Fiction > Harvard Classics > Sir Thomas More > Utopia
Sir Thomas More (1478–1535).  Utopia.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
The Second Book
Of Bondmen, Sick Persons, Wedlock, and divers other matters
THEY neither make bondmen of prisoners taken in battle, unless it be in battle that they fought themselves, nor of bondmen’s children, nor to be short, any man whom they can get out of another country, though he were there a bondman. But either such as among themselves for heinous offences be punished with bondage, or else such as in the cities of other lands for great trespasses be condemned to death. And of this sort of bondmen they have most store.  1
  For many of them they bring home sometimes paying very little for them, yea most commonly getting them gratis. These sorts of bondmen they keep not only in continual work and labour, but also in bands. But their own men they handle hardest, whom they judge more desperate, and to have deserved greater punishment, because they being so godly brought up to virtue in so excellent a commonwealth, could not for all that be refrained from misdoing. Another kind of bondmen they have, when a vile drudge being a poor labourer in another country doth choose of his own free will to be a bondman among them. These they handle and order honestly, and entertain almost as gently as their own free citizens, saving that they put them to a little more labour, as thereto accustomed. If any such be disposed to depart thence (which seldom is seen) they neither hold him against his will, neither send him away with empty hands. The sick (as I said) they see to with great affection, and let nothing at all pass concerning either physic or good diet whereby they may be restored again to their health. Them that be sick of incurable diseases they comfort with sitting by them, with talking with them, and to be short, with all manner of helps that may be. But if the disease be not only incurable, but also full of continual pain and anguish; then the priests and the magistrates exhort the man, seeing he is not able to do any duty of life, and by overliving his own death is noisome and irksome to other, and grievous to himself, that he will determine with himself no longer to cherish that pestilent and painful disease. And seeing his life is to him but a torment, that he will not be unwilling to die, but rather take a good hope to him, and either despatch himself out of that painful life, as out of a prison, or a rack of torment, or else suffer himself willingly to be rid out of it by other. And in so doing they tell him he shall do wisely, seeing by his death he shall lose no commodity, but end his pain. And because in that act he shall follow the counsel of the priests, that is to say, of the interpreters of God’s will and pleasure, they show him that he shall do like a godly and a virtuous man. They that be thus persuaded, finish their lives willingly, either with hunger, or else die in their sleep without any feeling of death. But they cause none such to die against his will, nor they use no less diligence and attendance about him, believing this to be an honourable death. Else he that killeth himself before that the priests and the council have allowed the cause of his death, him as unworthy both of the earth and of fire, they cast unburied into some stinking marsh. The woman is not married before she be eighteen years old. The man is four years older before he marry.  2
  If either the man or the woman be proved to have bodily offended before their marriage with another, he or she whether it be is sharply punished. And both the offenders be forbidden ever after in all their life to marry: unless the fault be forgiven by the prince’s pardon. But both the goodman and the goodwife of the house where that offence was done, as being slack and negligent in looking to their charge, be in danger of great reproach and infamy. That offence is so sharply punished, because they perceive, that unless they be diligently kept from the liberty of this vice, few will join together in the love of marriage, wherein all the life must be led with one, and also all the griefs and displeasures that come therewith must patiently be taken and borne. Furthermore in choosing wives and husbands they observe earnestly and straitly a custom, which seemed to us very fond and foolish. For a sad and an honest matron showeth the woman, be she maid or widow, naked to the wooer. And likewise a sage and discreet man exhibiteth the wooer naked to the woman. At this custom we laughed and disallowed it as foolish. But they on the other part do greatly wonder at the folly of all other nations, which in buying a colt, whereas a little money is in hazard, be so chary and circumspect, that though he be almost all bare, yet they will not buy him, unless the saddle and all the harness be taken off, lest under those coverings be hid some gall or sore. And yet in choosing a wife, which shall be either pleasure, or displeasure to them all their life after, they be so reckless, that all the residue of the woman’s body being covered with clothes, they esteem her scarcely by one hand-breadth (for they can see no more but her face), and so do join her to them not without great jeopardy of evil agreeing together, if anything in her body afterward do offend and mislike them.  3
  For all men be not so wise, as to have respect to the virtuous conditions of the party. And the endowments of the body cause the virtues of the mind more to be esteemed and regarded: yea even in the marriages of wise men. Verily so foul deformity may be hid under those coverings, that it may quite alienate and take away the man’s mind from his wife, when it shall not be lawful for their bodies to be separate again. If such deformity happen by any chance after the marriage in consummate and finished, well, there is no remedy but patience. Every man must take his fortune, well-a-worth. But it were well done that a law were made whereby all such deceits might be eschewed and avoided beforehand.  4
  And this were they constrained more earnestly to look upon, because they only of the nations in that part of the world be content every man with one wife apiece.  5
