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Michel Eyquem De Montaigne, the founder of the modern Essay, was
born February 28, 1533, at the chateau of Montaigne in Pirigord. He
came of a family of wealthy merchants of Bordeaux, and was educated
at the College de Guyenne, where he had among his teachers the great
Scottish Latinist, George Buchanan. Later he studied law, and held
various public offices; but at the age of thirty-eight he retired to
his estates, where he lived apart from the civil wars of the time,
and devoted himself to study and thought. While he was traveling in
Germany and Italy, in 1580-81, he was elected mayor of Bordeaux, and
this office he filled for four years. He married in 1565, and had
six daughters, only one of whom grew up. The first two books of his
"Essays" appeared in 1580; the third in 1588; and four years later
he died.

These are the main external facts of Montaigne's life: of the man
himself the portrait is to be found in his book. "It is myself I
portray," he declares; and there is nowhere in literature a volume
of self-revelation surpassing his in charm and candor. He is frankly
egotistical, yet modest and unpretentious; profoundly wise, yet
constantly protesting his ignorance; learned, yet careless,
forgetful, and inconsistent. His themes are as wide and varied as
his observation of human life, and he has written the finest eulogy
of friendship the world has known. Bacon, who knew his book and
borrowed from it, wrote on the same subject; and the contrast of the
essays is the true reflection of the contrast between the
personalities of their authors.

Shortly after Montaigne's death the "Essays" were translated into
English by John Florio, with less than exact accuracy, but in a
style so full of the flavor of the age that we still read Montaigne
in the version which Shakespeare knew. The group of examples here
printed exhibits the author in a variety of moods, easy, serious,
and, in the essay on "Friendship," as nearly impassioned as his
philosophy ever allowed him to become.

Reader, be here a well-meaning Booke. It doth at the firth entrance
forewarne thee, that in contriving the same I have proposed unto my
selfe no other than a familiar and private end: I have no respect or
consideration at all, either to thy service, or to my glory: my
forces are not capable of any such desseigne. I have vowed the same
to the particular commodity of my kinsfolks and friends: to the end,
that losing me (which they are likely to doe ere long), they may
therein find some lineaments of my conditions and humours, and by
that meanes reserve more whole, and more lively foster the knowledge
and acquaintance they have had of me. Had my intention beene to
forestal and purchase the world's opinion and favour, I would surely
have adorned myselfe more quaintly, or kept a more grave and solemne
march. I desire therein to be delineated in mine owne genuine,
simple and ordinarie fashion, without contention, art or study; for
it is myself e I pourtray. My imperfections shall therein be read to
the life, and my naturall forme discerned, so farre-forth as publike
reverence hath permitted me. For if my fortune had beene to have
lived among those nations which yet are said to live under the sweet
liberty of Nature's first and uncorrupted lawes, I assure thee, I
would most willingly have pourtrayed my selfe fully and naked. Thus,
gentle Reader, myself I am the groundworke of my booke: it is then
no reason thou shouldest employ thy time about so frivolous and
vaine a subject.

Therefore farewell.

The First of March, 1580.


scilicet ultima semper
Expectanda dies homini est, dicique beatus
Ante obitum nemo, supremaque funera debat.
[Footnote: Ovid. Met. 1, iii. 135.]

We must expect of man the latest day,
Nor ere he die, he's happie, can we say.

