Page images
PDF
EPUB

What can be more shocking to the mind than the dread ordeals of the grave, taught by Mohammed and other angel worshippers ? What a fearful bondage to endure through life! What a deadly blight upon every fruit and blossom that bordered even the most delightsome pathway to the unknown future! Even the most virtuous man, it mattered not how firm his consciousness of rectitude, must have shrunk appalled from the prospect of death, expecting, as he did, the moment after he was deposited in his narrow dwelling, the inquisitorial visits of the Judges of the Grave, who, if his faith swerved in the minutest point from their stern and unrevealed requirements, would inflict upon him unimaginable torments. After the tempests of life, the languors of decay, and the agonies of dissolving nature, the prospect of undisturbed repose for the worn-out frame is, to the waiting believer in “ life and immortality,” most soothing and grateful. He closes his eyes on time, joyfully participating in the sentiment of the Apostle—“0, Death, where is thy sting ? O, grave, where is thy victory ?".

Art. III.-1. More's Latin Works. Louvain. 1566. 2. The Life of Sir Thomas More. By WILLIAM ROPER. London.

1822. 3. Tres Thomæ. By Thomas STAPLETON. Coloniæ Agrip. 1642.

ALL earnest, truthful lives possess a genuine human interest, and wield a magical influence over the heart. Nothing false or unreal can lastingly enchain the sympathies of the soul; no sham can permanently fill the void in the human breast. The age most strongly characterized by earnestness and truth will consequently possess in the greatest measure the elements of vitality, and will, not only live longest in the world's memory, but will be also invested with the highest degree of interest. Thus, the sixteenth century, which was especially distinguished for the restless energy of its thousand hearts and brains, will always occupy the most prominent page in the earth's history. Wherever we gaze throughout that stirring period, we per

roughout Page in thens, will testless

shame, of; and på of nons Mo

ceive that men were leading real, earnest lives. There were then, as Carlyle would say, genuine men and no shams. Julius II., arrayed in the warrior's panoply, leading forth his fearless host against the foes of Rome, was in earnest. Luther, proudly raising the standard of revolt at Wittemberg, and rousing men, by his stirring eloquence, to spurn the authority they had never before questioned, was in earnest. Munzer was in earnest, when he collected swarms of infuriated zealots around his banners, and, in the name of religion and liberty, went forth on his iconoclastic career, strewing the earth with death and ruin. Calvin, too, was in downright earnest, when he broached his startling doctrines at Geneva, and, defiant of the world's blame, burned Servetus for conscience' sake. Bluff King Harry was in earnest, when he ignored the papal authority, which he had so zealously defended against the first reformer, and assumed ecclesiastical supremacy as the right of the crown. Thousands of others, whose names are inscribed on the records of fame, or, mayhap, written only on the Book of Life, lived, suffered, and passed away in those days of fervid earnestness; but the history of none is so charming, sad, and instructive, as that of Sir Thomas More.

Truly enchanting is his story, not only because his life was more earnest than that of his cotemporaries, and his character shone with superior brilliancy, even amid the dazzling spirits of that age of giants, but chiefly because there is a sweet air of home about his person; there is a kindliness in his nature, a sympathy in his soul, a simplicity, yet, withal, dignity, in his conduct, that resistlessly win a way to our hearts. It is not altogether More's greatness that charms us, for, in our ideas of great, perfect men, there must be a certain vagueness, that the sentiments of awe and admiration may be duly engendered; whereas, no character possesses stronger marks of individuality than Thomas More's. His household goodness, that clings to him even on the scaffold ; the unrefined benignity that marked his intercourse with his fellow beings; the homeliness that coexisted with his genius and learning, his eloquence and fame; these are the qualities that command both our respect and love. Mournful, too, is the tale of his wrongs, trials, and sufferings, to all save the glorious sufferer himself, for no cloud can overshadow him, without being brightened by the steady radiance of his lightsome spirit. And if ever there lived a

the tabcious seing bris fer

man, who conveyed instruction not only in his words and writings, but also in every action of his life, that man was Sir Thomas More. All men may derive benefit from the contemplation of his life. Protestants ought to be taught humility and charity from the instance of one of the wisest and best of men, remaining in what they deem the most fatal errors ; Catholics should see in More's example, that meekness and candor are the true ornaments of all modes of worship; while both may laudably unite in imitating his magnanimity, fortitude, and integrity.

It is impossible to peruse More's story without becoming infected with enthusiasm in his cause, and it is equally impossible to write his history without being seemingly tinged with the zeal of a partisan. Thus, not only More's son-inlaw, Roper, Rastell,* his nephew, and Cresacre More, his grandson, speak of their venerated relative in the burning words of love; but even Macdiarmid and Mackintosh cannot shield themselves from the mysterious enthusiasm which almost the very name of Sir Thomas begets. Affection and admiration change his biography into eulogy. And it is only right. There can be no grander panegyric than the plain, unvarnished story of a good man's life. There is so little drawback to perfection in More, that one cannot think of him without loving him, or speak of him without praising him. Indeed, praising him would be a work of supererogation, if justice had its due. But, in these latter days, some have arisen, who do not scruple to lavish censure upon the man that antiquity chose to honor, and what has hitherto been eulogy must now become apology. We respectfully suggest that the animosity of those modern detractors arises from envy, prejudice, ignorance, and perhaps in some instances from wilful misrepresentation. Merle D'Aubignét does not hesitate to regard More as a fanatic, vibrating between “two opposite poles, worldliness and asceticism, and addicted to jesting in the daytime, and expiating his gayety by scourgings at night." Christopher Anderson I

The life of More, in Dr. Wordsworth's “Ecclesiastical Biography," was most probably written by William Rastell, for he is known to have prepared a biography of his uncle, though it was never printed by him. What strengthens this opinion is, that the author of the aforesaid life speaks of himself as “having collected the works of More for publication," a task which Rastell performed in 1557.

