Living with Purpose: Meaningful Lives in Early Modern England Examined
Keith Thomas, The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England, (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2009), ISBN 978-0-19-924723-3, pp. i-xvi + 1-393
“Ne frustra vixisse videar!” According to the philosopher Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) kept muttering this phrase over and over again in a deathbed delirium shortly before his passing away in October 1601. This powerful picture of a man agonizing over self-realization in his last hours rings true about the Dane who had been an extremely driven person in his scientific pursuits, yet paths to living a meaningful life were open not only to him, as exceptional as he was, but also to many other people in his age. In early modern England, for example, there was a variety of ends which men and women across different social strata could pursue in search of fulfillment. How they did this is told by the noted Oxford historian Sir Keith Thomas in the book under review here.