The Origin of "Utopia"

July 06, 2014

Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More (1478–1535). Utopia.
Vol. 36, pp. 135-142 of The Harvard Classics

When Europe was suffering from evil rulers, heavy taxes, and despair, Sir Thomas More dreamed of a happy land where an intelligently managed state perfected happiness.
(Sir Thomas More executed, July 6, 1535.)

The First Book
The First Book of the Communication of Raphael Hythloday, Concerning the Best State of a Commonwealth

THE MOST victorious and triumphant King of England, Henry the Eighth of that name, in all royal virtues, prince most peerless, had of late in controversy with the right high and mighty King of Castile, weighty matters and of great importance. For the debatement and final determination whereof, the King’s Majesty sent me ambassador into Flanders, joined in commission with Cuthbert Tunstall, a man doubtless out of comparison, and whom the King’s Majesty of late, to the great rejoicing of all men, did prefer to the office of Master of the Rolls.

  But of this man’s praises I will say nothing, not because I do fear that small credence shall be given to the testimony that cometh out of a friend’s mouth: but because his virtue and learning be greater, and of more excellency, than that I am able to praise them: and also in all places so famous and so perfectly well known, that they need not, nor ought not of me to be praised, unless I would seem to show and set forth the brightness of the sun with a candle, as the proverb saith. There met us at Bruges (for thus it was before agreed) they whom their Prince had for that matter appointed commissioners: excellent men all. The chief and the head of them was the Margrave (as they call him) of Bruges, a right honourable man: but the wisest and the best spoken of them was George Temsice, provost of Cassel, a man, not only by learning, but also by nature of singular eloquence, and in the laws profoundly learned; but in reasoning and debating of matters, what by his natural wit, and what by daily exercise, surely he had few fellows. After that we had once or twice met, and upon certain points or articles could not fully and thoroughly agree, they for a certain space took their leave of us, and departed to Brussels, there to know their Prince’s pleasure, I in the meantime (for so my business lay) went straight thence to Antwerp. Whiles I was there abiding, oftentimes among other, but which to me was more welcome than any other, did visit me one Peter Giles, a citizen of Antwerp, a man there in his country of honest reputation, and also preferred to high promotions, worthy truly of the highest. For it is hard to say, whether the young man be in learning, or in honesty more excellent. For he is both of wonderful virtuous conditions, and also singularly well learned, and towards all sorts of people exceeding gentle: but towards his friends so kind-hearted, so loving, so faithful, so trusty, and of so earnest affection, that it were very hard in any place to find a man, that with him in all points of friendship may be compared. No man can be more lowly or courteous. No man useth less simulation or dissimulation, in no man is more prudent simplicity. Besides this, he is in his talk and communication so merry and pleasant, yea and that without harm, that through his gentle entertainment, and his sweet and delectable communication, in me was greatly abated and diminished the fervent desire, that I had to see my native country, my wife and my children, whom then I did much long and covet to see, because that at that time I had been more than four months from them. Upon a certain day when I had heard the divine service in our Lady’s church, which is the fairest, the most gorgeous and curious church of building in all the city and also most frequented of people, and, the service being done, was ready to go home to my lodging, I chanced to espy this foresaid Peter talking with a certain stranger, a man well stricken in age, with a black sunburned face, a long beard, and a cloak cast homely about his shoulders, whom by his favour and apparel forthwith I judged to be a mariner. But when this Peter saw me, he cometh to me and saluteth me.

  And as I was about to answer him: see you this man, saith he (and therewith he pointed to the man, that I saw him talking with before); I was minded, quoth he, to bring him straight home to you.

  He should have been very welcome to me, said I, for your sake.

  Nay (quoth he) for his own sake, if you knew him: for there is no man this day living, that can tell you of so many strange and unknown peoples, and countries, as this man can. And I know well that you be very desirous to hear of such news.

  Then I conjectured not far amiss (quoth I) for even at the first sight I judged him to be a mariner.

  Nay (quoth he) there ye were greatly deceived: he hath sailed indeed, not as the mariner Palinure, but as the expert and prudent prince Ulysses: yea, rather as the ancient and sage philosopher Plato. For this same Raphael Hythloday (for this is his name) is very well learned in the Latin tongue: but profound and excellent in the Greek tongue. Wherein he ever bestowed more study than in the Latin, because he had given himself wholly to the study of philosophy. Whereof he knew that there is nothing extant in the Latin tongue that is to any purpose, saving a few of Seneca’s, and Cicero’s doings. His patrimony that he was born unto, he left to his brethren (for he is a Portugal born) and for the desire that he had to see, and know the far countries of the world, he joined himself in company with Amerigo Vespucci, and in the three last voyages of those four that be now in print and abroad in every man’s hands, he continued still in his company, saving that in the last voyage he came not home again with him. For he made such means and shift, what by entreatance, and what by importune suit, that he got licence of master Amerigo (though it were sore against his will) to be one of the twenty-four which in the end of the last voyage were left in the country of Gulike. He was therefore left behind for his mind sake, as one that took more thought and care for travelling than dying: having customably in his mouth these sayings: he that hath no grave, is covered with the sky: and, the way to heaven out of all places is of like length and distance. Which fantasy of his (if God had not been his better friend) he had surely bought full dear. But after the departing of master Vespucci, when he had travelled through and about many countries with five of his companions Gulikians, at the last by marvellous chance he arrived in Taprobane, from whence he went to Caliquit, where he chanced to find certain of his country ships, wherein he returned again into his country, nothing less than looked for.

