Page images



At last he was placed at the bar at Westminster, on a charge, of which the leading points were his opposition to the royal marriage, and his refusal to acknowledge Henry as the head of the Church. He was found guilty and hurried back to prison. As he landed at the Tower wharf, his daughter, Margaret Roper, rushing forward in spite of the bristling halberds that shut him in, flung her arms round him, and, mingling her bright hair with his grizzled beard, kissed him over and over again amid the sobs and tears of all around.

Without endorsing the opinions of this man, we may freely and honestly admire his excelling genius, his noble courage, and his gentle heart. The wit that sparkled from Cardinal Morton's rosy page, that in bachelor days lit the gloomy chambers in Lincoln's Inn, and added new lustre to the hospitalities of Chelsea, shone bright as ever on the scaffold, undimmed even by the cruel glinting of the headsman's axe. As he climbed the crazy timbers where he was to die, he said gaily to the lieutenant, “I pray you see me safe up; and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” His head was fixed on the spikes of London Bridge; but his brave daughter Margaret caused it to be taken down, and when she died, many years after, it was buried in her grave. And so mouldered together into common dust as great a brain and as true a heart as ever England held.

More's fame as a writer rests on two works, written during that happy period of his life, when, as Under-Sheriff of London and a busy lawyer, he enjoyed the sunshine of royal favour and the solid advantage of an income amounting to £4000 or £5000 a year. His Life and Reign of Edward V., written about 1513, is not only the first English work deserving the name of history, but is further remarkable as being our earliest specimen of classical English prose. The character of Richard III. is here painted in the darkest colours. But More's Utopia has had a wider fame. In flowing Latin he describes the happy state of an island, which is discovered by one Raphael Hythloday (learner of trifles), a supposed companion of Amerigo Vespucci. The place is called Utopia, which simply means “Nowhere," from oủ TÓMOS. A republic, of

[blocks in formation]

which the foundation idea is borrowed from Plato, although the details are More's, has its seat in this favoured land. The Utopian ships lie safe within the horns of the crescent-shaped island; for no enemy can steer through the rocks that guard the harbour's mouth. Every house in the fifty-four walled cities has a large garden; and these houses are exchanged by lot every ten years. All the islanders learn agriculture; but all have, besides, a certain trade, at which six hours' work, and no more, must be done every day. There are in Utopia no taverns, no fashions ever changing, few laws, and no lawyers. There, war is considered a brutal thing; hunting, a degrading thing, fit only for butchers; and finery, a foolish thing,—for who that could see sun or star would care for jewels. This work was composed shortly after More's return from the Continent, whither he was sent on a mission to Bruges in the sum mer of 1514. His other works are chiefly theological treatises, written against the Lutheran doctrines, and Latin epigrams, modelled after those of his sarcastic friend, Erasmus. He stands first, too, in the glorious roll of our parliamentary orators. But, unfortunately, of his speeches we know next to nothing ; for an orator's fame is perishable, too often fading into oblivion almost as soon as death has quenched his eye of flame and stilled the magical music of his voice.


(1528.) Maistres Alyce, in my most harty wise I recommend me to you; and whereas I am enfourmed by my son Heron of the losse of our barnes and of our neighbours also, with all the corn that was therein, albeit (saving God's pleasure) it is gret pitie of so much good corne lost, yet sith it hath liked hym to sende us such a chaunce, we must and are bounden, not only to be content, but also to be glad of his visitacion. He sente us all that we have loste: and sith he hath by such a chaunce taken it away againe, his pleasure be fulfilled. Let us never grudge ther at, but take it in good worth, and hartely thank him, as well for adversitie as for prosperitie. And peradventure we have more cause to thank him for our losse, then for our winning ; for his wisdome better seeth what is good for *s then we do our selves. Therfore I pray you be of good chere, and take all the howsold with you to church, and there thanke God, both for that he hath given us, and for that he hath taken from us, and for that he hath left us,

which if it please hym he can encrease when he will. And if it please hym to leave us yet lesse, at his pleasure be it.



