« ПредишнаНапред »
SIR THOMAS MORE.
(With a Portrait.) The life of Sir Thomas More justly demands a place in the records of English biography. On some most important subjects, indeed, he was mistaken; mistaken where, with the knowledge he possessed, he ought not to have been in error. His errors are real blots on his character; but his character, nevertheless, presents excellencies which demand acknowledgment, and deserve imitation.
Thomas More was born at London, in Milk-street, 1480. His father, Sir John More, was one of the Judges of the King's Bench. He received a careful education, was “apt” to learn, and early in life gave hopeful promise of the good qualities which distinguished him in later years. When fifteen years of age, he was placed, as in those days was customary, in the household of Morton, the Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury, who easily prognosticated his future advancement. In 1497 he was sent to Oxford, where he became acquainted with the celebrated Erasmus, who resided there during the years 1497 and 1498, and was the attached friend of More for the whole of his life.
Leaving Oxford, he engaged in the study of the law, and by his industrious application, soon acquired celebrity. He was soon appointed Reader at Furnival's Inn, where, for three years, he delivered lectures on the law.
To the study of Vol. VII. Second Series.
theology he was strongly attached ; and while Reader at Furnival's Inn, delivered lectures at St. Lawrence's church, in the Old Jewry, on the celebrated treatise of St. Augustine on “The City of God.” At one time, indeed, he thought of entering the priesthood; but relinquishing the intention, he was called to the bar. He soon obtained extensive practice, being known to be a sound lawyer, and an able speaker.
Towards the latter end of the reign of Henry VII. he became a Member of Parliament, but incurred the King's displeasure by opposing his demand for a subsidy on account of the marriage of his daughter ; and knowing the danger he had thus incurred, he prepared to leave the country; but the necessity was prevented by the King's death.
By Henry VIII. More was called to take an active part in public affairs, and became one of the Monarch's chief favourites. In 1514 he was sent, with Bishop Tunstall, to Bruges. In 1516 he was made a Privy Counsellor.
About this time he wrote his History of Richard III.; still considered, as far as it goes, as a standard work. He also wrote, about now, his “ Utopia,” the work with which his name now is chiefly connected. His design was to present the idea of a perfect commonwealth. He described such a one, therefore, as existing in a certain supposed island, to which he gave the name of Utopia. That the fanciful prevailed over the actual in his conceptions, is evident from his laying the foundation of his happier state in a perfect community of goods and property.
In 1521 he was knighted, and made Treasurer of the Exchequer; and subsequently was several times sent to the Continent on public missions. In the Parliament which met in 1523, he was chosen Speaker; in 1525, Chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster; and, on the disgrace of Wolsey, in 1529, Lord High Chancellor.
The duties of his situation he discharged not only with distinguished ability, but with great impartiality and integrity. So far as the temporal business which he had to oversee is concerned, his conduct appears to have deserved all the praise which it has received. He is charged, however, with having been one of the persecutors of the Protestants,
and his later biographers have sought to free him from the accusation. For this purpose the testimony of Erasmus is adduced, that “whilst More was Chancellor, no man was put to death for these pestilent dogmas.” It is unfortunate for Erasmus, however, that his testimony is contradicted by facts. Whether More had any concern or not in their death, still, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbury, and James Baynham were burned for Lutheranism during his Chancellorship. Richard Bayfield, coming from the Continent, brought with him a number of books written by the Reformers, and these were taken from him by the Chancellor's orders; and the sentence, delivering Tewkesbury to the secular power, was pronounced by the Bishop of London in Sir Thomas More's house, at Chelsea. The truth appears to be, that these poor men, when first assailed, had been persuaded to submit; but, being unable to rest in their consciences, they avowed again what they felt to be the truth, and were dealt with as relapsed heretics, according to a statute (never agreed to by the Commons) of Henry IV., by which the Bishop was empowered to deliver the degraded and condemned heretic at once to the Sheriff, ordering him to see execution done. Foxe gives the writ in the case of Bayfield; and says that sentence was pronounced by the Bishop against Tewkesbury at Sir Thomas More's house, at Chelsea, and that he was executed without the King's writ. Sir Thomas wrote against both Bilney and Frith, against the men as well as against their cause, and stoutly defended the doctrine of purgatory, and masses for the relief of souls suffering there. What official concern he had in these martyrdoms does not appear. But most evidently, men were burned in London (as well as elsewhere) for Lutheranism while he was Chancellor; and he wrote against these very Lutherans. That he was fully consenting to their death, seems as plainly a fact as any historical fact of
The Act of Supremacy having been passed, More (who had resigned the seals, May 16th, 1532, as being opposed to the great divorce question) was required to take the prescribed oath. This was in April, 1534. More offered to swear to the succession of the crown in the King's children
by Anna Boleyn, but refused the oath of supremacy. The first, he said, was, the latter was not, in the power of Parliament. He was therefore committed to the Tower, where he was kept thirteen months; Henry, doubtless, hoping to win him. But where he believed himself to be right, he was immovable. In July, 1535, therefore, he was beheaded; meeting his death not merely with calmness but with cheerfulness.
