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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XV. English and Scottish Education. Universities and Public Schools to the Time of Colet

§ 19. The Hour before the Renascence

Of the Humanities as such, the fourteenth century was strangely innocent. The cataloguer of the Peterhouse library of 1418 assigned a special place to chronicles. He placed under this head Cassiodorus, Valerius Maximus and Sallust, with Vegetius, Frontinus, Aimonius of Fleury and the anonymous writer of a treatise De adventu Normannorum in Angliam et de jure quod habuit Willelmus bastardus ad regnum Angliae. Quintilian, Macrobius and Seneca he classed as natural philosophers. Poetry he conjoined with grammar; and, with Priscian, Hugucio and Alexander de Villa Dei he ranked Ovid, Statius and Lucan. When, with them, they bring the Epistles of Francis Petrarch, we catch the glimmering light before the dawn. Twenty-two years later (1440), Robert Alne lent to his old friend John Ottryngham, master of Michaelhouse, who had been admitted with him as a fellow of Peterhouse on 5 October, 1400, a copy of Petrarch’s De Remediis utriusque Fortunae.

  • It is scarcely thirty years ago, when all that was taught in the university of Cambridge was Alexander, the Little Logicals (as they call them) and those old exercises out of Aristotle, and quaestiones taken from Duns Scotus. As time went on, polite learning was introduced; to this was added a knowledge of mathematics; a new or at least a regenerated Aristotle sprang up; then came an acquaintance with Greek, and with a host of new authors whose very names had before been unkown, even to their profoundest doctors.
  • So wrote Erasmus in 1516.

    It was to men well known to Erasmus that the English universities and English schools owed educational reform. Grocyn and Linacre brought Greek to Oxford; but it was John Colet who introduced to that university a sane and natural method of Scripture exposition, and it was John Colet, too, who took Greek to the English public school. In 1510, as dean of St. Paul’, he founded a school in the churchyard of his cathedral, where 153 boys, who could already read and write and were of “good parts and capacities,” should be taught good literature, both Greek and Latin, and be brought up in the knowledge of Christ. “Lift up your little white hands for me,” he wrote in the preface to the Latin grammar which he composed for the use of his scholars. The petition has the ring of the medieval founder; but with the so-called Lilly’s Grammar and with Colet’s teaching of the catechism, the articles and the ten commandments in the vulgar tongue began the modern period of English middle class education.