[Excerpt of a letter written by Sir Thomas More, soon after retiring from his post as Lord Chancellor, to his friend, Desiderius Erasmus, concerning his health, as well as his epitaph, written by himself.]
The thing which I have wished for from a boy, dear Desiderius, which I rejoice in your having ever enjoyed, and myself occasionally,—namely, that being free from public business, I might have some time to devote to God and myself,—that, by the grace of a great and good God, and by the favour of an indulgent prince, I have at last obtained.
I have not, however, obtained it as I wished. For I wished to reach that last stage of my life in a state, which, though suitable to my age, might yet enable me to enjoy my remaining years healthy and unbroken, free from disease and pain. But it remaineth in the hand of God, whether this wish, perhaps unreasonable, shall be accomplished. Meantime a disorder of I know not what nature hath attacked my breast, by which I suffer less in present pain than in fear of the consequence. For when it had plagued me without abatement some months, the physicians whom I consulted gave their opinion, that the long continuance of it was dangerous, and the speedy cure impossible; but that it must be cured by the gradual alterative effects of time, proper diet and medicine. Neither could they fix the period of my recovery, or ensure me a complete cure at last.
Considering this, I saw that I must either lay down my office, or discharge my duty in it incompletely. And since I could not discharge that duty without the hazard of my life, and by so doing should lose both life and office, I determined to lose one of them rather than both. Wherefore, that I might consult the public good as well as my own welfare, I entreated of the kindness of my good and great prince, that from the high office with which (as you know) he honoured me by his incredible favour, far above my pretensions, above my hopes, above my wishes, he should now release me, sinking as I was under the weight of it.
I therefore pray heaven, that God, who alone is able, may repay these favours of his majesty toward me; that the remaining time which he allotteth me may not be spent in inglorious and slothful repose, but that he may give me inclination and strength of body also, to employ it profitably. For, under bad health, I am not equal to anything; nor, my good friend, are we all like Erasmus, that that might be expected from us which God in his kindness seems to have granted exclusively to you. For who but yourself could dare to promise what you accomplish?—you, who are not hindered by the inconveniencies of growing age, and, though you be constantly afflicted with such maladies as might sicken and overcome youth and strength, yet cease you not yearly to instruct mankind by your excellent writings, as if age and ill health had robbed you of nothing.
Certain praters had begun to give it out here, that though I dissembled my sentiments, I gave-up my office unwillingly; but, having set-about my monument, I have not failed to represent the matter as it really was, in my epitaph, that, if anybody could, I might myself confute such insinuations. In appreciating this act, though they could not tax me with falsehood, they acquitted me not of some degree of arrogance. But I preferred this, to letting the other gain credit; certainly not on my own account, who think very little of what men say while God approveth, but since I had written some books in our language in the cause of the faith against certain of our advocates for the most disputed tenets, I conceived that it behoved me to defend the integrity of my character. And that you may know how arrogantly I have written, I send you my epitaph, by which you will see with what assurance I leave these men uncomplimented, that they may the less say of me what they please.
I have now waited a due time for suffrages on my official conduct, but no one hath yet stepped forward to challenge my integrity. I must thus have been very innocent or very cautious, and if my adversaries will not give me credit for the one they must for the other. The king himself hath declared his sentiments on the subject often in private, and twice in public. For when my successor, a very first-rate personage, took his seat, his majesty commanded the duke of Norfolk, high-treasurer of England, to bear most honourable testimony of me, yea more than my modesty will allow me to repeat, and to say that he dismissed me most unwillingly at my entreaty; and not content with so great a favour, he caused this to be repeated long afterward in his presence, in our assembly of peers and commons called parliament, by my successor, in his first speech, made as is customary on that occasion.
Cayley, Arthur, the Younger. Memoirs of sir Thomas More. Vol I.
London: Cadell and Davis, 1808. 126-129.
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