Lily, William (DNB00)

LILY, WILLIAM (1468?–1522), grammarian, was born at Odiham in Hampshire. As Holland and Weever agree in giving the age at time of death, recorded on the tablet to his memory in the old St. Paul's, as fifty-four, and as Lily certainly died in 1522, he was in all probability born in 1468. He is said to have entered Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1486, two or three years after Colet. His choice of a college may have been influenced by the fact that Grocyn, then reader in divinity there, was his godfather. After graduating in arts he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and on his return made a prolonged stay in Rhodes, which the garrison of the Knights of St. John then made a safe retreat for western Christians. Passing thence to Italy, he studied under Sulpitius and Pomponius Lætus, and thus perfected himself not only in the Latin and Greek tongues, but also in the knowledge of classical antiquity for which he was afterwards noted (Beati Rhenani Ep. ad Bilibaldum; Sir T. Elyot, Governour, ed. 1883, i. xxxvi). On his return to England he shared with Grocyn and Linacre the honour of being one of the earliest Greek scholars in the country. He is probably the Willelmus Lilye, ‘scholaris,’ who was presented to the rectory of Holcot in Northamptonshire, 24 May 1492 (Lansdowne MS. 979, f. 32). The presentation was made by John Kendall [see under Kendall, John, d. 1485], prior of the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, a fraternity with which Lily had become acquainted in Rhodes. It is certain that at one period of his life he contemplated entering the priesthood (Stapleton, Tres Thomæ, 1689, p. 7). He resigned the benefice in 1495, and afterwards married; it may therefore be presumed that he had not proceeded further than the minor orders of the church.

For some years afterwards Lily was engaged in the work of teaching in London, and was on terms of close intimacy with More. At his request Lily translated from the Italian the ‘Sorte composite per lo nobile ingegno di Lor. Spirito Perugino,’ a singular treatise on divination by throws of the dice, first printed at Brescia in 1488. He also joined More in friendly rivalry in the task of translating epigrams from the Greek Anthology into Latin elegiacs. This joint production was published in 1518 under the title of ‘Progymnasmata,’ and is an evidence of the flexibility of mind and command over both languages possessed by the two scholars. It is often hard to decide to which of the two the palm should be awarded. To this period also belongs the set of congratulatory verses which he wrote on the landing of Philip the Fair, 15 Jan. 1505–6.

When Colet was founding his new school in St. Paul's Churchyard, he saw in Lily one to whom he might safely entrust the conduct of it as its first high master. He was formally appointed to the office in 1512, when the building was finished (Gardiner, Admission Registers of St. Paul's School); but, as his son George speaks of him as having been master for fifteen years, it is probable that for some time previously he had been teaching a nucleus of boys gradually brought together for the purpose. His tenure of the high mastership was not a long one, but he sent out in the course of it some very distinguished men—Lupset, Denny, Edward, first baron North, Leland, and Sir William Paget. There is no authority for the story of his barbarous severity towards his scholars, which popular authors have long accepted (see the present writer's Vitrier and Colet, App. B, and his Life of Dean Colet, p. 261). In the summer of 1522 Lily was ready with a panegyric in Latin verse, and an address to be pronounced by one of his scholars when the Emperor Charles V rode past. But before the end of that year he died. Bishop Kennett gives the date (Lansdowne MS. 979, as above) as 5 Cal. March (25 Feb.) 1522–3; but according to Mr. Gardiner's ‘Admission Registers,’ a successor in the high mastership was appointed ‘vice Lily deceased’ on 10 Dec. 1522. His death was hastened, if not caused, by an injudicious operation for a boil or carbuncle which had formed upon his hip, and which had become inflamed by improper treatment. The operation was against the strongly expressed opinion of Linacre. Lily was buried in Pardon churchyard, adjoining St. Paul's Cathedral. On the demolition of the cloister there (by the Protector Somerset about 1549), his son George caused the tablet from his tomb to be set up with an additional inscription on the inside wall of St. Paul's Cathedral, near the north door. By his wife Agnes, who died at the age of thirty-seven, after seventeen years of married life, he had fifteen children, only two of whom, George Lily [q. v.] and Dionysia, are known to have survived him. Most of the others, along with their mother, seem to have fallen victims to the ravages of the plague, probably in 1517. The epitaph on Agnes Lily by her husband, in Latin elegiacs, stated that she died on 11 Aug. but did not specify the year (Harleian MS. 540, f. 58). His daughter Dionysia was married first to John Rightwise, surmaster of St. Paul's and afterwards successor to William Lily in the high mastership, and on his death in 1532 to James Jacob, then surmaster, by whom she had a son named Polydore, probably so named after the historian, Polydore Vergil. According to one account (Cole's MSS. vol. xiii. f. 150) it was she, and not her husband Rightwise, who made the tragedy of ‘Dido’ acted before Cardinal Wolsey.

The only portrait of Lily is a small engraving by Edwards. In this he is represented with his right hand resting on a book bearing a lily on the cover, to which his left hand points. Below is the inscription ‘Vera G. L. effigies, ætatis suæ 52, 1510.’ Above is a shield bearing a chevron between three lily heads. This may have been taken from the lost painting of Lily, which Sir Nicholas Bacon placed between those of Donatus and Servius in the ‘little banquetting-house’ at Gorhambury, and it has served in turn to suggest the idealised figure of Lily, now placed in a stained glass window in the hall of Christ Church, Oxford.