I pray you to make some good ensearchewbat my poore neighbours have loste, and bid them take no thought therfore: for and I shold not leave myself a spone, there shal no pore neighbour of mine bere no losse by any chaunce happened in my house. I pray you be with my children and your household merry in God. And devise some what with your frendes, what waye wer best to take, for provision to be made for corne for our household, and for sede thys yere comming, if ye thinke it good that we kepe the ground stil in our handes. And whether ye think it good that we so shall do or not, yet I think it were not best sodenlye thus to leave it all up, and to put away our folk of our farme till we have somwhat advised us thereon. How beit if we have more nowe then ye shall nede, and which can get thein other maisters, ye may then discharge us of them. But I would not that any man were sodenly sent away he wote nere wether.

At my comming hither I perceived none other but that I shold tary still with the Kinges Grace. But now I shal (I think) because of this chance, get leave this next weke to come home and se you: and then shall we further devyse together uppon all thinges, what order shal be best to take. And thus as hartely fare you well with all our children as ye can wishe. At Woodestok the thirde daye of Septembre by the hand of

your louing husbande,

Thomas MORE Knight.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

WILLIAM TYNDALE is celebrated among our writers as a translator of the New Testament into English. What Wycliffe had done for his countrymen in the fourteenth century, Tyndale undertook during the troubled reign of the eighth Henry.

Of Tyndale's birth and boyhood we know positively nothing beyond the statement of Fox, that he was born on the borders of Wales, and brought up from childhood at Oxford. Graduating at that university, he went to spend some time at Cambridge. His powers as a linguist and his great love for the Scriptures are specially noted by his early biographer. The next scene of his life was the house of Sir John Welsh, a knight of Gloucestershire, who employed him as tutor to his children. This honourable but troublesome office was most creditably filled by the Oxford man, who met at the hospitable board of the good knight most of the leading country clergymen. The talk naturally turned very often upon the religious opinions of such men as Luther and Erasmus; and in these conversations Tyndale took a most conspicuous part, freely declaring his sympathy with the Reformers, and his desire-nay, his purpose—that every English ploughboy should soon know the Scriptures well. Resigning his tutorship to seek a safer place, he preached for some time at Bristol and through the surrounding country, and then went to London, his big brain bursting with a glorious thought. He would translate the New Testament from the original Greek, and thus feed the hungering English people with the bread of life.



Wycliffe's Bible had become, in the changes which more than one hundred stirring years had brought upon the English language, a book unreadable but by a learned few. Disappointed in his attempt to secure the protection of Tonstal, the learned Bishop of London, Tyndale found a refuge in the house of Alderman Humphrey Monmouth, a rich London merchant, whose heart was in the good work. This honest man, keeping the poor scholar in his house for six months, would gladly have seen his friend fare better than on sodden meat and small single beer. But Tyndale would, if given his own way, take nothing else. The kindness of Monmouth did not stop here, for he made Tyndale an allowance of £10 a year, which enabled him to set in earnest about his grand design. Travelling into Germany, Tyndale saw and talked with Luther, and settled finally at Antwerp. There he finished his Translation of the New Testament. The first edition, printed probably at Wittenberg, was published in 1525 or 1526. An improved and altered version appeared in 1534. The run upon the book, both on the Continent and in England, was very great. Copies poured by hundreds from the foreign presses into England. In vain the terrors of the Church were threatened and inflicted upon the sellers and owners of Tyndale's Testament. The translator's brother and two others were sentenced, for distributing copies, to pay a fine of £18,840, 0s. 10d. ; and, moreover, had to ride, facing the horse's tail, with many copies of the condemned volume tacked to their clothes, as far as Cheapside, where a fire blazed to burn the books. Conscious how utterly feeble such exhibitions were as a means of checking the new doctrines, Tonstal applied to Sir Thomas More for help ; and More, a devoted member of the Romish Church, dipping his pen in gall,—with which, however, the honey of his better nature often mingled,wrote many fierce and bitter things of Tyndale and Tyndale's works.

The Five Books of Moses, translated from the Hebrew partly by Tyndale, were printed at Hamburg in 1530; and in the following year the same industrious pen produced an English version of the Book of Jonah. Such work, added to the composition of many English tracts for sale in England, written in defence of his re

« PreviousContinue »