Thomas More, the first English humanist of the Renaissance, was born in London in 1478. Educated at Oxford, he could write a most beautiful Latin. It was not the Latin of the Church but the original classical Latin. At Oxford More met a foreign humanist, and made friends with him. Erasmus believed in the common sense of a man and taught that men ought to think for themselves, and not merely to believe things to be true because their fathers, or the priest had said they were true. Later, Thomas More wrote many letters to Erasmus and received many letters from him.
Thomas More began life as a lawyer. During the reign of Henry VII he became a member of Parliament. He was an active-minded man and kept a keen eye on the events of his time. The rich landowners at the time were concentrating on sheep-raising because it was very profitable. Small holders were not allowed to till the soil and were driven off their lands. The commons (public ground) were enclosed and fields converted into pastures. The mass of the agricultural population were doomed to poverty. Thomas More set to work to find the reason of this evil. He was the first great writer on social and political subjects in England.
Fourteen years after Henry VIII came to the throne, More was made Speaker of the House of Commons. The Tudor monarchy was an absolute monarchy, and Parliament had very little power to resist the king. There was, however, one matter on which Parliament was very determined. That was the right to vote or to refuse to vote for the money. Once when the King wanted money and asked Parliament to vote him 800.000, the members sat silent. Twice the King's messengers called, and twice they had to leave without an answer. When Parliament was called together again, Thomas More spoke up and urged that the request be refused. After a long discussion a sum less then half the amount requested by the King was voted, and that sum was to be spread over a period of four years.
Thomas More was an earnest Catholic, but he was not liked by the priests and the Pope on account of his writings and the ideas he taught. After Henry VIII quarrelled with the Pope he gathered around himself all the enemies of the Pope, and so in 1529 More was made Lord Chancellor (highest judge to the House of Lords). He had not wanted the post because he was as much against the king's absolute power in England as he was against the Pope. More soon fell a victim to the King's anger. He refused to swear that he would obey Henry as the head of the English Church, and was thrown into the Tower. Parliament, to please the King, declared More guilty of treason, and he was beheaded in the Tower in 1535.
The Works of Thomas More
Thomas More wrote in English and in Latin. The humanists of al1 European countries communicated in the Latin language, and their best works were written in Latin. The English writings of Thomas More include:
* Discussions and political subjects.
His style is simple, colloquial end has an unaffected ease. The work by which he is best remembered today is "Utopia" which was written in Latin in the year 1516. It has now been translated into all European languages.
"Utopia" (which in Greek means "nowhere") is the name of a non-existent island. This work is divided into two books.
In the first, the author gives a profound and truthful picture of the people's sufferings and points out the socia1 evils existing, in England at the time.
In the second book More presents his ideal of what the future society should be like.
The word "utopia" has become a byword and is used in Modern English to denote an unattainable ideal, usually in social and political matters. But the writer H.G. Wells, who wrote an introduction to the latest edition, said that the use of the word "utopia" was far from More's essentia1 quality, whose mind abounded in sound, practical ideas. The book is in reality a very unimaginative work.
"Utopia" describes a perfect social system built on communist principles.
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