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Chapter / Scene Summaries With Notes
Letter of Sir Thomas More to Peter Giles (part of the original preface to Utopia)
After greeting Peter Giles, More recalls the conversation they had had a year ago about the commonwealth of Utopia. More wishes to write down all that he had heard from Master Raphael about Utopia. More expresses his wish to capture the simplicity and directness of the original in his book.
In this self-appointed task, More has a great advantage as he has the raw material in hand. Otherwise, it would need a very clever and learned man to invent such a story. Though he had hoped to write it earlier, his family and work had taken up much of his time and it has taken him a year to write the book. He has accomplished that only by cutting down on eating and sleeping -- both necessary but time consuming -- to write it. Now that it is finished, More has sent it to his friend Peter for his comments and corrections.
More is fairly sure of his memory, but John Clements, a young man who was with them when they met Raphael Hythloday, had objected to some details. Clements thought that More had made a bridge over the river Anyder longer than Hythloday had said it was. More would appreciate Peter's opinion because he is very keen to stick to the absolute truth and set down what he had heard.
More goes on to request Hythloday to take up this matter either directly or by letter. Also, he wants to know where Utopia is in the New World. They should have asked this question earlier, but now More needs the information urgently because a certain bishop is desirous to go to Utopia to preach Christianity. More hopes that Peter could show More's manuscript to Hythloday and ask for his comments.
Although the book is ready, More has some doubts about publishing it because he knows it does not have popular appeal. To be criticized and sometimes laughed at is the fate of all books, but more so with Utopia which has no popular theme or description. Still More will publish it because he is sure of its worth. The letter ends with an affectionate greeting.
This letter is important in many respects. First, it introduces the three characters - More, the author; Peter Giles, his young friend and adviser; and Raphael Hythloday, the mariner. While More and Giles are real men who lived in the sixteenth century, Hythloday has been created by More. The tone of the letter suggests that More respected Hythloday a great deal, enough to translate his travel account into a manuscript. This increases the reader's interest and whets his curiosity. Who is Hythloday? What is the account given a year ago that More is so anxious to impart?
Next, by addressing the letter to a real man and referring to Hythloday in the manner he does, More is establishing the background of his book. He wants the reader to believe that the conversation he is describing really took place and that Hythloday really described the imaginary country of Utopia. This is an important technique that More uses -- establishing reality and verisimilitude to convince the reader of his ideas. His further queries about Utopia strengthen this feeling of reality. When More requests Peter Giles to find out the exact location of the island and bemoans his stupidity at not having established it earlier, he pre- empts the reader's own skepticism about where this place is. If the reader hears about an unknown place that appeals to him greatly and cannot place it in the atlas, he would probably reason that it did not exist. The fact that it does exist would lend More's book more credibility.