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Thomas Wilson (1524-1581):

The Art of Rhetoric,  I & II





Title Page
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An Abridgement and Modernization of

The Art of Rhetoric,

for the Use of All Such as Are Studious of Eloquence,

set forth in English,

by Thomas Wilson


[Books I & II, abridged and modernized]

Selected and Edited With an Introduction and Notes
by Nicholas Sharp


Prefatory Materials.

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To the Right Honorable Lord, John Dudley

Lord Lisle, Earl of Warwick, and Master of the Horse

to the King's Majesty,

Your assured to Command

Thomas Wilson.

When Pyrrhus, King of the Epirotes, made battle against the Romans and could neither by force of arms nor yet by any policy win certain strongholds, he used commonly to send one Cineas (a noble orator and sometimes scholar to Demosthenes) to persuade with the captains and people that were in them that they should yield up the said hold or towns without fight or resistance. And so it came to pass that through the pithy eloquence of this noble orator diverse strong castles and fortresses were peaceably given up into the hands of Pyrrhus which he should have found very hard and tedious to win by the sword. And this thing was not Pyrrhus himself ashamed in his common talk to the praise of the said orator openly to confess, alleging that Cineas through the eloquence of his tongue won more cities unto him than ever himself should else have been able by force to subdue.

Good was that orator which could do so much, and wise was that king which would use such a mean. For if the worthiness of eloquence may move us, what worthier thing can there be than with a word to win cities and whole countries. If profit may persuade, what greater gain may we have than without bloodshed to achieve a conquest? If pleasure may provoke us, what greater delight do we know than to see a whole multitude with the only talk of a man ravished and drawn which way him liketh best to have them? Boldly then may I adventure and without fear step forth to offer that unto your lordship which for the dignity is so excellent, and for the use so necessary that no man ought to be without it which either shall bear rule over many or must have to do with matters of a realm.

Considering therefore your Lordship's high estate and worthy calling, I know nothing more fitting with your honor then to the gift of good reason and understanding , wherewith we see you notably endowed, to join the perfection of eloquent utterance. And because that as well by your Lordship's tender embracing of all such as be learned as also by your right studious exercises, you do evidently declare not only what estimation you have of all learning and excellent qualities in general but also what a special desire and affection you bear to eloquence, I therefore commend to your Lordship's tuition and patronage this treatise of rhetoric, to the end that both you may get some furtherance by the same and I also be discharged of my faithful promise this last year made unto you.

For whereas it pleased ye among other talk of learning earnestly to wish that ye might one day see the precepts of rhetoric set forth by me in English, as I had erst done the rules of logic, having in my country this last summer a quiet time of vacation with the right worshipful Edward Dymock, Knight, I travailed so much as my leisure might serve there unto, not only to declare my good heart to the satisfying of your request in that behalf but also through that your motion to help the towardness of some other not so well furnished as your Lordship is.

For as touching yourself, by the time that perfect experience of manifold and weighty of the common weal shall have increased the eloquence which naturally doth flow in you, I doubt nothing but that you will so far be better then this my book that I shall not only blush to challenge you for a scholar in the art of rhetoric by me rudely set forth but also be driven to set this simple treatise to your Lordship to school that it may learn rhetoric of your daily talk, finding you such an orator in your speech as great clerks do declare what an orator should be. In the mean season I shall right humbly beseech your Lordship so to be a patron and defender of these my labors to you dedicated, as I shall be continual petitioner unto almighty God for your preservation and long continuance.



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Eloquence first given by God, and after lost by man, and last repaired by God again.

Man (in whom is poured the breath of life) was made at the first being an everliving creature, unto the likeness of God, endued with reason, and appointed Lord over all other thing living. But after the fall of our first father, sin so crept in that our knowledge was much darkened, and by corruption of this our flesh, man's reason and entendement were both overwhelmed. At what time God being sore grieved with the folly of one man pitied of his mere goodness the whole state and posterity of mankind. And therefore (whereas through the wicked suggestion of our ghostly enemy, the joyful fruition of God's glory was altogether lost) it pleased our heavenly Father to repair mankind of his free mercy, and to grant an everliving inheritance, unto all such as would by constant faith seek earnestly here after.

