What Land is This?

November 27, 2014

Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More (1478–1535). Utopia.
Vol. 36, pp. 191-204 of The Harvard Classics

In wondrous Utopia pearls and precious stones were used as playthings for little children. Gold rings and bracelets were only worn by outcasts, while great golden chains shackled criminals and felons. When ambassadors from foreign lands came in fine raiment, the Utopians treated the plainest dressed as the greatest; the others seemed to them like children.

The Second Book
Of their journeying or travelling abroad, with divers other matters cunningly reasoned, and wittily discussed

BUT IF any be desirous to visit either their friends that dwell in another city, or to see the place itself: they easily obtain licence of their syphogrants and tranibores, unless there be some profitable let. No man goeth out alone but a company is sent forth together with their prince’s letters, which do testify that they have licence to go that journey, and prescribeth also the day of their return. They have a waggon given them, with a common bondman, which driveth the oxen, and taketh charge of them. But unless they have women in their company, they send home the waggon again, as an impediment and a let. And though they carry nothing forth with them, yet in all their journey they lack nothing. For wheresoever they come they be at home. If they tarry in a place longer than one day, then there every one of them falleth to his own occupation, and be very gently entertained of the workmen and companies of the same crafts. If any man of his own head and without leave, walk out of his precinct and bounds, taken without the prince’s letters, he is brought again for a fugitive or a runaway with great shame and rebuke, and is sharply punished. If he be taken in that fault again, he is punished with bondage. If any be desirous to walk abroad into the fields, or into the country that belongeth to the same city that he dwelleth in, obtaining the goodwill of his father, and the consent of his wife, he is not prohibited. But into what part of the country soever he cometh he hath no meat given him until he have wrought out his forenoon’s task, or else despatched so much work, as there is wont to be wrought before supper. Observing this law and condition, he may so whither he will within the bounds of his own city. For he shall be no less profitable to the city, than if he were within it. Now you see how little liberty they have to loiter: how they can have no cloak or pretence to idleness. There be neither wine taverns, nor ale-houses, nor stews, nor any occasion of vice or wickedness, no lurking corners, no places of wicked counsels or unlawful assemblies. But they be in the present sight, and under the eyes of every man. So that of necessity they must either apply their accustomed labours, or else recreate themselves with honest and laudable pastimes.

  This fashion being used among the people, they must of necessity have store and plenty of all things. And seeing they be all thereof partners equally, therefore can no man there be poor or needy. In the council of Amaurote, whither, as I said, every city sendeth three men apiece yearly, as soon as it is perfectly known of what things there is in every place plenty, and again what things be scant in any place: incontinent the lack of the one is performed and filled up with the abundance of the other. And this they do freely without any benefit, taking nothing again of them, to whom the things is given, but those cities that have given of their store to any other city that lacketh, requiring nothing again of the same city, do take such things as they lack of another city, to whom they gave nothing. So the whole island is as it were one family, or household. But when they have made sufficient provision of store for themselves (which they think not done, until they have provided for two years following because of the uncertainty of the next year’s proof) then of those things, whereof they have abundance, they carry forth into other countries great plenty: as grain, honey, wool, flax, wood, madder, purple dyed fells, wax, tallow, leather, and living beasts. And the seventh part of all these things they give frankly and freely to the poor of that country. The residue they sell at a reasonable and mean price. By this trade of traffic or merchandise, they bring into their own country, not only great plenty of gold and silver, but also all such things as they lack at home, which is almost nothing but iron. And by reason they have long used this trade, now they have more abundance of these things, than any man will believe. Now therefore they care not whether they sell for ready money, or else upon trust to be paid at a day, and to have the most part in debts. But in so doing they never follow the credence of private men: but the assurance or warrantys of the whole city, by instruments and writings made in that behalf accordingly. When the day of payment is come and expired, the city gathereth up the debt of the private debtors, and putteth it into the common box and so long hath the use and profit of it, until the Utopians their creditors demand it. The most part of it they never ask. For that thing which is to them no profit to take it from other, to whom it is profitable: they think it no right nor conscience. But if the case so stand, that they must lend part of that money to another people, then they require their debt: or when they have war. For the which purpose only they keep at home all the treasure which they have, to be holden and succoured by it either in extreme jeopardies, or in sudden dangers. But especially and chiefly to hire therewith, and that for unreasonable great wages, strange soldiers. For they had rather put strangers in jeopardy, than their own countrymen: knowing that for money enough, their enemies themselves many times may be bought and sold, or else through treason be set together by the ears among themselves. For this cause they keep an inestimable treasure. But yet not as a treasure: but so they have it, and use it, as in good faith I am ashamed to show: fearing that my words shall not be believed. And this I have more cause to fear, for that I know how difficulty and hardly I myself would have believed another man telling the same, if I had not presently seen it with mine own eyes.

