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The Essays of Montaigne, Complete by Michel de Montaigne

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sought out labour and an austerity of life, to inure them to hardships
and inconveniences; others have deprived themselves of their dearest
members, as of sight, and of the instruments of generation, lest their
too delightful and effeminate service should soften and debauch the
stability of their souls.

But in dying, which is the greatest work we have to do, practice can give
us no assistance at all. A man may by custom fortify himself against
pain, shame, necessity, and such-like accidents, but as to death, we can
experiment it but once, and are all apprentices when we come to it.
There have, anciently, been men so excellent managers of their time that
they have tried even in death itself to relish and taste it, and who have
bent their utmost faculties of mind to discover what this passage is, but
they are none of them come back to tell us the news:

"Nemo expergitus exstat,
Frigida quern semel est vitai pausa sequuta."

["No one wakes who has once fallen into the cold sleep of death."
--Lucretius, iii. 942]

Julius Canus, a noble Roman, of singular constancy and virtue, having
been condemned to die by that worthless fellow Caligula, besides many
marvellous testimonies that he gave of his resolution, as he was just
going to receive the stroke of the executioner, was asked by a
philosopher, a friend of his: "Well, Canus, whereabout is your soul now?
what is she doing? What are you thinking of?"--"I was thinking," replied
the other, "to keep myself ready, and the faculties of my mind full
settled and fixed, to try if in this short and quick instant of death, I
could perceive the motion of the soul when she parts from the body, and
whether she has any sentiment at the separation, that I may after come
again if I can, to acquaint my friends with it." This man philosophises
not unto death only, but in death itself. What a strange assurance was
this, and what bravery of courage, to desire his death should be a lesson
to him, and to have leisure to think of other things in so great an

"Jus hoc animi morientis habebat."

["This mighty power of mind he had dying."-Lucan, viii. 636.]

And yet I fancy, there is a certain way of making it familiar to us, and
in some sort of making trial what it is. We may gain experience, if not
entire and perfect, yet such, at least, as shall not be totally useless
to us, and that may render us more confident and more assured. If we
cannot overtake it, we may approach it and view it, and if we do not
advance so far as the fort, we may at least discover and make ourselves
acquainted with the avenues. It is not without reason that we are taught
to consider sleep as a resemblance of death: with how great facility do
we pass from waking to sleeping, and with how little concern do we lose
the knowledge of light and of ourselves. Peradventure, the faculty of
sleeping would seem useless and contrary to nature, since it deprives us
of all action and sentiment, were it not that by it nature instructs us
that she has equally made us to die as to live; and in life presents to
us the eternal state she reserves for us after it, to accustom us to it
and to take from us the fear of it. But such as have by violent accident
fallen into a swoon, and in it have lost all sense, these, methinks, have
been very near seeing the true and natural face of death; for as to the
moment of the passage, it is not to be feared that it brings with it any
pain or displeasure, forasmuch as we can have no feeling without leisure;
our sufferings require time, which in death is so short, and so
precipitous, that it must necessarily be insensible. They are the
approaches that we are to fear, and these may fall within the limits of

Many things seem greater by imagination than they are in effect; I have
passed a good part of my life in a perfect and entire health; I say, not
only entire, but, moreover, sprightly and wanton. This state, so full of
verdure, jollity, and vigour, made the consideration of sickness so
formidable to me, that when I came to experience it, I found the attacks
faint and easy in comparison with what I had apprehended. Of this I have
daily experience; if I am under the shelter of a warm room, in a stormy
and tempestuous night, I wonder how people can live abroad, and am
afflicted for those who are out in the fields: if I am there myself, I do
not wish to be anywhere else. This one thing of being always shut up in
a chamber I fancied insupportable: but I was presently inured to be so
imprisoned a week, nay a month together, in a very weak, disordered, and
sad condition; and I have found that, in the time of my health, I much
more pitied the sick, than I think myself to be pitied when I am so, and
that the force of my imagination enhances near one-half of the essence
and reality of the thing. I hope that when I come to die I shall find it
the same, and that, after all, it is not worth the pains I take, so much
preparation and so much assistance as I call in, to undergo the stroke.
But, at all events, we cannot give ourselves too much advantage.

In the time of our third or second troubles (I do not well remember
which), going one day abroad to take the air, about a league from my own
house, which is seated in the very centre of all the bustle and mischief
of the late civil wars in France; thinking myself in all security and so
near to my retreat that I stood in need of no better equipage, I had
taken a horse that went very easy upon his pace, but was not very strong.
Being upon my return home, a sudden occasion falling out to make use of
this horse in a kind of service that he was not accustomed to, one of my
train, a lusty, tall fellow, mounted upon a strong German horse, that had
a very ill mouth, fresh and vigorous, to play the brave and set on ahead
of his fellows, comes thundering full speed in the very track where I
was, rushing like a Colossus upon the little man and the little horse,
with such a career of strength and weight, that he turned us both over
and over, topsy-turvy with our heels in the air: so that there lay the
horse overthrown and stunned with the fall, and I ten or twelve paces
from him stretched out at length, with my face all battered and broken,
my sword which I had had in my hand, above ten paces beyond that, and my
belt broken all to pieces, without motion or sense any more than a stock.
'Twas the only swoon I was ever in till that hour in my life. Those who
were with me, after having used all the means they could to bring me to
myself, concluding me dead, took me up in their arms, and carried me with
very much difficulty home to my house, which was about half a French
league from thence. On the way, having been for more than two hours
given over for a dead man, I began to move and to fetch my breath; for so
great abundance of blood was fallen into my stomach, that nature had need
to rouse her forces to discharge it. They then raised me upon my feet,
where I threw off a whole bucket of clots of blood, as this I did also
several times by the way. This gave me so much ease, that I began to
recover a little life, but so leisurely and by so small advances, that my
first sentiments were much nearer the approaches of death than life:

"Perche, dubbiosa ancor del suo ritorno,
Non s'assicura attonita la mente."

["For the soul, doubtful as to its return, could not compose itself"
--Tasso, Gierus. Lib., xii. 74.]

The remembrance of this accident, which is very well imprinted in my
memory, so naturally representing to me the image and idea of death, has
in some sort reconciled me to that untoward adventure. When I first
began to open my eyes, it was with so perplexed, so weak and dead a
sight, that I could yet distinguish nothing but only discern the light:

"Come quel ch'or apre, or'chiude
Gli occhi, mezzo tra'l sonno e l'esser desto."

["As a man that now opens, now shuts his eyes, between sleep
and waking."--Tasso, Gierus. Lib., viii., 26.]

As to the functions of the soul, they advanced with the same pace and
measure with those of the body. I saw myself all bloody, my doublet
being stained all over with the blood I had vomited. The first thought
that came into my mind was that I had a harquebuss shot in my head, and
indeed, at the time there were a great many fired round about us.
Methought my life but just hung upon my, lips: and I shut my eyes, to
help, methought, to thrust it out, and took a pleasure in languishing and
letting myself go. It was an imagination that only superficially floated
upon my soul, as tender and weak as all the rest, but really, not only
exempt from anything displeasing, but mixed with that sweetness that
people feel when they glide into a slumber.

I believe it is the very same condition those people are in, whom we see
swoon with weakness in the agony of death we pity them without cause,
supposing them agitated with grievous dolours, or that their souls suffer
under painful thoughts. It has ever been my belief, contrary to the
opinion of many, and particularly of La Boetie, that those whom we see so
subdued and stupefied at the approaches of their end, or oppressed with
the length of the disease, or by accident of an apoplexy or falling

"Vi morbi saepe coactus
Ante oculos aliquis nostros, ut fulminis ictu,
Concidit, et spumas agit; ingemit, et tremit artus;
Desipit, extentat nervos, torquetur, anhelat,
Inconstanter, et in jactando membra fatigat;"

["Often, compelled by the force of disease, some one as
thunderstruck falls under our eyes, and foams, groans, and trembles,
stretches, twists, breathes irregularly, and in paroxysms wears out
his strength."--Lucretius, iii. 485.]

or hurt in the head, whom we hear to mutter, and by fits to utter
grievous groans; though we gather from these signs by which it seems as
if they had some remains of consciousness, and that there are movements
of the body; I have always believed, I say, both the body and the soul
benumbed and asleep,

"Vivit, et est vitae nescius ipse suae,"

["He lives, and does not know that he is alive."
--Ovid, Trist., i. 3, 12.]

and could not believe that in so great a stupefaction of the members and
so great a defection of the senses, the soul could maintain any force
within to take cognisance of herself, and that, therefore, they had no
tormenting reflections to make them consider and be sensible of the
misery of their condition, and consequently were not much to be pitied.

I can, for my part, think of no state so insupportable and dreadful, as
to have the soul vivid and afflicted, without means to declare itself; as
one should say of such as are sent to execution with their tongues first
cut out (were it not that in this kind of dying, the most silent seems to
me the most graceful, if accompanied with a grave and constant
countenance); or if those miserable prisoners, who fall into the hands of
the base hangman soldiers of this age, by whom they are tormented with
all sorts of inhuman usage to compel them to some excessive and
impossible ransom; kept, in the meantime, in such condition and place,
where they have no means of expressing or signifying their thoughts and
their misery. The poets have feigned some gods who favour the
deliverance of such as suffer under a languishing death:

"Hunc ego Diti
Sacrum jussa fero, teque isto corpore solvo."

["I bidden offer this sacred thing to Pluto, and from that body
dismiss thee."--AEneid, iv. 782.]

both the interrupted words, and the short and irregular answers one gets
from them sometimes, by bawling and keeping a clutter about them; or the
motions which seem to yield some consent to what we would have them do,
are no testimony, nevertheless, that they live, an entire life at least.
So it happens to us in the yawning of sleep, before it has fully
possessed us, to perceive, as in a dream, what is done about us, and to
follow the last things that are said with a perplexed and uncertain
hearing which seems but to touch upon the borders of the soul; and to
make answers to the last words that have been spoken to us, which have
more in them of chance than sense.

Now seeing I have in effect tried it, I have no doubt but I have hitherto
made a right judgment; for first, being in a swoon, I laboured to rip
open the buttons of my doublet with my nails, for my sword was gone; and
yet I felt nothing in my imagination that hurt me; for we have many
motions in us that do not proceed from our direction;

"Semianimesque micant digiti, ferrumque retractant;"

["Half-dead fingers grope about, and grasp again the sword."
--AEneid, x. 396.]

so falling people extend their arms before them by a natural impulse,
which prompts our limbs to offices and motions without any commission
from our reason.

"Falciferos memorant currus abscindere membra . . .
Ut tremere in terra videatur ab artubus id quod
Decidit abscissum; cum mens tamen atque hominis vis
Mobilitate mali, non quit sentire dolorem."

["They relate that scythe-bearing chariots mow off limbs, so that
they quiver on the ground; and yet the mind of him from whom the
limb is taken by the swiftness of the blow feels no pain."
--Lucretius, iii. 642.]

My stomach was so oppressed with the coagulated blood, that my hands
moved to that part, of their own voluntary motion, as they frequently do
to the part that itches, without being directed by our will. There are
several animals, and even men, in whom one may perceive the muscles to
stir and tremble after they are dead. Every one experimentally knows
that there are some members which grow stiff and flag without his leave.
Now, those passions which only touch the outward bark of us, cannot be
said to be ours: to make them so, there must be a concurrence of the
whole man; and the pains which are felt by the hand or the foot while
we are sleeping, are none of ours.