  All this when Peter had told me, I thanked him for his gentle kindness, that he had vouchsafed to bring me to the speech of that man, whose communication he thought should be to me pleasant and acceptable. And therewith I turned me to Raphael. And when we had saluted each other, and had spoken these common words, that be customably spoken at the first meeting and acquaintance of strangers, we went thence to my house, and there in my garden upon a bench covered with green turf we sat down talking together. There he told us, how that after the departing of Vespucci, he and his fellows, that tarried behind in Gulike, began by little and little, through fair and gentle speech, to win the love and favour of the people of that country, insomuch that within short space, they did dwell amongst them, not only harmless, but also occupied with them very familiarly. He told us also, that they were in high reputation and favour with a certain great man (whose name and country is now quite out of my remembrance) which of his mere liberality did bear the costs and charges of him and his five companions. And besides that gave them a trusty guide to conduct them in their journey (which by water was in boats, and by land in waggons) and to bring them to other princes, with very friendly commendations. Thus after many days’ journeys, he said, they found towns and cities and weal publics, full of people, governed by good and wholesome laws. For under the line equinoctial, and of both sides of the same, as far as the sun doth extend his course, lieth (quoth he) great and wide deserts and wildernesses, parched, burned, and dried up with continual and intolerable heat. All things be hideous, terrible, loathsome, and unpleasant to behold: all things out of fashion and comeliness, inhabited with wild beasts and serpents, or at the leastwise, with people, that be no less savage, wild and noisome, than the very beasts themselves be. But a little farther beyond that, all things begin by little and little to wax pleasant; the air soft, temperate, and gentle; the ground covered with green grass; less wildness in the beasts. At the last shall ye come again to people, cities, and towns wherein is continual intercourse and occupying of merchandise and chaffer, not only among themselves and with their borderers, but also with merchants of far countries, both by land and water. There I had occasion (said he) to go to many countries of every side. For there was no ship ready to any voyage or journey, but I and my fellows were into it very gladly received. The ships that they found first were made plain, flat and broad in the bottom, though wise. The sails were made of great rushes, or of wickers, and in some places, of leather. Afterward they found ships with ridged keels, and sails of canvas, yea, and shortly after, having all things like ours. The shipmen also very expert and cunning, both in the sea and in the weather. But he said that he found great favour and friendship among them, for teaching them the feat and use of the load-stone, which to them before that time was unknown. And therefore they were wont to be very timorous and fearful upon the sea; nor to venture upon it, but only in the summer time. But now they have such a confidence in that stone, that they fear not stormy winter: in so doing farther from care than jeopardy; insomuch, that it is greatly to be doubted, lest that thing, through their own foolish hardiness, shall turn them to evil and harm, which at the first was supposed should be to them good and commodious.

  But what he told us that he saw in every country where he came, it were very long to declare; neither is it my purpose at this time to make rehearsal thereof. But peradventure in another place I will speak of it, chiefly such things as shall be profitable to be known, as in special be those decrees and ordinances, that he marked to be well and wisely provided and enacted among such peoples, as do live together in a civil policy and good order. For of such things did we busily inquire and demand of him, and he likewise very willingly told us of the same. But as for monsters, because they be no news, of them we were nothing inquisitive. For nothing is more easy to be found, then be barking Scyllas, ravening Celenos, and Loestrygonians devourers of people, and such like great, and incredible monsters. But to find citizens ruled by good and wholesome laws, that is an exceeding rare, and hard thing. But as he marked many fond, and foolish laws in those new found lands, so he rehearsed many acts, and constitutions, whereby these our cities, nations, countries, and kingdoms may take example to amend their faults, enormities, and errors. Whereof in another place (as I said) I will treat.

  Now at this time I am determined to rehearse only that he told us of the manners, customs, laws, and ordinances of the Utopians. But first I will repeat our former communication by the occasion, and (as I might say) the drift whereof, he was brought into the mention of that weal public.

  For, when Raphael had very prudently touched divers things that be amiss, some here and some there, yea, very many of both parts; and again had spoken of such wise and prudent laws and decrees, as be established and used, both here among us and also there among them, as a man so cunning, and expert in the laws, and customs of every several country, as though into what place soever he came guestwise, there he had led all his life: then Peter much marvelling at the man: Surely Master Raphael (quoth he) I wonder greatly, why you get you not into some king’s court. For I am sure there is no prince living, that would not be very glad of you, as a man not only able highly to delight him with your profound learning, and this your knowledge of countries, and peoples, but also are meet to instruct him with examples, and help him with counsel. And thus doing, you shall bring yourself in a very good case, and also be in ability to help all your friends and kinsfolk.

  As concerning my friends and kinsfolk (quoth he) I pass not greatly for them. For I think I have sufficiently done my part towards them already. For these things, that other men do not depart from, until they be old and sick, yea, which they be then very loath to leave, when they can no longer keep, those very same things did I being not only lusty and in good health, but also in the flower of my youth, divide among my friends and kinsfolks. Which I think with this my liberality ought to hold them contented, and not to require nor to look that besides this, I should for their sakes give myself in bondage to kings.

