Imagens das páginas





ARISTOTLE and Bacon, the greatest philosophers of the ancient and modern world, agree in representing poetry as being of a more excellent nature than history. Agreeably to the predominance of mere understanding in Aristotle's mind, he alleges as his cause of preference that poetry regards general truth, or conformity to universal nature;

while history is conversant only with a confined and accidental truth, dependent on time, place, and circumstance. The ground assigned by Bacon is such as naturally issued from that fusion of imagination with reason, which constitutes his philosophical genius. Poetry is ranked more highly by him, because the poet presents us with a pure excellence and an unmingled grandeur, not to be found in the coarse realities of life or of history ; but which the mind of man, although not destined to reach, is framed to contemplate with delight

The general difference between biography and history is obvious. There have been many men in every age whose lives are full of interest and instruction, but who, having never taken a part in public affairs, are altogether excluded from the province of the historian. There have been also, probably, equal numbers who have influenced the fortune of nations in peace or in war, of the peculiarities of whose character we have no information; and who, for the purposes of the biographer, may be said to have no private life.

These are extreme cases. But there are other men, whose manners and acts are equally well known, whose individual lives are deeply interesting, whose characteristic qualities are peculiarly striking, who have taken an important share in events connected with the most extraordinary revolutions of human affairs, and whose biography becomes more difficult from that combination and intermixture of private with public occurrences, which render it instructive and interesting. The variety and splendour of the lives of such men render it often difficult to distinguish the portion

of them which ought to be admitted into history, from that which should be reserved for biography. Generally speaking, these two parts are so distinct and unlike, that they cannot be confounded with out much injury to both ;--either when the biographer hides the portrait of the individual by a crowded and confined picture of events, or when the historian allows unconnected narratives of the lives of men to break the thread of history. The historian contemplates only the surface of human nature, adorned and disguised when the actors perform brilliant parts before a great audience, in the midst of so many dazzling circumstances, that it is hard to estimate their intrinsic worth; and impossible, in a historical relation, to exhibit the secret springs of their conduct. The biographer endeavours to follow the hero and the statesman, from the field, the council, or the senate, to his private dwelling, where, in the midst of domestic ease, or of social pleasure, he throws aside the robe and the mask, becomes again a man instead of an actor, and, in spite of himself, often betrays those frailties and singularities which are visible in the countenance and voice, the gesture and manner, of every man when he is not acting a part. It is particularly difficult to observe the distinction in the case of sir Thomas More, because he was so perfectly natural a man that he carried his amiable peculiarities into the gravest deliberations of state and the most solemn acts of law. Perhaps nothing more can be universally laid down, than that the biographer never ought to introduce public events, except as far as they are absolutely necessary to the illustration of character, and that the historian should rarely digress into biographical particulars, except as far as they contribute to the clearness of his narrative of political occurrences.

SIR THOÑAS MORe was born in Milk Street, in the city of London, in the year 1480, three years before the death of Edward IV. His family was respectable- --no mean advantage at that time. His father, sir John More, who was born about

1440, was entitled by his descent to use an armo- he adhered to Henry VI., till that unfortunate rial bearing,

a privilege guarded strictly and prince's death, recommended him to the confidence jealously as the badge of those who then began to and patronage of Edward IV. He negotiated be called gentry, who, though separated from the the marriage with the princes Elizabeth, which relords of parliament by political rights, yet formed conciled (with whatever confusion of titles) the with them in the order of society one body, corre- pretensions of York and Lancaster, and raised sponding to those' called noble in the other coun- Henry Tudor to the throne. By these services, tries of Europe. Though the political power of and by his long experience in affairs, he continued the barons was on the wane, the social position of to be prime minister till his death, which happened the united body of nobility and gentry retained its in 1500, at the advanced age of ninety.* Even at dignity.* Sir John More was one of the justices the time of More's entry into his household, the of the court of King's Bench to the end of his old cardinal, though then fourscore and five years, long life; and, according to his son's account, well was pleased with the extraordinary promise of the performed the peaceable duties of civil life, being sharp and lively boy; as aged persons sometimes, gentle in his deportment, blameless, meek and as it were, catch a glimpse of the pleasure of merciful, an equitable judge, and an upright man.t youth, by entering for a moment into its feel

