Page images


LETTERS ON THE EDUCATION OF HIS CHILDREN. Sir Thomas MORE—who, as member and speaker of the House of Commons, and Chancellor of England, and in other positions of trust and magistracy, proved himself eminently fit, incorruptible, and efficient ; and as son, husband, father, neighbor, and friend, was never surpassed in the exercise of those homely, graceful, and Christian qualities which make up the happiness of home and social life—was born in London in 1480, and to the everlasting discredit of all concerned in his trial and condemnation, was beheaded July 5, 1535,– the victim of the brutal lust and high-handed tyranny of Henry VIII.

The following description of the school, and the views of Sir Thomas More on the education of his children, and especially of his diughters, are taken from The Life of Sir Thomas More, by his grand8on, Cresacre More:

The Home School of Sir Thomas More. The school of Sir Thomas More's children was famous over the whole world; for that their wits were rare, their diligence extraordinary, and their masters most excellent men, as above the rest Doctor Clement, an excellent Grecian and physician, who was after-reader of the physic-lecture in Oxford, and set out many books of learning. After him one William Gunnell, who read after with great praise in Cambridge; and besides these, one Drue, one Nicholas, and after all, one Richard Hart, of whose rare learning and industry in this behalf, let us see what may be gathered out of Sir Thomas's letters unto them, and, first, to Mr. Gunnell, thus:

SIR THOMAS MORE TO MR. GUNNELL. I have received, my dear Gunnell, your letters, such as they are wont to be, most elegant, and full of affection. Your love towards my children I gather by your letter; their diligence by their own; for every one of their letters pleaseth nie very much, yet most cspecially I take joy to hear that my daughter Elizabeth hath showed as great modesty in her mother's absence, as any one could do, if she had been in presence; let her know that that thing liked me better than all the epistles besides; for as I esteem learning which is joined with virtue, more than all the treasures of kings; so what doth the fame of being a great scholar bring us, if it be severed from virtue, other than a notorious and famous infamy, especially in a woman, whom men will be ready the more willingly to assail for their learning, because it is a hard matter, and argueth a reproach to the sluggishness of a man, who will not stick to lay the fault of their natural malice upon the quality of learning, supposing that their own unskilfulness by comparing it with the vices of those that are learned, shall be accounted for virtue; but if any woman, on the contrary part (as I hope and wish by your own instruction and teaching all mine will do), shall join many virtues of the mind with a little skill of learning, I shall account this more happiness than if they were able to attain to Creesus' wcalth, joined with the beauty of fair Helen ; not because they were to get fame thereby, although that inseparably followeth all virtue, as shadow doth the body, but for that they should obtain by this the true reward of wisdom, which can never be taken away, as wealth may, nor will fade as beauty doth, because it dependeth of truth and justice, and not of the blasts of men's mouths, than which nothing is more foolish, nothing more pernicious ; for as it is the duty of a good man to eschew infamy, so it is not only the property of a proud man, but also of a wretched and ridiculous man to frame their actions only for praise; for that man's mind must needs be full of unquietness, that always wavers for fear of other men's judgments between joy and sadness. But amongst other the notable benefits which learning bestoweth upon men, I account this one of the most profitable, that in getting of learning, we look not for praise, to be accounted learned men, but only to use it on all occasions, which the best of all other learned men, I mcau the philosophers, those true moderators of men's actions, have delivered unto us from hand to hand, although some of them have abused their sciences, aiming only to be accounted excellent men by the people. Thus have I spoken, my Gunnell, somewhat the more of the not coveting of vain glory, in regard of those words in your letter, whereby you judge that the high spirit of my daughter Margaret's wit is not to be dejected, wherein I am of the same opinion that you are, but I think (as I doubt not but you are of the same mind) that he doth deject his generous wit, whosoever accustometh himself to admire vain and base objects, and he raiseth well his spirits, that embraceth virtue and true good. They are base-minded, indeed, that esteem the shadow of good things (which most men greedily snatch at, for want of discretion to judge true good from apparent), rather than the truth itself. And, therefore, secing I hold this the best way for them to walk in, I have not only requested you, my dear Gunnell, whom of yourself I knowe would have done it out of the entire affection you bear unto them; neither have I desired my wife alone, whom her motherly piety by me often and many ways tried, doth stir them up thereto, but also all other my friends I have entreated many times to persuade all my children to this, that avoiding all the gulfs and downful's of pride, they walk through the pleasant meadows of modesty, that they never be enamored of the glistening hue of gold and silver, nor lament for the want of those things which, hy error, they admire in others; that they think no better of themselves for all their costly trimmings, nor any meaner for the want of them; not to lessen their beauty by neglecting it, which they hare by nature, nor to make it any more by unseemly art; to think virtue their chief happiness, learning and good qualities the next, of which those are especially to be learned which will avail them most; that is to say, piety towards God, charity towards all men, modesty and Christian humility in themselves, by which they shall reap from God the reward of an innocent life, by certain confidence thercof they shall not need to fear death, and in the meanwhile enjoying true alacrity, they shall neither be puffed up with the vain praises of men, nor dejected by any slander of disgrace; these I cstcem the truc and solid fruits of learning; which, as they happen not, I confess to all that are learned, so those may easily attain them who begin to study with this intent; peither is there any difference in harvest time, whether he was man or woman that sowed first the corn; for both of them bear name of a reasonable crcature equally, whose nature reason onlý doth distinguish from brute beasts, and, therefore, I do not sce why learning, in like manner, may not equally agrec

