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XIXth conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, Brisbane: SAHANZ, 2002
Phronesis, Praxis and Techne:
the politics of Sir Henry Wotton's
distinction between architect and critic
The University of Technology, Sydney
Sir Henry Wotton's The Elements of Architecture (1624) is unique among the
theoretical texts of the Vitruvian tradition in structuring its argument
around a distinction between the architect and the critic, or 'censurer', of
architecture. The centrality of this distinction to Wotton's text has
remained largely unobserved by his commentators. This paper articulates
Wotton's strategy in the light of both its Platonic-Aristotelian sources, and
his own (somewhat troubled) political identity. In doing so it highlights a
play within Wotton's text between praxis and techne; between
understanding, order and judgment.
The relationship between architect and critic that informs The Elements is
drawn from Plato's Politicus, a text in which both architects and statesmen
are drawn into play within a discourse primarily concerned with the
cultivation of judgment. Equally, Wotton's conception echoes Aristotle's
articulation of the virtue of 'phronesis' into political and legislative wisdom
respectively. In recognising the role of these central understandings of
Platonic-Aristotelian political philosophy within Wotton's writing on
architecture, this paper sheds new light on his often-underrated text.
Penned in 1624, Sir Henry Wotton’s The Elements of Architecture presents itself as an
elegantly accessible distillation of Vitruvian precepts, tailored for the ‘plain’ tastes of the
Protestant English aristocracy. The neat eloquence of its prose betrays little of Wotton’s
colourful reputation within the Jacobean court; or of the desperation of his circumstances
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at the time of its being penned. These circumstances, however, are fairly well known, and
have flavoured the reception of his text among contemporary architectural critics.
Charged with both expedience and unoriginality, Wotton’s text has been readily dismissed
by those unmoved by the seductions of its charmingly accessible surface.
dismissal, however, has diverted critical attention from the text, and so has robbed us of
many of the profounder pleasures that Wotton’s manoeuvres may afford. The virtues of
The Elements (as of its author) extend beyond mere eloquence.
While the arguments presented in this paper will do little to relieve Wotton of the charge of
political expediency, they should serve, at least, to awaken an appreciation of the subtlety
of his mind. Full justice cannot be done to The Elements in the space of a single paper. For
a close reading of the text, and claims for its significance within discourse on architecture,
I must refer you elsewhere.
The compass of this paper is limited to disclosure of the
particular conjunction of politics and architecture that informs Wotton’s enterprise.
This paper moves from an outline of Wotton’s political career, and of the circumstances
that prompted his publication of The Elements, to an argument linking architecture and
politics, techne, praxis and political wisdom.
Wotton’s Political Career
In 1601, on his arrival at the Scottish court of King James VI, the young Henry Wotton
displayed a sense of timing and flair for the dramatic that might have seemed to mark him
out for a career on the stage. Wotton had travelled to Scotland secretly from Florence,
disguised as an Italian and calling himself ‘Ottavio Baldi’. His purpose was to warn James
of a plot, discovered by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, against the Stuart king’s life. The
English queen was growing old and James was the most likely, although as yet unnamed,
heir. A number of parties had an interest in influencing the line of succession, and sought
to remove James as candidate. Conspiracy hung in the air.
To be chosen as the bearer of this warning was a great piece of luck for the young Wotton.
James was not only grateful for the warning, but delighted by the messenger. Wotton
certainly made the most of his opportunity, playing to James’s well known love of
mystification and his fondness for jests. He divulged his identity to James alone and
begged that the King keep his secret from the Court. James readily obliged, and thoroughly
enjoyed the joke of entertaining an Italian envoy who, unknown to the Court, was really a
young Englishman in disguise. When James later declared his intention to make Wotton
ambassador to the Venetian Republic, he said of him that ‘he was the most honest, and
therefore the best dissembler he had ever met with.’