As I drew near my own house, where the alarm of my fall was already got
before me, and my family were come out to meet me, with the hubbub usual
in such cases, not only did I make some little answer to some questions
which were asked me; but they moreover tell me, that I was sufficiently
collected to order them to bring a horse to my wife whom on the road,
I saw struggling and tiring herself which is hilly and rugged. This
should seem to proceed from a soul its functions; but it was nothing so
with me. I knew not what I said or did, and they were nothing but idle
thoughts in the clouds, that were stirred up by the senses of the eyes
and ears, and proceeded not from me. I knew not for all that, whence I
came or whither I went, neither was I capable to weigh and consider what
was said to me: these were light effects, that the senses produced of
themselves as of custom; what the soul contributed was in a dream,
lightly touched, licked and bedewed by the soft impression of the senses.
Notwithstanding, my condition was, in truth, very easy and quiet; I had
no affliction upon me, either for others or myself; it was an extreme
languor and weakness, without any manner of pain. I saw my own house,
but knew it not. When they had put me to bed I found an inexpressible
sweetness in that repose; for I had been desperately tugged and lugged by
those poor people who had taken the pains to carry me upon their arms a
very great and a very rough way, and had in so doing all quite tired out
themselves, twice or thrice one after another. They offered me several
remedies, but I would take none, certainly believing that I was mortally
wounded in the head. And, in earnest, it had been a very happy death,
for the weakness of my understanding deprived me of the faculty of
discerning, and that of my body of the sense of feeling; I was suffering
myself to glide away so sweetly and after so soft and easy a manner, that
I scarce find any other action less troublesome than that was. But when
I came again to myself and to resume my faculties:

"Ut tandem sensus convaluere mei,"

["When at length my lost senses again returned."
--Ovid, Trist., i. 3, 14.]

which was two or three hours after, I felt myself on a sudden involved in
terrible pain, having my limbs battered and ground with my fall, and was.
so ill for two or three nights after, that I thought I was once more
dying again, but a more painful death, having concluded myself as good as
dead before, and to this hour am sensible of the bruises of that terrible
shock. I will not here omit, that the last thing I could make them beat
into my head, was the memory of this accident, and I had it over and over
again repeated to me, whither I was going, from whence I came, and at
what time of the day this mischance befell me, before I could comprehend
it. As to the manner of my fall, that was concealed from me in favour to
him who had been the occasion, and other flim-flams were invented. But a
long time after, and the very next day that my memory began to return and
to represent to me the state wherein I was, at the instant that I
perceived this horse coming full drive upon me (for I had seen him at my
heels, and gave myself for gone, but this thought had been so sudden,
that fear had had no leisure to introduce itself) it seemed to me like a
flash of lightning that had pierced my soul, and that I came from the
other world.

This long story of so light an accident would appear vain enough, were it
not for the knowledge I have gained by it for my own use; for I do really
find, that to get acquainted with death, needs no more but nearly to
approach it. Every one, as Pliny says, is a good doctrine to himself,
provided he be capable of discovering himself near at hand. Here, this
is not my doctrine, 'tis my study; and is not the lesson of another, but
my own; and if I communicate it, it ought not to be ill taken, for that
which is of use to me, may also, peradventure, be useful to another. As
to the rest, I spoil nothing, I make use of nothing but my own; and if I
play the fool, 'tis at my own expense, and nobody else is concerned in't;
for 'tis a folly that will die with me, and that no one is to inherit.
We hear but of two or three of the ancients, who have beaten this path,
and yet I cannot say if it was after this manner, knowing no more of them
but their names. No one since has followed the track: 'tis a rugged
road, more so than it seems, to follow a pace so rambling and uncertain,
as that of the soul; to penetrate the dark profundities of its intricate
internal windings; to choose and lay hold of so many little nimble
motions; 'tis a new and extraordinary undertaking, and that withdraws us
from the common and most recommended employments of the world. 'Tis now
many years since that my thoughts have had no other aim and level than
myself, and that I have only pried into and studied myself: or, if I
study any other thing, 'tis to apply it to or rather in myself. And yet
I do not think it a fault, if, as others do by other much less profitable
sciences, I communicate what I have learned in this, though I am not very
well pleased with my own progress. There is no description so difficult,
nor doubtless of so great utility, as that of a man's self: and withal, a
man must curl his hair and set out and adjust himself, to appear in
public: now I am perpetually tricking myself out, for I am eternally upon
my own description. Custom has made all speaking of a man's self
vicious, and positively interdicts it, in hatred to the boasting that
seems inseparable from the testimony men give of themselves:

"In vitium ducit culpae fuga."

["The avoiding a mere fault often leads us into a greater."
Or: "The escape from a fault leads into a vice"
--Horace, De Arte Poetics, verse 31.]

Instead of blowing the child's nose, this is to take his nose off
altogether. I think the remedy worse than the disease. But, allowing it
to be true that it must of necessity be presumption to entertain people
with discourses of one's self, I ought not, pursuing my general design,
to forbear an action that publishes this infirmity of mine, nor conceal
the fault which I not only practise but profess. Notwithstanding, to
speak my thought freely, I think that the custom of condemning wine,
because some people will be drunk, is itself to be condemned; a man
cannot abuse anything but what is good in itself; and I believe that this
rule has only regard to the popular vice. They are bits for calves, with
which neither the saints whom we hear speak so highly of themselves, nor
the philosophers, nor the divines will be curbed; neither will I, who am
as little the one as the other, If they do not write of it expressly, at
all events, when the occasions arise, they don't hesitate to put
themselves on the public highway. Of what does Socrates treat more
largely than of himself? To what does he more direct and address the
discourses of his disciples, than to speak of themselves, not of the
lesson in their book, but of the essence and motion of their souls? We
confess ourselves religiously to God and our confessor; as our
neighbours, do to all the people. But some will answer that we there
speak nothing but accusation against ourselves; why then, we say all; for
our very virtue itself is faulty and penetrable. My trade and art is to
live; he that forbids me to speak according to my own sense, experience,
and practice, may as well enjoin an architect not to speak of building
according to his own knowledge, but according to that of his neighbour;
according to the knowledge of another, and not according to his own. If
it be vainglory for a man to publish his own virtues, why does not Cicero
prefer the eloquence of Hortensius, and Hortensius that of Cicero?
Peradventure they mean that I should give testimony of myself by works
and effects, not barely by words. I chiefly paint my thoughts, a subject
void of form and incapable of operative production; 'tis all that I can
do to couch it in this airy body of the voice; the wisest and devoutest
men have lived in the greatest care to avoid all apparent effects.
Effects would more speak of fortune than of me; they manifest their own
office and not mine, but uncertainly and by conjecture; patterns of some
one particular virtue. I expose myself entire; 'tis a body where, at one
view, the veins, muscles, and tendons are apparent, every of them in its
proper place; here the effects of a cold; there of the heart beating,
very dubiously. I do not write my own acts, but myself and my essence.

I am of opinion that a man must be very cautious how he values himself,
and equally conscientious to give a true report, be it better or worse,
impartially. If I thought myself perfectly good and wise, I would rattle
it out to some purpose. To speak less of one's self than what one really
is is folly, not modesty; and to take that for current pay which is under
a man's value is pusillanimity and cowardice, according to, Aristotle.
No virtue assists itself with falsehood; truth is never matter of error.
To speak more of one's self than is really true is not always mere
presumption; 'tis, moreover, very often folly; to, be immeasurably
pleased with what one is, and to fall into an indiscreet self-love, is in
my opinion the substance of this vice. The most sovereign remedy to cure
it, is to do quite contrary to what these people direct who, in
forbidding men to speak of themselves, consequently, at the same time,
interdict thinking of themselves too. Pride dwells in the thought; the
tongue can have but a very little share in it.

They fancy that to think of one's self is to be delighted with one's
self; to frequent and converse with one's self, to be overindulgent; but
this excess springs only in those who take but a superficial view of
themselves, and dedicate their main inspection to their affairs; who call
it mere reverie and idleness to occupy one's self with one's self, and
the building one's self up a mere building of castles in the air; who
look upon themselves as a third person only, a stranger. If any one be
in rapture with his own knowledge, looking only on those below him, let
him but turn his eye upward towards past ages, and his pride will be
abated, when he shall there find so many thousand wits that trample him
under foot. If he enter into a flattering presumption of his personal
valour, let him but recollect the lives of Scipio, Epaminondas; so many
armies, so many nations, that leave him so far behind them. No
particular quality can make any man proud, that will at the same time put
the many other weak and imperfect ones he has in the other scale, and the
nothingness of human condition to make up the weight. Because Socrates
had alone digested to purpose the precept of his god, "to know himself,"
and by that study arrived at the perfection of setting himself at nought,
he only was reputed worthy the title of a sage. Whosoever shall so know
himself, let him boldly speak it out.


Addresses his voyage to no certain, port
All apprentices when we come to it (death)
Any one may deprive us of life; no one can deprive us of death
Business to-morrow
Condemning wine, because some people will be drunk
Conscience makes us betray, accuse, and fight against ourselves
Curiosity and of that eager passion for news
Delivered into our own custody the keys of life
Drunkeness a true and certain trial of every one's nature
I can more hardly believe a man's constancy than any virtue
"I wish you good health." "No health to thee," replied the other
If to philosophise be, as 'tis defined, to doubt
Improperly we call this voluntary dissolution, despair
It's madness to nourish infirmity
Let him be as wise as he will, after all he is but a man
Living is slavery if the liberty of dying be wanting.
Look upon themselves as a third person only, a stranger
Lower himself to the meanness of defending his innocence
Much difference betwixt us and ourselves
No alcohol the night on which a man intends to get children
No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness
Not conclude too much upon your mistress's inviolable chastity
One door into life, but a hundred thousand ways out
Ordinary method of cure is carried on at the expense of life
Plato forbids children wine till eighteen years of age
Shame for me to serve, being so near the reach of liberty
Speak less of one's self than what one really is is folly
Taught to consider sleep as a resemblance of death
The action is commendable, not the man
The most voluntary death is the finest
The vice opposite to curiosity is negligence
Things seem greater by imagination than they are in effect
Thy own cowardice is the cause, if thou livest in pain
Tis evil counsel that will admit no change
Torture: rather a trial of patience than of truth
We do not go, we are driven
What can they suffer who do not fear to die?
Whoever expects punishment already suffers it
Wise man lives as long as he ought, not so long as he can


Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



VII. Of recompenses of honour.
VIII. Of the affection of fathers to their children.
IX. Of the arms of the Parthians.
X. Of books.
XI. Of cruelty.



They who write the life of Augustus Caesar,--[Suetonius, Life of
Augustus, c. 25.]--observe this in his military discipline, that he was
wonderfully liberal of gifts to men of merit, but that as to the true
recompenses of honour he was as sparing; yet he himself had been
gratified by his uncle with all the military recompenses before he had
ever been in the field. It was a pretty invention, and received into
most governments of the world, to institute certain vain and in
themselves valueless distinctions to honour and recompense virtue, such
as the crowns of laurel, oak, and myrtle, the particular fashion of some
garment, the privilege to ride in a coach in the city, or at night with a
torch, some peculiar place assigned in public assemblies, the prerogative
of certain additional names and titles, certain distinctions in the
bearing of coats of arms, and the like, the use of which, according to
the several humours of nations, has been variously received, and yet

We in France, as also several of our neighbours, have orders of
knighthood that are instituted only for this end. And 'tis, in earnest,
a very good and profitable custom to find out an acknowledgment for the
worth of rare and excellent men, and to satisfy them with rewards that
are not at all chargeable either to prince or people. And that which has
always been found by ancient experience, and which we have heretofore
observed among ourselves, that men of quality have ever been more jealous
of such recompenses than of those wherein there was gain and profit, is
not without very good ground and reason. If with the reward, which ought
to be simply a recompense of honour, they should mix other commodities
and add riches, this mixture, instead of procuring an increase of
estimation, would debase and abate it. The Order of St. Michael, which
has been so long in repute amongst us, had no greater commodity than that
it had no communication with any other commodity, which produced this
effect, that formerly there was no office or title whatever to which the
gentry pretended with so great desire and affection as they did to that;
no quality that carried with it more respect and grandeur, valour and
worth more willingly embracing and with greater ambition aspiring to a
recompense purely its own, and rather glorious than profitable. For, in
truth, other gifts have not so great a dignity of usage, by reason they
are laid out upon all sorts of occasions; with money a man pays the wages
of a servant, the diligence of a courier, dancing, vaulting, speaking,
and the meanest offices we receive; nay, and reward vice with it too, as
flattery, treachery, and pimping; and therefore 'tis no wonder if virtue
less desires and less willingly receives this common sort of payment,
than that which is proper and peculiar to her, throughout generous and
noble. Augustus had reason to be more sparing of this than the other,
insomuch that honour is a privilege which derives its principal essence
from rarity; and so virtue itself:

"Cui malus est nemo, quis bonus esse potest?"

