« PreviousContinue »
M. liable to cenfure, and that the lofs of his pen could not have been easily fupplied. But the truth is, that morality was never fuffered in the days of perfecution to protect herefy; nor are we fure that Afcham was more clear from common failings, than those who fuffered more; and whatever might be his abilities, they were not fo neceffary, but Gardiner could have easily filled his place with another fecretary. Nothing is more vain, than at a distant time to examine the motives of discrimination and partiality; for the inquirer, having confidered intereft and policy, is obliged at last to omit more frequent and more active motives of human conduct, caprice, accident, and private affections.
At that time, fome were punished, many were forborn; and of many why should not Ascham happen to be one? He feems to have been calm and prudent, and content with that peace which he was fuffered to enjoy; a mode of behaviour that seldom fails to produce fecurity. He had been abroad in the last years of king Edward, and had at least given no recent offence. He was certainly, according to his own opinion, not much in danger; for in the next year he refigned his fellowfhip, which by Gardiner's favour he had continued to hold, though not refident; and married Margaret Howe, a young gentlewoman of a good family.
He was diftinguished in this reign by the notice of cardinal Pole, a man of great candour, learning, and gentleness of manners, and particularly eminent for his skill in Latin, who thought highly of Afcham's style ; of which it is no inconfiderable proof, that when Pole was defirous of communicating a fpeech made by himfelf as legate, in parliament, to the pope, he employed Afcham to translate it.
He is faid to have been not only protected by the officers of state, but favoured and countenanced by the queen herself; so that he had no reason of complaint in that reign of turbulence and perfecution: nor was his fortune much mended, when in 1558 his pupil Elizabeth mounted the throne. He was continued in his former employment, with the fame ftipend: but though he was daily admitted to the prefence of the queen, affifted her private ftudies, and partook of her diverfions; fometimes read to her in the learned languages, and fometimes played with her at draughts and chefs; he added nothing to his twenty pounds a year but the prebend of Westwang in the church of York, which was given him the year following. His fortune was therefore not proportionate to the rank which his offices and reputation gave him, or to the favour in which he seemed to ftand with his mistress. Of this parfimonious allotment it is again a hopeless fearch to inquire the reafon. The queen was not naturally bountiful, and perhaps did not think it neceffary to diftinguish by any prodigality of kindness a man who had formerly deferted her, and whom she might ftill fufpect of ferving rather for intereft than affection. Graunt exerts his rhetorical powers in praise. of Afcham's difintereftedness and contempt of money; and declares, that though he was often reproached by his friends with neglect of his own intereft, he never would ask any thing, and inflexibly refused all prefents which his office or imagined intereft induced any to offer him. Camden, however, imputes the narrowness. of his condition to his love of dice and cock-fights: and Graunt, forgetting himfef, allows that Afcham was fometimes thrown into agonies by disappointed expectations.
tations. It may be easily discovered from his Schoolmaster, that he felt his wants, though he might neglect to fupply them; and we are left to suspect that he fhewed his contempt of money only by losing at play. If this was his practice, we may excuse Elizabeth, who knew the domestick character of her fervants, if the did not give much to him who was lavish of a little.
However he might fail in his oeconomy, it were indecent to treat with wanton levity the memory of a man who shared his frailties with all, but whose learning or virtues few can attain, and by whofe excellencies many may be improved, while himself only fuffered by
In the reign of Elizabeth nothing remarkable is known to have befallen him, except that, in 1563, he was invited by Sir Edward Sackville to write the Schoolmafter, a treatise on education, upon an occafion which he relates in the beginning of the book. This work, though begun with alacrity in hopes of a confiderable reward, was interrupted by the death of the patron, and afterwards forrowfully and flowly finished, in the gloom of difappointment, under the preffure of dif trefs. But of the author's difinclination or dejection there can be found no tokens in the work, which is conceived with great vigour, and finished with great accuracy; and perhaps contains the best advice that was ever given for the study of languages.
This treatise he completed, but did not publifh; for that poverty which in our days drives authors fo haftily in fuch numbers to the prefs, in the time of Ascham, I believe, debarred them from it. The printers gave little for a copy, and, if we may believe the tale
of Ralegh's history, were not forward to print what was offered them for nothing. Afcham's book therefore lay unseen in his study, and was at laft dedicated to lord Cecil by his widow.
Afcham never had a robuft or vigorous body, and his excuse for so many hours of diverfion was his inability to endure a long continuance of fedentary thought. In the latter part of his life he found it neceffary to forbear any intense application of the mind from dinner to bed-time, and rofe to read and write early in the morning. He was for fome years hectically feverish; and though he found fome alleviation of his diftemper, never obtained a perfect recovery of his health. The immediate caufe of his laft fickness was too close application to the composition of a poem, which he purposed to prefent to the queen on the day of her acceffion. To finish this, he forbore to fleep at his accustomed hours, till in December 1568 he fell fick of a kind of lingering disease, which Graunt has not named, nor accurately defcribed. The most afflictive fymptom was want of fleep, which he endeavoured to obtain by the motion of a cradle. Growing every day weaker, he found it vain to contend with his distemper, and prepared to die with the refignation and piety of a true Chriftian. He was attended on his death-bed by Gravet, vicar of St. Sepulchre, and Dr. Nowel the learned dean of St. Paul's, who gave ample teftimony to the decency and devotion of his concluding life. He frequently teftified his defire of that dif folution which he foon obtained, His funeral fermon was preached by Dr. Nowel.
Roger Afcham died in the fifty-third year of his age, at a time when, according to the general courfe of life,
much might yet have been expected from him, and when he might have hoped for much from others: but his abilities and his wants were at an end together; and who can determine, whether he was cut off from advantages, or refcued from calamities? He appears to have been not much qualified for the improvement of his fortune. His difpofition was kind and focial; he delighted in the pleafures of converfation, and was probably not much inclined to business. This may be fufpected from the paucity of his writings. He has left little behind him; and of that little nothing was published by himself but the Toxophilus, and the account of Germany. The Schoolmaster was printed by his widow; and the epiftles were collected by Graunt, who dedicated them to queen Elizabeth, that he might have an opportunity of recommending his fon Giles Afcham to her patronage. The dedication was not loft: the young man was made, by the queen's mandate, fellow of a college in Cambridge, where he obtained confiderable reputation. What was the effect of his widow's dedication to Cecil, is not known: it may be hoped that Afcham's works obtained for his family, after his decease, that fupport which he did not in his life very plenteously procure them.
Whether he was poor by his own fault, or the fault of others, cannot now be decided; but it is certain that many have been rich with lefs merit. His philological learning would have gained him honour in any country; and among us it may justly call for that reverence which all nations owe to those who first rouse them from ignorance, and kindle among them the light of literature. Of his manners nothing can be faid but from his own teftimony, and that of his contemporaries.