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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XIV. The Beginnings of English Philosophy

§ 7. William Temple and the Ramists

William Temple passed from Eton to King’s college, Cambridge, in 1573; in due course, he became a fellow of the latter society, and was soon engaged in teaching logic. From about 1582 till about 1585, he was master of Lincoln grammar school. He then became secretary to Sir Philip Sidney (to whom his edition of the Dialectica of Ramus had been dedicated. After the latter’s death, he occupied various secretarial posts, and was in the service of the earl of Essex when he was obliged by the favourite’s fall to leave England. He does not seem to have returned till after the accession of king James. In 1609, he was made provost of Trinity college, Dublin, and, a few months later, master of chancery in Ireland. He was knighted in 1622, and died in January, 1627.

Temple’s important philosophical writings belong to the early part of his career. He was a pupil of Digby at Cambridge, and wrote in terms of warm appreciation of his master’s abilities and fame and of the new life that he had put into philosophical study in England. But he had himself found a more excellent way of reasoning in the logical method of Ramus, then coming to be known in this country. When scarcely twenty years of age, Ramus had startled the university of Paris by his strenuous opposition to the doctrines of Aristotle; he had allied himself to the Calvinists; and he ended his life as a victim of St. Bartholomew’s eve. The protestant schools, accordingly, tended to favour his system, in which logic, as the art of discourse, was assimilated to rhetoric and given a practical character. Ascham, indeed, in a letter of 1552, and, again, in his Scholemaster (1570), expressed his disapproval of it. But, as early as 1573, we hear of its being defended in Cambridge. And, in 1574, when Andrew Melville returned from Geneva and was appointed principal of the university of Glasgow, he “set him wholly to teach things not heard in this country of before,” and the Dialectica of Ramus took the place of Aristotle’s Organon or the scholastic manual elsewhere current in the universities of Great Britain. By his published works, Temple became celebrated on the continent as well as at home as an expositor and defender of Ramist doctrine; and, doubtless, it is owing to his activity that Cambridge acquired a reputation in the early part of the seventeenth century as the leading school of Ramist philosophy. Temple began authorship in 1580, under the pseudonym of Franciscus Mildapettus Navarrenus, with an Admonitio to Digby in defence of the single method of Ramus. Other controversial writings on the same text, against Digby and Piscator of Strassburg, followed in 1581 and 1582. In 1584, he published an annotated edition of Ramus’s Dialectica, and, in the same year, he issued, with a preface by himself, a disputation against Aristotle’s doctrine concerning the generation of simple and complex bodies, written by James Martin of Dunkeld, then a professor at Turin. These two books must have been among the first published by the university press, after the restoration of its licence by Burghley, the chancellor, in this year.

In clearness of thought and argumentative skill, Temple was far superior to Digby. On the more special point in dispute between them—whether the method of knowledge is twofold, from particulars to universals and from universals to particulars, or whether there is only one method of reasoning, that from universals—the truth was not entirely on Temple’s side. Nor had his method anything in common with the induction used in the physical sciences. But the new logic he recommended had the advantage of clearness and practicality, and was free from the complicated subtleties of the traditional systems. That Bacon was acquainted with the works of Digby and Temple is highly probable, though it cannot be conclusively established. Their influence upon him, however, must have consisted mainly in stimulating his interest in the question of method: they did not anticipate his theory of induction.