Sir Thomas More received the first rudiments of ings. More broke into the rude dramas performhis education at St. Anthony's school, in Thread- ed at the cardinal's Christmas festivities, to which needle Street, under Nicholas Hart; for the day- he was too young to be invited, and often invented break of letters was now so bright, that the repu- at the moment speeches for himself, " which made tation of schools was carefully noted, and school-, the lookers-on more sport than all the players bemasters began to be held in some part of the esti- side.” The cardinal, much delighting in his wit mation which they merit. Here, however, his and towardness, would often say of him unto the sludies were confined to Latin ; the cultivation of nobles that divers times dined with him,—“This Greek, which contains the sources and models of child here waiting at the table, whosoever shall live Roman Literature, being yet far from having sunk to see it, will prove a marvellous man.”| More, to the level of the best among the schools. It in his historical work, commemorates this early was the custom of that age that young gentlemen friend, not without a sidelong glance at the acts should pass part of their boyhood in the house and of a courtier. “He was a man of great natural service of their superiors, where they might profit wit, very well learned, honourable in behaviour, by listening to the conversation of men of experi- lacking in no wise to win favour.”! In “ Utopia” ence, and gradually acquire the manners of the he praises the cardinal more lavishly, and with no world. It was not deemed derogatory from youths restraint from the severe justice of history. In of rank ; it was rather thought a beneficial expe- Morton's house he was probably known to Colet, dient for inuring them to stern discipline and impli- dean of St. Paul's, the founder of St. Paul's cit obedience, that they should be trained, during school, and one of the most eminent restorers of this noviciate, in humble and even menial offices. ancient literature in England; who was wont to A young gentleman thought himself no more low- say, that there was but one wit in England, and ered by serving as a page in the family of a great that was young Thomas More.” peer or prelate, than a Courtenay or a Howard More went to Oxford in 1497, where he appears considered it as a degradation to be the huntsman to have had apartments in St. Mary's Hall, but or the cupbearer of a Tudor.

to have carried on his studies at Canterbury colMore was fortunate in the character of his mas- legell, where Wolsey afterwards reared the magter. When his school studies were thought to be nificent edifice of Christchurch. At that univerfinished, about his fifteenth year, he was placed in sity he founded a sort of civil war, waged between the house of cardinal Morton, archbishop of Can- the partizans of Greek literature, who were then terbury. This prelate, who was born in 1410, innovators in education, suspected of heresy, if was originally an eminent civilian, canonist, and not of infidelity, on the one hand; and on the a practiser of note in the ecclesiastical courts. other side the larger body, comprehending the He was a Lancastrian, and the fidelity with which aged, the powerful and the celebrated, who were

content to be no wiser than their forefathers. *" In sir T. More's epitaph, he describes himself 'The younger followers of the latter faction affectas born of no noble family, but of an honest stock, ed the ridiculous denomination of. Trojans, and (or, in the words of the original, familiâ non celebrs, sed'honestå natus,) a true translation, as we here také

assumed the names of Priam, Hector, Paris, and nobility and noble;' for none ander a baron, except he be of the privy council, doth challenge it; and in this * Dod's Church History, i. 141. The Roman sense he meant it; but as the Latin word nobilis is Catholics, now restored to their just rank in society, taken in other countries for gentrie, it was otherwise. have no longer an excuse for not continuing this useful Sir John More bare arms from his birth; and though work.-Godwin's Catalogue of Bishops, 161. 277. we cannot tell who were his ancestors, they must edit. 1615. needs be gentlemen.”- Life of T'. More, by T. More, Singer's Roper, 4. his great grandson, pp. 3, 4.

| More, Hist, Rich. III. * "Homo civilis, innocens, mitis, integer."-Sir More's Life of More, p. 25. Thomas More's Epitaph.

Wood's Ath. Oxon. Hearne's Roper.

[ocr errors]

