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The Essays of Montaigne, Complete by Michel de Montaigne

Part 18 out of 23

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vanities we discover how fertile those ages were in other kind of wits
than these of ours. It is with this sort of fertility, as with all other
products of nature: not that she there and then employed her utmost
force: we do not go; we rather run up and down, and whirl this way and
that; we turn back the way we came. I am afraid our knowledge is weak in
all senses; we neither see far forward nor far backward; our
understanding comprehends little, and lives but a little while; 'tis
short both in extent of time and extent of matter:

"Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona
Mufti, sed omnes illacrymabiles
Urgentur, ignotique longs

[ Many brave men lived before Agamemnon, but all are pressed by the
long night unmourned and unknown."--Horace, Od., iv. 9, 25.]

"Et supra bellum Thebanum et funera Trojae
Non alias alii quoque res cecinere poetae?"

["Why before the Theban war and the destruction of Troy, have not
other poets sung other events?"--Lucretius, v. 327. Montaigne here
diverts himself m giving Lucretius' words a construction directly
contrary to what they bear in the poem. Lucretius puts the
question, Why if the earth had existed from all eternity, there had
not been poets, before the Theban war, to sing men's exploits.

And the narrative of Solon, of what he had learned from the Egyptian
priests, touching the long life of their state, and their manner of
learning and preserving foreign histories, is not, methinks, a testimony
to be refused in this consideration:

"Si interminatam in omnes partes magnitudinem regionum videremus et
temporum, in quam se injiciens animus et intendens, ita late
longeque peregrinatur, ut nullam oram ultimi videat, in qua possit
insistere: in haec immensitate . . . infinita vis innumerabilium
appareret fomorum."

["Could we see on all parts the unlimited magnitude of regions and
of times, upon which the mind being intent, could wander so far and
wide, that no limit is to be seen, in which it can bound its eye, we
should, in that infinite immensity, discover an infinite force of
innumerable atoms." Here also Montaigne puts a sense quite
different from what the words bear in the original; but the
application he makes of them is so happy that one would declare they
were actually put together only to express his own sentiments. "Et
temporum" is an addition by Montaigne.--Coste.]

Though all that has arrived, by report, of our knowledge of times past
should be true, and known by some one person, it would be less than
nothing in comparison of what is unknown. And of this same image of the
world, which glides away whilst we live upon it, how wretched and limited
is the knowledge of the most curious; not only of particular events,
which fortune often renders exemplary and of great concern, but of the
state of great governments and nations, a hundred more escape us than
ever come to our knowledge. We make a mighty business of the invention
of artillery and printing, which other men at the other end of the world,
in China, had a thousand years ago. Did we but see as much of the world
as we do not see, we should perceive, we may well believe, a perpetual
multiplication and vicissitude of forms. There is nothing single and
rare in respect of nature, but in respect of our knowledge, which is a
wretched foundation whereon to ground our rules, and that represents to
us a very false image of things. As we nowadays vainly conclude the
declension and decrepitude of the world, by the arguments we extract from
our own weakness and decay:

"Jamque adeo est affecta aetas effoet aque tellus;"

["Our age is feeble, and the earth less fertile."
--Lucretius, ii. 1151.]

so did he vainly conclude as to its birth and youth, by the vigour he
observed in the wits of his time, abounding in novelties and the
invention of divers arts:

"Verum, ut opinor, habet novitatem summa, recensque
Natura est mundi, neque pridem exordia coepit
Quare etiam quaedam nunc artes expoliuntur,
Nunc etiam augescunt; nunc addita navigiis sunt

["But, as I am of opinion, the whole of the world is of recent
origin, nor had its commencement in remote times; wherefore it is
that some arts are still being refined, and some just on the
increase; at present many additions are being made to shipping."
--Lucretius, v. 331.]

Our world has lately discovered another (and who will assure us that it
is the last of its brothers, since the Daemons, the Sybils, and we
ourselves have been ignorant of this till now?), as large, well-peopled,
and fruitful as this whereon we live and yet so raw and childish, that we
are still teaching it it's a B C: 'tis not above fifty years since it
knew neither letters, weights, measures, vestments, corn, nor vines: it
was then quite naked in the mother's lap, and only lived upon what she
gave it. If we rightly conclude of our end, and this poet of the
youthfulness of that age of his, that other world will only enter into
the light when this of ours shall make its exit; the universe will fall
into paralysis; one member will be useless, the other in vigour. I am
very much afraid that we have greatly precipitated its declension and
ruin by our contagion; and that we have sold it opinions and our arts at
a very dear rate. It was an infant world, and yet we have not whipped
and subjected it to our discipline by the advantage of our natural worth
and force, neither have we won it by our justice and goodness, nor
subdued it by our magnanimity. Most of their answers, and the
negotiations we have had with them, witness that they were nothing behind
us in pertinency and clearness of natural understanding. The astonishing
magnificence of the cities of Cusco and Mexico, and, amongst many other
things, the garden of the king, where all the trees, fruits, and plants,
according to the order and stature they have in a garden, were
excellently formed in gold; as, in his cabinet, were all the animals bred
upon his territory and in its seas; and the beauty of their manufactures,
in jewels, feathers, cotton, and painting, gave ample proof that they
were as little inferior to us in industry. But as to what concerns
devotion, observance of the laws, goodness, liberality, loyalty, and
plain dealing, it was of use to us that we had not so much as they; for
they have lost, sold, and betrayed themselves by this advantage over us.

As to boldness and courage, stability, constancy against pain, hunger,
and death, I should not fear to oppose the examples I find amongst them
to the most famous examples of elder times that we find in our records on
this side of the world. Far as to those who subdued them, take but away
the tricks and artifices they practised to gull them, and the just
astonishment it was to those nations to see so sudden and unexpected an
arrival of men with beards, differing in language, religion, shape, and
countenance, from so remote a part of the world, and where they had never
heard there was any habitation, mounted upon great unknown monsters,
against those who had not only never seen a horse, but had never seen any
other beast trained up to carry a man or any other loading; shelled in a
hard and shining skin, with a cutting and glittering weapon in his hand,
against them, who, out of wonder at the brightness of a looking glass or
a knife, would exchange great treasures of gold and pearl; and who had
neither knowledge, nor matter with which, at leisure, they could
penetrate our steel: to which may be added the lightning and thunder of
our cannon and harquebuses, enough to frighten Caesar himself, if
surprised, with so little experience, against people naked, except where
the invention of a little quilted cotton was in use, without other arms,
at the most, than bows, stones, staves, and bucklers of wood; people
surprised under colour of friendship and good faith, by the curiosity of
seeing strange and unknown things; take but away, I say, this disparity
from the conquerors, and you take away all the occasion of so many
victories. When I look upon that in vincible ardour wherewith so many
thousands of men, women, and children so often presented and threw
themselves into inevitable dangers for the defence of their gods and
liberties; that generous obstinacy to suffer all extremities and
difficulties, and death itself, rather than submit to the dominion of
those by whom they had been so shamefully abused; and some of them
choosing to die of hunger and fasting, being prisoners, rather than to
accept of nourishment from the hands of their so basely victorious
enemies: I see, that whoever would have attacked them upon equal terms of
arms, experience, and number, would have had a hard, and, peradventure,
a harder game to play than in any other war we have seen.

