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.