| English Literature for Boys and Girls|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Delightful introduction to the writers of English literature whose works hold the greatest appeal for the youthful reader. The life and personality of each author is given in outline, with enough material quoted from his works to give an idea of what he wrote. For most authors suggestions for further reading are included. The outline of historical background enables the young reader to grasp the connection between the literature and the life of the time. Excellent as a companion to a chronological study of English literature. Ages 12-15 |
THE LAND OF NOWHERE
 WHILE the New Learning was stirring England, and Greek was being
for the first time taught in Oxford, a young student of fourteen
came to the University there. This student was named Thomas
More. He was the son of a lawyer who became a judge, and as a
little boy he had been a page in the household of Morton, the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Archbishop was quick to see that the boy was clever. "This
child here waiting at the table, whoever will live to see it,
will prove a marvellous man,"
he would say. And so he persuaded
More's father to send the boy to Oxford to study law.
Thomas remained only two years at Oxford, for old Sir John,
fearing he was learning too much Greek and literature and not
enough law, called his son home and sent him to study law in
London. It must have been a disappointment to the boy to be
taken from the clever friends he had made in Oxford, and from the
books and studies that he loved, to be set instead to read dry
law-books. But Thomas More was most sunny-tempered. Nothing
made him sulky or cross. So now he settled down quietly to his
new life, and in a very short time became a famous and learned
In was after More left Oxford that he met the man who became his
dearest friend. This was Desiderius
 Erasmus, a learned Dutchman.
He was eleven years older than More and he could speak no
English, but that did not prevent them becoming friends, as they
both could speak Latin easily and well. They had much in common.
Erasmus was of the same lively, merry wit as More, they both
loved literature and the Greek learning, and so the two became
fast friends. And it helps us to understand the power which
Latin still held over our literature, and indeed over all the
literature of Europe, when we remember that these two friends
spoke to each other and wrote and jested in Latin as easily as
they might have done in English. Erasmus was one of the most
famous men of his time. He was one who did much in his day to
free men's minds, one who helped men to think for themselves. So
although he had directly perhaps little to do with English
literature, it is well to remember him as the friend of More.
"My affection for the man is so great," wrote Erasmus once, "that
if he bade me dance a hornpipe, I should do at once what he bid
Although More was so merry and witty, religion got a strong hold
upon him, and at one time he thought of becoming a monk. But his
friends persuaded him to give up that idea, and after a time he
decided to marry. He chose his wife in a somewhat quaint manner.
Among his friends there was a gentleman who had three daughters.
More liked the second one best, "for that he thought her the
fairest and best favoured." But he married the eldest because
it seemed to him "that it would be both great grief and some
shame also to the oldest to see her younger sister preferred
before her in marriage. He then, of a certain pity, framed his
fancy toward her, and soon after married her."
Although he chose his wife so quaintly More's home was a very
happy one. He loved nothing better than to
 live a simple family
life with his wife and children round him. After six years his
wife died, but he quickly married again. And although his second
wife was "a simple ignorant woman and somewhat worldly too," with
a sharp tongue and short temper, she was kind to her step-
children and the home was still a happy one.
More was a great public man, but he was first a father and head
of his own house. He says: "While I spend almost all the day
abroad amongst others, and the residue at home among mine own, I
leave to myself, I mean to my book, no time. For when I come
home, I must commen with my wife, chatter with my children, and
talk with my servants. All the which things I reckon and account
among business, forasmuch as they must of necessity be done, and
done must they needs be unless a man will be stranger in his own
home. And in any wise a man must so fashion and order his
conditions and so appoint and dispose himself, that he be merry,
jocund and pleasant among them, whom either Nature hath provided
or chance hath made, or he himself hath chosen to be the fellows
and companions of his life, so that with too much gentle
behaviour and familiarity he do not mar them, and by too much
sufferance of his servants make them his masters."