with both sexes; for by it, reason is cultivated, and (as a field) sowed with the wholesome sced of good precepts, it bringeth forth an excellent fruit. But if the soil of woman's brain be of its own nature bad, and apter to bear sc:n than corn (by which saying many do terrify women from learning), I am of opinion, therefore, that a woman's wit is the more diligently by good instructions and learning to be manured, to the end, the defect of nature may be redressed by industry. Of which mind were also many wise and holy ancient fathers, as, to omit others, S. Ilierome and S. Augustine, who not only exhorted many noble matroas and honorable virgins to the getting of learning,

[ocr errors]

but also to further them therein, they diligently expounded unto them many hard places of Scriptures ; yea, wrote many letters unto tender maids, full of 80 great learning, that scarcely our old and greatest professors of divinity can well read them, much less be able to understand them perfectly; which Holy Saints' work you will endeavor, my learned Gunnell, of your courtesy, that my daughters may learn, whereby they may chiefly know what end they ought ! to have in their learning to place the fruits of their labors in God, and a true conscience, by which it will be easily brought to pass, that being at peace within themselves, they shall neither be moved with praise of fløfterers, nor the nipping follies of unlearned scoffers. But methinks I hear you reply, that though these, my precepts, be true, yet are they too strong and hard for the tender age of my young wenches to hearken to; for what man, be he never so aged or expert in any science, is so constant or staid, that he is not a little stirred up with the tickling vanity of glory? And for my part, I esteem that the harder it is to shake from us this plague of pride, so much the more ought every one to endeavor to do it from his very infancy. And I think there is no other cause why this almost inevitable mischief doth stick so fast in our breasts, but for that it is ingrafted in our tender minds, even by our nurses, as soon as we are crept out of our shells; it is fostered by our masters, it is nourished and perfected by our parents, whilst that nobody propoundeth any good thing to children, but they presently bid them expect praise as the whole reward of virtue; and hence it is that they are so much accustomed to esteem much of honor and praise, that by seeking to please the worst, who are always the worst, they are still ashamed to be good with the fewest. That this plague may the farther be banished from my children, I earnestly desire that you, my dear Gunnell, their mother and all their friends, would still sing this song unto them: hammer it always in their heads, and inculcate it unto them upon all occasions, that vain glory is abject, and to he despised ; neither anything to be more worthy or excellent than that humble modesty, which is so much praised by Christ; the which prudent charity will so guide and direct, that it will teach us to desire virtue rather than to upbraid others for their vices, and will procure rather to love them who admonish us of our faults, than to hate them for their wholesome counsel. To the obtaining whercof nothing is more available than to read unto them the wholesome precepts of the fathers, whom they know not to be angry with them, and they must needs be vehemently moved with their authorities, because they are venerable for their sanctity. If, therefore, you read any such thing unto Margaret and Elizabeth besides their lessons in Tallust, for they are of riper judgment, by reason of their age, than John and Cecily, you shall make both me and them every day more bound unto you; moreover, you shall hereby procure my children being dear by nature, after this more dear for learning, but by their increase of good manners, most dear unto me. Farewell. From the Court this Whitsun-Eve.


Thomas MORE, to his whole School, sendeth Greeting :—Behold how I have found out a compendious way to salute you all, and make spare of time and paper, which I must needs have wasted in saluting every one of you, particularly by your names, which would be very superfluous, because you are all so dear unto me, some in one respect, some in another, that I can omit none of you unsaluted. Yet I know not whether there can be any better motive why I should love you than because you are scholars, learning seeming to bind me more straitly unto you than the nearness of blood. I rejoice, therefore, that Mr. Drue is returned safe, of whose safety you know I was careful. If I loved you not so much, I should envy this, your so great happiness to

have had so many great scholars for your masters. For I think Mr. Nicholas is with you also, and that you have learned of him much astronomy; so that I hear you have proceeded so far in this science that you now know not only the pole-star or dog, and such like of the common constellations, but also (which argueth an absolute and cunning astronomer) in the chief planets themselves, you are able to discern the sun from the moon. Go forward, therefore, with this, your new and admirable skill, by which you do thus climb up to the stars, which, whilst you daily admire, in the meanwhile I admonish you also to think of this Holy Fast of Lent, and let that excellent and pious song of Boethius sound in your ears, whereby you are taught also with your minds to penetrate heaven, lest when the body is lifted up on high, the soul be driven down to the earth with the brute beasts. Farewell. From the Court this 23d of March,

