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SIR THOMAS MORE. 1480—1535.
Who, with a generous though mistaken seul,
Withstood a brutal tyrant'a uactul rage,
Like Cato Arm, like ArisUde* just,
Like rigid Clnclnnattts nobly poor—
A dauntless soul erect, who smiled on death.
Sir Thomas More was, without doubt, the most prominent character oi the reign of Henry VHL He was born in London in the year 1480. When a toy he was in the family of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who used to say of him to his guests, "This boy who waits at my table, who lives to see it, will prove a marvellous man." He entered the University of Oxford at the age of seventeen, and at the age of twenty-two was elected member of Parliament In 1516 he was sent to Flanders on an important mission, and nn hts return, the king conferred on him the honor of knighthood, and appointed him one of his privy council. In 1529, on the disgrace of Cardinal Wolsey, he was appointed Lord Chancellor, being the first layman who ever held die office. But he was soon to experience in himself the language which Shakipeare puts into the mouth of Wolsey to Cromwell,—
Is that poor man that hang* on prlnceswtivors.,»
Henry Vill. doubtless raised More to this high office, that he might aid him to obtain a divorce from his wife, and to marry Anne Boleyn. But More was sincerely attached to the Roman church, and looked with horror upon any thing that was denounced by the supreme head of the church, as the king's divorce was by the pope. He therefore begged that monster of wickedness, Henry VUL, to excuse him from giving an opinion. But the tyrant was relentless, and the result was, that when the Act of Supremacy was parsed by Parliament, 1534, declaring Henry to be the supreme head of the church, More refused to take the oath required of him, and he died on a scaffold, a martyr to his adhesion to the papal church, and the supremacy of the pope, on the 5th of July, 1535. « Nothing is wanting," (says Mr. Hume,) "to the glory of this end but a better cause. But as the man followed his principles and sense of duty, however misguided, his constancy and integrity are not the less objects of our admiration."
More was a man of true genius, and of a mind enriched with all the learning of bis time, and no one had a greater influence over his contemporaries. He held continued correspondence with the learned men of Europe. The great Erasmus went to England on purpose to enjoy the pleasure of his con venation. It is said that their first meeting was at the lord mayor's table, at that time always open to men of learning and eminence, but they were unknown to each other. At dinner, a dispute arising on some theological points, Erasmus expressed himself with great severity of the clergy, and ridiculed, with considerable acrimdhy, the doctrine or* transubstantiation. More rejoined with all his strength of argument and keenness of wit. Erasmus, thus assailed, exclaimed with some vehemence, "Aut tu Morui a, ant nullus;"' to which More with great readiness replied, "Aut tu u Ermrmu, cud Diabohu."1
Jn this contest Sir Thomas's wit, if not his arguments, rather prevailed; but not long after, Erasmus had a far greater advantage. More had lent Erasmus a horse, which he took over with him to Holland. Instead of returning it to the owner, he sent him the following epigram, intended as an answer to the former arguments of Sir Thomas on tho subject of transubstantiation:—
Quod mad dlxlsU
Credo quod edas, et edls;
Crede quod habeas, et habcs.l
More was of a very cheerful or rather mirthful disposition, which forsook him not to the last, and he jested even when about to lay his head upon the block. The following couplet, wliich is attributed to him, indicates the state of mind, which may have partially enabled him to meet his fate with a fortitude so admirable:
If evils come not, then our fears are vain;
Truth, however, compels me to add that his character presents many inconsistencies; for though he was a witty companion, he was a stern fanatic; though playful and affectionate in his own household, he lorded it with an iron rod over God's heritage; though an enlightened statesman, ably arguing in his study against sanguinary laws, from his chair of office he spared no pains to carry the most sanguinary into execution; and though ranked as a philosopher, he, every Friday, scourged his own body with whips of knotted cords, and by way of further penance, wore a hair shirt next to his lacerated skin.