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The Wotton of this paper, then, is this ‘honest dissembler’. The King’s paradoxical tribute
provides a particularly fitting summation of the character that Wotton was to bear in his
public life. A master of disguise, he claimed to employ art in the service of truth.
apparently simple formulations sit uneasily within the play of political life. While the King
remained convinced of Wotton’s honesty, others suspected that the appearance of
transparency was but part of his game. Wotton recognised and played on their distrust, as
he was to acknowledge in later life. ‘Speak always the truth,’ he advised a young man
embarking upon a political career, ‘for you will never be believed.’
This brief history might make Wotton’s claim to artlessness seem a little disingenuous. His
appointment to James’s diplomatic service was not the mere effect of chance, although
luck certainly played a role. Rather it was a testimony to Wotton’s real ability in his chosen
field. Wotton had dedicated many years to learning the art of politics. His clandestine
journey to the Scottish Court as Ottavio Baldi was but one of a number of adventures for
which he had donned a false identity. His boldness and flair for the dramatic stood him in
good stead in inventing and carrying off such subterfuge, while his gift for languages
allowed him to pass readily as Italian or German even among native speakers. This latter
advantage he did not hesitate to employ. ‘He travels with mean consideration in my
opinion’, Wotton was to write, ‘that is ever one countryman.’
Wotton’s reputation for
disguise was such as to earn him the nickname of ‘Fabritio’ among his rivals at the English
This discussion of Wotton opens, then, with a suggestion of his entanglement in the web of
associations surrounding the terms ‘truth’ and ‘art’. The foregoing account of his
diplomatic career has emphasized the connotations that perhaps spring most readily to
mind; those in which honesty is opposed to the ‘artfulness’ of disguise, the deceptiveness
of appearances. However Wotton was drawn not only by the political world, in which
transparency and disguise were at play, but also by the ‘constant principles’ of philosophy.
Wotton’s biographers, recognising the attraction that both the active and the
contemplative life held for him, have pointed to a dualism of his intellectual nature.
duties as ambassador were constantly juggled with the pursuit of scholarly projects, while
his retirement to Eton did little to quench his appetite for political gossip. In the end it
seems that both his scholarship and his diplomatic responsibilities were compromised.
Few literary works were completed, but the distraction they afforded from the affairs of
State brought him, upon occasion, close to misadventure.
However valid such negative appraisal of his ‘intellectual dualism’ might be, Wotton may
well have considered his passion for both action and contemplation to be a positive trait;
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for it is exactly this combination that was held, by both Plato and Aristotle, to be the mark
of true statesmanship.
Wotton, I shall argue, strove to be a true statesman. The true statesman was defined by the
ancients as one who acts knowingly; and knowledge is the province of the philosopher. My
interpretation of The Elements of Architecture rests upon Wotton’s familiarity with the
works of both Plato and Aristotle.
Of these, his knowledge of Aristotle is the best documented. Not only was university
education in his time still based upon the Organon, but Aristotle is cited throughout
Wotton’s correspondence and literary works.
In The Elements of Architecture Wotton declares Aristotle to be ‘our greatest Master among
the sonnes of Nature’.
This accolade is a genuine declaration of his regard for the
ancient. Although, as Rykwert and Harris have emphasized, Platonic and Neoplatonic
influences are undoubtedly present in Wotton’s thought, these are grasped within an
A first hand knowledge of Plato’s work is less to be taken for granted, for one of Wotton’s
generation, than a knowledge of Aristotle. At the time of Wotton’s university education
Plato was still little taught in England, and then mostly from secondary sources. Among
the few exceptions to this general ignorance was an Oxford Professor, Albericus Gentilis,
who was to publish a detailed discussion of Plato shortly after Wotton’s departure from the
This learned Professor had become both mentor and friend to Wotton during
the latter’s sojourn at Oxford as a student. According to Izaac Walton, Wotton ‘was taken
into such a bosom friendship with the learned Albericus Gentilis . . . that if it had been
possible, Gentilis would have breathed all his excellent knowledge, both of the
Mathematics and Law, into the breast of his dear Harry, for so Gentilis used to call him.’
Thus Wotton may well have been remarkable among his peers in acquiring from his formal
education not only a familiarity with Aristotle but also a significant introduction to the
philosophy of Plato.