The very children are acquainted with the storie of Croesus to this
purpose: who being taken by Cyrus, and by him condemned to die, upon
the point of his execution, cried out aloud: "Oh Solon, Solon!"
which words of his, being reported to Cyrus, who inquiring what he
meant by them, told him, hee now at his owne cost verified the
advertisement Solon had before times given him; which was, that no
man, what cheerefull and blandishing countenance soever fortune
shewed them, may rightly deeme himselfe happie, till such time as he
have passed the last day of his life, by reason of the uncertaintie
and vicissitude of humane things, which by a very light motive, and
slight occasion, are often changed from one to another cleane
contrary state and degree. And therefore Agesilaus answered one that
counted the King of Persia happy, because being very young, he had
gotten the garland of so mightie and great a dominion: "yea but said
he, Priam at the same age was not unhappy." Of the Kings of Macedon
that succeeded Alexander the Great, some were afterward seene to
become Joyners and Scriveners at Rome: and of Tyrants of Sicilie,
Schoolemasters at Corinth. One that had conquered halfe the world,
and been Emperour over so many, Armies, became an humble and
miserable suter to the raskally officers of a king of AEgypte: At so
high a rate did that great Pompey purchase the irkesome prolonging
of his life but for five or six moneths. And in our fathers daies,
Lodowicke Sforze, tenth Duke of Millane, under whom the State of
Italic had so long beene turmoiled and shaken, was seene to die a
wretched prisoner at Loches in France, but not till he had lived and
lingered ten yeares in thraldom, which was the worst of his
bargaine. The fairest Queene, wife to the greatest King of
Christendome, was she not lately scene to die by the hands of an
executioner? Oh unworthie and barbarous cruelties And a thousand
such examples. For, it seemeth that as the sea-billowes and surging
waves, rage and storme against the surly pride and stubborne height
of our buildings, so are there above, certaine spirits that envie
the rising prosperities and greatnesse heere below.

Vsque adeb res humanas vis abdita quadam
Obterit, et pulchros fasces sav&sque secures
Proculcare, ac ludibrio sibi habere videtur.
[Footnote: LUCRET. I. v. 1243.]

A hidden power so mens states hath out-worne
Faire swords, fierce scepters, signes of honours borne,
It seemes to trample and deride in scorne.

And it seemeth Fortune doth sometimes narrowly watch the last day of
our life, thereby to shew her power, and in one moment to overthrow
what for many yeares together she had been erecting, and makes us
cry after Laberius, Nimirum hoc die una plus vixi, mihi quam
vivendum fuit. [Footnote: MACHOB, 1, ii. 7.] Thus it is, "I have
lived longer by this one day than I should." So may that good advice
of Solon be taken with reason. But forsomuch as he is a Philosopher,
with whom the favours or disfavours of fortune, and good or ill
lucke have no place, and are not regarded by him; and puissances and
greatnesses, and accidents of qualitie, are well-nigh indifferent: I
deeme it very likely he had a further reach, and meant that the same
good fortune of our life, which dependeth of the tranquillitie and
contentment of a welborne minde, and of the resolution and assurance
of a well ordered soule, should never be ascribed unto man, untill
he have beene scene play the last act of his comedie, and without
doubt the hardest. In all the rest there may be some maske: either
these sophisticall discourses of Philosophie are not in us but by
countenance, or accidents that never touch us to the quick, give us
alwaies leasure to keep our countenance setled. But when that last
part of death, and of our selves comes to be acted, then no
dissembling will availe, then is it high time to speake plaine
English, and put off all vizards: then whatsoever the pot containeth
must be shewne, be it good or bad, foule or cleane, wine or water.

Nam vera voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Ejiciuntur, et eripitur persona, manet res.
[Footnote: LUCEET. 1. iii. 57.]

For then are sent true speeches from the heart,
We are ourselves, we leave to play a part.

Loe heere, why at this last cast, all our lives other actions must
be tride and touched. It is the master-day, the day that judgeth all
others: it is the day, saith an auncient Writer, that must judge of
all my forepassed yeares. To death doe I referre the essay
[Footnote: Assay, exact weighing.] of my studies fruit. There shall
wee see whether my discourse proceed from my heart, or from my
mouth. I have scene divers, by their death, either in good or evill,
give reputation to all their forepassed life. Scipio, father-in-law
to Pompey, in well dying, repaired the ill opinion which untill that
houre men had ever held of him. Epaminondas being demanded which of
the three he esteemed most, either Chabrias, or Iphicrates, or
himselfe: "It is necessary," said he, "that we be scene to die,
before your question may well be resolved." [Footnote: Answered.]
Verily, we should steale much from him, if he should be weighed
without the honour and greatnesse of his end. God hath willed it, as
he pleased: but in my time three of the most execrable persons that
ever I knew in all abomination of life, and the most infamous, have
beene seen to die very orderly and quietly, and in every
circumstance composed even unto perfection. There are some brave and
fortunate deaths. I have seene her cut the twine of some man's life,
with a progresse of wonderful advancement, and with so worthie an
end, even in the flowre of his growth and spring of his youth, that
in mine opinion, his ambitious and haughtie couragious signes,
thought nothing so high as might interrupt them who without going to
the place where he pretended, arived there more gloriously and
worthily than either his desire or hope aimed at, and by his fall
fore-went the power and name, whither by his course he aspired. When
I judge of other men's lives, I ever respect how they have behaved
themselves in their end; and my chiefest study is, I may well
demeane my selfe at my last gaspe, that is to say, quietly and