Thomas More to his best beloved children, and to Margaret Giggs, whom he num

bereth amongst his own, sendeth Greeting : The merchant of Bristow brought unto me your letters the next day after he had received them of you, with the which I was exceedingly delighted; for there can come nothing, yea, though it were never so rude, never so meanly polished, from this your shop, but it procureth me more delight than any other's works, be they never so eloquent; your writing doth so stir up my ailection towards you; but excluding this, your letters may also very well please me for their own worth, being full of fine wit, and of a pure Latin phrase. Therefore, none of them all but joyed me exceedingly; yet to tell you ingenuously what I think, my son John's letter pleased me best, both because it was longer than the other, as also for that he seemeth to have taken more pains than the rest; for lie not only painteth out the matter decently, and speaketh elegantly, but he playeth also pleasantly with me, and returneth my jests upon me again very wittily; and this he doth not only pleasantly, but temperately withal, showing that he is mindful with whom he jesteth, to wit, his father, whom he endeavoreth so to delight, that he is also afeared to offend. Hereafter I expect every day letters from every one of you; neither will I accept such excuses as you complain of, that you had no leisure, or that the carrier went away suddenly, or that you have no matter to write; John is not wont to allege any such things; nothing can hinder you from writing, but many things may exhort you thereto; why should you lay any fault upon the carrier, seeing you may prevent his coming, and have them ready made up and sealed two days before any offer themselves to carry them? And how can you want matter of writing unto me, who am delighted to hear either of your studies or of your play; whom you may even then please exceedingly, when, having nothing to write of, you write as largely as you can of that nothing, than which nothing is more easy for you to do, especially being women, and, therefore, prattlers by nature, and amongst whom, daily, a great story riseth of nothing? But this I admonish you to do, that whether you write of, serious matters or of trifles, you write with diligence and consideration, premeditating of it before; neither will it be amiss if you first indite it in English, for then it may more easily be translated into Latin, whilst the mind, free from inventing, is attentive to find apt and eloquent words. And although I put this to your choice, whether you will do so or no, yet I enjoin you by all means, that you diligently examine what you have written, before yon write it over fair again, first considering attentively the whole sentence; and after examine every part thereof, by which means you may easily find out if any solecisms have escaped you; which being put out, and your letter written fair, yet then let it not also trouble you to examine it over again; for sometimes the same faults creep in at the second writing, which you before had blotted out. By this your diligence you will procure, that those your trifles will seem serious matters. For as nothing is so pleasing but may be made unsavory by prating garrulity, so nothing is by nature so unpleasant that, by industry, may not be made full of grace and pleasantness. Farewell, my sweetest children. From the Court, this 3d of September.

SIR THOMAS MORE TO HIS DAUGHTER MARGARET. Thy letters (dearest Margaret) were grateful unto me, which certified me of the state of Shaw; yet would they have been more grateful unto me if they had told me what your and your brother's studies were, what is read amongst you every day, how pleasantly you confer together, what themes you make, and how you pass the day away amongst you in the sweet fruits of learning. And although nothing is written from you but it is most pleasing unto me, yet those things are most sugared sweet which I cannot learn of but by you or your brother. (And in the end :) I pray thee, Meg, see that I understand by you what your studies are; for rather than I would suffer yon, my children, to live idly, I would myself look unto you, with the loss of my temporal estate, bidding all other cares and business farewell, amongst which there is nothing more sweet unto me than thyself, my dearest daughter. Farewell.


Thomas More sendeth greeting to his most dear daughters, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Cecily; and to Margaret Giggs, as dear to him as if she were his own.

I cannot sufficiently express, my best beloved wenches, how your eloquent letters have exceedingly pleased me; and this is not the least cause that, I understand by them, you have not in your journeys, though you change places often, omitted anything of your custom of exercising yourselves, either in making of declamations, composing of verses, or in your logic exercises; by this 1 persuade myself that you dearly love me, because I see you have so great a care to please me by your diligence in my absence as to perform these things, which you know how grateful they are unto me in my presence. And as I find this your mind and affection so much to delight me, so will I procure that my return shall be profitable unto you. And persuade yourselves that there is nothing amongst these my troublesome and careful affairs, that recreateth me so much as when I read somewhat of your labors, by which I understand those things to be true which your most loving master writeth so lovingly of you, that unless your own epistles did show evidently unto me how earnest your desire is towards learning, I should bave judged that he had rather written of affection than according to the truth ; but now by these that you write, you make him to be believed, and me to imagine those things to be true of your witty and acute disputations, which he boasteth of you almost above all belief. I am, therefore, marvellous desirous to come home, that we may hear them, and set our scholar to dispute with you, who is slow to believe, yea, out of all hope or conceit, to find you able to be answerable to your master's praises. But I hope, knowing how steadfast you are in your affections, that you will shortly overcome your master, if not in disputing, at least in not leaving of your strife. Farewell, dear wenches.

And thus you may conjecture how learned his daughters were; to whom, for this respect, Erasmus dedicated his commentary upon Ovid's "De Nuce." Lewis Vives also writeth great commendations of this school of Sir Thomas More's, in his book to Queen Catherine of England. And both Erasmus dedicated Aristotle in Greek, and Simon Grineus, who, although an heretic, yet, in respect of his learning, had been kindly used by Sir Thomas More, as he

« EelmineJätka »