Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/618

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


Renaissance had begun to be felt in England. The oldest English school which has been humanistic from its origin is St Paul's, founded by Dean Colet, who, in 1512, appointed William Lilly to be the first High Master. Lilly was, as we have seen, among the pioneers of Greek study in England, though he is now best remembered by his Latin Grammar. The statutes of St Paul's (1518) enjoin that the Master shall be "learned in good and clean Latin, and also in Greek, if such may be gotten." The proviso implies some scarcity; and in fact it was not, probably, till about 1560 that Greek was thoroughly established among the regular studies of English schools. The statutes of Harrow School (1590) prescribe the teaching of some Greek orators and historians, and of Hesiod's poems. This seems to be one of the earliest instances in our school-statutes where the directions for Greek teaching are precise, and not merely general. Many large public schools, such as Christ's Hospital, Westminster, Merchant Taylors', and Charterhouse, were established in or near London within a century after the foundation of St Paul's School. In all these the basis of study was humanistic; as it was also in many other grammar schools founded, during the same period, in various parts of the country.

A general survey of English humanism in the sixteenth century supplies abundant evidence of zealous work, and of a progress which, before the year 1600, had secured the future of classical studies in England. There were many able teachers, and a few who were really eminent in their day. Yet, in two respects, a comparison with the leading countries of the Continent is disadvantageous for our country at that period. Britain produced in the sixteenth century no scholar of the first rank; though in George Buchanan (1506-82) Scotland could show a consummate writer of the Latin language. And our press sent forth few books which advanced Greek or Latin learning. Linacre's treatise on certain points of Latin usage (De emendata structura Latini sermonis, 1514), a work of the same class as Valla's Elegantiae, is one of the very few English books in that department of knowledge which attained to the distinction of being reprinted abroad, having been recommended to German students by Melanchthon and Camerarius. It was in the seventeenth century that English learning first became an important contributor to the European literature of humanism; and the earliest English name of the first magnitude is that of Richard Bentley. It should be recollected, however, that in the sixteenth century the Greek and Latin languages were not the only channels through which England received the humanism of the Renaissance. English versions of the classics, such as Chapman's Homer, Phaer's Virgil, and North's Plutarch, circulated in a world larger than that of scholars. Italian authors who were themselves representative of the Renaissance also became known in English translations. Thus the rendering of Tasso by Fairfax, and of Ariosto by Harrington, enabled