Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
How far Is Recreation lawful?
By Sir Thomas More (14781535)
From A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation
ANTHONY AND VINCENTUNCLE AND NEPHEW.
Vincent.And first, good Uncle, ere we proceed farther, I will be bold to move you one thing more of that we talked when I was here before. For when I revolved in my mind again the things that were concluded here by you, methought ye would in no wise that in any tribulation men should seek for comfort, either in worldly things or fleshly, which mind, Uncle, of yours, seemeth somewhat hard, for a merry tale with a friend, refresheth a man much, and without any harm lighteth his mind and amendeth his courage and his stomach, so that it seemeth but well done to take such recreation. And Solomon saith I trow, that men should in heaviness give the sorry man wine to make him forget his sorrow. And Saint Thomas saith, that proper pleasant talking, which is called [Greek], is a good virtue serving to refresh the mind and make it quick and lusty to labour and study again, where continual fatigation would make it dull and deadly.
Anthony.Cousin, I forgat not that point, but I longed not much to touch it, for neither might I well utterly forbear it, where the case might hap to fall that it should not hurt, and on the other side, if the case so should fall, methought yet it should little need to give any man counsel to it; folk are prone enough to such fantasies of their own mind. You may see this by ourself, which coming now together, to talk of as earnest sad matter as men can devise, were fallen yet even at the first into wanton idle tales: and of truth, Cousin, as you know very well, myself am of nature even half a giglot1 and more. I would I could as easily mend my fault as I well know it, but scant can I refrain it, as old a fool as I am: howbeit so partial will I not be to my fault as to praise it. But for that you require my mind in the matter, whether men in tribulation may not lawfully seek recreation and comfort themselves, with some honest mirth, first agreed that our chief comfort must be in God, and that with him we must begin, and with him continue, and with him end also. A man to take now and then some honest worldly mirth, I dare not be so sore as utterly to forbid it, sith good men and well learned, have in some case allowed it, specially for the diversity of divers mens minds: for else if we were all such, as would God we were, and such as natural wisdom would we should be, and it is not all clean excuseable that we be not in deed: I would then put do nought, but that unto any man the most comfortable talking that could be, were to hear of Heaven. Whereas now, God help us, our wretchedness is such that in talking a while thereof, men wax almost weary, and as though to hear of Heaven were an heavy burthen, they must refresh themselves with a foolish tale. Our affection toward heavenly joys waxeth wonderful cold. If dread of hell were as far gone, very few would fear God, but that yet a little sticketh in our stomachs. Mark me, Cousin, at the sermon, and commonly towards the end, somewhat the preacher speaketh of hell and Heaven: now while he preacheth of the pains of hell, still they stand and yet give him the hearing. But as soon as he cometh to the joys of Heaven, they be busking them backward and flockmeal2 fall away. It is in the soul somewhat as it is in the body. Some are there of nature or of evil custom come to that point, that a worse thing sometimes more steadeth3 them than a better.
Some man if he be sick, can away with no wholesome meat, nor no medicine can go down with him, but if it be tempered with some such thing for his fantasy as maketh the meat or the medicine less wholesome than it should be. And yet while it will be no better, we must let him have it so. Cassianus, the very virtuous, rehearseth in a certain collection of his that a certain holy father in making of a sermon, spake of heaven and heavenly things, so celestially, that much of his audience with the sweet sound thereof, began to forget all the world and fall asleep: which when the father beheld, he dissembled their sleeping and suddenly said unto them, I shall tell you a merry tale. At which word they lift up their heads and hearkened unto that: and after the sleep therewith broken, heard him tell on of Heaven again. In what wise that good father rebuked then their untoward minds so dull unto the thing that all our life we labour for, and so quick and lusty toward other trifles, I neither bear in mind, nor shall here need to rehearse. But thus much of that matter sufficeth for our purpose, that whereas you demand me whether in tribulation men may not sometimes refresh themselves with worldly mirth and recreation, I can no more say, but he that cannot long endure to hold up his head and hear talking of Heaven, except he be now and then between (as though Heaven were heaviness) refreshed with a merry foolish tale, there is none other remedy but you must let him have it: better would I wish it, but I cannot help it. Howbeit, let us, by mine advice, at the leastwise make those kinds of recreation as short and as seldom as we can; let them serve us but for sauce, and make them not our meat, and let us pray unto God, and all our good friends for us, that we may feel such a savour in the delight of Heaven, that in respect of the talking of the joys thereof, all worldly recreation be but a grief to think on. And be sure, cousin, that if we might once purchase the grace to come to that point, we never found of worldly recreation so much comfort in a year, as we should find in the bethinking us of Heaven in less than half an hour.
Vincent.In faith, Uncle, I can well agree to this; and I pray God bring us once to take such a savour in it: and surely as you began the other day, by faith must we come to it, and to faith by prayer.