Æneas, to denote their hostility to the Greeks. the example of Grocyn in visiting Italy, and pro The puerile pedantry of these coxcombs had the fiting by the instructions of Chalcondylas. Colet good effect of awakening the zeal of More for his spent four years in the same country, and in the like Grecian masters, and of inducing him to with- studies. William Latimer repaired at a mature stand the barbarism which would exclude the age to Padua, in quest of that knowledge which noblest productions of the human mind from the was not to be acquired at home. He was aftereducation of English youth. He expostulated wards chosen to be tutor to Reginald Pole, the with the university in a letter addressed to the king's cousin; and Erasmus, by attributing to whole body, reproaching them with the better ex- him “maidenly modesty,” leaves in one word an ample of Cambridge, where the gates were thrown agreeable impression of the character of a man open to the higher classics of Greece, as freely as chosen for his scholarship to be Linaere's col to their Roman imitators.* The established cler- league in a projected translation of Aristotle, and gy even then, though Luther had not yet alarmed solicited by the latter for aid in his edition of the them, strangers as they were to the new learning, New Testament.* affected to contemn that of which they were igno- More, at that university, became known to a rant, and could not endure the prospect of a rising man far more extraordinary than any of these generation more learned than themselves. Their scholars. Erasmus was invited to England by whole education was Latin, and their instruction lord Mountjoy, who had been his pupil at Paris, was limited to Roman and canon law, to theo- and continued to be his friend during life. He relogy, and school philosophy. They dreaded the sided at Oxford during a great part of 1497 ; and downfall of the authority of the vulgate from the having returned to Paris in 1498, spent the former study of Greek and Hebrew. But the course of portion of the same year at the university of Oxthings was irresistible. The scholastic system ford, where he again had an opportunity of pouring was now on the verge of general disregard, and his zeal for Greek study into the mind of More. the perusal of the greatest Roman writers turned Their friendship, though formed at an age of conall eyes towards the Grecian masters. What man siderable disparity,--Erasmus being then thirty of high capacity, and of ambition becoming his and More only seventeen,--lasted throughout the faculties, could read Cicero without a desire to whole of their lives. Erasmus had acquired only comprehend Demosthenes and Plato? What the rudiments of Greek at the age most suited to youth desirous of excellence, but would rise from the acquisition of languages, and was now comthe study of the Georgics and the Æneid, with a pleting his knowledge on that subject at a period wish to be acquainted with Hesiod and Apolloni- of mature manhood, which he jestingly compares us, with Pindar, and above all with Homer?

with the age at which the elder Cato commenced These studies were then pursued, not with the his Grecian studies. Though Erasmus himself dull languor and cold formality with which the seems to have been much excited towards Greek indolent, incapable, incurious majority of boys learning by the example of the English scholars, obey the proscribed rules of an old establishment, yet the cultivation of classical literature was then so but with the enthusiastic admiration with which small a part of the employment or amusement of the superior few feel an earnest of their own higher life, that William Latimer, one of the most emipowers, in the delight which arises in their minds nent of these scholars, to whom Erasmus applied at the contemplation of new beauty, and of ex- for aid in his edition of the Greek Testament, cellence unimagined before.

declared that he had not read a page of Greek or More found several of the restorers of Grecian Latin for nine years, that he had almost forgotten literature at Oxford, who had been the scholars of his ancient literature, and that Greek books were the exiled Greeks in Italy: Grocyn, the first pro- scarcely procurable in England. Sir John More, fessor of Greek in the university ; Linacre, the inflexibly adhering to the old education, and accomplished founder of the college of physicians ; dreading that the allurements of literature might and William Latimer, of whom we know little seduce his son from law, discouraged the pursuit more than what we collect from the general testi- of Greek, and at the same time reduced the almony borne by his most eminent contemporaries to lowance of Thomas to the level of the most fruhis learning and virtue. Grocyn, the first of the gal life; a parsimony for which the son was afEnglish restorers, was a late learner, being in the terwards, though not then, thankful, as having forty-eighth year of his age when he went, in 1488,

* For Latimer, Dod. . 219. For Grocyn, Ib. 227. to Italy, where the fountains o ancient learning Colet and Linacre, all biographical compilations. were once more opened. After having studied "Delibavimus et olim has literas sed summis under Politian, and learnt Greek from Chalcon- duntaxat labris, at nuper paulo altius ingressi, videdylas, one of the lettered emigrants who educated

mus id quod sæpe numero apud gravissimos auctores

legimus. Latinam eruditionem extra Græcismum the teachers of the western nations, he returned

mancam esse et dimidiatam. Apud nos enim riyuli to Oxford, where he taught that language to More, vix quidam sunt, et lacunulæ lutulentæ, apud illos to Linacre, and to Erasmus. Linacre followed

fontes purissimi et flumina aurum volventia."

Erasm. Epist. 75. Op. iii. p. 63. Lug. Bat. 1703. * See this first Letter in the Appendix to the se- I Guliel, Latimer Epist. Erasmo. Erasm. Op. cond volume of Jortin's Life of Erasmus.

ii. p. 293,


[ocr errors]

taught him good husbandry, and preserved him from dissipation.

