Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Colloquies on Society by Robert Southey

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download Colloquies on Society pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.



It was in 1824 that Robert Southey, then fifty years old, published
"Sir Thomas More, or Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of
Society," a book in two octavo volumes with plates illustrating lake
scenery. There were later editions of the book in 1829, and in
1831, and there was an edition in one volume in 1837, at the
beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria.

These dialogues with a meditative and patriotic ghost form separate
dissertations upon various questions that concern the progress of
society. Omitting a few dissertations that have lost the interest
they had when the subjects they discussed were burning questions of
the time, this volume retains the whole machinery of Southey's book.
It gives unabridged the Colloquies that deal with the main
principles of social life as Southey saw them in his latter days;
and it includes, of course, the pleasant Colloquy that presents to
us Southey himself, happy in his library, descanting on the course
of time as illustrated by the bodies and the souls of books. As
this volume does not reproduce all the Colloquies arranged by
Southey under the main title of "Sir Thomas More," it avoids use of
the main title, and ventures only to describe itself as "Colloquies
on Society, by Robert Southey."

They are of great interest, for they present to us the form and
character of the conservative reaction in a mind that was in youth
impatient for reform. In Southey, as in Wordsworth, the reaction
followed on experience of failure in the way taken by the
revolutionists of France, with whose aims for the regeneration of
Europe they had been in warmest accord. Neither Wordsworth nor
Southey ever lowered the ideal of a higher life for man on earth.
Southey retains it in these Colloquies, although he balances his own
hope with the questionings of the ghost, and if he does look for a
crowning race, regards it, with Tennyson, as a

"FAR OFF divine event
To which the whole Creation moves."

The conviction brought to men like Wordsworth and Southey by the
failure of the French Revolution to attain its aim in the sudden
elevation of society was not of vanity in the aim, but of vanity in
any hope of its immediate attainment by main force. Southey makes
More say to himself upon this question (page 37), "I admit that such
an improved condition of society as you contemplate is possible, and
that it ought always to be kept in view; but the error of supposing
it too near, of fancying that there is a short road to it, is, of
all the errors of these times, the most pernicious, because it
seduces the young and generous, and betrays them imperceptibly into
an alliance with whatever is flagitious and detestable." All strong
reaction of mind tends towards excess in the opposite direction.
Southey's detestation of the excesses of vile men that brought shame
upon a revolutionary movement to which some of the purest hopes of
earnest youth had given impulse, drove him, as it drove Wordsworth,
into dread of everything that sought with passionate energy
immediate change of evil into good. But in his own way no man ever
strove more patiently than Southey to make evil good; and in his own
home and his own life he gave good reason to one to whom he was as a
father, and who knew his daily thoughts and deeds, to speak of him
as "upon the whole the best man I have ever known."

In the days when this book was written, Southey lived at Greta Hall,
by Keswick, and had gathered a large library about him. He was Poet
Laureate. He had a pension from the Civil List, worth less than 200
pounds a year, and he was living at peace upon a little income
enlarged by his yearly earnings as a writer. In 1818 his whole
private fortune was 400 pounds in consols. In 1821 he had added to
that some savings, and gave all to a ruined friend who had been good
to him in former years. Yet in those days he refused an offer of
2,000 pounds a year to come to London and write for the Times. He
was happiest in his home by Skiddaw, with his books about him and
his wife about him.

Ten years after the publishing of these Colloquies, Southey's wife,
who had been, as Southey said, "for forty years the life of his
life," had to be placed in a lunatic asylum. She returned to him to
die, and then his gentleness became still gentler as his own mind
failed. He died in 1843. Three years before his death his friend
Wordsworth visited him at Keswick, and was not recognised. But when
Southey was told who it was, "then," Wordsworth wrote, "his eyes
flashed for a moment with their former brightness, but he sank into
the state in which I had found him, patting with both his hands his
books affectionately, like a child."

Sir Thomas More, whose ghost communicates with Robert Southey, was
born in 1478, and at the age of fifty-seven was beheaded for
fidelity to conscience, on the 6th of July, 1535. He was, like
Southey, a man of purest character, and in 1516, when his age was
thirty-eight, there was published at Louvain his "Utopia," which
sketched wittily an ideal commonwealth that was based on practical
and earnest thought upon what constitutes a state, and in what
direction to look for amendment of ills. More also withdrew from
his most advanced post of opinion. When he wrote "Utopia" he
advocated absolute freedom of opinion in matters of religion; in
after years he believed it necessary to enforce conformity. King
Henry VIII., stiff in his own opinions, had always believed that;
and because More would not say that he was of one mind with him in
the matter of the divorce of Katherine he sent him to the scaffold.

H. M.


"Posso aver certezza, e non paura,
Che raccontando quel che m' e accaduto,
Il ver diro, ne mi sara creduto."
"Orlando Innamorato," c. 5. st. 53.

It was during that melancholy November when the death of the
Princess Charlotte had diffused throughout Great Britain a more
general sorrow than had ever before been known in these kingdoms; I
was sitting alone at evening in my library, and my thoughts had
wandered from the book before me to the circumstances which made
this national calamity be felt almost like a private affliction.
While I was thus musing the post-woman arrived. My letters told me
there was nothing exaggerated in the public accounts of the
impression which this sudden loss had produced; that wherever you
went you found the women of the family weeping, and that men could
scarcely speak of the event without tears; that in all the better
parts of the metropolis there was a sort of palsied feeling which
seemed to affect the whole current of active life; and that for
several days there prevailed in the streets a stillness like that of
the Sabbath, but without its repose. I opened the newspaper; it was
still bordered with broad mourning lines, and was filled with
details concerning the deceased Princess. Her coffin and the
ceremonies at her funeral were described as minutely as the order of
her nuptials and her bridal dress had been, in the same journal,
scarce eighteen months before. "Man," says Sir Thomas Brown, "is a
noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave;
solemnising nativities and deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting
ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature." These things
led me in spirit to the vault, and I thought of the memorable dead
among whom her mortal remains were now deposited. Possessed with
such imaginations I leaned back upon the sofa and closed my eyes.

Ere long I was awakened from that conscious state of slumber in
which the stream of fancy floweth as it listeth by the entrance of
an elderly personage of grave and dignified appearance. His
countenance and manner were remarkably benign, and announced a high
degree of intellectual rank, and he accosted me in a voice of
uncommon sweetness, saying, "Montesinos, a stranger from a distant
country may intrude upon you without those credentials which in
other cases you have a right to require." "From America!" I
replied, rising to salute him. Some of the most gratifying visits
which I have ever received have been from that part of the world.
It gives me indeed more pleasure than I can express to welcome such
travellers as have sometimes found their way from New England to
those lakes and mountains; men who have not forgotten what they owe
to their ancient mother; whose principles, and talents, and
attainments would render them an ornament to any country, and might
almost lead me to hope that their republican constitution may be
more permanent than all other considerations would induce me either
to suppose or wish.

"You judge of me," he made answer, "by my speech. I am, however,
English by birth, and come now from a more distant country than
America, wherein I have long been naturalised." Without explaining
himself further, or allowing me time to make the inquiry which would
naturally have followed, he asked me if I were not thinking of the
Princess Charlotte when he disturbed me. "That," said I, "may
easily be divined. All persons whose hearts are not filled with
their own grief are thinking of her at this time. It had just
occurred to me that on two former occasions when the heir apparent
of England was cut off in the prime of life the nation was on the
eve of a religious revolution in the first instance, and of a
political one in the second."

"Prince Arthur and Prince Henry," he replied. "Do you notice this
as ominous, or merely as remarkable?"

"Merely as remarkable," was my answer. "Yet there are certain moods
of mind in which we can scarcely help ascribing an ominous
importance to any remarkable coincidence wherein things of moment
are concerned."

"Are you superstitious?" said he. "Understand me as using the word
for want of a more appropriate one--not in its ordinary and
contemptuous acceptation."

I smiled at the question, and replied, "Many persons would apply the
epithet to me without qualifying it. This, you know, is the age of
reason, and during the last hundred and fifty years men have been
reasoning themselves out of everything that they ought to believe
and feel. Among a certain miserable class, who are more numerous
than is commonly supposed, he who believes in a First Cause and a
future state is regarded with contempt as a superstitionist. The
religious naturalist in his turn despises the feebler mind of the
Socinian; and the Socinian looks with astonishment or pity at the
weakness of those who, having by conscientious inquiry satisfied
themselves of the authenticity of the Scriptures, are contented to
believe what is written, and acknowledge humility to be the
foundation of wisdom as well as of virtue. But for myself, many, if
not most of those even who agree with me in all essential points,
would be inclined to think me superstitious, because I am not
ashamed to avow my persuasion that there are more things in heaven
and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy."

"You believe, then, in apparitions," said my visitor.

Montesinos.--Even so, sir. That such things should be is probable a
priori; and I cannot refuse assent to the strong evidence that such
things are, nor to the common consent which has prevailed among all
people, everywhere, in all ages a belief indeed which is truly
catholic, in the widest acceptation of the word. I am, by inquiry
and conviction, as well as by inclination and feeling, a Christian;
life would be intolerable to me if I were not so. "But," says Saint
Evremont, "the most devout cannot always command their belief, nor
the most impious their incredulity." I acknowledge with Sir Thomas
Brown that, "as in philosophy, so in divinity, there are sturdy
doubts and boisterous objections, wherewith the unhappiness of our
knowledge too nearly acquainteth us;" and I confess with him that
these are to be conquered, "not in a martial posture, but on our
knees." If then there are moments wherein I, who have satisfied my
reason, and possess a firm and assured faith, feel that I have in
this opinion a strong hold, I cannot but perceive that they who have
endeavoured to dispossess the people of their old instinctive belief
in such things have done little service to individuals and much
injury to the community.

Stranger.--Do you extend this to a belief in witchcraft?

Montesinos.--The common stories of witchcraft confute themselves, as
may be seen in all the trials for that offence. Upon this subject I
would say with my old friend Charles Lamb -

"I do not love to credit tales of magic!
Heaven's music, which is order, seems unstrung.
And this brave world
(The mystery of God) unbeautified,
Disordered, marred, where such strange things are acted."

The only inference which can be drawn from the confession of some of
the poor wretches who have suffered upon such charges is, that they
had attempted to commit the crime, and thereby incurred the guilt
and deserved the punishment. Of this indeed there have been recent
instances; and in one atrocious case the criminal escaped because
the statute against the imaginary offence is obsolete, and there
exists no law which could reach the real one.