["To whom no one is ill who can be good?"-Martial, xii. 82.]

We do not intend it for a commendation when we say that such a one is
careful in the education of his children, by reason it is a common act,
how just and well done soever; no more than we commend a great tree,
where the whole forest is the same. I do not think that any citizen of
Sparta glorified himself much upon his valour, it being the universal
virtue of the whole nation; and as little upon his fidelity and contempt
of riches. There is no recompense becomes virtue, how great soever, that
is once passed into a custom; and I know not withal whether we can ever
call it great, being common.

Seeing, then, that these remunerations of honour have no other value and
estimation but only this, that few people enjoy them, 'tis but to be
liberal of them to bring them down to nothing. And though there should
be now more men found than in former times worthy of our order, the
estimation of it nevertheless should not be abated, nor the honour made
cheap; and it may easily happen that more may merit it; for there is no
virtue that so easily spreads as that of military valour. There is
another virtue, true, perfect, and philosophical, of which I do not
speak, and only make use of the word in our common acceptation, much
greater than this and more full, which is a force and assurance of the
soul, equally despising all sorts of adverse accidents, equable, uniform,
and constant, of which ours is no more than one little ray. Use,
education, example, and custom can do all in all to the establishment of
that whereof I am speaking, and with great facility render it common, as
by the experience of our civil wars is manifest enough; and whoever could
at this time unite us all, Catholic and Huguenot, into one body, and set
us upon some brave common enterprise, we should again make our ancient
military reputation flourish. It is most certain that in times past the
recompense of this order had not only a regard to valour, but had a
further prospect; it never was the reward of a valiant soldier but of a
great captain; the science of obeying was not reputed worthy of so
honourable a guerdon. There was therein a more universal military
expertness required, and that comprehended the most and the greatest
qualities of a military man:

"Neque enim eaedem militares et imperatorix artes sunt,"

["For the arts of soldiery and generalship are not the same."
--Livy, xxv. 19.]

as also, besides, a condition suitable to such a dignity. But, I say,
though more men were worthy than formerly, yet ought it not to be more
liberally distributed, and it were better to fall short in not giving it
at all to whom it should be due, than for ever to lose, as we have lately
done, the fruit of so profitable an invention. No man of spirit will
deign to advantage himself with what is in common with many; and such of
the present time as have least merited this recompense themselves make
the greater show of disdaining it, in order thereby to be ranked with
those to whom so much wrong has been done by the unworthy conferring and
debasing the distinction which was their particular right.

Now, to expect that in obliterating and abolishing this, suddenly to
create and bring into credit a like institution, is not a proper attempt
for so licentious and so sick a time as this wherein we now are; and it
will fall out that the last will from its birth incur the same
inconveniences that have ruined the other.--[Montaigne refers to the
Order of the Saint-Esprit, instituted by Henry III. in 1578.]--The
rules for dispensing this new order had need to be extremely clipt and
bound under great restrictions, to give it authority; and this tumultuous
season is incapable of such a curb: besides that, before this can be
brought into repute, 'tis necessary that the memory of the first, and of
the contempt into which it is fallen, be buried in oblivion.

This place might naturally enough admit of some discourse upon the
consideration of valour, and the difference of this virtue from others;
but, Plutarch having so often handled this subject, I should give myself
an unnecessary trouble to repeat what he has said. But this is worth
considering: that our nation places valour, vaillance, in the highest
degree of virtue, as its very word evidences, being derived from valeur,
and that, according to our use, when we say a man of high worth a good
man, in our court style--'tis to say a valiant man, after the Roman way;
for the general appellation of virtue with them takes etymology from vis,
force. The proper, sole, and essential profession of, the French
noblesse is that of arms: and 'tis likely that the first virtue that
discovered itself amongst men and has given to some advantage over
others, was that by which the strongest and most valiant have mastered
the weaker, and acquired a particular authority and reputation, whence
came to it that dignified appellation; or else, that these nations, being
very warlike, gave the pre-eminence to that of the virtues which was most
familiar to them; just as our passion and the feverish solicitude we have
of the chastity of women occasions that to say, a good woman, a woman of
worth, a woman of honour and virtue, signifies merely a chaste woman as
if, to oblige them to that one duty, we were indifferent as to all the
rest, and gave them the reins in all other faults whatever to compound
for that one of incontinence.



To Madame D'Estissac.

MADAM, if the strangeness and novelty of my subject, which are wont to
give value to things, do not save me, I shall never come off with honour
from this foolish attempt: but 'tis so fantastic, and carries a face so
unlike the common use, that this, peradventure, may make it pass. 'Tis a
melancholic humour, and consequently a humour very much an enemy to my
natural complexion, engendered by the pensiveness of the solitude into
which for some years past I have retired myself, that first put into
my head this idle fancy of writing. Wherein, finding myself totally
unprovided and empty of other matter, I presented myself to myself for
argument and subject. 'Tis the only book in the world of its kind, and
of a wild and extravagant design. There is nothing worth remark in this
affair but that extravagancy: for in a subject so vain and frivolous, the
best workman in the world could not have given it a form fit to recommend
it to any manner of esteem.

Now, madam, having to draw my own picture to the life, I had omitted one
important feature, had I not therein represented the honour I have ever
had for you and your merits; which I have purposely chosen to say in the
beginning of this chapter, by reason that amongst the many other
excellent qualities you are mistress of, that of the tender love you have
manifested to your children, is seated in one of the highest places.
Whoever knows at what age Monsieur D'Estissac, your husband, left you a
widow, the great and honourable matches that have since been offered to
you, as many as to any lady of your condition in France, the constancy
and steadiness wherewith, for so many years, you have sustained so many
sharp difficulties, the burden and conduct of affairs, which have
persecuted you in every corner of the kingdom, and are not yet weary of
tormenting you, and the happy direction you have given to all these, by
your sole prudence or good fortune, will easily conclude with me that we
have not so vivid an example as yours of maternal affection in our times.
I praise God, madam, that it has been so well employed; for the great
hopes Monsieur D'Estissac, your son, gives of himself, render sufficient
assurance that when he comes of age you will reap from him all the
obedience and gratitude of a very good man. But, forasmuch as by reason
of his tender years, he has not been capable of taking notice of those
offices of extremest value he has in so great number received from you,
I will, if these papers shall one day happen to fall into his hands, when
I shall neither have mouth nor speech left to deliver it to him, that he
shall receive from me a true account of those things, which shall be more
effectually manifested to him by their own effects, by which he will
understand that there is not a gentleman in France who stands more
indebted to a mother's care; and that he cannot, in the future, give a
better nor more certain testimony of his own worth and virtue than by
acknowledging you for that excellent mother you are.

If there be any law truly natural, that is to say, any instinct that is
seen universally and perpetually imprinted in both beasts and men (which
is not without controversy), I can say, that in my opinion, next to the
care every animal has of its own preservation, and to avoid that which
may hurt him, the affection that the begetter bears to his offspring
holds the second place in this rank. And seeing that nature appears to
have recommended it to us, having regard to the extension and progression
of the successive pieces of this machine of hers, 'tis no wonder if, on
the contrary, that of children towards their parents is not so great.
To which we may add this other Aristotelian consideration, that he who
confers a benefit on any one, loves him better than he is beloved by him
again: that he to whom is owing, loves better than he who owes; and that
every artificer is fonder of his work, than, if that work had sense, it
would be of him; by reason that it is dear to us to be, and to be
consists in movement and action; therefore every one has in some sort a
being in his work. He who confers a benefit exercises a fine and honest
action; he who receives it exercises the useful only. Now the useful is
much less lovable than the honest; the honest is stable and permanent,
supplying him who has done it with a continual gratification. The useful
loses itself, easily slides away, and the memory of it is neither so
fresh nor so pleasing. Those things are dearest to us that have cost us
most, and giving is more chargeable than receiving.

Since it has pleased God to endue us with some capacity of reason, to the
end we may not, like brutes, be servilely subject and enslaved to the
laws common to both, but that we should by judgment and a voluntary
liberty apply ourselves to them, we ought, indeed, something to yield to
the simple authority of nature, but not suffer ourselves to be
tyrannically hurried away and transported by her; reason alone should
have the conduct of our inclinations. I, for my part, have a strange
disgust for those propensions that are started in us without the
mediation and direction of the judgment, as, upon the subject I am
speaking of, I cannot entertain that passion of dandling and caressing
infants scarcely born, having as yet neither motion of soul nor shape of
body distinguishable, by which they can render themselves amiable, and
have not willingly suffered them to be nursed near me. A true and
regular affection ought to spring and increase with the knowledge they
give us of themselves, and then, if they are worthy of it, the natural
propension walking hand in hand with reason, to cherish them with a truly
paternal love; and so to judge, also, if they be otherwise, still
rendering ourselves to reason, notwithstanding the inclination of nature.
'Tis oft-times quite otherwise; and, most commonly, we find ourselves
more taken with the running up and down, the games, and puerile
simplicities of our children, than we do, afterwards, with their most
complete actions; as if we had loved them for our sport, like monkeys,
and not as men; and some there are, who are very liberal in buying them
balls to play withal, who are very close-handed for the least necessary
expense when they come to age. Nay, it looks as if the jealousy of
seeing them appear in and enjoy the world when we are about to leave it,
rendered us more niggardly and stingy towards them; it vexes us that they
tread upon our heels, as if to solicit us to go out; if this were to be
feared, since the order of things will have it so that they cannot, to
speak the truth, be nor live, but at the expense of our being and life,
we should never meddle with being fathers at all.

For my part, I think it cruelty and injustice not to receive them into
the share and society of our goods, and not to make them partakers in the
intelligence of our domestic affairs when they are capable, and not to
lessen and contract our own expenses to make the more room for theirs,
seeing we beget them to that effect. 'Tis unjust that an old fellow,
broken and half dead, should alone, in a corner of the chimney, enjoy the
money that would suffice for the maintenance and advancement of many
children, and suffer them, in the meantime, to lose their' best years for
want of means to advance themselves in the public service and the
knowledge of men. A man by this course drives them to despair, and to
seek out by any means, how unjust or dishonourable soever, to provide for
their own support: as I have, in my time, seen several young men of good
extraction so addicted to stealing, that no correction could cure them of
it. I know one of a very good family, to whom, at the request of a
brother of his, a very honest and brave gentleman, I once spoke on this
account, who made answer, and confessed to me roundly, that he had been
put upon this paltry practice by the severity and avarice of his father;
but that he was now so accustomed to it he could not leave it off. And,
at that very time, he was trapped stealing a lady's rings, having come
into her chamber, as she was dressing with several others. He put me in
mind of a story I had heard of another gentleman, so perfect and
accomplished in this fine trade in his youth, that, after he came to his
estate and resolved to give it over, he could not hold his hands,
nevertheless, if he passed by a shop where he saw anything he liked, from
catching it up, though it put him to the shame of sending afterwards to
pay for it. And I have myself seen several so habituated to this quality
that even amongst their comrades they could not forbear filching, though
with intent to restore what they had taken. I am a Gascon, and yet there
is no vice I so little understand as that; I hate it something more by
disposition than I condemn it by reason; I do not so much as desire
anything of another man's. This province of ours is, in plain truth, a
little more decried than the other parts of the kingdom; and yet we have
several times seen, in our times, men of good families of other
provinces, in the hands of justice, convicted of abominable thefts. I
fear this vice is, in some sort, to be attributed to the fore-mentioned
vice of the fathers.

