Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 38.djvu/436

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the classics, he studied French, mathematics, and history, and learned to play on the viol and flute (Stapleton).

His father, who had designed him for the bar, deprecated, according to Erasmus, his devotion to Greek, and feared that his religious orthodoxy might suffer by his growing enthusiasm for the new learning. It is certain that after two years' residence in Oxford More was recalled to London, and about 1494 was entered as a law student at New Inn. In February 1496 he was removed to Lincoln's Inn, and rapidly acquired a good knowledge of law. He was called to the outer bar after a shorter period of probation than was customary, and was appointed reader or lecturer on law at Furnival's Inn, which was dependent on Lincoln's Inn. His lectures were so satisfactory that he was invited to repeat them in three successive years.

While assiduously studying law, More devoted much of his leisure to literature. He wrote 'for his pastime' very promising verse in both Latin and English, and, according to Erasmus, tried his hand at 'little comedies' (comædiolas), while he spent much time over the works of Pico della Mirandola. He sedulously cultivated the acquaintance of men of literary tastes; saw much of his Oxford tutors, Grocyn and Linacre, after they settled in London, and through them came to know Colet and William Lily [q. v.], both scholars of high attainments. Colet, who exercised a powerful influence over him, became his confessor, or, in his own words, 'the director of his life' (Stapleton). With Lily he engaged in friendly rivalry while rendering epigrams from the Greek anthology into Latin, and their joint efforts (' pro-gymnasmata ') were published in 1518. But of greater satisfaction to him was his introduction in 1497 to Erasmus, who was then on a first visit to England. It is possible that they first met at the house of Erasmus's pupil and patron, Lord Mountjoy. More's handsome face, ready wit, and wide culture at once fascinated the great scholar. A very close intimacy followed, and they regularly corresponded with each other until separated by death. In the spring of 1499 More and Erasmus, while at Mountjoy's country house, walked over to a neighbouring mansion, where Henry VII's children were in residence. Prince Henry (afterwards Henry VIII), a boy of nine, stood in the hall, between his two sisters, Margaret and Mary, and More presented him with a poem. This is the earliest evidence of a meeting between More and his future master.

When nearly of age (in 1499) More experienced severe spiritual questionings, and contemplated becoming a priest. He went to live near the Charterhouse, so that he might take part daily in the spiritual exercises of the Carthusians, and devoted himself to 'vigils, fasts, and prayers, and similar austerities' (Erasmus). He wore 'a sharp shirt of hair next his skin, which he never left off wholly' (More), often scourged himself, and gave only four or five hours a day to sleep. He even thought of taking the vows of a Franciscan. While in this frame of mind he seems to have lectured in the church of St. Lawrence Jewry on St. Augustine's 'De Civitate Dei,' probably at the invitation of his friend Grocyn, who was rector of the church. His audience included Grocyn and other men of learning and influence in the city, but none of his lectures are extant. They possibly contained the germs of the 'Utopia.'

At the end of four years thus spent in religious contemplation (1499-1503), More suddenly abandoned all thought of the priesthood, and flung himself with redoubled energy into secular affairs. The cause of this change of purpose has been variously estimated. The discovery of notable corruptions within the church; a newly awakened ambition to make a name for himself either in politics or in his profession where his chances of success seemed secure; an unwillingness to submit to the restraints of celibacy, have all been suggested the first with especial warmth by protestant writers. There is probably an element of truth in each, but strong religious excitement is not uncommon as a merely temporary phase in young men of highly nervous temperament or precociously developed intellect. While relinquishing ascetic practices, he continued till death scrupulously regular in all the religious observances expected of a pious catholic. But his alertness of intellect rendered him intolerant of inefficiency or insincerity in the priesthood, whose defects inspired many of his witty Latin epigrams. Like Erasmus and Colet he trusted to the intelligence of the higher clergy and to the progress of education to uproot ignorance and superstition (cf. his letter denouncing the follies of a friar at Coventry in Lambeth MS. 575, pp. 7-9, printed in Nichols, Bibl. Top. Brit. iv. No. xvii.,1780).

More's work at the bar was brilliantly successful, and he soon began a study of politics. In 1503 he lamented in English verse the death of Queen Elizabeth (English Works). In the spring of 1504 he was elected a member of parliament, but the extant returns fail to mention his constituency. Edmund Dudley [q. v.] was speaker. The