Utopia (Anglais) Relié – novembre 2005
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The infant was taken, within a week of its birth, to the precincts of the church; the child of wrath must be reformed into the image of God, 'the servant of the fiend' made into 'a son of joy'. At the church-door the priest asked the midwife if the child were male or female, and then made a sign of the cross on the infant's forehead, breast and right hand. He placed some salt in the baby's mouth according to custom; then the priest exorcised the devil from its body with a number of prayers, and pronounced baptism as the sole means 'to obtain eternal grace by spiritual regeneration'. The priest spat in his left hand and touched the ears and nose of the child with his saliva. Let the nose be open to the odour of sweetness. It was time to enter the church itself, the priest taking the right hand of the new-born child who had with the salt and saliva been granted the station of a catechumen.
The litanies of the saints were pronounced over the baptismal font; the priest then divided the water with his right hand and cast it in the four directions of the cross. He breathed three rimes upon it and then spilled wax in a cruciform pattern. He divided the holy water with a candle, before returning the taper to the cleric beside him. Oil and chrism were added, with a long rod or spoon, and the child could now be baptised. Thomas More, what seekest thou? The sponsors replied for the infant, Baptism. Dost thou wish to be baptised? I wish. The child was given to the priest, who immersed him three times in the water. He was then anointed with chrism and wrapped in a chrismal robe. Thomas More, receive a white robe, holy and unstained, which thou must bring before the tribunal of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest have eternal life and live for ever and ever. The candle was lit and placed in the child's right hand, thus inaugurating a journey through this dark world which ended when, during the last rites, a candle was placed in the right hand of the dying man with the prayer, 'The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I fear?' Whom shall this particular child fear, when it was believed by the Church that the whole truth and meaning of baptism was achieved in the act of martyrdom? 'Baptism and suffering for the sake of Christ', according to a second-century bishop, are the two acts which bring full 'remission of sins'.
It was considered best to baptise the child on the same day as its birth, if such haste were practicable, since an infant unbaptised would be consigned to limbo after its death. To leave this world in a state of original sin was to take a course to that eternal dwelling, Limbus puerorum, suspended between heaven, hell and purgatory. There the little unbaptised souls would dwell in happy ignorance beside the more formidable and haunting Limbus patrum, which contained the souls of Noah, Moses and Isaiah together with (in Dante's epic) Virgil, Aristotle, Socrates and all the good men who lived on earth before the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. Adam had already been dragged from this place at the time of Christ's crucifixion, but there was continual debate within the Church about the consequences of denying new-born children the eternal comfort of paradise. Could a child be saved by the desire, the votum, of its parents? Thomas More himself would eventually concede only that 'those infantes be dampned onely to the payne of losse of heauen'.
In various late medieval pictures of baptism, in manuscripts and devotional manuals, the priest stands with his surplice and stole beside the font. Sometimes he seems to be balancing the infant in the palm of his hand, yet the child is so unnaturally large and alert for such an early stage in its life that we can only assume it acquired mental consciousness with its spiritual renovation. A clerk with a surplice stands behind the priest, while two sponsors and the child's father are generally seen beside the font. In some depictions of this first of the seven sacraments, an image of the dying Christ hangs behind the human scene. But the mother was rarely, if ever, present.
In the more pious households, she would have worn a girdle made out of manuscript prayer rolls in the last stages of her pregnancy, and it was customary in labour to invoke the name of St Margaret as well as the Blessed Virgin. She remained secluded after giving birth, and two or three weeks later was led out to be 'churched' or purified. When she was taken to the church, her head was covered by a handkerchief, as a veil, and she was advised not to look up at the sun or the sky. She knelt in the church while the priest blessed her and assured her, in the words of Psalm 121, that 'the sun shall not burn her by day, nor the moon by night. It was a ceremony both to celebrate the birth of the child and to give thanks for the survival of the mother. This is the late fifteenth-century world into which Thomas More was baptised. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché.
