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Produced by David Widger


Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



XXXIX. A consideration upon Cicero.
XL. That the relish of good and evil depends in a great measure
upon opinion.
XLI. Not to communicate a man's honour.
XLII. Of the inequality amongst us.
XLIII. Of sumptuary laws.
XLIV. Of sleep.
XLV. Of the battle of Dreux.
XLVI. Of names.
XLVII. Of the uncertainty of our judgment.



One word more by way of comparison betwixt these two. There are to be
gathered out of the writings of Cicero and the younger Pliny (but little,
in my opinion, resembling his uncle in his humours) infinite testimonies
of a beyond measure ambitious nature; and amongst others, this for one,
that they both, in the sight of all the world, solicit the historians of
their time not to forget them in their memoirs; and fortune, as if in
spite, has made the vanity of those requests live upon record down to
this age of ours, while she has long since consigned the histories
themselves to oblivion. But this exceeds all meanness of spirit in
persons of such a quality as they were, to think to derive any great
renown from babbling and prating; even to the publishing of their private
letters to their friends, and so withal, that though some of them were
never sent, the opportunity being lost, they nevertheless presented them
to the light, with this worthy excuse that they were unwilling to lose
their labours and lucubrations. Was it not very well becoming two
consuls of Rome, sovereign magistrates of the republic that commanded
the world, to spend their leisure in contriving quaint and elegant
missives, thence to gain the reputation of being versed in their own
mother-tongues? What could a pitiful schoolmaster have done worse, whose
trade it was thereby to get his living? If the acts of Xenophon and
Caesar had not far transcended their eloquence, I scarce believe they
would ever have taken the pains to have written them; they made it their
business to recommend not their speaking, but their doing. And could the
perfection of eloquence have added a lustre suitable to a great
personage, certainly Scipio and Laelius had never resigned the honour of
their comedies, with all the luxuriances and elegances of the Latin
tongue, to an African slave; for that the work was theirs, its beauty and
excellence sufficiently declare; Terence himself confesses as much, and I
should take it ill from any one that would dispossess me of that belief.

'Tis a kind of mockery and offence to extol a man for qualities
misbecoming his condition, though otherwise commendable in themselves,
but such as ought not, however, to be his chief talent; as if a man
should commend a king for being a good painter, a good architect, a good
marksman, or a good runner at the ring: commendations that add no honour,
unless mentioned altogether and in the train of those that are properly
applicable to him, namely, justice and the science of governing and
conducting his people both in peace and war. At this rate, agriculture
was an honour to Cyrus, and eloquence and the knowledge of letters to
Charlemagne. I have in my time known some, who by writing acquired both
their titles and fortune, disown their apprenticeship, corrupt their
style, and affect ignorance in so vulgar a quality (which also our nation
holds to be rarely seen in very learned hands), and to seek a reputation
by better qualities. Demosthenes' companions in the embassy to Philip,
extolling that prince as handsome, eloquent, and a stout drinker,
Demosthenes said that those were commendations more proper for a woman,
an advocate, or a sponge, than for a king':

"Imperet bellante prior, jacentem
Lenis in hostem."

["In the fight, overthrow your enemy, but be merciful to him when
fallen. - "Horace, Carm. Saec., v. 51.]

'Tis not his profession to know either how to hunt or to dance well;

"Orabunt causas alii, coelique meatus
Describent radio, et fulgentia sidera dicent;
Hic regere imperio populos sciat."

["Let others plead at the bar, or describe the spheres, and point
out the glittering stars; let this man learn to rule the nations."
- AEneid, vi. 849.]

