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2.2: Front Matter - letters

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    Thomas More's First Letter to Peter Giles


    I am almost ashamed, right well-beloved Peter Giles, to send you this book of the Utopian commonwealth, well nigh after a year’s space, which I am sure you looked for within a month and a half.2 And no marvel. For you know well enough that I was already disburdened of all the labor and study belonging to the invention of this work, and that I had no need at all to trouble my brains about the disposition or conveyance of that matter and, therefore, had nothing else to do but only to rehearse those things which you and I together heard Master Raphael tell and declare.3 Wherefore there was no cause why I should study to set forth the matter with eloquence; for as much as his talk could not be fine and eloquent, being first not studied for but sudden and unpremeditated, and then, as you know, of a man better seen in the Greek language then in the Latin tongue.4 And my writing, the nearer it should approach his homely, plain, and simple speech, so much the nearer should it go to the truth; which is the only mark, where unto I do and ought to direct all my travail and study herein.

    I grant and confess, friend Peter, myself discharged of so much labor, having all these things ready done to my hand, that almost there was nothing left for me to do. Else either the invention, or the disposition of this matter, might have required of a wit neither base nor at all unlearned, both some time and leisure, and also some study. But if it was requisite and necessary that the matter should also have been written eloquently, and not alone truly, of a surety that thing I could have performed by no time or study. But now, seeing all these cares, stays, and hindrances were taken away, wherein else so much labor and study should have been employed, and that there remained no other thing for me to do but only to write plainly the matter as I heard it spoken, that indeed was a thing light and easy to be done. Howbeit, to the dispatching of this so little business my other cares and troubles did leave almost less than no leisure. While I do daily bestow my time about law matters; some to plead, some to hear, some as an arbitrator with mine award to determine, some as an umpire or a judge with my sentence finally to discuss; while I go one way to see and visit my friend, an other way about mine own private affairs; while I spend almost all the day abroad amongst others and then reside at home among mine own, I leave to my myself, I mean to my book, no time.5

    For when I come home, I must commune with my wife, chat with my children, and talk with my servants.6 All the which things I reckon and account among business, forasmuch as they must of necessity be done; and done must they need be unless a man will be a stranger in his own house. And, in any wise, a man must so fashion and order his conditions, and so appoint and dispose himself, that he be merry, jocund, and pleasant among them whom either nature has provided, or chance has made, or he himself has chosen to be the fellows and companions of his life: so that with too much gentle behavior and familiarity he do not mar them, and by too much sufferance of his servants make them his masters. Among these things now rehearsed steal away the day, the month, the year. When do I write then? And all this while I have spoken no word of sleep, neither yet of meals, which among a great number do waste no less time than does sleep, wherein almost half the time of man creepeth away. I, therefore, do win and get only that time which I steal from sleep and meals.7 Which time, because it is very little, and yet somewhat it is, therefore have I once at the last, though it be long first, finished Utopia and have sent it to you Peter to read and peruse to the intent that if anything has escaped me you might put me in remembrance of it. For though in this behalf I do not greatly mistrust myself (which would God I were somewhat in wit and learning, as I am not all of the worst and dullest in memory), yet have I not so great trust and confidence in it that I think nothing could fall out of my mind.

    For John Clement, my boy, who as you know was there present with us, whom I suffer to be away from no talk wherein may be any profit or goodness (for out of this young-bladed and new-shot-up corn, which has already begun to spring up both in Latin and Greek language, I look for plentiful increase at length of goodly ripe grain), he, I say, has brought me into great doubt.8 For whereas Hythloday (unless my memory fail me) said that the bridge of Amaurot, which goes over the river of Anyder, is five hundred paces, that is to say, half a mile, in length; my John saith that two hundred of these paces must be plucked away, for that the river contains there not above three hundred paces in breadth. I pray you heartily call the matter to your remembrance. For if you agree with him I also will say as you say and confess myself deceived. But if you cannot remember the thing, then surely I will write as I have done, Note the theological distinction between telling a lie and making a lie.and as mine own remembrance serves me. For as I shall take good heed that there be in my book nothing false, so if there be anything in doubt I will rather tell a lie then make a lie, because I had rather be good than wise.9

