The Dangers of Epitomes and Commonplace Books

Roger Ascham: The Scholemaster

“This is a way of studie, belonging, rather to matter, than to wordes: to memorie, than to vtterance: to those that be learned alreadie, and hath small place at all amonges yong scholers in Grammer scholes. It may proffet priuately some learned men, but it hath hurt generallie learning it selfe, very moch. For by it haue we lost whole Trogus, the best part of T. Liuius, the goodlie Dictionarie of Pompeius festus, a great deale of the Ciuill lawe, and other many notable bookes, for the which cause, I do the more mislike this exercise, both in old and yong.

Epitome, is good priuatelie for himselfe that doth worke it, but ill commonlie for all other that vse other mens labor therein: a silie poore kinde of studie, not vnlike to the doing of those poore folke, which neyther till, nor sowe, nor reape themselues, but gleane by stelth, vpon other mens growndes. Soch, haue emptie barnes, for deare yeares. Grammer scholes haue fewe Epitomes to hurt them, except Epitheta Textoris, and such beggarlie gatheringes, as Horman, whittington, and other like vulgares for making of latines: yea I do wishe, that all rules for yong scholers, were shorter than they be. For without doute, Grammatica it selfe, is sooner and surer learned by examples of good authors, than by the naked rewles of Grammarians. Epitome hurteth more, in the vniuersities and studie of Philosophie: but most of all, in diuinitie it selfe.

In deede bookes of common places be verie necessarie, to induce a man, into an orderlie generall knowledge, how to referre orderlie all that he readeth, ad certa rerum Capita, and not wander in studie. And to that end did P. Lombardus the master of sentences and Ph. Melancthon in our daies, write two notable bookes of common places.

But to dwell in Epitomes and bookes of common places, and not to binde himselfe dailie by orderlie studie, to reade with all diligence, principallie the holyest scripture and withall, the best Doctors, and so to learne to make trewe difference betwixt, the authoritie of the one, and the Counsell of the other, maketh so many seeming, and sonburnt ministers as we haue, whose learning is gotten in a sommer heat, and washed away, with a Christmas snow againe: who neuerthelesse, are lesse to be blamed, than those blind bussardes, who in late yeares, of wilfull maliciousnes, would neyther learne themselues, nor could teach others, any thing at all.”

“We weren’t learning anyway!”


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