Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism

By John M. Major | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Sir Thomas More

No STUDY of the Governour in its setting of the early sixteenth century would be complete without an account of its relationship to the most famous book of the period by an Englishman, the Utopia ( 1516) of Sir Thomas More.By the time Elyot was composing his treatise on the ideal public weal, Utopia had been through four European editions and had earned for its author a brilliant place in the newly resurgent world of letters. More the statesman had meanwhile, as Lord Chancellor of England, reached the very height of his earthly power and prestige.It would be strange indeed if Elyot's views on the ideal state should reflect no awareness of what had been said on the same subject only a decade and a half before by the intimate friend of the great Erasmus, acknowledged leader of English humanism, and currently holder of one of the highest public offices in the land.

In addition to such potent attractions of an impersonal kind, Elyot and More were themselves friends, drawn together, an early biographer tells us, "in the pursuit of polite literature." 1 The story of this friendship between the two outstanding prose writers of the early Tudor period, besides being interesting for its own sake, does much to clarify various points that will come up later in our discussion of Utopia and the Governour. It is a puzzling story on the whole, owing to the scarcity of information that is available to us.To reconstitute it we shall have to resort occasionally to inference and conjecture, and even then, some questions elude final answers.

Just how intimate the friendship was it is difficult to determine. On the one hand, none of More's other early biographers adds any details to Stapleton's meager comment, nor is Elyot ever mentioned in the voluminous correspondence between More and Erasmus.But then neither do the letters mention John Heywood, the dramatist, who married More's niece and who is known to have been a close com-

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1
Thomas Stapleton, The Life and Illustrious Martyrdom of Sir Thomas More: Part III of "Tres Thomae," trans. Philip E. Hallett ( London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, 1928), p. 44.

-89-

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Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Sir Thomas Elyot and Renaissance Humanism *
  • Preface v
  • Contents *
  • First Editions of the Works of Sir Thomas Elyot xii
  • Part I - The Plan of the Book Named the Governour *
  • Part II - The Governour: Background and Tradition *
  • Chapter 1 - Castiglione and Other Italians 39
  • Chapter 2 - Erasmus 77
  • Chapter 3 - Sir Thomas More 89
  • Chapter 4 - Classical Authors Other Than Plato 140
  • Part III - Elyot and Plato *
  • Chapter 5 - Introduction 173
  • Chapter 6 - Politics 178
  • Chapter 7 - Psychology 206
  • Chapter 8 - Ethics 241
  • Chapter 9 - Epilogue 262
  • Conclusion 271
  • Index 273
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