1902 Encyclopedia > Education > Education in the Renaissance

(Part 5)

Education in the Renaissance

The education of the Renaissance is best represented by the name of Erasmus, that of the Reformation by the names of Luther and Melanchthon. We have no space to give an account of that marvellous resurrection of the mind and spirit of Europe when touched by the dead hand of an extinct civilization. The history of the revival of letters belongs rather to the general history of literature than to that of education. But there are two names whom we ought not to pass over. Vittorino da Feltre was summoned by the Gonzagas to Mantua in 1424 ; he was lodged in a spacious palace, with galleries, halls, and colonnades decorated with frescoes of playing children. In person he was small, quick, and lively—a born schoolmaster, whose whole time was spent in devotion to his pupils. We are told of the children of his patron, how Prince Gonzaga recited 200 verses of his own composition at the age of fourteen, and how Princess Cecilia wrote elegant Greek at the age of ten. Vittorino died in 1477. He seems to have reached the highest point of excellence as a practical schoolmaster of the Italian Renaissance. Castiglione, on the other hand, has left us in his Cortigiano the sketch of a cultivated nobleman in those most cultivated days. He shows by what precepts and practice the golden youths of Verona and Venice were formed, who live for us in the plays of Shakespeare as models of knightly excellence. For our instruction, it is better to have recourse to the pages of Erasmus. He has written the most minute account of his method of teaching. The child is to be formed into a good Greek and Latin scholar and a pious man. He fully grasps the truth that improvement must be natural and gradual. Letters are to be taught playing. The rules of grammar are to be few and short. Every means of arousing interest in the work is to be fully employed. Erasmus is no Ciceronian. Latin is to be taught so as to be of use—a living language adapted to modern wants. Children should learn an art—painting, sculpture, or architecture. Idleness is above all things to be avoided. The education of girls is as necessary and important as that of boys. Much depends upon home influence; obedience must be strict, but not too severe. We must take account of individual peculiarities, and not force children into cloisters against their will. We shall obtain the best result by following nature. It is easy to see what a contrast this scheme presented to the monkish training,—to the routine of useless technicalities enforced amidst the shouts of teachers and the lamentations of the taught.

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