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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XV. Education

§ 12. Courtly and Private Education: Comments of Clarendon, Peacham, Francis Osborne and others

Notably in France, discontent with current educational practice had led to the institution of “academies” where a combination was sought of the medieval knightly arts with modern studies, as we now understand that term; young men learned horsemanship, the practice of arms and of physical exercises generally, modern languages, history, geography and mathematics, particularly in its application to the art of war. These French academies handed on the tradition that the courts of princes and the houses of great nobles were the natural places of education for those who were to spend their lives in the personal service of the sovereign. In Italy, the princely academies had given birth to a literature devoted to “the doctrine of Courtesy,” of which Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528) may be regarded as the original, and Henry Peacham’s Compleat Gentleman (1622 and frequently reprinted with additions) the most popular English exemplar. Clarendon gave the subject the benefit of his experience and good sense in two very readable dialogues Concerning Education and Of the Want of Respect due to Age.

Peacham advises the study of such branches of knowledge as modern history and geography, astronomy, geometry, music, drawing, painting, all with an eye to the needs of the soldier and man of action, for whose benefit physical training in various forms is prescribed. But his typical gentleman is, also, a virtuoso interested in “antiquities,” and a cultivated man accustomed to sweeten his severer studies by reading poetry, Latin and English; no Greek poet is named. Peacham exhorts his reader to “forget not to speak and write your own [tongue] properly and eloquently,” and to read “the best and purest English”; to which end a long list of poets and prose-writers is given, including the names of Chaucer, Spenser and Bacon, but omitting Shakespeare’s. The manifold interests of a cultured, travelled Englishman of a later date are well illustrated by the mere mention of topics which Evelyn treated in his various essays; these include forestry, architecture, gardening, “sculptura” (engraving), painting, navigation, agriculture, horticulture and the dressing of salads. The list may be compared with the “manual arts” which Locke thought desirable in a gentleman: gardening, woodwork, metalwork, varnishing, graving, the polishing of glass lenses and the cutting of precious stones (Some Thoughts concerning Education).

Higford’s Institution of a Gentleman (1660) and The Courtier’s Calling (1675) by “a Person of Honour” are courtesy books which still afford interest to the student of educational history. Jean Gailhard’s The Compleat Gentleman (1678) and Stephen Penton’s Guardian’s Instruction, written between 1681 and 1687, and his New Instructions to the Guardian (1694), although dealing with the same theme, take different lines, Gailhard recommending private education and foreign travel with a tutor (he had been a tutor himself), and Penton, sometime principal of St. Edmund hall, Oxford, preferring a university education. Both books appear to have been familiar to Locke when he wrote Some Thoughts. The courtesy books proper come to an inglorious termination in such compilations as The Fine Gentleman (1732) of “Mr. Costeker.”

Variants of the courtesy books are Francis Osborne’s Advice to a Son (6th edition, 1658), The Gentleman’s Calling and Clement Ellis’s The Gentile (i. e. “genteel”) Sinner (2nd edition, 1661). Osborne’s philosophy of life is that of his friend, Thomas Hobbes; in this popular book he displays much contempt for universities and those long resident in them, and is without any belief whatever in a gentleman’s need for “learning” as usually acquired. The other two works are of a sermonising, even ranting type, abounding in generalities, but altogether wanting in the directness of earlier books on the upbringing of a gentleman.