The most celebrated work of Sir Thomas More was his Utopia.* The title of it is as follows: ""A most pleasant, fruitful, and witty Work of the best State of the public Weal, and of the new Isle called Utopia." It is a philosophical romance, in which More, after the manner of Ploto, erects an imaginary republic, arranges society in a form entirely new, and endows it with institutions more likely, as he thought, to secure its happiness, than any which mankind had hitherto experienced. But while there is much in it that is fanciful and truly Utopian, there is also much that is truly excellent and worthy to be adopted. Thus, instead of severe punishment for theft, the author would improve the morals and condition of the people, so as to take away the temptation to crime; for, says he, "if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education exposed them,
t For want of a better, I give the following versioni
Of Christ's body yon aald
And bread It surely will be; «
Is with you, and with you Is ha.
s More properly written Eutopta, from the Greek em (iv) "well, happily," and topm (rosos) "a place:" that is, "a land of perfect happiness." Tho Utopia was written in Latin, and not translated till a subsequent age, by Bishop Burnet.
what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them V
Dtscumox or The Island Utopia. It is somewhere in the midst ot' the sea, of a crescent shape, like the new moon, but more curved, the two extremities coming nearer together. Hence the concave part forms an admirable harbor for ships, but the entrance is so full of rocks, that no one but a Utopian could steer a vessel safely into the harbor.1 They are therefore secure from the attacks of an enemy. There are fifty-four cities in the island, about the same distance apart. They are surrounded by high walls; the streets twenty feet wide. All the houses have large gardens in the rear. « Whoso will may go in," for there is nothing within die houses Uiat is private, or any man's own. And every tenth year they change houses by lot.
Their Trades Ass Masker Of Life. Agriculture is that which is so universally understood among them all, that no person eidier man or woman is ignorant of it. The husbandmen labor the ground, breed cattle, hew wood, ami convey it to the towns. They also raise a great deal of poultry, and that •■ by a marvellous policy: for the hens do not sit upon the eggs; but by keeping them in a certain equal heat, they bring life into them and hatch them: and the chickens, as soon as they come out of the shell, follow men and women instead of hens." Besides agriculture, every man has some peculiar trade to which he applies himself. All the island over they wear the same sort of clothes, without any other distinction than that which is necessary for marking the difference between the two sexes, and the married and unmarried. The fashion never alters, and every family makes their own clothes.
In Travelling, though "they carry nothing forth with them, yet in all their journey they lack nothing: for wheresoever they come they be at home." There are no "wine taverns nor ale-houses" there, so that the disgraceful business of manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks is not known. Happy island!
Their Notions Of Fin tar And Wealth. "The Utopians wonder how any man should be so much taken with the glaring, doubtful lustre of a jowcl or stone, that can look up to a star, or to the sun itself: or how any should value himself because his cloth is made of finer thread; for, how fine soevei Uiat thread may be, it was once no better than the fleece of a sheep, and that sheep was a sheep still for all its wearing it. They wonder much to hear that gold, which in itself is so useless a tiling, should be everywhere so much esteemed, that even man, for whom it was made, and by whom it has its value, should yet be thought of less value than it is; so that a man of lead, who has no more sense than a log of wood, and is as bad as he is foolish, should have many wise and good men serving him, only because he had a great heap of Uiat metal."
Their Notions Of Hunting. "Among foolish pursuers of pleasure they reckon all those Uiat delight in hunting, or birding, or gaming; of whose madness they have only heard, for they have no such things among them. What pleasure, they ask, can one find in seeing dogs run after a hare? It ought rather to stir pity, when a weak, harmless, and timid hare is devoured by a strong, fierce, and cruel dog. Therefore, all this business of hunting is, among tiie Utopians, turned over'to Uieir butchers; and they look on hunting as one of the basest parts of a butcher's work."
1 So graphic Is Sir Thomas's description of Utopia, tliat many of me teamed o that day took *i tor tro* bl*!ory. and thought It expedient that missionaries should be sent out to c-nvrrt so wise u p»fle ro Christianity.
Of Laws Abo Lawtehj. "They have but few laws, and such is their constitution that they need not many. They do very much condemn other nations whose laws, together with the comments on them, swell up so many volumes, for they think it an unreasonable thing to oblige men to obey a body of laws that are both of such a bulk and so dark that they cannot be read or understood by every one of the subjects.' They have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters as well as to wrest laws; and. therefore, they think it is much better that every man should plead his own cause, and trust it to the judge."
Or TiiEiii Notions Oi «They detest war as a very brutal tiling;
and which, to the reproach of human nature, is more practiced by men than any sort of beasts: and they, against the custom of almost all other nations, think that there is nothing more inglorious than that glory which is gained by war." They would be both troubled and ashamed of a bloody victory over their enemies; and in no victory do they glory so much, as in that which is gained by dexterity and good conduct, without bloodshed."'