At the university, or soon after leaving it, young More composed the greater part of his English verses; which are not such as, from their intrinsic merit, in a more advanced state of our language and literature, would be deserving of particular attention. But as the poems of a contemporary of Skelton, they may merit more consideration. Our language was still neglected, or confined chiefly to the vulgar uses of life. Its force, its compass, and its capacity of harmony, were untried : for though Chaucer had shone brightly for a season, the century which followed was dark and wintry. No master genius had impregnated the nation with poetical sensibility. In these inauspicious circumstances, the composition of poems, especially if they manifest a sense of harmony, and some adaptation of the sound to the subject, indicates a delight in poetry, and a proneness to that beautiful art, which in such an age is a more than ordinary token of a capacity for it. The experience of all ages, however it may be accounted for, shows that the mind, when melted into tenderness, or exalted by the contemplation of grandeur, vents its feelings in language suited to a state of excitement, and delights in distinguishing its diction from common speech by some species of measure and modulation, which combines the gratification of the ear with that of the fancy and the heart. The secret connection between a poetical ear and a poetical soul is touched by the most sublime of poets, who consoled himself in his blindness, by the remembrance of those who, under the like calamity,

Feed on thoughts that voluntary move Harmonious numbers. We may be excused for throwing a glance over the compositions of a writer, who is represented a century after his death, by Ben Johnson, as one of the models of English literature. More's poem or the death of Elizabeth, the wife of Henry VII., and his merry jest how a serjeant would play the friar, may be considered as fair samples of his pensive and sportive vein. The superiority of the latter shows his natural disposition to pleasantry. There is a sort of dancing mirth in the metre, which seems to warrant the observation above hazarded, that in a rude period the structure of verse may be regarded as some presumption of a genius for poetry. In a refined age, indeed, all the circumstances are different. The frame of metrical composition is known to all the world. It may be taught by rule, and acquired mechanically. The greatest facility of versification may exist without a spark of genius. Even then, however, the secrets of the art of versification are chiefly revealed to a chosen few by their poetical sensibility; so that sufficient remains of the original tie still continue to attest the primitive union. It is remarkable, that the most poetical of his poems is written in Latin. It is a poem addressed

to a lady, with whom he had been in love when he was sixteen years old, and she fourteen; it turns chiefly on the pleasing reflection that his affectionate remembrance restored to her the beauty, of which twenty-five years seemed to others to have robbed her. *

When More had completed his time at Oxford, he applied himself to the law, which was to be the occupation of his life. He first studied at New Inn, and afterwards at Lincoln's Inn.f The societies of lawyers having purchased some inns, or noblemen's residences, in London, were hence called inns of court. It was not then a metaphor to call them an university: they had professors of law; they conferred the characters of barrister and serjeant, analogous to the degrees of bache lor, master, and doctor, bestowed by universities; and every man, before he became a barrister, was subjected to examination, and obliged to defend a thesis. More was appointed reader at Furnival's Inn, here he delivered lectures for three years. The English law had then grown into a science, formed by a process of generaliation from usages and decisions, with less help from the Roman law than the jurisprudence of any other country, though not with that total independence of it which English lawyers in former times considered as a subject of boast: it was rather formed as the law of Rome itself had been formed, than adopted from that noble system. When More began to lecture on English law, it was by no means in a disorderly and neglected state. The ecclesiastical lawyers, whose arguments and determinations were its earliest materials, were well prepared, by the logic and philosophy of their masters the schoolmen, for those exact and even subtle distinctions which the precision of the rules of jurisprudence eminently required. In the reigns of the Lancastrian princes, Littleton had reduced the law to an elementary treatise, distinguished by a clear method and an elegant conciseness. Fortescue had at that time compared the governments of England and France with the eye of a philosophical observer. Brooke and Fitzherbert had compiled digests of the law, which they called (it might be thought, from their size, ironically) Abridgments. The latter composed a treatise, still very curious, on writs; that is, on those commands (formally from the king) which constitute essential parts of every legal proceeding. Other writings on jurisprudence occupied the printing presses of London in the earliest stagef of their existence. More delivered

*" Gratulatur quod eam repererit incolumem quam olim ferme puer amaverat.”—Mori Poemata.

It does not seem reconcileable with dates, that this lady could have been the younger sister of Jane Colt. Vide infrà.

| Inn was successively applied, like the French word hotel , first to the town mansion of a great man, and afterwards to a house where all mankind were entertained for money.

| Doctor and Student by St. Germain. Diversité des Courles, printed by Rastal in 1534, &c. &c.


« AnteriorContinuar »