Stranger.--He who may wish to show with what absurd perversion the
forms and technicalities of law are applied to obstruct the purposes
of justice, which they were designed to further, may find excellent
examples in England. But leaving this allow me to ask whether you
think all the stories which are related of an intercourse between
men and beings of a superior order, good or evil, are to be
disbelieved like the vulgar tales of witchcraft

Montesinos.--If you happen, sir, to have read some of those ballads
which I threw off in the high spirits of youth you may judge what my
opinion then was of the grotesque demonology of the monks and middle
ages by the use there made of it. But in the scale of existences
there may be as many orders above us as below. We know there are
creatures so minute that without the aid of our glasses they could
never have been discovered; and this fact, if it were not notorious
as well as certain, would appear not less incredible to sceptical
minds than that there should be beings which are invisible to us
because of their subtlety. That there are such I am as little able
to doubt as I am to affirm anything concerning them; but if there
are such, why not evil spirits, as well as wicked men? Many
travellers who have been conversant with savages have been fully
persuaded that their jugglers actually possessed some means of
communication with the invisible world, and exercised a supernatural
power which they derived from it. And not missionaries only have
believed this, and old travellers who lived in ages of credulity,
but more recent observers, such as Carver and Bruce, whose testimony
is of great weight, and who were neither ignorant, nor weak, nor
credulous men. What I have read concerning ordeals also staggers
me; and I am sometimes inclined to think it more possible that when
there has been full faith on all sides these appeals to divine
justice may have been answered by Him who sees the secrets of all
hearts than that modes of trial should have prevailed so long and so
generally, from some of which no person could ever have escaped
without an interposition of Providence. Thus it has appeared to me
in my calm and unbiassed judgment. Yet I confess I should want
faith to make the trial. May it not be, that by such means in dark
ages, and among blind nations, the purpose is effected of preserving
conscience and the belief of our immortality, without which the life
of our life would be extinct? And with regard to the conjurers of
the African and American savages, would it be unreasonable to
suppose that, as the most elevated devotion brings us into
fellowship with the Holy Spirit, a correspondent degree of
wickedness may effect a communion with evil intelligences? These
are mere speculations which I advance for as little as they are
worth. My serious belief amounts to this, that preternatural
impressions are sometimes communicated to us for wise purposes: and
that departed spirits are sometimes permitted to manifest

Stranger.--If a ghost, then, were disposed to pay you a visit, you
would be in a proper state of mind for receiving such a visitor?

Montesinos.--I should not credit my senses lightly; neither should I
obstinately distrust them, after I had put the reality of the
appearance to the proof, as far as that were possible.

Stranger.--Should you like to have an opportunity afforded you?

Montesinos.--Heaven forbid! I have suffered so much in dreams from
conversing with those whom even in sleep I knew to be departed, that
an actual presence might perhaps be more than I could bear.

Stranger.--But if it were the spirit of one with whom you had no
near ties of relationship or love, how then would it affect you?

Montesinos.--That would of course be according to the circumstances
on both sides. But I entreat you not to imagine that I am any way
desirous of enduring the experiment.

Stranger.--Suppose, for example, he were to present himself as I
have done; the purport of his coming friendly; the place and
opportunity suiting, as at present; the time also considerately
chosen--after dinner; and the spirit not more abrupt in his
appearance nor more formidable in aspect than the being who now
addresses you?

Montesinos.--Why, sir, to so substantial a ghost, and of such
respectable appearance, I might, perhaps, have courage enough to say
with Hamlet,

"Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,
That I will speak to thee!"

Stranger.--Then, sir, let me introduce myself in that character, now
that our conversation has conducted us so happily to the point. I
told you truly that I was English by birth, but that I came from a
more distant country than America, and had long been naturalised
there. The country whence I come is not the New World, but the
other one: and I now declare myself in sober earnest to be a ghost.

Montesinos.--A ghost!

Stranger.--A veritable ghost, and an honest one, who went out of the
world with so good a character that he will hardly escape
canonisation if ever you get a Roman Catholic king upon the throne.
And now what test do you require?

Montesinos.--I can detect no smell of brimstone; and the candle
burns as it did before, without the slightest tinge of blue in its
flame. You look, indeed, like a spirit of health, and I might be
disposed to give entire belief to that countenance, if it were not
for the tongue that belongs to it. But you are a queer spirit,
whether good or evil!

Stranger.--The headsman thought so, when he made a ghost of me
almost three hundred years ago. I had a character through life of
loving a jest, and did not belie it at the last. But I had also as
general a reputation for sincerity, and of that also conclusive
proof was given at the same time. In serious truth, then, I am a
disembodied spirit, and the form in which I now manifest myself is
subject to none of the accidents of matter. You are still
incredulous! Feel, then, and be convinced!

My incomprehensible guest extended his hand toward me as he spoke.
I held forth mine to accept it, not, indeed, believing him, and yet
not altogether without some apprehensive emotion, as if I were about
to receive an electrical shock. The effect was more startling than
electricity would have produced. His hand had neither weight nor
substance; my fingers, when they would have closed upon it, found
nothing that they could grasp: it was intangible, though it had all
the reality of form.

"In the name of God," I exclaimed, "who are you, and wherefore are
you come?"

"Be not alarmed," he replied. "Your reason, which has shown you the
possibility of such an appearance as you now witness, must have
convinced you also that it would never be permitted for an evil end.
Examine my features well, and see if you do not recognise them.
Hans Holbein was excellent at a likeness."

I had now for the first time in my life a distinct sense of that
sort of porcupinish motion over the whole scalp which is so
frequently described by the Latin poets. It was considerably
allayed by the benignity of his countenance and the manner of his
speech, and after looking him steadily in the face I ventured to
say, for the likeness had previously struck me, "Is it Sir Thomas

"The same," he made answer, and lifting up his chin, displayed a
circle round the neck brighter in colour than the ruby. "The marks
of martyrdom," he continued, "are our insignia of honour. Fisher
and I have the purple collar, as Friar Forrest and Cranmer have the
robe of fire."

A mingled feeling of fear and veneration kept me silent, till I
perceived by his look that he expected and encouraged me to speak;
and collecting my spirits as well as I could, I asked him wherefore
he had thought proper to appear, and why to me rather than to any
other person?

He replied, "We reap as we have sown. Men bear with them from this
world into the intermediate state their habits of mind and stores of
knowledge, their dispositions and affections and desires; and these
become a part of our punishment, or of our reward, according to
their kind. Those persons, therefore, in whom the virtue of
patriotism has predominated continue to regard with interest their
native land, unless it be so utterly sunk in degradation that the
moral relationship between them is dissolved. Epaminondas can have
no sympathy at this time with Thebes, nor Cicero with Rome, nor
Belisarius with the imperial city of the East. But the worthies of
England retain their affection for their noble country, behold its
advancement with joy, and when serious danger appears to threaten
the goodly structure of its institutions they feel as much anxiety
as is compatible with their state of beatitude.

Montesinos.--What, then, may doubt and anxiety consist with the
happiness of heaven?

Sir Thomas More.--Heaven and hell may be said to begin on your side
the grave. In the intermediate state conscience anticipates with
unerring certainty the result of judgment. We, therefore, who have
done well can have no fear for ourselves. But inasmuch as the world
has any hold upon our affections we are liable to that anxiety which
is inseparable from terrestrial hopes. And as parents who are in
bliss regard still with parental love the children whom they have
left on earth, we, in like manner, though with a feeling different
in kind and inferior in degree, look with apprehension upon the
perils of our country.

"sub pectore forti
Vivit adhuc patriae pietas; stimulatque sepultum
Libertatis amor: pondus mortale necari
Si potuit, veteres animo post funera vires
Mansere, et prisci vivit non immemor aevi."

They are the words of old Mantuan.

Montesinos.--I am to understand, then, that you cannot see into the
ways of futurity?

Sir Thomas More.--Enlarged as our faculties are, you must not
suppose that we partake of prescience. For human actions are free,
and we exist in time. The future is to us therefore as uncertain as
to you; except only that having a clearer and more comprehensive
knowledge of the past, we are enabled to reason better from causes
to consequences, and by what has been to judge of what is likely to
be. We have this advantage also, that we are divested of all those
passions which cloud the intellects and warp the understandings of
men. You are thinking, I perceive, how much you have to learn, and
what you should first inquire of me. But expect no revelations!
Enough was revealed when man was assured of judgment after death,
and the means of salvation were afforded him. I neither come to
discover secret things nor hidden treasures; but to discourse with
you concerning these portentous and monster-breeding times; for it
is your lot, as it was mine, to live during one of the grand
climacterics of the world. And I come to you, rather than to any
other person, because you have been led to meditate upon the
corresponding changes whereby your age and mine are distinguished;
and because, notwithstanding many discrepancies and some dispathies
between us (speaking of myself as I was, and as you know me), there
are certain points of sympathy and resemblance which bring us into
contact, and enable us at once to understand each other.

Montesinos.--Et in Utopia ego.

Sir Thomas More.--You apprehend me. We have both speculated in the
joys and freedom of our youth upon the possible improvement of
society; and both in like manner have lived to dread with reason the
effects of that restless spirit which, like the Titaness Mutability
described by your immortal master, insults heaven and disturbs the
earth. By comparing the great operating causes in the age of the
Reformation, and in this age of revolutions, going back to the
former age, looking at things as I then beheld them, perceiving
wherein I judged rightly, and wherein I erred, and tracing the
progress of those causes which are now developing their whole
tremendous power, you will derive instruction, which you are a fit
person to receive and communicate; for without being solicitous
concerning present effect, you are contented to cast your bread upon
the waters. You are now acquainted with me and my intention. To-
morrow you will see me again; and I shall continue to visit you
occasionally as opportunity may serve. Meantime say nothing of what
has passed--not even to your wife. She might not like the thoughts
of a ghostly visitor: and the reputation of conversing with the
dead might be almost as inconvenient as that of dealing with the
devil. For the present, then, farewell! I will never startle you
with too sudden an apparition; but you may learn to behold my
disappearance without alarm.

I was not able to behold it without emotion, although he had thus
prepared me; for the sentence was no sooner completed than he was
gone. Instead of rising from the chair he vanished from it. I know
not to what the instantaneous disappearance can be likened. Not to
the dissolution of a rainbow, because the colours of the rainbow
fade gradually till they are lost; not to the flash of cannon, or to
lightning, for these things are gone as so on as they are come, and
it is known that the instant of their appearance must be that of
their departure; not to a bubble upon the water, for you see it
burst; not to the sudden extinction of a light, for that is either
succeeded by darkness or leaves a different hue upon the surrounding
objects. In the same indivisible point of time when I beheld the
distinct, individual, and, to all sense of sight, substantial form--
the living, moving, reasonable image--in that self-same instant it
was gone, as if exemplifying the difference between to BE and NOT to
BE. It was no dream, of this I was well assured; realities are
never mistaken for dreams, though dreams may be mistaken for
realities. Moreover I had long been accustomed in sleep to question
my perceptions with a wakeful faculty of reason, and to detect their
fallacy. But, as well may be supposed, my thoughts that night,
sleeping as well as waking, were filled with this extraordinary
interview; and when I arose the next morning it was not till I had
called to mind every circumstance of time and place that I was
convinced the apparition was real, and that I might again expect it.