His knowledge of both philosophers must have been immeasurably furthered by another
friendship, this time with Isaac Causabon, the greatest classical scholar of the age. As a
young man Wotton lodged in Causabon’s house in Geneva for fourteen months, in order
to perfect his knowledge of Greek. As Causabon had recently completed his edition of
Aristotle at the time of Wotton’s sojourn with him, it is likely that the emphasis of their
discourse, once again, was Aristotelian rather than Platonic.
However Wotton, although
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he makes few direct references to Plato in his correspondence, demonstrates his
familiarity with two of the central themes of Plato’s writing: the idea that self knowledge
arises through participation in the logos (the realm of reasoned discourse), and that self
knowledge involves a recognition of human finitude.
Action and Contemplation
Wotton, I have suggested, strove to be a true statesman, and this goal, according to both
Plato and Aristotle, requires an interweaving of the virtues associated with contemplation
In Plato’s Republic, for example, Socrates outlines the virtues which must be possessed by
the guardians of his utopian State. They must, he argues, have both wisdom and courage.
But this combination is more difficult to attain than one might think: ‘The natural gifts ...
required will rarely grow together into one whole; they tend to split apart.’
ready understanding, a good memory, sagacity, quickness, together with a high-spirited,
generous temper, are seldom combined with willingness to live a quiet life of sober
constancy,’ Socrates notes, ‘but we must insist that no one must be given the highest
education or hold office as a ruler, who has not both sets of qualities in due measure.’
Here, I believe, we have an ideal entirely in harmony with Wotton’s own inclinations.
Contemplation and action each held an attraction for him, and his life can be read as an
ongoing endeavour to reconcile their different demands.
The life in which contemplation and action are blended is, for neither Plato nor Aristotle,
the highest life. That title belongs to a life devoted to contemplation alone, a life directed
to the attainment of sophia, a knowledge of that which is eternal and invariable. However
this highest life, as Aristotle notes, can be realised only by the gods.
We lesser beings may
‘love’ (philo-) sophia, and strive towards it, but it is not within the powers of our finite
nature to finally attain it.
To be human, as opposed to divine, is to realise oneself within the realm of the mixed; to
participate in both contemplation and action, to be driven by both reason and desire. To
be human is to realise oneself as a member of a political community. This second highest,
and most properly human, life, according to Aristotle, is most fully realised in the virtue of
phronesis (practical reasoning).
And here we come to the crux of the matter; for the play between contemplation and
action within Wotton’s life is directed not to the attainment of sophia, but rather to that of
phronesis. Insofar as he pursues theoria, Wotton engages not ‘in mere speculations’,
which end only in wonder, but rather in reasoning aimed at ‘public use’. Our reason, he
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declares, was given to us not simply to mark our distinction from inferior creatures but,
rather, as an active power in itself.
Here, as so often, Wotton reveals himself to be truly
Aristotelian. Our human potential for rationality must be made present in the world, must
be realised in concrete acts and productions, if it is to be fulfilled.
If Wotton’s political life was realised in ‘acts and productions’, one may well ask (as did his
rivals) whether these displayed more truth or art. Whether read in terms of political virtue,
as the skills of an ‘honest dissembler’, or as the bi-polar pull of theoretical and practical
pursuits, the couplet ‘truth’ and ‘art’ sets into motion a series of questions which engaged
Wotton himself no less than his biographers. It is in the context of these questions, I will
argue, that understanding of The Elements of Architecture may be approached.
The Elements of Architecture
Wotton’s writing on architecture, at the close of his political career, has been portrayed as
a last and desperate piece of diplomatic manoeuvring.
Late in 1623, in his fifty-fifth year of life, Wotton made his way back to England from his
third posting to Venice. It had been a disappointing embassy, begun on the eve of the
thirty years war and played out amid the ruin of all his earlier diplomatic schemes.
