Notes of Lessons: Literature, Class III

Notes of Lessons: Literature, Class III

[We have thought that it might be of use to our readers (in their own families) to publish from month to month during the current year, Notes of Lessons prepared by students of the House of Education for the pupils of the Practising School. We should like to say, however, that such a Lesson is never given as a tour de force, but is always an illustration or an expansion of some part of the children’s regular studies (in the Parents’ Review School), some passage in one or other of their school books.—Ed.]

Subject: Literature—Sir Thomas More • Group: English • Class III • Time: 25 minutes

By Gertrude Mahony
The Parents’ Review, 1906, pp. 141-143


I. To increase the girls’ knowledge of the life and work of Sir Thomas More.

II. To interest them in the personal life of Sir Thomas More, and so increase their interest in the history of the period.

III. To give them a wider knowledge of the Revival of Learning in England.

IV. To connect the history and literature of the reign of Henry VIII.


Step I.—Ask the girls to give a brief account of Henry VIII.’s reign.

Step II.—Ask them for the names of Henry’s chief ministers, and let them relate what they know of Sir Thomas More.

Step III.—Supplement their narrative with a short account of More’s life. Sir Thomas More was born in London, in 1478. His father, Sir John More, was Justice of the Queen’s Bench, and was a man of character and talent. More received his early education in Latin. At the age of fifteen, he was placed as a page in the household of Archbishop Morton, who often said of More to the nobles who dined with him: “This child here waiting at the table, whoever shall live to see it, will prove a marvelous man.” Morton sent him later to Oxford, where he met Colet and Linacre: the latter taught him Greek. On leaving Oxford, he met Erasmus, who became his life-long friend. More, like his father, was a lawyer by profession. In the reign of Henry VII. he became a Member of Parliament, and fourteen years later (1523) Speaker of the House of Commons. In six years’ time he was made Lord Chancellor in Wolsey’s place, but much against his will, as he had no desire for public life. On the first opportunity he resigned the chancellorship and retired into private life. In 1534, Henry was declared Head of the English Church, but More, refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, was imprisoned in the Tower for more than a year for high treason. He and Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, were executed on the same charge in 1535. More was twice married. Of all his children he loved his daughter Margaret best. Her devotion to her father was unsurpassed, as one sees when reading The Household of Sir Thomas More. It was she who dared to go by nightand steal her father’s body from the gallows and have it buried. In his personal character More was the most attractive and lovable of men. From Erasmus’s sketch of him we realise all his virtues and attractions. Read the extract from Erasmus (Life and Letters) page 111, and from Green’s Shorter History, page 308, giving a description of his appearance and character. Show the girls the reproduction of More’s portrait by Holbein.

Step IV.—Ask the girls what they know of the “New Learning,” and show that Sir Thomas More was one of the chief advocates of it in England, with Erasmus and Colet.

Causes of the Revival of Learning.

(a) The fall of Constantinople in 1453 scattered Greek scholars abroad in Europe, who taught and spread their literature.

(b) The discovery of America, exploration of the Indian Sea and other places led men to write books of travel and so gave an impulse to literature.

(c) The invention of printing (earlier) facilitated study by the spread of books.

(d) The spread of Reformed Doctrines led men to study the Bible and afterwards other works.

Step V.—Mention Sir Thomas More’s works: Life of Richard III. and Utopia. The former may be regarded as the first book written in classical English prose. By his Utopia More was recognised as one of the most accomplished scholars of the Renaissance. It was written in Latin, in 1516, and translated into English, in 1556. Read an account of Utopia from “The Story of the Nations,” vol. 63, page 172, and from Green’s History, page 312. If time, read the description of Cardinal Morton from Utopia, page 36, in order to give the girls some idea of the English of the sixteenth century.