Revue de presse
What Clarence Miller attempts - and accomplishes - here is a nuanced and textured rendition in English that says neither less nor more than the Latin itself. --Daniel Kinney, University of Virginia --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché.
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What is the most frequent meaning of this “slavery,” especially when you find words like “inclislaverys” or “divislavery (so much observed among other slaverys)” or “imagislavery”?
The first instance of this word with its special meaning is in the plural and is also the first instance of the word in the text.
“’And on his own too,’ replied he [Peter Giles, Thomas More’s friend when introducing the man from Utopia, Raphael Hythloday], ‘if you knew the man, for there is none alive that can give so copious an account of unknown slaverys and countries as he can do, which I know you very much desire.’”
The last instance of this word is going the same way in the singular this time but with an indefinite article showing this word is countable and not abstract. It cannot be “slavery” in the modern meaning that is of course always abstract and used with no article.
“. . . many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people, that seemed very absurd, as well in their way of making war, as in their notions of religion and divine matters--together with several other particulars, but chiefly what seemed the foundation of all the rest, their living in common, without the use of money, by which all nobility, magnificence, splendor, and majesty, which, according to the common opinion, are the true ornaments of a slavery, would be quite taken away. . .”
This word “slavery” here can only mean “society” and in the context of this excerpt the society that is meant is that of the dominant noble class of England or Europe at the beginning of the 16th century. It carries though another element. The suffix –ery is a common suffix in the Middle Ages coming from French and means only the place where someone works, some activity is performed or something is produced, (information from [...], except when otherwise indicated) like in “butchery” from Middle English (denoting a slaughterhouse or meat market) and from Old French boucherie, from bouchier ‘butcher’; or “brewery” that is in fact a late reconstruction probably on the model of the Dutch word “brouwerij” replacing the original Middle English word, perhaps from circa 1200 as a surname element, from brew (verb) + -ery, Old English word “breawern” in this sense (from aern "house"), and “brewhouse,” the more common word up to the 18th century, [...]); or “cutlery” that means 1. cutting instruments collectively, especially knives for cutting food; 2. utensils, as knives, forks, and spoons, used at the table for serving and eating food; 3. the trade or business of a cutler; from 1300-50 Middle English cutellerie from Middle French coutelerie.
That leads us to understanding “inclislavery” as the social situation of someone who is practicing the profession he is “naturally inclined” to practice, “divislavery” as the status of someone who is practicing a divine activity in this society (limited in number and highly selected), and “imagislavery” as some society imagined by some member of this Utopia island. These three compounds clearly indicate that slavery has nothing to do with the modern meaning.
But then what is the meaning of the root of this “slavery”? The reference is obviously not “slave” as a human being owned by another and exploited as a simple beast of burden or labor. We are in fact tricked here by the translation. What was the Latin word used by Thomas More and what was the meaning of this Latin word? But the meaning of this word in Thomas More’s text is quite clear as I have explained.
Once this first element is cleared we can move to the main ideas of the text. I do not intend a full study, just a few remarks.
This Utopian society is highly hierarchical with three strata in each town, knowing that this society is urban, meaning the population is administratively gathered in cities, and yet agricultural since the main activity is agriculture: all city residents have to go to the agricultural fields for various periods of time that can be several years or may only be for the harvesting season, because agriculture is seen as the main training and educating activity. This society is founded on work that has to occupy six hours a day, and cover every single day. The three hierarchical levels are as follows:
"Thirty families choose every year a magistrate, who was anciently called the Syphogrant, but is now called the Philarch; and over every ten Syphogrants, with the families subject to them, there is another magistrate, who was anciently called the Tranibore, but of late the Archphilarch. All the Syphogrants, who are in number two hundred, choose the Prince out of a list of four who are named by the people of the four divisions of the city; but they take an oath, before they proceed to an election, that they will choose him whom they think most fit for the office: they give him their voices secretly, so that it is not known for whom every one gives his suffrage. The Prince is for life, unless he is removed upon suspicion of some design to enslave the people. The Tranibors are new chosen every year, but yet they are, for the most part, continued; all their other magistrates are only annual.”