Wotton was weary and disheartened. The possibility that his old age would be marked by
penury and ill health must have loomed large on his miserable passage across the war-torn
Continent. King James, Wotton’s long-time friend and patron, was nearing the end of his
life and could do little more for him. Although Wotton assured himself that those in power
would not neglect him, his spirits were low. It was not an uncommon fate for ambassadors
to be forgotten during their absence from court, and many were not even paid the money
owing to them upon their return.
As it turned out, his fears were well founded. ‘After seventeen years of foreign service’
Wotton found himself ‘left utterly destitute of all possibility to subsist at home; much like
those seal-fishes, which sometimes, as they say, oversleeping themselves in an ebbing-
water, feel nothing about them but a dry shore when they awake.’
His future must have looked bleak indeed, and even his rivals at court were moved to pity.
On January 31st Chamberlain wrote to Carleton that ‘Sir Henry Wotton hath been sick,
poor man, since his coming home, and I hear he is retiring to some corner in the country
to finish a work he is setting out of the mathematics, or perhaps building castles in the air.’
Within the space of eight weeks The Elements of Architecture had been completed and
brought to press.
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Clearly the desperation of Wotton’s circumstances played a role in this rapid production.
The ‘cunning fox’, it has been suggested, sought to win the favour of the powerful Duke of
Buckingham, whose influence would be decisive in selecting a successor for the recently
deceased provost at Eton College. Buckingham was interested in architecture and so, it is
argued, The Elements of Architecture was conceived.
The success of Wotton’s work, read
in these terms, ensured his withdrawal from the theatre of the Court, a shedding of the
conceits and disguises which he had there employed, and the resumption of his life as ‘a
plaine Kentish man’.
While there is no disputing the timeliness of Wotton’s publication, this purely
instrumental account of its production diverts attention from the text itself. Expediency
may well have played a role in Wotton’s choice of subject, however I will argue that
architecture may have suggested itself as much in answer to Wotton’s own ongoing
meditations as in response to the interests of the powerful. The play between truth and art
that formed an ever-present backdrop to Wotton’s political career, remains as a subtext to
Wotton as Educator.
The Elements of Architecture was, as has been intimated, in the nature of a job application;
and the job that Wotton sought in his retirement from politics was that of an educator. The
education of the young had been recommended by both Plato and Aristotle as the most
fitting occupation for one who had served his political term. What, then, could be more
suitable than that the aging ambassador of a self styled ‘philosopher king’ be awarded a
position as Provost at Eton College?
Given the circumstances of his publication, it comes as no surprise to find Wotton drawing
an explicit analogy between architecture and education in the closing pages of his work.
Feeling that his 'Animadversions, touching Architecture' may have left his audience
somewhat restless, and suspecting that they might feel he had spent his 'poore
observation abroad, about nothing but Stone and Timber, and such Rubbage,' Wotton
declares himself 'led into an immodesty of proclaiming another work. Namely, a
Philosophical Survey of Education.' Education, he suggests, 'is indeed a second Building,
or repairing of Nature, and, as I may tearme it, a kinde of Morall Architecture.'
The analogy between architecture and education with which Wotton closes The Elements
cannot be dismissed simply as a discrete notification, inserted in an otherwise unrelated
text, of his suitability for an educational post. Rather, it makes explicit a theme which is
threaded throughout The Elements and which is revived in his later educational musings.
As the parallel between ‘Architecture’ and ‘Morall Architecture’ suggests, Wotton is
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conscious of a play between architecture as an ‘image of stability’, and the ‘image of
instability’ which is man.
There was little danger that those to whom The Elements was addressed would miss the
allusion, for Wotton was drawing upon well-established tradition. Central to that tradition
is Plato’s Politicus, a text concerned with the education of statesmen. Significantly, it is in
his Politicus that Plato develops an analogy between the statesman and the architect.
For Plato a ‘statesman’ is someone capable of ordering material. Such ordering may be
undertaken to different ends. The true statesman, Plato argues, is one who orders for the
sake of the material ordered. Thus the statesman can be distinguished from the architect
because material ordered by the latter, the stone, terracotta and timber of building, is
ordered not for its own sake, but for the sake of future inhabitants. The political state, by
contrast, is ordered for the good of those who participate in its order.
