Ludus literarius: or, The grammar schoole; shewing how to proceede .. both to masters and schollers; onely according to our common grammar.

London, Imprinted by Felix Kyngston for Richard Meighen, 1627.


4to. [xxviii], 339, [i]. “One of four variants with different publishers’ names in the imprint.” ESTC. Roman letter, some Italic. Floriated woodcut initials, grotesque woodcut headpieces, typographical and woodcut ornaments, label of John lawson to pastedown, early mss price mark at head of t-p. Light age yellowing, a little spotting on first few leaves, cut close at head and tail, just touching imprint, running headline and signatures in places, pale waterstain in a few places, heavier on last two leaves. A good copy in modern calf antique, covers bordered with a double blind rule, spine with raised bands morocco label gilt.

Rare edition of this important work on teaching in Grammar schools, one of the earliest such in English, giving tremendous insight into the methods of teaching in the Elizabethan period. “John Brinsley (fl. 1581–1633) was a schoolmaster in Leicestershire who used Lily’s Latin grammar but branched out to develop a reading survey method that was praised by Samuel Hartlib. He married a sister of Bishop Joseph Hall and moved to London, where he wrote and lectured. This work, as the subtitle announces, is ‘intended for the helping of the younger sort of teachers’. It adapts aspects of the traditional humanist education for use in smaller towns. Unlike earlier pedagogical treatises, however, emphasis is placed on close reading, instruction in the vernacular and using translations of the classics. The interlocutors are two schoolmasters, Spoudeus (in Greek, ‘diligent’), who goes to his old friend, Philoponus (‘lover of toil’), for advice about preparing lesson plans”. William E. Engel. ‘John Brinsley, Ludus literarius.’

John Brinsley (1566-1624) graduated with an MA from Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1588, becoming schoolmaster at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, only a few years after Shakespeare putatively attended the grammar school in Stratford, 50 miles away. These schools were a burgeoning feature of local education in the 16th century, catering to the children of a growing middle class in market towns across England and often endowed by successful merchants or, as in the case of Stratford, newly formed town councils. Brinsley’s Ludus literarius (first published in 1612) was intended to guide ‘the younger sort of teachers, and of all schollers’ in a tried and tested application of conventional pedagogical theory. The author advocates an increased use of the vernacular in learning that parallels the contemporary divergence from the original purpose of the schools (to teach Latin grammar), alongside a familiarisation with traditional Latin texts such as those of Ovid, Cicero and Virgil. The text takes the form of a dialogue between two schoolmasters discussing the most effective teaching methods. They refer to perfecting ‘the accedence’ or inflections of Latin, an emphasis later echoed by John Milton in his Accedence commenc’t grammar (written ca 1640), which stresses the importance of familiarisation with the language first, and its grammatical rules second, in order to understand and imitate the classical literary canon. Shakespeare’s infamous ‘small Latin and less Greek’, in the words of his friend Ben Jonson, is commensurate with a formal education not necessarily extending to a university degree; yet his familiarity with classical authors, along with other supposedly advanced literary training, would not have been beyond the reach of a diligent grammar school boy developing his reading and classroom exercises in later life.” Kings College London. ‘The very age and body of the time, Grammar School Education.’

“John Brinsley.. became a ‘minister of the Word,’ and had the care of the public school at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. The famous astrologer, William Lilly, was one of his pupils, as he himself informs us in his curious autobiography. ‘Upon Trinity Sunday 1613,’ he says, ‘my father had me to Ashby-de-la-Zouch to be instructed by one Mr. John Brinsley; one in those times of great abilities for instruction of youth in the Latin and Greek tongues; he was very severe in his life and conversation, and did breed up many scholars for the universities. In religion he was a strict puritan, not conformable wholly to the ceremonies of the church of England’ (Hist, of his Life and Times (1774), 5). Again he says: ‘In the eighteenth year of my age [i.e. in 1619 or 1620] my master Brinsley was enforced from keeping school, being persecuted by the bishop’s officers; he came to London, and then lectured in London, where he afterwards died’ (ib. 8)”. DNB.

ESTC S104677. STC 3770a. Lowndes I 272.