Why did not so noble a conquest fall under Alexander, or the ancient
Greeks and Romans; and so great a revolution and mutation of so many
empires and nations, fall into hands that would have gently levelled,
rooted up, and made plain and smooth whatever was rough and savage
amongst them, and that would have cherished and propagated the good seeds
that nature had there produced; mixing not only with the culture of land
and the ornament of cities, the arts of this part of the world, in what
was necessary, but also the Greek and Roman virtues, with those that were
original of the country? What a reparation had it been to them, and what
a general good to the whole world, had our first examples and deportments
in those parts allured those people to the admiration and imitation of
virtue, and had begotten betwixt them and us a fraternal society and
intelligence? How easy had it been to have made advantage of souls so
innocent, and so eager to learn, leaving, for the most part, naturally so
good inclinations before? Whereas, on the contrary, we have taken
advantage of their ignorance and inexperience, with greater ease to
incline them to treachery, luxury, avarice, and towards all sorts of
inhumanity and cruelty, by the pattern and example of our manners. Who
ever enhanced the price of merchandise at such a rate? So many cities
levelled with the ground, so many nations exterminated, so many millions
of people fallen by the edge of the sword, and the richest and most
beautiful part of the world turned upside down, for the traffic of pearl
and pepper? Mechanic victories! Never did ambition, never did public
animosities, engage men against one another in such miserable
hostilities, in such miserable calamities.

Certain Spaniards, coasting the sea in quest of their mines, landed in a
fruitful and pleasant and very well peopled country, and there made to
the inhabitants their accustomed professions: "that they were peaceable
men, who were come from a very remote country, and sent on the behalf of
the King of Castile, the greatest prince of the habitable world, to whom
the Pope, God's vicegerent upon earth, had given the principality of all
the Indies; that if they would become tributaries to him, they should be
very gently and courteously used"; at the same time requiring of them
victuals for their nourishment, and gold whereof to make some pretended
medicine; setting forth, moreover, the belief in one only God, and the
truth of our religion, which they advised them to embrace, whereunto they
also added some threats. To which they received this answer: "That as to
their being peaceable, they did not seem to be such, if they were so.
As to their king, since he was fain to beg, he must be necessitous and
poor; and he who had made him this gift, must be a man who loved
dissension, to give that to another which was none of his own, to bring
it into dispute against the ancient possessors. As to victuals, they
would supply them; that of gold they had little; it being a thing they
had in very small esteem, as of no use to the service of life, whereas
their only care was to pass it over happily and pleasantly: but that what
they could find excepting what was employed in the service of their gods,
they might freely take. As to one only God, the proposition had pleased
them well; but that they would not change their religion, both because
they had so long and happily lived in it, and that they were not wont to
take advice of any but their friends, and those they knew: as to their
menaces, it was a sign of want of judgment to threaten those whose nature
and power were to them unknown; that, therefore, they were to make haste
to quit their coast, for they were not used to take the civilities and
professions of armed men and strangers in good part; otherwise they
should do by them as they had done by those others," showing them the
heads of several executed men round the walls of their city. A fair
example of the babble of these children. But so it is, that the
Spaniards did not, either in this or in several other places, where they
did not find the merchandise they sought, make any stay or attempt,
whatever other conveniences were there to be had; witness my CANNIBALS.--
[Chapter XXX. of Book I.]

Of the two most puissant monarchs of that world, and, peradventure, of
this, kings of so many kings, and the last they turned out, he of Peru,
having been taken in a battle, and put to so excessive a ransom as
exceeds all belief, and it being faithfully paid, and he having, by his
conversation, given manifest signs of a frank, liberal, and constant
spirit, and of a clear and settled understanding, the conquerors had a
mind, after having exacted one million three hundred and twenty-five
thousand and five hundred weight of gold, besides silver, and other
things which amounted to no less (so that their horses were shod with
massy gold), still to see, at the price of what disloyalty and injustice
whatever, what the remainder of the treasures of this king might be, and
to possess themselves of that also. To this end a false accusation was
preferred against him, and false witnesses brought to prove that he went
about to raise an insurrection in his provinces, to procure his own
liberty; whereupon, by the virtuous sentence of those very men who had by
this treachery conspired his ruin, he was condemned to be publicly hanged
and strangled, after having made him buy off the torment of being burnt
alive, by the baptism they gave him immediately before execution; a
horrid and unheard of barbarity, which, nevertheless, he underwent
without giving way either in word or look, with a truly grave and royal
behaviour. After which, to calm and appease the people, aroused and
astounded at so strange a thing, they counterfeited great sorrow for his
death, and appointed most sumptuous funerals.

The other king of Mexico,--[Guatimosin]--having for a long time defended
his beleaguered city, and having in this siege manifested the utmost of
what suffering and perseverance can do, if ever prince and people did,
and his misfortune having delivered him alive into his enemies' hands,
upon articles of being treated like a king, neither did he in his
captivity discover anything unworthy of that title. His enemies, after
their victory, not finding so much gold as they expected, when they had
searched and rifled with their utmost diligence, they went about to
procure discoveries by the most cruel torments they could invent upon the
prisoners they had taken: but having profited nothing by these, their
courage being greater than their torments, they arrived at last to such a
degree of fury, as, contrary to their faith and the law of nations, to
condemn the king himself, and one of the principal noblemen of his court,
to the rack, in the presence of one another. This lord, finding himself
overcome with pain, being environed with burning coals, pitifully turned
his dying eyes towards his master, as it were to ask him pardon that he
was able to endure no more; whereupon the king, darting at him a fierce
and severe look, as reproaching his cowardice and pusillanimity, with a
harsh and constant voice said to him thus only: "And what dost thou think
I suffer? am I in a bath? am I more at ease than thou?" Whereupon the
other immediately quailed under the torment and died upon the spot. The
king, half roasted, was carried thence; not so much out of pity (for what
compassion ever touched so barbarous souls, who, upon the doubtful
information of some vessel of gold to be made a prey of, caused not only
a man, but a king, so great in fortune and desert, to be broiled before
their eyes), but because his constancy rendered their cruelty still more
shameful. They afterwards hanged him for having nobly attempted to
deliver himself by arms from so long a captivity and subjection, and he
died with a courage becoming so magnanimous a prince.