This hierarchy is based on free secret ballots for the Prince but also for the lower echelons.
The very first element is the fact that everyone is supposed to work. There is no normal exemption, even those who are by law exempted, only temporarily indeed since they are the annually elected officers (who can be reelected) who go back to work at the end of their terms and even work during their terms outside the performing of their duties. This society of compulsory productive work is cut in daily time slices of which one is work for six hours (twice three hours a day, three in the morning before dinner and three in the afternoon after dinner), sleep for eight hours (from 8 pm to 4 am) and then various activities that have to be productive, particularly productive of knowledge by studying, following their inclinations (inclislaveries).
“The chief, and almost the only, business of the Syphogrants is to take care that no man may live idle, but that every one may follow his trade diligently; yet they do not wear themselves out with perpetual toil from morning to night, as if they were beasts of burden, which as it is indeed a heavy slavery, so it is everywhere the common course of life amongst all mechanics except the Utopians: but they, dividing the day and night into twenty-four hours, appoint six of these for work, three of which are before dinner and three after; they then sup, and at eight o'clock, counting from noon, go to bed and sleep eight hours: the rest of their time, besides that taken up in work, eating, and sleeping, is left to every man's discretion; yet they are not to abuse that interval to luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise, according to their various inclislaverys, which is, for the most part, reading. […] Even the Syphogrants, though excused by the law, yet do not excuse themselves, but work, that by their examples they may excite the industry of the rest of the people; the like exemption is allowed to those who, being recommended to the people by the priests, are, by the secret suffrages of the Syphogrants, privileged from labor, that they may apply themselves wholly to study; and if any of these fall short of those hopes that they seemed at first to give, they are obliged to return to work; and sometimes a mechanic that so employs his leisure hours as to make a considerable advancement in learning is eased from being a tradesman and ranked among their learned men. Out of these they choose their ambassadors, their priests, their Tranibors, and the Prince himself, anciently called their Barzenes, but is called of late their Ademus.”
Thomas More comes to the conclusion that this compulsory work organization with only six hours of productive work is not in any danger of running out of labor since everyone is supposed to perform these six hours. Note there is no mention of the young and their education. Do they work too? The answer is probably in the situation at the end of the 15th century. Children work like any other members of society as soon as they can stand on their feet and use their hands (around five or six). If we stick to this period to interpret the text we have here the pure Lutheran description of society in which work is the supreme value and working the supreme activity. All ranting or raving about what will come later (socialism or communism) is absurd and anachronistic since it projects onto an old text concepts that only developed several centuries later, not to mention the Soviet Revolution that could have been inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, why not, but that has no meaningful value on the analysis of Thomas More’s text.
"And thus from the great numbers among them that are neither suffered to be idle nor to be employed in any fruitless labor, you may easily make the estimate how much may be done in those few hours in which they are obliged to labor.”
These work ethics and workaholic social vision is, as I have said, vastly connected to the Lutheran and Calvinist, Protestant in one word, approach of life, by the way dictated at the time by the Black Death that reduced the population of Europe by at least 50%, not to speak of constant wars, the most famous of which being the Hundred Years’ War. This conception is perfectly represented in the economical approach of clothing that has to be lasting, functional, simple, with no wasted luxury or sophistication (absolutely no frills) even at the level of colors that are reduced to “natural” colors: that of wool or linen.
“As to their clothes, observe how little work is spent in them; while they are at labor they are clothed with leather and skins, cut carelessly about them, which will last seven years, and when they appear in public they put on an upper garment which hides the other; and these are all of one color, and that is the natural color of the wool. As they need less woolen cloth than is used anywhere else, so that which they make use of is much less costly; they use linen cloth more, but that is prepared with less labor, and they value cloth only by the whiteness of the linen or the cleanness of the wool, without much regard to the fineness of the thread.”