Long it was ere that man knew himself being destitute of God's grace, so that all things waxed savage, the earth untilled, society neglected, God's will not known, man against man, one against another, and all against order. Some lived by spoil; some like brute beasts grazed upon the ground; some went naked; some roamed like woodwoses; none did any thing by reason, but most did what they could by manhood. None almost considered the everliving God, but all lived most commonly after their own lust. By death they thought that all things ended; by life they looked for none other living. None remembered the true observation of wedlock; none tendered the education of their children; laws were not regarded; true dealing was not once used. For virtue, vice bare place; for right and equity, might used authority. And therefore, whereas man through reason might have used order; man through folly fell into error. And thus for lack of skill, and for want of grace evil so prevailed, that the devil was most esteemed, and God either almost unknown among them all, or else nothing feared among so many.

Therefore, even now when man was thus past all hope of amendment, God still tendering his own workmanship stirring up his faithful and elect, to persuade with reason all men to society. And gave his appointed ministers knowledge both to see the natures of men, and also granted them the gift of utterance, that they might with ease win folk at their will, and frame them by reason to all good order. And therefore, whereas men lived brutishly in open fields, having neither house to shroud them in, nor attire to clothe their backs, nor yet any regard to seek their best avail; these appointed of God called them together by utterance of speech, and persuaded with them what was good, what was bad, and what was gainful for mankind.

And although at first the rude could hardly learn, and either for the strangeness of the thing, would not gladly receive the offer, or else for lack of knowledge, could not perceive the goodness; yet being somewhat drawn, and delighted with the pleasantness of reason, and the sweetness of utterance, after a certain space they became through Nurture and good advisement, of wild, sober; of cruel, gentle; of fools, wise; and of beasts, men; such force hath the tongue, and such is the power of Eloquence and reason, that most men are forced, even to yield in that which most standeth against their will.

And therefore the Poets do feign, that Hercules being a man of great wisdom, had all men linked together by the ears in a chain, to draw them and lead them even as he lusted. For his wit was so great, his tongue so eloquent, and his experience such, that no one man was able to withstand his reason, but every one was rather driven to do that which he would, and to will that which he did; agreeing to his advice both in word and work in all that ever they were able.

Neither can I see that men could have been brought by any other means, to live together in fellowship of life, to maintain cities, to deal truly, and willingly obey one an other, if men at the first had not by art and eloquence, persuaded that which they full oft found out by reason. For what man I pray you, being better able to maintain himself by valiant courage, then by living in base subjection, would not rather look to rule like a Lord then to live like an underling, if by reason he were not persuaded that it behoveth every man to live in his own vocation; and not to seek any higher room, then whereunto he was at the first appointed? Who would dig and delve from morn 'til evening? Who would travail and toil with ye sweat of his brows? Yea, who would for his King's pleasure adventure and hazard his life, if wit had not so won men, that they thought nothing more needful in this world, nor any thing whereunto they were more bounden, then here to live in their duty and to train their whole life according to their calling.

Therefore, whereas men are in many things weak by Nature, and subject to much infirmity, I think in this one point they pass all other creatures living, that have the gift of speech and reason. And among all other, I think him most worthy fame, and amongst all men to be taken for half a God; that therein doth chiefly and above all other excel men, wherein men do excel beasts. For he that is among the reasonable of all most reasonable, and among the witty, of all most witty, and among the eloquent, of all most eloquent; him think I among all men, not only to be taken for a singular man, but rather to be counted for half a God.

For, in seeking the excellency hereof, the sooner he draweth to perfection, the nigher he cometh to God, who is the chief wisdom, and therefore called God because he is most wise, or rather wisdom it self. Now then, seeing that God giveth his heavenly grace, unto all such as call unto him with stretched hands and humble heart, never wanting to those that want not to themselves, I purpose by his grace and especial assistance, to set forth such precepts of eloquence, and to shew what observation the wise have used, in handling of their matters, that the unlearned by seeing the practice of others, may have some knowledge themselves, and learn by their neighbors device what is necessary for them selves in their own case.

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Book I: Overview of the Field of Rhetoric


What is Rhetoric?

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Book I

What is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is an art to set forth by utterance of words, matter at large, or (as Cicero doth say) it is a learned, or rather an artificial declaration of the mind in the handling of any cause called in contention that may through reason largely be discussed.


