1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/North, Sir Thomas
NORTH, SIR THOMAS (1535?–1601?), English translator of Plutarch, second son of the 1st Baron North, was born about 1535. He is supposed to have been a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1557. In 1574 he accompanied his brother, Lord North, on a visit to the French court. He served as captain in the year of the Armada, and was knighted about three years later. His name is on the roll of justices of the peace for Cambridge in 1592 and again in 1597, and he received a small pension (£40 a year) from the queen in 1601. A third edition of his Plutarch was published, in 1603, with a supplement of other translated biographies. He translated, in 1557, Guevara's Reloj de Principes (commonly known as Libro Aureo), a compendium of moral counsels chiefly compiled from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, under the title of Diall of Princes. The English of this work is one of the earliest specimens of the ornate, copious and pointed style for which educated young Englishmen had acquired a taste in their Continental travels and studies. North translated from a French copy of Guevara, but seems to have been well acquainted with the Spanish version. The book had already been translated by Lord Berners, but without reproducing the rhetorical artifices of the original. North's version, with its mannerisms and its constant use of antithesis, set the fashion which was to culminate in Lyly's Euphues. His next work was The Morall Philosophie of Doni (1570), a translation of an Italian collection of eastern fables. The first edition of his translation of Plutarch, from the French of Jacques Amyot, appeared in 1579. The first edition was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, and was followed by other editions in 1595 and 1603, containing in each case fresh Lives. It is almost impossible to over-estimate the influence of North's vigorous English on contemporary writers, and some critics have called him the first master of English prose. The book formed the source from which Shakespeare drew the materials for his Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. It is in the last-named play that he follows the Lives most closely, whole speeches being taken directly from North.
North's Plutarch was reprinted for the Tudor Translations (1895), with an introduction by George Wyndham.