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Seventeenth Century

Eighteenth Century


Works of Sir Thomas More

Map of Utopia from the 1516 edition.
Woodcut map from the 1516 edition of Utopia.

Excerpt from Utopia, Book 2.


Engraving of Utopia from a 1730 French edition. The island of Utopia is 200 miles broad in the middle, and over a great part of it, but grows narrower at either end. The figure of it is not unlike a crescent. Eleven miles breadth of sea washeth its horns and formeth a considerable bay, encompassed by a shore about 500 miles in extent, and well sheltered from storms. In the bay is no great current. The whole coast is as it were a continued harbour, affording the whole island every advantage of mutual intercourse. Yet the entrance into the bay, owing to rocks and shoals, is very dangerous.

      In the middle is a rock which appeareth above water, on whose top is a tower inhabited by a garrison. The other rocks lie under water, and are very dangerous. The channel is known only by the natives, and a stranger entering the bay without one of their pilots would be in imminent danger of shipwreck. Themselves could not pass it in safety, without certain marks on the coast to direct their way. And if these were a little altered, any fleet coming against them, however large, would certainly be lost. On the other side of the island are likewise many harbours; and the coast is so fortified by nature as well as art, that a small force could hinder the descent of a large army.

Engraving of Utopia from a 1730 French edition.       Report saith (and marks of its credibility remain) that this island was originally a part of the continent. Utopus, the conqueror of it, and whose name it now bears (having previously been called Abraxa), brought the government and civility of the rude inhabitants to their present highly improved state. Having easily subdued them, he formed the design of separating them from the continent and encompassing them with the sea. To this end, he ordered a deep channel to be dug 15 miles long; and that the natives might not think he treated them like slaves, he not only obliged them, but also his own soldiers to labour at the work. From the number of hands employed, it was finished with dispatch exceeding every man's expectation; and his neighbours, who at first laughed at the folly of the undertaking, when they saw it accomplished, were struck with admiration and terror.

      There are 54 cities in the island, all of them large and well built. Their laws, manners, and customs, are the same, and they resemble each other as nearly as the ground they stand on will allow. The nearest to each other are at least 24 miles asunder; and the most remote, not above a day's journey on foot. Every city sendeth three of her wisest senators once a-year to Amaurot (the capital of the island, and situate in the center), to consult on their common interests. The jurisdiction of every city extendeth at least 20 miles, and farther where they lie wider asunder. No one desireth to enlarge her boundary, for the people consider themselves in the light of good husbands, rather than owners, of their lands.

Cayley, Arthur, the Younger, ed. Memoirs of Sir Thomas More, &c.. Vol II.
London: Cadell and Davis, 1808. 55-57.

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Images of London:
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