Further, while the
statesman generates order among animate beings, the architect orders inanimate material
in producing a ‘work’.
The dialogue of the Politicus, therefore, is about the generation of order, whether among
animate beings, or within an inanimate ‘work’. The statesman and the architect represent
these two kinds of ordering. However, as representatives, they also point beyond
themselves and their particular fields of activity. Indeed, it might be argued that the real
focus of the dialogue is another pair; the educator and the author. While an educator
orders the animate material of the soul, and orders it for its own sake, the author orders an
inanimate body of text, and orders it for the sake of its readers. Wotton alerts his readers to
his fitness for both activities.
Wotton as Legislator
For both Plato and Aristotle, education is an ordering of the soul in preparation for
The good citizen, Plato argues, is one who has a ‘disposition to hold to the
good in practice.’
Education is the cultivation of such a disposition. Aristotle is equally
clear. The telos of human nature, he maintains, is realised through political life. We are
born for citizenship, and good citizenship is founded upon virtuous habits.
keeping with Platonic-Aristotelian thought, understands his ‘Morall Architecture’ as
guiding youths into good citizenship.
But a Provost at Eton must be concerned with more than the cultivation of good
citizenship. Those under his care are to become statesmen. They must acquire, from their
education, a capacity to act with ‘political wisdom’. ‘Political wisdom’, the virtue specific
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to the statesman, is, according to Aristotle, a kind of practical wisdom (phronesis)
exercised for the good of the political state.
‘Of the wisdom concerned with the city,’ Aristotle writes, ‘the practical wisdom
which plays a controlling part is legislative wisdom, while that which is related to
this as particulars to their universal is known by the general name ‘political
wisdom’; this has to do with action and deliberation, for a decree [which interprets
the law upon a particular occasion] is a thing to be carried out in the form of an
The distinction that Aristotle is making here is one between written laws and the
interpretation of those laws in practice. Written laws, he notes, are the product of
‘legislative wisdom’, while practice is guided by ‘political wisdom’.
This distinction is of the greatest significance for interpreting The Elements of Architecture.
In his introduction, Wotton declares that his text is to provide ‘rules’ delineating the
principles of good architecture: ‘For though in practicall knowledges, every complete
example bears the credite of a rule; yet peradventure rules should precead, that we may by
them, be made fit to judge of examples.’
Such rules are a form of legislation. Within Aristotelian thought, they bear the same
relation to the practical activity of the architect as laws bear to the activity of a statesman.
In legislating on the subject of architecture, Wotton displays legislative wisdom.
And this is significant; for Aristotle, in specifying the qualities to be possessed by an ideal
educator, requires, in the first place, that they be capable of legislation:
[O]ne who wishes to make other people . . better by supervision ought first to try to
acquire the art of legislation; assuming that we can be made good by laws. For
producing a right disposition in any person that is set before you is not a task for
everybody: if anyone can do it, it is the man with knowledge [of the principles
A legislator, then, must have knowledge. Most politicians, Aristotle regretfully notes, have
failed to qualify their experience through rational reflection, and so have failed to acquire
knowledge of principles.
Wotton, who had juggled the conflicting demands of political
action and theoretical reflection throughout his career, might well be anxious to proclaim
his exceptional status.
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Our recognition of the advantage, to Wotton, that might follow from an advertisement of
his legislative abilities, does much to explain his motivation in setting out the ‘rules’ of
architecture. It also provides us with an important clue to interpreting the structure of his
text. Given Wotton’s role as legislator, it is not surprising to find his text ordered to exhibit
the very qualities that he would hope to bring about in the souls of his prospective charges;
the qualities associated with the virtue of political wisdom.
Political wisdom, the phronesis that is realised within political life, is divided by Aristotle
into two parts: the deliberative and the judicial.
This division corresponds to the major
division within the text of The Elements of Architecture; that which articulates a distinction
between the architect and the ‘censurer’, or judge, of architecture. Indeed, the allusion is
made explicit: the architect, Wotton notes, 'may be helped with Deliberation,’ while ‘the
Judging must flow from an extemporall habite.'