  And matrimony is there never broken, but by death; except adultery break the bond, or else the intolerable wayward manners of either party. For if either of them find themselves for any such cause grieved, they may by the licence of the council change and take another. But the other party liveth ever after in infamy and out of wedlock. But for the husband to put way his wife for no fault, but for that some mishap is fallen to her body, this by no means they will suffer. For they judge it a great point of cruelty, that anybody in their most need of help and comfort should be cast off and forsaken, and that old age, which both bringeth sickness with it, and is a sickness itself, should unkindly and unfaithfully be dealth withal. But now and then it chanceth, whereas the man and the woman cannot well agree between themselves, both of them finding other, with whom they hope to live more quietly and merrily, that they by the full consent of them both be divorced asunder and new married to other. But that not without the authority of the council; which agreeth to no divorces, before they and their wives have diligently tried and examined the matter. Yea and then also they be loath to consent to it, because they know this to be the next way to break love between man and wife, to be in easy hope of a new marriage. Breakers of wedlock be punished with most grievous bondage. And if both the offenders were married, then the parties which in that behalf have suffered wrong, be divorced from the adulterers, if they will, and be married together, or else to whom they list. But if either of them both do still continue in love toward so unkind a bedfellow, the use of wedlock is not to them forbidden, if the party be disposed to follow in toiling and drudgery the person which for that offence is condemned to bondage. And very oft it chanceth that the repentance of the one, and the earnest diligence of the other, doth so move the prince with pity and compassion, that he restoreth the bond person from servitude to liberty and freedom again. But if the same party be taken again in that fault there is no other way but death. To other trespassers there is no prescript punishment appointed by any law. But according to the heinousness of the offence, or contrary, so the punishment is moderated by the discretion of the council. The husbands chastise their wives, and the parents their children, unless they have done any so horrible an offence, that the open punishment thereof maketh much for the advancement of honest manners. But most commonly the most heinous faults be punished with the incommodity of bondage. For that they suppose to be to the offenders no less grief, and to the commonwealth more profitable, than if they should hastily put them to death, and make them out of the way. For there cometh more profit of their labour, than of their death, and by their example they fear other the longer from like offences. But if they being thus used, do rebel and kick again, then forsooth they be slain as desperate and wild beasts, whom neither prison nor chain could restrain and keep under. But they which take their bondage patiently be not left all hopeless. For after they have been broken and tamed with long miseries, if then they show such repentance, whereby it may be perceived that they be sorrier for their offence than for their punishment, sometimes by the prince’s prerogative, and sometimes by the voice and consent of the people, their bondage either is mitigated, or else clean remitted and forgiven. He that moveth to adultery is in no less danger and jeopardy than if he had committed adultery indeed. For in all offences they count the intent and pretensed purpose as evil as the act or deed itself, for they think that no let ought to excuse him that did his best to have no let. They set great store by fools. And as it is great reproach to do to any of them hurt or injury, so they prohibit not to take pleasure of foolishness. For that, they think, doth much good to the fools. And if any man be so sad and stern, that he cannot laugh neither at their words, nor at their deeds, none of them be committed to his tuition; for fear lest he would not order them gently and favourably enough, to whom they should bring no delectation (for other goodness in them in none) much less any profit should they yield him. To mock a man for his deformity, or for that he lacketh any part or limb of his body, is counted great dishonesty and reproach, not to him that is mocked, but to him that mocketh. Which unwisely doth upbraid any man of that as a vice which was not in his power to eschew. Also as they count and reckon very little wit to be in him, that regardeth not natural beauty and comeliness, so to help the same with paintings, is taken for a vain and a wanton pride, not without great infamy. For they know, even by very experience, that no comeliness of beauty doth so highly commend and advance the wives in the conceit of their husbands, as honest conditions and lowliness. For as love is oftentimes won with beauty, so it is not kept, preserved and continued, but by virtue and obedience. They do not only fear their people from doing evil by punishments, but also allure them to virtue with rewards of honour. Therefore they set up in the marketplace the images of notable men, and of such as have been great and bountiful benefactors to the commonwealth, for the perpetual memory of their good acts, and also that the glory and renown of the ancestors may stir and provoke their posterity to virtue. He that inordinately and ambitiously desireth promotions is left all hopeless for ever attaining any promotion as long as he liveth. They live together lovingly. For no magistrate is either haughty or fearful. Fathers they be called, and like fathers they use themselves. The citizens (as it is their duty) do willingly exhibit unto them due honour without any compulsion. Nor the prince himself is not known from the other by his apparel, nor by a crown or diadem, or cap of maintenance, but by a little sheaf of corn carried before him. And so a taper of wax is borne before the bishop, whereby only he is known. They have but few laws. For to people so instruct and institute very few do suffice. Yea this thing they chiefly reprove among other nations, that innumerable books of laws and expositions upon the same be not sufficient. But they think it against all right and justice that men should be bound to those laws, which either be in number more than be able to be read, or else blinder and darker, than that any man can well understand them. Furthermore they utterly exclude and banish all proctors, and sergeants at the law; which craftily handle matters, and subtly dispute of the laws. For they think it most meet, that every man should plead his own matter, and tell the same tale before the judge that he would tell to his man of law. So shall there be less circumstance of words, and the truth shall sooner come to light, whiles the judge with a discreet judgment doth weigh the words of him whom no lawyer hath instruct with deceit, and whiles he helpeth and beareth out simple wits against the false and malicious circumventions of crafty children. This is hard to be observed in other countries, in so infinite a number of blind and intricate laws. But in Utopia every man is a cunning lawyer. For (as I said) they have very few laws; and the plainer and grosser that any interpretation is, that they allow as most just. For all laws (say they) be made and published only to the intent that by them every man should be put in remembrance of his duty. But the crafty and subtle interpretation of them can put very few in that remembrance (for they be but few that do perceive them), whereas the simple, the plain and gross meaning of the laws is open to every man.  6