    Howbeit, this matter may easily be remedied if you will take the pains to ask the question of Raphael himself, by word of mouth if he be now with you, or else by your letters; which you must need do for another doubt also, which has chanced through, whose fault I cannot tell, whether through mine or yours or Raphael’s. For neither we remembered to inquire of him, nor he to tell us, in what part of that new world Utopia is situated; which thing I had rather have spent no small sum of money than it should thus have escaped us. As well for that I am ashamed to be ignorant of what sea that Island standeth whereof I write so long a treatise; as also because there be with us certain men, and especially one devout and godly man, who is exceeding desirous to go unto Utopia, not for a vain and curious desire to see news, but to the intent that he may further and increase our religion which is there already begun. And that he may the better accomplish and perform this his good intent, he is minded to procure that he may be sent there by the high Bishop, yes, and that he himself made be made Bishop of Utopia; being nothing scrupulous herein, that he may obtain this bishopric with suit.10 A holy suit.For he counteth that a godly suit which proceeds not of the desire of honor or lucre but only of a godly zeal.

    Wherefore, I most earnestly desire you, friend Peter, to talk with Hythloday, if you can face to face, or else write letters to him, and so to work in this matter that in this, my book, there may be neither anything be found that is untrue, neither anything be lacking which is true. And I think verily it shall be well done that you show unto him the book itself, for if I have missed or failed in any point, or find any fault that has escaped me, no man can so well correct and amend it as he can, and yet that can he not do unless he peruse and read over my book written. Moreover, by this means shall you perceive whether he will be willing and content that I should undertake to put this work in writing. For if he be minded to publish and put forth his own labors and travails himself, perchance he would be loathe, and so would I also, that in publishing the Utopian commonwealth I should prevent and take from him the flower and grace of the novelty of this his history.

    Howbeit, to say the very truth, I am not fully determined with myself whether I will put forth my book or no. For the natures of men be so divers, the fantasies of some so wayward, their minds so unkind, their judgments so corrupt that they which lead a merry and jocund life following their own sensual pleasures and carnal lusts, may seem to be in a much better state or case than they that vex and unquiet themselves with cares and studies for putting forth and publishing The ungrateful judgments of men.of something, that may be either profit or pleasure to others, which others nevertheless will disdainfully, scornfully, and unkindly accept the same. The most part of all be unlearned, and a great number hold learning in contempt. The rude and barbarous allow nothing but that which is is very barbarous indeed. If it be one that has a little smack of learning, he rejects as homely and common-ware whatsoever is not stuffed full of old moth-eaten words and that be worn out of use. Some there be that have pleasure only in old rustic antiquities, and some only in their own doings. One is so sour, so crabbed, and so unpleasant that he can abide with no mirth or sport; another is so narrow between the shoulders, that he can bear no jests or taunts. Some silly poor souls be so afraid that at every snappish word their nose shall be bitten off11 Flat-nosed he calls men with no nose.that they stand in no less dread of every quick and sharp word then he that is bitten of a mad dog fears water. Some be so mutable and wavering that every hour they be in a new mind, saying one thing sitting and an other thing standing. Another sort sits upon their ale benches, and there among their cups they give judgment of the wits of writers and with great authority they condemn even as please them every writer according to his writing in most spiteful manner mocking, louting, and flouting them: being themselves in the mean season safe and, as sayeth the proverb,A proverb. out of all danger of gunshot. For why they be so smug and smooth that they have not so much as one hair of an honest man whereby one may take hold of them. There be, moreover, some so unkind and ungentle that though they take great pleasure and delectation in the work, yet for all that they can not find in their hearts to love the author thereof, nor to afford him a good word, A marvelous comparison.being much like uncourteous, unthankful, and churlish guests, which when they have with good and dainty meats well filled their bellies, depart home giving no thanks to the feast-maker. Go your ways now, and make a costly feast at your own charges for guests so dainty-mouthed, so divers in taste, and besides that, of so unkind and unthankful natures.