Cicero saith, that to Philosophise is no other thing than for a man
to prepare himselfe to death: which is the reason that studie and
contemplation doth in some sort withdraw our soule from us, and
severally employ it from the body, which is a kind of apprentisage
and resemblance of death; or else it is, that all the wisdome and
discourse of the world, doth in the end resolve upon this point, to
teach us not to feare to die. Truly either reason mockes us, or it
only aimeth at our contentment, and in fine, bends all her travell
to make us live well, and as the holy Scripture saith, "at our
ease." All the opinions of the world conclude, that pleasure is our
end, howbeit they take divers meanes unto and for it, else would men
reject them at their first comming. For, who would give eare unto
him, that for it's end would establish our paine and disturbance?
The dissentions of philosophicall sects in this case are verbal:
Transcurramus solertissimas Hugos [Footnote: Travails, labours.]
"Let us run over such over-fine fooleries and subtill trifles."
There is more wilfulnesse and wrangling among them, than pertains to
a sacred profession. But what person a man undertakes to act, he
doth ever therewithal! personate his owne. Allthough they say, that
in vertue it selfe, the last scope of our aime is voluptuousnes. It
pleaseth me to importune their eares still with this word, which so
much offends their hearing. And if it imply any chief pleasure or
exceeding contentments, it is rather due to the assistance of
vertue, than to any other supply, voluptuousnes being more strong,
sinnowie, sturdie, and manly, is but more seriously voluptuous. And
we should give it the name of pleasure, more favorable, sweeter, and
more naturall; and not terme it vigor, from which it hath his
denomination. Should this baser sensuality deserve this faire name,
it should be by competencie, and not by privilege. I finde it lesse
void of incommodities and crosses than vertue. And besides that> her
taste is more fleeting, momentarie, and fading, she hath her fasts,
her eyes, and her travels, and both sweat and blood. Furthermore she
hath particularly so many wounding passions, and of so severall
sorts, and so filthie and loathsome a societie waiting upon her,
that shee is equivalent to penitencie. Wee are in the wrong, to
thinke her incommodities serve her as a provocation and seasoning to
her sweetnes, as in nature one contrarie is vivified by another
contrarie: and to say, when we come to vertue, that like successes
and difficulties overwhelme it, and yeeld it austere and
inaccessible. Whereas much more properly then unto voluptuousnes,
they ennobled, sharpen, animate, and raise that divine and perfect
pleasure, which it meditates and procureth us. Truly he is verie
unworthie her acquaintance, that counter-ballanceth her cost to his
fruit, and knowes neither the graces nor use of it. Those who go
about to instruct us, how her pursuit is very hard and laborious,
and her jovisance [Footnote: Enjoyment] well-pleasing and
delightfull: what else tell they us, but that shee is ever
unpleasant and irksome? For what humane meane [Footnote: Human
meana. man's life is subject, it is not with an equall care: as well
because accidents are not of such a necessitie, for most men passe
their whole life without feeling any want or povertie, and othersome
without feeling any griefe or sicknes, as Xenophilus the Musitian,
who lived an hundred and six yeares in perfect and continuall
health: as also if the worst happen, death may at all times, and
whensoever it shall please us, cut off all other inconveniences and
crosses. But as for death, it is inevitable.] did ever attaine unto
an absolute enjoying of it? The perfectest have beene content but to
aspire and approach her, without ever possessing her. But they are
deceived; seeing that of all the pleasures we know, the pursute of
them is pleasant. The enterprise is perceived by the qualitie of the
thing, which it hath regard unto: for it is a good portion of the
effect, and consubstantiall. That happines and felicitie, which
shineth in vertue, replenisheth her approaches and appurtenances,
even unto, the first entrance and utmost barre. Now of all the
benefits of vertue, the contempt of death is the chiefest, a meane
that furnisheth our life with an ease-full tranquillitie, and gives
us a pure and amiable taste of it: without which every other
voluptuousnes is extinguished. Loe, here the reasons why all rules
encounter and agree with this article. And albeit they all leade us
with a common accord to despise povertie, and other accidental!
crosses, to which

Omnes eodem cogimur, omnium
Versatur urna, serius, ocius
Sors exitura, et nos in aeternum
Exilium impositura cymbae,
[Footnote: Hor. I. iii. Od. iii. 25.]

