- A Thomas More Source Book
The purpose of this source book is announced at the beginning of the "Introduction": "to help 're-establish'" the reputation More had in England and Europe during his own lifetime "by providing a selection of texts designed to reveal important facets of his thought on a broad range of topics." As the "Introduction" proceeds, it becomes clear that the more specific purpose is to offer selections from texts that support Erasmus's claim that "there was an integrity in More's thought and actions." In addition, the source book aspires to serve as a companion to the study of More's best known works, The History of Richard III and Utopia.
These aims point to both the strength and weakness of the collection. The strength is that it usefully gathers together most of the texts and extracts that illustrate the Christian-humanist side of More's thinking, together with a view [End Page 279] of "conscience" and the obligations it imposes (More's last days are particularly well covered). In this respect, the book achieves its aims. The weakness is that the intent—which is eulogistic, within very circumscribed terms—requires a selection that distorts through omission. Erasmus's flattering portrait of More from 1519 is included, but there is nothing by his detractors of the 1520s or 1530s who charged him with intellectual inconsistency, and of using excessive force against "heretics." While there are extracts from More's writings on love and friendship, education, and governance, there are no selections that suggest his struggles with his sexuality, his penchant for obscenity (e.g., in the Latin epigrammes or in the Responsio ad Lutherum), or the depressive perturbation to which he was intermittently prone (e.g., in his meditation on The Four Last Things). More seriously, the polemical controversies are under-represented; most of the selections from this period of More's life are from the devotional works, or from devotional passages in the earliest, and mildest, of the controversial works, the Dialogue Concerning Heresies. The absence of selections from polemics like The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer means that there is very little to illustrate More's thinking on the doctrinal issues in a dispute with his opponents (e.g., the nature of the Church). These omissions make it doubly unfortunate that there is an unnecessary duplication of substantial sections from William Roper's Life of Sir Thomas More, Knight, which is excerpted again in the section titled "Writings on Government." While some might find it useful to have the whole of the Elizabethan play, Sir Thomas More, included, most readers, I suspect, would prefer to have extracts from the omitted texts by More himself.
Judged in terms of its stated purpose, therefore, this source book achieves only partial success. The book will appeal to those seeking an impression of More the saint and man of conscience; however, the range of topics is not broad enough, nor the selections sufficiently comprehensive to give a picture of the whole man, and without that, the extent to which it can serve as a companion to Richard III and Utopia is also limited. Nevertheless, I have no doubt, in spite of these caveats, that both students and scholars will find this volume a useful resource.