The Subject Matter of Rhetoric

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The Matter Whereupon an Orator Must Speak.

An orator must be able to speak fully of all those questions, which by law and man's ordinance are enacted and appointed for the use and profit of man, such as are thought apt for the tongue to set forward. Now astronomy is rather learned by demonstration then taught by any great utterance. Arithmetic smally needeth the use of eloquence, seeing it may be had wholly by numbering only. Geometry rather asketh a good square then a clean flowing tongue to set out the art. Therefore an orator's profession is to speak only of all such matters as may largely be expounded for man's behove and may with much grace be set out for all men to hear them.


The Kinds of Questions an Orator Must Answer

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Of Questions.

Every question or demand in things, is of two sorts. Either it is an infinite question and without end or else it is definite and comprehended within some end.

Those questions are called infinite which generally are propounded, without the comprehension of time, place, and person, or any such like; that is to say, when no certain thing is named, but only words are generally spoken. As thus, whether it be best to marry or to live single. Which is better, a courtier's life or a scholar's life.

Those questions are called definite which set forth a matter with the appointment and naming of place, time, and person. As thus. Whether now it be best here in England for a priest to marry or to live single. Whether it were meet for the king's majesty that now is to marry with a stranger or to marry with one of his own subjects.

Now the definite question (as the which concerneth some one person) is most agreeing to the purpose of an orator, considering particular matters in the law are ever debated betwixt certain persons, the one affirming for his part, and the other denying as fast again for his part. Things generally spoken without all circumstances are more proper unto the logician, who talketh of things universally, without respect of person, time, or place.

And yet notwithstanding, Tully doth say that whosoever will talk of particular matter must remember that within the same also is comprehended a general. As for example. If I shall ask this question, whether it be lawful for William Conqueror to invade England and win it by force of armor, I must also consider this, whether it be lawful for any man to usurp power or it be not lawful. That if the greater cannot be born withal, the less can not be neither. And in this respect, a general question agreeth well to an orator's profession and ought well to be known for the better furtherance of his matter, notwithstanding the particular question is ever called in controversy, and the general only thereupon considered to comprehend and compass the same, as the which is more general.


The 3 Part Goal of Rhetoric: to Teach, to Delight, and to Persuade

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The End of Rhetoric.

Three things are required of an orator.


To teach

To delight

And to persuade

First therefore, an orator must labor to tell his tale, that the hearers may well know what he meaneth and understand him wholly, the which he shall with ease use if he utter his mind in plain words such as are usually received, and tell it orderly, without going about the bush. That if he do not this, he shall never do the other. For what man can be delighted, or yet be persuaded with the only hearing of those things which he knoweth not what they mean. The tongue is ordained to express the mind, that one may understand an other's meaning; now what availeth to speak, when none can tell what the speaker meaneth?

Therefore Phavorinus the Philosopher (as Gellius telleth the tale) did hit a young man over the thumbs very handsomely for using over old and over strange words. "Sirrha," (quoth he) "when our old great ancestors and grandsires were alive, they spake plainly in their mother's tongue and used old language, such as was spoken then at the building of Rome. But you talk me such a Latin, as though you spake with them even now, that were two or three thousand years ago, and only because you would have no man to understand what you say. Now, were it not better for thee a thousand fold (thou foolish fellow) in seeking to have thy desire, to hold thy peace and speak nothing at all? For then by that means, few should know what were thy meaning. But thou sayest the old antiquity doth like thee best because it is good, sober, and modest. Ah, live man, as they did before thee, and speak thy mind now as men do at this day. And remember that which Caesar sayeth, `beware as long as thou livest of strange words, as thou wouldst take heed and eschew great rocks in the sea'."

The next part that he hath to play is to cheer his guests and to make them take pleasure with hearing of things wittily devised and pleasantly set forth. Therefore every orator should earnestly labor to file his tongue, that his words may slide with ease, and that in his deliverance he may have such grace as the sound of a lute or any such instrument doth give. Then his sentences must be well framed and his words aptly used through the whole discourse of his oration.