  Nay, God forbid (quoth Peter), it is not my mind that you should be in bondage to kings, but as a retainer to them at your pleasure. Which surely I think is the nighest way that you can devise how to bestow your time fruitfully, not only for the private commodity of your friends and for the general profit of all sorts of people, but also for the advancement of yourself to a much wealthier state and condition, than you be now in.

  To a wealthier condition (quoth Raphael) by that means, that my mind standeth clean against? No I live at liberty after my own mind and pleasure, which I think very few of these great states and peers of realms can say. Yea and there be enough of them that seek for great men’s friendships: and therefore think it no great hurt, if they have not me, nor two or three such other as I am.

  Well, I perceive plainly friend Raphael (quoth I) that you be desirous neither of riches nor of power. And truly I have in no less reverence and estimation a man that is of your mind, than any of them all that be so high in power and authority. But you shall do as it becometh you: yea, and according to this wisdom, and this high and free courage of yours, if you can find in your heart so to appoint and dispose yourself, that you may apply your wit and diligence to the profit of the weal public, though it be somewhat to your own pain and hindrance. And this shall you never so well do, nor with so great profit perform, as if you be of some great prince’s council, and put into his head (as I doubt not but you will) honest opinions and virtuous persuasions. For from the prince, as from a perpetual well spring, cometh among the people the flood of all that is good or evil. But in you is so perfect learning, that without any experience, and again so great experience, that without any learning you may well be any king’s councillor.

  You be twice deceived, Master More (quoth he), first in me, and again in the thing itself. For neither is in me that ability that you force upon me, and if it were never so much, yet in disquieting mine own quietness I should nothing further the weal public. For first of all, the most part of all princes have more delight in warlike matters and feats of chivalry (the knowledge whereof I neither have nor desire) than in the good feats of peace: and employ much more study, how by right or by wrong to enlarge their dominions, than how well and peaceably to rule and govern that they have already. Moreover, they that be councillors to kings, every one of them either is of himself so wise indeed, that he need not, or else he thinketh himself so wise, that he will not allow another man’s counsel, saving that they do shamefully and flatteringly give assent to the fond and foolish sayings of certain great men. Whose favours, because they be in high authority with their prince, by assentation and flattery they labour to obtain. And verily it is naturally given to all men to esteem their own inventions best. So both the raven and the ape think their own young ones fairest. Then if a man in such a company, where some disdain and have despite at other men’s inventions, and some count their own best, if among such men (I say) a man should bring forth anything, that he hath read done in times past, or that he hath seen done in other places: there the hearers fare as though the whole existimation of their wisdom were in jeopardy to be overthrown, and that ever after they should be counted for very fools, unless they could in other men’s inventions pick out matter to reprehend, and find fault at. If all other poor helps fail, then this is their extreme refuge. These things (say they) pleased our forefathers and ancestors; would God we could be so wise as they were: and as though they had wittily concluded the matter, and with this answer stopped every man’s mouth, they sit down again. As who should say, it were a very dangerous matter, if a man in any point should be found wiser than his forefathers were.

  And yet be we content to suffer the best and wittiest of their decrees to lie unexecuted: but if in anything a better order might have been taken, than by them was, there we take fast hold, and find many faults. Many times have I chanced upon such proud, lewd, overthwart and wayward judgments, yea, and once in England.

  I pray you sir (quoth I) have you been in our country?