+ Ilistory of Reformation, B. 17, c. X.
Annals of the English Bible, Vol. I., p. 438.

boldly asserts that More was a freethinker; and Fronde* deliberately charges him with intolerance and “illegal acts of tyranny."

It is not, however, strange, that those three personages should view More with bitter prejudice, for, in exalting their own heroes, they are only too much interested in lowering the character of More in the estimation of their readers. D'Aubigné, in elevating his own gods in the temple of Fame, must needs cast down the statue of Sir Thomas from its time-honored niche, for it would in sooth ill-become the persecutor and the sufferer, the tyrant and the victim, to stand side by side in the sight of the idol worshippers. More, the victim of Henry, would detract from the glory of Calvin, the persecutor of Servetus ; and so the effigy of the English Chancellor is burnt before the sacred fane of the Genevan Reformer, and his image is left in the sublime solitude which is meet for heroes. Anderson has a very good reason to disparage the merits of More, for he cannot but recollect the rude handling which Tindale (he is Anderson's idol) received from the sage of Chelsea. And Fronde would make but a poor fist of his hero's cause, if he did not depreciate as much as possible the worth of the noblest victim that was sacrificed to the hatred of the “ second Phalaris," as Paulo Jovio calls Henry the Eighth. All hero-worshippers are iconoclasts. D'Aubigné and Anderson, being religious hero-worshippers, and opposed with their demigods to the creed of Sir Thomas, are inclined, if not absolutely to attribute new faults to him, at least, to exaggerate the imperfections he possessed. Fronde, a hero-worshipper of the deepest dye, prostrate before the image of his idol, Henry VIII., cannot allow any excellence whatever to have its dwelling-place in any other mortal frame, and so does his best to make out a case against the poor Chancellor. But truth will be the best vindicator of More. He lived and died in support of its interests; it will not now fail to espouse the cause of the sufferer. During his whole life, he never feared to subject his actions to the strictest scrutiny, and it is not to be expected, now that he has passed away, that his conduct will suffer aught of detriment from the most searching investigation. Facts are the best refutation of false charges, and, as they cannot be alleged in support of any accusation

History of England, Vol. II., 73, et alibi.

brought against him, we need not tremble for the reputation of Thomas More. For, if, even during his life, men, whose hatred would have shamed Lucifer by its intensity, were baffled in their attempts to malign him, we may well smile at the efforts of those who now seek to throw dishonor upon the escutcheon which has hung untarnished over his honored grave for three centuries. Alas! how true of himself is that saying of More: “Men use, if they have an evil turn, to write it in marble, but a good turn we write in the dust."* His censurers find so little that is blamable in him, that they are compelled to make up in virulence what their charges lack in truth. But, despite his cavillers, let us reverently and lovingly disinter the remains of the departed knight, and tread our way through life's storms and calms in his blithesome company.

Thomas More, the only son of Sir John More, was born in London, in the year 1480. His father, according to the testimony of the affectionate Sir Thomas, was a man 6 courteous and pleasant in his manners, harmless, gentle, full of compassion, just and incorrupt;"+ and all these noble qualities he bequeathed to his brilliant son. After receiving the rudiments of education at the school of St. Anthony, in Threadneedle street, young master More became an inmate of the house of Cardinal Mortonf (for it was the custom, in those days, for youths to engage in the service of some nobleman or church dignitary), and under that powerful patron he had unusual facilities for acquiring vast stores of information, and for fitting himself for the high station which, in after years, he attained. In his seventeenth year he quitted

Shakespeare, we presume, had this sentence from More's Richard III., in his mind's eye, when he makes Griffith say to Queen Catharine :

-"Noble madam, Men's evil manners live in brass ; their virtues

We write in water." More's Epitaph. Sir John had besides a strong mixture of whimsicality in his composition, of which his son largely partook. The old gentleman (as Camden relates in his Remains) had an original idea about matrimony; for he said that “a man choosing a wife was like one dipping his hand into a bag containing twenty snakes and one eel-'twas twenty to one that he caught the eel." But, " video meliora, proboque, deteriora sequor," he had the courage to take three dips himself and the luck to avoid the serpents each time.

In his Utopia, More shows his grateful appreciation of this prelate's favors, by bestowing upon him a glowing and just eulogium. The Cardinal foresaw and predicted More's future eminence, for he is reported to have said : ". This child here, waiting at table, whoever shall live to see it, will prove a marvellous man."--ROPER.

« PreviousContinue »