Thomas More

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More, Thomas

 

Born Feb. 7, 1478, in London; died there July 6, 1535. English humanist, statesman, and writer; founder of Utopian socialism. Son of a judge.

From 1492 to 1494, More studied at Oxford University; he joined a circle known as the Oxford reformers, whose members included J. Colet, T. Linacre, and W. Grocyn. More studied English common law at Lincoln’s Inn from 1496 to 1501. At the end of the 1490’s he met Erasmus of Rotterdam, who became one of his closest friends. Erasmus’ Praise of Folly was written in More’s home and dedicated to him. In 1504, More became a representative of the London merchant class in Parliament. Because he expressed his opposition to Henry VII’s arbitrary tax policy, he fell into disgrace. With the accession of Henry VIII to the throne in 1509, he resumed his political career, becoming undersheriff of London in 1510 and a member of the king’s council in 1518. He was chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 1525 to 1529, and chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532.

More responded negatively to the Lutheran Reformation, which he considered a threat to Christian unity. A Catholic and, consequently, a supporter of the supreme authority of the pope, he refused to swear allegiance to the king as the supreme head of the English church. For this he was charged with treason, imprisoned in the Tower of London (1534), and executed. In 1886 he was beatified by the Catholic Church, and in 1935, canonized.

More’s numerous anti-Protestant polemical treatises and meditations on religious themes (The Four Last Things, Supplication of Souls, Apology, and Dialogue Concerning Heresies, for example) influenced the art of English rhetoric (the sermons of A. Marvell and J. Donne), as well as the development of J. Swift’s style. He translated from Latin into English a biography of G. Pico della Mirandola (1510), whose personality and tragic fate he considered instructive for church reformers. His unfinished History of King Richard III (1531), one of the best works in English Renaissance prose, was a secondary source for Shakespeare’s drama.

More is especially famous for the dialogue Utopia (1516; Russian translation, 1789), which describes the ideal society on the imaginary island of Utopia. (The word “utopia,” from the Greek meaning “nowhere” or “nonexistent place,” was coined by More and subsequently entered English usage.) He was the first to describe a society in which private property (even personal property) has been abolished, equality of consumption has been introduced (as in the early Christian communes), and production and the way of life have been socialized. In Utopia labor is required of all citizens, distribution is based on need, and there is a six-hour workday. Criminals do the heaviest work. The political system of Utopia is based on the principles of election and seniority. The family, a cell for the communist way of life, is organized more as a productive unit than as a kinship unit. An opponent of popular movements, which he associated with anarchy and destruction, More did not believe that the ideal society would be achieved through revolution. Utopia, which was written in Latin for humanist scholars and enlightened monarchs, was translated into other European languages in the mid-16th century. It greatly influenced reformers of subsequent centuries, especially Morelly, G. Babeuf, Saint-Simon, C. Fourier, E. Cabet, and other representatives of Utopian socialism.

WORKS

Complete Works. New Haven-London, 1963—.
The Correspondence. Edited by E. F. Rogers. Princeton, N. J., 1947.

REFERENCES

Tarle, E. V. Obshchestvennye vozzreniia T. Mora v sviazi s ekonomicheskim sostoianiem Anglii ego vremeni. St. Petersburg, 1901.
Kautsky, K. T. Mor i ego utopiia. Moscow, 1924. (Translated from German.)
Alekseev, M. P. Slavianskie istochniki “Utopii” T. Mora. Moscow, 1955.
Bridgett, T. E. Life and Writings of Sir Thomas More. Ann Arbor-London, 1962.
Chambers, R. W. T. More. London, 1963.
Campbell, W. E. More’s Utopia and His Social Teaching. London, 1930.
Donner, H. W. Introduction to Utopia. Uppsala, 1945.
Surtz, E. L. The Praise of Wisdom. Chicago, 1957.
Sullivan, F., and M. P. Sullivan. Moreana, 1478–1945. Kansas City, 1946.
Sullivan, F. Sir T. More: A First Bibliographical Notebook. Los Angeles, 1953.
Johnson, R. S. More’s Utopia: Ideal and Illusion. New Haven-London, 1969.
St. Thomas More, Action and Contemplation: Proceedings of the Symposium. New Haven-London, 1972.

V. S. MURAV’EV