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Famous Quotes

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About Thomas More

§ “a man for all seasons”
—Whittington and Erasmus about Thomas More, 1520 and 1521

§ “I die the king’s good servant, and God’s first.”
—On the scaffold, July 6, 1535 (from the Paris Newsletter account)

On Truth

§ “time trieth truth.”
—Thomas More’s Supplication of Souls {Amazon}, CWM *, v. 7, p. 135

On Public Service:

§ “You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds….What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can.”
Utopia {University of Virginia}, CWM, v. 4, pp. 99, 101

§ “[If a leader allows weariness to so grip] the mind that its strength is sapped and reason gives up the reins, if a [leader] is so overcome by heavy-hearted sleep that he neglects to do what the duty of his office requires…--like the cowardly ship’s captain who is so disheartened by the furious din of the storm that he deserts the helm, hides away cowering in some cranny, and abandons the ship to the waves—if a [leader] does this, I would certainly not hesitate to juxtapose and compare his sadness with the sadness that leads as [Paul] says, to hell….”
On the Sadness of Christ, CWM, v. 14, pp. 263, 265

On Law:

§ “Were it my father on the one side and the devil on the other, his cause being good, the devil should have his right.”
Life of Thomas More by William Roper

On Conscience:

§ “The clearness of my conscience has made my heart hop for joy.”
—“Letter to Margaret Roper,” from the Tower, 1534, Selected Letters #60, p. 235.

§ “My case was such in this matter through the clearness of my own conscience that thought I might have pain I could not have harm, for a man may in such a case lose his head and not have harm.”
“Letter to Margaret Roper,” from the Tower, June 3, 1535

§ “Thus being so well and quietly settled in conscience, the security and uprightness of the same so eased and diminished all the griefs and pains of his imprisonment and all his other adversity, that no token or signification of lamenting or sorrow appeared in him, but that in his communication with his daughter, with the Lieutenant and others, he held on his old merry, pleasant talk whosoever occasion served.”
Life of Thomas More by William Roper

§ “I never intend, God being my good Lord, to pin my soul to another man’s back, not even the best man that I know this day living: for I know not where he may hap to carry it.”
Dialogue on Conscience, to his daughter, in prison, August 1534

On Education:

§ “The whole fruit of their [educational] endeavors should consist in the testimony of God and a good conscience. Thus they will be inwardly calm and at peace and neither stirred by praise of flatterers nor stung by the follies of unlearned mockers of learning.”
“Letter to William Gonell,” his children’s tutor, May 22, 1518

§ “Reason is by study, labor, and exercise of logic, philosophy, and other liberal arts corroborate [i.e., strengthened] and quickened; and the judgment both in them and also in orators, laws, and stories [is] much ripened. And although poets are with many men taken but for painted words, yet do they much help the judgment, and make a man among other things well furnished in one special thing, without which all learning is half lame…a good mother wit.”
A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, CWM, v.6, p. 132

On Self-Government:

§ “I would have people in time of silence take good heed that their minds be occupied with good thoughts, for unoccupied they will never be.”
The Four Last Things, CWM, v.1, p. 138

§ “I think that if any good thing shall go forward, something must be adventured.”
A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, CWM, v. 6, p. 339

§ “In the things of the soul, knowledge without remembrance profits little.”
The Four Last Things, CWM, v.1, p. 138

On Suffering:

§ “We cannot go to heaven in featherbeds.”
Life of Thomas More by William Roper; More to his children, c. 1510

§ “Every tribulation which ever comes our way either is sent to be medicinal, if we will take it as such, or may become medicinal, if we will make it such, or is better than medicinal, unless we forsake it.”
Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v. 12, p. 23

On Pride:

§ “But no matter how high in the clouds this arrow of pride may fly, and no matter how exuberant one may feel while being carried up so high, let us remember that the lightest of these arrows still has a heavy iron head. High as it may fly, therefore, it inevitably has to come down and hit the ground. And sometimes it lands in a not very clean place.”
Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v.12, pp. 157-8

§ “I will simply counsel every man and woman to beware of even the very least speck of [pride], which seems to me to be the mere delight and liking of ourselves for anything whatsoever that either is in us or outwardly belongs to us.”
The Treatise Upon the Passion, CWM, v.13, p. 9

§ “Aesop says in a fable that everyone carries a double wallet on his shoulders, and into the one that hangs at his breast he puts other folk’s faults and he looks and pores over it often. In the other he puts all his own and swings it at his back, which he never likes to look in, although others that come behind him cast an eye into it sometimes.”
A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, CWM, v.6, pp. 295-6

§ “As Boethius says: For one man to be proud that he has rule over other men is much like one mouse being proud to have rule over other mice in a barn.”
Dialogue on Conscience, pp. 519-20

§ “On glory: He who sets his delight on the blast of another man’s mouth feeds himself but with wind, wherein, be he never so full, he has little substance therein.”
Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v.12, p. 212

§ “I never saw fool yet who thought himself other than wise…If a fool perceives himself a fool, that point is not folly, but a little spark of wit.”
Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v.12, p. 287

*N.B. CWM refers to The Complete Works of St. Thomas More (1963-1997), published by Yale University Press. Most of these quotations have been modernized in syntax and diction, and therefore often differ from the original given in CWM.