Michel de Montaigne.

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Produced by David Widger





ESSAYS OF MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE

Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt

1877




CONTENTS OF VOLUME 12.

XVIII. Of giving the lie.
XIX. Of liberty of conscience.
XX. That we taste nothing pure.
XXI. Against idleness.
XXII. Of Posting.
XXIII. Of ill means employed to a good end.
XXIV. Of the Roman grandeur.
XXV. Not to counterfeit being sick.
XXVI. Of thumbs.
XXVII. Cowardice the mother of cruelty.
XXVIII. All things have their season.
XXIX. Of virtue.
XXX. Of a monstrous child.
XXXI. Of anger.



CHAPTER XVIII

OF GIVING THE LIE

Well, but some one will say to me, this design of making a man's self the
subject of his writing, were indeed excusable in rare and famous men, who
by their reputation had given others a curiosity to be fully informed of
them. It is most true, I confess and know very well, that a mechanic
will scarce lift his eyes from his work to look at an ordinary man,
whereas a man will forsake his business and his shop to stare at an
eminent person when he comes into a town. It misbecomes any other to
give his own character, but him who has qualities worthy of imitation,
and whose life and opinions may serve for example: Caesar and Xenophon
had a just and solid foundation whereon to found their narrations, the
greatness of their own performances; and were to be wished that we had
the journals of Alexander the Great, the commentaries that Augustus,
Cato, Sylla, Brutus, and others left of their actions; of such persons
men love and contemplate the very statues even in copper and marble.
This remonstrance is very true; but it very little concerns me:

"Non recito cuiquam, nisi amicis, idque coactus;
Non ubivis, coramve quibuslibet, in medio qui
Scripta foro recitant, sunt multi, quique lavantes."

["I repeat my poems only to my friends, and when bound to do so;
not before every one and everywhere; there are plenty of reciters
in the open market-place and at the baths." - Horace, sat. i. 4, 73.]

I do not here form a statue to erect in the great square of a city, in a
church, or any public place:

"Non equidem hoc studeo, bullatis ut mihi nugis,
Pagina turgescat......
Secreti loquimur:"

["I study not to make my pages swell with empty trifles;
you and I are talking in private." - Persius, Sat., v. 19.]

'tis for some corner of a library, or to entertain a neighbour,
a kinsman, a friend, who has a mind to renew his acquaintance and
familiarity with me in this image of myself. Others have been encouraged
to speak of themselves, because they found the subject worthy and rich;
I, on the contrary, am the bolder, by reason the subject is so poor and
sterile that I cannot be suspected of ostentation. I judge freely of the
actions of others; I give little of my own to judge of, because they are
nothing: I do not find so much good in myself, that I cannot tell it
without blushing.

What contentment would it not be to me to hear any one thus relate to me
the manners, faces, countenances, the ordinary words and fortunes of my
ancestors? how attentively should I listen to it! In earnest, it would
be evil nature to despise so much as the pictures of our friends and
predecessors, the fashion of their clothes and arms. I preserve their
writing, seal, and a particular sword they wore, and have not thrown the
long staves my father used to carry in his hand, out of my closet.

"Paterna vestis, et annulus, tanto charior est
posteris, quanto erga parentes major affectus."

["A father's garment and ring is by so much dearer to his posterity,
as there is the greater affection towards parents."
- St. Aug., De Civat. Dei, i. 13.]

If my posterity, nevertheless, shall be of another mind, I shall be
avenged on them; for they cannot care less for me than I shall then do
for them. All the traffic that I have in this with the public is, that I
borrow their utensils of writing, which are more easy and most at hand;
and in recompense shall, peradventure, keep a pound of butter in the
market from melting in the sun: - [Montaigne semi-seriously speculates on
the possibility of his MS. being used to wrap up butter.]

"Ne toga cordyllis, ne penula desit olivis;
Et laxas scombris saepe dabo tunicas;"

["Let not wrappers be wanting to tunny-fish, nor olives;
and I shall supply loose coverings to mackerel."
- Martial, xiii. I, I.]