All to one place are driv'n, of all
Shak't is the lot-pot, where-hence shall
Sooner or later drawne lots fall,
And to deaths boat for aye enthrall.

And by consequence, if she makes us affeard, it is a continual
subject of torment, and which can no way be eased. There is no
starting-hole will hide us from her, she will finde us wheresoever
we are, we may as in a suspected countrie start and turne here and
there: quae quasi saxum Tantalo semper impendet.[Footnote: Cic. De
Fin. I. i.] "Which evermore hangs like the stone over the head of
Tantalus:" Our lawes doe often condemne and send malefactors to be
executed in the same place where the crime was committed: to which
whilest they are going, leade them along the fairest houses, or
entertaine them with the best cheere you can,

non Siculae dapes Dulcem elaborabunt saporem:
Non avium, citharaeque cantus
Somnum reducent.
[Footnote: Hor. I. iii. Od. i, 12.]

Not all King Denys daintie fare,
Can pleasing taste for them prepare:
No song of birds, no musikes sound
Can lullabie to sleepe profound.

Doe you thinke they can take any pleasure in it? or be any thing
delighted? and that the finall intent of their voiage being still
before their eies, hath not altered and altogether distracted their
taste from all these commodities and allurements?

Audit iter, numeratque dies, spatioque viarum
Metitur vitam, torquetur peste futura.
[Footnote: Claud, in Ruff. 1. ii. 137]

He heares his journey, counts his daies, so measures he
His life by his waies length, vext with the ill shall be.

The end of our cariere is death, it is the necessarie object of our
aime: if it affright us, how is it possible we should step one foot
further without an ague? The remedie of the vulgar sort is, not to
think on it. But from what brutall stupiditie may so grosse a
blindnesse come upon him? he must be made to bridle his Asse by the

Qiti capite ipse suo instituit vestigia retro.
[Footnote: Lucret. 1. iv. 474]

Who doth a course contrarie runne
With his head to his course begunne.

It is no marvell if he be so often taken tripping; some doe no
sooner heare the name of death spoken of, but they are afraid, yea
the most part will crosse themselves, as if they heard the Devill
named. And because mention is made of it in mens wils and
testaments, I warrant you there is none will set his hand to them,
til the physitian hath given his last doome, and utterly forsaken
him. And God knowes, being then betweene such paine and feare, with
what sound judgment they endure him. For so much as this syllable
sounded so unpleasantly in their eares, and this voice seemed so ill
boding and unluckie, the Romans had learned to allay and dilate the
same by a Periphrasis. In liew of saying, he is dead, or he hath
ended his daies, they would say, he hath lived. So it be life, be it
past or no, they are comforted: from whom we have borrowed our
phrases quondam, alias, or late such a one. It may haply be, as the
common saying is, the time we live is worth the mony we pay for it.
I was borne betweene eleven of the clocke and noone, the last of
Februarie 1533, according to our computation, the yeare beginning
the first of Januarie. It is but a fortnight since I was 39 yeares
old. I want at least as much more. If in the meane time I should
trouble my thoughts with a matter so farre from me, it were but
folly. But what? we see both young and old to leave their life after
one selfe-same condition. No man departs otherwise from it, than if
he but now came to it, seeing there is no man so crazed,[Footnote:
Infirm] bedrell, [Footnote: Bedridden.] or decrepit, so long as he
remembers Methusalem, but thinkes he may yet live twentie yeares.
Moreover, seely [Footnote: Simple, weak.] creature as thou art, who
hath limited the end of thy daies? Happily thou presumest upon
physitians reports. Rather consider the effect and experience. By
the common course of things long since thou livest by extraordinarie
favour. Thou hast alreadie over-past the ordinarie tearmes of common
life: And to prove it, remember but thy acquaintances, and tell me
how many more of them have died before they came to thy age, than
have either attained or outgone the same: yea, and of those that
through renoune have ennobled their life, if thou but register them,
I will lay a wager, I will finde more that have died before they
came to five and thirty years, than after. It is consonant with
reason and pietie, to take example by the humanity of Jesus Christ,
who ended his humane life at three and thirtie yeares. The greatest
man that ever was, being no more than a man, I meane Alexander the
Great, ended his dayes, and died also of that age. How many severall
meanes and waies hath death to surprise us!

