Utopia Book 1, part 1b Thomas More


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?