when he described a traveller, who had accompanied Vespucci in his last voyage, as remaining in South America with a few companions and making their way westwards home by shore and sea, thus anticipating the circumnavigation of the globe which a few more years were to see achieved. The traveller's name is Hythlodaeus, or Expert in Nonsense; and none among the countries visited by him so strongly arrests his attention as the island of Utopia, or Nowhere, where the traditional absurdities dominant in the Old World are unknown, and society is constituted on a humane and reasonable basis. Utopia is an aristocratic republic, in which the officers of government, elected annually, are presided over by a chief magistrate elected for life. Everyone is engaged in agriculture, and drones are banished from the hive; it is an accepted principle that every man has a natural right to so much of the earth as is necessary for his subsistence, and may lawfully dispossess of his land any possessor who leaves it untilled. Even the generous imagination of More did not rise to the conception of a state of society in which slavery was unknown: and the labouring population of Utopia are still slaves. Not that they are held as private property, for private property is unknown. Whatever is valuable is held as it were on lease from the community, on condition of making such use of it as shall enure for the public benefit. The family is patriarchally governed; there is no coinage; gold and silver are not used as ornaments, but are only applied to the basest purposes, and precious stones serve only to adorn children. The energies of the Utopians, released from the empty employments of Old World life, are concentrated on the development of learning and science. Many of them worship the heavenly bodies and the distinguished dead, but the majority are theists. Their priests are chosen by popular election: they have few and excellent laws, but no professional lawyers; they detest war, but are well armed, and fight intrepidly when necessary, though by preference they employ a neighbouring nation of herdsmen as mercenaries. The temples of the Utopians are private buildings, and there is no worship of images. No living thing is offered in sacrifice, though incense is burned, and wax candles are lighted during the service of God, and vocal and instrumental music is practised in connexion with it. But in all religious matters there is absolute toleration. There is indeed a limited exception in favour of the immortality of the soul, and a future state of rewards and punishments, belief in both of which is thought to be essential to good citizenship. Yet even those who reject these doctrines are tolerated, on the principle that a man cannot make himself believe that which he might desire to believe, but which his reason compels him to reject: these, however, are regarded as base and sordid natures, and excluded from public offices and honours. The attitude of the Utopians towards Christianity, of which they hear for the first time from Hythlodaeus, is described as favourable: what chiefly disposes them to receive it
Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/93
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