  For it must needs be, that how far a thing is dissonant and disagreeing from the guise and trade of the hearers, so far shall it be out of their belief. Howbeit, a wise and indifferent esteemer of things will not greatly marvel perchance, seeing all their other laws and customs do so much differ from ours, if the use also of gold and silver among them be applied, rather to their own fashions than to ours. I mean in that they occupy not money themselves, but keep it for that chance, which as it may happen, so it may be that it shall never come to pass. In the meantime gold and silver, whereof money is made, they do so use, as none of them doth more esteem it, than the very nature of the thing deserveth. And then who doth not plainly see how far it is under iron: as without the which men can no better live than without fire and water. Whereas to gold and silver nature hath given no use, that we may not well lack: if that the folly of men had not set it in higher estimation for the rareness sake. But of the contrary part, nature as a most tender and loving mother, hath placed the best and most necessary things open abroad: as the air, the water and the earth itself. And hath removed and hid farthest from us vain and unprofitable things. Therefore if these metals among them should be fast locked up in some tower, it might be suspected, that the prince and the council (as the people is ever foolishly imagining) intended by some subtilty to deceive the commons, and to take same profit of it to themselves. Furthermore if they should make thereof plate and such other finely and cunningly wrought stuff: if at any time they should have occasion to break it, and melt it again, and therewith to pay their soldiers’ wages they see and perceive very well, that men would be loath to part from those things, that they once began to have pleasure and delight in. To remedy all this they have found out a means, which, as it is agreeable to all their other laws and customs, so it is from ours, where gold is so much set by and so diligently kept, very far discrepant and repugnant: and therefore incredible, but only to them that be wise. For whereas they eat and drink in earthen and glass vessels, which indeed be curiously and properly made, and yet be of very small value: of gold and silver they make commonly chamber pots, and other like vessels, that serve for most vile uses, not only in their common halls, but in every man’s private house. Furthermore of the same metals they make great chains, with fetters, and gyves wherein they tie their bondmen. Finally whosoever for any offence be infamed, by their ears hang rings of gold, upon their fingers they wear rings of gold, and about their necks chains of gold, and in conclusion their heads be tied about with gold. Thus by all means that may be they procure to have gold and silver among them in reproach and infamy. And therefore these metals, which other nations do as grievously and sorrowfully forgo, as in a manner from their own lives: if they should altogether at once be taken from the Utopians, no man there would think that he had lost the worth of one farthing. They gather also pearls by the sea-side, and diamonds and carbuncles upon certain rocks, and yet they seek not for them: but by chance finding them, they cut and polish them. And therewith they deck their young infants. Which like as in the first years of their childhood, they make much and be fond and proud of such ornaments, so when they be a little more grown in years and discretion, perceiving that none but children do wear such toys and trifles: they lay them away even of their own shamefacedness, without any bidding of their parents: even as our children, when they wax big, do cast away nuts, brooches, and puppets. Therefore these laws and customs, which be so far different from all other nations, how divers fantasies also and minds they do cause, did I never so plainly perceive, as in the ambassadors of the Anemolians.