Such are a few of the many admirable reflections to be found in the Utopia. No one can read it attentively without profit, and without acknowledging it to be full of those profound observations and shrewd insights into human nature, which show the author to be a man of singular wisdom, and far in advance of the spirit and practices of his own age.4
Besides the Utopia, Sir Thomas wrote a great number of theological treatises, the main design of which was to oppose the Reformation. He also wrote a « History of Edward V. and his Brother, and of Richard IIL" Of this, Hume speaks in the highest terms: « No historian," (he says,) » cither of ancient or modern times, can possibly have more weight. He may justly bo esteemed a contemporary with regard to the murder of the two princes; and it is plain from his narrative that ho had the particulars from the eyewitnesses themselves." That wretch, Richard III., resolved, as the first step to his usurpation, to get both the young princes into his hand. Accordingly he despatched Cardinal Bourchier, widi other ecclesiastics, to the queen, to prevail upon her to give them up. After a long dialogue, the cardinal, perceiving the little progress he had made with her, finally assured her that if she would consent to deliver the Duke of York to him, he "durst lay his own body and soul both pledge, not only for his surety, but also for his estate." The queen, seeing longer resistance to be fruitless, taking the young duke by the hand, thus addressed the cardinal and other lords: ,
My lord, (quod she,) and all my lords, I neither am so unwise to mistrust your wits, nor so suspicious to mistrust your truths. Of which thing I purpose to make you such a proof, as if either
1 "This ta ft hone thrust. Our lawn nrc Bo numerous, that, together with their commentaries, they would have furnished sufficient solid rending for Adam, had be lived until now ; and the best of It Is, that be would probably Imvc been us wise when he concluded us when he began."—/. A. St. Jakn.
3 "As long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than Od their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters."— Gibto*.
I Another home thrust; for modern generals, so they obtain the victory, care not a straw for th£ expense of humnn lite by which It Is purchased.
* Read—the *' Preliminary Discourse" to an excellent edition of the Vtopla. by J. A. St. John, Esq. London, IMS: also, an admirably written life of More In Lord Campbell's "Lives orthe Chancellors, une of the most interesting and instructive biographical works In the language.
of both lacked in you, might turn both me to great sorrow, the realm to much harm, and you to great reproach. For lo! here is, (quod she,) this gentleman, whom I doubt not I could here keep safe, if I would, whatsoever any man say. And I doubt not also, that there be some abroad so deadly enemies unto my blood, that if they wist where any of it lay in their own body, they would let it out. We have also had experience that the desire of a kingdom knoweth no kindred. The brother hath been the brother's bane. And may the nephews be sure of their uncle? Each of these children is other's defence while they be asunder, and each of their lives lieth in the other's body. Keep one safe, and both be sure; and nothing for them both more perilous, than to be both in one place. For what wise merchant ventureth all his goods in one sbip? All this notwithstanding, here I deliver him, and his brother in him, to keep into your hands, of whom I shall ask them both afore God and the world. Faithful ye be, that wot I well; and I know well you be wise. Power and strength to keep him, if ye list, neither lack ye of yourself, nor can lack help in their cause. And if ye cannot elsewhere, then may you leave him here. But only one thing I beseech you, for the trust that his father put in you ever, and for the trust that I put in you now, that as far as ye think that I fear too much, be you well ware that you fear not as far too little. And therewithal, she said unto the child: Farewell, my own sweet son; God send you good keeping; let me kiss you once yet ere you go: for God knoweth when we shall kiss together again. And therewith she kissed him, and blessed him; turned her back and wept, and went her way, leaving the child weepirfg as fast.1
Sir Thomas was twice married. His first wife was the daughter of a country gentleman of high standing, Mr. John Colt, who offered to More the choice of either of his daughters. He was more pleased with the second, and was about to bring matters to a close, when thinking how much it would grieve the elder sister to see the younger preferred before her, he at once addressed the elder, and married her out of pure benevolence. He was well rewarded for his kindness. She proved an excellent wife, sympathizing with him in all his labors and duties; but died after having been married six years, leaving three daughters and a son. For his second wife ho married a widow, Mrs. Alice Middleton, of a very different character. He had not the leaii intention that way himself, but was addressing her in behalf of a friend, when she very plainly answered him, that "he might speed the better if ho would speak in his own behalf." Upon that hint lie spake—and married ho —cmd, sorrowful to say, lived very uncomfortably with her. « Any heart bu Morc's," s:\ys one of his biographers, "would have been broken by this match, for she was one of the most loquacious, ignorant, and narrow-minded of women; but, like another Socrates, More endeavored to laugh away his con
1 The malt la known: the king, (Edward V.) and his brother, the Duke of York, were murdered la Uie Tower by tbo oaurpcr, J-iinp. 1483.