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Sir Henry's translation is less than helpful

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With plagiarism in the headlines, and John Bancroft quoting Sir Henry Wotton in his open letter to Baroness Blackstone (AJ 4.10.01), could we, on behalf of Marco Vitruvius Pollio and a rational approach to the design ofthe built environment, put one thing straight.

The essential ingredients in the recipe for architecture were identified by Vitruvius, writing in the first century BC, as 'firmitatis, utilitatis, venustatis', (translated by Morris Hicky Morgan as 'durability, convenience and beauty'). This recipe was good enough for Bramante, Michelangelo, Alberti, Palladio and Vignola, to name but a few designers of notable buildings.

But not good enough for Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639), a diplomat, minor poet and culture-commentator who never designed a building in his life.

He took the recipe, without acknowledgement, from Vitruvius, and gave it a fatal distortion.

Sir Henry translated 'utilitatis' as 'commoditie' and 'firmitatis' as 'firmenes'. These are recognisable equivalents to 'convenience' and 'durability', if a little quaint to our ears.

So far so good, if you do not object to blatant plagiarism. The real problem comes with venustatis, and Sir Henry's substitution of 'delight' for 'beauty'.

'Delight' is subjective. Delight, not beauty, is the property of the beholder.

The damage which Sir Henry's overshadowing distortion of the Vitruvian recipe has done to any possibility of rational debate on the quality of the built environment is inestimable. Sir Henry should be banned from the pages of any publication taking a responsible interest in the subject.

Kenneth Lynn, Lowestoft, Suffolk

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