Utopia

Play Audio | Get the Book | Del.icio.us

More's "Utopia" was written in Latin, and is in two parts, of which the second, describing the place ([Greek text]--or Nusquama, as he called it sometimes in his letters--"Nowhere"), was probably written towards the close of 1515; the first part, introductory, early in 1516. The book was first printed at Louvain, late in 1516, under the editorship of Erasmus, Peter Giles, and other of More's friends in Flanders. It was then revised by More, and printed by Frobenius at Basle in November, 1518. It was reprinted at Paris and Vienna, but was not printed in England during More's lifetime. Its first publication in this country was in the English translation, made in Edward's VI.'s reign (1551) by Ralph Robinson. It was translated with more literary skill by Gilbert Burnet, in 1684, soon after he had conducted the defence of his friend Lord William Russell, attended his execution, vindicated his memory, and been spitefully deprived by James II. of his lectureship at St. Clement's. Burnet was drawn to the translation of "Utopia" by the same sense of unreason in high places that caused More to write the book. Burnet's is the translation given in this volume.

The name of the book has given an adjective to our language--we call an impracticable scheme Utopian. Yet, under the veil of a playful fiction, the talk is intensely earnest, and abounds in practical suggestion. It is the work of a scholarly and witty Englishman, who attacks in his own way the chief political and social evils of his time. Beginning with fact, More tells how he was sent into Flanders with Cuthbert Tunstal, "whom the king's majesty of late, to the great rejoicing of all men, did prefer to the office of Master of the Rolls;" how the commissioners of Charles met them at Bruges, and presently returned to Brussels for instructions; and how More then went to Antwerp, where he found a pleasure in the society of Peter Giles which soothed his desire to see again his wife and children, from whom he had been four months away. Then fact slides into fiction with the finding of Raphael Hythloday (whose name, made of two Greek words [Greek text] and [Greek text], means "knowing in trifles"), a man who had been with Amerigo Vespucci in the three last of the voyages to the new world lately discovered, of which the account had been first printed in 1507, only nine years before Utopia was written.

Designedly fantastic in suggestion of details, "Utopia" is the work of a scholar who had read Plato's "Republic," and had his fancy quickened after reading Plutarch's account of Spartan life under Lycurgus. Beneath the veil of an ideal communism, into which there has been worked some witty extravagance, there lies a noble English argument. Sometimes More puts the case as of France when he means England. Sometimes there is ironical praise of the good faith of Christian kings, saving the book from censure as a political attack on the policy of Henry VIII. Erasmus wrote to a friend in 1517 that he should send for More's "Utopia," if he had not read it, and "wished to see the true source of all political evils." And to More Erasmus wrote of his book, "A burgomaster of Antwerp is so pleased with it that he knows it all by heart."

H. M.

DISCOURSES OF RAPHAEL HYTHLODAY, OF THE BEST STATE OF A COMMONWEALTH

Henry VIII., the unconquered King of England, a prince adorned with all the virtues that become a great monarch, having some differences of no small consequence with Charles the most serene Prince of Castile, sent me into Flanders, as his ambassador, for treating and composing matters between them. I was colleague and companion to that incomparable man Cuthbert Tonstal, whom the King, with such universal applause, lately made Master of the Rolls; but of whom I will say nothing; not because I fear that the testimony of a friend will be suspected, but rather because his learning and virtues are too great for me to do them justice, and so well known, that they need not my commendations, unless I would, according to the proverb, "Show the sun with a lantern." Those that were appointed by the Prince to treat with us, met us at Bruges, according to agreement; they were all worthy men. The Margrave of Bruges was their head, and the chief man among them; but he that was esteemed the wisest, and that spoke for the rest, was George Temse, the Provost of Casselsee: both art and nature had concurred to make him eloquent: he was very learned in the law; and, as he had a great capacity, so, by a long practice in affairs, he was very dexterous at unravelling them. After we had several times met, without coming to an agreement, they went to Brussels for some days, to know the Prince's pleasure; and, since our business would admit it, I went to Antwerp. While I was there, among many that visited me, there was one that was more acceptable to me than any other, Peter Giles, born at Antwerp, who is a man of great honour, and of a good rank in his town, though less than he deserves; for I do not know if there be anywhere to be found a more learned and a better bred young man; for as he is both a very worthy and a very knowing person, so he is so civil to all men, so particularly kind to his friends, and so full of candour and affection, that there is not, perhaps, above one or two anywhere to be found, that is in all respects so perfect a friend: he is extraordinarily modest, there is no artifice in him, and yet no man has more of a prudent simplicity. His conversation was so pleasant and so innocently cheerful, that his company in a great measure lessened any longings to go back to my country, and to my wife and children, which an absence of four months had quickened very much. One day, as I was returning home from mass at St. Mary's, which is the chief church, and the most frequented of any in Antwerp, I saw him, by accident, talking with a stranger, who seemed past the flower of his age; his face was tanned, he had a long beard, and his cloak was hanging carelessly about him, so that, by his looks and habit, I concluded he was a seaman. As soon as Peter saw me, he came and saluted me, and as I was returning his civility, he took me aside, and pointing to him with whom he had been discoursing, he said, "Do you see that man? I was just thinking to bring him to you." I answered, "He should have been very welcome on your account." "And on his own too," replied he, "if you knew the man, for there is none alive that can give so copious an account of unknown nations and countries as he can do, which I know you very much desire." "Then," said I, "I did not guess amiss, for at first sight I took him for a seaman." "But you are much mistaken," said he, "for he has not sailed as a seaman, but as a traveller, or rather a philosopher. This Raphael, who from his family carries the name of Hythloday, is not ignorant of the Latin tongue, but is eminently learned in the Greek, having applied himself more particularly to that than to the former, because he had given himself much to philosophy, in which he knew that the Romans have left us nothing that is valuable, except what is to be found in Seneca and Cicero. He is a Portuguese by birth, and was so desirous of seeing the world, that he divided his estate among his brothers, ran the same hazard as Americus Vesputius, and bore a share in three of his four voyages that are now publi

Next Page