  Yea forsooth (quoth he) and there I tarried for the space of four or five months together, not long after the insurrection, that the western Englishmen made against their king, which by their own miserable and pitiful slaughter was suppressed and ended. In the mean season I was much bound and beholden to the right reverend father, John Morton, Archbishop and Cardinal of Canterbury, and at that time also Lord Chancellor of England: a man, Master Peter (for Master More knoweth already that I will say), not more honourable for his authority, than for his prudence and virtue. He was of a mean stature, and though stricken in age, yet bare he his body upright. In his face did shine such an amiable reverence, as was pleasant to behold, gentle in communication, yet earnest, and sage. He had great delight many times with rough speech to his suitors, to prove, but without harm, what prompt wit and what bold spirit were in every man. In the which, as in a virtue much agreeing with his nature, so that therewith were not joined impudence, he took great delectation. And the same person, as apt and meet to have an administration in the weal public, he did lovingly embrace. In his speech he was fine, eloquent, and pithy. In the law he had profound knowledge, in wit he was incomparable, and in memory wonderful excellent. These qualities, which in him were by nature singular, he by learning and use had made perfect. The king put much trust in his counsel, the weal public also in a manner leaned unto him, when I was there. For even in the chief of his youth he was taken from school into the court, and there passed all his time in much trouble and business, and was continually tumbled and tossed in the waves of divers misfortunes and adversities. And so by many and great dangers he learned the experience of the world, which so being learned can not easily be forgotten. It chanced on a certain day, when I sat at his table, there was also a certain layman cunning in the laws of your realm. Which, I cannot tell whereof taking occasion, began diligently and busily to praise that strait and rigorous justice, which at that time was there executed upon felons, who, as he said, were for the most part twenty hanged together upon one gallows. And, seeing so few escaped punishment, he said he could not choose, but greatly wonder and marvel, how and by what evil luck it should so come to pass, that thieves nevertheless were in every place so rife and rank. Nay, sir, quoth I (for I durst boldly speak my mind before the Cardinal), marvel nothing hereat: for this punishment of thieves passeth the limits [of] justice, and is also very hurtful to the weal public. For it is too extreme and cruel a punishment for theft, and yet not sufficient to refrain men from theft. For simple theft is not so great an offence, that it ought to be punished with death. Neither there is any punishment so horrible, that it can keep them from stealing, which have no other craft, whereby to get their living. Therefore in this point, not you only, but also the most part of the world, be like evil schoolmasters, which be readier to beat, than to teach their scholars. For great and horrible punishments be appointed for thieves, whereas much rather provision should have been made, that there were some means, whereby they might get their living, so that no man should be driven to this extreme necessity, first to steal, and then to die. Yes (quoth he) this matter is well enough provided for already. There be handicrafts, there is husbandry to get their living by, if they would not willingly be nought. Nay, quoth I, you shall not ‘scape so: for first of all, I will speak nothing of them, that come home out of war, maimed and lame, as not long ago, out of Blackheath field, and a little before that, out of the wars in France: such, I say, as put their lives in jeopardy for the weal public’s or the king’s sake, and by the reason of weakness and lameness be not able to occupy their old crafts, and be too aged to learn new: of them I will speak nothing, because war like the tide ebbeth and floweth. But let us consider those things that chance daily before our eyes. First there is a great number of gentlemen, which cannot be content to live idle themselves, like drones, of that which other have laboured for: their tenants I mean, whom they poll and shave to the quick by raising their rents (for this only point of frugality do they use, men else through their lavish and prodigal spending, able to bring themselves to very beggary) these gentlemen, (I say), do not only live in idleness themselves, but also carry about with them at their tails a great flock or train of idle and loitering serving-men, which never learned any craft whereby to get their livings. These men as soon as their master is dead, or be sick themselves, be incontinent thrust out of doors. For gentlemen had rather keep idle persons, than sick men, and many times the dead man’s heir is not able to maintain so great a house, and keep so many serving-men as his father did. Then in the mean season they that be thus destitute of service, either starve for hunger, or manfully play the thieves. For what would you have them to do? When they have wandered abroad so long, until they have worn threadbare their apparel, and also impaired their health, then gentlemen because of their pale and sick faces, and patched coats, will not take them into service. And husbandmen dare not set them a work, knowing well enough that he is nothing meet to do true and faithful service to a poor man with a spade and a mattock for small wages and hard fare, which being daintily and tenderly pampered up in idleness and pleasure, was wont with a sword and a buckler by his side to strut through the street with a bragging look, and to think himself too good to be any man’s mate. Nay, by Saint Mary, sir (quoth the lawyer) not so. For this kind of men must we make most of. For in them as men of stouter stomachs, bolder spirits, and manlier courages than handicraftsmen and ploughmen be, doth consist the whole power, strength, and puissance of our host, when we must fight in battle. Forsooth, sir, as well you might say (quoth I) that for war’s sake you must cherish thieves. For surely you shall never lack thieves, whiles you have them. No, nor thieves be not the most false and faint-hearted soldiers, nor soldiers be not the cowardliest thieves: so well these two crafts agree together. But this fault, though it be much used among you, yet is it not peculiar to you, only but common also almost to all nations. Yet France besides this is troubled and infected with a much sorer plague. The whole realm is filled and besieged with hired soldiers in peace time (if that be peace) which be brought in under the same colour and pretence that hath persuaded you to keep these idle serving men. For these wise fools and very archdolts thought the wealth of the whole country herein to consist, if there were ever in a readiness a strong and a sure garrison, specially of old practiced soldiers, for they put no trust at all in men unexercised. And therefore they must be fain to seek for war, to the end they may ever have practiced soldiers and cunning manslayers, less that (as it is prettily said of Sallust) their hands and their minds through idleness or lack of exercise should wax dull. But how pernicious and pestilent a thing it is to maintain such beasts, the Frenchmen, by their own harms have learned, and the examples of the Romans, Carthaginians, Syrians, and of many other countries do manifestly declare. For not only the empire but also the fields and cities of all these, by divers occasions have been overrun and destroyed of their own armies beforehand had in a readiness. Now how unnecessary a thing this is, hereby it may appear: that the French soldiers, which from their youth have been practiced and inured in feats of arms, do not crack nor advance themselves to have very often got the upper hand and mastery of your new-made and unpracticed soldiers. But in this point I will not use many words, lest perchance I may seem to flatter you. No, nor those same handicraftsmen of your in cities, nor yet the rude and uplandish ploughmen of the country, are not supposed to be greatly afraid of your gentlemen’s idle serving-men, unless it be such as be not of body or stature correspondent to their strength and courage, or else whose bold stomachs be discouraged through poverty. Thus you may see, that it is not to be feared lest they should be effeminated, if they were brought up in good crafts and laboursome works, whereby to get their living, those stout and sturdy bodies (for gentlemen vouchsafe to corrupt and spoil none but picked and chosen men) now either by reason of rest and idleness be brought to weakness: or else by too easy and womanly exercises be made feeble and unable to endure hardness. Truly, howsoever the case standeth, this methinketh is nothing available to the weal public, for war’s sake, which you never have, but when you will yourselves, to keep and maintain an innumerable flock of that sort of men, that be so troublesome and annoyous in peace, whereof you ought to have a thousand times more regard than of war. But yet this is not only the necessary cause of stealing. There is another, which, as I suppose, is proper and peculiar to you Englishmen alone. What is that, quoth the Cardinal? forsooth (quoth I) your sheep that were wont to be so meek and tame, and so small eaters, now, as I hear say, be become so great devourers and so wild, that they eat up, and swallow down the very men themselves. They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses, and cities. For look in what parts of the realm doth grow the finest and therefore dearest wool, there noblemen and gentlemen, yea and certain abbots, holy men God wot not contenting themselves with the yearly revenues and profits, that were wont to grow to their forefathers and predecessors of their lands, nor being content that they live in rest and pleasure nothing profiting, yea much annoying the weal public, leave no ground for tillage, they inclose all in pastures; they throw down houses; they pluck down towns, and leave nothing standing, but only the church to make of it a sheep-house. And as though you lost no small quantity of ground by forests, chases, lawns, and parks, those good holy men turn all dwelling-places and all glebeland into desolation and wilderness. Therefore that one covetous and insatiable cormorant and very plague of his native country may compass about and inclose many thousand acres of ground together within one pale or hedge, the husbandmen be thrust out of their own, or else either by cunning and fraud, or by violent oppression they be put besides it, or by wrongs and injuries they be so wearied, that they be compelled to sell all: by one means therefore or by other, either by hook or crook they must needs depart away, poor, silly, wretched souls, men, women, husbands, wives, fatherless children, widows, woeful mothers, with their young babes, and their whole households small in substance and much in number, as husbandry requireth many hands. Away they trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no places to rest in. All their household stuff, which is very little worth, though it might well abide the sale: yet being suddenly thrust out, they be constrained to sell it for a thing of nought. And when they, have wandering about, soon spent that, what can they else do but steal, and then justly, God wot, be hanged, or else go about a begging. And yet then also they be cast in prison as vagabonds, because they go about and work not: whom no man will set a work, though they never so willingly offer themselves thereto. For one shepherd or herdsman is enough to eat up that ground with cattle, to the occupying whereof about husbandry many hands were requisite. And this is also the cause that victuals be now in many places dearer. Yea, besides this the price of wool is so risen, that poor folks, which were wont to work it and make cloth of it, be now able to buy none at all. And by this means very many be fain to forsake work, and to give themselves to idleness. For after that so much ground was inclosed for pasture, an infinite multitude of sheep died of the rot, such vengeance God took of their inordinate and insatiable covetousness, sending among the sheep that pestiferous murrain, which much more justly should have fallen on the sheepmasters’ own heads. And though the number of sheep increase never so fast, yet the price falleth not one mite, because there be so few sellers. For they be almost all come into a few rich men’s hands, whom no need driveth to sell before they lust, and they lust not before they may sell as dear as they lust. Now the same cause bringeth in like dearth of the other kinds of cattle, yea and that so much the more, because that after farms plucked down and husbandry decayed, there is no man that passeth for the breeding of young store. For these rich men bring not up the young ones of great cattle as they do lambs. But first they buy them abroad very cheap and afterward, when they be fatted in their pastures, they sell them again exceeding dear. And therefore (as I suppose) the whole incommodity hereof is not yet felt. For yet they make dearth only in those places where they sell. But when they shall fetch them away from thence where they be bred faster than they can be brought up: then shall there also be felt great dearth, when store beginneth to fail, there where the ware is brought. Thus the unreasonable covetousness of a few hath turned that thing to the utter undoing of your island, in the which thing the chief felicity of your realm did consist. For this great dearth of victuals causeth every man to keep as little houses and as small hospitality as he possible may, and to put away their servants: whether, I pray you, but a begging: or else (which these gentle bloods and stout stomachs will sooner set their minds unto) a stealing? Now to amend the matters, to this wretched beggary and miserable poverty is joined great wantonness, importunate superfluity, and excessive riot. For not only gentlemen’s servants, but also handicraftsmen: yea and almost the ploughmen of the country, with all other sorts of people, use much strange and proud newfangleness in their apparel, and too much prodigal riot and sumptuous fare at their table. Now