    But nevertheless, friend Peter, do I pray you with Hythloday as I willed you before, and as for this matter, I shall be at my liberty afterwards to take new advisement. Howbeit, seeing I have taken great pains and labor in writing the matter, if it may stand with his mind and pleasure, I will, as touching the edition or publishing of the book, follow the counsel and advice of my friends, and especially yours. Thus fare you well, right

    heartily beloved friend Peter, with
    your gentle wife; and love
    me as you have ever done;
    for I love you better
    then I ever did.

    1. This epistle appears in the four original editions of Utopia, located as it is here, immediately preceding Book I. On More and Giles see “Cast of Contributors.”
    2. As chronicled in the book itselfMore met with Giles on an abortive diplomatic trip to Flanders a year earlier, when and where he began work on Utopia.
    3. Master Raphael is Raphael Hythloday.
    4. Amongst Renaissance scholars the reverse would be true, with mastery of Latin more common than Greek.
    5. More was a very busy man in 1516: a prominent lawyer and one of two Undersheriffs of London, as well as judge in the Sheriff’s Court and arbitrator in the Court of Chancery.
    6. More, at the time of this writing, was married to his second wife and living with four children born to his first wife and one step-child from his second.
    7. More is said to have slept only four to five hours a night, waking up at two in the morning to begin his day.
    8. John Clement was, indeed, a servant of More’s and accompanied him on his diplomatic mission to the Netherlands in 1515. He “ripened” well, learning Latin and Greek (the latter well enough to become Reader in Greek at Oxford), becoming a respected physician and later president of the College of Physicians, and marrying More’s adopted daughter.
    9. Other translations read “wise” as “wily” (Sacks)
    10. The word translated here and in the marginalia as “suit” can mean both a petition for office and corruption in attaining an office; given More and Giles’s propensity for puns both meanings were likely intended.
    11. Or “flat-nosed” as it is otherwise translated. As the nose was considered the organ of derision, a person whose nose is bitten off is incapable of appreciating satire and without wit.

    Peter Giles's Letter to Jerome Busleyden


    Thomas More, the singular ornament of this our age, as you yourself (right honorable Busleyden) can witness, to whom he is perfectly well known, sent unto me this other day the Island of Utopia, to very few as yet known, but most worthy which, as far excelling Plato’s commonwealth, all people should be willing to know: especially of a man most eloquent, so finely set forth, so cunningly painted out, and so evidently subject to the eye, that as oft as I read it, me thinketh that I see somewhat more then when I heard Raphael Hythloday himself (for I was present at that talk as well as master More) uttering and pronouncing his own words. Yea, though the same man, according to his pure eloquence, did so open and declare the matter, that he might plainly enough appear to report not things which he had learned of others only by hearsay, but which he had with his own eyes presently seen, and thoroughly viewed, and wherein he had in no small time been conversant and abiding. A man truly, in my opinion, as touching the knowledge of regions, peoples, and worldly experience, much passing, yea, even the very famous and renowned traveler Ulysses, and indeed such a one: as for the space of these eight-hundred years past I think nature into the world brought not forth his like, in comparison of whom Vespucci may be thought to have seen nothing.2

