Utopia – extracts fom my translation

[A traveller’s tales]

… I [Thomas More] travelled to Antwerp on business. During my time there I had frequent callers, but none more welcome than Pieter Gillis, a native of the city…

One day I attended mass in the church of St Mary’s, an exceptionally beautiful and well-frequented building. After the service I was about to return to my lodgings when I chanced to see Pieter Gillis talking with a stranger. The man was verging on old age, with a sunburnt face, long beard and weatherproof cloak hanging loosely from his shoulder. From his complexion and general appearance he looked to me like a sea captain. When Pieter caught sight of me, he came up and greeted me. As I made to reply, he led me a little aside.

“You see this man?” he said, pointing to the one I had seen him talking to. “I was just going to take him along to see you.”

“I’d have been very glad to meet him, for your sake,” I replied.

“No,” Pieter said, “you’d have been glad to meet him for his own sake, if you’d known who he is. There’s no one alive on earth today who could give you such a full account of unknown lands and peoples; and I know that no one’s keener than you to hear about such things.”…

That was what Pieter told me. I thanked him for so thoughtfully spotting a man whose conversation I hoped would interest me and for giving me the chance of a chat with him. I then turned to Rafael. We greeted each other, saying the things strangers usually say at a first meeting. Then we departed for my house and, sitting down in the garden there on a bench spread with green turf, we started talking…

[Rafael’s view of private property]

“… perhaps, dear More, I could give you my own honest opinion. I really think that, wherever there’s private property and everyone uses money as the measure of everything, you’ll almost nowhere find a society that’s justly or successfully governed. I assume that you don’t regard it as a just society where all the best things in life are enjoyed by the worst people, or as a contented society where all goods pass into the ownership of the very few and even they are not well off in every respect when the rest are in utter penury.

“I reflect in my own mind on the institutions, so very sensible and godly, of the people of Utopia. They have few laws, yet are admirably governed: good personal qualities are prized, yet all are treated equally and everyone has plenty of everything…   Then I contrast their ways with those of so many other countries… When everyone has a legal right to sweep as much property as they can into their own hands, this will mean a small minority sharing whatever’s available among themselves and leaving nothing available to the rest. And the result, generally, is that one group gets what the other most deserves: the few are grasping, unprincipled and worthless, while the rest by contrast are unassuming and straightforward and, by working hard each day, contribute more to the public welfare than to their own. All this convinces me that there’s no way that property can be distributed in a fair and just manner nor that people’s happiness here on earth can be achieved, unless private ownership is completely abolished: for as long as it continues, a distressing and inescapable burden of poverty and toil will continue to afflict what’s by far the greatest and worthiest segment of humanity.

[The origin of Utopia Island]

The island is named after Utopos the Conqueror… It’s said – and the very appearance of the place bears this out – that originally the country wasn’t surrounded by sea. Once Utopos had conquered it on first putting ashore there, he had the fifteen-mile strip joining it to the continent destroyed and caused the sea to encircle the whole land. He not only conscripted the natives for this work (because he didn’t want them to regard labour as demeaning), but he enlisted all his troops as well; and by spreading the tasks among such a large workforce the project was completed with astonishing speed. The achievement amazed and terrified neighbouring nations, who had initially ridiculed the futility of the enterprise. Utopos raised an ignorant and disordered peasantry to a level of development and civilization at which it now surpasses almost all other peoples.

[A Utopian poem, with translation]

         Ūtopos hā Boccās peu lā chama polta chamāan.

         Bargōl hē maglomī baccān soma gymnosophāon

         āgrama gymnosophōn labarembacha bōdamilōmin.

         Vōlvala barchin hemān, la lavōlvola dramme paglōni.

 

        Island I wasn’t, until Lord Utopos made me an island.

        I’m the one country on earth, though unversed in political theory,

        to have instructed mankind how in theory a country should function.

        Gladly I share what I know – ever glad, too, of better suggestions.

 

[Some features of Utopia – Occupations]

Farming is the one occupation common to everyone, men and women. There’s no one ignorant of it. They all learn it from childhood. They study the theory in school; they’re also taken on trips to farms near the city for recreation, not only to watch, but also to gain practical experience and get some physical exercise at the same time.

Besides farming (which, as I’ve said, everyone does), each individual is taught one skill as their own. It may be in handling wool or flax, or in masonry, metalworking or carpentry. There’s no other occupation practised by a significant number of Utopians.

Clothes each household makes for itself. There’s a uniform style throughout the island, with a different cut to distinguish men from women, and single from married folk; otherwise it’s the same for all ages. It’s attractive to look at, comfortable to move around in and suitable for both cold and heat.

Of the other skills I’ve mentioned, everyone learns one, not only men but women too…

[Some features of Utopia – public health]

… the sick… are treated in public hospitals. Every city has four hospitals on its perimeter, just outside the walls. Each hospital is the size of a small town, so that even large numbers of patients can be accommodated with plenty of space for their comfort, and those in the grip of contagious diseases can be kept apart in suitable isolation. These hospitals are well organized and well stocked with medical supplies of all kinds; they provide care that’s gentle and attentive; and they’re continuously staffed with doctors of the greatest expertise – so much so that, though no one is sent to hospital against their will, there’s almost no one in the whole city who, when seriously unwell, wouldn’t rather lie sick in hospital than at home…

[Some features of Utopia – marriage]

In choosing spouses Utopians are earnest and strict in following a procedure that seemed to us entirely inappropriate and supremely absurd. A bride-to-be, whether virgin or widow, is shown naked to her suitor by a married woman of serious and respectable character; and the suitor in turn is presented naked to the girl by a reputable husband. We laughed at this custom as bizarre; but they, for their part, were astonished at the evident foolishness of all other nations: anyone else, when purchasing a colt, where only a few coins are at stake, is so cautious that they refuse to buy a beast, though it’s already well-nigh naked, before they’ve removed its saddle and pulled off its other accoutrements to see if there’s a sore hidden under the coverings. In choosing a wife, however – a choice that’ll result in a lifetime of either pleasure or revulsion – men are so careless as to assess an entire woman from not much more than a single hand’s breadth (for nothing’s visible except the face) and to unite themselves to her when there’s a serious risk (if later there’s something that displeases) of a mismatch…

[Some features of Utopia – benefits of a moneyless society]

In Utopia, with money eliminated, all craving for it has gone too – and with that what a mass of misery has been cut away, what a lush crop of wrongdoing has been uprooted and destroyed! Fraud, theft, robbery, brawls, disorders, quarrels, riots, murders, betrayals, poisonings – you punish them with daily executions, but they carry on unchecked. Don’t people realize that these crimes would die out if money were abolished, and that, along with money, there’d be an end to fear, anxiety, distress, drudgery and sleepless nights? Poverty is seen as no more than a shortage of money, but if money were abolished, poverty too would at once fall away…

 

 

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