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THOMAS MORE, who takes rank as the leading writer during this second era of our literature, was born in Milk Street, London, in 1480. Having learned some Latin in Threadneedle Street from Nicholas Hart, he became in his fifteenth year a page in the household of Cardinal Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here his sharp and ready wit attracted so much notice that the archbishop prophesied great things for him; and a dean of St Paul's, one of the most noted scholars of the day, used to say that there was but one wit in England, and that was young Thomas More.
Devoted to the law by his good father, who was a justice in the King's Bench, More went to Oxford at seventeen.; and here, in spite of the frowns of old Sir John, who dreaded lest the seductions of Homer and Plato might cast the grave sages of the law too much into the shade, he studied Greek under Grocyn. And not only did he study it con amore, but he wrote to the University a powerful letter in defence of this new branch of learning, inveighing strongly against the Trojans, as the opponents of Greek had begun to call themselves. The leading Anti-Grecians were the senior clergy, who were too old or too lazy to sit down to the Greek alphabet and grammar; and who, besides, feared that if Greek and Hebrew were studied, the authority of the Latin Vulgate might be shaken. At Oxford, More won the friendship of the eminent Erasmus; and though the Dutchman was thirty and
English boy only seventeen, the attachment was mutual,
THE PLEASANT HOME AT CHELSEA,
and so strong, that it was only severed by death. Here, too, he wrote many English poems of considerable merit. These snowdrops of our literature, flowerets of a day hovering between winter and spring, might pass unnoticed among the gay blooms of a summer garden, but rising in pale beauty from the frozen ground, they are loved and welcomed as the harbingers of brighter days.
A few notes of his rapid rise must suffice here. Appointed reader, that is, lecturer, at Furnival's Inn* he soon became a popular lawyer; and we find him expounding not only the English law, but the works of St. Augustine. This mixture of theology and law was common in those days, when churchmen alone were chancellors. Running down occasionally into Essex from his chambers near the Charter House, for a breath of country air, he fell in love with a lady named Jane Colt, whom he soon married. Under Henry VII. he became Under-Sheriff of London ; and when miser Henry's spendthrift son wore the crown, he still rose in favour and in fortune. Employed on many continental missions, he became a Privy Councillor, Treasurer of the Exchequer, and in 1523 Speaker of the Commons. While filling the Speaker's chair he incurred the anger of Wolsey, who strove to injure him with the king. But the magnificent cardinal's own feet were then on quaking, slippery ground, and when in 1529 he fell with a great ruin, More stepped on to the chancellor's bench.
We have pleasant domestic pictures of the home at Chelsea, embosomed among flowers and apple-trees, where the great lawyer lived in tranquil happiness with his wife and children. Thither often on a summer afternoon, after his day at court was done, be used to carry his friend Erasmus in his eight-oared barge. Gravely sweet was the talk at the six o'clock supper, and during the twilight stroll by the river. The king, too, often came out to dine with the Mores, sometimes uninvited, when the good but fussy lady of the house (not Jane Colt, but a second wife, Alice, seven years older than her husband) was in a desperate state until she had got her best scarlet gown put trimly on, to do honour to his
* The law-schools, such as Furnival's Inn and Lincoln's Inn, were so called becanse they trere once used as the inns or town-houses of noblemen. Compare the French use of " hotel*
80 RESIGNATION OF THE CHANCELLOR.
highness. So familiar were the king and his chancellor, that, as they walked in the garden, the royal arm often lay round More's neck. Yet, a few years later, that neck bled on the block by a royal order. For more than two years More held the office of chancellor, discharging its high duties with singular purity. While it has been said of his predecessor, Wolsey, that no suitor need apply to him whose fingers were not tipped with gold, we read of More refusing heavy bribes, and sitting in an open hall to hear in person the petitions of the poor. The rock on which Wolsey had gone down lay ahead of More, who saw it with an anxious but undaunted heart. His mind was quite made up to steer an honest, straightforward course. The king, who was bent upon marrying Anne Boleyn, pressed the chancellor urgently for an opinion on the case, expecting, no doubt, that a man who owed his commanding position to royal favour would not dare to thwart the royal will. But Henry was mistaken in his man. Rather than give an opinion which must have been against the king, More laid down the seals of his high office. A reverse of fortune so great seemed 1532 to cast no shadow upon his joyous spirit. Quietly reduc. A.D. ing his style of living, he brightened his humble home with the same gentle, gleaming wit, which had given lustre to his splendid days. Poor Mistress Alice, who had loved the grandeur of being a chancellor's lady, did not take so kindly to the change. But worse was yet to come. To thwart Henry the Eighth was a capital offence. More must yield or die. An attempt, soon abandoned however, was made to involve him in the doom of the girl called “The Holy Maid of Kent.” Summoned to Lambeth in April 1534, he left for the last time his well-loved Chelsea home. Turning, as he hurried to his boat, he caught the last glimpse of its dear flower-beds through the wicket, beyond which he would not suffer his family to pass. His refusal to take an oath, which acknowledged the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn to be lawful, so enraged Henry that he was cast into the Tower, where he lay for a year. His letters to his daughter Margaret, written from that prison with a coal, are touching memorials of a great and loving heart. *
At last he was placed at the bar at Westminster, on a charge, of which the leading points were his opposition to the royal marriage, and his refusal to acknowledge Henry as the head of the Church. He was found guilty and hurried back to prison. As he landed at the Tower wharf, his daughter, Margaret Roper, rushing forward in spite of the bristling halberds that shut him in, flung her arms round him, and, mingling her bright hair with his grizzled beard, kissed him over and over again amid the sobs and tears of all around.