And if a man should tell me, as a lord of very good understanding once
did, that "he hoarded up wealth, not to extract any other fruit and use
from his parsimony, but to make himself honoured and sought after by his
relations; and that age having deprived him of all other power, it was
the only remaining remedy to maintain his authority in his family, and to
keep him from being neglected and despised by all around," in truth, not
only old age, but all other imbecility, according to Aristotle, is the
promoter of avarice; that is something, but it is physic for a disease
that a man should prevent the birth of. A father is very miserable who
has no other hold on his children's affection than the need they have of
his assistance, if that can be called affection; he must render himself
worthy to be respected by his virtue and wisdom, and beloved by his
kindness and the sweetness of his manners; even the very ashes of a rich
matter have their value; and we are wont to have the bones and relics of
worthy men in regard and reverence. No old age can be so decrepid in a
man who has passed his life in honour, but it must be venerable,
especially to his children, whose soul he must have trained up to their
duty by reason, not by necessity and the need they have of him, nor by
harshness and compulsion:

"Et errat longe mea quidem sententia
Qui imperium credat esse gravius, aut stabilius,
Vi quod fit, quam illud, quod amicitia adjungitur."

["He wanders far from the truth, in my opinion, who thinks that
government more absolute and durable which is acquired by force than
that which is attached to friendship."--Terence, Adelph., i. I, 40.]

I condemn all violence in the education of a tender soul that is designed
for honour and liberty. There is I know not what of servile in rigour
and constraint; and I am of opinion that what is not to be done by
reason, prudence, and address, is never to be affected by force. I
myself was brought up after that manner; and they tell me that in all my
first age I never felt the rod but twice, and then very slightly. I
practised the same method with my children, who all of them died at
nurse, except Leonora, my only daughter, and who arrived to the age of
five years and upward without other correction for her childish faults
(her mother's indulgence easily concurring) than words only, and those
very gentle; in which kind of proceeding, though my end and expectation
should be both frustrated, there are other causes enough to lay the fault
on without blaming my discipline, which I know to be natural and just,
and I should, in this, have yet been more religious towards the males, as
less born to subjection and more free; and I should have made it my
business to fill their hearts with ingenuousness and freedom. I have
never observed other effects of whipping than to render boys more
cowardly, or more wilfully obstinate.

Do we desire to be beloved of our children? Will we remove from them all
occasion of wishing our death though no occasion of so horrid a wish can
either be just or excusable?

"Nullum scelus rationem habet."

["No wickedness has reason."--Livy, xxviii. 28]

Let us reasonably accommodate their lives with what is in our power. In
order to this, we should not marry so young that our age shall in a
manner be confounded with theirs; for this inconvenience plunges us into
many very great difficulties, and especially the gentry of the nation,
who are of a condition wherein they have little to do, and who live upon
their rents only: for elsewhere, with people who live by their labour,
the plurality and company of children is an increase to the common stock;
they are so many new tools and instruments wherewith to grow rich.

I married at three-and-thirty years of age, and concur in the opinion of
thirty-five, which is said to be that of Aristotle. Plato will have
nobody marry before thirty; but he has reason to laugh at those who
undertook the work of marriage after five-and-fifty, and condemns their
offspring as unworthy of aliment and life. Thales gave the truest
limits, who, young and being importuned by his mother to marry, answered,
"That it was too soon," and, being grown into years and urged again,
"That it was too late." A man must deny opportunity to every inopportune
action. The ancient Gauls' looked upon it as a very horrid thing for a
man to have society with a woman before he was twenty years of age, and
strictly recommended to the men who designed themselves for war the
keeping their virginity till well grown in years, forasmuch as courage is
abated and diverted by intercourse with women:

"Ma, or congiunto a giovinetta sposa,
E lieto omai de' figli, era invilito
Negli affetti di padre et di marito."

["Now, married to a young wife and happy in children, he was
demoralised by his love as father and husband."
--Tasso, Gierus., x. 39.]

Muley Hassam, king of Tunis, he whom the Emperor Charles V. restored to
his kingdom, reproached the memory of his father Mahomet with the
frequentation of women, styling him loose, effeminate, and a getter of
children.--[Of whom he had thirty-four.]--The Greek history observes of
Iccus the Tarentine, of Chryso, Astyllus, Diopompos, and others, that to
keep their bodies in order for the Olympic games and such like exercises,
they denied themselves during that preparation all commerce with Venus.
In a certain country of the Spanish Indies men were not permitted to
marry till after forty age, and yet the girls were allowed at ten.
'Tis not time for a gentleman of thirty years old to give place to his
son who is twenty; he is himself in a condition to serve both in the
expeditions of war and in the court of his prince; has need of all his
appurtenances; and yet, doubtless, he ought to surrender a share, but not
so great an one as to forget himself for others; and for such an one the
answer that fathers have ordinarily in their mouths, "I will not put off
my clothes, before I go to bed," serves well.

But a father worn out with age and infirmities, and deprived by weakness
and want of health of the common society of men, wrongs himself and his
to amass a great heap of treasure. He has lived long enough, if he be
wise, to have a mind to strip himself to go to bed, not to his very
shirt, I confess, but to that and a good, warm dressing-gown; the
remaining pomps, of which he has no further use, he ought voluntarily to
surrender to those, to whom by the order of nature they belong. 'Tis
reason he should refer the use of those things to them, seeing that
nature has reduced him to such a state that he cannot enjoy them himself;
otherwise there is doubtless malice and envy in the case. The greatest
act of the Emperor Charles V. was that when, in imitation of some of the
ancients of his own quality, confessing it but reason to strip ourselves
when our clothes encumber and grow too heavy for us, and to lie down when
our legs begin to fail us, he resigned his possessions, grandeur, and
power to his son, when he found himself failing in vigour, and steadiness
for the conduct of his affairs suitable with the glory he had therein

"Solve senescentem mature sanus equum, ne
Peccet ad extremum ridendus, et ilia ducat."

["Dismiss the old horse in good time, lest, failing in the lists,
the spectators laugh."--Horace, Epist., i., I, 8.]

This fault of not perceiving betimes and of not being sensible of the
feebleness and extreme alteration that age naturally brings both upon
body and mind, which, in my opinion, is equal, if indeed the soul has not
more than half, has lost the reputation of most of the great men in the
world. I have known in my time, and been intimately acquainted with
persons of great authority, whom one might easily discern marvellously
lapsed from the sufficiency I knew they were once endued with, by the
reputation they had acquired in their former years, whom I could
heartily, for their own sakes, have wished at home at their ease,
discharged of their public or military employments, which were now grown
too heavy for their shoulders. I have formerly been very familiar in a
gentleman's house, a widower and very old, though healthy and cheerful
enough: this gentleman had several daughters to marry and a son already
of ripe age, which brought upon him many visitors, and a great expense,
neither of which well pleased him, not only out of consideration of
frugality, but yet more for having, by reason of his age, entered into a
course of life far differing from ours. I told him one day a little
boldly, as I used to do, that he would do better to give us younger folk
room, and to leave his principal house (for he had but that well placed
and furnished) to his son, and himself retire to an estate he had hard
by, where nobody would trouble his repose, seeing he could not otherwise
avoid being importuned by us, the condition of his children considered.
He took my advice afterwards, and found an advantage in so doing.

I do not mean that a man should so instal them as not to reserve to
himself a liberty to retract; I, who am now arrived to the age wherein
such things are fit to be done, would resign to them the enjoyment of my
house and goods, but with a power of revocation if they should give me
cause to alter my mind; I would leave to them the use, that being no
longer convenient for me; and, of the general authority and power over
all, would reserve as much as--I thought good to myself; having always
held that it must needs be a great satisfaction to an aged father himself
to put his children into the way of governing his affairs, and to have
power during his own life to control their behaviour, supplying them with
instruction and advice from his own experience, and himself to transfer
the ancient honour and order of his house into the hands of those who are
to succeed him, and by that means to satisfy himself as to the hopes he
may conceive of their future conduct. And in order to this I would not
avoid their company; I would observe them near at hand, and partake,
according to the condition of my age, of their feasts and jollities.
If I did not live absolutely amongst them, which I could not do without
annoying them and their friends, by reason of the morosity of my age and
the restlessness of my infirmities, and without violating also the rules
and order of living I should then have set down to myself, I would, at
least, live near them in some retired part of my house, not the best in
show, but the most commodious. Nor as I saw some years ago, a dean of
St. Hilary of Poitiers given up to such a solitude, that at the time I
came into his chamber it had been two and twenty years that he had not
stepped one foot out of it, and yet had all his motions free and easy,
and was in good health, saving a cold that fell upon his lungs; he would,
hardly once in a week, suffer any one to come in to see him; he always
kept himself shut up in his chamber alone, except that a servant brought
him, once a day, something to eat, and did then but just come in and go
out again. His employment was to walk up and down, and read some book,
for he was a bit of a scholar; but, as to the rest, obstinately bent to
die in this retirement, as he soon after did. I would endeavour by
pleasant conversation to create in my children a warm and unfeigned
friendship and good-will towards me, which in well-descended natures is
not hard to do; for if they be furious brutes, of which this age of ours
produces thousands, we are then to hate and avoid them as such.

I am angry at the custom of forbidding children to call their father by
the name of father, and to enjoin them another, as more full of respect
and reverence, as if nature had not sufficiently provided for our
authority. We call Almighty God Father, and disdain to have our children
call us so; I have reformed this error in my family.--[As did Henry IV.
of France]--And 'tis also folly and injustice to deprive children, when
grown up, of familiarity with their father, and to carry a scornful and
austere countenance toward them, thinking by that to keep them in awe and
obedience; for it is a very idle farce that, instead of producing the
effect designed, renders fathers distasteful, and, which is worse,
ridiculous to their own children. They have youth and vigour in
possession, and consequently the breath and favour of the world; and
therefore receive these fierce and tyrannical looks--mere scarecrows--
of a man without blood, either in his heart or veins, with mockery and
contempt. Though I could make myself feared, I had yet much rather make
myself beloved: there are so many sorts of defects in old age, so much
imbecility, and it is so liable to contempt, that the best acquisition a
man can make is the kindness and affection of his own family; command and
fear are no longer his weapons. Such an one I have known who, having
been very imperious in his youth, when he came to be old, though he might
have lived at his full ease, would ever strike, rant, swear, and curse:
the most violent householder in France: fretting himself with unnecessary
suspicion and vigilance. And all this rumble and clutter but to make his
family cheat him the more; of his barn, his kitchen, cellar, nay, and his
very purse too, others had the greatest use and share, whilst he keeps
his keys in his pocket much more carefully than his eyes. Whilst he hugs
himself with the pitiful frugality of a niggard table, everything goes to
rack and ruin in every corner of his house, in play, drink, all sorts of
profusion, making sport in their junkets with his vain anger and
fruitless parsimony. Every one is a sentinel against him, and if, by
accident, any wretched fellow that serves him is of another humour, and
will not join with the rest, he is presently rendered suspected to him,
a bait that old age very easily bites at of itself. How often has this
gentleman boasted to me in how great awe he kept his family, and how
exact an obedience and reverence they paid him! How clearly he saw into
his own affairs!

"Ille solos nescit omnia."

["He alone is ignorant of all that is passing."
--Terence, Adelph., iv. 2, 9.]

I do not know any one that can muster more parts, both natural and
acquired, proper to maintain dominion, than he; yet he is fallen from it
like a child. For this reason it is that I have picked out him, amongst
several others that I know of the same humour, for the greatest example.
It were matter for a question in the schools, whether he is better thus
or otherwise. In his presence, all submit to and bow to him, and give so
much way to his vanity that nobody ever resists him; he has his fill of
assents, of seeming fear, submission, and respect. Does he turn away a
servant? he packs up his bundle, and is gone; but 'tis no further than
just out of his sight: the steps of old age are so slow, the senses so
troubled, that he will live and do his old office in the same house a
year together without being perceived.

And after a fit interval of time, letters are pretended to come from a
great way off; very humble, suppliant; and full of promises of amendment,
by virtue of which he is again received into favour. Does Monsieur make
any bargain, or prepare any despatch that does not please? 'tis
suppressed, and causes afterwards forged to excuse the want of execution
in the one or answer in the other. No letters being first brought to
him, he never sees any but those that shall seem fit for his knowledge.
If by accident they fall first into his own hand, being used to trust
somebody to read them to him; he reads extempore what he thinks fit, and
often makes such a one ask him pardon who abuses and rails at him in his
letter. In short, he sees nothing, but by an image prepared and designed
beforehand and the most satisfactory they can invent, not to rouse and
awaken his ill humour and choler. I have seen, under various aspects,
enough of these modes of domestic government, long-enduring, constant, to
the like effect.