On the following evening when my spiritual visitor entered the room,
that volume of Dr. Wordsworth's ecclesiastical biography which
contains his life was lying on the table beside me. "I perceive,"
said he, glancing at the book, "you have been gathering all you can
concerning me from my good gossiping chronicler, who tells you that
I loved milk and fruit and eggs, preferred beef to young meats, and
brown bread to white; was fond of seeing strange birds and beasts,
and kept an ape, a fox, a weasel, and a ferret."

"I am not one of those fastidious readers," I replied, "who quarrel
with a writer for telling them too much. But these things were
worth telling: they show that you retained a youthful palate as
well as a youthful heart; and I like you the better both for your
diet and your menagerie. The old biographer, indeed, with the best
intentions, has been far from understanding the character which he
desired to honour. He seems, however, to have been a faithful
reporter, and has done as well as his capacity permitted. I observe
that he gives you credit for 'a deep foresight and judgment of the
times,' and for speaking in a prophetic spirit of the evils, which
soon afterwards were 'full heavily felt.'"

"There could be little need for a spirit of prophecy," Sir Thomas
made answer, to "foresee troubles which were the sure effect of the
causes then in operation, and which were actually close at hand.
When the rain is gathering from the south or west, and those flowers
and herbs which serve as natural hygrometers close their leaves, men
have no occasion to consult the stars for what the clouds and the
earth are telling them. You were thinking of Prince Arthur when I
introduced myself yesterday, as if musing upon the great events
which seem to have received their bias from the apparent accident of
his premature death."

Montesinos.--I had fallen into one of those idle reveries in which
we speculate upon what might have been. Lord Bacon describes him as
"very studious, and learned beyond his years, and beyond the custom
of great princes." As this indicates a calm and thoughtful mind, it
seems to show that he inherited the Tudor character. His brother
took after the Plantagenets; but it was not of their nobler
qualities that he partook. He had the popular manners of his
grandfather, Edward IV., and, like him, was lustful, cruel, and

Sir Thomas More.--The blood of the Plantagenets, as your friends the
Spaniards would say, was a strong blood. That temper of mind which
(in some of his predecessors) thought so little of fratricide might
perhaps have involved him in the guilt of a parricidal war, if his
father had not been fortunate enough to escape such an affliction by
a timely death. We might otherwise be allowed to wish that the life
of Henry VII. had been prolonged to a good old age. For if ever
there was a prince who could so have directed the Reformation as to
have averted the evils wherewith that tremendous event was
accompanied, and yet to have secured its advantages, he was the man.
Cool, wary, far-sighted, rapacious, politic, and religious, or
superstitious if you will (for his religion had its root rather in
fear than in hope), he was peculiarly adapted for such a crisis both
by his good and evil qualities. For the sake of increasing his
treasures and his power, he would have promoted the Reformation; but
his cautious temper, his sagacity, and his fear of Divine justice
would have taught him where to stop.

Montesinos.--A generation of politic sovereigns succeeded to the
race of warlike ones, just in that age of society when policy became
of more importance in their station than military talents.
Ferdinand of Spain, Joam II. whom the Portuguese called the perfect
prince, Louis XI. and Henry VII. were all of this class. Their
individual characters were sufficiently distinct; but the
circumstances of their situation stamped them with a marked
resemblance, and they were of a metal to take and retain the strong,
sharp impress of the age.

Sir Thomas More.--The age required such characters; and it is worthy
of notice how surely in the order of providence such men as are
wanted are raised up. One generation of these princes sufficed. In
Spain, indeed, there was an exception; for Ferdinand had two
successors who pursued the same course of conduct. In the other
kingdoms the character ceased with the necessity for it. Crimes
enough were committed by succeeding sovereigns, but they were no
longer the acts of systematic and reflecting policy. This, too, is
worthy of remark, that the sovereigns whom you have named, and who
scrupled at no means for securing themselves on the throne, for
enlarging their dominions and consolidating their power, were each
severally made to feel the vanity of human ambition, being punished
either in or by the children who were to reap the advantage of their
crimes. "Verily there is a God that judgeth the earth!"

Montesinos.--An excellent friend of mine, one of the wisest, best,
and happiest men whom I have ever known, delights in this manner to
trace the moral order of Providence through the revolutions of the
world; and in his historical writings keeps it in view as the pole-
star of his course. I wish he were present, that he might have the
satisfaction of hearing his favourite opinion confirmed by one from
the dead.

Sir Thomas More.--His opinion requires no other confirmation than
what he finds for it in observation and Scripture, and in his own
calm judgment. I should differ little from that friend of yours
concerning the past; but his hopes for the future appear to me like
early buds which are in danger of March winds. He believes the
world to be in a rapid state of sure improvement; and in the ferment
which exists everywhere he beholds only a purifying process; not
considering that there is an acetous as well as a vinous
fermentation; and that in the one case the liquor may be spilt, in
the other it must be spoilt.

Montesinos.--Surely you would not rob us of our hopes for the human
race! If I apprehended that your discourse tended to this end I
should suspect you, notwithstanding your appearance, and be ready to
exclaim, "Avaunt, tempter!" For there is no opinion from which I
should so hardly be driven, and so reluctantly part, as the belief
that the world will continue to improve, even as it has hitherto
continually been improving; and that the progress of knowledge and
the diffusion of Christianity will bring about at last, when men
become Christians in reality as well as in name, something like that
Utopian state of which philosophers have loved to dream--like that
millennium in which saints as well as enthusiasts have trusted.

Sir Thomas More.--Do you hold that this consummation must of
necessity come to pass; or that it depends in any degree upon the
course of events--that is to say, upon human actions? The former of
these propositions you would be as unwilling to admit as your friend
Wesley, or the old Welshman Pelagius himself. The latter leaves you
little other foundation for your opinion than a desire, which, from
its very benevolence, is the more likely to be delusive. You are in
a dilemma.

Montesinos.--Not so, Sir Thomas. Impossible as it may be for us to
reconcile the free will of man with the foreknowledge of God, I
nevertheless believe in both with the most full conviction. When
the human mind plunges into time and space in its speculations, it
adventures beyond its sphere; no wonder, therefore, that its powers
fail, and it is lost. But that my will is free, I know feelingly:
it is proved to me by my conscience. And that God provideth all
things I know by His own Word, and by that instinct which He hath
implanted in me to assure me of His being. My answer to your
question, then, is this: I believe that the happy consummation
which I desire is appointed, and must come to pass; but that when it
is to come depends upon the obedience of man to the will of God,
that is, upon human actions.

Sir Thomas More.--You hold then that the human race will one day
attain the utmost degree of general virtue, and thereby general
happiness, of which humanity is capable. Upon what do you found
this belief?

Montesinos.--The opinion is stated more broadly than I should choose
to advance it. But this is ever the manner of argumentative
discourse: the opponent endeavours to draw from you conclusions
which you are not prepared to defend, and which perhaps you have
never before acknowledged even to yourself. I will put the
proposition in a less disputable form. A happier condition of
society is possible than that in which any nation is existing at
this time, or has at any time existed. The sum both of moral and
physical evil may be greatly diminished both by good laws, good
institutions, and good governments. Moral evil cannot indeed be
removed, unless the nature of man were changed; and that renovation
is only to be effected in individuals, and in them only by the
special grace of God. Physical evil must always, to a certain
degree, be inseparable from mortality. But both are so much within
the reach of human institutions that a state of society is
conceivable almost as superior to that of England in these days, as
that itself is superior to the condition of the tattooed Britons, or
of the northern pirates from whom we are descended. Surely this
belief rests upon a reasonable foundation, and is supported by that
general improvement (always going on if it be regarded upon the
great scale) to which all history bears witness.

Sir Thomas More.--I dispute not this: but to render it a reasonable
ground of immediate hope, the predominance of good principles must
be supposed. Do you believe that good or evil principles
predominate at this time?

Montesinos.--If I were to judge by that expression of popular
opinion which the press pretends to convey, I should reply without
hesitation that never in any other known age of the world have such
pernicious principles been so prevalent

"Qua terra patet, fera regnat Erinnys;
In facinus jurasse putes."

Sir Thomas More.--Is there not a danger that these principles may
bear down everything before them? and is not that danger obvious,
palpable, imminent? Is there a considerate man who can look at the
signs of the times without apprehension, or a scoundrel connected
with what is called the public press, who does not speculate upon
them, and join with the anarchists as the strongest party? Deceive
not yourself by the fallacious notion that truth is mightier than
falsehood, and that good must prevail over evil! Good principles
enable men to suffer, rather than to act. Think how the dog, fond
and faithful creature as he is, from being the most docile and
obedient of all animals, is made the most dangerous, if he becomes
mad; so men acquire a frightful and not less monstrous power when
they are in a state of moral insanity, and break loose from their
social and religious obligations. Remember too how rapidly the
plague of diseased opinions is communicated, and that if it once
gain head, it is as difficult to be stopped as a conflagration or a
flood. The prevailing opinions of this age go to the destruction of
everything which has hitherto been held sacred. They tend to arm
the poor against the rich; the many against the few: worse than
this, for it will also be a war of hope and enterprise against
timidity, of youth against age.

Montesinos.--Sir Ghost, you are almost as dreadful an alarmist as
our Cumberland cow, who is believed to have lately uttered this
prophecy, delivering it with oracular propriety in verse:

"Two winters, a wet spring,
A bloody summer, and no king."

Sir Thomas More.--That prophecy speaks the wishes of the man,
whoever he may have been, by whom it was invented: and you who talk
of the progress of knowledge, and the improvement of society, and
upon that improvement build your hope of its progressive
melioration, you know that even so gross and palpable an imposture
as this is swallowed by many of the vulgar, and contributes in its
sphere to the mischief which it was designed to promote. I admit
that such an improved condition of society as you contemplate is
possible, and hath ought always to be kept in view: but the error
of supposing it too near, of fancying that there is a short road to
it, is, of all the errors of these times, the most pernicious,
because it seduces the young and generous, and betrays them
imperceptibly into an alliance with whatever is flagitious and
detestable. The fact is undeniable that the worst principles in
religion, in morals, and in politics, are at this time more
prevalent than they ever were known to be in any former age. You
need not be told in what manner revolutions in opinion bring about
the fate of empires; and upon this ground you ought to regard the
state of the world, both at home and abroad, with fear, rather than
with hope.

