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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XIV. English Grammar Schools

§ 1. The transition from the scholastic to the humanistic theory of education

IT was but slowly, and long after the reformation had been carried into effect in England, that the transition from the scholastic to the humanistic theory of education began to be perceptible among the grammar schools of the country. An endeavour has, indeed, been made in recent years to show that the tendencies at work during the reign of Edward VI were essentially reactionary, and that nothing of much importance resulted from the liberal and enlightened policy of Somerset. Such a theory, however, is very far from being borne out by the evidence, which proves that, not only were important new foundations established under his auspices, and subsequently, by Northumberland, but that the views which found expression in their organisation and discipline were virtually identical with those which afterwards obtained under Elizabeth. The great queen, although holding the memory of Somerset in aversion, had always cherished a sisterly regard for the youthful monarch, whose remarkable precocity of intellect, love of learning and strong religious convictions (harmonising, to a great extent, with her own) had commanded the admiration and respect alike of scholars and of politicians during his lifetime. The influences that predominated during the reign of Mary, on the other hand, had been reactionary, and became yet more so under the joint rule of the queen and her consort. But, so soon as Elizabeth found herself “supreme governor” of the church, the Edwardian policy in relation to education was, forthwith, adopted by her as her own—much as the Prayer Book of 1552 was again prescribed, with but slight alterations, for use in the English ritual; and it is to be borne in mind that Burghley had been the personal friend of Somerset, under whom he served as an officer of the crown. Accordingly, it is in the reforms advocated during the reign of Edward, that the subsequent designs of our most discerning legislators are rightly to be regarded as taking their initiative, however much they might be baffled or delayed, for a time, by the selfish aims of courtiers intent on little else save their personal enrichment and that of their families and dependants. In the rapacity of those who should have been foremost in setting an example of self-abnegation, the young king and his adviser encountered, indeed, a resistance which they were but very partially able to overcome.

The latest researches in the history of our public schools exhibit Winchester and Eton, the two most ancient of their number, as designed to enjoy peculiar advantages and an exceptional independence, while, at the same time, occupying the position of training institutions in relation to centres of more advanced education—the former to New college, Oxford, the latter to King’s college, Cambridge. As Winchester college had now been in existence somewhat more, and Eton college but a little less, than two centuries, it becomes interesting to compare the progress of the one with the other, and that of both, in turn, with the development of other great public schools which were subsequently founded—that is to say, with St. Paul’s Christ’s Hospital and Harrow, with Westminster and Merchant Taylors’, with Shrewbury and Rugby: all of which, with the exception of the firstnamed, represent the original design of Edward VI, as carried into effect after Somerset’s death by Northumberland and, subsequently, by Mary and Elizabeth.