Plutarch says, moreover, that to appear so excellent in these less
necessary qualities is to produce witness against a man's self, that he
has spent his time and applied his study ill, which ought to have been
employed in the acquisition of more necessary and more useful things.
So that Philip, king of Macedon, having heard that great Alexander his
son sing once at a feast to the wonder of the best musicians there: "Art
thou not ashamed," said he to him, "to sing so well?" And to the same
Philip a musician, with whom he was disputing about some things
concerning his art: "Heaven forbid, sir," said he, "that so great a
misfortune should ever befall you as to understand these things better
than I." A king should be able to answer as Iphicrates did the orator,
who pressed upon him in his invective after this manner: "And what art
thou that thou bravest it at this rate? art thou a man at arms, art thou
an archer, art thou a pikeman?" - "I am none of all this; but I know how
to command all these." And Antisthenes took it for an argument of little
value in Ismenias that he was commended for playing excellently well upon
a flute.

I know very well, that when I hear any one dwell upon the language of my
essays, I had rather a great deal he would say nothing: 'tis not so much
to elevate the style as to depress the sense, and so much the more
offensively as they do it obliquely; and yet I am much deceived if many
other writers deliver more worth noting as to the matter, and, how well
or ill soever, if any other writer has sown things much more materials or
at all events more downright, upon his paper than myself. To bring the
more in, I only muster up the heads; should I annex the sequel, I should
trebly multiply the volume. And how many stories have I scattered up and
down in this book that I only touch upon, which, should any one more
curiously search into, they would find matter enough to produce infinite
essays. Neither those stories nor my quotations always serve simply for
example, authority, or ornament; I do not only regard them for the use I
make of them: they carry sometimes besides what I apply them to, the seed
of a more rich and a bolder matter, and sometimes, collaterally, a more
delicate sound both to myself who will say no more about it in this
place, and to others who shall be of my humour.

But returning to the speaking virtue: I find no great choice betwixt not
knowing to speak anything but ill, and not knowing to speak anything but

"Non est ornamentum virile concimitas."

["A carefully arranged dress is no manly ornament."
- Seneca, Ep., 115.]

The sages tell us that, as to what concerns knowledge, 'tis nothing but
philosophy; and as to what concerns effects, nothing but virtue, which is
generally proper to all degrees and to all orders.

There is something like this in these two other philosophers, for they
also promise eternity to the letters they write to their friends; but
'tis after another manner, and by accommodating themselves, for a good
end, to the vanity of another; for they write to them that if the concern
of making themselves known to future ages, and the thirst of glory, do
yet detain them in the management of public affairs, and make them fear
the solitude and retirement to which they would persuade them, let them
never trouble themselves more about it, forasmuch as they shall have
credit enough with posterity to ensure them that were there nothing else
but the letters thus written to them, those letters will render their
names as known and famous as their own public actions could do. And
besides this difference, these are not idle and empty letters, that
contain nothing but a fine jingle of well-chosen words and delicate
couched phrases, but rather replete and abounding with grand discourses
of reason, by which a man may render himself not more eloquent, but more
wise, and that instruct us not to speak, but to do well. Away with that
eloquence that enchants us with itself, and not with actual things!
unless you will allow that of Cicero to be of so supreme a perfection as
to form a complete body of itself.

I shall farther add one story we read of him to this purpose, wherein his
nature will much more manifestly be laid open to us. He was to make an
oration in public, and found himself a little straitened for time to make
himself ready at his ease; when Eros, one of his slaves, brought him word
that the audience was deferred till the next day, at which he was so
ravished with joy that he enfranchised him for the good news.