Another time, they burnt in the same fire four hundred and sixty men
alive at once, the four hundred of the common people, the sixty the
principal lords of a province, simply prisoners of war. We have these
narratives from themselves for they not only own it, but boast of it and
publish it. Could it be for a testimony of their justice or their zeal
to religion? Doubtless these are ways too differing and contrary to so
holy an end. Had they proposed to themselves to extend our faith, they
would have considered that it does not amplify in the possession of
territories, but in the gaining of men; and would have more than
satisfied themselves with the slaughters occasioned by the necessity of
war, without indifferently mixing a massacre, as upon wild beasts, as
universal as fire and sword could make it; having only, by intention,
saved so many as they meant to make miserable slaves of, for the work and
service of their mines; so that many of the captains were put to death
upon the place of conquest, by order of the kings of Castile, justly
offended with the horror of their deportment, and almost all of them
hated and disesteemed. God meritoriously permitted that all this great
plunder should be swallowed up by the sea in transportation, or in the
civil wars wherewith they devoured one another; and most of the men
themselves were buried in a foreign land without any fruit of their

That the revenue from these countries, though in the hands of so
parsimonious and so prudent a prince,--[Phillip II.]--so little answers
the expectation given of it to his predecessors, and to that original
abundance of riches which was found at the first landing in those new
discovered countries (for though a great deal be fetched thence, yet we
see 'tis nothing in comparison of that which might be expected), is that
the use of coin was there utterly unknown, and that consequently their
gold was found all hoarded together, being of no other use but for
ornament and show, as a furniture reserved from father to son by many
puissant kings, who were ever draining their mines to make this vast heap
of vessels and statues for the decoration of their palaces and temples;
whereas our gold is always in motion and traffic; we cut it into a
thousand small pieces, and cast it into a thousand forms, and scatter and
disperse it in a thousand ways. But suppose our kings should thus hoard
up all the gold they could get in several ages and let it lie idle by

Those of the kingdom of Mexico were in some sort more civilised and more
advanced in arts than the other nations about them. Therefore did they
judge, as we do, that the world was near its period, and looked upon the
desolation we brought amongst them as a certain sign of it. They
believed that the existence of the world was divided into five ages, and
in the life of five successive suns, of which four had already ended
their time, and that this which gave them light was the fifth. The first
perished, with all other creatures, by an universal inundation of water;
the second by the heavens falling upon us and suffocating every living
thing to which age they assigned the giants, and showed bones to the
Spaniards, according to the proportion of which the stature of men
amounted to twenty feet; the third by fire, which burned and consumed
all; the fourth by an emotion of the air and wind, which came with such
violence as to beat down even many mountains, wherein the men died not,
but were turned into baboons. What impressions will not the weakness of
human belief admit? After the death of this fourth sun, the world was
twenty-five years in perpetual darkness: in the fifteenth of which a man
and a woman were created, who restored the human race: ten years after,
upon a certain day, the sun appeared newly created, and since the account
of their year takes beginning from that day: the third day after its
creation the ancient gods died, and the new ones were since born daily.
After what manner they think this last sun shall perish, my author knows
not; but their number of this fourth change agrees with the great
conjunction of stars which eight hundred and odd years ago, as
astrologers suppose, produced great alterations and novelties in the

As to pomp and magnificence, upon the account of which I engaged in this
discourse, neither Greece, Rome, nor Egypt, whether for utility,
difficulty, or state, can compare any of their works with the highway to
be seen in Peru, made by the kings of the country, from the city of Quito
to that of Cusco (three hundred leagues), straight, even, five-and-twenty
paces wide, paved, and provided on both sides with high and beautiful
walls; and close by them, and all along on the inside, two perennial
streams, bordered with beautiful plants, which they call moly. In this
work, where they met with rocks and mountains, they cut them through, and
made them even, and filled up pits and valleys with lime and stone to
make them level. At the end of every day's journey are beautiful
palaces, furnished with provisions, vestments, and arms, as well for
travellers as for the armies that are to pass that way. In the estimate
of this work I have reckoned the difficulty which is especially
considerable in that place; they did not build with any stones less than
ten feet square, and had no other conveniency of carriage but by drawing
their load themselves by force of arm, and knew not so much as the art of
scaffolding, nor any other way of standing to their work, but by throwing
up earth against the building as it rose higher, taking it away again
when they had done.

Let us here return to our coaches. Instead of these, and of all other
sorts of carriages, they caused themselves to be carried upon men's
shoulders. This last king of Peru, the day that he was taken, was thus
carried betwixt two upon staves of gold, and set in a chair of gold in
the middle of his army. As many of these sedan-men as were killed to
make him fall (for they would take him alive), so many others (and they
contended for it) took the place of those who were slain, so that they
could never beat him down, what slaughter soever they made of these
people, till a horseman, seizing upon him, brought him to the ground.



Since we cannot attain unto it, let us revenge our selves by railing at
it; and yet it is not absolutely railing against anything to proclaim its
defects, because they are in all things to be found, how beautiful or how
much to be coveted soever. Greatness has, in general, this manifest
advantage, that it can lower itself when it pleases, and has, very near,
the choice of both the one and the other condition; for a man does not
fall from all heights; there are several from which one may descend
without falling down. It does, indeed, appear to me that we value it at
too high a rate, and also overvalue the resolution of those whom we have
either seen or heard have contemned it, or displaced themselves of their
own accord: its essence is not so evidently commodious that a man may
not, with out a miracle, refuse it. I find it a very hard thing to
undergo misfortunes, but to be content with a moderate measure of
fortune, and to avoid greatness, I think a very easy matter. 'Tis,
methinks, a virtue to which I, who am no conjuror, could without any
great endeavour arrive. What, then, is to be expected from them that
would yet put into consideration the glory attending this refusal,
wherein there may lurk worse ambition than even in the desire itself,
and fruition of greatness? Forasmuch as ambition never comports itself
better, according to itself, than when it proceeds by obscure and
unfrequented ways.

I incite my courage to patience, but I rein it as much as I can towards
desire. I have as much to wish for as another, and allow my wishes as
much liberty and indiscretion; but yet it never befell me to wish for
either empire or royalty, or the eminency of those high and commanding
fortunes: I do not aim that way; I love myself too well. When I think to
grow greater, 'tis but very moderately, and by a compelled and timorous
advancement, such as is proper for me in resolution, in prudence, in
health, in beauty, and even in riches too; but this supreme reputation,
this mighty authority, oppress my imagination; and, quite contrary to
that other,--[Julius Caesar.]--I should, peradventure, rather choose to
be the second or third in Perigord than the first at Paris at least,
without lying, rather the third at Paris than the first. I would neither
dispute with a porter, a miserable unknown, nor make crowds open in
adoration as I pass. I am trained up to a moderate condition, as well by
my choice as fortune; and have made it appear, in the whole conduct of my
life and enterprises, that I have rather avoided than otherwise the
climbing above the degree of fortune wherein God has placed me by my
birth; all natural constitution is equally just and easy. My soul is
such a poltroon, that I measure not good fortune by the height, but by
the facility.

But if my heart be not great enough, 'tis open enough to make amends, at
any one's request, freely to lay open its weakness. Should any one put
me upon comparing the life of L. Thorius Balbus, a brave man, handsome,
learned, healthful, understanding, and abounding in all sorts of
conveniences and pleasures, leading a quiet life, and all his own, his
mind well prepared against death, superstition, pain, and other
incumbrances of human necessity, dying, at last, in battle, with his
sword in his hand, for the defence of his country, on the one part; and
on the other part, the life of M. Regulus, so great and high as is known
to every one, and his end admirable; the one without name and without
dignity, the other exemplary and glorious to a wonder. I should
doubtless say, as Cicero did, could I speak as well as he.

[Cicero, De Finibus, ii. 20, gives the preference to Regulus, and
proclaims him the happier man.]

But if I was to compare them with my own, I should then also say that the
first is as much according to my capacity, and from desire, which I
conform to my capacity, as the second is far beyond it; that I could not
approach the last but with veneration, the other I could readily attain
by use.