  These ambassadors came to Amaurote whilest I was there. And because they came to entreat of great and weighty matters, those three citizens apiece out of every city were come thither before them. But all the ambassadors of the next countries, which had been there before, and knew the fashions and manners of the Utopians, among whom they perceived no honour given to sumptuous and costly apparel, silks to be contemned, gold also to be infamed and reproachful, were wont to come thither in very homely and simple apparel. But the Anemolians, because they dwell far thence and had very little acquaintance with them, hearing that they were all apparelled alike, and that very rudely and homely: thinking them not to have the things which they did not wear: being therefore more proud, than wise: determined in the gorgeousness of their apparel to represent very gods, and with the bright shining and glistering of their gay clothing to dazzle the eyes of the silly poor Utopians. So there came in three ambassadors with one hundred servants all apparelled in changeable colours: the most of them in silks: the ambassadors themselves (for at home in their own country they were noblemen) in cloth of gold, with great chains of gold, with gold hanging at their ears, with gold rings upon their fingers, with brooches and aglets of gold upon their caps, which glistered full of pearls and precious stones: to be short, trimmed and adorned with all those things, which among the Utopians were either the punishment of bondmen, or the reproach of infamed persons, or else trifles for young children to play withal. Therefore it would have done a man good at his heart to have seen how proudly they displayed their peacock’s feathers, how much they made of their painted sheaths, and how loftily they set forth and advanced themselves, when they compared their gallant apparel with the poor raiment of the Utopians. For all the people were swarmed forth into the streets. And on the other side it was no less pleasure to consider how much they were deceived, and how far they missed of their purpose, being contrariwise taken than they thought they should have been. For to the eyes of all the Utopians, except very few, which had been in other countries for some reasonable cause, all that gorgeousness of apparel seemed shameful and reproachful. Insomuch that they most reverently saluted the vilest and most abject of them for lords: passing over the ambassadors themselves without any honour: judging them by their wearing of golden chains to be bondmen. Yea you should have seen children also, that had cast away their pearls and precious stones, when they saw the like sticking upon the ambassadors’ caps, dig and push their mothers under the sides, saying thus to them. Look, mother, how great a lubber doth yet wear pearls and precious stones, as though he were a little child still. But the mother, yea, and that also in good earnest: peace, son, saith she: I think he be some of the ambassadors’ fools. Some found fault at their golden chains, as to no use nor purpose, being so small and weak, that a bondman might easily break them, and again so wide and large, that when it pleased him, he might cast them off, and run away at liberty whither he would. But when the ambassadors had been there a day or two and saw so great abundance of gold so lightly esteemed, yea in no less reproach, than it was with them in honour: and besides that more gold in the chains and gyves of one fugitive bondman, than all the costly ornaments of them three was worth: they began to abate their courage, and for very shame laid away all that gorgeous array, whereof they were so proud. And specially when they had talked familiarly with the Utopians, and had learned all their fashions and opinions.

  For they marvel that any men be so foolish, as to have delight and pleasure in the glistering of a little trifling stone, which may behold any of the stars, or else the sun itself. Or that any man is so mad, as to count himself the nobler for the smaller or finer thread of wool, which selfsame wool (be it now in never so fine a spun thread) did once a sheep wear: and yet was she all that time no other thing than a sheep. They marvel also that gold, which of the own nature is a thing so unprofitable, is now among all people in so high estimation, that man himself, by whom, yea and for the use of whom it is so much set by, is in much less estimation than the gold itself. Insomuch that a lumpish blockheaded churl, and which hath no more wit than an ass, yea and as full of worthlessness and foolishness, shall have nevertheless many wise and good men in subjection and bondage, only for this, because he hath a great heap of gold. Which if it should be taken from him by any fortune, or by some subtle wile of the law (which no less than fortune doth raise up the low and pluck down the high), and be given to the most vile slave and abject drudge of all his household, then shortly after he shall go into the service of his servant, as an augmentation or an overplus beside his money. But they much more marvel at and detest the madness of them which to those rich men, in whose debt and danger they be not, do give almost divine honours, for none other consideration, but because they be rich: and yet knowing them to be such niggardly penny-fathers, that they be sure as long as they live, not the worth of one farthing of that heap of gold shall come to them.

