Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
A Dialogue in the Socratic Manner
By Roger Ascham (15151568)
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.
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?
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.
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 mans mind, than followed in a mans 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.