bawds, queans, whores, harlots, strumpets, brothel houses, stews, and yet another stews, wine-taverns, ale houses and tippling houses, with so many naughty, lewd, and unlawful games, as dice, cards, tables, tennis, bowls, quoits, do not all these send the haunters of them straight a stealing when their money is gone? Cast out these pernicious abominations, make a law, that they, which plucked down farms and towns of husbandry, shall build them up again, or else yield and uprender the possession of them to such as will go to the cost of building them anew. Suffer not these rich men to buy up all, to engross and forestall, and with their monopoly to keep the market alone as please them. Let not so many be brought up in idleness, let husbandry and tillage be restored again, let clothworking be renewed, that there may be honest labours for this idle sort to pass their time in profitably, which hitherto either poverty hath caused to be thieves, or else now be either vagabonds, or idle serving men, and shortly will be thieves. Doubtless unless you find a remedy for these enormities, you shall in vain advance yourselves of executing justice upon felons. For this justice is more beautiful than just or profitable. For by suffering your youth wantonly and viciously to be brought up, and to be infected, even from their tender age, and little with vice: then a God’s name to be punished, when they commit the same faults after they be come to man’s state, which from their youth they were ever like to do: In this point, I pray you, what other thing do you, than make thieves and then punish them? Now as I was thus speaking, the lawyer began to make himself ready to answer, and was determined with himself to use the common fashion and trade of disputers, which be more diligent in rehearsing than answering, as thinking the memory worthy of the chief praise. Indeed, sir, quoth he, you have said well, being but a stranger and one that might rather hear something of these matters, than have any exact or perfect knowledge of the same, as I will incontinent by open proof make manifest and plain. For first I will rehearse in order all that you have said: then I will declare in what thing you be deceived, through lack of knowledge, in all our fashions, manners and customs: and last of all I will answer to your arguments and confute them every one. First therefore, I will begin where I promised. Four things you seemed to me. Hold your peace, quoth the Cardinal: for be like you will make no short answer, which make such a beginning. Wherefore at this time you shall not take the pains to make your answer, but keep it to your next meeting, which I would be right glad, that it might be even tomorrow next, unless either you or Master Raphael have any earnest let. But now, Master Raphael, I would very gladly hear of you, why you think theft not worthy to be punished with death, or what other punishment you can devise more expedient to the weal public. For I am sure you are not of that mind, that you would have theft escape unpunished. For if now the extreme punishment of death cannot cause them to leave stealing, then if ruffians and robbers should be sure of their lives; what violence, what fear were able to hold their hands from robbing, which would take the mitigation of the punishment, as a very provocation to the mischief? Surely my lord, quoth I, I think it not right nor justice, that the loss of money should cause the loss of man’s life. For mine opinion is, that all the goods in the world are not able to countervail man’s life. But if they would thus say: that the breaking of justice, and the transgression of the laws is recompensed with this punishment, and not the loss of the money, then why may not this extreme justice well be called extreme injury? For neither so cruel governance, so strait rules, and unmerciful laws be allowable, that if a small offence be committed, by-and-by the sword should be drawn: nor so stoical ordinances are to be borne withal, as to count all offences of such equality that the killing of a man, or the taking of his money from him were both a matter, and the one no more heinous offence than the other: between the which two, if we have any respect to equity, no similitude or equality consisteth. God commandeth us that we shall not kill. And be we then so hasty to kill a man for taking a little money? And if any man would understand killing by this commandment of God to be forbidden after no larger wise, than man’s constitutions define killing to be lawful, then why may it not likewise by man’s constitutions be determined after what sort whoredom, fornication and perjury may be lawful? For whereas, by the permission of God, no man hath power to kill neither himself, nor yet any other man: then if a law made by the consent of men, concerning slaughter of men, ought to be of such strength, force and virtue, that they which, contrary to the commandment of God, have killed those, whom this constitution of man commanded to be killed, be clean quit and exempt out of the bonds and danger of God’s commandment: shall it not then by this reason follow, that the power of God’s commandment shall extend no further than man’s law doth define, and permit? And so shall it come to pass, that in like manner man’s constitutions in all things shall determine how far the observation of all God’s commandments shall extend. To be short, Moses’ law, though it were ungentle and sharp, as a law that was given to bondmen; yea, and them very obstinate, stubborn, and stiff-necked; yet it punished theft by the purse, and not with death. And let us not think that God in the new law of clemency and mercy, under the which he ruleth us with fatherly gentleness, as his dear children, hath given us greater scope and license to execute cruelty, one upon another. Now, ye have heard the reasons whereby I am persuaded that this punishment is unlawful. Furthermore I think there is nobody that knoweth not how unreasonable, yea, how pernicious a thing it is to the weal public, that a thief and an homicide or murderer, should suffer equal and like punishment. For the thief seeing that man, that is condemned for theft in no less jeopardy, nor judged to no less punishment, than him that is convict of manslaughter; through this cogitation only he is strongly and forcibly provoked, and in a manner constrained to kill him whom else he would have but robbed. For the murder once done, he is in less care, and in more hope that the deed shall not be bewrayed or known, seeing the party is now dead and rid out of the way, which only might have uttered and disclosed it. But if he chance to be taken and discrived, yet he is in no more danger and jeopardy, than if he had committed but single felony. Therefore whiles we go about with such cruelty to make thieves afraid, we provoke them to kill good men. Now as touching this question, what punishment were more commodious and better; that truly in my judgment is easier to be found than what punishment were worse. For why should we doubt that to be a good and a profitable way for the punishment of offenders, which we know did in times past so long please the Romans, men in the administration of a weal public most expert, politic, and cunning? Such as