At a time, too, when education was thought little necessary for
girls, More taught his daughters as carefully as his sons. His
eldest daughter Margaret (Mog, as he loved to call her) was so
clever that learned men praised and rewarded her. When his
children married they did not leave home, but came with their
husbands and wives to live at Chelsea in the beautiful home More
had built there. So the family was never divided, and More
gathered a "school" of children and grandchildren round him.
More soon became a great man. Henry VII, indeed, did
 not love
him, so More did not rise to power while he lived. But Henry VII
died and his son Henry VIII ruled. The great Chancellor,
Cardinal Wolsey, became More's friend, and presently he was sent
on business for the King to Bruges.
It was while More was about the King's business in Belgium that
he wrote the greater part of the book by which he is best
remembered. This book is called Utopia. The name means
"nowhere," from two Greek words, "ou," no, and "topos," a place.
The Utopia, like so many other books of which we have read, was
the outcome of the times in which the writer lived. When More
looked round upon the England that he knew he saw many things
that were wrong. He was a man loyal to his King, yet he could
not pretend to think that the King ruled only for the good of his
people and not for his own pleasure. There was evil, misery, and
suffering in all the land. More longed to make people see that
things were wrong; he longed to set the wrong right. So to teach
men how to do this he invented a land of Nowhere in which there
was no evil or injustice, in which every one was happy and good.
He wrote so well about that make-believe land that from then till
now every one who read Utopia sees the beauty of More's idea.
But every one, too, thinks that this land where everything is
right is an impossible land. Thus More gave a new word to our
language, and when we think some idea beautiful but impossible we
call it "Utopian."
As it was the times that made More write his book, so it was the
times that gave him the form of it.
In those days, as you know, men's minds were stirred by the
discovery of new lands and chiefly by the discovery of America.
And although it was Columbus who first discovered America, he did
not give his name to the new country. It was, instead, named
after the Italian explorer
 Amerigo Vespucci. Amerigo wrote a
book about his voyages, and it was from this book that More got
some of his ideas for the Utopia.
More makes believe that one day in Antwerp he saw a man "well
stricken in age, with a black sun-burned face, a long beard, and
a cloak cast homely about his shoulders, whom by his favour and
apparel forthwith I judged to be a mariner."
This man was called Raphael Hythlodaye and had been with Amerigo
Vespucci in the three last of his voyages, "saving that in the
last voyage he came not home again with him." For on that voyage
Hythlodaye asked to be left behind. And after Amerigo had gone
home he, with five friends, set forth upon a further voyage of
discovery. In their travels they saw many marvelous and fearful
things, and at length came to the wonderful land of Nowhere.
"But what he told us that he saw, in every country where he came,
it were very long to declare."
More asked many questions of this great traveler. "But as for
monsters, because they be no news, of them we were nothing
inquisitive. . . .. But to find citizens ruled by good and
wholesome laws, that is an exceeding rare and hard thing!"
The whole story of the Utopia is told in the form of talks
between Hythlodaye, More, and his friend Peter Giles. And More
mixes what is real and what is imaginary so quaintly that it is
not wonderful that many of the people of his own day thought that
Utopia was a real place. Peter Giles, for instance, was a real
man and a friend of More, while Hythlodaye was imaginary, his
name being made of Greek words meaning Cunning Babbler. nearly
all the names of the towns, river, and people of whom Hythlodaye
tells were also made from Greek words and have some meaning. For
instance, Achoriens means
 people-who-have-no-place-on-earth, Amaurote a-phantom-city, and so on.
More takes a great deal of trouble to keep up the mystery of this
strange land. It was not wonderful that he should, for under the
pretense of a story he said hard things about the laws and ill-
government of England, things which it was treason to whisper.
In those days treason was a terrible word covering a great deal,
and death and torture were like to be the fate of any one who
spoke his mind too freely.
