Page images
PDF
EPUB

of England in the time of Henry VIII. The debasing of coin for the enrichment of the monarch, the pretence of war that money may be raised by taxation though it shall never be spent, the fines exacted on account of old and obsolete laws which are revived for the purposes of extortion either in the form of penalties on offenders, or in payments for dispensations by those who do not choose to observe them, all carry the mind back to the close of the reign of the seventh Henry, when Empson and Dudley were in the height of their power. In such wise does More declare through his fictitious narrator the difficulties which he felt would attend on life in the royal service. To him it would have been for ever a swimming against the stream, a struggle to remedy overwhelming evils, with no one to support him, and so with small hope of success.

The Utopia was perhaps the most powerful among such lamentations over the state of the land at this time, but there were many voices raised with the same cry. Among the publications of the Early English Text Society may be found of the same character

(1) 'Certain causes gathered together wherein is shewed the 'decay of England only by the great multitude of sheep, to the 'utter decay of household keeping, maintenance of men, dearth of corn, and other notable discommodities' (about 1550).

(2) ‘Henry Brinklow's complaint of Roderick Mors unto the ‘Parliament house of England his natural country for the redress of certain wicked laws, evil customs, and cruel decrees.' This book, like the Utopia, dwells on the enhancing of rents, the enclosing of parks, forests and chases, the selling of wards for marriage, of the law's delays, of lords which have turned shepherds, and many other kindred evils.

(3) And over the same ground with the Utopia goes still more closely ‘Thomas Starkey's description of England in the 'reign of King Henry VIII., conveyed in a dialogue between ‘Cardinal Pole and Thomas Lupset, Lecturer in Rhetoric at Oxford.' Here we find exactly the same complaints as are made by More concerning the decay of towns and villages, the increase of sheep-farms and enclosures, the growth of poverty and crime, the characters of the clergy and lawyers, which are both painted in dark colours. Men of religion were a scandal to their profession, and men of law were not slow to follow their example according to the view which Starkey gives us of his own times, and we gather confirmation of it to the full from other sources, among which, to mention no more, Latimer's sermons at Paul's Cross supply evidence in abundance.

With the framework of this first part did More enclose the fiction which he had written in the previous year, to shadow forth remedies for evils against which plain and direct speaking would probably have been dangerous. He tells us (p. 23) that from Hythloday's narrative "these our cities, nations, countries and kingdoms may take example to amend their faults, enormities and errors. Such reform is the drift of his whole narrative. We can see how his heart longed and laboured after those things which he spake of to his son-in-law Roper, saying, ‘Were they well established in Christendom, would to God I were put in a sack and cast into the Thames. For there is much in the laws and customs of the imaginary Utopia that holds up to admiration the blessing of universal peace among nations for which More was constantly sighing and praying, and much too that proclaims a desire for the time when the Church should be settled in an uniformity of Religion.

And as we turn over the chapters of the second part we can see what were More's ideas of the remedies which ought to be applied to the evils in the society in which he lived. He first describes the country of Utopia and one of its chief cities, and through the whole we may observe that England is in his mind. Utopia is an island, and its great river is very like to the river Thames, and is in the same way spanned by a bridge of stonework with gorgeous and substantial arches. Its government is representative like that of More's native land. Husbandry and tillage are chiefly regarded and advanced among the Utopians, as all reformers in More's day thought they should be in England. There is in Amaurote abundance of fresh water, the streets are broad and kept clear of all filth, the buildings are good, with gardens at the back of all the houses, and such regard for wholesome conditions of life would More have enforced on the people of London. No man is allowed to be idle, and the incorrigibly lazy are banished from the land. But though all are to labour, yet by the wise provisions of the country, this labour is abridged, and to make the hours of toil as brief as conveniently may be is an object kept continually in view, Thus there is abundant time for all to be well educated and to take interest in the study of good literature. By making their buildings sound and of a character to be permanent, and by use of clothing rather durable than showy, the labour of builders and of workers in cloth is greatly diminished. So that many times an open proclamation is made that they shall bestow fewer hours on work. For all the time that can be spared from the necessary occupations and affairs of the commonwealth, the citizens should withdraw from bodily service to the free liberty of the mind and the garnishing of the same. Men are 'not to be wearied (p. 79) from early in the morning till late in the evening, with continual work like labouring and toiling beasts : for this is worse than the miserable and wretched condition of bondmen.'