And though nobody should read me, have I wasted time in entertaining
myself so many idle hours in so pleasing and useful thoughts? In
moulding this figure upon myself, I have been so often constrained to
temper and compose myself in a right posture, that the copy is truly
taken, and has in some sort formed itself; painting myself for others,
I represent myself in a better colouring than my own natural complexion.
I have no more made my book than my book has made me: 'tis a book
consubstantial with the author, of a peculiar design, a parcel of my
life, and whose business is not designed for others, as that of all other
books is. In giving myself so continual and so exact an account of
myself, have I lost my time? For they who sometimes cursorily survey
themselves only, do not so strictly examine themselves, nor penetrate so
deep, as he who makes it his business, his study, and his employment, who
intends a lasting record, with all his fidelity, and with all his force:
The most delicious pleasures digested within, avoid leaving any trace of
themselves, and avoid the sight not only of the people, but of any other
person. How often has this work diverted me from troublesome thoughts?
and all that are frivolous should be reputed so. Nature has presented us
with a large faculty of entertaining ourselves alone; and often calls us
to it, to teach us that we owe ourselves in part to society, but chiefly
and mostly to ourselves. That I may habituate my fancy even to meditate
in some method and to some end, and to keep it from losing itself and
roving at random, 'tis but to give to body and to record all the little
thoughts that present themselves to it. I give ear to my whimsies,
because I am to record them. It often falls out, that being displeased
at some action that civility and reason will not permit me openly to
reprove, I here disgorge myself, not without design of public
instruction: and also these poetical lashes,

"Zon zur l'oeil, ion sur le groin,
Zon zur le dos du Sagoin,"

["A slap on his eye, a slap on his snout, a slap on Sagoin's
back." - Marot. Fripelippes, Valet de Marot a Sagoin.]


imprint themselves better upon paper than upon the flesh. What if I
listen to books a little more attentively than ordinary, since I watch if
I can purloin anything that may adorn or support my own? I have not at
all studied to make a book; but I have in some sort studied because I had
made it; if it be studying to scratch and pinch now one author, and then
another, either by the head or foot, not with any design to form opinions
from them, but to assist, second, and fortify those I already have
embraced. But whom shall we believe in the report he makes of himself in
so corrupt an age? considering there are so few, if, any at all, whom we
can believe when speaking of others, where there is less interest to lie.
The first thing done in the corruption of manners is banishing truth;
for, as Pindar says, to be true is the beginning of a great virtue, and
the first article that Plato requires in the governor of his Republic.
The truth of these days is not that which really is, but what every man
persuades another man to believe; as we generally give the name of money
not only to pieces of the dust alloy, but even to the false also, if they
will pass. Our nation has long been reproached with this vice; for
Salvianus of Marseilles, who lived in the time of the Emperor
Valentinian, says that lying and forswearing themselves is with the
French not a vice, but a way of speaking. He who would enhance this
testimony, might say that it is now a virtue in them; men form and
fashion themselves to it as to an exercise of honour; for dissimulation
is one of the most notable qualities of this age.

I have often considered whence this custom that we so religiously observe
should spring, of being more highly offended with the reproach of a vice
so familiar to us than with any other, and that it should be the highest
insult that can in words be done us to reproach us with a lie. Upon
examination, I find that it is natural most to defend the defects with
which we are most tainted. It seems as if by resenting and being moved
at the accusation, we in some sort acquit ourselves of the fault; though
we have it in effect, we condemn it in outward appearance. May it not
also be that this reproach seems to imply cowardice and feebleness of
heart? of which can there be a more manifest sign than to eat a man's own
words - nay, to lie against a man's own knowledge? Lying is a base vice;
a vice that one of the ancients portrays in the most odious colours when
he says, "that it is to manifest a contempt of God, and withal a fear of
men." It is not possible more fully to represent the horror, baseness,
and irregularity of it; for what can a man imagine more hateful and
contemptible than to be a coward towards men, and valiant against his
Maker? Our intelligence being by no other way communicable to one
another but by a particular word, he who falsifies that betrays public
society. 'Tis the only way by which we communicate our thoughts and
wills; 'tis the interpreter of the soul, and if it deceive us, we no
longer know nor have further tie upon one another; if that deceive us, it
breaks all our correspondence, and dissolves all the ties of government.
Certain nations of the newly discovered Indies (I need not give them
names, seeing they are no more; for, by wonderful and unheardof example,
the desolation of that conquest has extended to the utter abolition of
names and the ancient knowledge of places) offered to their gods human
blood, but only such as was drawn from the tongue and ears, to expiate
for the sin of lying, as well heard as pronounced. That good fellow of
Greece - [Plutarch, Life of Lysander, c. 4.] - said that children are
amused with toys and men with words.