among them were convict of great and heinous trespasses, them they condemned into stone quarries, and into mines to dig metal, there to be kept in chains all the days of their life. But as concerning this matter, I allow the ordinance of no nation so well as that I saw, whiles I travelled abroad about the world, used in Persia among the people that commonly be called the Polylerites. Whose land is both large and ample, and also well and wittily governed: and the people in all conditions free and ruled by their own laws, saving that they pay a yearly tribute to the great king of Persia. But because they be far from the sea, compassed and closed in almost round about with high mountains, and do content themselves with the fruits of their own land, which is of itself very fertile and fruitful: for this cause neither they go to other countries, nor other come to them. And according to the old custom of the land, they desire not to enlarge the bounds of their dominions: and those that they have, by reason of the high hills be easily defended: and the tribute which they pay to their chief lord and king setteth them quiet and free from warfare. Thus their life is commodious rather than gallant, and may better be called happy or lucky, than notable or famous. For they be not known as much as by name, I suppose, saving only to their next neighbours and borderers. They that in this land be attainted and convict of felony, make restitution of that they stole, to the right owner, and not (as they do in other lands) to the king: whom they think to have no more right to the thief-stolen thing, than the thief himself hath. But if the thing be lost or made away, then the value of it is paid of the goods of such offenders, which else remaineth all whole to their wives and children. And they themselves be condemned to be common labourers, and, unless the theft be very heinous, they be neither locked in prison nor fettered in gyves, but be untied and go at large, labouring in the common works. They that refuse labour, or go slowly and slackly to their work, be not only tied in chains, but also pricked forward with stripes. They that be diligent about their work live without check or rebuke. Every night they be called in by name, and be locked in their chambers. Beside their daily labour, their life is nothing hard or incommodious. Their fare is indifferent good, borne at the charges of the weal public, because they be common servants to the commonwealth. But their charges in all places of the land is not borne alike. For in some part that is bestowed upon them is gathered of alms. And though that way be uncertain, yet the people be so full of mercy and pity, that none is found more profitable or plentiful. In some places certain lands be appointed hereunto, of the revenues whereof they be maintained. And in some places every man giveth a certain tribute for the same use and purpose. Again in some parts of the land these serving-men (for so be these condemned persons called) do no common work, but as every private man needeth labourers, so he cometh into the market place, and there hireth some of them for meat and drink, and a certain limited wages by the day, somewhat cheaper than he should hire a free man. It is also lawful for them to chastise the sloth of these serving-men with stripes. By this means they never lack work, and besides their meat and drink, every one of them bringeth daily something into the common treasury. All and every one of them be apparelled in one colour. Their heads be not polled or shaven, but rounded a little above the ears. And the tip of the one ear is cut off. Every one of them may take meat and drink of their friends, and also a coat of their own colour: but to receive money is death, as well to the giver, as to the receiver. And no less jeopardy it is for a free man to receive money of a serving-man for any manner of cause: and likewise for serving-men to touch weapons. The serving-men of every several shire be distinct and known from other by their several and distinct badges: which to cast away is death: as it is also to be seen out of the precincts of their own shire, or to talk with a serving-man of another shire. And it is no less danger to them, for to intend to run away than to do it indeed. Yea and to conceal such an enterprise in a serving-man it is death, in a free man servitude. Of the contrary part, to him that openeth and uttereth such counsels, be decreed large gifts; to a free man a great sum of money, to a serving-man freedom: and to them both forgiveness and pardon of that they were of counsel in that pretence. So that it can never be so good for them to go forward in their evil purpose, as by repentance to turn back. This is the law and order in this behalf, as I have showed you. Wherein what humanity is used, how far it is from cruelty, and how commodious it is, you do plainly perceive: forasmuch as the end of their wrath and punishment intendeth nothing else, but the destruction of vices, and saving of men: with so using and ordering them, that they cannot choose but be good, and what harm soever they did before, in the residue of their life to make amends for the same. Moreover it is so little feared, that they should turn again to their vicious conditions, that wayfaring men will for their safeguard choose them to their guides before any other, in every shire changing and taking new. For if they would commit robbery, they have nothing about them meet for that purpose. They may touch no weapons: money found about them should betray the robbery. They should be no sooner taken with the manner, but forthwith they should be punished. Neither they can have any hope at all to ‘scape away by flying. For how should a man, that in no part of his apparel is like other men, fly privily and unknown, unless he would run away naked? Howbeit so also flying he should be discrived by his rounding and his ear-mark. But it is a thing to be doubted, that they will lay their heads together, and conspire against the weal public. No, no, I warrant you. For the serving-men of one shire alone could never hope to bring to pass such an enterprise, without soliciting, enticing, and alluring the serving-men of many other shires to take their parts. Which thing is to them so impossible, that they may not as much as speak or talk together, or salute one another. No, it is not to be thought that they would make their own countrymen and companions of their counsel in such a matter which they know well should be jeopardy to the concealer thereof, and great commodity and goodness to the opener of the same. Whereas on the other part, there is none of them all hopeless or in despair to recover again his freedom, by humble obedience, by patient suffering and by giving good tokens and likelihood of himself, that he will, ever after that, live like a true and an honest man. For every year divers be restored again to their freedom: through the commendation of their patience. When I had thus spoken, saying moreover that I could see no cause why this order might not be had in England with much more profit, than the justice which the lawyer so highly praised: Nay, quoth the lawyer, this could never be so established in England, but