    Moreover, whereas we be wont more effectually and pithily to declare and express things that we have seen then which we have but only heard, there was besides that in this man a certain peculiar grace and singular dexterity to describe and set forth a matter with-all. Yet the self same things as oft as I behold and consider them drawn and painted out with master More’s pencil, I am therewith so moved, so delighted, so inflamed, and so rapt, that sometime methink I am presently conversant, even in the island of Utopia. And I promise you, I can scant believe that Raphael himself, by all that five years space that he was in Utopia abiding, saw there so much as here in master More’s description is to be seen and perceived. Which description, with so many wonders and miraculous things is replenished, that I stand in great doubt whereat first and chiefly to muse or marvel: whether at the excellency of his perfect and sure memory, which could well nigh word by word rehearse so many things once only heard; or else at his singular prudence, who so well and wittily marked and bare away all the original causes and fountains (to the vulgar people commonly most unknown) whereof both issue and spring the mortal confusion and utter decay of a commonwealth, and also the advancement and wealthy state of the same may rise and grow; or else at the efficacy and pith of his word, which in so fine a Latin style, with such force of eloquence, hath couched together and comprised so many and divers matters, especially being a man continually encumbered with so many busy and troublesome cares, both public and private, as he is. Howbeit all these things cause you little to marvel (right honorable Busleyden) for that you are familiarly and throughly acquainted with the notable, yea, almost divine, wit of the man.

    But now to proceed to other matters, I surely know nothing needful or requisite to be adjoined unto his writings. Only a meter of four verses written in the Utopian tongue which, after master More’s departure, Hythloday by chance showed me that have I caused to be added thereto, with the Alphabet of the same nation, and have also garnished the margin of the book with certain notes.3 For, as touching the situation of the island, that is to say in what part of the world Utopia stands, the ignorance and lack whereof not a little troubleth and grieveth master More, indeed Raphael left not that unspoken of. Howbeit, with very few words he lightly touched it, incidentally by the way passing it over, as meaning of likelihood to keep and reserve that to another place. And the same, I know not how, by a certain evil and unlucky chance escaped us both. For when Raphael was speaking thereof, one of master More’s servants came to him and whispered in his ear. Wherefore, I being then of purpose more earnestly given to hear, one of the company, by reason of cold taken, I think, a-shipboard, coughed out so loud, that he took from my hearing certain of his words. But I will never stint, nor rest, until I have got the full and exact knowledge hereof; insomuch that I will be able perfectly to instruct you, not only in the longitude or true meridian of the island, but also in the just latitude thereof, that is to say in the sublevation or height of the pole in that region, if our friend Hythloday be in safety and alive. For we hear very uncertain news of him. Some report that he died in his journey homeward. Some again affirm that he returned to his country; but partly, for that he could not abide with the fashions of his country folk, and partly for that his mind and affection was altogether set and fixed upon Utopia, they say that he has taken his voyage thitherward again.

    Now as touching this: that the name of this island is nowhere found among the old and ancient cosmographers, this doubt Hythloday himself very well dissolved. For why it is possible enough (quotes he) that the name which it had in old time was afterward changed, or else that they never had knowledge of this island; forasmuch as now in our time divers lands be found, which to the old geographers were unknown. Howbeit, what needeth it in this behalf to fortify the matter with arguments, seeing master More is author hereof sufficient? But whereas he doubteth of the edition or imprinting of the book, indeed herein I both commend, and also acknowledge the man’s modesty. Howbeit unto me, it seems a work most unworthy to be long suppressed and most worthy to go abroad into the hands of men, yea, and under the title of your name to be published to the world: either because the singular endowments and qualities of master More be to no man better known then to you, or else because no man is more fit and meet than you, with good counsels to further and announce the commonwealth, wherein you have many years already continued and travailed with great glory and commendation, both of wisdom and knowledge, and also of integrity and uprightness. Thus, O liberal supporter of good learning, and flower of this our time, I bid you most heartily well to fare.

    At Antwerp, 1516, the first day of November.

    1. This dedication letter appeared in the first edition of Utopia in 1516 and was reproduced in the three subsequent printings as well. On Giles and Busleyden see “Cast of Contributors.”

    2. Amerigo Vespucci was a fifteenth- and early sixtenth–century Italian explorer and popular chronicler of voyages to the Americas (which draw their name from a Latinization of his name). Hythloday ostensibly travels with Vespucci before splitting off to discover Utopia. Ulysses, of course, is Homer’s mythic traveler.