Montesinos.--When I have followed such speculations as may allowably
be indulged, respecting what is hidden in the darkness of time and
of eternity, I have sometimes thought that the moral and physical
order of the world may be so appointed as to coincide; and that the
revolutions of this planet may correspond with the condition of its
inhabitants; so that the convulsions and changes whereto it is
destined should occur, when the existing race of men had either
become so corrupt as to be unworthy of the place which they hold in
the universe, or were so truly regenerate by the will and word of
God, as to be qualified for a higher station in it. Our globe may
have gone through many such revolutions. We know the history of the
last; the measure of its wickedness was then filled up. For the
future we are taught to expect a happier consummation.

Sir Thomas More.--It is important that you should distinctly
understand the nature and extent of your expectations on that head.
Is it upon the Apocalypse that you rest them?

Montesinos.--If you had not forbidden me to expect from this
intercourse any communication which might come with the authority of
revealed knowledge, I should ask in reply, whether that dark book is
indeed to be received for authentic Scripture? My hopes are derived
from the prophets and the evangelists. Believing in them with a
calm and settled faith, with that consent of the will and heart and
understanding which constitutes religious belief, and in them the
clear annunciation of that kingdom of God upon earth, for the coming
of which Christ himself has taught and commanded us to pray.

Sir Thomas More.--Remember that the Evangelists, in predicting that
kingdom, announce a dreadful advent! And that, according to the
received opinion of the Church, wars, persecutions, and calamities
of every kind, the triumph of evil, and the coming of Antichrist are
to be looked for, before the promises made by the prophets shall be
fulfilled. Consider this also, that the speedy fulfilment of those
promises has been the ruling fancy of the most dangerous of all
madmen, from John of Leyden and his frantic followers, down to the
saints of Cromwell's army, Venner and his Fifth-Monarchy men, the
fanatics of the Cevennes, and the blockheads of your own days, who
beheld with complacency the crimes of the French Revolutionists, and
the progress of Bonaparte towards the subjugation of Europe, as
events tending to bring about the prophecies; and, under the same
besotted persuasion, are ready at this time to co-operate with the
miscreants who trade in blasphemy and treason! But you who neither
seek to deceive others nor yourself, you who are neither insane nor
insincere, you surely do not expect that the millennium is to be
brought about by the triumph of what are called liberal opinions;
nor by enabling the whole of the lower classes to read the
incentives to vice, impiety, and rebellion which are prepared for
them by an unlicensed press; nor by Sunday schools, and religious
tract societies; nor by the portentous bibliolatry of the age! And
if you adhere to the letter of the Scriptures, methinks the thought
of that consummation for which you look, might serve rather for
consolation under the prospect of impending evils, than for a hope
upon which the mind can rest in security with a calm and contented

Montesinos.--To this I must reply, that the fulfilment of those
calamitous events predicted in the Gospels may safely be referred,
as it usually is, and by the best Biblical scholars, to the
destruction of Jerusalem. Concerning the visions of the Apocalypse,
sublime as they are, I speak with less hesitation, and dismiss them
from my thoughts, as more congenial to the fanatics of whom you have
spoken than to me. And for the coming of Antichrist, it is no
longer a received opinion in these days, whatever it may have been
in yours. Your reasoning applies to the enthusiastic millenarians
who discover the number of the beast, and calculate the year when a
vial is to be poured out, with as much precision as the day and hour
of an eclipse. But it leaves my hope unshaken and untouched. I
know that the world has improved; I see that it is improving; and I
believe that it will continue to improve in natural and certain
progress. Good and evil principles are widely at work: a crisis is
evidently approaching; it may be dreadful, but I can have no doubts
concerning the result. Black and ominous as the aspects may appear,
I regard them without dismay. The common exclamation of the poor
and helpless, when they feel themselves oppressed, conveys to my
mind the sum of the surest and safest philosophy. I say with them,
"God is above," and trust Him for the event.

Sir Thomas More.--God is above--but the devil is below. Evil
principles are, in their nature, more active than good. The harvest
is precarious, and must be prepared with labour, and cost, and care;
weeds spring up of themselves, and flourish and seed whatever may be
the season. Disease, vice, folly, and madness are contagious; while
health and understanding are incommunicable, and wisdom and virtue
hardly to be communicated! We have come, however, to some
conclusion in our discourse. Your notion of the improvement of the
world has appeared to be a mere speculation, altogether inapplicable
in practice; and as dangerous to weak heads and heated imaginations
as it is congenial to benevolent hearts. Perhaps that improvement
is neither so general nor so certain as you suppose. Perhaps, even
in this country there may be more knowledge than there was in former
times and less wisdom, more wealth and less happiness, more display
and less virtue. This must be the subject of future conversation.
I will only remind you now, that the French had persuaded themselves
this was the most enlightened age of the world, and they the most
enlightened people in it--the politest, the most amiable, and the
most humane of nations--and that a new era of philosophy,
philanthropy, and peace, was about to commence under their auspices,
when they were upon the eve of a revolution which, for its
complicated monstrosities, absurdities, and horrors, is more
disgraceful to human nature than any other series of events in
history. Chew the cud upon this, and farewell


Inclination would lead me to hibernate during half the year in this
uncomfortable climate of Great Britain, where few men who have
tasted the enjoyments of a better would willingly take up their
abode, if it were not for the habits, and still more for the ties
and duties which root us to our native soil. I envy the Turks for
their sedentary constitutions, which seem no more to require
exercise than an oyster does or a toad in a stone. In this respect,
I am by disposition as true a Turk as the Grand Seignior himself;
and approach much nearer to one in the habit of inaction than any
person of my acquaintance. Willing however, as I should be to
believe, that anything which is habitually necessary for a sound
body, would be unerringly indicated by an habitual disposition for
it, and that if exercise were as needful as food for the
preservation of the animal economy, the desire of motion would recur
not less regularly than hunger and thirst, it is a theory which will
not bear the test; and this I know by experience.

On a grey sober day, therefore, and in a tone of mind quite
accordant with the season, I went out unwillingly to take the air,
though if taking physic would have answered the same purpose, the
dose would have been preferred as the shortest, and for that reason
the least unpleasant remedy. Even on such occasions as this, it is
desirable to propose to oneself some object for the satisfaction of
accomplishing it, and to set out with the intention of reaching some
fixed point, though it should be nothing better than a mile-stone,
or a directing post. So I walked to the Circle of Stones on the
Penrith road, because there is a long hill upon the way which would
give the muscles some work to perform; and because the sight of this
rude monument which has stood during so many centuries, and is
likely, if left to itself, to outlast any edifice that man could
have erected, gives me always a feeling, which, however often it may
be repeated, loses nothing of its force.

The circle is of the rudest kind, consisting of single stones,
unhewn and chosen without any regard to shape or magnitude, being of
all sizes, from seven or eight feet in height, to three or four.
The circle, however, is complete, and is thirty-three paces in
diameter. Concerning this, like all similar monuments in Great
Britain, the popular superstition prevails, that no two persons can
number the stones alike, and that no person will ever find a second
counting confirm the first. My children have often disappointed
their natural inclination to believe this wonder, by putting it to
the test and disproving it. The number of the stones which compose
the circle, is thirty-eight, and besides these there are ten which
form three sides of a little square within, on the eastern side,
three stones of the circle itself forming the fourth; this being
evidently the place where the Druids who presided had their station;
or where the more sacred and important part of the rites and
ceremonies (whatever they may have been) were performed. All this
is as perfect at this day as when the Cambrian bards, according to
the custom of their ancient order, described by my old
acquaintances, the living members of the Chair of Glamorgan, met
there for the last time,

"On the green turf and under the blue sky,
Their heads in reverence bare, and bare of foot."

The site also precisely accords with the description which Edward
Williams and William Owen give of the situation required for such
meeting places:

"--a high hill top,
Nor bowered with trees, nor broken by the plough:
Remote from human dwellings and the stir
Of human life, and open to the breath
And to the eye of Heaven."

The high hill is now enclosed and cultivated; and a clump of larches
has been planted within the circle, for the purpose of protecting an
oak in the centre, the owner of the field having wished to rear one
there with a commendable feeling, because that tree was held sacred
by the Druids, and therefore, he supposed, might be appropriately
placed there. The whole plantation, however, has been so miserably
storm-stricken that the poor stunted trees are not even worth the
trouble of cutting them down for fuel, and so they continue to
disfigure the spot. In all other respects this impressive monument
of former times is carefully preserved; the soil within the
enclosure is not broken, a path from the road is left, and in latter
times a stepping-stile has been placed to accommodate Lakers with an
easier access than by striding over the gate beside it.

The spot itself is the most commanding which could be chosen in this
part of the country, without climbing a mountain. Derwentwater and
the Vale of Keswick are not seen from it, only the mountains which
enclose them on the south and west. Lattrigg and the huge side of
Skiddaw are on the north; to the east is the open country towards
Penrith expanding from the Vale of St. John's, and extending for
many miles, with Mellfell in the distance, where it rises alone like
a huge tumulus on the right, and Blencathra on the left, rent into
deep ravines. On the south-east is the range of Helvellyn, from its
termination at Wanthwaite Crags to its loftiest summits, and to
Dunmailraise. The lower range of Nathdalefells lies nearer, in a
parallel line with Helvellyn; and the dale itself, with its little
streamlet, immediately below. The heights above Leatheswater, with
the Borrowdale mountains, complete the panorama.

While I was musing upon the days of the Bards and Druids, and
thinking that Llywarc Hen himself had probably stood within this
very circle at a time when its history was known, and the rites for
which it was erected still in use, I saw a person approaching, and
started a little at perceiving that it was my new acquaintance from
the world of spirits. "I am come," said he, "to join company with
you in your walk: you may as well converse with a ghost as stand
dreaming of the dead. I dare say you have been wishing that these
stones could speak and tell their tale, or that some record were
sculptured upon them, though it were as unintelligible as the
hieroglyphics, or as an Ogham inscription."

"My ghostly friend," I replied, "they tell me something to the
purport of our last discourse. Here upon ground where the Druids
have certainly held their assemblies, and where not improbably,
human sacrifices have been offered up, you will find it difficult to
maintain that the improvement of the world has not been unequivocal,
and very great."

Sir Thomas More.--Make the most of your vantage ground! My position
is, that this improvement is not general; that while some parts of
the earth are progressive in civilisation, others have been
retrograde; and that even where improvement appears the greatest, it
is partial. For example; with all the meliorations which have taken
place in England since these stones were set up (and you will not
suppose that I who laid down my life for a religious principle,
would undervalue the most important of all advantages), do you
believe that they have extended to all classes? Look at the
question well. Consider your fellow-countrymen, both in their
physical and intellectual relations, and tell me whether a large
portion of the community are in a happier or more hopeful condition
at this time, than their forefathers were when Caesar set foot upon
the island?

