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Of the two books of the Utopia, the second was written a year before the first. The first, which constitutes what may be called the framework or setting for the second, was completed in 1516, just about the time when More, though strongly urged to do so by Cardinal Wolsey, had declined to give up his position as undersheriff, and his income from legal work, that he might enter the service of Henry VIII. We find therefore that there are put into the mouth of the supposed traveller to Utopia many of the arguments which had no doubt weighed with More in the decision at which he had arrived. When, for example, it is urged upon Hythloday in the dialogue (p. 24) that he might bestow his time fruitfully, for the private commodity of his friends and the general profit of all sorts of people, as well as for his own advancement, by getting into some king's court, he replies that in his present condition he lives at liberty and after his own mind, which great estates and peers of the realm rarely can do; and beside this most princes now take delight rather in warlike matters and feats of chivalry than in the good feats of peace, while their present counsellors will admit into the councils no other independent man's advice. So it comes to pass that any one putting forward what he has learnt from history or experience, is little likely to find acceptance for his views. Here we may be sure that we are listening to an exposition of More's own feelings, and so we may also conclude that we have in other parts of the book his views of the condition of the society in England, when Raphael is made the speaker in the conversation before Cardinal Morton. The Utopia therefore is interesting as giving us in this way an insight into the mind of its author on topics of the greatest importance at the time when he lived.
More represents the conversation which is set forth in the Utopia as having taken place at Antwerp. The traveller, Raphael Hythloday, is introduced to More by his friend Peter Giles, and that they may hear more conveniently the wonders which he has to tell, they betake themselves to a quiet seat in More's garden. Raphael is represented as having been one of the companions of Amerigo Vespucci, but he had been left behind in the New World when that discoverer last returned to Europe. The listeners to his narrative at first put now and then a question to the speaker and so the way is paved for making him tell his experience of England, where he had once visited Cardinal Morton, and he relates many things in the government and customs of the English which are worthy to be condemned. He first dwells on the number of thieves, and the frequency of capital punishment for theft, and insists that such severity is not likely to deter offenders, while at the same time so extreme a penalty as death for theft is not equitable.
He next complains of the raising of rents beyond the real value of the land, of the number of idle retainers who when their masters die must steal or starve, of the unnecessary multitudes of soldiers that are kept, of the decay of husbandry, and the great evil of increased sheep-farming, seeing that it employs few men while husbandry furnishes work and wages for many. He then proceeds to point out the dearness of all commodities in the land, victuals, wool and cattle ;' speaks in strong terms of the licentiousness in manners and of the greed of the rich, who by monopolies and engrossing regulate the markets just as they please.
The reformer would not have thieves punished with death, but would let them live and so have the profit of their labour for the nation. He glances at the warlike array of all Europe as he proceeds to give his opinions against the universal fondness for war, but soon returns to what were the special sorrows