Women are evermore addicted to cross their husbands: they lay hold with
both hands on all occasions to contradict and oppose them; the first
excuse serves for a plenary justification. I have seen one who robbed
her husband wholesale, that, as she told her confessor, she might
distribute the more liberal alms. Let who will trust to that religious
dispensation. No management of affairs seems to them of sufficient
dignity, if proceeding from the husband's assent; they must usurp it
either by insolence or cunning, and always injuriously, or else it has
not the grace and authority they desire. When, as in the case I am
speaking of, 'tis against a poor old man and for the children, then they
make use of this title to serve their passion with glory; and, as for a
common service, easily cabal, and combine against his government and
dominion. If they be males grown up in full and flourishing health, they
presently corrupt, either by force or favour, steward, receivers, and all
the rout. Such as have neither wife nor son do not so easily fall into
this misfortune; but withal more cruelly and unworthily. Cato the elder
in his time said: So many servants, so many enemies; consider, then,
whether according to the vast difference between the purity of the age he
lived in and the corruption of this of ours, he does not seem to shew us
that wife, son, and servant, are so many enemies to us? 'Tis well for
old age that it is always accompanied by want of observation, ignorance,
and a proneness to being deceived. For should we see how we are used and
would not acquiesce, what would become of us? especially in such an age
as this, where the very judges who are to determine our controversies are
usually partisans to the young, and interested in the cause. In case the
discovery of this cheating escape me, I cannot at least fail to discern
that I am very fit to be cheated. And can a man ever enough exalt the
value of a friend, in comparison with these civil ties? The very image
of it which I see in beasts, so pure and uncorrupted, how religiously do
I respect it! If others deceive me, yet do I not, at least, deceive
myself in thinking I am able to defend myself from them, or in cudgelling
my brains to make myself so. I protect myself from such treasons in my
own bosom, not by an unquiet and tumultuous curiosity, but rather by
diversion and resolution. When I hear talk of any one's condition, I
never trouble myself to think of him; I presently turn my eyes upon
myself to see in what condition I am; whatever concerns another relates
to me; the accident that has befallen him gives me caution, and rouses me
to turn my defence that way. We every day and every hour say things of
another that we might properly say of ourselves, could we but apply our
observation to our own concerns, as well as extend it to others. And
several authors have in this manner prejudiced their own cause by running
headlong upon those they attack, and darting those shafts against their
enemies, that are more properly, and with greater advantage, to be turned
upon themselves.

The late Mareschal de Montluc having lost his son, who died in the island
of Madeira, in truth a very worthy gentleman and of great expectation,
did to me, amongst his other regrets, very much insist upon what a sorrow
and heart-breaking it was that he had never made himself familiar with
him; and by that humour of paternal gravity and grimace to have lost the
opportunity of having an insight into and of well knowing, his son, as
also of letting him know the extreme affection he had for him, and the
worthy opinion he had of his virtue. "That poor boy," said he, "never
saw in me other than a stern and disdainful countenance, and is gone in a
belief that I neither knew how to love him nor esteem him according to
his desert. For whom did I reserve the discovery of that singular
affection I had for him in my soul? Was it not he himself, who ought to
have had all the pleasure of it, and all the obligation? I constrained
and racked myself to put on, and maintain this vain disguise, and have by
that means deprived myself of the pleasure of his conversation, and, I
doubt, in some measure, his affection, which could not but be very cold
to me, having never other from me than austerity, nor felt other than a
tyrannical manner of proceeding."

[Madame de Sevigne tells us that she never read this passage without
tears in her eyes. "My God!" she exclaims, "how full is this book
of good sense!" Ed.]

I find this complaint to be rational and rightly apprehended: for, as I
myself know by too certain experience, there is no so sweet consolation
in the loss of friends as the conscience of having had no reserve or
secret for them, and to have had with them a perfect and entire
communication. Oh my friend,--[La Boetie.] am I the better for being
sensible of this; or am I the worse? I am, doubtless, much the better.
I am consoled and honoured, in the sorrow for his death. Is it not a
pious and a pleasing office of my life to be always upon my friend's
obsequies? Can there be any joy equal to this privation?

I open myself to my family, as much as I can, and very willingly let them
know the state of my opinion and good will towards them, as I do to
everybody else: I make haste to bring out and present myself to them; for
I will not have them mistaken in me, in anything. Amongst other
particular customs of our ancient Gauls, this, as Caesar reports,--[De
Bello Gall., vi. r8.]--was one, that the sons never presented
themselves before their fathers, nor durst ever appear in their company
in public, till they began to bear arms; as if they would intimate by
this, that it was also time for their fathers to receive them into their
familiarity and acquaintance.

I have observed yet another sort of indiscretion in fathers of my time,
that, not contented with having deprived their children, during their own
long lives, of the share they naturally ought to have had in their
fortunes, they afterwards leave to their wives the same authority over
their estates, and liberty to dispose of them according to their own
fancy. And I have known a certain lord, one of the principal officers of
the crown, who, having in reversion above fifty thousand crowns yearly
revenue, died necessitous and overwhelmed with debt at above fifty years
of age; his mother in her extremest decrepitude being yet in possession
of all his property by the will of his father, who had, for his part,
lived till near fourscore years old. This appears to me by no means
reasonable. And therefore I think it of very little advantage to a man,
whose affairs are well enough, to seek a wife who encumbers his estate
with a very great fortune; there is no sort of foreign debt that brings
more ruin to families than this: my predecessors have ever been aware of
that danger and provided against it, and so have I. But those who
dissuade us from rich wives, for fear they should be less tractable and
kind, are out in their advice to make a man lose a real commodity for so
frivolous a conjecture. It costs an unreasonable woman no more to pass
over one reason than another; they cherish themselves most where they are
most wrong. Injustice allures them, as the honour of their virtuous
actions does the good; and the more riches they bring with them, they are
so much the more good-natured, as women, who are handsome, are all the
more inclined and proud to be chaste.

'Tis reasonable to leave the administration of affairs to the mothers,
till the children are old enough, according to law, to manage them; but
the father has brought them, up very ill, if he cannot hope that, when
they come to maturity, they will have more wisdom and ability in the
management of affairs than his wife, considering the ordinary weakness of
the sex. It were, notwithstanding, to say the truth, more against nature
to make the mothers depend upon the discretion of their children; they
ought to be plentifully provided for, to maintain themselves according to
their quality and age, by reason that necessity and indigence are much
more unbecoming and insupportable to them than to men; the son should
rather be cut short than the mother.

In general, the most judicious distribution of our goods, when we come to
die, is, in my opinion, to let them be distributed according to the
custom of the country; the laws have considered the matter better than we
know how to do, and 'tis wiser to let them fail in their appointment,
than rashly to run the hazard of miscarrying in ours. Nor are the goods
properly ours, since, by civil prescription and without us, they are all
destined to certain successors. And although we have some liberty beyond
that, yet I think we ought not, without great and manifest cause, to take
away that from one which his fortune has allotted him, and to which the
public equity gives him title; and that it is against reason to abuse
this liberty, in making it serve our own frivolous and private fancies.
My destiny has been kind to me in not presenting me with occasions to
tempt me and divert my affection from the common and legitimate
institution. I see many with whom 'tis time lost to employ a long
exercise of good offices: a word ill taken obliterates ten years' merit;
he is happy who is in a position to oil their goodwill at this last
passage. The last action carries it, not the best and most frequent
offices, but the most recent and present do the work. These are people
that play with their wills as with apples or rods, to gratify or chastise
every action of those who pretend to an interest in their care. 'Tis a
thing of too great weight and consequence to be so tumbled and tossed and
altered every moment, and wherein the wise determine once for all, having
above all things regard to reason and the public observance. We lay
these masculine substitutions too much to heart, proposing a ridiculous
eternity to our names. We are, moreover, too superstitious in vain
conjectures as to the future, that we derive from the words and actions
of children. Peradventure they might have done me an injustice, in
dispossessing me of my right, for having been the most dull and heavy,
the most slow and unwilling at my book, not of all my brothers only, but
of all the boys in the whole province: whether about learning my lesson,
or about any bodily exercise. 'Tis a folly to make an election out of
the ordinary course upon the credit of these divinations wherein we are
so often deceived. If the ordinary rule of descent were to be violated,
and the destinies corrected in the choice they have made of our heirs,
one might more plausibly do it upon the account of some remarkable and
enormous personal deformity, a permanent and incorrigible defect, and in
the opinion of us French, who are great admirers of beauty, an important

The pleasant dialogue betwixt Plato's legislator and his citizens will be
an ornament to this place, "What," said they, feeling themselves about to
die, "may we not dispose of our own to whom we please? God! what
cruelty that it shall not be lawful for us, according as we have been
served and attended in our sickness, in our old age, in our affairs, to
give more or less to those whom we have found most diligent about us, at
our own fancy and discretion!" To which the legislator answers thus:

"My friends, who are now, without question, very soon to die, it is hard
for you in the condition you are, either to know yourselves, or what is
yours, according to the delphic inscription. I, who make the laws, am of
opinion, that you neither are yourselves your own, nor is that yours of
which you are possessed. Both your goods and you belong to your
families, as well those past as those to come; but, further, both your
family and goods much more appertain to the public. Wherefore, lest any
flatterer in your old age or in your sickness, or any passion of your
own, should unseasonably prevail with you to make an unjust will, I shall
take care to prevent that inconvenience; but, having respect both to the
universal interests of the city and that of your particular family, I
shall establish laws, and make it by good reasons appear, that private
convenience ought to give place to the common benefit. Go then
cheerfully where human necessity calls you. It is for me, who regard no
more the one thing than the other, and who, as much as in me lies, am
provident of the public interest, to have a care as to what you leave
behind you."

To return to my subject: it appears to me that women are very rarely
born, to whom the prerogative over men, the maternal and natural
excepted, is in any sort due, unless it be for the punishment of such,
as in some amorous fever have voluntarily submitted themselves to them:
but that in no way concerns the old ones, of whom we are now speaking.
This consideration it is which has made us so willingly to enact and give
force to that law, which was never yet seen by any one, by which women
are excluded the succession to our crown: and there is hardly a
government in the world where it is not pleaded, as it is here, by the
probability of reason that authorises it, though fortune has given it
more credit in some places than in others. 'Tis dangerous to leave the
disposal of our succession to their judgment, according to the choice
they shall make of children, which is often fantastic and unjust; for the
irregular appetites and depraved tastes they have during the time of
their being with child, they have at all other times in the mind. We
commonly see them fond of the most weak, ricketty, and deformed children;
or of those, if they have such, as are still hanging at the breast. For,
not having sufficient force of reason to choose and embrace that which is
most worthy, they the more willingly suffer themselves to be carried
away, where the impressions of nature are most alone; like animals that
know their young no longer than they give them suck. As to the rest, it
is easy by experience to be discerned that this natural affection to
which we give so great authority has but very weak roots. For a very
little profit, we every day tear their own children out of the mothers'
arms, and make them take ours in their room: we make them abandon their
own to some pitiful nurse, to whom we disdain to commit ours, or to some
she-goat, forbidding them, not only to give them suck, what danger soever
they run thereby, but, moreover, to take any manner of care of them, that
they may wholly be occupied with the care of and attendance upon ours;
and we see in most of them an adulterate affection, more vehement than
the natural, begotten by custom toward the foster children, and a greater
solicitude for the preservation of those they have taken charge of, than
of their own. And that which I was saying of goats was upon this
account; that it is ordinary all about where I live, to see the
countrywomen, when they want milk of their own for their children, to
call goats to their assistance; and I have at this hour two men-servants
that never sucked women's milk more than eight days after they were born.
These goats are immediately taught to come to suckle the little children,
know their voices when they cry, and come running to them. If any other
than this foster-child be presented to them, they refuse to let it suck;
and the child in like manner will refuse to suck another goat. I saw one
the other day from whom they had taken away the goat that used to nourish
it, by reason the father had only borrowed it of a neighbour; the child
would not touch any other they could bring, and died, doubtless of
hunger. Beasts as easily alter and corrupt their natural affection as
we: I believe that in what Herodotus relates of a certain district of
Lybia, there are many mistakes; he says that the women are there in
common; but that the child, so soon as it can go, finds him out in the
crowd for his father, to whom he is first led by his natural inclination.