  These and such like opinions have they conceived, partly by education, being brought up in that commonwealth, whose laws and customs be far different from these kinds of folly, and partly by good literature and learning. For though there be not many in every city, which be exempt and discharged of all other labours, and appointed only to learning; that is to say, such in whom even from their very childhood they have perceived a singular towardness, a fine wit, and a mind apt to good learning: yet all in their childhood be instruct in learning. And the better part of the people, both men and women throughout all their whole life do bestow in learning those spare hours, which we said they have vacant from bodily labours. They be taught learning in their own native tongue. For it is both copious in words, and also pleasant to the ear, and for the utterance of a man’s mind very perfect and sure. The most part of all that side of the world useth the same language, saving that among the Utopians it is finest and purest, and according to the diversity of the countries it is diversely altered. Of all these philosophers, whose names be here famous in this part of the world to us known, before our coming thither not as much as the fame of any of them was come among them. And yet in music, logic, arithmetic, and geometry they have found out in a manner all that our ancient philosophers have taught. But as they in all things be almost equal to our old ancient clerks, so our new logicians in subtle inventions have far passed and gone beyond them. For they have not devised one of all those rules of restrictions, amplifications and suppositions, very wittily invented in the small logicals, which here our children in every place do learn. Furthermore, they were never yet able to find out the second intentions: insomuch that none of them all could ever see man himself in common, as they call him, though he be (as you know) bigger than ever was any giant, yea and pointed to of us even with our finger. But they be in the course of the stars, and the movings of the heavenly spheres very expert and cunning. They have also wittily excogitated and devised instruments of divers fashions: wherein is exactly comprehended and contained the movings and situations of the sun, the moon, and of all the other stars, which appear in their horizon. But as for the amities and dissensions of the planets, and all that deceitful divination by the stars, they never as much as dreamed thereof. Rains, winds, and other courses of tempests they know before by certain tokens, which they have learned by long use and observation. But of the causes of all these things and of the ebbing, flowing and saltness of the sea, and finally of the original beginning and nature of heaven and of the world, they hold partly the same opinions that our old philosophers hold, and partly, as our philosophers vary among themselves, so they also, whiles they bring new reasons of things, do disagree from all them, and yet among themselves in all points they do not accord. In that part of philosophy, which treateth of manners and virtue, their reasons and opinions agree with ours. They dispute of the good qualities of the soul, of the body and of fortune. And whether the name of goodness may be applied to all these, or only to the endowments and gifts of the soul.