But More knew that it would be a hard matter to make things
better in England. As he makes Hythlodaye say, it is no use
trying to improve things in a blundering fashion. It is of no
use trying by fear to drive into people's heads things they have
no mind to learn. Neither must you "forsake the ship in a
tempest, because you cannot rule and keep down the winds." But
"you must with a crafty wile and subtile train, study and
endeavour yourself, as much as in you lieth, to handle the matter
wittily and handsomely for the purpose. And that which you
cannot turn to good, so to order it that it be not very bad. For
it is not possible for all things to be well, unless all men were
good: which I think will not be yet in these good many years."
The Utopia is divided into two books. The first and shorter
gives us what we might call the machinery of the tale. It tells
of the meeting with Hythlodaye and More's first talk with him.
It is not until the beginning of the second book that we really
hear about Utopia. And I think if you read the book soon, I
would advise you to begin with the second part, which More wrote
first. In the second book we have most of the story, but the
first book helps us to understand More's own times and explains
what he was trying to do in writing his tale.
At the beginning of this book I told you that we should
 have to
talk of many books which for the present, at least, you could not
hope to like, but which you must be content to be told are good
and worth reading. I may be wrong, but I think Utopia is one of
these. Yet as Cresacre More, More's great-grandson, speaking of
his great-grandfather's writing, says, he "seasoned always the
troublesomeness of the matter with some merry jests or pleasant
tales, as it were sugar, whereby we drink up the more willingly
these wholesome drugs . . . which kind of writing he hath used in
all his works, so that none can ever by weary to read them,
though they be never so long."
And even if you like the book now, you will both like and
understand it much better when you know a little about politics.
You will then see, too, how difficult it is to know when More is
in earnest and when he is merely poking fun, for More loved to
jest. Yet as his grandson, who wrote a life of him, tells us,
"Whatsoever jest he brought forth, he never laughed at any
himself, but spoke always so sadly, that few could see by his
look whether he spoke in earnest or in jest."
It would take too long to tell all about the wonderful island of
Utopia and its people, but I must tell you a little of it and how
they regarded money. All men in this land were equal. No man
was idle, neither was any man over-burdened with labor, for every
one had to work six hours a day. No man was rich, no man was
poor, for "though no man have anything, yet every man is rich,"
for the State gave him everything that he needed. So money was
hardly of any use, and gold and silver and precious jewels were
"In the meantime gold and silver, whereof money is made, they do
so use, as none of them doth more esteem it, than the very nature
of the thing deserveth. And then who doth not plainly see how
far it is under iron? As without the which men can no better
live than without
 fire and water; whereas to gold and silver
nature hath given no use that we may not well lack, if that the
folly of men had not set it in higher estimation for the rareness
sake. But, of the contrary part, Nature, as a most tender and
loving mother, hath placed the best and most necessary things
open abroad; as the air, the water, and the earth itself; and
hath removed and hid farthest from us vain and unprofitable
Yet as other countries still prized money, gold and silver was
sometimes needed by the Utopians. But, thought the wise King and
his counselors, if we lock it up in towers and take great care of
it, the people may begin to think that gold is of value for
itself, they will begin to think that we are keeping something
precious from them. So to set this right they fell upon a plan.
It was this. "For whereas they eat and drink in earthen and
glass vessels, which indeed be curiously and properly made, and
yet be of very small value; of gold and silver they make other
vessels that serve for most vile uses, not only in their common
halls, but in every man's private house. Furthermore of the same
metals they make great chains and fetters and gyves, wherein they
tie their bondmen. Finally, whosoever for any offense be
infamed, by their ears hang rings of gold, upon their fingers
they wear rings of gold, and about their necks chains of gold;
and in conclusion their heads be tied about with gold.
"Thus, by all means that may be, they procure to have gold and
silver among them in reproach and infamy. And therefore these
metals, which other nations do as grievously and sorrowfully
forego, as in a manner from their own lives, if they should
altogether at once be taken from the Utopians, no man there would
think that he had lost the worth of a farthing.