Thirdly, such quickness of wit must be shewed and such pleasant saws so well applied that the ears may find much delight, whereof I will speak largely when I shall entreat of moving laughter. And assuredly nothing is more needful then to quicken these heavy loaden wits of ours, and much to cherish these our lumpish and unwieldy natures, for except men find delight, they will not long abide; delight them, and win them; weary them, and you lose them forever. And that is the reason that men commonly tarry the end of a merry play and cannot abide the half hearing of a sour checking sermon. Therefore even these ancient preachers must now and then play the fools in the pulpit to serve the tickle ears of their fleeting audience, or else they are like sometimes to preach to the bare walls, for though their spirit be apt and our will prone, yet our flesh is so heavy and humors so overwhelm us that we cannot without refreshing long abide to hear any one thing.

Thus we see that to delight is needful, without the which weighty matters will not be heard at all, and therefore him can I thank, that both can and will ever mingle sweet among the sour, be he preacher, lawyer, yea, or cook either hardly, when he dresseth a good dish of meat; now I need not to tell that scurrility, or ale house jesting, would be thought odious, or gross mirth would be deemed madness; considering that even the mean witted do know that already, and as for other that have no wit, they will never learn it; therefore, God speed them. Now when these two are done, he must persuade, and move the affections of his hearers in such wise that they shall be forced to yield unto his saying, whereof (because the matter is large and may more aptly be declared when I shall speak of amplification) I will surcease to speak any thing thereof at this time.


How Eloquence is Achieved

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By What Means Eloquence is Attained.

First needful it is that he which desireth to excel in this gift of oratory, and longeth to prove an eloquent man, must naturally have a wit, and an aptness thereunto; then must he to his book, and learn to be well stored with knowledge, that he may be able to minister matter for all causes necessary. The which when he hath got plentifully, he must use much exercise, both in writing, and also in speaking.

For though he have a wit and learning together, yet shall they both little avail without much practice. What maketh the lawyer to have such utterance? Practice. What maketh the preacher to speak so roundly? Practice. Yea, what maketh women go so fast away with their words? Marry, practice I warrant you. Therefore, in all faculties, diligent practice and earnest exercise are the only things that make men prove excellent.

Many men know the art very well, and be in all points thoroughly grounded and acquainted with the precepts, and yet it is not their hap to prove eloquent. And the reason is, that eloquence it self came not up first by the art, but the art rather was gathered upon eloquence. For wisemen seeing by much observation and diligent practice, the compass of divers causes, compiled thereupon precepts and lessons worthy to be known and learned of all men. Therefore, before art was invented, eloquence was used, and through practice made perfect, the which in all things is a sovereign mean, most highly to excel.

Now, before we use either to write, or speak eloquently, we must dedicate our minds wholly, to follow the most wise and learned men, and seek to fashion as well their speech and gesturing, as their wit or inditing. The which when we earnestly mind to do, we can not but in time appear somewhat like them. For if they that walk much in the sun, and think not of it, are yet for the most part sun burnt, it can not be but that they which wittingly and willingly travail to counterfeit other, must needs take some color of them, and be like unto them in some one thing or other, according to the proverb, by companying with the wise, a man shall learn wisdom.


The Purpose of Rhetoric

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To What Purpose This Art Is Set Forth.

To this purpose and for this use is the art compiled together by the learned and wise men, that those which are ignorant might judge of the learned, and labor (when time should require) to follow their works accordingly.

Again, the art helpeth well to dispose and order matters of our own invention, the which we may follow as well in speaking as in writing, for though many by nature without art, have proved worthy men, yet is art a surer guide then nature, considering we see as lively by art what we do, as though we read a thing in writing, whereas nature's doings are not so open to all men.

Again, those that have good wits by nature shall better increase them by art, and the blunt also shall be whetted through art, that want nature to help them forward.


The Five Divisions of Rhetoric

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Five Things to be Considered in an Orator

Any one that will largely handle any matter, must fasten his mind first of all, upon these five especial points that follow, and learn them every one.


1.                                Invention of matter.

2.                                Disposition of the same.

3.                                Elocution.

4.                                Memory

5.                                Utterance.

The finding out of apt matter, called otherwise invention, is a searching out of things true, or things likely, the which may reasonably set forth a matter and make it appear probable. The places of logic give good occasion to find out plentiful matter. And therefore, they that will prove any cause, and seek only to teach thereby the truth, must search out the places of logic, and no doubt they shall find much plenty.