Montesinos.--If it be your aim to prove that the savage state is
preferable to the social, I am perhaps the very last person upon
whom any arguments to that end could produce the slightest effect.
That notion never for a moment deluded me: not even in the
ignorance and presumptuousness of youth, when first I perused
Rousseau, and was unwilling to feel that a writer whose passionate
eloquence I felt and admired so truly could be erroneous in any of
his opinions. But now, in the evening of life, when I know upon
what foundation my principles rest, and when the direction of one
peculiar course of study has made it necessary for me to learn
everything which books could teach concerning savage life, the
proposition appears to me one of the most untenable that ever was
advanced by a perverse or a paradoxical intellect.

Sir Thomas More.--I advanced no such paradox, and you have answered
me too hastily. The Britons were not savages when the Romans
invaded and improved them. They were already far advanced in the
barbarous stage of society, having the use of metals, domestic
cattle, wheeled carriages, and money, a settled government, and a
regular priesthood, who were connected with their fellow-Druids on
the Continent, and who were not ignorant of letters. Understand me!
I admit that improvements of the utmost value have been made, in the
most important concerns: but I deny that the melioration has been
general; and insist, on the contrary, that a considerable portion of
the people are in a state, which, as relates to their physical
condition, is greatly worsened, and, as touching their intellectual
nature, is assuredly not improved. Look, for example, at the great
mass of your populace in town and country--a tremendous proportion
of the whole community! Are their bodily wants better, or more
easily supplied? Are they subject to fewer calamities? Are they
happier in childhood, youth, and manhood, and more comfortably or
carefully provided for in old age, than when the land was
unenclosed, and half covered with woods? With regard to their moral
and intellectual capacity, you well know how little of the light of
knowledge and of revelation has reached them. They are still in
darkness, and in the shadow of death!

Montesinos.--I perceive your drift: and perceive also that when we
understand each other there is likely to be little difference
between us. And I beseech you, do not suppose that I am disputing
for the sake of disputation; with that pernicious habit I was never
infected, and I have seen too many mournful proofs of its perilous
consequences. Towards any person it is injudicious and offensive;
towards you it would be irreverent. Your position is undeniable.
Were society to be stationary at its present point, the bulk of the
people would, on the whole, have lost rather than gained by the
alterations which have taken place during the last thousand years.
Yet this must be remembered, that in common with all ranks they are
exempted from those dreadful visitations of war, pestilence, and
famine by which these kingdoms were so frequently afflicted of old.

The countenance of my companion changed upon this, to an expression
of judicial severity which struck me with awe. "Exempted from these
visitations!" he exclaimed; "mortal man! creature of a day, what art
thou, that thou shouldst presume upon any such exemption! Is it
from a trust in your own deserts, or a reliance upon the forbearance
and long-suffering of the Almighty, that this vain confidence

I was silent.

"My friend," he resumed, in a milder tone, but with a melancholy
manner, "your own individual health and happiness are scarcely more
precarious than this fancied security. By the mercy of God, twice
during the short space of your life, England has been spared from
the horrors of invasion, which might with ease have been effected
during the American war, when the enemy's fleet swept the Channel,
and insulted your very ports, and which was more than once seriously
intended during the late long contest. The invaders would indeed
have found their graves in that soil which they came to subdue: but
before they could have been overcome, the atrocious threat of
Buonaparte's general might have been in great part realised, that
though he could not answer for effecting the conquest of England, he
would engage to destroy its prosperity for a century to come. You
have been spared from that chastisement. You have escaped also from
the imminent danger of peace with a military tyrant, which would
inevitably have led to invasion, when he should have been ready to
undertake and accomplish that great object of his ambition, and you
must have been least prepared and least able to resist him. But if
the seeds of civil war should at this time be quickening among you--
if your soil is everywhere sown with the dragon's teeth, and the
fatal crop be at this hour ready to spring up--the impending evil
will be a hundredfold more terrible than those which have been
averted; and you will have cause to perceive and acknowledge, that
the wrath has been suspended only that it may fall the heavier!"

"May God avert this also!" I exclaimed.

"As for famine," he pursued, "that curse will always follow in the
train of war: and even now the public tranquillity of England is
fearfully dependent upon the seasons. And touching pestilence, you
fancy yourselves secure, because the plague has not appeared among
you for the last hundred and fifty years: a portion of time, which
long as it may seem when compared with the brief term of mortal
existence, is as nothing in the physical history of the globe. The
importation of that scourge is as possible now as it was in former
times: and were it once imported, do you suppose it would rage with
less violence among the crowded population of your metropolis, than
it did before the fire, or that it would not reach parts of the
country which were never infected in any former visitation? On the
contrary, its ravages would be more general and more tremendous, for
it would inevitably be carried everywhere. Your provincial cities
have doubled and trebled in size; and in London itself, great part
of the population is as much crowded now as it was then, and the
space which is covered with houses is increased at least fourfold.
What if the sweating-sickness, emphatically called the English
disease, were to show itself again? Can any cause be assigned why
it is not as likely to break out in the nineteenth century as in the
fifteenth? What if your manufactures, according to the ominous
opinion which your greatest physiologist has expressed, were to
generate for you new physical plagues, as they have already produced
a moral pestilence unknown to all preceding ages? What if the
small-pox, which you vainly believed to be subdued, should have
assumed a new and more formidable character; and (as there seems no
trifling grounds for apprehending) instead of being protected by
vaccination from its danger, you should ascertain that inoculation
itself affords no certain security? Visitations of this kind are in
the order of nature and of providence. Physically considered, the
likelihood of their recurrence becomes every year more probable than
the last; and looking to the moral government of the world, was
there ever a time when the sins of this kingdom called more cryingly
for chastisement?

Montesinos.--[Greek text which cannot be reproduced]

Sir Thomas More.--I denounce no judgments. But I am reminding you
that there is as much cause for the prayer in your Litany against
plague, pestilence, and famine, as for that which entreats God to
deliver you all from sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion; from
all false doctrine, heresy, and schism. In this, as in all things,
it behoves the Christian to live in a humble and grateful sense of
his continual dependence upon the Almighty: not to rest in a
presumptuous confidence upon the improved state of human knowledge,
or the altered course of natural visitations.

Montesinos.--Oh, how wholesome it is to receive instruction with a
willing and a humble mind! In attending to your discourse I feel
myself in the healthy state of a pupil, when without one hostile or
contrarient prepossession, he listens to a teacher in whom he has
entire confidence. And I feel also how much better it is that the
authority of elder and wiser intellects should pass even for more
than it is worth, than that it should be undervalued as in these
days, and set at nought. When any person boasts that he is -

"Nullias addictus jurare in verba magistri,"

the reason of that boast may easily be perceived; it is because he
thinks, like Jupiter, that it would be disparaging his own all-
wiseness to swear by anything but himself. But wisdom will as
little enter into a proud or a conceited mind as into a malicious
one. In this sense also it may be said, that he who humbleth
himself shall be exalted.

Sir Thomas More.--It is not implicit assent that I require, but
reasonable conviction after calm and sufficient consideration.
David was permitted to choose between the three severest
dispensations of God's displeasure, and he made choice of pestilence
as the least dreadful. Ought a reflecting and religious man to be
surprised, if some such punishment were dispensed to this country,
not less in mercy than in judgment, as the means of averting a more
terrible and abiding scourge? An endemic malady, as destructive as
the plague, has naturalised itself among your American brethren, and
in Spain. You have hitherto escaped it, speaking with reference to
secondary causes, merely because it has not yet been imported. But
any season may bring it to your own shores; or at any hour it may
appear among you homebred.

Montesinos.--We should have little reason, then, to boast of our
improvements in the science of medicine; for our practitioners at
Gibraltar found themselves as unable to stop its progress, or
mitigate its symptoms, as the most ignorant empirics in the

Sir Thomas More.--You were at one time near enough that pestilence
to feel as if you were within its reach?

Montesinos.--It was in 1800, the year when it first appeared in
Andalusia. That summer I fell in at Cintra with a young German, on
the way from his own country to his brothers at Cadiz, where they
were established as merchants. Many days had not elapsed after his
arrival in that city when a ship which was consigned to their firm
brought with it the infection; and the first news which reached us
of our poor acquaintance was that the yellow fever had broken out in
his brother's house, and that he, they, and the greater part of the
household, were dead. There was every reason to fear that the
pestilence would extend into Portugal, both governments being, as
usual, slow in providing any measures of precaution, and those
measures being nugatory when taken. I was at Faro in the ensuing
spring, at the house of Mr. Lempriere, the British Consul.
Inquiring of him upon the subject, the old man lifted up his hands,
and replied in a passionate manner, which I shall never forget, "Oh,
sir, we escaped by the mercy of God; only by the mercy of God!" The
governor of Algarve, even when the danger was known and
acknowledged, would not venture to prohibit the communication with
Spain till he received orders from Lisbon; and then the prohibition
was so enforced as to be useless. The crew of a boat from the
infected province were seized and marched through the country to
Tavira: they were then sent to perform quarantine upon a little
insulated ground, and the guards who were set over them, lived with
them, and were regularly relieved. When such were the precautionary
measures, well indeed might it be said, that Portugal escaped only
by the mercy of God! I have often reflected upon the little effect
which this imminent danger appeared to produce upon those persons
with whom I associated. The young, with that hilarity which belongs
to thoughtless youth, used to converse about the places whither they
should retire, and the course of life and expedients to which they
should be driven in case it were necessary for them to fly from
Lisbon. A few elder and more considerate persons said little upon
the subject, but that little denoted a deep sense of the danger, and
more anxiety than they thought proper to express. The great
majority seemed to be altogether unconcerned; neither their business
nor their amusements were interrupted; they feasted, they danced,
they met at the card-table as usual; and the plague (for so it was
called at that time, before its nature was clearly understood) was
as regular a topic of conversation as the news brought by the last

Sir Thomas More.--And what was your own state of mind?

Montesinos.--Very much what it has long been with regard to the
moral pestilence of this unhappy age, and the condition of this
country more especially. I saw the danger in its whole extent and
relied on the mercy of God.