    3. Here Giles claims authorship of the marginalia that accompany More’s first letter to Giles and the first and second books of Utopia; the title page of the 1517 edition, however, credits these to Erasmus (which may be an error, a correction, or, given the literary stature of Erasmus, a clever marketing move). Giles also hints here that he supplied the Utopian alphabet and accompanying poem.


    Thomas More Second Letter to Peter Giles (1517 edition)


    I was extremely pleased with the criticism of my work, with which you are acquainted, by a clever person, who put this dilemma about Utopia: “If the facts as reported are true, I see some absurdities in them; but if fictitious, I find More’s finished judgment in some respects wanting.”2 Whoever he was, I am much obliged to him, Peter; I suspect him to be learned, and I can see he is friendly. By this frank criticism he has obliged me more than anyone else since the appearance of the book. For in the first place, attracted by interest in me or the work, he seems not to have wearied of the labor, but read it all through, not perfunctorily and hastily, as priests go through the Hours, but so slowly and carefully as to pay attention to details. Secondly, by objecting to some things, he has given a tacit approval to the rest. Finally, in the very words in which he censures me, he gives me more praise than all who have praised me of set purpose. For he shows that he thinks highly of me, when he complains of disappointment when he reads something not finished, since it would be more than I could hope if I did not write some things that are absurd among so many.

    Yet if I may in my turn deal faithfully with him, I do not see why so sharp-eyed a critic, because he has detected some absurdities in the institutions of Utopia, or I have devised some things inexpedient in the framing of a constitution, should be so minded as if there were nothing absurd in the world, or as if any philosopher had ever ordered the state, or even his own house, without instituting something that had better be changed. Why, if the memory of great men were not hallowed by time, I could in each of them quote points, in the condemnation of which I should get a unanimous vote. Now, when he doubts whether Utopia is real or fictitious, I find his finished judgment wanting.

    I do not pretend that if I had determined to write about the commonwealth and had membered such a story, I should have shrunk from a fiction, by which the truth, as if smeared with honey, might more pleasantly flow into men’s minds. But if I wanted to abuse the ignorance of common folk, I should certainly have been careful to prefix some indications for the learned to see through my purpose. Thus if I had put nothing but the names of prince, river, city and island such as might suggest to the learned that the island was nowhere, the city a phantom, the river without water, and the prince without a people, this would not have been hard to do, and would have been much wittier than what I did; for if the faithfulness of an historian had not been binding on me, I am not so stupid as to have preferred to use those barbarous and meaningless names, Utopia, Anyder, Amaurot and Ademus.3

    But, Gilles, since I see some people are so wary, that they can hardly be induced to believe what we simple and credulous folk have written down on the relation of Hythloday, lest my credit be in danger with them as well as the faithfulness of history, I am glad I may say on behalf of my offspring, what in Terence Mysis says about Glycerium’s boy, lest he should be regarded as a changeling: “I thank the gods that some free women were present when I was brought to bed.”4 For this also has fallen out very conveniently, that Raphael told his tale not merely to you but to many other respectable and worthy men, perhaps still more lengthily and weightily, certainly no less so, than he did to ourselves.

    But if these unbelievers will not believe them either, let them go to Hythloday himself; for he is I not yet dead. I heard lately from some who came from Portugal, that on March 1st last he was as hale and sprightly as ever. So let them inquire the truth of him or, if they like, try him with questions, only I would have them understand that I am only responsible for my part and not for the credit of another.

    Farewell, dear Peter, and greet for me your charming wife and pretty little daughter, to whom my wife wishes long life.

    1. This second letter of More to Giles appeared only in the 1517 edition.

    2. This “clever person” is never identified and may very well be another invention of More’s.

    3. “Utopia,” of course, means nowhere (or no-place), as “Amaurot” means phantom, “Anyder,” without water, and “Ademus,” without a people. In other words, More has done exactly what he claims he has not, and is, in fact, quite “careful to prefix some indications for the learned to see through my purpose.”

    4. Terence, or Publius Terentius Afer, was a Roman playwright. The line cited is from the character Mysis in Terence’s The Girl of Andros and refers to reputable witnesses being present at a birth.

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