But what availeth much treasure and apt matter, if man can not apply it to his purpose? Therefore, in the second place is mentioned the settling or ordering of things invented for this purpose, called in Latin dispositio, the which is nothing else but an apt bestowing, and orderly placing of things, declaring where every argument shall be set, and in what manner every reason shall be applied for confirmation of the purpose.

But yet what helpeth it though we can find good reasons, and know how to place them, if we have not apt words and picked sentences to commend the whole matter? Therefore, this point must needs follow to beautify the cause, the which being called elocution, is an applying of apt words and sentences to the matter, found out to confirm the cause.

When all these are had together it availeth little, if man have no memory to contain them. The memory therefore must be cherished, the which is a fast holding both of matter and words couched together, to confirm any cause.

Be it now that one have all these four, yet if he want the fifth all the other do little profit. For though a man can find out good matter and good words, though he can handsomely set them together, and carry them very well away in his mind, yet it is to no purpose if he have no utterance, when he should speak his mind, and shew men what he hath to say. Utterance, therefore, is a framing of the voice, countenance, and gesture after a comely manner.

Thus we see that every one of these must go together, to make a perfect orator, and that the lack of one is a hinderance of the whole, and that as well all may be wanting as one, if we look to have an absolute orator.


The Seven Parts of an Oration

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There are Seven Parts in Every Oration.



1.                           The Entrance or beginning.

2.                           The Narration.

3.                           The Proposition.

4.                           The Division or several parting of things.

5.                           The Confirmation.

6.                           The Confutation.

7.                           The Conclusion.

The entrance or beginning is the former part of the oration, whereby the will of the standers by or of the judge is sought for and required to hear the matter.

The narration is a plain and manifest pointing of the matter and an evident setting forth of all things that belong unto the same, with a brief rehearsal grounded upon some reason.

The proposition is a pithy sentence comprehended in a small room, the sum of the whole matter.

The division is an opening of things, wherein we agree and rest upon, and wherein we stick and stand in traverse, shewing what we have to say in our own behalf.

The confirmation is a declaration of our own reasons, with assured and constant proofs.

The confutation is a dissolving or wiping away of all such reasons as make against us.

The conclusion is a clerkly gathering of the matter spoken before, and a lapping up of it altogether.

Now, because in every one of these great heed ought to be had and much art must be used to content and like all parties, I purpose in the second book to set forth at large every one of these, that both we may know in all parts what to follow, and what to eschew. And first, when time shall be to talk of any matter, I would advise every man to consider the nature of the cause itself, that the rather he might frame his whole oration thereafter.


The Nature of the Cause of an Oration

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Every Matter is Contained in One of These iiii.

Either it is an honest thing, whereof we speak, or else it is filthy and vile, or else betwixt both and doubtful what to be called, or else it is some trifling matter that is of small weight.

That is called an honest matter when we take in hand such a cause that all men would maintain, or else gainsay such a cause that no man can well like.

Then do we hold and defend a filthy matter when either we speak against our conscience in an evil matter or withstand an upright truth.

The cause then is doubtrful when the matter is half honest and half dishonest.

Such are trifling causes when there is no weight in them, as if one should fantasy to praise a goose before any other beast living (as I know who did) or of fruit to commend nuts chiefly, as Ovid did, or the fever quartain, as Phavorinus did, or the gnat, as Vergil did, or the battle of frogs, as Homer did, or dispraise beards or commend shaven heads.



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[The next  chapter briefly covers the importance of considering the circumstances of the speech when deciding what to mention and what not to mention in order to avoid subverting one's case.]



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There are Three Kinds of Causes or Orations Which Serve for Every Matter.

Nothing can be handled by this art but the same is contained within one of these three causes. Either the matter consisteth in praise or dispraise of a thing, or else in consulting, whether the cause be profitable or unprofitable, or lastly, whether the matter be right or wrong. And yet this one thing is to be learned, that in every one of these three causes, these three several ends, may every one of them be contained in any one of them. And therefore, he that shall have cause to praise any one body, shall have just cause to speak of justice, to entreat of profit, and jointly to talk of one thing with an other. But because these three causes are commonly and for the most part severally parted, I will speak of them one after an other, as they are set forth by wise men's arguments and particularly declare their properties all in order. The oration demonstrative standeth either in praise, or dispraise of some one man, or of some one thing, or of some one deed done.


