London: [in aedibus Thomae Bertheleti], An. 1546.
Octavo: 13 x 9 cm. , 216 leaves. Collation: A8, A-Z8, Aa-Dd8
FOURTH EDITION (first ed. 1531), the last lifetime edition for both the author and Henry VIII.
Bound in 20th c. green morocco crushed morocco, ruled in gold, a.e.g. The title page is framed by an architectural woodcut border (Mckerrow and Ferguson 30) dated 1534 in the sill. The text is printed in Black Letter. The colophon appears on the verso of the final leaf. Contemporary signature shaved at head of title. Two 16th c. ownership inscriptions, both cropped. A very few 16th c. annotations. Small wormhole slightly affecting the text, a few minor blemishes. Title and verso of last leaf lightly soiled.
Thomas Elyot was a humanist and diplomat, who served King Henry VIII as ambassador to the court of Charles V during Henry’s divorce crisis and, while on the continent, was charged with the capture of William Tyndale. Of Elyot’s three major works: “The Boke named the Governour”(1531), a Latin-English “Dictionary”(1538) and the “Castel of Health”(1539), it is the “Governour” that proved most influential, brought Elyot preferment at Henry’s court, and established his reputation as a humanist scholar of the first order.
“Sir Thomas Elyot’s ‘Boke named the Governour’, first published in 1531, is a composite treatise dealing with political theory, education and moral philosophy; it seeks to set out a new way of life for members of the English governing class… The book falls, topically, into three sections. Its first three chapters enunciate a monarchical political theory; the remainder of the first book presents a programme of education for the minds and bodies of prospective governors; Books II and III describe virtues appropriate to rulers.
“In many ways Elyot’s political theory is the most significant part of the work. He defines a public weal (a term which he prefers to common weal) as a society made up of ‘sundry estates and degrees of men.’ At the apex of the hierarchical pyramid there must be a single ruler, the king. Monarchy is the only natural and proper form of government; God has ordained it, as the Bible makes clear, and history has shown that it can preserve peace and order while other systems bring only chaos….
“But kings cannot rule unaided; they need the help of inferior governors, or magistrates, as Elyot calls them, and these governors must be properly trained. Since England, according to Elyot, had suffered a deplorable ‘decay of learning among gentlemen’, it was necessary to institute a radically improved educational system. He would have aspiring governors trained in the classics. They are to begin the study of Latin and Greek when they are seven and continue until they have read virtually all the outstanding authors of antiquity: Homer, Vergil, Lucian, Aristophanes, Ovid, Cicero, Quintilian, Livy, Xenophon, Caesar, Aristotle and Plato….
“Lest the student be worn out with strenuous study, he is permitted various avocations. He may practice music, painting or sculpture, but only ‘for recreation after tedious or laborious affairs.’ He should, too, develop his body, particularly by hunting, shooting with the long bow (which ‘incomparably excelleth all other exercise’) and dancing (which should teach moral lessons allegorically).
“The last two books of the ‘Governour’ discuss virtues which Elyot thinks essential in members of the ruling class. His procedure is generally to define each virtue, then to give historical examples of its operation. Two of his illustrative tales are particularly notable: the ‘wonderful historie of Titus and Gisippus,’ taken from the ‘Decameron’ and constituting the earliest known translation of Boccaccio into English, shows Elyot at his engaging best as a story-teller and stylist; and the account of Prince Hal’s wrath (Book II, Ch. VI), repeated by Hall, Holinshed and Shakespeare, has not been traced to a source earlier than the ‘Governour’ and may reveal Elyot transcribing a bit of traditional lore.
“Several years after the publication of the ‘Governour’, Elyot wrote that in it one of his aims had been to ‘augment our English tongue, whereby men should as well express most abundantly the thing that they conceive in their hearts (wherefore language was ordained), having words apt for the purpose, as also interpret out of Greek, Latin, or any other tongue into English as sufficiently as out of any one of the said tongues into another.’ The ‘Governour’s importance in the development of English prose is worth underlining; it is easy to forget how little the vernacular had been used for writing before the days of More and Elyot (Roger Ascham’s celebrated ‘Toxophilus’ did not appear until 1545, a year before Elyot’s death).
“The ‘Governour’ remained a work of considerable influence for a century after its publication. It was one of the books purchased by the tutors of King James VI for the young king to study and may possibly have helped shape his ideas about the powers of a monarch. Shakespeare almost certainly knew and used it, for the passages on political theory in ‘Henry V’ and ‘Troilus and Cressida’ include remarkably close verbal echoes of Elyot’s first chapters. The writers of the courtesy books so popular in Elizabethan and Jacobean England –Peacham, for instance- also owe much to the ‘Governour’, for it was the first English work in the genre and set the tone for its successors.”(S.E. Lehmberg).
STC 7638; PMM 61. Title page border: Mckerrow and Ferguson 30; Literature: S. E. Lehmberg, “Sir Thomas Elyot, Tudor Humanist”