Let us return to our temporal greatness, from which we are digressed. I
disrelish all dominion, whether active or passive. Otanes, one of the
seven who had right to pretend to the kingdom of Persia, did as I should
willingly have done, which was, that he gave up to his competitors his
right of being promoted to it, either by election or by lot, provided
that he and his might live in the empire out of all authority and
subjection, those of the ancient laws excepted, and might enjoy all
liberty that was not prejudicial to these, being as impatient of
commanding as of being commanded.

The most painful and difficult employment in the world, in my opinion, is
worthily to discharge the office of a king. I excuse more of their
mistakes than men commonly do, in consideration of the intolerable weight
of their function, which astounds me. 'Tis hard to keep measure in so
immeasurable a power; yet so it is that it is, even to those who are not
of the best nature, a singular incitement to virtue to be seated in a
place where you cannot do the least good that shall not be put upon
record, and where the least benefit redounds to so many men, and where
your talent of administration, like that of preachers, principally
addresses itself to the people, no very exact judge, easy to deceive, and
easily content. There are few things wherein we can give a sincere
judgment, by reason that there are few wherein we have not, in some sort,
a private interest. Superiority and inferiority, dominion and subjection
are bound to a natural envy and contest, and must of necessity
perpetually intrench upon one another. I believe neither the one nor the
other touching the rights of the other party; let reason therefore, which
is inflexible and without passion, determine when we can avail ourselves
of it. 'Tis not above a month ago that I read over, two Scottish authors
contending upon this subject, of whom he who stands for the people makes
the king to be in a worse condition than a carter; he who writes for
monarchy places him some degrees above God in power and sovereignty.

Now, the incommodity of greatness that I have taken to remark in this
place, upon some occasion that has lately put it into my head, is this:
there is not, peradventure, anything more pleasant in the commerce of
many than the trials that we make against one another, out of emulation
of honour and worth, whether in the exercises of the body or in those of
the mind, wherein sovereign greatness can have no true part. And, in
earnest, I have often thought that by force of respect itself men use
princes disdainfully and injuriously in that particular; for the thing I
was infinitely offended at in my childhood, that they who exercised with
me forbore to do their best because they found me unworthy of their
utmost endeavour, is what we see happen to them daily, every one finding
himself unworthy to contend with them. If we discover that they have the
least desire to get the better of us, there is no one who will not make
it his business to give it them, and who will not rather betray his own
glory than offend theirs; and will therein employ so much force only as
is necessary to save their honour. What share have they, then, in the
engagement, where every one is on their side? Methinks I see those
paladins of ancient times presenting themselves to jousts and battle with
enchanted arms and bodies. Brisson,

[Plutarch, On Satisfaction or Tranquillity of the Mind. But in his
essay, How a Man may Distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend, he calls
him Chriso.]

running against Alexander, purposely missed his blow, and made a fault in
his career; Alexander chid him for it, but he ought to have had him
whipped. Upon this consideration Carneades said, that "the sons of
princes learned nothing right but to manage horses; by reason that, in
all their other exercises, every one bends and yields to them; but a
horse, that is neither a flatterer nor a courtier, throws the son of a
king with no more ceremony than he would throw that of a porter."

Homer was fain to consent that Venus, so sweet and delicate a goddess as
she was, should be wounded at the battle of Troy, thereby to ascribe
courage and boldness to her qualities that cannot possibly be in those
who are exempt from danger. The gods are made to be angry, to fear, to
run away, to be jealous, to grieve, to be transported with passions, to
honour them with the virtues that, amongst us, are built upon these
imperfections. Who does not participate in the hazard and difficulty, can
claim no interest in the honour and pleasure that are the consequents of
hazardous actions. 'Tis pity a man should be so potent that all things
must give way to him; fortune therein sets you too remote from society,
and places you in too great a solitude. This easiness and mean facility
of making all things bow under you, is an enemy to all sorts of pleasure:
'tis to slide, not to go; 'tis to sleep, and not to live. Conceive man
accompanied with omnipotence: you overwhelm him; he must beg disturbance
and opposition as an alms: his being and his good are in indigence. Evil
to man is in its turn good, and good evil. Neither is pain always to be
shunned, nor pleasure always to be pursued.

Their good qualities are dead and lost; for they can only be perceived by
comparison, and we put them out of this: they have little knowledge of
true praise, having their ears deafened with so continual and uniform an
approbation. Have they to do with the stupidest of all their subjects?
they have no means to take any advantage of him; if he but say: "'Tis
because he is my king," he thinks he has said enough to express that he
therefore suffered himself to be overcome. This quality stifles and
consumes the other true and essential qualities: they are sunk in the
royalty, and leave them nothing to recommend themselves with but actions
that directly concern and serve the function of their place; 'tis so much
to be a king, that this alone remains to them. The outer glare that
environs him conceals and shrouds him from us; our sight is there
repelled and dissipated, being filled and stopped by this prevailing
light. The senate awarded the prize of eloquence to Tiberius; he refused
it, esteeming that though it had been just, he could derive no advantage
from a judgment so partial, and that was so little free to judge.

As we give them all advantages of honour, so do we soothe and authorise
all their vices and defects, not only by approbation, but by imitation
also. Every one of Alexander's followers carried his head on one side,
as he did; and the flatterers of Dionysius ran against one another in his
presence, and stumbled at and overturned whatever was under foot, to shew
they were as purblind as he. Hernia itself has also served to recommend
a man to favour; I have seen deafness affected; and because the master
hated his wife, Plutarch--[who, however, only gives one instance; and in
this he tells us that the man visited his wife privately.]--has seen his
courtiers repudiate theirs, whom they loved; and, which is yet more,
uncleanliness and all manner of dissoluteness have so been in fashion; as
also disloyalty, blasphemy, cruelty, heresy, superstition, irreligion,
effeminacy, and worse, if worse there be; and by an example yet more
dangerous than that of Mithridates' flatterers, who, as their master
pretended to the honour of a good physician, came to him to have
incisions and cauteries made in their limbs; for these others suffered
the soul, a more delicate and noble part, to be cauterised.

But to end where I began: the Emperor Adrian, disputing with the
philosopher Favorinus about the interpretation of some word, Favorinus
soon yielded him the victory; for which his friends rebuking him, "You
talk simply," said he; "would you not have him wiser than I, who commands
thirty legions?" Augustus wrote verses against Asinius Pollio, and "I,"
said Pollio, "say nothing, for it is not prudence to write in contest
with him who has power to proscribe." And they were right. For
Dionysius, because he could not equal Philoxenus in poesy and Plato in
discourse, condemned the one to the quarries, and sent the other to be
sold for a slave into the island of AEgina.