Quid quisque vitet, nunquam homini satis
Cautum est in horas
[Footnote: Hor. 1. ii. Od. xiii. 13.]

A man can never take good heed,
Hourely what he may shun and speed.

I omit to speak of agues and pleurisies; who would ever have
imagined that a Duke of Brittanie should have beene stifled to death
in a throng of people, as whilome was a neighbour of mine at Lyons,
when Pope Clement made his entrance there? Hast thou not seene one
of our late Kings slaine in the middest of his sports? and one of
his ancestors die miserably by the chocke [Footnote: Shock.] of an
hog? Eschilus fore threatned by the fall of an house, when he stood
most upon his guard, strucken dead by the fall of a tortoise shell,
which fell out of the tallants of an eagle flying in the air? and
another choaked with the kernell of a grape? And an Emperour die by
the scratch of a combe, whilest he was combing his head? And
Aemylius Lepidus with hitting his foot against a doore-seele? And
Aufidius with stumbling against the Consull-chamber doore as he was
going in thereat? And Cornelius Gallus, the Praetor, Tigillinus,
Captaine of the Romane watch, Lodowike, sonne of Guido Gonzaga,
Marquis of Mantua, end their daies betweene womens thighs? And of a
farre worse example Speusippus, the Platonian philosopher, and one
of our Popes? Poore Bebius a Judge, whilest he demurreth the sute of
a plaintife but for eight daies, be hold, his last expired: And
Caius Iulius a Physitian, whilest he was annointing the eies of one
of his patients, to have his owne sight closed for ever by death.
And if amongst these examples, I may adde one of a brother of mine,
called Captain Saint Martin, a man of three and twentie yeares of
age, who had alreadie given good testimonie of his worth and forward
valour, playing at tennis, received a blow with a ball, that hit him
a little above the right eare, without apparance of any contusion,
bruse, or hurt, and never sitting or resting upon it, died within
six houres after of an apoplexie, which the blow of the ball caused
in him. These so frequent and ordinary examples, hapning, and being
still before our eies, how is it possible for man to forgo or for
get the remembrance of death? and why should it not continually
seeme unto us, that shee is still ready at hand to take us by the
throat? What matter is it, will you say unto me, how and in what
manner it is, so long as a man doe not trouble and vex himselfe
therewith? I am of this opinion, that howsoever a man may shrowd or
hide himselfe from her dart, yea, were it under an oxe-hide, I am
not the man would shrinke backe: it sufficeth me to live at my ease;
and the best recreation I can have, that doe I ever take; in other
matters, as little vain glorious, and exemplare as you list.

- praetulerim delirus inersque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant,
Quam sapere et ringi
[Footnote: Hor. 1. ii. Episi. ii 126]

A dotard I had rather seeme, and dull,
Sooner my faults may please make me a gull,
Than to be wise, and beat my vexed scull.

But it is folly to thinke that way to come unto it. They come, they
goe, they trot, they daunce: but no speech of death. All that is
good sport. But if she be once come, and on a sudden and openly
surprise, either them, their wives, their children, or their
friends, what torments, what out cries, what rage, and what despaire
doth then overwhelme them? saw you ever anything so drooping, so
changed, and so distracted? A man must looke to it, and in better
times fore-see it. And might that brutish carelessenesse lodge in
the minde of a man of understanding (which I find altogether
impossible) she sels us her ware at an overdeere rate: were she an
enemie by mans wit to be avoided, I would advise men to borrow the
weapons of cowardlinesse: but since it may not be, and that be you

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