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Thomas Wilson was originally fellow of King's College, Cambridge, where he was tutor to the two celebrated youths Henry and Charles Brandon, dukes of Suffolk. Being a doctor of laws, he was afterwards one of the ordinary masters of requests, master of St. Katharine’s Hospital, near the Tower, a frequent ambassador from queen Elizabeth to Mary queen of Scots, and into the Low Countries, a secretary of state, and a privy counsellor; and at length, in 1579, dean of Durham., His remarkable diligence and dispatch in negociation are said to have resulted from an uncommon strength of memory. He died in .1581.
Wilson was the author of a System of Rhetoric, and of Logic; and it is remarkable, that notwithstanding the confusion of the times, the rhetoric appeared in the very first year of
this reign, 1553. It was entitled, “The Art of Rhetoric, for the use of all such as are studious of eloquence, set forth in English by Thomas Wilson." This work may be justly considered as the first system of criticism in our language: for though a tract on rhetoric had been printed as early as the year 1530, by Leonarde Coxe, a schoolmaster, it was merely a technical and elementary manuel. On the contrary, the work of Wilson is a regular treatise, explaining the principles of eloquence by examples, and the arts of composition with the sagacity of a critic. This work is curious and important, as it throws light on the general subject, by displaying the ideas of writing, and the state of critical knowledge, which prevailed at this period.
The extracts from Wilson's book, I transcribe from Warton, as the passages which he has seleeted are equally well adapted to the object of the present compilation.
.“ Under that chapter of his third book of Rhetoric, which treats of the four parts belonging to elocution, plainness, aptness, com, position, and exornation, Wilson has these observations of simplicity of stile, which are
immediately directed to those who write in the English tongue."
Among other lessons, this should first be learned, that we never affect any strange inkhorn terms, but to speak as is commonly received: neither seeking to be over fine, not yet living over careless ; using our speech as most men do, and ordering our wits as the fewest have doen. Some seek so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mother's language. And I dare swear this, if some of their mothers were alive, they were not able to tell what they say: and yet these fine English clerks will say they speak in their mother tongue, if a man should charge them with counterfeiting the king's Englishı. Some far journied gentlemen, at their return home, like as they love to go in foreign apparel, so they will ponder their talk with over-sea language. He that cometh lately out of France will talk French English, and never blush at the matter. Another chops in with English Italianated, and applieth the Italian phrase to our English speaking; the which is, as if an oration that professeth to utter his mind in plain Latin, would needs speak poetry, and far-fetched colours of strange antiquity. The lawyer will store his stomach with the prating of pedlars. The auditor in making his account and reckoning, cometh in with sise sould, et cater denere, for 6s. and 4d. The
fine courtier will talk nothing but Chaucer. The mystical wise men, and poetical clerks, will speak nothing but quaint proverbs and blind allegories;" delighting much in their own darkness, especially when none can tell what they do say. The unlearned or foolish fantastical, that smells but of learning (such fellows as have seen learned men in their days), will so Latin their tongues, that the simple cannot but wonder at their talk, and think surely they speak by some revelation. I know them, that think rhetoric to stand wholly upon dark words; and he that can catch an inkhorn term by the tail, him they count to be a fine Englishman and a good rhetorician. And the rather to set out this folly, I will add here such a letter as William Sommer himself, could not make a better for that purpose, -devised by a Lincolnshire man for a void benefice.
“ This point he illustrates with other familiar and pleasant instances."
“ In enforcing the application and explaining the nature of fables, for the purpose of amplification he gives a general idea of the Iliad and Odyssey."
I he saying of pocts, and all their fables, are not to be forgotten. Bor by them we may talk at large,
and win men by persuasion, if we declare before hand, that these tales were not feigned of such wise men without cause, neither yet continued until this time and kept in memory, without good consideration; and thereupon declare the true meaning of all such writing. For undoubtedly, there is no one tale among all the poets, but under the same is coniprehended something that pertaineth either to the amendment of manners, to the knowledge of truth, to the setting forth nature's work, or else to the understanding of some notable thing doen. For what other is the painful travail of Ulysses described so largely by Homer but a lively picture of man's inisery in this life? And as Plutarch saith, and likewise Basilius Magnus, in the Iliads are described strength and valiantness of body: in Odyssea is set forth a lively pattern of the mind. The poets are wise men, and wished in heart the redress of things; the which when for fear they durst not openly rebuke, they did in colours paint them out, and told men by shadows what they should do in good sothe: or else, because the wicked were unworthy to hear the truth, they spake so that none might understand but those unto whom they please to utter their meaning, and knew them to be of honest conversetion.