Upon this subject of letters, I will add this more to what has been
already said, that it is a kind of writing wherein my friends think I can
do something; and I am willing to confess I should rather have chosen to
publish my whimsies that way than any other, had I had to whom to write;
but I wanted such a settled intercourse, as I once had, to attract me to
it, to raise my fancy, and to support me. For to traffic with the wind,
as some others have done, and to forge vain names to direct my letters
to, in a serious subject, I could never do it but in a dream, being a
sworn enemy to all manner of falsification. I should have been more
diligent and more confident had I had a judicious and indulgent friend
whom to address, than thus to expose myself to the various judgments of a
whole people, and I am deceived if I had not succeeded better. I have
naturally a humorous and familiar style; but it is a style of my own, not
proper for public business, but, like the language I speak, too compact,
irregular, abrupt, and singular; and as to letters of ceremony that have
no other substance than a fine contexture of courteous words, I am wholly
to seek. I have neither faculty nor relish for those tedious tenders of
service and affection; I believe little in them from others, and I should
not forgive myself should I say to others more than I myself believe.
'Tis, doubtless, very remote from the present practice; for there never
was so abject and servile prostitution of offers: life, soul, devotion,
adoration, vassal, slave, and I cannot tell what, as now; all which
expressions are so commonly and so indifferently posted to and fro by
every one and to every one, that when they would profess a greater and
more respectful inclination upon more just occasions, they have not
wherewithal to express it. I mortally hate all air of flattery, which is
the cause that I naturally fall into a shy, rough, and crude way of
speaking, that, to such as do not know me, may seem a little to relish of
disdain. I honour those most to whom I show the least honour, and where
my soul moves with the greatest cheerfulness, I easily forget the
ceremonies of look and gesture, and offer myself faintly and bluntly to
them to whom I am the most devoted: methinks they should read it in my
heart, and that the expression of my words does but injure the love I
have conceived within. To welcome, take leave, give thanks, accost,
offer my service, and such verbal formalities as the ceremonious laws of
our modern civility enjoin, I know no man so stupidly unprovided of
language as myself; and I have never been employed in writing letters of
favour and recommendation, that he, in whose behalf it was written, did
not think my mediation cold and imperfect. The Italians are great
printers of letters; I do believe I have at least an hundred several
volumes of them; of all which those of Annibale Caro seem to me to be the
best. If all the paper I have scribbled to the ladies at the time when
my hand was really prompted by my passion, were now in being, there
might, peradventure, be found a page worthy to be communicated to our
young inamoratos, that are besotted with that fury. I always write my
letters post-haste - so precipitately, that though I write intolerably
ill, I rather choose to do it myself, than to employ another; for I can
find none able to follow me: and I never transcribe any. I have
accustomed the great ones who know me to endure my blots and dashes, and
upon paper without fold or margin. Those that cost me the most pains,
are the worst; when I once begin to draw it in by head and shoulders,
'tis a sign that I am not there. I fall too without premeditation or
design; the first word begets the second, and so to the end of the
chapter. The letters of this age consist more in fine edges and prefaces
than in matter. Just as I had rather write two letters than close and
fold up one, and always assign that employment to some other, so, when
the real business of my letter is dispatched, I would with all my heart
transfer it to another hand to add those long harangues, offers, and
prayers, that we place at the bottom, and should be glad that some new
custom would discharge us of that trouble; as also of superscribing them
with a long legend of qualities and titles, which for fear of mistakes,
I have often not written at all, and especially to men of the long robe
and finance; there are so many new offices, such a dispensation and
ordering of titles of honour, that 'tis hard to set them forth aright
yet, being so dearly bought, they are neither to be altered nor forgotten
without offence. I find it equally in bad taste to encumber the fronts
and inscriptions of the books we commit to the press with such.



Men (says an ancient Greek sentence) - [Manual of Epictetus, c. 10.] -
are tormented with the opinions they have of things and not by the things
themselves. It were a great victory obtained for the relief of our
miserable human condition, could this proposition be established for
certain and true throughout. For if evils have no admission into us but
by the judgment we ourselves make of them, it should seem that it is,
then, in our own power to despise them or to turn them to good. If
things surrender themselves to our mercy, why do we not convert and
accommodate them to our advantage? If what we call evil and torment is
neither evil nor torment of itself, but only that our fancy gives it that
quality, it is in us to change it, and it being in our own choice, if
there be no constraint upon us, we must certainly be very strange fools
to take arms for that side which is most offensive to us, and to give
sickness, want, and contempt a bitter and nauseous taste, if it be in our
power to give them a pleasant relish, and if, fortune simply providing
the matter, 'tis for us to give it the form. Now, that what we call evil
is not so of itself, or at least to that degree that we make it, and that
it depends upon us to give it another taste and complexion (for all comes
to one), let us examine how that can be maintained.