'Tis a custom of our justice to condemn some for a warning to others. To
condemn them for having done amiss, were folly, as Plato says,

[Diogenes Laertius, however, in his Life of Plato, iii. 181, says
that Plato's offence was the speaking too freely to the tyrant.]

for what is done can never be undone; but 'tis to the end they may offend
no more, and that others may avoid the example of their offence: we do
not correct the man we hang; we correct others by him. I do the same; my
errors are sometimes natural, incorrigible, and irremediable: but the
good which virtuous men do to the public, in making themselves imitated,
I, peradventure, may do in making my manners avoided:

"Nonne vides, Albi ut male vivat filius? utque
Barrus inops? magnum documentum, ne patriam rein
Perdere guis velit;"

["Dost thou not see how ill the son of Albus lives? and how the
indigent Barrus? a great warning lest any one should incline to
dissipate his patrimony."--Horace, Sat., i. 4, 109.]

publishing and accusing my own imperfections, some one will learn to be
afraid of them. The parts that I most esteem in myself, derive more
honour from decrying, than for commending myself which is the reason why
I so often fall into, and so much insist upon that strain. But, when all
is summed up, a man never speaks of himself without loss; a man's
accusations of himself are always believed; his praises never: There may,
peradventure, be some of my own complexion who better instruct myself by
contrariety than by similitude, and by avoiding than by imitation. The
elder Cato was regarding this sort of discipline, when he said, "that the
wise may learn more of fools, than fools can of the wise"; and Pausanias
tells us of an ancient player upon the harp, who was wont to make his
scholars go to hear one who played very ill, who lived over against him,
that they might learn to hate his discords and false measures. The
horror of cruelty more inclines me to clemency, than any example of
clemency could possibly do. A good rider does not so much mend my seat,
as an awkward attorney or a Venetian, on horseback; and a clownish way of
speaking more reforms mine than the most correct. The ridiculous and
simple look of another always warns and advises me; that which pricks,
rouses and incites much better than that which tickles. The time is now
proper for us to reform backward; more by dissenting than by agreeing; by
differing more than by consent. Profiting little by good examples, I
make use of those that are ill, which are everywhere to be found: I
endeavour to render myself as agreeable as I see others offensive; as
constant as I see others fickle; as affable as I see others rough; as
good as I see others evil: but I propose to myself impracticable

The most fruitful and natural exercise of the mind, in my opinion, is
conversation; I find the use of it more sweet than of any other action of
life; and for that reason it is that, if I were now compelled to choose,
I should sooner, I think, consent to lose my sight, than my hearing and
speech. The Athenians, and also the Romans, kept this exercise in great
honour in their academies; the Italians retain some traces of it to this
day, to their great advantage, as is manifest by the comparison of our
understandings with theirs. The study of books is a languishing and
feeble motion that heats not, whereas conversation teaches and exercises
at once. If I converse with a strong mind and a rough disputant, he
presses upon my flanks, and pricks me right and left; his imaginations
stir up mine; jealousy, glory, and contention, stimulate and raise me up
to something above myself; and acquiescence is a quality altogether
tedious in discourse. But, as our mind fortifies itself by the
communication of vigorous and regular understandings, 'tis not to be
expressed how much it loses and degenerates by the continual commerce and
familiarity we have with mean and weak spirits; there is no contagion
that spreads like that; I know sufficiently by experience what 'tis worth
a yard. I love to discourse and dispute, but it is with but few men, and
for myself; for to do it as a spectacle and entertainment to great
persons, and to make of a man's wit and words competitive parade is, in
my opinion, very unbecoming a man of honour.

Folly is a bad quality; but not to be able to endure it, to fret and vex
at it, as I do, is another sort of disease little less troublesome than
folly itself; and is the thing that I will now accuse in myself. I enter
into conference, and dispute with great liberty and facility, forasmuch
as opinion meets in me with a soil very unfit for penetration, and
wherein to take any deep root; no propositions astonish me, no belief
offends me, though never so contrary to my own; there is no so frivolous
and extravagant fancy that does not seem to me suitable to the production
of human wit. We, who deprive our judgment of the right of determining,
look indifferently upon the diverse opinions, and if we incline not our
judgment to them, yet we easily give them the hearing: Where one scale is
totally empty, I let the other waver under an old wife's dreams; and I
think myself excusable, if I prefer the odd number; Thursday rather than
Friday; if I had rather be the twelfth or fourteenth than the thirteenth
at table; if I had rather, on a journey, see a hare run by me than cross
my way, and rather give my man my left foot than my right, when he comes
to put on my stockings. All such reveries as are in credit around us,
deserve at least a hearing: for my part, they only with me import
inanity, but they import that. Moreover, vulgar and casual opinions are
something more than nothing in nature; and he who will not suffer himself
to proceed so far, falls, peradventure, into the vice of obstinacy, to
avoid that of superstition.

The contradictions of judgments, then, neither offend nor alter, they
only rouse and exercise, me. We evade correction, whereas we ought to
offer and present ourselves to it, especially when it appears in the form
of conference, and not of authority. At every opposition, we do not
consider whether or no it be dust, but, right or wrong, how to disengage
ourselves: instead of extending the arms, we thrust out our claws. I
could suffer myself to be rudely handled by my friend, so much as to tell
me that I am a fool, and talk I know not of what. I love stout
expressions amongst gentle men, and to have them speak as they think; we
must fortify and harden our hearing against this tenderness of the
ceremonious sound of words. I love a strong and manly familiarity and
conversation: a friendship that pleases itself in the sharpness and
vigour of its communication, like love in biting and scratching: it is
not vigorous and generous enough, if it be not quarrelsome, if it be
civilised and artificial, if it treads nicely and fears the shock:

"Neque enim disputari sine reprehensione potest."

["Neither can a man dispute, but he must contradict."
(Or:) "Nor can people dispute without reprehension."
--Cicero, De Finib., i. 8.]

When any one contradicts me, he raises my attention, not my anger: I
advance towards him who controverts, who instructs me; the cause of truth
ought to be the common cause both of the one and the other. What will
the angry man answer? Passion has already confounded his judgment;
agitation has usurped the place of reason. It were not amiss that the
decision of our disputes should pass by wager: that there might be a
material mark of our losses, to the end we might the better remember
them; and that my man might tell me: "Your ignorance and obstinacy cost
you last year, at several times, a hundred crowns." I hail and caress
truth in what quarter soever I find it, and cheerfully surrender myself,
and open my conquered arms as far off as I can discover it; and, provided
it be not too imperiously, take a pleasure in being reproved, and
accommodate myself to my accusers, very often more by reason of civility
than amendment, loving to gratify and nourish the liberty of admonition
by my facility of submitting to it, and this even at my own expense.

Nevertheless, it is hard to bring the men of my time to it: they have not
the courage to correct, because they have not the courage to suffer
themselves to be corrected; and speak always with dissimulation in the
presence of one another: I take so great a pleasure in being judged and
known, that it is almost indifferent to me in which of the two forms I am
so: my imagination so often contradicts and condemns itself, that 'tis
all one to me if another do it, especially considering that I give his
reprehension no greater authority than I choose; but I break with him,
who carries himself so high, as I know of one who repents his advice,
if not believed, and takes it for an affront if it be not immediately
followed. That Socrates always received smilingly the contradictions
offered to his arguments, a man may say arose from his strength of
reason; and that, the advantage being certain to fall on his side, he
accepted them as a matter of new victory. But we see, on the contrary,
that nothing in argument renders our sentiment so delicate, as the
opinion of pre-eminence, and disdain of the adversary; and that, in
reason, 'tis rather for the weaker to take in good part the oppositions
that correct him and set him right. In earnest, I rather choose the
company of those who ruffle me than of those who fear me; 'tis a dull and
hurtful pleasure to have to do with people who admire us and approve of
all we say. Antisthenes commanded his children never to take it kindly
or for a favour, when any man commended them. I find I am much prouder
of the victory I obtain over myself, when, in the very ardour of dispute,
I make myself submit to my adversary's force of reason, than I am pleased
with the victory I obtain over him through his weakness. In fine, I
receive and admit of all manner of attacks that are direct, how weak
soever; but I am too impatient of those that are made out of form. I
care not what the subject is, the opinions are to me all one, and I am
almost indifferent whether I get the better or the worse. I can
peaceably argue a whole day together, if the argument be carried on with
method; I do not so much require force and subtlety as order; I mean the
order which we every day observe in the wranglings of shepherds and shop-
boys, but never amongst us: if they start from their subject, 'tis out of
incivility, and so 'tis with us; but their tumult and impatience never
put them out of their theme; their argument still continues its course;
if they interrupt, and do not stay for one another, they at least
understand one another. Any one answers too well for me, if he answers
what I say: when the dispute is irregular and disordered, I leave the
thing itself, and insist upon the form with anger and indiscretion;
falling into wilful, malicious, and imperious way of disputation, of
which I am afterwards ashamed. 'Tis impossible to deal fairly with a
fool: my judgment is not only corrupted under the hand of so impetuous a
master, but my conscience also.