In other words, without speaking of a direct reference to Lutheran or Calvinist Protestantism, we have here the economical, economy-oriented and hyper-productive conception of a social value-adding economy and political system. Is it totalitarian? Once again in 1516 this term is anachronistic. In fact this vision is dictated by the necessity to repair the damage of the past century and a half and to lift up Europe, in fact Christianity, from the dire straits in which history and the Black Death had set it. We seem to forget that Christianity at that time was in a situation that could compete in poverty and misery with some of the poorest countries today in AIDS devastated Africa, without any help from outside, be it from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the United Nations, that did not exist – but do I have to mention that – at the time.
The last element I want to insist on is the fact that this society considers slavery, this time the situation in which a human being is deprived of absolutely all human or civil rights, is basic in its functioning. For any crime, petty or not, including “vagabonds,” slavery is preferred to any other punishment, like the death penalty, which is a waste of human labor. War prisoners are also reduced to being slaves. Without entering the problem of war, vastly discussed in this pamphlet, let’s say that war is always envisaged as an extreme but necessary method to solve problems with neighbors, including with mercenaries (the Zapolets). The objective of war is not to conquer slaves, but it is always ending in engulfing all prisoners into slavery, into being slaves, meaning human beings – but are they still human? – who have no tights whatsoever, not even to speak. The only limit I found about this constant presence of slaves is that each family can only have two slaves. But since a family is forty people (“no country family has fewer than forty men and women in it, besides two slaves”), slaves represent something like 5 per cent of this society, at least at the level of the families. It is not specified if there are slaves owned by society as a whole or any organization in that society (note there is no mention of such organization that would not be based on one family but be transversal).
This element is essential because in this vision of an ideal society, slavery is stated as a normal state limited only in the fact the children of slaves are not born slaves. Note this idea implies slaves are married, like anyone else: marriage at the age of 18 for women and 22 for men is universal, meaning everyone has to be married and the objective is procreation. This is an obvious sign of the state in which Europe is after 1450. But this approach of slavery as a normal fate for a human being because of his “crimes” or because he is a “war prisoner” will explain later that slavery will be seen as a normal state of affairs in America, in Virginia first and then the thirteen colonies and then all American territories. This will all the more be true since the “pioneer” John Smith was a slave of the Ottoman Empire before escaping and sailing to what was to become Virginia in 1607. Thomas More is thus demonstrating that the concept of slavery was deeply rooted in the English conception of human society as well as humanity if not the human species. Note here that has nothing to do with feudalism that stated all human beings are potential Christians and that rejected slavery when instating the social category of serf. A serf was not a slave. He was a Christian and a subject of the King and other Lords. He had the right to benefit from all religious sacraments and education. He was protected by justice and could not be sentenced to anything without a trial, even if that trial was often based on torturing seen as a divine way to find the truth which could only be divine in nature.
This last word brings up my last remark. Thomas More pretends this Utopian conception of society is natural. He states the existence of a Supreme Being in the very Catholic perspective of his time, but this Supreme Being created Nature and man is supposed to follow Nature. This implies this society is by essence natural since it follows the divine conception this God represents. The strange or surprising element is that Thomas More states tolerance among all religions of any kind has to be the rule with no exception, and slavery for those who break this rule. This is of course an echo of the Reformation and could probably be seen as the final stage of the medieval debates against heresies and the practice and existence of the Inquisition. It could also be seen as maybe a presage of what was to happen in England with Henry VIII and his son and daughters leading to the Stuarts and the Puritan revolution.
I said it could be seen because this idea is anachronistic in a way. How could Thomas More envisage what was to happen over the next century? It is true the reformation in Germany and on the European continent was enough to make Thomas More dream of a Britain, or England, that could be saved from these tribulations by the practice of tolerance in their island, since Britain, like Utopia, is an island. Thomas More is a Brexit supporter exactly five century, year for year, before the famous referendum. And in his text the island was devised as such but the digging of a channel cutting it from the continent, the Channel in a way.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Concernant la version anglaise, je suis très satisfait : le texte est on ne peut plus agréable, et relativement accessible (je parviens à le lire, sans grande difficulté), même après une formation de générale scientifique comme la mienne. Je le recommande donc à tous ceux qui désireraient améliorer leur anglais, tout en découvrant un texte intéressant et utile pour la culture générale.