If the original being of those things we fear had power to lodge itself
in us by its own authority, it would then lodge itself alike, and in like
manner, in all; for men are all of the same kind, and saving in greater
and less proportions, are all provided with the same utensils and
instruments to conceive and to judge; but the diversity of opinions we
have of those things clearly evidences that they only enter us by
composition; one person, peradventure, admits them in their true being,
but a thousand others give them a new and contrary being in them. We
hold death, poverty, and pain for our principal enemies; now, this death,
which some repute the most dreadful of all dreadful things, who does not
know that others call it the only secure harbour from the storms and
tempests of life, the sovereign good of nature, the sole support of
liberty, and the common and prompt remedy of all evils? And as the one
expect it with fear and trembling, the others support it with greater
ease than life. That one complains of its facility:

"Mors! utinam pavidos vitae subducere nolles.
Sed virtus to sola daret!"

["O death! wouldst that thou might spare the coward, but that
valour alone should pay thee tribute." - Lucan, iv. 580.]

Now, let us leave these boastful courages. Theodorus answered
Lysimachus, who threatened to kill him, "Thou wilt do a brave feat," said
he, "to attain the force of a cantharides." The majority of philosophers
are observed to have either purposely anticipated, or hastened and
assisted their own death. How many ordinary people do we see led to
execution, and that not to a simple death, but mixed with shame and
sometimes with grievous torments, appear with such assurance, whether
through firm courage or natural simplicity, that a man can discover no
change from their ordinary condition; settling their domestic affairs,
commending themselves to their friends, singing, preaching, and
addressing the people, nay, sometimes sallying into jests, and drinking
to their companions, quite as well as Socrates?

One that they were leading to the gallows told them they must not take
him through such a street, lest a merchant who lived there should arrest
him by the way for an old debt. Another told the hangman he must not
touch his neck for fear of making him laugh, he was so ticklish. Another
answered his confessor, who promised him he should that day sup with our
Lord, "Do you go then," said he, "in my room [place]; for I for my part
keep fast to-day." Another having called for drink, and the hangman
having drunk first, said he would not drink after him, for fear of
catching some evil disease. Everybody has heard the tale of the Picard,
to whom, being upon the ladder, they presented a common wench, telling
him (as our law does some times permit) that if he would marry her they
would save his life; he, having a while considered her and perceiving
that she halted: "Come, tie up, tie up," said he, "she limps." And they
tell another story of the same kind of a fellow in Denmark, who being
condemned to lose his head, and the like condition being proposed to him
upon the scaffold, refused it, by reason the girl they offered him had
hollow cheeks and too sharp a nose. A servant at Toulouse being accused
of heresy, for the sum of his belief referred himself to that of his
master, a young student, prisoner with him, choosing rather to die than
suffer himself to be persuaded that his master could err. We read that
of the inhabitants of Arras, when Louis XI. took that city, a great many
let themselves be hanged rather than they would say, "God save the King."
And amongst that mean-souled race of men, the buffoons, there have been
some who would not leave their fooling at the very moment of death. One
that the hang man was turning off the ladder cried: "Launch the galley,"
an ordinary saying of his. Another, whom at the point of death his
friends had laid upon a bed of straw before the fire, the physician
asking him where his pain lay: "Betwixt the bench and the fire," said he,
and the priest, to give him extreme unction, groping for his feet which
his pain had made him pull up to him: "You will find them," said he, "at
the end of my legs." To one who being present exhorted him to recommend
himself to God: "Why, who goes thither?" said he; and the other
replying: "It will presently be yourself, if it be His good pleasure."
"Shall I be sure to be there by to-morrow night?" said he. "Do, but
recommend yourself to Him," said the other, "and you will soon be there."
"I were best then," said he, "to carry my recommendations myself."