Our disputes ought to be interdicted and punished as well as other verbal
crimes: what vice do they not raise and heap up, being always governed
and commanded by passion? We first quarrel with their reasons, and then
with the men. We only learn to dispute that we may contradict; and so,
every one contradicting and being contradicted, it falls out that the
fruit of disputation is to lose and annihilate truth. Therefore it is
that Plato in his Republic prohibits this exercise to fools and ill-bred
people. To what end do you go about to inquire of him, who knows nothing
to the purpose? A man does no injury to the subject, when he leaves it
to seek how he may treat it; I do not mean by an artificial and
scholastic way, but by a natural one, with a sound understanding. What
will it be in the end? One flies to the east, the other to the west;
they lose the principal, dispersing it in the crowd of incidents after an
hour of tempest, they know not what they seek: one is low, the other
high, and a third wide. One catches at a word and a simile; another is
no longer sensible of what is said in opposition to him, and thinks only
of going on at his own rate, not of answering you: another, finding
himself too weak to make good his rest, fears all, refuses all, at the
very beginning, confounds the subject; or, in the very height of the
dispute, stops short and is silent, by a peevish ignorance affecting a
proud contempt or a foolishly modest avoidance of further debate:
provided this man strikes, he cares not how much he lays himself open;
the other counts his words, and weighs them for reasons; another only
brawls, and uses the advantage of his lungs. Here's one who learnedly
concludes against himself, and another who deafens you with prefaces and
senseless digressions: an other falls into downright railing, and seeks a
quarrel after the German fashion, to disengage himself from a wit that
presses too hard upon him: and a last man sees nothing into the reason of
the thing, but draws a line of circumvallation about you of dialectic
clauses, and the formulas of his art.

Now, who would not enter into distrust of sciences, and doubt whether he
can reap from them any solid fruit for the service of life, considering
the use we put them to?

"Nihil sanantibus litteris."

["Letters which cure nothing."--Seneca, Ep., 59.]

Who has got understanding by his logic? Where are all her fair promises?

"Nec ad melius vivendum, nec ad commodius disserendum."

["It neither makes a man live better nor talk better."
--Cicero, De Fin., i. 19.]

Is there more noise or confusion in the scolding of herring-wives than in
the public disputes of men of this profession? I had rather my son
should learn in a tap-house to speak, than in the schools to prate. Take
a master of arts, and confer with him: why does he not make us sensible
of this artificial excellence? and why does he not captivate women and
ignoramuses, as we are, with admiration at the steadiness of his reasons
and the beauty of his order? why does he not sway and persuade us to what
he will? why does a man, who has so much advantage in matter and
treatment, mix railing, indiscretion, and fury in his disputations?
Strip him of his gown, his hood, and his Latin, let him not batter our
ears with Aristotle, pure and simple, you will take him for one of us,
or worse. Whilst they torment us with this complication and confusion of
words, it fares with them, methinks, as with jugglers; their dexterity
imposes upon our senses, but does not at all work upon our belief this
legerdemain excepted, they perform nothing that is not very ordinary and
mean: for being the more learned, they are none the less fools.

[So Hobbes said that if he had read as much as the academical
pedants he should have known as little.]

I love and honour knowledge as much as they that have it, and in its true
use 'tis the most noble and the greatest acquisition of men; but in such
as I speak of (and the number of them is infinite), who build their
fundamental sufficiency and value upon it, who appeal from their
understanding to their memory:

"Sub aliena umbra latentes,"

["Sheltering under the shadow of others."--Seneca, Ep., 33.]

and who can do nothing but by book, I hate it, if I dare to say so, worse
than stupidity. In my country, and in my time, learning improves
fortunes enough, but not minds; if it meet with those that are dull and
heavy, it overcharges and suffocates them, leaving them a crude and
undigested mass; if airy and fine, it purifies, clarifies, and subtilises
them, even to exinanition. 'Tis a thing of almost indifferent quality;
a very useful accession to a well-born soul, but hurtful and pernicious
to others; or rather a thing of very precious use, that will not suffer
itself to be purchased at an under rate; in the hand of some 'tis a
sceptre, in that of others a fool's bauble.

But let us proceed. What greater victory do you expect than to make your
enemy see and know that he is not able to encounter you? When you get
the better of your argument; 'tis truth that wins; when you get the
advantage of form and method,'tis then you who win. I am of opinion that
in, Plato and Xenophon Socrates disputes more in favour of the disputants
than in favour of the dispute, and more to instruct Euthydemus and
Protagoras in the, knowledge of their impertinence, than in the
impertinence of their art. He takes hold of the first subject like one
who has a more profitable end than to explain it--namely, to clear the
understandings that he takes upon him to instruct and exercise. To hunt
after truth is properly our business, and we are inexcusable if we carry
on the chase impertinently and ill; to fail of seizing it is another
thing, for we are born to inquire after truth: it belongs to a greater
power to possess it. It is not, as Democritus said, hid in the bottom of
the deeps, but rather elevated to an infinite height in the divine
knowledge. The world is but a school of inquisition: it is not who shall
enter the ring, but who shall run the best courses. He may as well play
the fool who speaks true, as he who speaks false, for we are upon the
manner, not the matter, of speaking. 'Tis my humour as much to regard
the form as the substance, and the advocate as much as the cause, as
Alcibiades ordered we should: and every day pass away my time in reading
authors without any consideration of their learning; their manner is what
I look after, not their subject: And just so do I hunt after the
conversation of any eminent wit, not that he may teach me, but that I may
know him, and that knowing him, if I think him worthy of imitation, I may
imitate him. Every man may speak truly, but to speak methodically,
prudently, and fully, is a talent that few men have. The falsity that
proceeds from ignorance does not offend me, but the foppery of it. I
have broken off several treaties that would have been of advantage to
me, by reason of the impertinent contestations of those with whom I
treated. I am not moved once in a year at the faults of those over whom
I have authority, but upon the account of the ridiculous obstinacy of
their allegations, denials, excuses, we are every day going together by
the ears; they neither understand what is said, nor why, and answer
accordingly; 'tis enough to drive a man mad. I never feel any hurt upon
my head but when 'tis knocked against another, and more easily forgive
the vices of my servants than their boldness, importunity, and folly; let
them do less, provided they understand what they do: you live in hope to
warm their affection to your service, but there is nothing to be had or
to be expected from a stock.

