literary works assigned to Strode by Bale is known to be extant. The present writer has suggested as possible that the fine fourteenth-century elegiac poem ‘The Pearl’ (printed in 1891) may be identical with the ‘Phantasma Radulphi.’ The author of ‘The Pearl’ was also responsible for three other poems—‘Cleanness,’ ‘Patience,’ and the romance of ‘Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight.’ The poet was clearly from a west midland district, and, although Strode's birthplace is not determined, he doubtless belonged to one of the Strode families near that part of the country.

It is noteworthy that soon after the references to Strode cease in the Merton records, a ‘Radulphus Strode’ obtained a reputation as a lawyer in London. He was common serjeant of the city between 1375 and 1385, and was granted the gate of Aldrich-gate, i.e. Aldersgate. He died in 1387, when his will was proved in the archdeaconry court of London; but, though duly indexed in the archives of the archdeaconry now at Somerset House, the document itself is missing. The will of his widow Emma was proved in May 1394 in the commissary court of London (cf. Liber Albus Letter-book, H, 11). Her executors were her son Ralph and Margery, wife of Thomas Lucas, citizen and mercer of London. The fact that Chaucer was in possession of Aldgate, and resided there at the same date as the Common-serjeant Strode occupied Aldersgate, suggests the possibility of friendly intercourse between the two.

[The Merton College Register, the mentions of Strode in Chaucer's works, and the accounts of Leland and Bale are the sole authorities of any historical value. John Pits, in his amplification of Bale, adds gratuitously that Strode travelled in France and Italy and was a jocular conversationalist. Dempster, in his Hist. Eccl. Gentis Scotorum, characteristically described Strode as a Scottish monk who received his early education at Dryburgh Abbey, adducing as his authority a lost work by Gilbert Brown [q. v.] Dempster also extends his alleged travels to Germany and the Holy Land, and includes in his literary work Fabulæ Lepidæ Versu and Panegyrici Versu Patrio. Simler and Possevino vaguely describe Strode as a monk, but Quétif and Echard, the historians of the Dominican order, claim him ‘ex fide Dempsteri’ as a distinguished member of their order. Dempster's story of Strode's Scottish origin has been widely adopted, but may safely be rejected as apocryphal. An ingenious endeavour has been made by Mr. J. T. T. Brown in the Scottish Antiquary, vol. xii. 1897, to differentiate Strode the schoolman from Strode the poet. Mr. Brown argues that the titles of the poetic works associated with Strode's name by Dempster and others were confused descriptions of the works of a Scottish poet, David Rate, confessor of James I of Scotland, vicar of the Dominican order in Scotland, whose Scottish poems in Cambridge Univ. Libr. MSS. Kk. i. 5 attest his literary skill, his nimble wit, and a knowledge of foreign literature. Mr. Brown is of opinion that the compiler of the Vetus Catalogus of Merton read ‘Ratis Raving’ (cf. Early English Text Soc. ed. Lumby) as ‘Rafs Raving,’ and rendered the latter by Phantasma Radulphi; claims that Fabulæ Lepidæ Versu exactly describes at least four poems ascribed to Rate in Ashmole MS. 61—namely, The Romance of Ysombras, The Romance of the Erle of Tolous, The Romance Lybeaus Dysconius, and A Quarrel among the Carpenter's Tools; that Panegyrici Versu Patrio describes poems by Rate found in both the Ashmole and Cambr. MSS., like A Father's Instruction to his Son, A Mother's Instruction to her Daughter, The Thewis of Wysmen, The Thewis of Gud Women. … Next there is Itinerarium Terræ Sanctæ, and again we have a poem by David Rate in Ashmole MS. 61, The Stasyons of Jerusalem. That the author of that poem himself visited the places he describes is not doubtful. He says he was there. Prantl's Geschichte der Logik gives a summary account of Strode's philosophy; Mr. H. Dziewicki, the editor of Wycliffe, has kindly given the writer the benefit of his views on certain points. The various editions of Strode's Consequentiæ and Obligationes are catalogued in Hain's Repertorium Bibliographicum, vol. ii. Nos. 15093–15100; cf. Copinger's Supplement, pt. i. p. 451.]

I. G.