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MORE IN THE BOSOM OF HIS FAMILY.
More's residence at Chelsea-The improvement made by him thereDomestic economy of his establishment-His charities-His devotional exercises-The education of his children-Letters to his daughters-His son John-His daughter Margaret-His correspondence abroad-Holbein's painting of More and his family-His family fool.
AFTER surveying men in their public stations, it is pleasing to contemplate them in the more private relations of life; to follow them to their closets, and into the bosom of their families; and to discover how those who influence the destinies of their fellowmen, conduct themselves amidst the cares and duties which are common to the humble and to the exalted. Several pictures are left us of More in the midst of his household, and rarely has a public character appeared there to greater advantage.
We have seen that More's professional practice, together with the legal appointments which he held in the city of London, produced him an income equivalent, according to Sir James Mackintosh, to about 5,000%. in the present day. This enabled him to purchase a mansion and grounds at Chelsea, in a pleasant situation, near the borders of the Thames, and at a convenient distance from the scene of his daily duties; "three small miles from London," as William Rastell, his nephew, and editor of his works, is careful to inform his readers.
Erasmus, who often shared the hospitality of this
mansion, describes it as "neither mean, nor calculated to raise envy, and yet magnificent enough."*
In some things he kept up a degree of style; thus we learn incidentally, that when he resigned the chancellorship, he gave to his successor, my Lord Audley, "his barge and eight watermen."
His hospitable door stood open to all. To him might have been applied what was said of another great and good man-" methinks I see you sitting at your gate, like one of the good patriarchs of old, inviting all the weary and the way-faring to come in and be refreshed." He added to the conveniences of his house, by building at the end of his garden, a chapel, a library, and a gallery, known at the time as the New Building, where he passed in study and devotion whatever time he could steal from his public and private duties, and "where he would as much as possible, sequester himself from the world, and shake off the dust of earthly business, which so easily defiles the soul."
He also built a chapel, or chancel, in Chelsea Church,† and furnished it with a handsome service of altar plate, observing in that half-jocose, halfprophetic manner of his "Good men give these things, and bad men take them away." He also provided a house at no great distance from his own, for the reception of the aged and decayed persons of his parish, to whose maintenance he consecrated a portion of his income, delegating to his favourite daughter, Margaret, the office of seeing their comforts attended to.
*The old mansion stood at the north end of Beaufort Row, extending westward at the distance of about one hundred yards from the water side. Dr. King, Rector of Chelsea, writing in the year 1717, says, that no less than four houses have contended for the honour of Sir Thomas's residence,
It is the south chancel, in which still remains in a perfect state the monumental inscription which he composed for himself, and in the east window were his arms, in painted glass. These unfortunately disappeared some seventy or eighty years ago, when the church was repaired. The taste of a Milner or a Britton was wanting to ensure their preservation.
"There was nothing in the world," says Rastell, "that pleased and comforted him so much as when he could do some good deed or other to his neighbour, either by relieving him by his counsel, his good word, or by his money. Never was there any man that sought relief and help at his hands, that went not away cheerful and satisfied; and his great delight was to pacify those that were in debate, and to reconcile those at variance." He would ramble about the obscure lanes and bye-places, giving an alms liberally according to the person's necessity.
"If a man," he would say, knew for a certainty that he was to be banished into a strange country, never to return to his own again, and yet were to refuse to have his goods transported thither, fearful of wanting them for the few days he had to stay, should we not account him a madman? And yet equally are they out of their wits, who hold on to their purse, and refuse an alms for fear of wanting during their short sojournment here. Send your goods on before you to heaven, where you shall shortly be, and shall enjoy them with interest." He would also frequently invite his poor neighbours to his table, and there would be merry and pleasant with them.
More's house was the constant resort of the most accomplished men of his time. His friendships were many and faithful. "By no one," says Erasmus,
are friendships more readily formed, more dili. gently cultivated, more steadfastly retained. If he discovers any one with whom he has formed an intimacy, to be irreclaimably vicious, he gradually discontinues the intimacy; but never breaks it off in an abrupt or mortifying manner. An utter enemy to all gaming, and to all those unmeaning amusements by which the idlers of society endeavour to escape from the insupportable languor of existence, his leisure hours are spent in the conversation of a circle, throughout which his own politeness, ease,
and vivacity, diffuse universal good humour and gaiety. To sum up his character in one word-if the pattern of a perfect friend be required, let it be sought in More.
The domestic virtues and the family circle of his illustrious friend, are subjects on which Erasmus evidently dwells with delight; it calls forth from his pen that eloquence which flows warm and spontaneous from the heart. "With what gentleness,* he exclaims," does my friend regulate his household, where misunderstandings and quarrels are altogether unknown. Corporal chastisement of his servants was never resorted to under his roof, nor did he use to them words of contumely or reproach. If there was occason for chiding them, it was in so mild and conciliatory a manner, that his very chiding made him the more beloved.
"Indeed, More is looked up to as a general composer of differences, and was never known to part with any one on terms of unkindness. His house is destined to enjoy the peculiar felicity, that all who dwell under its roof, go forth into the world bettered in their morals, as well as improved in their condition: no spot was ever known to fall on the good name of its happy inhabitants. Here you might imagine yourself in the academy of Plato. But I should do injustice to his house by comparing it to the school of that philosopher, where nothing but abstract questions and sometimes moral virtues were the subjects of discussion: it would be more just to call it a school of religion, and a palestra for the exercise of the Christian virtues. All its inmates, male or female, apply their leisure to liberal studies and profitable reading, although piety is their first care. No wrangling, no angry word, is heard within its walls. No one is idle; every one does his duty with alacrity, and regularity and good order are prescribed by the mere force of kindness and courtesy. Every one performs his allotted task, and yet
all are as cheerful, as if mirth were their only employment: surely such a house is entitled to be called a practical school of the Christian religion."
With respect to More himself, such was the sweetness of his temper, that his son-in-law, Roper, who lived in his house for sixteen years, and, to use his own words, "knew his doings and mind, no man living so well," assures us that never, during all that time, did he see his countenance clouded, or hear his voice raised in anger. Margaret Giggs, his protégé, was heard to declare, that she would sometimes commit, or pretend to commit a fault, for the purpose of hearing him chide her, he did it in so soft and affectionate a manner. Any trifling disagreement that happened to arise in the family, principally from Mrs. More's quickness of temper, was speedily adjusted in his pleasant and good-humoured way. In this manner, even her less tractable disposition was so far won upon, that she performed her part towards his children in a way to gain both their love and respect. The best proof of this is, their remaining after their marriage so many years under their father's roof. It is also recorded, that so thoroughly did the taste for learning and liberal accomplishments pervade More's whole establishment, that, if even a servant discovered an ear for music, or a talent for any particular art or accomplishment, it was sure to be encouraged. By this means, the large train of followers which every man of consequence was obliged, in those days, to retain in his service, was kept in a state of regular discipline, and of moral and mental
In giving the above quotation, Sir James Mackintosh indulges in the following reflections: "Erasmus had not the sensibility of his friend he was more prone to smile than to sigh at the concerns of men; but he was touched by the remembrance of these domestic solemnities in the household of his friend. He manifests an agree able emotion at the recollection of these scenes in daily life, which tended to hallow the natural authority of parents; to bestow a sort of dignity on humble occupations; to raise menial offices to the rank of virtues; to spread peace and cultivate kindness among those who had shared, and were soon again to share, the same modest rites, in gently breathing around them a spirit of meek equality, which rather humbled the pride of the great, than disquieted the spirits of the lowly."