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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XIX. English Universities, Schools and Scholarship in the Sixteenth Century

§ 13. Il Cortegiano of Castiglione

It would be impossible to enumerate the works of foreign origin which affected the ideals of manners and instruction in England during Elizabeth’s reign, but account may be taken of certain representative books which were popular enough to demand translation. Il Cortegiano of Castiglione, translated by Hoby as The Courtier (1561), is, of course, much more than a treatise on the up-bringing of youth, but, as presenting a picture of the “perfect man” of the renascence, it had an undoubted, if indirect, effect on higher education in England. Il Cortegiano speedily became cosmopolitan in its vogue. High society in France, Spain and the Low Countries, not less than in Italy, revered it as an inspired guide, supplementing, according to choice, its obvious omissions with respect to the side of religion and the stalwart virtues. The concept of a complete personality constituted of physical gifts, learning, taste and grace of manner was the gift which the Italian revival at its noblest offered to the western peoples. Himself “a perfect Castilio,” Sidney never stirred abroad without The Courtier in his pocket. To Cleland, writing for the new century (The Institution of a Nobleman, 1607), it is the final word on a gentleman’s behaviour. Especially does its spirit breathe through such writers as La Primaudaye and Count Annibale Romei, whose books were in wide circulation at the time when this period was drawing to its close. The French Academy—so Bowes translates the title of La Primaudaye’s work—is written (1577) in dialogue form, and dedicated to Henri III. It is less strictly confined to the courtly ideal than Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano; its gentlemen of Anjou discourse together of the means by which all estates of men may live courteously, happily and with true dignity. The secret of the worthy life lies in the due ordering of home and commonwealth by parent and ruler, “the grace of God working in them.” The best chapter is that on the rearing of children, based upon accepted humanist precedents, though with a vein of Huguenot piety running through it all. The author holds that civility comes not of arms, but of learning and virtue; and, of all means of training, historic studies are the most effective instruments: he bids youth ponder Cyrus, Charlemagne and Francis I. The power of education is such that it can change the temper of whole countries not less than the character of a man. Hence, the modern state should have concern to provide right teaching for all its sons. “In every town of the realm” should be ordained the public teaching of grammar (Latin) to all comers. The popularity of this bulky work is proved by the number of its editions during twenty years. Though written in the Aristotelian vein made familiar by Patrizi and Acontio, the dialogue is modelled on Castiglione, with, it must be said, but little of the grace of Il Cortegiano. Il Galateo (1545), a far better known book, was translated into English (1576) by Peterson. It is a frank handbook of manners, a manual for the schoolboy and the parvenu, and became popular in England under the titles of Refined Courtier and the like, given to it by later editors and adapters. The Courtier’s Academy, a translation, by Kepers, of the Discorsi of Count Annibale Romei of Ferrara (1586), treats of the ideal of personality approved in cultivated society when the renascence was already on the verge of decline. The Elizabethan scholar or merchant was interested, we can believe, in the argument for learning and for wealth as titles to gentilezza, when birth or skill in arms could not be pleaded.

As the century draws to a close, we trace, on the one hand, a gradual enlargement of the concept of what is possible in the way of education for a youth of parts and opportunity, side by side with a process of ossification of school instruction. Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s project of Queene Elizabethes Achademy (1572) was an anticipation of later “academies” and, in a sense, of Milton’s “generous” dream. Gilbert’s scheme of a training in which languages, modern no less than ancient, mathematics and law, are grouped with technical and military exercises is an attempt to bring education into immediate touch with actual life. In essence, it is a protest against the narrow humanism of the public school, the herald of a reaction which was to take one shape in Bacon, and another in Montaigne. Meanwhile, in spite of Ascham, men of the world sent their boys to complete their training abroad. The French court was accounted the best school of courtesy. Venice was the centre for art, and for such sciences as astronomy; Florence for letters. Politics, history, painting, building, scientific invention, the technique of war, drew the interest of Englishmen wherever they sojourned. And the finer minds returned with a deeper and more intelligent patriotism. Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Stow’s Annales, Camden’s Britannia, Holinshed’s Chronicles and its predecessors are evidence of a fuller national self-consciousness. More truly than works of scholarship do these represent the genius of Elizabethan England. For the end of a man’s “whole traine” lay in action rather than in the knowledge itself which equipped him for it. The universities had definitely recognised this as their principal function, and the temper of the English race responded readily to the call.