Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
A Dialogue in the Socratic Manner
By Roger Ascham (1515–1568)
From Toxophilus

Philologus.  But now, Sir, whereas you think that a man, in learning to shoot or anything else, should rather wisely follow possibility, than vainly seek for perfect excellency; surely I will prove that every wise man, that wisely would learn anything, shall chiefly go about that whereunto he knoweth well he shall never come. And you yourself, I suppose, shall confess the same to be the best way in teaching, if you will answer me to those things which I will ask of you.
  Toxophilus.  And that I will gladly; both because I think it is unpossible for you to prove it, and also because I desire to hear what you can say in it.  2
  Philologus.  The study of a good physician, Toxophile, I trow be to know all diseases and all medicines fit for them.  3
  Tox.  It is so indeed.  4
  Phil.  Because, I suppose, he would gladly, at all times, heal all diseases of all men.  5
  Tox.  Yea, truly.  6
  Phil.  A good purpose surely; but was there ever physician yet among so many which hath laboured in this study, that at all times could heal all diseases?  7
  Tox.  No, truly; nor, I think, never shall be.  8
  Phil.  Then physicians, belike, study for that which none of them cometh unto. But in learning of fence, I pray you what is that which men most labour for?  9
  Tox.  That they may hit another, I trow, and never take blow their self.  10
  Phil.  You say truth, and I am sure every one of them would fain do so whensoever he playeth. But was there ever any of them so cunning yet, which, at one time or other, hath not been touched.  11
  Tox.  The best of them all is glad sometime to escape with a blow.  12
  Phil.  Then in fence also, men are taught to go about that thing, which the best of them all knoweth he shall never attain unto. Moreover you that be shooters, I pray you, what mean you, when ye take so great heed to keep your standing, to shoot compass, to look on your mark so diligently, to cast up grass divers times, and other things more you know better than I. What would you do then, I pray you?  13
  Tox.  Hit the mark if we could.  14
  Phil.  And doth every man go about to hit the mark at every shot?  15
  Tox.  By my troth I trow so; and, as for myself, I am sure I do.  16
  Phil.  But all men do not hit it at all times.  17
  Tox.  No, truly, for that were a wonder.  18
  Phil.  Can any man hit it at all times?  19
  Tox.  No man, verily.  20
  Phil.  Then belikely, to hit the prick always is unpossible. For that is called unpossible which is in no man his power to do.  21
  Tox.  Unpossible indeed.  22
  Phil.  But to shoot wide and far of the mark is a thing possible.  23
  Tox.  No man will deny that.  24
  Phil.  But yet to hit the mark always were an excellent thing.  25
  Tox.  Excellent, surely.  26
  Phil.  Then I am sure those be wiser men which covet to shoot wide, than those which covet to hit the prick.  27
  Tox.  Why so, I pray you?  28
  Phil.  Because to shoot wide is a thing possible, and therefore, as you say yourself, of every wise man to be followed. And as for hitting the prick, because it is unpossible, it were a vain thing to go about it in good sadness, Toxophile; thus you see that a man might go through all crafts and sciences, and prove that any man in his science coveteth that which he shall never get.  29
  Tox.  By my troth (as you say) I cannot deny but they do so; but why and wherefore they should do so, I cannot learn.  30
  Phil.  I will tell you. Every craft and science standeth in two things: in knowing of his craft, and working of his craft; for perfect knowledge bringeth a man to perfect working: this know painters, carvers, tailors, shoemakers, and all other craftsmen, to be true. Now, in every craft there is a perfect excellency, which may be better known in a man’s mind, than followed in a man’s deed. This perfectness, because it is generally laid as a broad wide example afore all men, no one particular man is able to compass it; and, as it is general to all men, so it is perpetual for all time, which proveth it a thing for man impossible; although not for the capacity of our thinking, which is heavenly, yet surely for the ability of our working, which is worldly. God giveth not full perfectness to one man (saith Tully) lest if one man had all in any one science, there should be nothing left for another. Yet God suffereth us to have the perfect knowledge of it, that such a knowledge, diligently followed, might bring forth, according as a man doth labour, perfect working. And who is he, that, in learning to write, would forsake an excellent example and follow a worse? Therefore, seeing perfectness itself is an example for us, let every man study how he may come nigh it, which is a point of wisdom, not reason with God why he may not attain unto it, which is vain curiosity.  31

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