Sir Thomas More.--In all cases that is the surest reliance: but
when human means are available, it becomes a Mahommedan rather than
a Christian to rely upon Providence or fate alone, and make no
effort for its own preservation. Individuals never fall into this
error among you, drink as deeply as they may of fatalism; that
narcotic will sometimes paralyse the moral sense, but it leaves the
faculty of worldly prudence unimpaired. Far otherwise is it with
your government: for such are the notions of liberty in England,
that evils of every kind--physical, moral, and political, are
allowed their free range. As relates to infectious diseases, for
example, this kingdom is now in a less civilised state than it was
in my days, three centuries ago, when the leper was separated from
general society; and when, although the science of medicine was at
once barbarous and fantastical, the existence of pesthouses showed
at least some approaches towards a medical police.

Montesinos.--They order these things better in Utopia.

Sir Thomas More.--In this, as well as in some other points upon
which we shall touch hereafter, the difference between you and the
Utopians is as great as between the existing generation and the race
by whom yonder circle was set up. With regard to diseases and
remedies in general, the real state of the case may be consolatory,
but it is not comfortable. Great and certain progress has been made
in chirurgery; and if the improvements in the other branch of
medical science have not been so certain and so great, it is because
the physician works in the dark, and has to deal with what is hidden
and mysterious. But the evils for which these sciences are the
palliatives have increased in a proportion that heavily overweighs
the benefit of improved therapeutics. For as the intercourse
between nations has become greater, the evils of one have been
communicated to another. Pigs, Spanish dollars, and Norway rats,
are not the only commodities and incommodities which have performed
the circumnavigation, and are to be found wherever European ships
have touched. Diseases also find their way from one part of the
inhabited globe to another, wherever it is possible for them to
exist. The most formidable endemic or contagious maladies in your
nosology are not indigenous; and as far as regards health therefore,
the ancient Britons, with no other remedies than their fields and
woods afforded them, and no other medical practitioners than their
deceitful priests, were in a better condition than their
descendants, with all the instruction which is derived from Sydenham
and Heberden, and Hunter, and with all the powers which chemistry
has put into their hands.

Montesinos.--You have well said that there is nothing comfortable in
this view of the case: but what is there consolatory in it?

Sir Thomas More.--The consolation is upon your principle of
expectant hope. Whenever improved morals, wiser habits, more
practical religion, and more efficient institutions shall have
diminished the moral and material causes of disease, a thoroughly
scientific practice, the result of long experience and accumulated
observations, will then exist, to remedy all that is within the
power of human art, and to alleviate what is irremediable. To
existing individuals this consolation is something like the
satisfaction you might feel in learning that a fine estate was
entailed upon your family at the expiration of a lease of ninety-
nine years from the present time. But I had forgotten to whom I am
talking. A poet always looks onward to some such distant
inheritance. His hopes are usually in nubibus, and his expectations
in the paulo post futurum tense.

Montesinos.--His state is the more gracious then because his
enjoyment is always to come. It is however a real satisfaction to
me that there is some sunshine in your prospect.

Sir Thomas More.--More in mine than in yours, because I command a
wider horizon: but I see also the storms which are blackening, and
may close over the sky. Our discourse began concerning that portion
of the community who form the base of the pyramid; we have unawares
taken a more general view, but it has not led us out of the way.
Returning to the most numerous class of society, it is apparent that
in the particular point of which we have been conversing, their
condition is greatly worsened: they remain liable to the same
indigenous diseases as their forefathers, and are exposed moreover
to all which have been imported. Nor will the estimate of their
condition be improved upon farther inquiry. They are worse fed than
when they were hunters, fishers, and herdsmen; their clothing and
habitations are little better, and, in comparison with those of the
higher classes, immeasurably worse. Except in the immediate
vicinity of the collieries, they suffer more from cold than when the
woods and turbaries were open. They are less religious than in the
days of the Romish faith; and if we consider them in relation to
their immediate superiors, we shall find reason to confess that the
independence which has been gained since the total decay of the
feudal system, has been dearly purchased by the loss of kindly
feelings and ennobling attachments. They are less contented, and in
no respect more happy--that look implies hesitation of judgment, and
an unwillingness to be convinced. Consider the point; go to your
books and your thoughts; and when next we meet, you will feel little
inclination to dispute the irrefragable statement.


The last conversation had left a weight upon me, which was not
lessened when I contemplated the question in solitude. I called to
mind the melancholy view which Young has taken of the world in his
unhappy poem:

"A part how small of the terraqueous globe
Is tenanted by man! the rest a waste,
Rocks, deserts, frozen seas and burning sands,
Wild haunts of monsters, poisons, stings, and death.
Such is earth's melancholy map! But, far
More sad, this earth is a true map of man."

Sad as this representation is, I could not but acknowledge that the
moral and intellectual view is not more consolatory than the poet
felt it to be; and it was a less sorrowful consideration to think
how large a portion of the habitable earth is possessed by savages,
or by nations whom inhuman despotisms and monstrous superstitions
have degraded in some respects below the savage state, than to
observe how small a part of what is called the civilised world is
truly civilised; and in the most civilised parts to how small a
portion of the inhabitants the real blessings of civilisation are
confined. In this mood how heartily should I have accorded with
Owen of Lanark if I could have agreed with that happiest and most
beneficent and most practical of all enthusiasts as well concerning
the remedy as the disease!

"Well, Montesinos," said the spirit, when he visited me next, "have
you recollected or found any solid arguments for maintaining that
the labouring classes, who form the great bulk of the population,
are in a happier condition, physical, moral, or intellectual, in
these times, than they were in mine?"

Montesinos.--Perhaps, Sir Thomas, their condition was better
precisely during your age than it ever has been either before or
since. The feudal system had well-nigh lost all its inhuman parts,
and the worse inhumanity of the commercial system had not yet shown

Sir Thomas More.--It was, indeed, a most important age in English
history, and, till the Reformation so fearfully disturbed it, in
many respects a happy and an enviable one. But the process was then
beginning which is not yet completed. As the feudal system relaxed
and tended to dissolution the condition of the multitude was
changed. Let us trace it from earlier times! In what state do you
suppose the people of this island to have been when they were
invaded by the Romans?

Montesinos.--Something worse than the Greeks of the Homeric age:
something better than the Sandwich or Tonga islanders when they were
visited by Captain Cook. Inferior to the former in arts, in polity,
and, above all, in their domestic institutions; superior to the
latter as having the use of cattle and being under a superstition in
which, amid many abominations, some patriarchal truths were
preserved. Less fortunate in physical circumstances than either,
because of the climate.

Sir Thomas More.--A viler state of morals than their polyandrian
system must have produced can scarcely be imagined; and the ferocity
of their manners, little as is otherwise known of them, is
sufficiently shown by their scythed war-chariots, and the fact that
in the open country the path from one town to another was by a
covered way. But in what condition were the labouring classes?

Montesinos.--In slavery, I suppose. When the Romans first attacked
the island it was believed at Rome that slaves were the only booty
which Britain could afford; and slaves, no doubt, must have been the
staple commodity for which its ports were visited. Different tribes
had at different times established themselves here by conquest, and
wherever settlements are thus made slavery is the natural
consequence. It was a part of the Roman economy; and when the
Saxons carved out their kingdoms with the sword, the slaves, and
their masters too, if any survived, became the property of the new
lords of the land, like the cattle who pastured upon it. It is not
likely even that the Saxons should have brought artificers of any
kind with them, smiths perhaps alone excepted. Trades of every
description must have been practised by the slaves whom they found.
The same sort of transfer ensued upon the Norman conquest. After
that event there could have been no fresh supply of domestic slaves,
unless they were imported from Ireland, as well as carried thither
for sale. That trade did not continue long. Emancipation was
promoted by the clergy, and slavery was exchanged for vassalage,
which in like manner gradually disappeared as the condition of the
people improved.

Sir Thomas More.--You are hurrying too fast to that conclusion.
Hitherto more has been lost than gained in morals by the transition;
and you will not maintain that anything which is morally injurious
can be politically advantageous. Vassalage I know is a word which
bears no favourable acceptation in this liberal age; and slavery is
in worse repute. But we must remember that slavery implies a very
different state in different ages of the world, and in different
stages of society.

Montesinos.--In many parts of the East, and of the Mohammedan world,
as in the patriarchal times, it is scarcely an evil. Among savages
it is as little so. In a luxurious state more vices are called into
action, the condition of the slave depends more upon the temper of
the owner, and the evil then predominates. But slavery is nowhere
so bad as in commercial colonies, where the desire of gain hardens
the heart--the basest appetites have free scope there; and the worst
passions are under little restraint from law, less from religion,
and none from public opinion.

Sir Thomas More.--You have omitted in this enumeration that kind of
slavery which existed in England.

Montesinos.--The slavery of the feudal ages may perhaps be classed
midway between the best description of that state and the worst. I
suppose it to have been less humane than it generally is in Turkey,
less severe than it generally was in Rome and Greece. In too many
respects the slaves were at the mercy of their lords. They might be
put in irons and punished with stripes; they were sometimes branded;
and there is proof that it has been the custom to yoke them in teams
like cattle.

Sir Thomas More.--Are you, then, Montesinos, so much the dupe of
words as to account among their grievances a mere practice of

Montesinos.--The reproof was merited. But I was about to say that
there is no reason to think their treatment was generally rigorous.
We do not hear of any such office among them as that of the Roman
Lorarii, whose office appears by the dramatists to have been no
sinecure. And it is certain that they possessed in the laws, in the
religion, and probably in the manners of the country, a greater
degree of protection than existed to alleviate the lot of the
Grecian and Roman slaves.

Sir Thomas More.--The practical difference between the condition of
the feudal slave, and of the labouring husbandman who succeeded to
the business of his station, was mainly this, that the former had
neither the feeling nor the insecurity of independence. He served
one master as long as he lived; and being at all times sure of the
same sufficient subsistence, if he belonged to the estate like the
cattle, and was accounted with them as part of the live stock, he
resembled them also in the exemption which he enjoyed from all cares
concerning his own maintenance and that of his family. The feudal
slaves, indeed, were subject to none of those vicissitudes which
brought so many of the proudest and most powerful barons to a
disastrous end. They had nothing to lose, and they had liberty to
hope for; frequently as the reward of their own faithful services,
and not seldom from the piety or kindness of their lords. This was
a steady hope depending so little upon contingency that it excited
no disquietude or restlessness. They were therefore in general
satisfied with the lot to which they were born, as the Greenlander
is with his climate, the Bedouin with his deserts, and the Hottentot
and the Calmuck with their filthy and odious customs; and going on
in their regular and unvaried course of duty generation after
generation, they were content.

Montesinos.--"Fish, fish, are you in your duty?" said the young lady
in the Arabian tales, who came out of the kitchen wall clad in
flowered satin, and with a rod in her hand. The fish lifted up
their heads and replied, "Yes, yes; if you reckon, we reckon; if you
pay your debts we pay ours; if you fly we overcome, and are
content." The fish who were thus content, and in their duty, had
been gutted, and were in the frying-pan. I do not seek, however, to
escape from the force of your argument by catching at the words. On
the other hand, I am sure it is not your intention to represent
slavery otherwise than as an evil, under any modification.