The Demonstrative Oration

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The Kind Demonstrative, Wherein Chiefly It Standeth.

There are divers things which are praised and dispraised, as men, countries, cities, places, beasts, hills, rivers, houses, castles, deeds done by worthy men, and policies evented by great warriors, but most commonly men are praised for diverse respects, before any of the other things are taken in hand. Now in praising a noble personage and in setting forth at large his worthiness, Quintillian giveth warning to use this threefold order:

Observe these things  {

Before this life.

In his life

After his death.

Before a man's life, are considered these places:

o                                The Realm.   

o                                The Shire.     

o                                The Town.    

o                                The Parents.  

o                                The Ancestors.

ln a man's life praise must be parted threefold. That is to say, into the gifts of good things of the mind, the body, and of fortune. Now the gifts of the body and of fortune are not praiseworthy of their own nature, but even as they are used, either to or fro, so they are either praised or dispraised. Gifts of the mind deserve the whole trump and sound commendation above all other, wherein we may use the rehearsal of virtues, as they are in order, and beginning at his infancy, tell all his doings till his last age.

The Places Whereof are These.

The birth and infancy

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Whether the person be a man or a woman

The childhood

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The bringing up, the nurturing, and the behavior of his life

The stripling age or springtide

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Whereunto are referred these

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To what study he taketh himself unto,

What company he keepeth, how he liveth

The man's state

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Prowesses done, either abroad or at home

The old age

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His policies and witty devices in behove of the public weal

The time of his departure or death

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Things that have happened about his death

Now to open all these places more largely, as well those that are before a man's life as such as are in his life and after his death, that the reader may further see the profit, I will do the best I can. The house whereof a noble personage came declares the state and nature of his ancestors, his alliance, and his kinfolk. So that such worthy feats as they have heretofore done and all such honors as they have had for such their good service, redounds wholly to the increase and amplifying of his honor that is now living.

The realm declares the nature of the people. So that some country bringeth more honor with it then another doth. To be a French man, descending there of a noble house, is more honor than to be an Irish man; to be an English man born is much more honor then to be a Scott because that by these men worthy prowesses have been done and greater affairs by them attempted then have been done by any other.

The shire or town helpeth somewhat towards the increase of honor. As it is much better to have been born in Paris then in Picardy, in London then in Lincoln. For that both the air is better, the people more civil, and the wealth much greater, and the men for the most part more wise.

To be born a manchild declares a courage, gravity, and constancy. To be born a woman declares weakness of spirit, neatness of body, and fickleness of mind.

Now for the bringing up of a noble personage, his nurse must be considered, his playfellows observed, his teacher and others his servants called in remembrance. How every one of these lived then, with whom they have lived afterwards, and how they live now.

By knowing what he taketh himself unto and wherein he most delighteth, I may commend him for his learning, for his skill in the French or in the Italian, for his knowledge in cosmography, for his skill in the laws, in the histories of all countries, and for his gift of inditing. Again, I may commend him for playing at weapons, for running upon a great horse, for charging his staff at the tilt, for vaulting, for playing upon instruments, yea, and for painting or drawing of a plate, as in old time princes delighted much therein.

Prowesses done declare his services to the king and his country, either in withstanding the outward enemy or else in assuaging the rage of his own countrymen at home. His wise counsel and good advice given sets further the goodness of his wit.

At the time of his departing, his sufferance of all sickness may much commend his worthiness. As his strong heart and cheerful patience even to the end cannot want great praise. The love of all men towards him, and the lamenting generally for his lack, help well most highly to set forth his honor.

After a man's death are considered his tomb, his coat armor set up, and all such honors as are used in funerals. If any one list to put these precepts in practice, he may do as him liketh best. And surely I do think that nothing so much furthereth knowledge as daily exercise enuring our selves to do that in deed which we know in word. And because examples give great light, I will commend tow noble gentlemen, Henry, Duke of Suffolk, and his brother, Lord Charles, Duke with him.