Such a lessening of labour is gained by a community of all things, so that none are in need, and there is no end to be served by amassing more than each man can use. By this is banished all cause for covetousness or extortion. Meals are taken in common halls where the young are mixed with their elders, that they may be guided both in words and behaviour. The Utopians set no store by precious metals, but employ gold and silver for their vessels of baser use, and so the wearing of gold has grown to be a reproach, since in Utopia the fetters of bondmen are made out of it. They devote themselves to the exact sciences, as arithmetic and geometry, and while holding astronomy in esteem, have no faith in or regard for the speculations of astrology. In their moral philosophy they regard felicity as the summum bonum, but it is to be a felicity which postpones the immediate pleasure for the sake of the more remote, and sacrifices the less pleasure for the sake of the greater, and esteems the felicity of the body politic far above that of the individual. Such felicity must therefore consist in all that is good and honest, and so becomes a virtue and that whereunto man was ordained of God. The body is not to be afflicted for the mere sake of mortification unless some benefit is to result either directly to the individual or to the commonwealth from his example.

Of those who break their laws they make bondmen but leave them not without hope that by a return to good conduct they may regain their liberty. The laws in Utopia are few, because it is against all right and justice that men should be bound to those laws, which either are in number more than can be read, or blinder and darker than men may well understand.

Of leagues and treaties the Utopians have none. Those between other countries are so often concluded, and then broken and renewed, that in Utopia no confidence is placed in them. On this matter More, no doubt having in his mind the many treaties made and broken between England, France, Germany, and the Pope at this time, writes with much satire, 'Here in Europe and especially in these parts where the faith of Christ reigneth, the majesty of leagues is everywhere ‘esteemed holy and inviolable partly through the justice and goodness of princes and partly at the reverence and motion of the head bishops. Which like as they make no promise them'selves but they do very religiously perform the same, so they 'exhort all princes in any wise to abide by their promises, and 'them that refuse or deny so to do, by their pontifical power and "authority they compel thereto.

War and battle the Utopians abhor, and only fight in defence of their own country. They would rather conquer at any time by craft than by blows, and they prefer to spend the lives of mercenaries in their necessary wars rather than those of their own citizens. They therefore use money in their wars to hire soldiers and also to offer bribes among the enemy that deserters may come over and so weaken the adversary's strength, and they even make public proclamation of rewards to those who will slay or take captive the chief leaders of the opposite party.

They have many kinds of religion in Utopia, but yet all agree in worshipping a common Father of all, to whom they attribute the origin and growth and change of all things. They received Christ's religion the more readily because they were told of the religious houses, the constitution of which had some likeness to their own community of goods. And they were minded to choose one of their number to be a priest of the Christian religion, even without any episcopal ordination. Against irreligious persons they have laws which exclude them from all honours. Of death they teach men not to be afraid, as it cannot be well pleasing to God, if His creatures run not gladly to Him when they are called. Even those most devoted to a religious life among them employ themselves in busy labour and good exercises. Their priests are very few in number, and may be women as well as men. Their persons are sacred from ordinary punishments if they commit any offence, and they are left only to God and their own conscience. The people observe holidays and have churches for public worship, but for that which is peculiar in each man's religion and forms no part of the public faith, provision is made that its rites may be observed by each privately and at home. They meet for worship in churches with a 'dim religious light' that their thoughts may not be distracted. They have no images, and so each man conceives of God according to his own thoughts and feelings. They come to church on the first and last day of each month and year, and those who feel that they have sins to confess make confession before they come, wives at the feet of their husbands, and children at those of their parents, and desire pardon for their offences. They are afraid to come to worship with troubled consciences. In church the men sit on the right and the women on the left side. They sacrifice no beasts, but burn frankincense and other sweet spices during their service. All in the church are robed in white. At the entrance of the priest, who is clad in a finely wrought dress covered with the feathers of birds, they all fall to the ground in

After they have risen up they sing praises to God and have an accompaniment of musical instruments. After this

reverence.

« PreviousContinue »