that it must needs bring the weal public into great jeopardy and hazard. And as he was thus saying, he shaked his head, and made a wry mouth, and so held his peace. And all that were there present, with one assent agreed to his saying. Well, quoth the Cardinal, yet it were hard to judge without a proof, whether this order would do well here or no. But when the sentence of death is given, if then the king should command execution to be deferred and spared, and would prove this order and fashion: taking away the privileges of all sanctuaries: if then the proof would declare the thing to be good and profitable, then it were well done that it were established; else the condemned and reprieved persons may as well and as justly be put to death after this proof, as when they were first cast. Neither any jeopardy can in the mean space grow hereof. Yea, and methinketh that these vagabonds may very well be ordered after the same fashion, against whom we have hitherto made so many laws, and so little prevailed. When the Cardinal had thus said, then every man gave great praise to my sayings, which a little before they had disallowed. But most of all was esteemed that which was spoken of vagabonds, because it was the Cardinal’s own addition. I cannot tell whether it were best to rehearse the communication that followed, for it was not very sad. But yet you shall hear it, for there was no evil in it, and partly it pertained to the matter beforesaid. There chanced to stand by a certain jesting parasite, or scoffer, which would seem to resemble and counterfeit the fool. But he did in such wise counterfeit, that he was almost the very same indeed that he laboured to represent: he so studied with words and sayings brought forth so out of time and place to make sport and move laughter, that he himself was oftener laughed at than his jests were. Yet the foolish fellow brought out now and then such indifferent and reasonable stuff, that he made the proverb true, which saith: he that shooteth oft at the last shall hit the mark. So that when one of the company said, that through my communication a good order was found for thieves, and that the Cardinal also had well provided for vagabonds, so that only remained some good provision to be made for them that through sickness and age were fallen into poverty, and were become so impotent and unwieldy, that they were not able to work for their living: Tush (quoth he) let me alone with them: you shall see me do well enough with them. For I had rather than any good, that this kind of people were driven some whether out of my sight, they have so sore troubled me many times and oft, when they have with their lamentable tears begged money of me: and yet they could never to my mind so tune their song, that thereby they ever got of me one farthing. For evermore the one of these two chanced: either that I would not, or else that I could not, because I had it not. Therefore now they be waxed wise. When they see me go by, because they will not lose their labour, they let me go and say not one word to me. So they look for nothing of me, no in good sooth no more, than if I were a priest. But I will make a law, that all these beggars shall be distributed and bestowed into houses of religion. The men shall be made lay brethren, as they call them, and the women nuns. Hereat the Cardinal smiled, and allowed it in jest, yea and all the residue in good earnest. But a certain friar, graduate in divinity, took such pleasure and delight in this jest of priests and monks, that he also being else a man of grisly and stern gravity, began merrily and wantonly to jest and taunt. Nay, quoth he, you shall not so be rid and despatched of beggars, unless you make some provision also for us friars. Why, quoth the jester, that is done already, for my lord himself set a very good order for you, when he decreed that vagabonds should be kept strait and set to work: for you be the greatest and veriest vagabonds that be. This jest also, when they saw the Cardinal not disprove it, every man took it gladly, saving only the friar. For he (and that no marvel) when he was thus touched on the quick, and hit on the gall, so fret, so fumed, and chafed at it, and was in such a rage, that he could not refrain himself from chiding, scolding, railing and reviling. He called the fellow ribald, villain, javel, back-biter, slanderer, and the son of perdition: citing therewith terrible threatening out of Holy Scripture. Then the jesting scoffer began to play the scoffer indeed, and verily he was good at it, for he could play a part in that play no man better. Patient yourself, good master friar, quoth he, and be not angry, for Scripture saith: in your patience you shall save your souls. Then the friar (for I will rehearse his own very words), No, gallows wretch, I am not angry (quoth he) or at the leastwise, I do not sin: for the Psalmist saith, be you angry, and sin not. Then the Cardinal spake gently to the friar, and desired him to quiet himself. No my lord, quoth he, I speak not but of a good zeal as I ought: for holy men had a good zeal. Wherefore it is said: the seal of the house hath eaten me. And it is sung in the church, the scorners of Helizeus, whiles he went up into the house of God, felt the zeal of the bald, as peradventure this scorning villain ribald shall feel. You do it (quoth the Cardinal) perchance of a good mind and affection: but methinketh you should do, I cannot tell whether more holily, certes more wisely, if you would not set your wit to a fool’s wit, and with a fool take in hand a foolish contention. No forsooth, my lord (quoth he) I should not do more wisely. For Solomon the wise saith: Answer a fool according to his foolishness, like as I do now, and do show him the pit that he shall fall into, if he take not heed. For if many scorners of Helizeus, which was but one bald man, felt the zeal of the bald, how much more shall one scorner of many friars feel, among whom be many bald men? And we have also the pope’s bulls, whereby all that mock and scorn us be excommunicate, suspended and accursed. The Cardinal, seeing that none end would be made, sent away the jester by a privy beck, and turned the communication to another matter. Shortly after, when he was risen from the table, he went to hear his suitors, and so dismissed us. Look, Master More, with how long and tedious a tale I have kept you, which surely I would have been ashamed to have done, but that you so earnestly desired me, and did after such a sort give ear unto it, as though you would not that any parcel of that communication should be left out. Which though I have done somewhat briefly, yet could I not choose but rehearse it, for the judgment of them, which when they had improved and disallowed my sayings, yet incontinent, hearing the Cardinal allow them, did themselves also approve the same: so impudently flattering him, that they were nothing ashamed to admit, yea almost in good earnest, his jester’s foolish inventions: because that he himself by smiling at them did seem not to disprove them. So that hereby you may right well perceive how little the courtiers would regard and esteem me and my sayings.

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