Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mulcaster, Richard

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MULCASTER, RICHARD (1530?–1611), schoolmaster and author, is commonly said to have been a native of Carlisle. But his most recent biographer, R. H. Quick, on evidence supplied by one of his descendants, considers his birthplace to have been ‘the old border tower of Brackenhill Castle, on the river Line.’ His father, William Mulcaster, was of an old border family, who traced back their history to the time of William Rufus, and had been active in repelling the incursions of the Scots. Richard, born in 1530 or 1531, was sent to Eton, where Udall was head-master from 1534 to 1543. From Udall he may have caught some tincture of the severity he afterwards himself showed as a schoolmaster, as well as his fondness for dramatic composition. In 1548 Mulcaster was elected scholar of King's College, Cambridge, but soon migrated to Christ Church, Oxford, where in 1555 he was elected a student, and proceeded M.A. in the following year. While still in residence he added to his classical studies an acquaintance with Hebrew and other oriental languages, which won from Hugh Broughton the commendation that he was one of the best Hebrew scholars of his age. In 1559 he was working as a schoolmaster in London. The date is fixed by a passage in his ‘Positions,’ published in 1581, in which he speaks of having been engaged in teaching twenty-two years. His reputation as a teacher became so well known that when, in 1561, the newly founded school of the Merchant Taylors was ready to be opened, Mulcaster was appointed (24 Sept.) its first head-master. In this capacity he served till 1586 with great ability and benefit to the school, though his rugged temper produced occasional friction between him and the governing body. There is good reason to believe that Spenser the poet was one of his earliest pupils. On 28 June of that year he sent in his resignation, and on the following 8 Nov. a successor was appointed. His farewell to the school was the bitter apophthegm, quoted also by Bishop Pilkington, ‘Fidelis servus perpetuus asinus.’

Wilson, the historian of Merchant Taylors' School, says that immediately on leaving that school Mulcaster became surmaster of St. Paul's (p. 1177); but this is to all appearance an error (Gardiner, Admission Registers, p. 29). He was made vicar of Cranbrook, Kent, 1 April 1590, and prebendary of Gatesbury, Sarum, 29 April 1594. On 5 Aug. 1596, being then at least in his sixty-sixth year, he was elected high-master of St. Paul's School. He held the office for twelve years more, till his resignation in the spring of 1608. In 1598 Elizabeth, who had always shown a kindly interest in his welfare, had presented him to the rectory of Stanford Rivers in Essex. On 6 Aug. 1609 he lost his wife Katherine, with whom he had been united fifty years, and he recorded his loss in a feeling epitaph. He himself died on 15 April 1611, and was laid by his wife's side, in the chancel of Stanford Rivers Church, 26 April, but no memorial marks the spot.

Mulcaster's work as a teacher has not yet been fully appreciated. Fuller (who mistakenly calls him a Westmoreland worthy) has told us how far the ‘prayers of cockering mothers prevailed with him,’ which was just as far, in truth, as the ‘requests of indulgent fathers, rather increasing than mitigating his severity on their offending child.’ Yet his memory was revered by some of his greatest scholars. Bishop Andrewes kept his portrait over his study door, and, besides many substantial acts of friendship to him during his life, left his son, Peter Mulcaster, a legacy at his death.

In several respects Mulcaster's views on education were in advance of his age. He taught his boys music and singing, and had a hand in the ‘Discantus, Cantiones, &c.,’ of Tallis and Bird (cf. Whitelocke, Liber Fam. Camden Soc.). His pupils frequently performed masks, interludes, and the like before Elizabeth and the court. He insisted on the importance of physical training, and asserted the right of girls to receive as good a mental education as boys. If he would not ‘set young maidens to public grammar schools,’ it was only because that was ‘a thing not used in my country.’ He advocated a system of special training for men designed to be schoolmasters.

He wrote:

  1. ‘Positions, wherein those primitive Circumstances be examined, which are necessarie for the Training up of Children, either for Skill in their Book or Health in their Bodie,’ &c., London, 1581, small 4to, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. Hazlitt and Lowndes mention editions of 1587 and 1591; it was re-edited by Quick in 1888.
  2. ‘The First Part of the Elementarie, which entreateth chefelie of the right Writing of our English Tung,’ London, 1582, small 4to. No second part of this is known to have appeared.
  3. Latin verses prefixed to Baret's ‘Alvearie,’ 1580; Ocland's ‘Anglorum Prœlia’ and ‘Eirenarchia,’ 1580 and 1582; Hakluyt's ‘Voyages,’ and others.
  4. ‘Catechismus Paulinus, in vsum Scholæ Paulinæ conscriptus, ad formam parui illius Anglici Catechismi qui pueris in communi precum Anglicarum libro ediscendus proponitur,’ London, 1599, reprinted 1601, small 8vo; preface dated 17 Nov. 1599, in which he speaks of the great difficulties he had to contend with on first entering upon office at St. Paul's.
  5. 'In Mortem Serenissimæ Reginæ Elizabethæ Nænia consolans,' London, 1603, small 4to, followed by a version in English.

[Articles in Gent. Mag. 1800 pt. i. pp. 419–21, 511–12, pt. ii. pp. 603–4, signed E. H. (the late Sir Henry Ellis?); H. B. Wilson's History of Merchant Taylors' School; Collier's Annals of the Stage, 1831, i. 205, 208–9, 248–9, and Bibliog. Account of Early English Lit.; Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum, ii. 60–1; Wood's Athenæ; Knight's Colet (the R. Mulcaster who translated Fortescue's work was Robert Mulcaster); Warton's English Poetry; Corser's Collectanea, pt. v. p. 137; Hazlitt's Handbook to the Popular Lit. A letter from Mulcaster to Sir Philip Sydney is said to be ‘among the letters at Penshurst.’ To the edition of the Positions by Robert Hebert Quick [q. v.] London, 1888, to which was appended an account of Mulcaster and his writings, enriched by communications from the Rev. Richard Mulcaster, of Anglesea House, Paignton; lecture by Mr. Foster Watson, printed in the Educational Times, 1 Jan. 1893.]

J. H. L.