Architect and judge of architecture
represent the deliberative and the judicial parts of political wisdom, respectively.
Architecture, Truth and Art.
If Wotton’s Elements of Architecture serves as an advertisement of his potential as an
educator, it may equally be read as a vindication of the play of truth and art within his
Architecture is an art. Judgement aims at truth, or at recognising what is right. The division
between the architect and the judge of architecture that articulates The Elements sets into
motion, once again, the question that had dogged Wotton’s political life.
If his rivals questioned the plausibility of Wotton’s claim to employ art in the service of
truth, an answer is made to them in The Elements of Architecture; for Wotton is at pains to
emphasise the inseparability of these two qualities in the architect.
The architect must not only be capable of ordering material, but also of judging well in
doing so. Good deliberation requires good judgment. The unity of the two parts of political
wisdom is illustrated in the activity of the architect.
Here, again, Wotton follows classical precedent. In Plato’s Politicus the two functions, the
ordering (or commanding) of material and the judging of ordered constructions, are
partners, essential to each other. The Eleatic Stranger, who orders his argument, needs a
partner in discourse to judge whether each of his moves is good or bad, true or false.
Similarly, a statesman needs critics in order to ensure that his ordering of the community
is the best possible for that community.
Only the presence of both ordering activity and
criticism gives rise to true statesmanship.
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Clearly this is what is meant by both Aristotle and Wotton, too. Deliberative and judicial
functions are united within the play of interpretive practice.
Recognition of both Wotton’s agenda in framing The Elements of Architecture and the
Platonic-Aristotelian origins of his argument illuminates his textual strategies in the
context of his political life. But does it yield anything to those of us who are interested in
architecture? I would argue that it does; for in setting into motion a play between truth and
art in both politics and architecture, Wotton argues for a positive relation between praxis
and techne. In his text the techne of the good architect and the praxis of the good
statesman are equally characterised by understanding, order and judgment.
Dr Susan Stewart is a lecturer in Interior Design at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. Her research
focuses on architectural and interior design theory. Sir Henry Wotton’s treatise on architecture was the subject of
her doctoral dissertation. She has recently published “Gathering, disposing and the cultivation of judgment in Sir
Henry Wotton’s The Elements of Architecture” Architectural Theory Review, 6, 2, 2001, pp81-94.
See, for example, the appraisals of Wotton’s text by Joseph Rykwert, in The First Moderns: Architects of the
Eighteenth Century, Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1980, pp.128; and Eileen Harris, in British Architectural
Books and Writers 1556-1785, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p.500.
See my unpublished doctoral thesis, Wotton’s ‘The Elements of Architecture’ and the Articulation of Justice,
University of Sydney, 1999, from which substantial parts of this paper have been drawn. Publications arising from
that thesis, and detailing particular aspects of Wotton’s text, include: ‘Gathering, disposing and the cultivation of
judgement in Sir Henry Wotton’s ‘The Elements of Architecture’, Architectural Theory Review, 6 (2, 2001):81-94;
and “Firmness and Infirmity in Sir Henry Wotton’s The Elements of Architecture,” In FIRM(ness) commodity DE-
light?, Papers from the Fifteenth Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians of Australia and
New Zealand, eds. J. Willis, P. Goad, A. Huston, Melbourne: Printed by the University of Melbourne, 1998.
Izaak Walton, “The Life of Sir Henry Wotton.” In The Lives of John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, Richard Hooker,
George Herbert & Robert Sanderson, with introduction and notes by S. B. Carter, London: Falcon Educational
Books, 1951, p.117.
This is essentially the claim made in Wotton’s famous comment, that ‘an ambassador is an honest man sent to
lie abroad for his country.’ This quip, originally inscribed in Latin in a friend’s book, almost occasioned the end of
Wotton’s diplomatic career, when made public. All of Wotton’s biographers repeat the quip, but the most
extensive discussion of the trouble which it brought upon him is given in Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry
Wotton, Vol. 1, pp.126-32.