Without endorsing the opinions of this man, we may freely and honestly admire his excelling genius, his noble courage, and his gentle heart. · The wit that sparkled from Cardinal Morton's rosy page, that in bachelor days lit the gloomy chambers in Lincoln's Inn, and added new lustre to the hospitalities of Chelsea, shone bright as ever on the scaffold, undimmed even by the cruel glinting of the headsman's axe. As he climbed the crazy timbers where he was to die, he said gaily to the lieutenant, “ I pray you see me safe up; and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” His head was fixed on the spikes of London Bridge; but his brave daughter Margaret caused it to be taken down, and when she died, many years after, it was buried in her grave. And so mouldered together into common dust as great a brain and as true a heart as ever England held.
More's fame as a writer rests on two works, written during that happy period of his life, when, as Under-Sheriff of London and a busy lawyer, he enjoyed the sunshine of royal favour and the solid advantage of an income amounting to £4000 or £5000 a year. His Life and Reign of Edward. V., written about 1513, is not only the first English work deserving the name of history, but is further remarkable as being our earliest specimen of classical English prose. The character of Richard III. is here painted in the darkest colours. But More's Utopia has had a wider fame. In flowing Latin he describes the happy state of an island, which is discovered by one Raphael Hythloday (learner of trifles), a supposed companion of Amerigo Vespucci. The place is called Utopia, which simply means “Nowhere," from oủ Tómos. A republic, of
which the foundation idea is borrowed from Plato, although the details are More's, has its seat in this favoured land. The Utopian ships lie safe within the horns of the crescent-shaped island; for no enemy can steer through the rocks that guard the harbour's mouth. Every house in the fifty-four walled cities has a large garden; and these houses are exchanged by lot every ten years. All the islanders learn agriculture; but all have, besides, a certain trade, at which six hours' work, and no more, must be done every day. There are in Utopia no taverns, no fashions ever changing, few laws, and no lawyers. There, war is considered a brutal thing; hunting, a degrading thing, fit only for butchers; and finery, a foolish thing, for who that could see sun or star would care for jewels. This work was composed shortly after More's return from the Continent, whither he was sent on a mission to Bruges in the summer of 1514. His other works are chiefly theological treatises, written against the Lutheran doctrines, and Latin epigrams, modelled after those of his sarcastic friend, Erasmus. He stands first, too, in the glorious roll of our parliamentary orators. But, unfortunately, of his speeches we know next to nothing; for an orator's fame is perishable, too often fading into oblivion almost as soon as death has quenched his eye of flame and stilled the magical music of his voice.
A LETTER FROM SIR THOMAS MORE TO HIS WIFE.
Maistres Alyce, in my most harty wise I recommend me to you; and whereas I am enfourmed by my son Heron of the losse of our barnes and of our neighbours also, with all the corn that was therein, albeit (saving God's pleasure) it is gret pitie of so much good corne lost, yet sith it hath liked hym to sende us such a chaunce, we must and are bounden, not only to be content, but also to be glad of his visitacion. He sente us all that we have loste: and sith he hath by such a chaunce taken it away againe, his pleasure be fulfilled. Let us never grudge ther at, but take it in good worth, and hartely thank him, as well for adversitie as for prosperitie. And peradventure we have more cause to thank him for our losse, then for our winning; for his wisdome better seeth what is good for vs then we do our selves. Therfore I pray you be of good chere, and take all the howsold with you to church, and there thanke God, both for that he hath given us, and for that he hath taken from us, and for that he hath left us, which if it please hym he can encrease when he will. And if it please hym to leave us yet lesse, at his pleasure be it.