As to our diverse usages of giving the lie, and the laws of honour in
that case, and the alteration they have received, I defer saying what I
know of them to another time, and shall learn, if I can, in the
meanwhile, at what time the custom took beginning of so exactly weighing
and measuring words, and of making our honour interested in them; for it
is easy to judge that it was not anciently amongst the Romans and Greeks.
And it has often seemed to me strange to see them rail at and give one
another the lie without any quarrel. Their laws of duty steered some
other course than ours. Caesar is sometimes called thief, and sometimes
drunkard, to his teeth. We see the liberty of invective they practised
upon one another, I mean the greatest chiefs of war of both nations,
where words are only revenged with words, and do not proceed any farther.




CHAPTER XIX

OF LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE

'Tis usual to see good intentions, if carried on without moderation, push
men on to very vicious effects. In this dispute which has at this time
engaged France in a civil war, the better and the soundest cause no doubt
is that which maintains the ancient religion and government of the
kingdom. Nevertheless, amongst the good men of that party (for I do not
speak of those who only make a pretence of it, either to execute their
own particular revenges or to gratify their avarice, or to conciliate the
favour of princes, but of those who engage in the quarrel out of true
zeal to religion and a holy desire to maintain the peace and government
of their country), of these, I say, we see many whom passion transports
beyond the bounds of reason, and sometimes inspires with counsels that
are unjust and violent, and, moreover, rash.

It is certain that in those first times, when our religion began to gain
authority with the laws, zeal armed many against all sorts of pagan
books, by which the learned suffered an exceeding great loss, a disorder
that I conceive to have done more prejudice to letters than all the
flames of the barbarians. Of this Cornelius Tacitus is a very good
testimony; for though the Emperor Tacitus, his kinsman, had, by express
order, furnished all the libraries in the world with it, nevertheless one
entire copy could not escape the curious examination of those who desired
to abolish it for only five or six idle clauses that were contrary to our
belief.

They had also the trick easily to lend undue praises to all the emperors
who made for us, and universally to condemn all the actions of those who
were adversaries, as is evidently manifest in the Emperor Julian,
surnamed the Apostate,

[The character of the Emperor Julian was censured, when Montaigne
was at Rome in 1581, by the Master of the Sacred Palace, who,
however, as Montaigne tells us in his journal (ii. 35), referred it
to his conscience to alter what he should think in bad taste. This
Montaigne did not do, and this chapter supplied Voltaire with the
greater part of the praises he bestowed upon the Emperor. - Leclerc.]

who was, in truth, a very great and rare man, a man in whose soul
philosophy was imprinted in the best characters, by which he professed to
govern all his actions; and, in truth, there is no sort of virtue of
which he has not left behind him very notable examples: in chastity (of
which the whole of his life gave manifest proof) we read the same of him
that was said of Alexander and Scipio, that being in the flower of his
age, for he was slain by the Parthians at one-and-thirty, of a great many
very beautiful captives, he would not so much as look upon one. As to
his justice, he took himself the pains to hear the parties, and although
he would out of curiosity inquire what religion they were of,
nevertheless, the antipathy he had to ours never gave any counterpoise to
the balance. He made himself several good laws, and repealed a great
part of the subsidies and taxes levied by his predecessors.

