Utopia - Book 1, part 1a

Utopia - by Thomas More         World Literature

Date: 1516 Book: First Book

Part I

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.


Sir Thomas More: Imprisoned in the tower.]

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 un known 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.


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