How does this exhibit source provide evidence that helps me better understand More’s critique of sixteenth century society and politics?
Erasmus’ letter to his friend Guillamue Baudé served as a window through which I could sense More’s praise of a liberal education. More than that however, the letter offered me a solid insight into More’s view that a liberal education can itself lead to the liberation of idleness in society, particularly in women, and of the limitations of the oligarchical political structure in sixteenth century Europe —both of which it became more apparent after analyzing the letter, he considers significantly unideal.
In the letter, after outlining how More chose to instill in his daughters a liberal education, Erasmus narrates how “…there [in the More household] you never see one of the girls idle, or busied with the trifles that women enjoy; they have a Livy in their hands , Erasmus sets forth the idea that their intellectual knowledge absolves them from idleness. Erasmus continues to strengthen this point by outlining how by reading “…the mind [of women] is kept from pernicious idleness, this is the way to absorb the highest principles, which can both instruct and inspire the mind in pursuit of virtue.” (224). This then, began to paint a clear image in my mind, that More worked to make women have a more intellectual stance in society. Similarly, this same idea is reflected in “Utopia,” where Hythloday narrates that “…a great number of men, and also women, from all orders of society flock to hear these lectures [offered by the elderly]…” (More 62). The character of Hythloday leaves it clear that women, just like in More’s household, are included in intellectual activities. Furthermore, Hythloday then claims that “…a large part of the population in other countries [not in Utopia] live their lives in idleness” (63). He continues by denouncing that “…women do [live in idleness]” (63), and that if they work then their men “…take their place and lie around snoring” (63). After reading the article, I realize that More is most likely referring to sixteenth century Europe when referring to the “population in other countries.” Moreover, the use of the word , by More. Erasmus then, makes clear how More criticizes the idleness of Europe at the time, and how liberal education can prevent it.
Besides this, the article also mentions how More owes his “…health, his popularity and influence with an excellent prince…his increased adaptability in court society, his life among the nobility…” (Erasmus 233) to his “literary studies.” Erasmus depicts how for More, a liberal education lead him to obtain a prominent stance in society. In Utopia Hythloday describes how He adds how from that “class” the artisan can be chosen “ambassador, priest, tranibor, and the ruler himself…” (64). I realize how both in More’s personal account and in “Utopia” then, there is no sense of oligarchy. Both More himself and the artisan then, acquire a respectable position in politics and in society because of the liberal education that they have access to. More is respected among nobility, and the artisan can become even the “ruler himself” if he displays the qualifications. With this in mind, I went back to Book I and re-read how Hythloday describes that in Europe, “…there is a multitude of noblemen who do not only live like drones on the labor of other, but they also travel with a huge crowd of retainers, none of whom has ever learned to make a living” (20). It is evident then, that Europe lacks this availability of a liberal education, as those in lower ranked positions do not know how “to make a living,” and they cannot ever ascend to more respectable societal positions.
Erasmus’ letter then, served to acknowledge how More placed significant value in a liberal education. It showed how this education could lead to a society where idleness is precluded, and individuals’ statuses can be changed and promoted, both of which seem to be impossible in sixteenth century Europe.
“I have neither received nor given unauthorized material during the completion of this work”
More, Thomas, and Edward Surtz. <i>Utopia</i>. New Haven: Yale UP, 1964. Print.
Erasmus on More’s Approach to Education. “A Thomas More Source Book.” Google Books. Web. 3 Oct. 2015.