We have two good historians who were eyewitnesses of his actions: one of
whom, Marcellinus, in several places of his history sharply reproves an
edict of his whereby he interdicted all Christian rhetoricians and
grammarians to keep school or to teach, and says he could wish that act
of his had been buried in silence: it is probable that had he done any
more severe thing against us, he, so affectionate as he was to our party,
would not have passed it over in silence. He was indeed sharp against
us, but yet no cruel enemy; for our own people tell this story of him,
that one day, walking about the city of Chalcedon, Maris, bishop of the
place; was so bold as to tell him that he was impious, and an enemy to
Christ, at which, they say, he was no further moved than to reply,
"Go, poor wretch, and lament the loss of thy eyes," to which the bishop
replied again, "I thank Jesus Christ for taking away my sight, that I may
not see thy impudent visage," affecting in that, they say, a
philosophical patience. But this action of his bears no comparison to
the cruelty that he is said to have exercised against us. "He was," says
Eutropius, my other witness, "an enemy to Christianity, but without
putting his hand to blood." And, to return to his justice, there is
nothing in that whereof he can be accused, the severity excepted he
practised in the beginning of his reign against those who had followed
the party of Constantius, his predecessor. As to his sobriety, he lived
always a soldier-like life; and observed a diet and routine, like one
that prepared and inured himself to the austerities of war. His
vigilance was such, that he divided the night into three or four parts,
of which the least was dedicated to sleep; the rest was spent either in
visiting the state of his army and guards in person, or in study; for
amongst other rare qualities, he was very excellent in all sorts of
learning. 'Tis said of Alexander the Great, that being in bed, for fear
lest sleep should divert him from his thoughts and studies, he had always
a basin set by his bedside, and held one of his hands out with a ball of
copper in it, to the end, that, beginning to fall asleep, and his fingers
leaving their hold, the ball by falling into the basin, might awake him.
But the other had his soul so bent upon what he had a mind to do, and so
little disturbed with fumes by reason of his singular abstinence, that he
had no need of any such invention. As to his military experience, he was
excellent in all the qualities of a great captain, as it was likely he
should, being almost all his life in a continual exercise of war, and
most of that time with us in France, against the Germans and Franks: we
hardly read of any man who ever saw more dangers, or who made more
frequent proofs of his personal valour.

His death has something in it parallel with that of Epaminondas, for he
was wounded with an arrow, and tried to pull it out, and had done so, but
that, being edged, it cut and disabled his hand. He incessantly called
out that they should carry him again into the heat of the battle, to
encourage his soldiers, who very bravely disputed the fight without him,
till night parted the armies. He stood obliged to his philosophy for the
singular contempt he had for his life and all human things. He had a
firm belief of the immortality of souls.

In matter of religion he was wrong throughout, and was surnamed the
Apostate for having relinquished ours: nevertheless, the opinion seems to
me more probable, that he had never thoroughly embraced it, but had
dissembled out of obedience to the laws, till he came to the empire.
He was in his own so superstitious, that he was laughed at for it by
those of his own time, of the same opinion, who jeeringly said, that had
he got the victory over the Parthians, he had destroyed the breed of oxen
in the world to supply his sacrifices. He was, moreover, besotted with
the art of divination, and gave authority to all sorts of predictions.
He said, amongst other things at his death, that he was obliged to the
gods, and thanked them, in that they would not cut him off by surprise,
having long before advertised him of the place and hour of his death, nor
by a mean and unmanly death, more becoming lazy and delicate people; nor
by a death that was languishing, long, and painful; and that they had
thought him worthy to die after that noble manner, in the progress of his
victories, in the flower of his glory. He had a vision like that of
Marcus Brutus, that first threatened him in Gaul, and afterward appeared
to him in Persia just before his death. These words that some make him
say when he felt himself wounded: "Thou hast overcome, Nazarene"; or as
others, "Content thyself, Nazarene"; would hardly have been omitted, had
they been believed, by my witnesses, who, being present in the army, have
set down to the least motions and words of his end; no more than certain
other miracles that are reported about it.