Adolphus WilliamWard, Sir Henry Wotton: A Biographical Sketch, Westminster: Archibald Constable and
Wotton to Lord Zouche, 19th February, 1591. Reprinted in Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Vol.1,
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Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Vol.1, p.123, note 4 & p.126, note 2.
Ward, Sir Henry Wotton: A Biographical Sketch, p.3-4; Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Vol. 1,
Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Vol. 1, p.110.
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, translated and edited by W. D. Ross, Vol.9, The Works of Aristotle, Oxford: The
Clarendon Press, 1928, 1141b24; and Plato, Politicus, translated by A. E. Taylor in The Sophist and the Statesman,
ed. R. Klibansky and E. Anscombe. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, 1961, 310E-311A.
Wotton variously cites Aristotle’s Metaphysics and De Anima in The Elements of Architecture, his Politics,
Rhetoric and Poetics in The Survey of Education, and his Politics, Rhetoric and Metaphysics in the letters reprinted
by Logan Pearsall Smith, in The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton. Although the Ethica Nicomachea, Topica and
Analytica Posteriori are not directly cited, they were certainly well known to Wotton as they were among the most
important of those Aristotelian texts that informed his university education, and their ideas are closely echoed in
Wotton, The Elements of Architecture, A Facsimile Reprint of the First Edition (London, 1624) with
Introduction and Notes by Frederick Hard, ed. The Folger Shakespeare Library, Charlottesville: The University
Press of Virginia, 1968, p.109. He further cites Aristotle as ‘our old master’ in letters to Sir George Calvert and Dr
Castle. Both letters are reprinted in Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton: Wotton to Calvert, Letter no.
391, Vol. 2, p.268; and Wotton to Dr. Castle, Letter no. 502, Vol.2, p.402.
Joseph Rykwert declares Wotton a ‘Vitruvian Neoplatonist’ in his The First Moderns: Architects of the
Eighteenth Century, Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1980, pp.128. Eileen Harris agrees with Rykwert and
points to Wotton’s ‘Platonic’ priorities in her British Architectural Books and Writers 1556-1785, Cambridge,
England: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p.500. Neither of these authors notes Wotton’s preference for
Gentilis incorporated the discussion of Plato into a commentary upon Justinian’s Code, published in 1593.
Sears Jayne, Plato in Renaissance England, International Archives of the History of Ideas, Dordrecht, Boston,
London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995, p.126.
Walton, “The Life of Sir Henry Wotton.” pp.108-9.
Causabon published his edition of Aristotle in 1590, the year in which he and Wotton first met. Wotton stayed
with him from mid 1593 until the end of 1594. Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Vol.1., pp.11-12 &
See Wotton’s letters to the Lord Treasurer Weston and to John Dynley, reprinted by Smith, The Life and Letters
of Sir Henry Wotton, Letter no.449, Vol.2, pp.334-5; and Letter no.501, Vol.2. p.401.
Plato, The Republic, in The Republic of Plato, translated with notes and an interpretive essay by Allan Bloom,
New York, London: Basic Books Inc., 1968, 503c. See also Gadamer’s discussion in “Plato and the Poets.” In
Dialogue and Dialectic: eight hermeneutical studies on Plato, 73-92, New Haven and London: Yale University
Press, 1980. pp.55-6.
Plato,The Republic, 503c. See also Politicus, 306b-311a.
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1177b25-1178a10 & 1178b20-35
From a letter to Henry, Prince of Wales, reprinted in Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Letter no.
190. Vol.1, p.497. The letter is undated, but Smith believes it to have been written in 1610.
Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, vol.1 pp.199-201; Joseph Rykwert, The First Moderns: Architects
of the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1980, p.127; Eileen Harris, British
Architectural Books and Writers 1556-1785. Cambridge, New York, Port Chester, Melbourne, Sydney: Cambridge
University Press, 1990, p.499.
