Imágenes de página

divine innocence of love, all the luxuriance and irregularity of men who feel the sudden advance of corporal well-being, and are scarcely recovered from barbarism. A constellation of kindred spirits, with unequal success but with the same unconcerned profusion, express the new art, closing around Shakespeare, who expresses it fully, towering above his fellows ‘in shape and gesture proudly eminent,'— all impelled by the same causes in their whirling and eccentric career; for the productive forces which culminate in the reign of Elizabeth, ripen some of their distinctive fruits in the times immediately subsequent. The last portion of the sixteenth century, with the earlier of the seventeenth, constitutes the great era of our literary history, and the first of its stages of consecutive progress, in which the warmth of soul, the love of truth, the passion for freedom, and the sense of human dignity, are the promise of eternal development. Consider the mass of knowledge we have since acquired — knowledge infinitely curious and infinitely useful, consider how much of this kind was acquired in the ten centuries which preceded - then you may estimate the expansive force generated in this notable epoch of human growth.


Like Cato firm, like Aristides just,
Like rigid Cincinnatus nobly poor,-
A dauntless soul erect, who smiled on death.-Thomson.

Biography.-Born in London, in 1489, of noble parentage; at fifteen, a page in the household of Cardinal Morton, who said of him: “Whoever may live to see it, this boy now waiting at table will turn out a marvellous man’; at seventeen, a law-student in Oxford University; championed the Greeks' against the “Trojans'; practised his profession; lectured on divinity; entered Parliament at twenty-two; became Speaker of the Commons; defeated the royal demand for a heavy subsidy; withdrew from public life under the royal displeasure; rose into repute at the bar, wrote and published; was forced back into the political current by the accession of Henry VIII; was soon in the king's

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

favor as counsellor and diplomatist; succeeded Wolsey as Chancellor in 1529, the first layman appointed to that office; refused, as a zealous Catholic, to acknowledge the validity of Henry's marriage with Anne Boleyn, or his headship of the English Church, and the neck that oft had been familiarly encircled by the royal arm was in 1535 cleft by the headsman's axe. A striking illustration of the truth of Wolsey's words to Cromwell,

How wretched Is that poor man who hangs on princes' favors!' Writings.-He wrote numerous theological tracts, but of local or passing interest, and all inflamed by a passion which betrayed him-otherwise clear-headed --into violent expression and confusion of thought. Much of his fame as a writer rests upon his Life of Richard III, of doubtful historical value, but of great philological importance, as the best English secular prose which had yet been written. More is better known by his Latin work, Utopia,-a vision of the kingdom of Nowhere,' the leading design of which, under the veil of fanciful fiction, is to correct abuses and suggest reforms.

A sailor who has voyaged into new and unknown worlds, gives him an account of an imaginary republic risen, as by enchantment, in the form of a crescent, out of the bosom of the watery waste. In its laws and institutions, in its moral and physical aspects, it realizes the author's ideal of a perfect society, and shows thus, by contrast, the defective one in which he lives. The principal city of the Utopians

'Is compassed about with a high and thick stone wall, full of tunnels and bulwarks. A dry ditch, but deep, goeth abont three sides. On the fourth side the river serveth for a ditch. The streets be twenty feet broad. On the back side of the houses, through the whole length of the street, lay large gardens. The houses are curiously builded after a gorgeous and gallant sort, with three stories, one over the other, the outside being of hard plaster, or else of brick, and the inner side well strengthened with timber-work. . . They keep the wind out of their windows with glass, for it is there much used, and also with fine linen cloth dipped in oil, for by this means more light cometh in and the wind is better kept out.' In Utopia are no taverns, no fashions ever changing, few laws and no lawyers. All learn agriculture; and each, in addition, a trade. They labor six hours a day, and sleep eight. War is a brutal thing, hunting a degrading thing:

'What pleasnre, they ask, can one find in secing dogs run after a hare? It ought rather to stir pity, when a weak, harmless, and timid hare is devoured by a strong, fierce, and cruel dog. Therefore, all this business of hunting is, among the Utopians, turned

over to their butchers; and they look on hunting as one of the basest parts of a butcher's work.' Wisdom is preferred to riches, the formation of character to the accumulation of property. Virtue is nobility. Integrity is the marble statue which survives the sacking of cities and the downfall of empires:

• The Utopians wonder how any man should be so much taken with the glaring, doubtful lustre of a jewel or stone, that can look up to a star, or to the sun itself: or how any should value himself because his cloth is made of finer thread; for, how fine soever that thread may be, it was once no better than the fleece of a sheep, and that sheep was a sheep still for all its wearing it. They wonder much to hear that gold, which in itself is so useless a thing, should be everywhere so much esteemed, that cven man, for whom it was made, and by whom it has its value, should yet be thought of less value than it is. so that a man of lead, who bas no more sense than a log of wood, and is as bad as he is foolish, should have many wise and good men serving him, only because he had a great heap of that metal.' To this day tolerance is far from being a general virtue. Persecution has indeed given up its halter and fagot, but it secretly blasts what it cannot openly destroy. In 'Nowhere,' however, it is lawful for every man to be of what faith he will. Each may propagate his creed by argument never by violence or insult. Religion rests simply on nature and reason, finds its centre rather in the family than in the congregation, holds asceticism to be thanklessness, and bases its unity on the moral and spiritual cohesion of motives. If Utopia contains impracticable dreams of political organization, it also anticipates the views and improvements of the latest and wisest legislation. While in England half the population are unable to read, in Nowhere every child is well taught. The aim of the laws is the comprehensive welfare of the labor-class as the true basis of a well-ordered commonwealth. Is it not true to-day that the civilized world, with its palaces, libraries, academies of science, and galleries of art, rests on the solid shoulders of farmers and mechanics ? All the improvements in our criminal system are the Utopian conceptions of More, who insists, centrally, that the proper end of punishment is reformation, and that the most effective means of suppressing crime is prevention:

'If you allow your people to be badly taught, their morals to be corrupted from child. hood, and then when they are men punish them for the very crimes to which they have been trained in childhood - what is this but first to make thieves, and then to punish


Style.-Easy and flowing, without pedantry and without vulgarisms; rivalling in purity his great antagonist, Tyndale; so

graphic in description that many of the learned received the Utopia as a true history, and thought it expedient to send missionaries to that island for the conversion of so wise a people to Christianity; so buoyant in tone, that in the grave and sullen pages of polemics, it jests, smiles, rails, or drifts into ludicrous ribaldry; for, on questions of religious reform, More was a madman, and sarcasm was at any moment liable to pass into scurrility. Thus, of one Richard Mayfield, a monk and a priest, he says:

*His holy life well declares his heresies, when, being both a priest and a monk, he went about two wives, one in Brabant, another in England. What he meant I cannot make you sure, whether he would be sure of the one if t'other should happen to refuse him; or that he would have them both, the one here, the other there; or else both in one place, the one because he was priest, the other because he was monk.' Of a famous invective against the clergy, who, though only 'a four hundredth part of the nation, held half the revenues,' he writes:

And now we have this gosling with his “Supplication of Beggars." He maketh his bill in the name of the beggars. The bill is couched as full of lies as the beggar swarmeth full of lice. He looked upon literature without humor, as a banquet without sauce; and, even in combating heresy, conceived it better 'to tell his mind merrily than more solemnly to preach.'

Rank. - A scholar, a lawyer, a theologian, a wit, a politician without ambition, a lord-chancellor who entered and resigned his office poor, a sage whose wisdom lay concealed in his philosophical pleasantry, a theorist and a seer,

• Who could forerun his age and race, and let
His feet millenniums hence be set

In midst of knowledge dreamed not yet'; a martyr who laid his head upon the block, to seal his conscience with his blood; the most illustrious figure — save Wolsey— in the reign of Henry VIII; an author who missed the full immortality of his genius by the infelicity of his subjects, but whose massive folio remains a monument of our language in its pristine vigor; memorable as the first in prose to gauge the means of striking the attention, to study the art of arrangement and effect; hence, in the order of time, the first of our great English prose writers. The following letter to his children - in itself an admirable picture — shows an intellect grown capable of self-criticism, possessed of ideas and expressing them by superior reflection:

"The merchant of Bristow brought unto me your letters, the next day after he had received them of you; with the which I was exceedingly delighted. For there can come nothing, yea, though it were never so rude, never so meanly polished, from this your shop, but it procureth me more delight than any others' works, be they never so eloquent: your writing doth so stir up my affection towards you. But, excluding this, your letters may also very well please me for their own worth, being full of fine wit and of a pure Latin phrase: therefore none of them all but joyed me exceedingly. Yet, to tell you ingenuously what I think, my son John's letter pleased me best; both because it was longer than the cther, as also for that he seemeth to have taken more pains than the rest. For he not only painteth out the matter decently, and speaketh elegantly; but he playeth also pleasantly with me, and returneth my jests upon me again, very wittily. Hereafter I expect every day letters from every one of you: neither will I accept of such excuses as you complain of; that you have no leisure, or that the carrier went away sud. denly, or that you have no matter to write: John is not wont to allege any such thing. And how can you want matter of writing unto me, who am delighted to hear either of your studies or of your play; whom you may even then please exceedingly, when, having nothing to write of, you write as largely as you can of that nothing, than which nothing is more easy for you to do.

But this I admonish you to do; that, whether you write of serions matters or of trifles, you write with diligence and consideration, premeditating of it before. Neither will it be amiss, if you first indite it in English; for then it may more easily be translated into Latin, whilst the mind, free from inventing, is attentive to find apt and eloquent words. And, although I put this to your choice, whether you will do so or no, yet I enjoin you, by all means, that you diligently examine what you have written before you write it over fair again; first considering attentively the whole sentence, and after examine every part thereof; by which means you may easily find out if any solecisms have escaped you; which being put out, and your letter written fuir, yet then let it 10$ also trouble yon to examine it over again; for sometimes the same faults creep in at the second writing, which you before had blotted out. By this your diligence you will procure, that those your trifles will seem serious matters. For, as nothing is so pleasing but may be made insarory by prating garrulity, so nothing is by nature so unpleasant, that by industry may not be made full of grace and pleasantness. Farewell, my sweetest children.'

Character.-Of keen irregular features, gray restless eye, tumbled brown hair, careless gait and dress,—the outer pictures the inner man, cheerful, witty even to recklessness, kindly, halfsadly humorous, throwing the veil of laughter and of tears over the tender reverence of the soul. He married his first wife out of pure benevolence, thinking how much it would grieve her to see her younger sister, whom he loved the better, preferred before her. As his wife, it was his delight to train her in his own taste for letters and for music. Among his children, he was a loving companion and a wise teacher, luring them to the deeper studies by relics and curiosities gathered in his cabinet. Fond of their pets and their games as they themselves. He would take scholars and statesmen into his garden to see his girls' rabbits or watch the gambols of their favorite monkey. I have given you kisses enough,' he wrote them, “but stripes hardly ever.' In conversation and writing, humor was his constitutional temper. At the most solemn moments of his life, he was facetious. In the

« AnteriorContinuar »