Attention cependant, le faible prix de ce livre s'explique par l'absence de commentaires et d'annotations. Pour ceux qui voudraient une lecture plus approfondie avec des clés de lecture, mieux vaut vous orienter vers des versions un peu plus chères.
While an Ambassador to Flanders, More spent spare time writing this book, 'Utopia'. The very title is a still a by-word in the English language (as well as others) of a state of bliss and peace; it is often used with the context of being unrealistic. 'Utopia' is More's response to and development from Plato's 'Republic', in that it is a framework for a perfect society, or at least perfect according to More's ideas of the time. Penned originally in Latin, 'Utopia' has been translated widely; one of the better translations is by H.V.S. Ogden, in 1949, still reprinted in various editions to this day. Originally published in Latin in 1516, the first English version appeared in 1551, some 16 years after More's death.
Thomas More writes this as if he were traveling, and meets his friend Peter Giles, who introduces him to Raphael Hythloday, a scholar/traveler with tales to tell.
Hythloday made friends with a prince who outfitted him for a journey. He traveled through deserts and fertile lands. He proceeds to give an account to Giles and More. In an ironic twist, given More's own attachment to Henry VIII, Hythloday states that he doesn't give his information in advice of kings or princes, for to be beholden to them is not a wise thing. He quotes Plato, in saying that unless kings were themselves philosophers, they should never appreciate philosophers.
More argues for public service, which Hythloday rejects as something that other place-seekers will use to bolster their own positions. Then Hythloday makes the startling pronouncement with regard to how a society should be constituted: 'As long as there is property, and while money is the standard of all things, I cannot think that a nation can be governed either justly or happily; not justly, because the best things will fall to the share of the worst men; nor happily, because all things will be divided among a few (and even these are not in all respects happy), the rest being left to the absolutely miserable.'
Hythloday proceeds to give an account of the life of Utopia, where, he says, there are so few laws and so much liberty and equality that virtue is always rewarded, and each person has what he or she needs. He talks about this under the following headings:
Of Their Towns, Particularly of Amaurot
Of Their Magistrates
Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life
Of Their Traffic
Of the Travelling of the Utopians
Of Their Slaves, and of Their Marriages
Of Their Military Discipline
Of the Religions of the Utopians
'Utopia' is a radical document. It anticipates the modern idea of communism, with private property at a minimum; it is generations ahead in the idea of equality of the sexes and freedom of religion. This may seem a remarkable statement from someone who will go to his death supporting the Roman hierarchy, but in historical irony, had religious freedom been respected in England at the time, More would have had nothing to fear.
'Utopia' was a place of education and free inquiry. Again, More's own life models this - travelers from as far away as Constantinople and Venice, visiting More's home in Chelsea, remarked on the incredible sense of knowledge and respect for reason and learning, not just for the men, but also for the women of the household (More's own daughter once impressed Henry VIII with her Latin training so much he was at pains to find something at which he excelled that he could best her at).
At different points throughout the text, More (speaking through Hythloday) jabs in witty and insightful manner the habits of the day - that kings are often more concerned to fill their own coffers than increasing the general wealth of the nation; that courts are designed to be self-serving and self-perpetuating; that liberties are curtailed not for just and reasonable causes, but often for petty personal reasons.
Some of the ideas, however, are not as modern or enlightened as they might seem at first glance. Utopians' freedom of religion exists only in very narrow bounds of reason - they are all monotheists, and while they might identify this deity with the sun or moon or a good person who died long ago, they are not permitted to speak or attempt to convert others to this idea, without risking bondage or death. Not too Utopian after all...
More was beatified by Leo XIII in 1886 and canonised by Pius XI in 1935 (it is significant to note that Anglican-Roman relations were at a strained point during these times, and the raising of an English saint who rejected the Anglican construct served at least minor political points, something More would have been able to appreciate, if not approve). The official feast day is July 9.
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