ADDITIONS snnnNz zooz s1rwnn1 ÞnnoNrsis, Þnnxis nNn 1rcnNr ⁄ Þncr I¸ or I(
Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Letter no. 385, Vol.2, p.264; and Vol.1, p.194.
Wotton to the Duke of Buckingham, Jan. 1624. reprinted by Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton,
Letter no. 404, Vol.2, p.284.
The Elements of Architecture was entered in the register of the Stationers’ Company on Jan 24, 1623-4 (Noted
by Smith The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Vol.1, p.199, note 1). It was printed in April. Written in haste,
Wotton related, The Elements was ‘printed sheet by sheet, as fast as it was born, and it was born as soon as it was
conceived; so as it must needs have the imperfections and deformities of an immature birth, besides the
weakness of the parent.’ From the letter which accompanied a copy of The Elements of Architecture sent to
Charles, Prince of Wales upon its publication. Reprinted by Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, Letter
no. 405, Vol.2, pp. 284-5. The haste with which The Elements was produced is occasionally evident in the text,
especially in citations which Wotton often does from memory.
While there is no disputing the connection between Wotton’s desire for the provostship and his publication of
The Elements of Architecture, the emphasis placed upon his ‘cunning’ by both Rykwert in The First Moderns,
p.127; and by Harris in her encyclopaedic British Architectural Books and Writers 1556-1785, p.499, seems to me
to be unnecessarily unsympathetic. Rykwert and Harris draw upon the ill natured comments of Wottton’s
enemies, John Chamberlain and Dudley Carleton, in their assessment of Wotton’s motivation. The letter from
Chamberlain to Carleton cited by Eileen Harris is quoted by Frederick Hard in his introduction to the 1968
reprint of The Elements of Architecture, p.xlv; and is also cited by Smith, The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton,
This self description, drawn here from the closing lines of The Elements of Architecture, (p.123), recurs
throughout Wotton’s writing.
Sir Henry Wotton, The Elements of Architecture, p.122. Wotton’s ‘Survey of Education,’ advertised at the close
of The Elements, was never completed. However the beginnings that he had made upon it were published
posthumously in the Reliquiae Wottonianae together with another incomplete work, the ‘Aphorisms of
Education.’ In these fragmentary essays Wotton makes it clear that by ‘education’ he does not mean the kind of
technical training that is intended to prepare youths for productive employment. The humanists followed
classical precedent in distinguishing teaching directed to such utilitarian ends from true ‘education’. See Plato,
The Laws, translated by T. J. Saunders, Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1970, 643-3 and Aristotle, Ethica
Wotton contrasts the “plaine compilements and tractable Materials” of architecture with the “Laberynthes
and Mysteries of Courts and States” in his introduction to The Elements. He refers to man as an ‘image of
instability’ in a letter to Causabon in late 1600, noted in Logan Pearsall Smith’s The Life and Letters of Sir Henry
Wotton, Vol.1, p.36.
Plato, Politicus, 287D.
This distinction between activities conducted for their own sake and those conducted for the sake of some
further end is the fundamental distinction between ethics and techne. See Plato’s Politicus 287D. Aristotle’s most
famous exposition of this difference is in his Ethica Nicomachea, 1140a1-15 & 1140b5-8.
Plato, The Laws, 643-3.
P. Christopher Smith, in his editorial notes to Hans-Georg Gadamer’s The Idea of the Good in Platonic-
Aristotelian Philosophy, translated by P. Christopher Smith, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980,
p.173, note 5.
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1097b12.
The other kinds of practical wisdom are listed by Aristotle as ‘economia’, which pertains to the management of
a household, and phronesis proper, which directs the individual’s ordering of him or her self. Ethica Nicomachea,
ADDITIONS snnnNz zooz s1rwnn1 ÞnnoNrsis, Þnnxis nNn 1rcnNr ⁄ Þncr I( or I(
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1141b23-28.
Sir Henry Wotton, The Elements of Architecture, Preface.
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1180b1-26
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1180b1-26
Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, 1141b23-28.
Sir Henry Wotton, The Elements of Architecture, p.115
Plato, Politicus, 260B.