In the kingdom of Narsingah to this day the wives of their priests are
buried alive with the bodies of their husbands; all other wives are burnt
at their husbands' funerals, which they not only firmly but cheerfully
undergo. At the death of their king, his wives and concubines, his
favourites, all his officers, and domestic servants, who make up a whole
people, present themselves so gaily to the fire where his body is burnt,
that they seem to take it for a singular honour to accompany their master
in death. During our late wars of Milan, where there happened so many
takings and retakings of towns, the people, impatient of so many changes
of fortune, took such a resolution to die, that I have heard my father
say he there saw a list taken of five-and-twenty masters of families who
made themselves away in one week's time: an incident somewhat resembling
that of the Xanthians, who being besieged by Brutus, fell - men, women,
and children - into such a furious appetite of dying, that nothing can be
done to evade death which they did not to avoid life; insomuch that
Brutus had much difficulty in saving a very small number. - ["Only fifty
were saved." - Plutarch, Life of Brutus, c. 8.]

Every opinion is of force enough to cause itself to be espoused at the
expense of life. The first article of that valiant oath that Greece took
and observed in the Median war, was that every one should sooner exchange
life for death, than their own laws for those of Persia. What a world of
people do we see in the wars betwixt the Turks and the Greeks, rather
embrace a cruel death than uncircumcise themselves to admit of baptism?
An example of which no sort of religion is incapable.

The kings of Castile having banished the Jews out of their dominions,
John, King of Portugal, in consideration of eight crowns a head, sold
them a retreat into his for a certain limited time, upon condition that
the time fixed coming to expire they should begone, and he to furnish
them with shipping to transport them into Africa. The day comes, which
once lapsed they were given to understand that such as were afterward
found in the kingdom should remain slaves; vessels were very slenderly
provided; and those who embarked in them were rudely and villainously
used by the passengers, who, besides other indignities, kept them
cruising upon the sea, one while forwards and another backwards, till
they had spent all their provisions, and were constrained to buy of them
at so dear a rate and so long withal, that they set them not on shore
till they were all stripped to the very shirts. The news of this inhuman
usage being brought to those who remained behind, the greater part of
them resolved upon slavery and some made a show of changing religion.
Emmanuel, the successor of John, being come to the crown, first set them
at liberty, and afterwards altering his mind, ordered them to depart his
country, assigning three ports for their passage. He hoped, says Bishop
Osorius, no contemptible Latin historian of these later times, that the
favour of the liberty he had given them having failed of converting them
to Christianity, yet the difficulty of committing themselves to the mercy
of the mariners and of abandoning a country they were now habituated to
and were grown very rich in, to go and expose themselves in strange and
unknown regions, would certainly do it. But finding himself deceived in
his expectation, and that they were all resolved upon the voyage, he cut
off two of the three ports he had promised them, to the end that the
length and incommodity of the passage might reduce some, or that he might
have opportunity, by crowding them all into one place, the more
conveniently to execute what he had designed, which was to force all the
children under fourteen years of age from the arms of their fathers and
mothers, to transport them from their sight and conversation, into a
place where they might be instructed and brought up in our religion. He
says that this produced a most horrid spectacle the natural affection
betwixt the parents and their children, and moreover their zeal to their
ancient belief, contending against this violent decree, fathers and
mothers were commonly seen making themselves away, and by a yet much more
rigorous example, precipitating out of love and compassion their young
children into wells and pits, to avoid the severity of this law. As to
the remainder of them, the time that had been prefixed being expired,
for want of means to transport them they again returned into slavery.
Some also turned Christians, upon whose faith, as also that of their
posterity, even to this day, which is a hundred years since, few
Portuguese can yet rely; though custom and length of time are much more

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Online LibraryMichel de MontaigneThe Essays of Montaigne — Volume 07 → online text (page 1 of 6)