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ceeding sovereigns, but they were no longer the acts of systematic and reflecting policy. This too is worthy of remark, that the sovereigns whom you have named, and who scrupled at no means for securing themselves on the throne, for enlarging their dominions and consolidating their power, were each severally made to feel the vanity of human ambition, being punished either in or by the children who were to reap the advantage of their crimes. Verily there is a God that judgeth the earth !”
MONTESINOS. An excellent friend of mine, one of the wisest, best, and happiest men whom I have ever known, delights in this manner to trace the moral order of Providence through the revolutions of the world ; and in his historical writings keeps it in view as the pole-star of his
I wish he were present, that he might have the satisfaction of hearing his favourite opinion confirmed by one from the dead.
SIR THOMAS MORE. His opinion requires no other confirmation than what he finds for it in observation and scripture, and in his own calm judgement. I should differ little from that friend of yours concerning the past ; but his hopes for the future appear to me like early buds which are
in danger of March winds. He believes the world to be in a rapid state of sure improvement; and in the ferment which exists every where he beholds only a purifying process; not considering that there is an acetous as well as a vinous fermentation; and that in the one case the liquor may be spilt, in the other it must be spoilt.
Surely you would not rob us of our hopes for the human race! If I apprehended that your discourse tended to this end, I should suspect you, notwithstanding your appearance, and be ready to exclaim, Avaunt, Tempter ! For there is no opinion from which I should so hardly be driven, and so reluctantly part, as the belief that the world will continue to improve, even as it has hitherto continually been improving; and that the progress of knowledge and the diffusion of Christianity will bring about at last, when men become Christians in reality, as well as in name, something like that Utopian state of which philosophers have loved to dream, ... like that millennium in which Saints as well as enthusiasts have trusted.
SIR THOMAS MORE. Do you hold that this consummation must of necessity come to pass; or that it depends in any degree upon the course of events, that is to say, upon human actions ? The former of these propositions you would be as unwilling to admit as your friend Wesley, or the old Welshman Pelagius himself. The latter leaves you little other foundation for your opinion than a desire, which, from its very benevolence, is the more likely to be delusive... You are in a dilemma.
Not so, Sir Thomas. Impossible as it may be for us to reconcile the free will of man with the foreknowledge of God, I nevertheless believe in both with the most full conviction. When the human mind plunges into time and space in its speculations, it adventures beyond its sphere ; no wonder, therefore, that its powers fail, and it is lost. But that my will is free, I know feelingly: it is proved to me by my conscience. And that God provideth all things, I know by his own word, and by that instinct which he hath implanted in me to assure me of his being. My answer to your question then is this: I believe that the happy consummation which I desire is appointed, and must come to pass; but that when it is to come depends upon the obedience of man to the will of God, that is, upon human actions.
SIR THOMAS MORE. You hold then that the human race will one day attain the utmost degree of general virtue, and thereby general happiness, of which humanity is capable. Upon what do
found this belief?
MONTESINOS. The opinion is stated more broadly than I should chuse to advance it. But this is ever the manner of argumentative discourse : the opponent endeavours to draw from you conclusions which you are not prepared to defend, and which perhaps you have never before acknowledged even to yourself. I will put the proposition in a less disputable form. A happier condition of society is possible than that in which any nation is existing at this time, or has at any time existed. The sum both of moral and physical evil may be greatly diminished by good laws, good institutions, and good governments. Moral evil cannot indeed be removed, unless the nature of man were changed; and that renovation is only to be effected in individuals, and in them only by the special grace of God. Physical evil must always, to a certain degree, be inseparable from mortality. But both are so much within the reach of human institutions that a state of society is conceivable almost as superior to that of England in these days, as that itself is superior to the condition of the tattooed Britons, or of the Northern Pirates from whom we are descended. Surely this belief rests upon a reasonable foundation, and is supported by that general improvement (always going on if it be regarded upon the great scale) to which all history bears witness.
SIR THOMAS MORE.
I dispute not this : but to render it a reasonable ground of immediate hope, the predominance of good principles must be supposed. Do you
believe that good or evil principles predominate at this time?
If I were to judge by that expression of popular opinion which the press pretends to convey, I should reply without hesitation that never in any other known age of the world have such pernicious principles been so prevalent.
Qua terra patet, fera regnat Erinnys ;
SIR THOMAS MORE.
Is there not a danger that these principles may bear down every thing before them? and is not that danger obvious,.. palpable,.. imminent? Is there a considerate man who can look at the