Now, to consider this simple reason for loving our children, that we have
begot them, therefore calling them our second selves, it appears,
methinks, that there is another kind of production proceeding from us,
that is of no less recommendation: for that which we engender by the
soul, the issue of our understanding, courage, and abilities, springs
from nobler parts than those of the body, and that are much more our own:
we are both father and mother in this generation. These cost us a great
deal more and bring us more honour, if they have anything of good in
them. For the value of our other children is much more theirs than ours;
the share we have in them is very little; but of these all the beauty,
all the grace and value, are ours; and also they more vividly represent
us than the others. Plato adds, that these are immortal children that
immortalise and deify their fathers, as Lycurgus, Solon, Minos. Now,
histories being full of examples of the common affection of fathers to
their children, it seems not altogether improper to introduce some few of
this other kind. Heliodorus, that good bishop of Trikka, rather chose to
lose the dignity, profit, and devotion of so venerable a prelacy, than to
lose his daughter; a daughter that continues to this day very graceful
and comely; but, peradventure, a little too curiously and wantonly
tricked, and too amorous for an ecclesiastical and sacerdotal daughter.
There was one Labienus at Rome, a man of great worth and authority, and
amongst other qualities excellent in all sorts of literature, who was, as
I take it, the son of that great Labienus, the chief of Caesar's captains
in the wars of Gaul; and who, afterwards, siding with Pompey the great,
so valiantly maintained his cause, till he was by Caesar defeated in
Spain. This Labienus, of whom I am now speaking, had several enemies,
envious of his good qualities, and, tis likely, the courtiers and minions
of the emperors of his time who were very angry at his freedom and the
paternal humour which he yet retained against tyranny, with which it is
to be supposed he had tinctured his books and writings. His adversaries
prosecuted several pieces he had published before the magistrates at
Rome, and prevailed so far against him, as to have them condemned to the
fire. It was in him that this new example of punishment was begun, which
was afterwards continued against others at Rome, to punish even writing
and studies with death. There would not be means and matter enough of
cruelty, did we not mix with them things that nature has exempted from
all sense and suffering, as reputation and the products of the mind, and
did we not communicate corporal punishments to the teachings and
monuments of the Muses. Now, Labienus could not suffer this loss, nor
survive these his so dear issue, and therefore caused himself to be
conveyed and shut up alive in the monument of his ancestors, where he
made shift to kill and bury himself at once. 'Tis hard to shew a more
vehement paternal affection than this. Cassius Severus, a man of great
eloquence and his very intimate friend, seeing his books burned, cried
out that by the same sentence they should as well condemn him to the fire
too, seeing that he carried in his memory all that they contained. The
like accident befel Cremutius Cordus, who being accused of having in his
books commended Brutus and Cassius, that dirty, servile, and corrupt
Senate, worthy a worse master than Tiberius, condemned his writings to
the flame. He was willing to bear them company, and killed himself with
fasting. The good Lucan, being condemned by that rascal Nero, at the
last gasp of his life, when the greater part of his blood was already
spent through the veins of his arms, which he had caused his physician to
open to make him die, and when the cold had seized upon all his
extremities, and began to approach his vital parts, the last thing he had
in his memory was some of the verses of his Battle of Phaysalia, which he
recited, dying with them in his mouth. What was this, but taking a
tender and paternal leave of his children, in imitation of the
valedictions and embraces, wherewith we part from ours, when we come to
die, and an effect of that natural inclination, that suggests to our
remembrance in this extremity those things which were dearest to us
during the time of our life?

Can we believe that Epicurus who, as he says himself, dying of the
intolerable pain of the stone, had all his consolation in the beauty of
the doctrine he left behind him, could have received the same
satisfaction from many children, though never so well-conditioned and
brought up, had he had them, as he did from the production of so many
rich writings? Or that, had it been in his choice to have left behind
him a deformed and untoward child or a foolish and ridiculous book, he,
or any other man of his understanding, would not rather have chosen to
have run the first misfortune than the other? It had been, for example,
peradventure, an impiety in St. Augustin, if, on the one hand, it had
been proposed to him to bury his writings, from which religion has
received so great fruit, or on the other to bury his children, had he had
them, had he not rather chosen to bury his children. And I know not
whether I had not much rather have begot a very beautiful one, through
society with the Muses, than by lying with my wife. To this, such as it
is, what I give it I give absolutely and irrevocably, as men do to their
bodily children. That little I have done for it, is no more at my own
disposal; it may know many things that are gone from me, and from me hold
that which I have not retained; and which, as well as a stranger, I
should borrow thence, should I stand in need. If I am wiser than my
book, it is richer than I. There are few men addicted to poetry, who
would not be much prouder to be the father to the AEneid than to the
handsomest youth of Rome; and who would not much better bear the loss of
the one than of the other. For according to Aristotle, the poet, of all
artificers, is the fondest of his work. 'Tis hard to believe that
Epaminondas, who boasted that in lieu of all posterity he left two
daughters behind him that would one day do their father honour (meaning
the two victories he obtained over the Lacedaemonians), would willingly
have consented to exchange these for the most beautiful creatures of all
Greece; or that Alexander or Caesar ever wished to be deprived of the
grandeur of their glorious exploits in war, for the convenience of
children and heirs, how perfect and accomplished soever. Nay, I make a
great question, whether Phidias or any other excellent sculptor would be
so solicitous of the preservation and continuance of his natural
children, as he would be of a rare statue, which with long labour and
study he had perfected according to art. And to those furious and
irregular passions that have sometimes inflamed fathers towards their own
daughters, and mothers towards their own sons, the like is also found in
this other sort of parentage: witness what is related of Pygmalion who,
having made the statue of a woman of singular beauty, fell so
passionately in love with this work of his, that the gods in favour of
his passion inspired it with life.

"Tentatum mollescit ebur, positoque rigore,
Subsidit digitis."

["The ivory grows soft under his touch and yields to his fingers."
--Ovid, Metam., x. 283.]



'Tis an ill custom and unmanly that the gentlemen of our time have got,
not to put on arms but just upon the point of the most extreme necessity,
and to lay them by again, so soon as ever there is any show of the danger
being over; hence many disorders arise; for every one bustling and
running to his arms just when he should go to charge, has his cuirass to
buckle on when his companions are already put to rout. Our ancestors
were wont to give their head-piece, lance and gauntlets to be carried,
but never put off the other pieces so long as there was any work to be
done. Our troops are now cumbered and rendered unsightly with the
clutter of baggage and servants who cannot be from their masters, by
reason they carry their arms. Titus Livius speaking of our nation:

"Intolerantissima laboris corpora vix arma humeris gerebant."

["Bodies most impatient of labour could scarce endure to wear
their arms on their shoulders."--Livy, x. 28.]

Many nations do yet, and did anciently, go to war without defensive arms,
or with such, at least, as were of very little proof:

"Tegmina queis capitum, raptus de subere cortex."

["To whom the coverings of the heads were the bark of the
cork-tree."--AEneid, vii. 742.]

Alexander, the most adventurous captain that ever was, very seldom wore
armour, and such amongst us as slight it, do not by that much harm to the
main concern; for if we see some killed for want of it, there are few
less whom the lumber of arms helps to destroy, either by being
overburthened, crushed, and cramped with their weight, by a rude shock,
or otherwise. For, in plain truth, to observe the weight and thickness
of the armour we have now in use, it seems as if we only sought to defend
ourselves, and are rather loaded than secured by it. We have enough to
do to support its weight, being so manacled and immured, as if we were
only to contend with our own arms, and as if we had not the same
obligation to defend them, that they have to defend us. Tacitus gives a
pleasant description of the men-at-arms among our ancient Gauls, who were
so armed as only to be able to stand, without power to harm or to be
harmed, or to rise again if once struck down. Lucullus, seeing certain
soldiers of the Medes, who formed the van of Tigranes' army, heavily
armed and very uneasy, as if in prisons of iron, thence conceived hopes
with great ease to defeat them, and by them began his charge and victory.
And now that our musketeers are in credit, I believe some invention will
be found out to immure us for our safety, and to draw us to the war in
castles, such as those the ancients loaded their elephants withal.

This humour is far differing from that of the younger Scipio, who sharply
reprehended his soldiers for having planted caltrops under water, in a
ditch by which those of the town he held besieged might sally out upon
him; saying, that those who assaulted should think of attacking, and not
to fear; suspecting, with good reason, that this stop they had put to the
enemies, would make themselves less vigilant upon their guard. He said
also to a young man, who showed him a fine buckler he had, that he was
very proud of, "It is a very fine buckler indeed, but a Roman soldier
ought to repose greater confidence in his right hand than in his left."

Now 'tis nothing but the not being used to wear it that makes the weight
of our armour so intolerable:

"L'usbergo in dosso haveano, et l'elmo in testa,
Due di questi guerrier, de' quali io canto;
Ne notte o di, d' appoi ch' entraro in questa
Stanza, gl'haveano mai messi da canto;
Che facile a portar come la vesta
Era lor, perche in uso l'havean tanto:"

["Two of the warriors, of whom I sing, had on their backs their
cuirass and on their heads their casque, and never had night or day
once laid them by, whilst here they were; those arms, by long
practice, were grown as light to bear as a garment"
--Ariosto, Cant., MI. 30.]

the Emperor Caracalla was wont to march on foot, completely armed, at the
head of his army. The Roman infantry always carried not only a morion, a
sword, and a shield (for as to arms, says Cicero, they were so accustomed
to have them always on, that they were no more trouble to them than their
own limbs):

"Arma enim membra militis esse dicunt."

but, moreover, fifteen days' provision, together with a certain number of
stakes, wherewith to fortify their camp, sixty pounds in weight. And
Marius' soldiers, laden at the same rate, were inured to march in order
of battle five leagues in five hours, and sometimes, upon any urgent
occasion, six.

Their military discipline was much ruder than ours, and accordingly
produced much greater effects. The younger Scipio, reforming his army in
Spain, ordered his soldiers to eat standing, and nothing that was drest.
The jeer that was given a Lacedaemonian soldier is marvellously pat to
this purpose, who, in an expedition of war, was reproached for having
been seen under the roof of a house: they were so inured to hardship
that, let the weather be what it would, it was a shame to be seen under
any other cover than the roof of heaven. We should not march our people
very far at that rate.

As to what remains, Marcellinus, a man bred up in the Roman wars,
curiously observes the manner of the Parthians arming themselves, and the
rather, for being so different from that of the Romans. "They had," says
he, "armour so woven as to have all the scales fall over one another like
so many little feathers; which did nothing hinder the motion of the body,
and yet were of such resistance, that our darts hitting upon them, would
rebound" (these were the coats of mail our forefathers were so constantly
wont to use). And in another place: "they had," says he, "strong and
able horses, covered with thick tanned hides of leather, and were
themselves armed 'cap-a-pie' with great plates of iron, so artificially
ordered, that in all parts of the limbs, which required bending, they
lent themselves to the motion. One would have said, that they had been
men of iron; having armour for the head so neatly fitted, and so
naturally representing the form of a face, that they were nowhere
vulnerable, save at two little round holes, that gave them a little
light, corresponding with their eyes, and certain small chinks about
their nostrils, through which they, with great difficulty, breathed,"

"Flexilis inductis animatur lamina membris,
Horribilis visu; credas simulacra moveri
Ferrea, cognatoque viros spirare metallo.
Par vestitus equis: ferrata fronte minantur,
Ferratosque movent, securi vulneris, armos."