To Colet's ‘Æditio’ (a little accidence in English, preceded by some religious formularies) Lily contributed a short Latin syntax, with the rules in English, under the title of ‘Grammatices Rudimenta.’ In the earliest edition known, that of 1527, a copy of which is in the Cathedral Library at Peterborough, this part begins on leaf D vii, with the words ‘Whan I haue an englysshe to be tourned into latin, I shal reherse it twyes or thryes,’ and ends on E v. verso. Colet's letter of dedication, addressed to Lily, is dated 1 Aug. 1509. The ‘Absolutissimus de Octo Orationis partiū constructione,’ or syntax with the rules in Latin, was published separately in 1513. Though identified with the name of Lily, Erasmus had such a share in revising the first draft of this work, that his friend modestly refused to admit the authorship, and it appeared for some time anonymously (Baker, Reflections upon Learning, p. 23). The statement of a writer in the ‘Monthly Review’ for 1747 (i. 28), that it was borrowed from a work with similar title by Omnibonus Leonicenus, is without foundation. A fragment of an edition of 1521–2, printed by Siberch at Cambridge, was found by Mr. E. Gordon Duff in the Chapter House at Westminster (Academy, 30 Nov. 1889). By 1540 the ‘Æditio’ and the ‘Absolutissimus’ were entirely remodelled and combined into one grammar, designed to become the national Latin grammar. A copy of this, on vellum, printed by Berthelet in 1540, 4to, and apparently meant for the special use of Edward VI, is described by Maitland (Early Printed Books in Lambeth, p. 207). Its title is ‘Institutio compendiaria totius grammaticæ, quam … Rex noster euulgari jussit, ut non alia quam hæc una per totam Angliam pueris prælegeretur.’ A formulary of religious rudiments is prefixed to this, as it had been to Colet's accidence, but the contents are considerably altered. A proclamation of Edward VI in 1548, continuing to enjoin the use of the book, has caused the name of ‘King Edward the Sixth's Latin Grammar’ to be given to it, but incorrectly. In 1571 a canon was drawn up and signed by the upper house of convocation with the object of making the use of the King's Grammar compulsory (Cardwell, Synodalia, i. 128); afterwards, in 1675 (26 May), a bill for the same purpose was read for the first time in the House of Lords, but not proceeded with.

By 1574 the work was issued in a form again altered, and with a fresh title: ‘A short Introduction of Grammar generally to be used,’ &c., with which was usually bound up ‘Brevissima Institutio, seu Ratio Grammatices,’ &c. A copy of the edition of 1574 is among Selden's books in the Bodleian Library. In this, which may be called its third stage, the book was used by Shakespeare, who quotes familiar sentences from it: ‘Vir sapit, qui pauca loquitur’ in ‘Love's Labour's Lost,’ and ‘Diluculo surgere’ in ‘Twelfth Night.’ Charles Lamb in a well-known passage (Essays of Elia, 1823, p. 118) plays prettily with the stately English of the ‘Introduction.’ In 1732 Dr. John Ward was employed by the London booksellers to draw up a revised edition, and in 1758 the book was further transformed and appropriated by Eton. A collection of various editions since 1515 is in the library of St. Paul's School, and another, formed by Dr. Bloxam, is at Magdalen College, Oxford (Bloxam, A Register of the Presidents, &c., i. 24). Lily's famous ‘Carmen de Moribus,’ beginning ‘Qui mihi discipulus,’ has been often inserted in other works besides the Grammar. One sentence from it (‘puerum nil nisi pura decent’) is quoted with applause by Becon (Works, Parker Society, p. 383). A curious translation of it in English verse is found in manuscript at the end of a copy of Dionysius Cato (numbered 11388 a in the Brit. Mus.)

Lily also had a share in the ‘Antibossicon’ of William Horman [q. v.], published in 1521, the outcome of a ‘bellum grammaticale’ then raging between Lily and Robert Whitinton (cf. Maitland, Early Printed Books at Lambeth, p. 415).

As a grammarian, the fame which Lily has enjoyed is remarkable, considering the brevity of the work that bears his name. Evelyn, when recommending to the lord chancellor a list of learned men whose portraits might adorn his house, names Lily next after Edmund Spenser (Diary, under 20 Dec. 1668). Much was probably due to his method in teaching. We find incidentally that he encouraged a knowledge of music as ‘a great help to pronunciation and judgment’ (Hunter, Chorus Vatum, v. 542).

[Authorities quoted; G. Lily's Elogia prefixed to Paulus Jovius; Hearne's Chronicon, i. p. lvii (the charge of plagiarism from Leland being quite unfounded); Wood's Athenæ (Bliss); Baker's Reflections upon Learning, chap. iii.; Ward's Introduction to his revised edition of the Grammar; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, v. 520; Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. App. ii. (1884), p. 63; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ii. 441, 461 (for bibliography of the Grammar).]

J. H. L.