Industry, temperance, great simplicity and affection, a truly domestic temper, and unbiassed integrity, undoubtedly distinguished his character. He had an exuberant fancy, and a playful wit that nothing could check. As he went into the Tower, the Lieutenant told him that his upper garment was his perquisite. Sir Thomas instantly took off his hat and presented it to him. As he was laying his head on the block, he told the executioner to stay till he had put his beard out of the way, for that, he said, had not committed treason. He was a man of high honour, and unimpeachable honesty.
As to religion, he appears to have been something like the Florentine Lorenzo de Medici. He was a philosopher; and looking, as he evidently did, with anger and contempt on the Lutherans, he wrote against them without understanding anything more of the subject than that Lutheranism was to be written down. He understood ancient philosophy better than Bible Christianity. Foxe says of him that “his wit was fine, and full of imaginations.” So it was; and nothing shows how completely Popery prostrates even the loftiest understanding more clearly than the example of More, who would never have been Chancellor if he could only have written on legal subjects, as he wrote theologically against the Protestant martyrs. In law and letters, he studied with all the powers of his mind. In religion, he simply submitted to the Church, and just did and said what he was commanded to do and say, without ever inquiring whether, “Thus saith the Church,” was supported by, “Thus saith the Lord.” Merely on the score of invincible ignorance More cannot be excused. With learning like his, such a plea cannot, for one moment, be admitted. But More was ignorant because he believed that the first and greatest act of religion was unhesitating submission to the Church. Believing this, he opposed the truth; but believing this, he also renounced the honours and emoluments of office, suffered a long imprisonment, and separation from a daughter whom he loved as his own soul, and calmly yielded to death itself. His conscience, we believe, was in error; but sooner than sin against it, he submitted to the loss of all things.
More's noblest position appears to have been immediately after his condemnation, when he said, “ As the blessed Apostle Paul was present, and consented to the death of Stephen, and yet both are now holy saints in heaven, where they shall continue in friendship for ever, so I pray that though your Lordships have been judges to my condemnation on earth, we may yet meet hereafter in everlasting happiness and love in heaven."
BETWEEN GEORGE AND HIS MINISTER.
George. In our last conversation, Sir, you were so kind as to explain to me the miracle wrought by our Lord in casting out a devil from a child, at the instance of his afflicted parent, immediately after the descent from the Mount of Transfiguration. Is there any one to which you would now direct my more particular attention?
Minister. Yes; but let us first briefly review our Lord's subsequent proceedings, till we arrive at a point where we may pause, for closer examination.
George. What were they?
Minister. By tracing the evangelical history, you will find our Lord passing unostentatiously through Galilee, foretelling his approaching death and resurrection : and the disciples disputing with each other who should rank highest in what they thought was an approaching earthly kingdom; a dispute which continued after their arrival at Capernaum, when our Lord corrected them by placing a little child before them, and showing them the necessity of spiritual conversion, in order to humility, and meekness, and inoffensiveness. At Capernaum our Lord manifested his knowledge and power