And to return to my subject, he long nourished, says Marcellinus,
paganism in his heart; but all his army being Christians, he durst not
own it. But in the end, seeing himself strong enough to dare to discover
himself, he caused the temples of the gods to be thrown open, and did his
uttermost to set on foot and to encourage idolatry. Which the better to
effect, having at Constantinople found the people disunited, and also the
prelates of the church divided amongst themselves, having convened them
all before him, he earnestly admonished them to calm those civil
dissensions, and that every one might freely, and without fear, follow
his own religion. Which he the more sedulously solicited, in hope that
this licence would augment the schisms and factions of their division,
and hinder the people from reuniting, and consequently fortifying
themselves against him by their unanimous intelligence and concord;
having experienced by the cruelty of some Christians, that there is no
beast in the world so much to be feared by man as man; these are very
nearly his words.

Wherein this is very worthy of consideration, that the Emperor Julian
made use of the same receipt of liberty of conscience to inflame the
civil dissensions that our kings do to extinguish them. So that a man
may say on one side, that to give the people the reins to entertain every
man his own opinion, is to scatter and sow division, and, as it were, to
lend a hand to augment it, there being no legal impediment or restraint
to stop or hinder their career; but, on the other side, a man may also
say, that to give the people the reins to entertain every man his own
opinion, is to mollify and appease them by facility and toleration, and
to dull the point which is whetted and made sharper by singularity,
novelty, and difficulty: and I think it is better for the honour of the
devotion of our kings, that not having been able to do what they would,
they have made a show of being willing to do what they could.




CHAPTER XX

THAT WE TASTE NOTHING PURE

The feebleness of our condition is such that things cannot, in their
natural simplicity and purity, fall into our use; the elements that we
enjoy are changed, and so 'tis with metals; and gold must be debased with
some other matter to fit it for our service. Neither has virtue, so
simple as that which Aristo, Pyrrho, and also the Stoics, made the end of
life; nor the Cyrenaic and Aristippic pleasure, been without mixture
useful to it. Of the pleasure and goods that we enjoy, there is not one
exempt from some mixture of ill and inconvenience:

"Medio de fonte leporum,
Surgit amari aliquid, quod in ipsis fioribus angat."

["From the very fountain of our pleasure, something rises that is
bitter, which even in flowers destroys." - Lucretius, iv. 1130.]

Our extremest pleasure has some sort of groaning and complaining in it;
would you not say that it is dying of pain? Nay, when we frame the image
of it in its full excellence, we stuff it with sickly and painful
epithets and qualities, languor, softness, feebleness, faintness,
'morbidezza': a great testimony of their consanguinity and
consubstantiality. The most profound joy has more of severity than
gaiety, in it. The highest and fullest contentment offers more of the
grave than of the merry:

"Ipsa felicitas, se nisi temperat, premit."

["Even felicity, unless it moderate itself, oppresses?"
- Seneca, Ep. 74.]

Pleasure chews and grinds us; according to the old Greek verse, which
says that the gods sell us all the goods they give us; that is to say,
that they give us nothing pure and perfect, and that we do not purchase
but at the price of some evil.

Labour and pleasure, very unlike in nature, associate, nevertheless,
by I know not what natural conjunction. Socrates says, that some god
tried to mix in one mass and to confound pain and pleasure, but not being
able to do it; he bethought him at least to couple them by the tail.
Metrodorus said, that in sorrow there is some mixture of pleasure. I
know not whether or no he intended anything else by that saying; but for
my part, I am of opinion that there is design, consent, and complacency
in giving a man's self up to melancholy. I say, that besides ambition,
which may also have a stroke in the business, there is some shadow of
delight and delicacy which smiles upon and flatters us even in the very
lap of melancholy. Are there not some constitutions that feed upon it?

"Est quaedam flere voluptas;"

["'Tis a certain kind of pleasure to weep."
- Ovid, Trist., iv. 3, 27.]

and one Attalus in Seneca says, that the memory of our lost friends is as
grateful to us, as bitterness in wine, when too old, is to the palate:

"Minister vetuli, puer, Falerni
Inger' mi calices amariores" -

["Boy, when you pour out old Falernian wine, the bitterest put
into my bowl." - Catullus, xxvii. I.]

and as apples that have a sweet tartness.

Nature discovers this confusion to us; painters hold that the same


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