[At this point, Wilson includes as an example of "demonstrative oratory" a commendatory essay on Henry and Charles Brandon, sons of Henry VIII's intimate friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. This is followed by brief chapters on "The parts of an oration made in praise of a man," "Of an oration demonstrative for some deed done," an example essay in praise of David for killing Goliath, and then a chapter on "examining of the circumstances." He then goes on with chapters on "Of the oration demonstrative where things are set forth and matters commended," "Places to confirm things are iiii," (things honest, profitable, easy to be done, hard to be done), "The places of logic are these" (definition, causes, parts, effects, things adjoining, contraries), and then an example essay in praise of justice.]



The Deliberative Oration

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An Oration Deliberative.

An oration deliberative is a mean whereby we do persuade or dissuade, entreat or rebuke, exhort or dehort, commend or comfort any man. In this kind of oration we do not purpose wholly to praise anybody, nor yet to determine any matter in controversy, but the whole compass of this cause is either to advise our neighbor to that thing which we think most needful for him, or else to call him back from that folly which hindereth much his estimation. As for example, if I would counsel my friend to travel beyond the seas for knowledge of the tongues and experience in foreign countries, I might resort to this kind of oration and find matter to confirm my cause plentifully. And the reasons which are commonly used to enlarge such matters are these that follow:

The thing is











Lawful and meet








[The rest of this chapter elaborates and explains each of the topics for developing arguments used in deliberative oratory. This is followed by an analytical section demonstrating how to construct an oration persuading a young man to study English law because such study does two things. First, it promotes the virtues of prudence or wisdom (which includes memory, understanding, and foresight), justice (which includes natural law, religious morality, and customary practice), fortitude or manhood, and temperance. And, second, it is profitable. In essence, this little section includes an abstract of a comprehensive system of humanist moral theology. Wilson then gives a long example of a deliberative oration, translating "An epistle to persuade a young gentleman to marriage, devised by Erasmus in the behalf of his friend." Then follow several chapters on exhorting and "dehorting" and on commending and comforting, including a long exemplary letter which Wilson sent as a comfort to Lady Brandon when her two sons, Henry and Charles, died of "the sweating sickness."]



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Of an Oration Judicial.

The whole burden of weighty matters and the earnest trial of all controversies rest only upon judgement. Therefore, when matters concerning land, goods, or life, or any such thing of like weight are called in question, we must ever have recourse to this kind of oration, and after just examining of our cause by the places thereof, look for judgement according to the law.


The Judicial Oration

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Oration Judicial, What It Is.

Oration judicial is an earnest debating in open assembly, of some weighty matter before a judge, where the complainant commenceth his action, and the defendant thereupon answereth at his peril to all such things as are laid to his charge.

[The next 15 chapters explain both Wilson's system of logical judgement (which is the art of evaluating, choosing, and rejecting arguments) and his system of specific techniques for forensic or judicial oratory. He also includes an example of an "Oration Judicial, to prove by conjectures the knowledge of a notable and heinous offence committed by a soldier." He includes the usual sets of "places" to find arguments defending various sorts of actions, and he concludes Book I with a consideration of ways to use confessions as mitigating arguments.]





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The Second Book

Now that I have hitherto set forth what rhetoric is. whereunto every orator is most bound, what the causes be, both in their nature and by number that comprehend every matter and what places serve to confirm every cause, I think it is most meet after the knowledge of all these, to frame an oration accordingly, and to show at large the parts of every oration (but specially such as are used in judgment) that unto every cause apt parts may evermore be added. For every matter hath a diverse beginning, neither at controversies, or matters of weight should always after one sort be rehearsed, nor like reasons used, nor one kind of moving affections, occupied before all men and in every matter. And therefore, whereas I have briefly spoken of these before, I will now largely declare them and show the use of them in every matter that cometh in debate and is needful, through reason, to be discussed.

[In the next 18 chapters, Wilson provides guidelines for selecting and amplifying (or developing) arguments for each of the seven parts of the standard classical oration. The chapters on amplification are especially oriented toward the use of "sentences" (i.e., sayings, proverbs, and apothegms) and of examples drawn from history and natural history to develop the points of an argument. Because, he says, amplification works primarily by "moving of affections," he also includes substantial chapters on moving audiences to feel pity and amusement. And he ends the second book with three chapters on "disposition and apt ordering" (i.e., organization) of arguments within the various parts of an oration.]

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[Last updated June, 2010. Disclaimer: This page does not represent an official position of Virginia Commonwealth University.]