["Plates of steel are placed over the body, so flexible that,
dreadful to be seen, you would think these not living men, but
moving images. The horses are similarly armed, and, secured from
wounds, move their iron shoulders."--Claud, In Ruf., ii. 358.]

'Tis a description drawing very near resembling the equipage of the men-
at-arms in France, with their barded horses. Plutarch says, that
Demetrius caused two complete suits of armour to be made for himself and
for Alcimus, a captain of the greatest note and authority about him, of
six score pounds weight each, whereas the ordinary suits weighed but half
as much.



I make no doubt but that I often happen to speak of things that are much
better and more truly handled by those who are masters of the trade. You
have here purely an essay of my natural parts, and not of those acquired:
and whoever shall catch me tripping in ignorance, will not in any sort
get the better of me; for I should be very unwilling to become
responsible to another for my writings, who am not so to myself, nor
satisfied with them. Whoever goes in quest of knowledge, let him fish
for it where it is to be found; there is nothing I so little profess.
These are fancies of my own, by which I do not pretend to discover things
but to lay open myself; they may, peradventure, one day be known to me,
or have formerly been, according as fortune has been able to bring me in
place where they have been explained; but I have utterly forgotten it;
and if I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retention; so that I
can promise no certainty, more than to make known to what point the
knowledge I now have has risen. Therefore, let none lay stress upon the
matter I write, but upon my method in writing it. Let them observe, in
what I borrow, if I have known how to choose what is proper to raise or
help the invention, which is always my own. For I make others say for
me, not before but after me, what, either for want of language or want of
sense, I cannot myself so well express. I do not number my borrowings,
I weigh them; and had I designed to raise their value by number, I had
made them twice as many; they are all, or within a very few, so famed and
ancient authors, that they seem, methinks, themselves sufficiently to
tell who they are, without giving me the trouble. In reasons,
comparisons, and arguments, if I transplant any into my own soil, and
confound them amongst my own, I purposely conceal the author, to awe the
temerity of those precipitate censors who fall upon all sorts of
writings, particularly the late ones, of men yet living; and in the
vulgar tongue which puts every one into a capacity of criticising and
which seem to convict the conception and design as vulgar also. I will
have them give Plutarch a fillip on my nose, and rail against Seneca when
they think they rail at me. I must shelter my own weakness under these
great reputations. I shall love any one that can unplume me, that is,
by clearness of understanding and judgment, and by the sole distinction
of the force and beauty of the discourse. For I who, for want of memory,
am at every turn at a loss to, pick them out of their national livery, am
yet wise enough to know, by the measure of my own abilities, that my soil
is incapable of producing any of those rich flowers that I there find
growing; and that all the fruits of my own growth are not worth any one
of them. For this, indeed, I hold myself responsible; if I get in my own
way; if there be any vanity and defect in my writings which I do not of
myself perceive nor can discern, when pointed out to me by another; for
many faults escape our eye, but the infirmity of judgment consists in not
being able to discern them, when by another laid open to us. Knowledge
and truth may be in us without judgment, and judgment also without them;
but the confession of ignorance is one of the finest and surest
testimonies of judgment that I know. I have no other officer to put my
writings in rank and file, but only fortune. As things come into my
head, I heap them one upon another; sometimes they advance in whole
bodies, sometimes in single file. I would that every one should see my
natural and ordinary pace, irregular as it is; I suffer myself to jog on
at my own rate. Neither are these subjects which a man is not permitted
to be ignorant in, or casually and at a venture, to discourse of. I
could wish to have a more perfect knowledge of things, but I will not buy
it so dear as it costs. My design is to pass over easily, and not
laboriously, the remainder of my life; there is nothing that I will
cudgel my brains about; no, not even knowledge, of what value soever.

I seek, in the reading of books, only to please myself by an honest
diversion; or, if I study, 'tis for no other science than what treats of
the knowledge of myself, and instructs me how to die and how to live

"Has meus ad metas sudet oportet equus."

["My horse must work according to my step."
--Propertius, iv.]

I do not bite my nails about the difficulties I meet with in my reading;
after a charge or two, I give them over. Should I insist upon them, I
should both lose myself and time; for I have an impatient understanding,
that must be satisfied at first: what I do not discern at once is by
persistence rendered more obscure. I do nothing without gaiety;
continuation and a too obstinate endeavour, darkens, stupefies, and tires
my judgment. My sight is confounded and dissipated with poring; I must
withdraw it, and refer my discovery to new attempts; just as, to judge
rightly of the lustre of scarlet, we are taught to pass the eye lightly
over it, and again to run it over at several sudden and reiterated
glances. If one book do not please me, I take another; and I never
meddle with any, but at such times as I am weary of doing nothing.
I care not much for new ones, because the old seem fuller and stronger;
neither do I converse much with Greek authors, because my judgment cannot
do its work with imperfect intelligence of the material.

Amongst books that are simply pleasant, of the moderns, Boccaccio's
Decameron, Rabelais, and the Basia of Johannes Secundus (if those may be
ranged under the title) are worth reading for amusement. As to the
Amadis, and such kind of stuff, they had not the credit of arresting even
my childhood. And I will, moreover, say, whether boldly or rashly, that
this old, heavy soul of mine is now no longer tickled with Ariosto, no,
nor with the worthy Ovid; his facility and inventions, with which I was
formerly so ravished, are now of no more relish, and I can hardly have
the patience to read them. I speak my opinion freely of all things, even
of those that, perhaps, exceed my capacity, and that I do not conceive to
be, in any wise, under my jurisdiction. And, accordingly, the judgment I
deliver, is to show the measure of my own sight, and not of the things I
make so bold to criticise. When I find myself disgusted with Plato's
'Axiochus', as with a work, with due respect to such an author be it
spoken, without force, my judgment does not believe itself: it is not so
arrogant as to oppose the authority of so many other famous judgments of
antiquity, which it considers as its tutors and masters, and with whom it
is rather content to err; in such a case, it condemns itself either to
stop at the outward bark, not being able to penetrate to the heart, or to
consider it by sortie false light. It is content with only securing
itself from trouble and disorder; as to its own weakness, it frankly
acknowledges and confesses it. It thinks it gives a just interpretation
to the appearances by its conceptions presented to it; but they are weak
and imperfect. Most of the fables of AEsop have diverse senses and
meanings, of which the mythologists chose some one that quadrates well to
the fable; but, for the most part, 'tis but the first face that presents
itself and is superficial only; there yet remain others more vivid,
essential, and profound, into which they have not been able to penetrate;
and just so 'tis with me.

But, to pursue the business of this essay, I have always thought that, in
poesy, Virgil, Lucretius, Catullus, and Horace by many degrees excel the
rest; and signally, Virgil in his Georgics, which I look upon as the most
accomplished piece in poetry; and in comparison of which a man may easily
discern that there are some places in his AEneids, to which the author
would have given a little more of the file, had he had leisure: and the
fifth book of his AEneids seems to me the most perfect. I also love
Lucan, and willingly read him, not so much for his style, as for his own
worth, and the truth and solidity of his opinions and judgments. As for
good Terence, the refined elegance and grace of the Latin tongue, I find
him admirable in his vivid representation of our manners and the
movements of the soul; our actions throw me at every turn upon him; and
I cannot read him so often that I do not still discover some new grace
and beauty. Such as lived near Virgil's time complained that some should
compare Lucretius to him. I am of opinion that the comparison is, in
truth, very unequal: a belief that, nevertheless, I have much ado to
assure myself in, when I come upon some excellent passage in Lucretius.
But if they were so angry at this comparison, what would they say to the
brutish and barbarous stupidity of those who, nowadays, compare him with
Ariosto? Would not Ariosto himself say?

"O seclum insipiens et inficetum!"

["O stupid and tasteless age."--Catullus, xliii. 8.]

I think the ancients had more reason to be angry with those who compared
Plautus with Terence, though much nearer the mark, than Lucretius with
Virgil. It makes much for the estimation and preference of Terence, that
the father of Roman eloquence has him so often, and alone of his class,
in his mouth; and the opinion that the best judge of Roman poets
--[Horace, De Art. Poetica, 279.]--has passed upon his companion. I
have often observed that those of our times, who take upon them to write
comedies (in imitation of the Italians, who are happy enough in that way
of writing), take three or four plots of those of Plautus or Terence to
make one of their own, and , crowd five or six of Boccaccio's novels into
one single comedy. That which makes them so load themselves with matter
is the diffidence they have of being able to support themselves with
their own strength. They must find out something to lean to; and not
having of their own stuff wherewith to entertain us, they bring in the
story to supply the defect of language. It is quite otherwise with my
author; the elegance and perfection of his way of speaking makes us lose
the appetite of his plot; his refined grace and elegance of diction
everywhere occupy us: he is so pleasant throughout,

"Liquidus, puroque simillimus amni,"

["Liquid, and likest the pure river."
--Horace, Ep., ii. s, 120.]

and so possesses the soul with his graces that we forget those of his
fable. This same consideration carries me further: I observe that the
best of the ancient poets have avoided affectation and the hunting after,
not only fantastic Spanish and Petrarchic elevations, but even the softer
and more gentle touches, which are the ornament of all succeeding poesy.
And yet there is no good judgment that will condemn this in the ancients,
and that does not incomparably more admire the equal polish, and that
perpetual sweetness and flourishing beauty of Catullus's epigrams, than
all the stings with which Martial arms the tails of his. This is by the
same reason that I gave before, and as Martial says of himself:

"Minus illi ingenio laborandum fuit,
in cujus locum materia successerat:"

["He had the less for his wit to do that the subject itself
supplied what was necessary."--Martial, praef. ad lib. viii.]

The first, without being moved, or without getting angry, make themselves
sufficiently felt; they have matter enough of laughter throughout, they
need not tickle themselves; the others have need of foreign assistance;
as they have the less wit they must have the more body; they mount on
horseback, because they are not able to stand on their own legs. As in
our balls, those mean fellows who teach to dance, not being able to
represent the presence and dignity of our noblesse, are fain to put
themselves forward with dangerous jumping, and other strange motions and
tumblers tricks; and the ladies are less put to it in dance; where there
are various coupees, changes, and quick motions of body, than in some
other of a more sedate kind, where they are only to move a natural pace,
and to represent their ordinary grace and presence. And so I have seen
good drolls, when in their own everyday clothes, and with the same face
they always wear, give us all the pleasure of their art, when their
apprentices, not yet arrived at such a pitch of perfection, are fain to
meal their faces, put themselves into ridiculous disguises, and make a
hundred grotesque faces to give us whereat to laugh. This conception of
mine is nowhere more demonstrable than in comparing the AEneid with
Orlando Furioso; of which we see the first, by dint of wing, flying in a
brave and lofty place, and always following his point: the latter,
fluttering and hopping from tale to tale, as from branch to branch, not
daring to trust his wings but in very short flights, and perching at
every turn, lest his breath and strength should fail.

"Excursusque breves tentat."

["And he attempts short excursions."
--Virgil, Georgics, iv. 194.]

These, then, as to this sort of subjects, are the authors that best
please me.

As to what concerns my other reading, that mixes a little more profit
with the pleasure, and whence I learn how to marshal my opinions and
conditions, the books that serve me to this purpose are Plutarch, since
he has been translated into French, and Seneca. Both of these have this
notable convenience suited to my humour, that the knowledge I there seek
is discoursed in loose pieces, that do not require from me any trouble of
reading long, of which I am incapable. Such are the minor works of the
first and the epistles of the latter, which are the best and most
profiting of all their writings. 'Tis no great attempt to take one of
them in hand, and I give over at pleasure; for they have no sequence or
dependence upon one another. These authors, for the most part, concur in
useful and true opinions; and there is this parallel betwixt them, that
fortune brought them into the world about the same century: they were
both tutors to two Roman emperors: both sought out from foreign
countries: both rich and both great men. Their instruction is the cream
of philosophy, and delivered after a plain and pertinent manner.
Plutarch is more uniform and constant; Seneca more various and waving:
the last toiled and bent his whole strength to fortify virtue against
weakness, fear, and vicious appetites; the other seems more to slight
their power, and to disdain to alter his pace and to stand upon his
guard. Plutarch's opinions are Platonic, gentle, and accommodated to
civil society; those of the other are Stoical and Epicurean, more remote
from the common use, but, in my opinion, more individually commodious and
more firm. Seneca seems to lean a little to the tyranny of the emperors
of his time, and only seems; for I take it for certain that he speaks
against his judgment when he condemns the action of the generous
murderers of Caesar. Plutarch is frank throughout: Seneca abounds with
brisk touches and sallies; Plutarch with things that warm and move you
more; this contents and pays you better: he guides us, the other pushes
us on.