  They reason of virtue and pleasure. But the chief and principal question is in what thing, be it one or more, the felicity of man consisteth. But in this point they seem almost too much given and inclined to the opinion of them which defend pleasure, wherein they determine either all or the chiefest part of man’s felicity to rest. And (which is more to be marvelled at) the defence of this so dainty and delicate an opinion they fetch even from their grave, sharp, bitter, and rigorous religion. For they never dispute of felicity or blessedness, but they join to the reasons of philosophy certain principles taken out of religion: without the which to the investigation of true felicity they think reason of itself weak and imperfect. Those principles be these and such like: That the soul is immortal, and by the bountiful goodness of God ordained to felicity. That to our virtues and good deeds rewards be appointed after this life, and to our evil deeds, punishments. Though these be pertaining to religion, yet they think it meet that they should be believed and granted by proofs of reason. But if these principles were condemned and disannulled, then without any delay they pronounce no man to be so foolish, which would not do all his diligence and endeavour to obtain pleasure by right or wrong, only avoiding this inconvenience, that the less pleasure should not be a let or hindrance to the bigger: or that he laboured not for that pleasure, which would bring after it displeasure, grief, and sorrow. For they judge it extreme madness to follow sharp and painful virtue, and not only to banish the pleasure of life, but also willingly to suffer grief without any hope of profit thereof. For what profit can there be, if a man, when he hath passed over all his life unpleasantly, that is to say, wretchedly, shall have no reward after his death? But now, sir, they think not felicity to rest in all pleasure, but only in that pleasure that is good and honest, and that hereto, as to perfect blessedness our nature is allured and drawn even of virtue, whereto only they that be of the contrary opinion do attribute felicity. For they define virtue to be a life ordered according to nature, and that we be hereunto ordained of God. And that he doth follow the course of nature, which in desiring and refusing things is ruled by reason. Furthermore, that reason doth chiefly and principally kindle in men the love and veneration of the divine majesty. Of whose goodness it is that we be, and that we be in possibility to attain felicity. And that secondly, it moveth and provoketh us to lead our life out of care in joy and mirth, and to help all other in respect of the society of nature to obtain the same. For there was never man so earnest and painful a follower of virtue and hater of pleasure, that would so enjoin you labours, watchings and fastings, but he would also exhort you to ease and lighten, to your power, the lack and misery of others, praising the same as a deed of humanity and pity. Then if it be a point of humanity for man to bring health and comfort to man, and specially (which is a virtue most peculiarly belonging to man) to mitigate and assuage the grief of others, and by taking from them the sorrow and heaviness of life, to restore them to joy, that is to say, to pleasure: why may it not then be said, that nature doth provoke every man to do the same to himself? For a joyful life, that is to say, a pleasant life, is either evil, and if it be so, then thou shouldest not only help no man thereto, but rather, as much as in thee lieth, help all men from it, as noisome and hurtful, or else if thou not only mayst, but also of duty art bound to procure it to others, why not chiefly to thyself, to whom thou art bound to show as much favour as to other? For when nature biddeth thee to be good and gentle to other she commandeth thee not to be cruel and ungentle to thyself. Therefore even very nature (say they) prescribeth to us a joyful life, that is to say, pleasure as the end of all our operations. And they define virtue to be life ordered according to the prescript of nature. But in that, that nature doth allure and provoke men one to help another to live merrily (which surely she doth not without a good cause, for no man is so far above the lot of man’s state or condition, that nature doth cark and care for him only, which equally favoureth all that be comprehended under the communion of one shape, form and fashion) verily she commandeth thee to use diligent circumspection, that thou do not so seek for thine own commodities, that thou procure others incommodities. Wherefore their opinion is, that not only covenants and bargains made among private men ought to be well and faithfully fulfilled, observed, and kept, but also common laws, which either a good prince hath justly published, or else the people neither oppressed with tyranny, neither deceived by fraud and guile, hath by their common consent constituted and ratified, concerning the partition of the commodities of life, that is to say, the matter of pleasure. These laws not offended, it is wisdom, that thou look to thine own wealth. And to do the same for the commonwealth is no less than thy duty, if thou bearest any reverent love or any natural zeal and affection to thy native country. But to go about to let another man of his pleasure, whilst thou procurest thine own, that is open wrong. Contrariwise to withdraw something from thyself to give to other, that is a point of humanity and gentleness; which never taketh away so much commodity, as it bringeth again. For it is recompensed with the return of benefits; and the conscience of the good deed, with the remembrance of the thankful love and benevolence of them to whom thou hast done it, doth bring more pleasure to thy mind, than that which thou hast withholden from thyself could have brought to thy body. Finally (which to a godly disposed and a religious mind is easy to be persuaded) God recompenseth the gift of a short and small pleasure with great and everlasting joy. Therefore the matter diligently weighed and considered, thus they think, that all our actions, and in them the virtues themselves, be referred at the last to pleasure, as their end and felicity. Pleasure they call every motion and state of the body or mind wherein man hath naturally delectation. Appetite they join to nature, and that not without a good cause. For like as, not only the senses, but also right reason coveteth whatsoever is naturally pleasant, so that it may be gotten without wrong or injury, not letting or debarring a greater pleasure, nor causing painful labour, even so