Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Thomas More to His Whole School

In some late reading for St. Thomas More's feast-day last week, I was delighted to come across the following letter from More to his children, which I originally discovered here, and which you can also find in this nineteenth century work at Google Books. More faced a problem that many fathers today face: his job took him away from his family for very extended periods of time. He had to be at court, and that meant that long stretches went by during which his children did not see him. More's way of handling the problem was to write them letters, and as you can see from the following, they were brilliant. He teases them, admonishes them, and makes clear that he loves them. I especially like the sentence about Lent, for two reasons -- it makes clear to his children (without being too clumsy about it) that, even though he is away, when they observe Lent they are doing it with their father, and he recommends Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy as proper Lenten reading, a recommendation of which I very greatly approve.

Thomas More to his whole school,—
See what a compendious salutation I have found, to save both time and paper, which would otherwise have been wasted in reciting the names of each one of you, and my labour would have been to no purpose, since, though each of you is dear to me by some special title, of which I could have omitted none in a set and formal salutation, no one is dearer to me by any title than each one of you by that of scholar. Your zeal for knowledge binds me to you almost more closely than the ties of blood. I rejoice that Mr. Drew has returned safe, for I was anxious, as you know, about him. If I did not love you so much I should be really envious of your happiness in having so many and such excellent tutors. But I think you have no longer any need of Mr. Nicholas, since you have learnt whatever he had to teach you about astronomy. I hear you are so far advanced in that science that you can not only point out the polar-star or the dog-star, or any of the constellations, but are able also—which requires a skilful and profound astrologer—among all those leading heavenly bodies, to distinguish the sun from the moon! Go forward, then, in that new and admirable science by which you ascend to the stars. But while you gaze on them assiduously, consider that this holy time of Lent warns you, and that beautiful and holy poem of Boetius keeps singing in your ears, to raise your mind also to heaven, lest the soul look downwards to the earth, after the manner of brutes, while the body looks upwards. Farewell, my dearest.
From Court, the 23rd March.

As this letter suggests, More took the education of his children very seriously. One of More's distinctive features is that he was perhaps the biggest advocate of women's education in his day. It was common at that time for men, and sometimes women, to be skeptical of whether women were capable of learning serious subjects. Queens and princesses could perhaps get away with dabbling in such things, but royalty is to be humored; and even then there were many who did not really take it seriously. More would have none of it, and made sure his own daughters received a full humanist education, and in the case of Margeret, his eldest, succeeded so well that he turned some skeptics around.

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