Sir Thomas More.--That which is a great evil in itself become
relatively a good when it prevents or removes a greater evil; for
instance, loss of a limb when life is preserved by the sacrifice, or
the acute pain of a remedy by which a chronic disease is cured.
Such was slavery in its origin: a commutation for death, gladly
accepted as mercy under the arm of a conqueror in battle, or as the
mitigation of a judicial sentence. But it led immediately to
nefarious abuses; and the earliest records which tell us of its
existence show us also that men were kidnapped for sale. With the
principles of Christianity, the principles of religious philosophy--
the only true policy, to which mankind must come at last, by which
alone all the remediable ills of humanity are to be remedied, and
for which you are taught to pray when you entreat that your Father's
kingdom may come--with those principles slavery is inconsistent, and
therefore not to be tolerated, even in speculation.

Montesinos.--Yet its fitness, as a commutation for other
punishments, is admitted by Michaelis (though he decides against it)
to be one of the most difficult questions connected with the
existing state of society. And in the age of the Revolution, one of
the sturdiest Scotch republicans proposed the reestablishment of
slavery, as the best or only means for correcting the vices and
removing the miseries of the poor.

Sir Thomas More.--The proposal of such a remedy must be admitted as
full proof of the malignity of the disease. And in further excuse
of Andrew Fletcher, it should be remembered that he belonged to a
country where many of the feudal virtues (as well as most of the
feudal vices) were at that time in full vigour. But let us return
to our historical view of the subject. In feudal servitude there
was no motive for cruelty, scarcely any for oppression. There were
no needy slave-owners, as there are in commercial colonies; and
though slaves might sometimes suffer from a wicked, or even a
passionate master, there is no reason to believe that they were
habitually over-tasked, or subjected to systematic ill-treatment;
for that, indeed, can only arise from avarice, and avarice is not
the vice of feudal times. Still, however, slavery is intolerable
upon Christian principles; and to the influence of those principles
it yielded here in England. It had ceased, so as even to be
forgotten in my youth; and villenage was advancing fast towards its
natural extinction. The courts decided that a tenant having a lease
could not be a villein during its term, for if his labour were at
the command of another how could he undertake to pay rent?
Landholders had thus to choose between rent and villenage, and
scarcely wanted the Field of the Cloth of Gold at Ardres to show
them which they stood most in need of. And as villenage
disappeared, free labourers of various descriptions multiplied; of
whom the more industrious and fortunate rose in society, and became
tradesmen and merchants; the unlucky and the reprobate became

Montesinos.--The latter class appears to have been far more numerous
in your age than in mine.

Sir Thomas More.--Waiving for the present the question whether they
really were so, they appear to have been so partly in consequence of
the desperate wars between the houses of York and Lancaster, partly
because of the great change in society which succeeded to that
contest. During those wars both parties exerted themselves to bring
into the field all the force they could muster. Villeins in great
numbers were then emancipated, when they were embodied in arms; and
great numbers emancipated themselves, flying to London and other
cities for protection from the immediate evils of war, or taking
advantage of the frequent changes of property, and the precarious
tenure by which it was held, to exchange their own servile condition
for a station of freedom with all its hopes and chances. This took
place to a great extent, and the probabilities of success were
greatly in their favour; for whatever may have been practised in
earlier and ruder times, in that age they certainly were not branded
like cattle, according to the usage of your sugar islands.

Montesinos.--A planter, who notwithstanding this curious specimen of
his taste and sensibility, was a man of humane studies and humane
feelings, describes the refined and elegant manner in which the
operation is performed, by way of mitigating the indignation which
such a usage ought to excite. He assures us that the stamp is not a
branding iron, but a silver instrument; and that it is heated not in
the fire, but over the flame of spirits of wine.

Sir Thomas More.--Excellent planter! worthy to have been flogged at
a gilt whipping-post with a scourge of gold thread! The practice of
marking slaves had fallen into disuse; probably it was only used at
first with captives, or with those who were newly-purchased from a
distant country, never with those born upon the soil. And there was
no means of raising a hue and cry after a runaway slave so
effectually as is done by your colonial gazettes, the only
productions of the British colonial press.

Montesinos.--Include, I pray you, in the former part of your censure
the journals of the United States, the land of democracy and equal

Sir Thomas More.--How much more honourable was the tendency of our
laws, and of national feeling in those days, which you perhaps as
well as your trans-Atlantic brethren have been accustomed to think
barbarous, when compared with this your own age of reason and
liberality! The master who killed his slave was as liable to
punishment as if he had killed a freeman. Instead of impeding
enfranchisement, the laws, as well as the public feeling, encouraged
it. If a villein who had fled from his lord remained a year and a
day unclaimed upon the King's demesne lands, or in any privileged
town, he became free. All doubtful cases were decided in favorem
libertatis. Even the established maxim in law, partus sequitur
ventrem, was set aside in favour of liberty; the child of a neif was
free if the father were a freeman, or if it were illegitimate, in
which case it was settled that the free condition of the father
should always be presumed.

Montesinos.--Such a principle must surely have tended to increase
the illegitimate population.

Sir Thomas More.--That inference is drawn from the morals of your
own age, and the pernicious effect of your poor laws as they are now
thoroughly understood and deliberately acted upon by a race who are
thinking always of their imaginary rights, and never of their
duties. You forget the efficacy of ecclesiastical discipline; and
that the old Church was more vigilant, and therefore more efficient
than that which rose upon its ruins. And you suppose that personal
liberty was more valued by persons in a state of servitude than was
actually the case. For if in earlier ages emancipation was an act
of piety and benevolence, afterwards, when the great crisis of
society came on, it proceeded more frequently from avarice than from
any worthier motive; and the slave who was set free sometimes found
himself much in the situation of a household dog that is turned into
the streets.

Montesinos.--Are you alluding to the progress of inclosures, which
from the accession of the Tudors to the age of the Stuarts were
complained of as the great and crying evil of the times?

Sir Thomas More.--That process originated as soon as rents began to
be of more importance than personal services, and money more
convenient to the landlords than payments in kind.

Montesinos.--And this I suppose began to be the case under Edward
III. The splendour of his court, and the foreign wars in which he
was engaged, must have made money more necessary to the knights and
nobles than it had ever been before, except during the Crusades.

Sir Thomas More.--The wars of York and Lancaster retarded the
process; but immediately after the termination of that fierce
struggle it was accelerated by the rapid growth of commerce, and by
the great influx of wealth from the new found world. Under a
settled and strong and vigilant government men became of less value
as vassals and retainers, because the boldest barons no longer dared
contemplate the possibility of trying their strength against the
crown, or attempting to disturb the succession. Four-legged animals
therefore were wanted for slaughter more than two-legged ones; and
moreover, sheep could be shorn, whereas the art of fleecing the
tenantry was in its infancy, and could not always be practised with
the same certain success. A trading spirit thus gradually
superseded the rude but kindlier principle of the feudal system:
profit and loss became the rule of conduct; in came calculation, and
out went feeling.

Montesinos.--I remember your description (for indeed who can forget
it?) how sheep, more destructive than the Dragon of Wantley in those
days, began to devour men and fields and houses. The same process
is at this day going on in the Highlands, though under different
circumstances; some which palliate the evil, and some which
aggravate the injustice.

Sir Thomas More.--The real nature of the evil was misunderstood by
my contemporaries, and for some generations afterward. A decrease
of population was the effect complained of, whereas the greater
grievance was that a different and worse population was produced.

Montesinos.--I comprehend you. The same effect followed which has
been caused in these days by the extinction of small farms.

Sir Thomas More.--The same in kind, but greater in degree; or at
least if not greater, or so general in extent, it was more directly
felt. When that ruinous fashion prevailed in your age there were
many resources for the class of people who were thus thrown out of
their natural and proper place in the social system. Your fleets
and armies at that time required as many hands as could be supplied;
and women and children were consumed with proportionate rapidity by
your manufactures.

Moreover, there was the wholesome drain of emigration open

"Facta est immensi copia mundi."

But under the Tudors there existed no such means for disposing of
the ejected population, and except the few who could obtain places
as domestic servants, or employment as labourers and handicraftsmen
(classes, it must be remembered, for all which the employ was
diminished by the very ejectment in question), they who were turned
adrift soon found themselves houseless and hopeless, and were
reduced to prey upon that society which had so unwisely as well as
inhumanly discarded them.

Montesinos.--Thus it is that men collectively as well as
individually create for themselves so large a part of the evils they

Sir Thomas More.--Enforce upon your contemporaries that truth which
is as important in politics as in ethics, and you will not have
lived in vain! Scatter that seed upon the waters, and doubt not of
the harvest! Vindicate always the system of nature, in other and
sounder words, the ways of God, while you point out with all

"what ills
Remediable and yet unremedied
Afflict man's wretched race,"

and the approbation of your own heart will be sufficient reward on

Montesinos.--The will has not been wanting.

Sir Thomas More.--There are cases in which the will carries with it
the power; and this is of them. No man was ever yet deeply
convinced of any momentous truth without feeling in himself the
power as well as the desire of communicating it.

Montesinos.--True, Sir Thomas; but the perilous abuse of that
feeling by enthusiasts and fanatics leads to an error in the
opposite extreme.

We sacrifice too much to prudence; and, in fear of incurring the
danger or the reproach of enthusiasm, too often we stifle the
holiest impulses of the understanding and the heart.

"Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt."

- But I pray you, resume your discourse. The monasteries were
probably the chief palliatives of this great evil while they

Sir Thomas More.--Their power of palliating it was not great, for
the expenditure of those establishments kept a just pace with their
revenues. They accumulated no treasures, and never were any incomes
more beneficially employed. The great abbeys vied with each other
in architectural magnificence, in this more especially, but likewise
in every branch of liberal expenditure, giving employment to great
numbers, which was better than giving unearned food. They provided,
as it became them, for the old and helpless also. That they
prevented the necessity of raising rates for the poor by the copious
alms which they distributed, and by indiscriminately feeding the
indigent, has been inferred, because those rates became necessary
immediately after the suppression of the religious houses. But this
is one of those hasty inferences which have no other foundation than
a mere coincidence of time in the supposed cause and effect.

Montesinos.--For which you have furnished a proverbial illustration
in your excellent story of Tenterden Steeple and Goodwin Sands.

