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During his research, Stephen Smith was able to examine More’s prayer book. Courtesy | Stephen Smith

A multi-decade adventure that included standing in the jail cell of a martyr, holding a prayer book from the six­teenth century, and jour­neying through foreign coun­tries has cul­mi­nated in a ground­breaking new text.

Pro­fessor of English Stephen Smith co-edited a newly released book, “The Essential Works of Thomas More,” with Gerard Wegemer, pro­fessor of English at the Uni­versity of Dallas.

The 1500-page book presents a com­pre­hensive analysis of More’s work and fea­tures a wide array of his Latin and English writings including his poetry, political phi­losophy, and the­ology.  Addi­tionally, the full text of an unpro­duced play Shake­speare helped create titled “The Book of Sir Thomas More” is included in the appendix. 

More is best-known for his oppo­sition to King Henry VIII’s divorce and splitting of the church. Found guilty of treason, More was beheaded on July 6, 1535, and was can­onized as a saint in 1935.

The target audience is anyone who is fas­ci­nated by More’s life and wants a greater under­standing of his con­tri­bu­tions.

According to Assistant Pro­fessor of English Benedict Whalen, the book fills a need in the aca­demic world. 

“In making More’s most important works acces­sible to con­tem­porary readers in a single, mod­ernized, care­fully edited volume, “The Essential Works of Thomas More” fills a gaping hole in modern scholarly edi­tions,” Whalen said. “Thomas More is crim­i­nally under­ap­pre­ciated, and I expect that this excellent edition will do much to right that wrong.”

Smith dis­covered his passion for More during his studies at the Uni­versity of Dallas under Wegemer, who he con­siders a dear friend and mentor. 

“The book in a real sense rep­re­sents the friendship, col­lab­o­ration, and good cheer of two decades,” Smith said. 

The two pro­fessors embarked on a journey to bring together all his sig­nif­icant works. 

“When you co-edit a 1500-page book, it’s a hum­bling expe­rience in many ways,” Smith said. “One thing you learn is that the author is even more complex, more human, and more mul­ti­faceted than you had thought before.”

More’s best-known work is “Utopia”, an account of an island republic fea­turing a dia­logue about ordering a republic. In the work, he takes the role of dis­agreeing with the ben­efits of a utopia. 

John Miller, director of the Dow Jour­nalism Program, fea­tured Smith on his National Review podcast, “Book­monger,” to discuss the new book. 

“Steve Smith is one of the college’s great teachers and one of the world’s experts on Thomas More,” Miller said. “I’ve enjoyed having him on my National Review pod­casts.”

The research for the book included a trip to Yale’s Bei­necke Library where Smith examined arti­facts belonging to More. Through his extensive research, Smith found many themes in More’s writings. 

“More’s life and writings address key themes from beginning to end,” Smith said. “A few are the vital impor­tance of friendship, the peril of tyranny, the chal­lenge of first prin­ciples and integrity, the edu­cation of con­science, the beauty of virtue, and finally the need for prayer and the love of God, if we are ever ‘to make merry together in heaven,’ as he hoped to the end.”

While Smith knew a vast amount about More, his new research taught him more. 

“I’d love to write a new book on the Thomas More I dis­covered through this long and illu­mi­nating project,” Smith said.