But what, if I take things otherwise than they are? Perhaps I do; and
therefore it is that I accuse my own impatience, and hold, in the first
place, that it is equally vicious both in him that is in the right, and
in him that is in the wrong; for 'tis always a tyrannic sourness not to
endure a form contrary to one's own: and, besides, there cannot, in
truth, be a greater, more constant, nor more irregular folly than to be
moved and angry at the follies of the world, for it principally makes us
quarrel with ourselves; and the old philosopher never wanted an occasion
for his tears whilst he considered himself. Miso, one of the seven
sages, of a Timonian and Democritic humour, being asked, "what he
laughed at, being alone?"--"That I do laugh alone," answered he. How
many ridiculous things, in my own opinion, do I say and answer every day
that comes over my head? and then how many more, according to the
opinion of others? If I bite my own lips, what ought others to do? In
fine, we must live amongst the living, and let the river run under the
bridge without our care, or, at least, without our interference. In
truth, why do we meet a man with a hunch-back, or any other deformity,
without being moved, and cannot endure the encounter of a deformed mind
without being angry? this vicious sourness sticks more to the judge than
to the crime. Let us always have this saying of Plato in our mouths: "Do
not I think things unsound, because I am not sound in myself? Am I not
myself in fault? may not my observations reflect upon myself?"--a wise
and divine saying, that lashes the most universal and common error of
mankind. Not only the reproaches that we throw in the face of one
another, but our reasons also, our arguments and controversies, are
reboundable upon us, and we wound ourselves with our own weapons: of
which antiquity. has left me enough grave examples. It was ingeniously
and home-said by him, who was the inventor of this sentence:

"Stercus cuique suum bene olet."

["To every man his own excrements smell well."--Erasmus]

We see nothing behind us; we mock ourselves an hundred times a day; when
we deride our neighbours; and we detest in others the defects which are
more manifest in us, and which we admire with marvellous inadvertency and
impudence. It was but yesterday that I heard a man of understanding and
of good rank, as pleasantly as justly scoffing at the folly of another,
who did nothing but torment everybody with the catalogue of his genealogy
and alliances, above half of them false (for they are most apt to fall
into such ridiculous discourses, whose qualities are most dubious and
least sure), and yet, would he have looked into himself, he would have
discerned himself to be no less intemperate arid wearisome in extolling
his wife's pedigree. O importunate presumption, with which the wife sees
herself armed by the hands of her own husband. Did he understand Latin,
we should say to him:

"Age, si hic non insanit satis sua sponte, instiga."

["Come! if of himself he is not mad enough, urge him on."
--Terence, And., iv. 2, 9.]

I do not say that no man should accuse another, who is not clean
himself,--for then no one would ever accuse,--clean from the same sort of
spot; but I mean that our judgment, falling upon another who is then in
question, should not, at the same time, spare ourselves, but sentence us
with an inward and severe authority. 'Tis an office of charity, that he
who cannot reclaim himself from a vice, should, nevertheless, endeavour
to remove it from another, in whom, peradventure, it may not have so deep
and so malignant a root; neither do him who reproves me for my fault that
he himself is guilty of the same. What of that? The reproof is,
notwithstanding, true and of very good use. Had we a good nose, our own
ordure would stink worse to us, forasmuch as it is our own: and Socrates
is of opinion that whoever should find himself, his son, and a stranger
guilty of any violence and wrong, ought to begin with himself, present
himself first to the sentence of justice, and implore, to purge himself,
the assistance of the hand of the executioner; in the next place, he
should proceed to his son, and lastly, to the stranger. If this precept
seem too severe, he ought at least to present himself the first, to the
punishment of his own conscience.

The senses are our first and proper judges, which perceive not things but
by external accidents; and 'tis no wonder, if in all the parts of the
service of our society, there is so perpetual and universal a mixture of
ceremonies and superficial appearances; insomuch that the best and most
effectual part of our polities therein consist. 'Tis still man with whom
we have to do, of whom the condition is wonderfully corporal. Let those
who, of these late years, would erect for us such a contemplative and
immaterial an exercise of religion, not wonder if there be some who think
it had vanished and melted through their fingers had it not more upheld
itself among us as a mark, title, and instrument of division and faction,
than by itself. As in conference, the gravity, robe, and fortune of him
who speaks, ofttimes gives reputation to vain arguments and idle words,
it is not to be presumed but that a man, so attended and feared, has not
in him more than ordinary sufficiency; and that he to whom the king has
given so many offices and commissions and charges, he so supercilious and
proud, has not a great deal more in him, than another who salutes him at
so great a distance, and who has no employment at all. Not only the
words, but the grimaces also of these people, are considered and put into
the account; every one making it his business to give them some fine and
solid interpretation. If they stoop to the common conference, and that
you offer anything but approbation and reverence, they then knock you
down with the authority of their experience: they have heard, they have
seen, they have done so and so: you are crushed with examples. I should
willingly tell them, that the fruit of a surgeon's experience, is not the
history of his practice and his remembering that he has cured four people
of the plague and three of the gout, unless he knows how thence to
extract something whereon to form his judgment, and to make us sensible
that he has thence become more skillful in his art. As in a concert of
instruments, we do not hear a lute, a harpsichord, or a flute alone, but
one entire harmony, the result of all together. If travel and offices
have improved them, 'tis a product of their understanding to make it
appear. 'Tis not enough to reckon experiences, they must weigh, sort and
distil them, to extract the reasons and conclusions they carry along with
them. There were never so many historians: it is, indeed, good and of
use to read them, for they furnish us everywhere with excellent and
laudable instructions from the magazine of their memory, which,
doubtless, is of great concern to the help of life; but 'tis not that we
seek for now: we examine whether these relaters and collectors of things
are commendable themselves.

I hate all sorts of tyranny, both in word and deed. I am very ready to
oppose myself against those vain circumstances that delude our judgments
by the senses; and keeping my eye close upon those extraordinary
greatnesses, I find that at best they are men, as others are:

"Rarus enim ferme sensus communis in illa

["For in those high fortunes, common sense is generally rare."
--Juvenal, viii. 73.]

Peradventure, we esteem and look upon them for less than they are, by
reason they undertake more, and more expose themselves; they do not
answer to the charge they have undertaken. There must be more vigour and
strength in the bearer than in the burden; he who has not lifted as much
as he can, leaves you to guess that he has still a strength beyond that,
and that he has not been tried to the utmost of what he is able to do; he
who sinks under his load, makes a discovery of his best, and the weakness
of his shoulders. This is the reason that we see so many silly souls
amongst the learned, and more than those of the better sort: they would
have made good husbandmen, good merchants, and good artisans: their
natural vigour was cut out to that proportion. Knowledge is a thing of
great weight, they faint under it: their understanding has neither vigour
nor dexterity enough to set forth and distribute, to employ or make use
of this rich and powerful matter; it has no prevailing virtue but in a
strong nature; and such natures are very rare--and the weak ones, says
Socrates, corrupt the dignity of philosophy in the handling, it appears
useless and vicious, when lodged in an ill-contrived mind. They spoil
and make fools of themselves:

"Humani qualis simulator simius oris,
Quern puer arridens pretioso stamine serum
Velavit, nudasque nates ac terga reliquit,
Ludibrium mensis."