"They gather also pearls by the seaside, and diamonds and
carbuncles upon certain rocks. Yet they seek not for
 them, but
by chance finding them they cut and polish them. And therewith
they deck their young infants. Which, like as in the first years
of their childhood they make much and be fond and proud of such
ornaments, so when they be a little more grown in years and
discretion, perceiving that none but children do wear such toys
and trifles, they lay them away even of their own shamefastness,
without any bidding of their parents, even as our children when
they wax big, do caste away nuts, brooches and dolls. Therefore
these laws and customs, which be so far different from all other
nations, how divers fancies also and minds they do cause, did I
never so plainly perceive, as in the Ambassadors of the
"These Ambassadors came to Amaurote whiles I was there. And
because they came to entreat of great and weighty matters, three
citizens a piece out of every city (of Utopia) were come thither
before them. But all the Ambassadors of the next countries,
which had been there before, and knew the fashions and manners of
the Utopians, among whom they perceived no honour given to
sumptuous and costly apparel, silks to be contemned, gold also to
be infamed and reproachful, were wont to come thither in very
homely and simple apparel. But the Anemolians, because they
dwell far thence, and had very little acquaintance with them,
hearing that they were all apparelled alike, and that very rudely
and homely, thinking them not to have the things which they did
not wear, being therefore more proud than wise, determined in the
gorgeousness of their apparel to represent very gods, and with
the bright shining and glistening of their gay clothing to dazzle
the eyes of the silly poor Utopians.
"So there came in three Ambassadors with a hundred servants all
apparelled in changeable colours; the most of them in silks; the
Ambassadors themselves (for at home in their own country they
were noble men) in cloth
 of gold, with great chains of gold, with
gold hanging at their ears, with gold rings upon their fingers,
with brooches and aglettes
of gold upon their caps, which
glistered full of pearls and precious stones; to be short,
trimmed and adorned with all those things, which among the
Utopians were either the punishment of bondmen, or the reproach
of infamed persons, or else trifles for young children to play
"Therefore it would have done a man good at his heart to have
seen how proudly they displayed their peacocks' feathers; how
much they made of their painted sheathes; and how loftily they
set forth and advanced themselves, when they compared their
gallant apparel with the poor raiment of the Utopians. For all
the people were swarmed forth into the streets.
"And on the other side it was no less pleasure to consider how
much they were deceived, and how far they missed their purpose;
being contrary ways taken than they thought they should have
been. For to the eyes of all the Utopians, except very few,
which had been in other countries for some reasonable cause, all
that gorgeousness of apparel seemed shameful and reproachful; in
so much that they most reverently saluted the vilest and most
abject of them for lords; passing over the Ambassadors themselves
without any honour; judging them by their wearing of golden
chains to be bondmen.
"Yea, you should have seen children also that had cast away their
pearls and precious stones, when they saw the like sticking upon
the Ambassadors' caps, dig and push their mothers under the
sides, saying thus to them: 'Look, mother, how great a lubber
doth yet wear pearls and precious stones, as though he were a
little child still.'
"But the mother, yea, and that also in good earnest:
 'Peace, son,' saith she, 'I think he be some of the Ambassadors' fools.'
"Some found fault with their golden chains, as to no use nor
purpose; being so small and weak, that a bondman might easily
break them; and again so wide and large that, when it pleased
him, he might cast them off, and run away at liberty whither he
"But when the Ambassadors had been there a day or two, and saw so
great abundance of gold so lightly esteemed, yea, in no less
reproach than it was with them in honour; and, besides that, more
gold in the chains and gyves of one fugitive bondman, than all
the costly ornaments of their three was worth; then began a-bate
their courage, and for very shame laid away all that gorgeous
array whereof they were so proud; and especially when they had
talked familiarly with the Utopians, and had learned all their
fashions and opinions. For they marvel that any man be so
foolish as to have delight and pleasure in the glistering of a
little trifling stone, which may behold any of the stars, or else
the sun itself; or that any man is so mad as to count himself the
nobler for the smaller or finer thread of wool, which self-same
wool (be it now in never so fine a spun thread) did once a sheep
wear, and yet was she all that time no other thing than a sheep."
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