those things that men by vain imagination do feign against nature to be pleasant (as though it lay in their power to change the things, as they do the names of things) all such pleasures they believe to be of so small help and furtherance to felicity, that they count them great let and hindrance. Because that in whom they have once taken place, all his mind they possess with a false opinion of pleasure. So that there is no place left for true and natural delectations. For there be many things, which of their own nature contain no pleasantness: yea the most part of them much grief and sorrow. And yet through the perverse and malicious flickering enticement of lewd and unhonest desires, be taken not only for special and sovereign pleasures, but also be counted amoung the chief causes of life. In this counterfeit kind of pleasure they put them that I spake of before; which the better gown they have on, the better men they think themselves. In the which thing they do twice err. For they be no less deceived in that they think their gown the better, than they be, in that they think themselves the better. For if you consider the profitable use of the garment, why should wool of a finer spun thread be thought better, than the wool of a coarse spun thread? Yet they, as though the one did pass the other by nature, and not by their mistaking, advance themselves, and think the price of their own persons thereby greatly increased. And therefore the honour, which in a coarse gown they durst not have looked for, they require, as it were of duty, for their finer gown’s sake. And if they be passed by without reverence, they take it angrily and disdainfully. And again is it not a like madness to take a pride in vain and unprofitable honours? For what natural or true pleasure dost thou take of another man’s bare head, or bowed knees? Will this ease the pain of thy knees, or remedy the frenzy of thy head? In this image of counterfeit pleasure, they be of a marvellous madness, which for the opinion of nobility, rejoice much in their own conceit. Because it was their fortune to come of such ancestors, whose stock of long time hath been counted rich (for now nobility is nothing else) specially rich in lands. And though their ancestors left them not one foot of land, yet they think themselves not the less noble therefore of one hair. In this number also they count them that take pleasure and delight (as I said) in gems and precious stones, and think themselves almost gods, if they chance to get an excellent one, specially of that kind, which in that time of their own countrymen is had in highest estimation. For one kind of stone keepeth not his price still in all countries and at all times. Nor they buy them not, but taken out of the gold and bare: no, nor so neither, before they have made the seller to swear, that he will warrant and assure it to be a true stone, and no counterfeit gem. Such care they take lest a counterfeit stone should deceive their eyes instead of a right stone. But why shouldst thou not take even as much pleasure in beholding a counterfeit stone, which thine eye cannot discern from a right stone? They should both be of like value to thee, even as to a blind man. What shall I say of them, that keep superfluous riches, to take delectation only in the beholding, and not in the use or occupying thereof? Do they take true pleasure, or else be they deceived with false pleasure? Or of them that be in a contrary vice, hiding the gold which they shall never occupy, nor peradventure never see more; and whiles they take care lest they shall lose it, do lose it indeed? For what is it else, when they hide it in the ground, taking it both from their own use, and perchance from all other men’s also? And yet thou, when thou hast hid thy treasure, as one out of all care, hoppest for joy. The which treasure, if it should chance to be stolen, and thou ignorant of the theft shouldst die ten years after: all that ten years’ space that thou livedst after thy money was stolen, what matter was it to thee, whether it had been taken away or else safe as thou leftest it? Truly both ways like profit came to thee. To these so foolish pleasures they join dicers, whose madness they know by hearsay and not by use. Hunters also, and hawkers, For what pleasure is there (say they) in casting the dice upon a table; which thou hast done so often, that if there were any pleasure in it, yet the oft use might make thee weary thereof? Or what delight can there be, and not rather displeasure in hearing the barking and howling of dogs? Or what greater pleasure is there to be felt when a dog followeth an hare, than when a dog followeth a dog? for one thing is done in both, that is to say, running, if thou hast pleasure therein. But if the hope of slaughter and the expectation of tearing in pieces the beast doth please thee: thou shouldest rather be moved with pity to see a silly innocent hare murdered of a dog, the weak of the stronger, the fearful of the fierce, the innocent of the cruel and unmerciful. Therefore all this exercise of hunting, as a thing unworthy to be used of free men, the Utopians have rejected to their butchers, to the which craft (as we said before) they appoint their bondmen. For they count hunting the lowest, the vilest, and most abject part of butchery, and the other parts of it more profitable and more honest, as which do bring much more commodity, and do kill beasts only for necessity. Whereas the hunter seeketh nothing but pleasure of the silly and woful beasts’ slaughter and murder. The which pleasure, in beholding death, they think doth rise in the very beasts, either of a cruel affection of mind, or else to be changed in continuance of time into cruelty, by long use of so cruel a pleasure. These therefore and all such like, which be innumerable, though the common sort of people doth take them for pleasures, yet they, seeing there is no natural pleasantness in them, do plainly determine them to have no affinity with true and right pleasure. For as touching that they do commonly move the sense with delectation (which seemeth to be a work of pleasure) this doth nothing diminish their opinion. For not the nature of the thing, but their perverse and lewd custom is the cause hereof, which causeth them to accept bitter or sour things for sweet things. Even as women with child in their viciated and corrupt taste, think pitch and tallow sweeter than any honey. Howbeit no man’s judgment depraved and corrupt, either by sickness, or by custom, can change the nature of pleasure, more than it can do the nature of other things.

You Might Also Like


Like us on Facebook