  Else as touching the vulgar sort of the people, which be both most in number, and have most need to know their duties, were it not as good for them, that no law were made at all, as when it is made, to bring so blind an interpretation upon it, that without great wit and long arguing no man can discuss it? To the finding out whereof neither the gross judgment of the people can attain, neither the whole life of them that be occupied in working for their livings can suffice thereto. These virtues of the Utopians have caused their next neighbours and borderers, which live free and under no subjection (for the Utopians long ago, have delivered many of them from tyranny) to take magistrates of them, some for a year, and some for five years’ space. Which when the time of their office is expired, they bring home again with honour and praise, and take new ones again with them into their country. These nations have undoubtedly very well and wholesomely provided for their commonwealths. For seeing that both the making and the marring of the weal public doth depend and hang upon the manners of the rulers and magistrates, what officers could they more wisely have chosen, than those which cannot be led from honesty by bribes (for to them that shortly after shall depart thence into their own country money should be unprofitable) nor yet be moved either with favour, or malice towards any man, as being strangers, and unacquainted with the people? The which two vices of affection and avarice, where they take place in judgments, incontinent they break justice, the strongest and surest bond of a commonwealth. These peoples which fetch their officers and rulers from them, the Utopians call their fellows. And other to whom they have been beneficial, they call their friends. As touching leagues, which in other places between country and country be so oft concluded, broken and made again, they never make none with any nation. For to what purpose serve leagues? say they. As though nature had not set sufficient love between man and man. And who so regardeth not nature, think you that he will pass for words? they be brought into this opinion chiefly, because that in those parts of the words, leagues between princes be wont to be kept and observed very slenderly. For here in Europe, and especially in these parts where the faith and religion of Christ reigneth, the majesty of leagues is everywhere esteemed holy and inviolable, partly through the justice and goodness of princes, and partly through the reverence of great bishops. Which like as they make no promise themselves but they do very religiously perform the same, so they exhort all princes in any wise to abide by their promises, and them that refuse or deny so to do, by their pontifical power and authority they compel thereto. And surely they think well that it might seem a very reproachful thing, if in the leagues of them which by a peculiar name be called faithful, faith should have no place. But in that new found part of the world, which is so scarcely far from us beyond the line equinoctial as our life and manners be dissident from theirs, no trust nor confidence is in leagues. But the more and holier ceremonies the league is knit up with, the sooner it is broken by some cavillation found in the words, which many times of purpose be so craftily put in and placed, that the bands can never be so sure nor so strong, but they will find some hole open to creep out at, and to break both league and truth. The which crafty dealing, yea the which fraud and deceit, if they should know it to be practised among private men in their bargains and contracts, they would incontinent cry out at it with a sour countenance, as an offence most detestable, and worthy to be punished with a shameful death: yea even very they that advance themselves authors of like council given to princes. Wherefore it may well be thought, either that all justice is but a base and a low virtue, and which abaseth itself far under the high dignity of kings; or at the leastwise, that there be two justices, the one meet for the inferior sort of the people, going afoot and creeping below on the ground, and bound down on every side with many bands because it shall not run at rovers; the other a princely virtue, which like as it is of much higher majesty than the other poor justice, so also it is of much more liberty, as to the which nothing is unlawful that it lusteth after. These manners of princes (as I said) which be there so evil keepers of leagues, cause the Utopians, as I suppose, to make no leagues at all, which perchance would change their mind of they lived here. Howbeit they think that though leagues be never so faithfully observed and kept, yet the custom of making leagues was very evil begun. For this causeth men (as though nations which be separate asunder, by the space of a little hill or a river, were coupled together by no society or bond of nature) to think themselves born adversaries and enemies one to another, and that it is lawful for the one to seek the death and destruction of the other, if leagues were not: yea, and that after the leagues be accorded, friendship doth not grow and increase; but the licence of robbing and stealing doth still remain, as farforth as for lack of foresight and advisement in writing the words of the league, any sentence or clause to the contrary is not therein sufficiently comprehended. But they be of a contrary opinion. That is, that no man ought to be counted an enemy, which hath done no injury. And that the fellowship of nature is a strong league; and that men be better and more surely knit together by love and benevolence, than by covenants of leagues; by hearty affection of mind, than by words.  7

Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors