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In 1544, he was appointed preceptor to prince Edward, jointly with Sir Anthony Cook; and at the same time was made canon of the newly-founded college of Christ-church, Oxford. Edward on his accession rewarded his tutor, for the assiduous care he had shewn him in his education, with a pension of a hundred marks, as likewise with a grant of several lands and manors; and moreover, caused him to be elected provost of King's College, Cambridge. In 1550, he was appointed chief gentleman of the king's privy chamber; and the year following, his majesty conferred on him the honour of knighthood, with a grant of considerable value. He was soon after made chamberlain of the exchequer for life; in 1553, constituted clerk of the council; and not long after, one of the secretaries of state, and a privy-counsellor.
Sir John was a zealous protestant; sequence of which, he was severely persecuted by the bigotted Mary, twice imprisoned in the Tower, stript of his whole substance, and ultimately reduced to the terrifying dilemma – Either turn or burn." His religious zeal was not proof against this fiery ordeal, and he recanted. His property was now restored ;
but his recantation was followed by such bitterness of remorse, that he survived it but a short time, dying in 1557, at the early age forty-three.
The period in which Cheke florished is highly interesting to letters. He, in conjunction with his friend and cotemporary Smith, was the great instrument of the diffusion of classical and philological learning. Ancient literature had already begun to dawn; it had not yet advanced into the clear and steady light of day. The efforts of these men contributed greatly to accelerate its progress; and were effectual in deciding the taste of the age. Cheke and Smith were first incited to the
pursuit of Grecian literature by the reputation and example of Dr. John Redman, of St. John's College (afterwards dean of Westminster), who was elected lady Margaret's professor of divinity about the year 1538. Redman had studied at the university of Paris, and returned to his own country accomplished in the two learned languages; and the high consideration, he obtained, on this account, conspiring with their curiosity and ardour in study, produced that emulation which eventually rendered them his masters in learning. They hence
abandoned the idle disputations of the schools, with the metaphysic subtleties of the schools men; for the more delightful and profitable study of the Grecian and Roman classics.
One of the great objects of their literary labours was-the introduction of a more rational method of pronouncing Greek; or rather, to restore what they conceived to be the original pronunciation of that language. It may not be unacceptable to the philological student to be informed, what the changes were which they proposed to introduce, as stated in his Life by Strype.
At this period, the Greek language had only begun to be studied even in our universities; and its pronunciation had been vitiated by the corrupt channels through which it had been conveyed to us. In particular, the received method of sounding the vowels and diphthongs, and also some of the consonants, was such that it was frequently impossible to distinguish different words by difference of sound. Thus, al was pronounced as é, oi and ε as ", and yo
were both sounded as or j. Some of the consonants were differently pronounced, according as they were differently
With a very
situated in a word. Thus after y was sounded as a soft 6 and 7 after u was pronounced as our d. The letter s was pronounced as our ch, and B as our v consonant. little reflection on the subject, it was not difficult to conclude, that such a method of pronunciation was totally destructive of all that beauty of the Greek language, which arises from variety of sound, and that such therefore could not have been the pronunciation of the Greeks.
These scruples formed the subjects of frequent conversations between Cheke and Smith (who was also public reader of Greek in his own college), and they determined upon an innovation. They seem to have been led to the improvement in question, by their feeling, while lecturing in their respective colleges, the necessity of varying the sound as the vowels varied, in order to render the language intelligible, as well as harmonious to the ear. At the commencement of their doubts, they had not seen the book of Erasmus on the subject; but having procured it, together with Terenti
de Literis et Syllabis, they began their work of reformation; at the same time consulting those Grecia writers (particularly Aristopha
nes) from whom they were likely to derive aid. At length they arrived at the no difficult conclusion, that each vowel ought to possess its appropriate and distinct sound; and that every diphthong, as composed of two vowels, should have the sound of two.
They were obliged, however, to proceed with caution. They felt, that having reason on their side, was not enough to ensure support. In the first instance, they communicated the proposed change only to a few of their most intimate friends; and obtaining their approbation, resolved to make it public; still with circumspection and prudence. It was agreed that Smith should begin. At this time, he read Aristotle de Republicâ to his hearers ; and the artifice by which he contrived to smuggle in a few contraband words is calculated to excite a smile in a modern reader, while it exhibits a strong proof of the ignorance and prejudice of the age. To hide the novelty of his pronunciation, he occasionally let fall a word as if by inadvertence, pronounced in the new mode. At first, this excited no attention from his auditors; but as the number of these new-fangled words gradually increased, their curiosity was wakened, and