As to Cicero, his works that are most useful to my design are they that
treat of manners and rules of our life. But boldly to confess the truth
(for since one has passed the barriers of impudence, there is no bridle),
his way of writing appears to me negligent and uninviting: for his
prefaces, definitions, divisions, and etymologies take up the greatest
part of his work: whatever there is of life and marrow is smothered and
lost in the long preparation. When I have spent an hour in reading him,
which is a great deal for me, and try to recollect what I have thence
extracted of juice and substance, for the most part I find nothing but
wind; for he is not yet come to the arguments that serve to his purpose,
and to the reasons that properly help to form the knot I seek. For me,
who only desire to become more wise, not more learned or eloquent, these
logical and Aristotelian dispositions of parts are of no use. I would
have a man begin with the main proposition. I know well enough what
death and pleasure are; let no man give himself the trouble to anatomise
them to me. I look for good and solid reasons, at the first dash, to
instruct me how to stand their shock, for which purpose neither
grammatical subtleties nor the quaint contexture of words and
argumentations are of any use at all. I am for discourses that give the
first charge into the heart of the redoubt; his languish about the
subject; they are proper for the schools, for the bar, and for the
pulpit, where we have leisure to nod, and may awake, a quarter of an hour
after, time enough to find again the thread of the discourse. It is
necessary to speak after this manner to judges, whom a man has a design
to gain over, right or wrong, to children and common people, to whom a
man must say all, and see what will come of it. I would not have an
author make it his business to render me attentive: or that he should cry
out fifty times Oyez! as the heralds do. The Romans, in their religious
exercises, began with 'Hoc age' as we in ours do with 'Sursum corda';
these are so many words lost to me: I come already fully prepared from my
chamber. I need no allurement, no invitation, no sauce; I eat the meat
raw, so that, instead of whetting my appetite by these preparatives, they
tire and pall it. Will the licence of the time excuse my sacrilegious
boldness if I censure the dialogism of Plato himself as also dull and
heavy, too much stifling the matter, and lament so much time lost by a
man, who had so many better things to say, in so many long and needless
preliminary interlocutions? My ignorance will better excuse me in that
I understand not Greek so well as to discern the beauty of his language.
I generally choose books that use sciences, not such as only lead to
them. The two first, and Pliny, and their like, have nothing of this Hoc
age; they will have to do with men already instructed; or if they have,
'tis a substantial Hoc age; and that has a body by itself. I also
delight in reading the Epistles to Atticus, not only because they contain
a great deal of the history and affairs of his time, but much more
because I therein discover much of his own private humours; for I have a
singular curiosity, as I have said elsewhere, to pry into the souls and
the natural and true opinions of the authors, with whom I converse. A
man may indeed judge of their parts, but not of their manners nor of
themselves, by the writings they exhibit upon the theatre of the world.
I have a thousand times lamented the loss of the treatise Brutus wrote
upon Virtue, for it is well to learn the theory from those who best know
the practice.

But seeing the matter preached and the preacher are different things,
I would as willingly see Brutus in Plutarch, as in a book of his own.
I would rather choose to be certainly informed of the conference he had
in his tent with some particular friends of his the night before a
battle, than of the harangue he made the next day to his army; and of
what he did in his closet and his chamber, than what he did in the public
square and in the senate. As to Cicero, I am of the common opinion that,
learning excepted, he had no great natural excellence. He was a good
citizen, of an affable nature, as all fat, heavy men, such as he was,
usually are; but given to ease, and had, in truth, a mighty share of
vanity and ambition. Neither do I know how to excuse him for thinking
his poetry fit to be published; 'tis no great imperfection to make ill
verses, but it is an imperfection not to be able to judge how unworthy
his verses were of the glory of his name. For what concerns his
eloquence, that is totally out of all comparison, and I believe it will
never be equalled. The younger Cicero, who resembled his father in
nothing but in name, whilst commanding in Asia, had several strangers one
day at his table, and, amongst the rest, Cestius seated at the lower end,
as men often intrude to the open tables of the great. Cicero asked one
of his people who that man was, who presently told him his name; but he,
as one who had his thoughts taken up with something else, and who had
forgotten the answer made him, asking three or four times, over and over
again; the same question, the fellow, to deliver himself from so many
answers and to make him know him by some particular circumstance; "'tis
that Cestius," said he, "of whom it was told you, that he makes no great
account of your father's eloquence in comparison of his own." At which
Cicero, being suddenly nettled, commanded poor Cestius presently to be
seized, and caused him to be very well whipped in his own presence; a
very discourteous entertainer! Yet even amongst those, who, all things
considered, have reputed his, eloquence incomparable, there have been
some, who have not stuck to observe some faults in it: as that great
Brutus his friend, for example, who said 'twas a broken and feeble
eloquence, 'fyactam et elumbem'. The orators also, nearest to the age
wherein he lived, reprehended in him the care he had of a certain long
cadence in his periods, and particularly took notice of these words,
'esse videatur', which he there so often makes use of. For my part, I
more approve of a shorter style, and that comes more roundly off. He
does, though, sometimes shuffle his parts more briskly together, but 'tis
very seldom. I have myself taken notice of this one passage:

"Ego vero me minus diu senem mallem,
quam esse senem, antequam essem."

["I had rather be old a brief time, than be old before old age.
--"Cicero, De Senect., c. 10.]

The historians are my right ball, for they are pleasant and easy, and
where man, in general, the knowledge of whom I hunt after, appears more
vividly and entire than anywhere else:

[The easiest of my amusements, the right ball at tennis being that
which coming to the player from the right hand, is much easier
played with.--Coste.]

the variety and truth of his internal qualities, in gross and piecemeal,
the diversity of means by which he is united and knit, and the accidents
that threaten him. Now those that write lives, by reason they insist
more upon counsels than events, more upon what sallies from within, than
upon what happens without, are the most proper for my reading; and,
therefore, above all others, Plutarch is the man for me. I am very sorry
we have not a dozen Laertii,--[Diogenes Laertius, who wrote the Lives of
the Philosophers]--or that he was not further extended; for I am equally
curious to know the lives and fortunes of these great instructors of the
world, as to know the diversities of their doctrines and opinions. In
this kind of study of histories, a man must tumble over, without
distinction, all sorts of authors, old and new, French or foreign, there
to know the things of which they variously treat. But Caesar, in my
opinion, particularly deserves to be studied, not for the knowledge of
the history only, but for himself, so great an excellence and perfection
he has above all the rest, though Sallust be one of the number. In
earnest, I read this author with more reverence and respect than is
usually allowed to human writings; one while considering him in his
person, by his actions and miraculous greatness, and another in the
purity and inimitable polish of his language, wherein he not only excels
all other historians, as Cicero confesses, but, peradventure, even
Cicero himself; speaking of his enemies with so much sincerity in his
judgment, that, the false colours with which he strives to palliate his
evil cause, and the ordure of his pestilent ambition excepted, I think
there is no fault to be objected against him, saving this, that he speaks
too sparingly of himself, seeing so many great things could not have been
performed under his conduct, but that his own personal acts must
necessarily have had a greater share in them than he attributes to them.

I love historians, whether of the simple sort, or of the higher order.
The simple, who have nothing of their own to mix with it, and who only
make it their business to collect all that comes to their knowledge, and
faithfully to record all things, without choice or discrimination, leave
to us the entire judgment of discerning the truth. Such, for example,
amongst others, is honest Froissart, who has proceeded in his undertaking
with so frank a plainness that, having committed an error, he is not
ashamed to confess and correct it in the place where the finger has been
laid, and who represents to us even the variety of rumours that were then
spread abroad, and the different reports that were made to him; 'tis the
naked and inform matter of history, and of which every one may make his
profit, according to his understanding. The more excellent sort of
historians have judgment to pick out what is most worthy to be known;
and, of two reports, to examine which is the most likely to be true: from
the condition of princes and their humours, they conclude their counsels,
and attribute to them words proper for the occasion; such have title to
assume the authority of regulating our belief to what they themselves
believe; but certainly, this privilege belongs to very few. For the
middle sort of historians, of which the most part are, they spoil all;
they will chew our meat for us; they take upon them to judge of, and
consequently, to incline the history to their own fancy; for if the
judgment lean to one side, a man cannot avoid wresting and writhing his
narrative to that bias; they undertake to select things worthy to be
known, and yet often conceal from us such a word, such a private action,
as would much better instruct us; omit, as incredible, such things as
they do not understand, and peradventure some, because they cannot
express good French or Latin. Let them display their eloquence and
intelligence, and judge according to their own fancy: but let them,
withal, leave us something to judge of after them, and neither alter nor
disguise, by their abridgments and at their own choice, anything of the
substance of the matter, but deliver it to us pure and entire in all its

For the most part, and especially in these latter ages, persons are
culled out for this work from amongst the common people, upon the sole
consideration of well-speaking, as if we were to learn grammar from them;
and the men so chosen have fair reason, being hired for no other end and
pretending to nothing but babble, not to be very solicitous of any part
but that, and so, with a fine jingle of words, prepare us a pretty
contexture of reports they pick up in the streets. The only good
histories are those that have been written themselves who held command in
the affairs whereof they write, or who participated in the conduct of
them, or, at least, who have had the conduct of others of the same
nature. Such are almost all the Greek and Roman histories: for, several
eye-witnesses having written of the same subject, in the time when
grandeur and learning commonly met in the same person, if there happen to
be an error, it must of necessity be a very slight one, and upon a very
doubtful incident. What can a man expect from a physician who writes of
war, or from a mere scholar, treating of the designs of princes? If we
could take notice how scrupulous the Romans were in this, there would
need but this example: Asinius Pollio found in the histories of Caesar
himself something misreported, a mistake occasioned; either by reason he
could not have his eye in all parts of his army at once and had given
credit to some individual persons who had not delivered him a very true
account; or else, for not having had too perfect notice given him by his
lieutenants of what they had done in his absence.--[Suetonius, Life of
Caesar, c. 56.]--By which we may see, whether the inquisition after
truth be not very delicate, when a man cannot believe the report of a
battle from the knowledge of him who there commanded, nor from the
soldiers who were engaged in it, unless, after the method of a judicial
inquiry, the witnesses be confronted and objections considered upon the
proof of the least detail of every incident. In good earnest the
knowledge we have of our own affairs, is much more obscure: but that has
been sufficiently handled by Bodin, and according to my own sentiment--
[In the work by jean Bodin, entitled "Methodus ad facilem historiarum
cognitionem." 1566.]--A little to aid the weakness of my memory (so
extreme that it has happened to me more than once, to take books again
into my hand as new and unseen, that I had carefully read over a few
years before, and scribbled with my notes) I have adopted a custom of
late, to note at the end of every book (that is, of those I never intend
to read again) the time when I made an end on't, and the judgment I had
made of it, to the end that this might, at least, represent to me the
character and general idea I had conceived of the author in reading it;
and I will here transcribe some of those annotations.

I wrote this, some ten years ago, in my Guicciardini (of what language
soever my books speak to me in, I always speak to them in my own): "He is
a diligent historiographer, from whom, in my opinion, a man may learn the
truth of the affairs of his time, as exactly as from any other; in the
most of which he was himself also a personal actor, and in honourable
command. There is no appearance that he disguised anything, either upon
the account of hatred, favour, or vanity; of which the free censures he
passes upon the great ones, and particularly those by whom he was

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