Sir Thomas More.--That illustration would have been buried in the
dust if it had not been repeated by Hugh Latimer at St. Paul's
Cross. It was the only thing in my writings by which he profited.
If he had learnt more from them he might have died in his bed, with
less satisfaction to himself and less honour from posterity. We
went different ways, but we came to the same end, and met where we
had little expectation of meeting. I must do him the justice to say
that when he forwarded the work of destruction it was with the hope
and intention of employing the materials in a better edifice; and
that no man opposed the sacrilegious temper of the age more bravely.
The monasteries, in the dissolution of which he rejoiced as much as
he regretted the infamous disposal of their spoils, delayed the
growth of pauperism, by the corrodies with which they were charged;
the effect of these reservations on the part of the founders and
benefactors being, that a comfortable and respectable support was
provided for those who grew old in the service of their respective
families; and there existed no great family, and perhaps no wealthy
one, which had not entitled itself thus to dispose of some of its
aged dependants. And the extent of the depopulating system was
limited while those houses endured: because though some of the
great abbots were not less rapacious than the lay lords, and more
criminal, the heads in general could not be led, like the nobles,
into a prodigal expenditure, the burthen of which fell always upon
the tenants; and rents in kind were to them more convenient than in
money, their whole economy being founded upon that system, and
adapted to it.

Montesinos.--Both facts and arguments were indeed strongly on your
side when you wrote against the supplication of beggars; but the
form in which you embodied them gave the adversary an advantage, for
it was connected with one of the greatest abuses and absurdities of
the Romish Church.

Sir Thomas More.--Montesinos, I allow you to call it an abuse; but
if you think any of the abuses of that church were in their origin
so unreasonable as to deserve the appellation of absurdities, you
must have studied its history with less consideration and a less
equitable spirit than I have given you credit for. Both Master Fish
and I had each our prejudices and errors. We were both sincere;
Master Fish would undoubtedly have gone to the stake in defence of
his opinions as cheerfully as I laid down my neck upon the block;
like his namesake in the tale which you have quoted, he too when in
Nix's frying-pan would have said he was in his duty, and content.
But withal he cannot be called an honest man, unless in that sort of
liberal signification by which, in these days, good words are so
detorted from their original and genuine meaning as to express
precisely the reverse of what was formerly intended by them. More
gross exaggerations and more rascally mis-statements could hardly be
made by one of your own thorough-paced revolutionists than those
upon which the whole argument of his supplication is built.

Montesinos.--If he had fallen into your hands you would have made a
stock-fish of him.

Sir Thomas More.--Perhaps so. I had not then I learnt that laying
men by the heels is not the best way of curing them of an error in
the head. But the King protected him. Henry had too much sagacity
not to perceive the consequences which such a book was likely to
produce, and he said, after perusing it, "If a man should pull down
an old stone wall, and begin at the bottom, the upper part thereof
might chance to fall upon his head." But he saw also that it tended
to serve his immediate purpose.

Montesinos.--I marvel that good old John Fox, upright, downright man
as he was, should have inserted in his "Acts and Monuments" a libel
like this, which contains no arguments except such as were adapted
to ignorance, cupidity, and malice.

Sir Thomas More.--Old John Fox ought to have known that, however
advantageous the dissolution of the monastic houses might be to the
views of the Reformers, it was every way injurious to the labouring
classes. As far as they were concerned, the transfer of property
was always to worse hands. The tenantry were deprived of their best
landlords, artificers of their best employers, the poor and
miserable of their best and surest friends. There would have been
no insurrections in behalf of the old religion if the zeal of the
peasantry had not been inflamed by a sore feeling of the injury
which they suffered in the change. A great increase of the vagabond
population was the direct and immediate consequence. They who were
ejected from their tenements or deprived of their accustomed
employment were turned loose upon society; and the greater number,
of course and of necessity, ran wild.

Montesinos.--Wild, indeed! The old chroniclers give a dreadful
picture of their numbers and of their wickedness, which called forth
and deserved the utmost severity of the law. They lived like
savages in the woods and wastes, committing the most atrocious
actions, stealing children, and burning, breaking, or otherwise
disfiguring their limbs for the purpose of exciting compassion, and
obtaining alms by this most flagitious of all imaginable crimes.
Surely we have nothing so bad as this.

Sir Thomas More.--The crime of stealing children for such purposes
is rendered exceedingly difficult by the ease and rapidity with
which a hue and cry can now be raised throughout the land, and the
eagerness and detestation with which the criminal would be pursued;
still, however, it is sometimes practised. In other respects the
professional beggars of the nineteenth century are not a whit better
than their predecessors of the sixteenth; and your gipsies and
travelling potters, who, gipsy-like, pitch their tents upon the
common, or by the wayside, retain with as much fidelity the manners
and morals of the old vagabonds as they do the cant, or pedlar's
French, which this class of people are said to have invented in the
age whereof we are now speaking.

Montesinos.--But the number of our vagabonds has greatly diminished.
In your Henry's reign it is affirmed that no fewer than 72,000
criminals were hanged; you have yourself described them as strung up
by scores upon a gibbet all over the country. Even in the golden
days of good Queen Bess the executions were from three to four
hundred annually. A large allowance must be made for the increased
humanity of the nation, and the humaner temper with which the laws
are administered: but the new crimes which increased wealth and a
system of credit on one hand, and increased ingenuity, and new means
of mischief on the part of the depredators have produced, must also
be taken into the account. And the result will show a diminution in
the number of those who prey upon society either by open war or
secret wiles.

Sir Thomas More.--Add your paupers to the list, and you will then
have added to it not less than an eighth of your whole population.
But looking at the depredators alone, perhaps it will be found that
the evil is at this time more widely extended, more intimately
connected with the constitution of society, like a chronic and
organic disease, and therefore more difficult of cure. Like other
vermin they are numerous in proportion as they find shelter; and for
this species of noxious beast large towns and manufacturing
districts afford better cover than the forest or the waste. The
fault lies in your institutions, which in the time of the Saxons
were better adapted to maintain security and order than they are
now. No man in those days could prey upon society unless he were at
war with it as an outlaw, a proclaimed and open enemy. Rude as the
laws were, the purposes of law had not then been perverted: it had
not been made a craft; it served to deter men from committing
crimes, or to punish them for the commission; never to shield
notorious, acknowledged, impudent guilt from condign punishment.
And in the fabric of society, imperfect as it was, the outline and
rudiments of what it ought to be were distinctly marked in some main
parts, where they are now well-nigh utterly effaced. Every person
had his place. There was a system of superintendence everywhere,
civil as well as religious. They who were born in villenage were
born to an inheritance of labour, but not of inevitable depravity
and wretchedness. If one class were regarded in some respects as
cattle they were at least taken care of; they were trained, fed,
sheltered and protected; and there was an eye upon them when they
strayed. None were wild, unless they ran wild wilfully, and in
defiance of control. None were beneath the notice of the priest,
nor placed out of the possible reach of his instruction and his
care. But how large a part of your population are like the dogs at
Lisbon and Constantinople, unowned, unbroken to any useful purpose,
subsisting by chance or by prey, living in filth, mischief, and
wretchedness, a nuisance to the community while they live, and dying
miserably at last! This evil had its beginning in my days; it is
now approaching fast to its consummation.


I had retired to my library as usual after dinner, and while I was
wishing for the appearance of my ghostly visitor he became visible.
"Behold me to your wish!" said he. "Thank you," I replied, "for
those precious words."

Sir Thomas More.--Wherefore precious?

Montesinos.--Because they show that spirits who are in bliss
perceive our thoughts;--that that communion with the departed for
which the heart yearns in its moods of intensest feeling is in
reality attained when it is desired.

Sir Thomas More.--You deduce a large inference from scanty premises.
As if it were not easy to know without any super-human intuition
that you would wish for the arrival of one whose company you like,
at a time when you were expecting it.

Montesinos.--And is this all?

Sir Thomas More.--All that the words necessarily imply. For the
rest, crede quod habeas et habes, according to the scurvy tale which
makes my friend Erasmus a horse-stealer, and fathers Latin rhymes
upon him. But let us take up the thread of our discourse, or, as we
used to say in old times, "begin it again and mend it, for it is
neither mass nor matins."

Montesinos.--You were saying that the evil of a vagrant and
brutalised population began in your days, and is approaching to its
consummation at this time.

Sir Thomas More.--The decay of the feudal system produced it. When
armies were no longer raised upon that system soldiers were
disbanded at the end of a war, as they are now: that is to say,
they were turned adrift to fare as they could--to work if they could
find employment; otherwise to beg, starve, live upon the alms of
their neighbours, or prey upon a wider community in a manner more
congenial to the habits and temper of their old vocation. In
consequence of the gains which were to be obtained by inclosures and
sheep-farming, families were unhoused and driven loose upon the
country. These persons, and they who were emancipated from
villenage, or who had in a more summary manner emancipated
themselves, multiplied in poverty and wretchedness. Lastly, owing
to the fashion for large households of retainers, great numbers of
men were trained up in an idle and dissolute way of life, liable at
any time to be cast off when age or accident invalided them, or when
the master of the family died; and then if not ashamed to beg, too
lewd to work, and ready for any kind of mischief. Owing to these
co-operating causes, a huge population of outcasts was produced,
numerous enough seriously to infest society, yet not so large as to
threaten its subversion.

Montesinos.--A derangement of the existing system produced them
then; they are a constituent part of the system now. With you they
were, as you have called them, outcasts: with us, to borrow an
illustration from foreign institutions, they have become a caste.
But during two centuries the evil appears to have decreased. Why
was this?

Sir Thomas More.--Because it was perceived to be an evil, and could
never at any time be mistaken for a healthful symptom. And because
circumstances tended to suspend its progress. The habits of these
unhappy persons being at first wholly predatory, the laws proclaimed
a sort of crusade against them, and great and inhuman riddance was
made by the executioner. Foreign service opened a drain in the
succeeding reigns: many also were drawn off by the spirit of
maritime adventure, preferring the high seas to the high way, as a
safer course of plundering. Then came an age of civil war, with its
large demand for human life. Meanwhile as the old arrangements of
society crumbled and decayed new ones were formed. The ancient
fabric was repaired in some parts and modernised in others. And
from the time of the Restoration the people supposed their
institutions to be stable because after long and violent convulsions
they found themselves at rest, and the transition which was then
going on was slow, silent, and unperceived. The process of
converting slaves and villeins into servants and free peasantry had
ended; that of raising a manufacturing populace and converting
peasantry into poor was but begun; and it proceeded slowly for a
full hundred years.

Montesinos.--Those hundred years were the happiest which England has
ever known.

Sir Thomas More.--Perhaps so: [Greek text which cannot be

Montesinos.--With the exception of the efforts which were made for
restoring the exiled family of the Stuarts they were years of quiet

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest