The First French and English Translations of Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia'

The First French and English Translations of Sir Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’

Reed Edwin Peggram

Modern Language Review Supplement: One Hundred Years of ‘MLR’: General and Comparative Studies, 35 (1940), 330-40


An investigation of the editions of the Utopia of Sir Thomas More is an exciting subject in itself, but a comparison of the first French and English translations throws remarkable light upon the parallel developments of the two countries in Renaissance literary history. In many respects, the two works may be regarded as vaguely  symbolic of the general tendencies of the period, so that even the most casual ‘explication de texte’ verifies whatever observations one has already been able to make in a comparative study of sixteenth century literature on the Continent and in England.

In the first place, the history of the Utopia begins outside England, although an Englishman was the author. Thomas More first planned the work as early as 1510 during a diplomatic visit to Antwerp, where he had met Peter Giles, an associate of Erasmus. And it was to his friends on the Continent that More turned when the work was ready for the press. Of the early Latin editions of the Utopia, none were published in England until past the middle of the seventeenth century, and by this time there had been more than a dozen editions on the Continent, including Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany.

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