Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Rules of Art
By Thomas Wilson (c. 15261581)
From the Arte of Rhetorike
NOW a wise man that hath good experience in these affairs, and is able to make himself a rhetorique for every matter, will not be bound to any precise rules, nor keep any one order, but such only as by reason he shall think best to use, being master over art, rather than art should be master over him, rather making art by wit, than confounding wit by art. And undoubtedly even in so doing he shall do right well, and content the hearers accordingly. For what mattereth whether we follow our book or no, if we follow wit and appoint our self an order, such as may declare the truth more plainly? Yea, some that be unlearned, and yet have right good wits, will devise with themselves, without any book learning, what they will say, and how much they will say, appointing their order, and parting it into three or four parts or more if need be, such as they shall think especial points, and most meet to be touched. Whose doings as I can well like, and much commend them for the same: so I would think them much more able to do much better: if they either by learning followed a pattern, or else knew the precepts which lead us to right order. Rules were therefore given, and by much observation gathered together, that those which could not see art hid in another mans doings, should yet see the rules open all in an order set together, and thereby judge the rather of their doings, and by earnest imitation, seek to resemble such their invention. I cannot deny, but that a right wise man unlearned, shall do more good by his natural wit, than twenty of these common wits that want nature to help art. And I know that rules were made first by wise men, and not wise men made by rules. For these precepts serve only to help our need, such as by nature have not such plentiful gifts.