["Just like an ape, simulator of the human face, whom a wanton boy
has dizened up in rich silks above, but left the lower parts bare,
for a laughing-stock for the tables."
--Claudian, in Eutrop., i 303.]

Neither is it enough for those who govern and command us, and have all
the world in their hands, to have a common understanding, and to be able
to do the same that we can; they are very much below us, if they be not
infinitely above us: as they promise more, so they are to perform more.

And yet silence is to them, not only a countenance of respect and
gravity, but very often of good advantage too: for Megabyzus, going 'to
see Apelles in his painting-room, stood a great while without speaking a
word, and at last began to talk of his paintings, for which he received
this rude reproof: "Whilst thou wast silent, thou seemedst to be some
great thing, by reason of thy chains and rich habit; but now that we have
heard thee speak, there is not the meanest boy in my workshop that does
not despise thee." Those princely ornaments, that mighty state, did not
permit him to be ignorant with a common ignorance, and to speak
impertinently of painting; he ought to have kept this external and
presumptive knowledge by silence. To how many foolish fellows of my time
has a sullen and silent mien procured the credit of prudence and

Dignities and offices are of necessity conferred more by fortune than
upon the account of merit; and we are often to blame, to condemn kings
when these are misplaced: on the contrary, 'tis a wonder they should have
so good luck, where there is so little skill:

"Principis est virtus maxima nosse suos;"

["'Tis the chief virtue of a prince to know his people."
--Martial, viii. 15.]

for nature has not given them a sight that can extend to so many people,
to discern which excels the rest, nor to penetrate into our bosoms, where
the knowledge of our wills and best value lies they must choose us by
conjecture and by groping; by the family, wealth, learning, and the voice
of the people, which are all very feeble arguments. Whoever could find
out a way by which they might judge by justice, and choose men by reason,
would, in this one thing, establish a perfect form of government.

"Ay, but he brought that great affair to a very good pass." This is,
indeed, to say something, but not to say enough: for this sentence is
justly received, "That we are not to judge of counsels by events."
The Carthaginians punished the ill counsels of their captains, though
they were rectified by a successful issue; and the Roman people often
denied a triumph for great and very advantageous victories because the
conduct of their general was not answerable to his good fortune.
We ordinarily see, in the actions of the world, that Fortune, to shew
us her power in all things, and who takes a pride in abating our
presumption, seeing she could not make fools wise, has made them
fortunate in emulation of virtue; and most favours those operations the
web of which is most purely her own; whence it is that the simplest
amongst us bring to pass great business, both public and private; and,
as Seiramnes, the Persian, answered those who wondered that his affairs
succeeded so ill, considering that his deliberations were so wise, "that
he was sole master of his designs, but that success was wholly in the
power of fortune"; these may answer the same, but with a contrary turn.
Most worldly affairs are performed by themselves

"Fata viam inveniunt;"

["The destinies find the way."--AEneid, iii. 395]

the event often justifies a very foolish conduct; our interposition is
little more than as it were a running on by rote, and more commonly a
consideration of custom and example, than of reason. Being formerly
astonished at the greatness of some affair, I have been made acquainted
with their motives and address by those who had performed it, and have
found nothing in it but very ordinary counsels; and the most common and
usual are indeed, perhaps, the most sure and convenient for practice, if
not for show. What if the plainest reasons are the best seated? the
meanest, lowest, and most beaten more adapted to affairs? To maintain
the authority of the counsels of kings, it needs not that profane persons
should participate of them, or see further into them than the outmost
barrier; he who will husband its reputation must be reverenced upon
credit and taken altogether. My consultation somewhat rough-hews the
matter, and considers it lightly by the first face it presents: the
stress and main of the business I have been wont to refer to heaven;

"Permitte divis caetera."

["Leave the rest to the gods."--Horace, Od., i. 9, 9.]

Good and ill fortune are, in my opinion, two sovereign powers; 'tis folly
to think that human prudence can play the part of Fortune; and vain is
his attempt who presumes to comprehend both causes and consequences, and
by the hand to conduct the progress of his design; and most especially
vain in the deliberations of war. There was never greater circumspection
and military prudence than sometimes is seen amongst us: can it be that
men are afraid to lose themselves by the way, that they reserve
themselves to the end of the game? I moreover affirm that our wisdom
itself and consultation, for the most part commit themselves to the
conduct of chance; my will and my reason are sometimes moved by one
breath, and sometimes by another; and many of these movements there are
that govern themselves without me: my reason has uncertain and casual
agitations and impulsions:

"Vertuntur species animorum, et pectora motus
Nunc alios, alios, dum nubila ventus agebat,

["The aspects of their minds change; and they conceive now such
ideas, now such, just so long as the wind agitated the clouds."
--Virgil, Georg., i. 42.]

Let a man but observe who are of greatest authority in cities, and who
best do their own business; we shall find that they are commonly men of
the least parts: women, children, and madmen have had the fortune to
govern great kingdoms equally well with the wisest princes, and
Thucydides says, that the stupid more ordinarily do it than those of
better understandings; we attribute the effects of their good fortune to
their prudence:

"Ut quisque Fortuna utitur,
Ita praecellet; atque exinde sapere illum omnes dicimus;"

["He makes his way who knows how to use Fortune, and thereupon we
all call him wise."--Plautus, Pseudol., ii. 3, 13.]

wherefore I say unreservedly, events are a very poor testimony of our
worth and parts.

Now, I was upon this point, that there needs no more but to see a man
promoted to dignity; though we knew him but three days before a man of
little regard, yet an image of grandeur of sufficiency insensibly steals
into our opinion, and we persuade ourselves that, being augmented in
reputation and train, he is also increased in merit; we judge of him, not
according to his worth, but as we do by counters, according to the
prerogative of his place. If it happen so that he fall again, and be
mixed with the common crowd, every one inquires with amazement into the
cause of his having been raised so high. "Is this he," say they, "was he
no wiser when he was there? Do princes satisfy themselves with so
little? Truly, we were in good hands." This is a thing that I have
often seen in my time. Nay, even the very disguise of grandeur
represented in our comedies in some sort moves and gulls us. That which
I myself adore in kings is the crowd of their adorers; all reverence and
submission are due to them, except that of the understanding: my reason
is not obliged to bow and bend; my knees are. Melanthius being asked
what he thought of the tragedy of Dionysius, "I could not see it," said
he, "it was so clouded with language"; so most of those who judge of the
discourses of great men ought to say, "I did not understand his words,
they were so clouded with gravity, grandeur, and majesty." Antisthenes
one day tried to persuade the Athenians to give order that their asses
might be employed in tilling the ground as well as the horses were; to
which it was answered that that animal was not destined for such a
service: "That's all one," replied he, "you have only to order it: for
the most ignorant and incapable men you employ in the commands of your
wars incontinently become worthy enough, because you employ them"; to
which the custom of so many people, who canonise the king they have
chosen out of their own body, and are not content only to honour, but
must adore them, comes very near. Those of Mexico, after the ceremonies
of their king's coronation are over, dare no more look him in the face;
but, as if they had deified him by his royalty. Amongst the oaths they
make him take to maintain their religion, their laws, and liberties, to
be valiant, just, and mild, he moreover swears to make the sun run his
course in his wonted light, to drain the clouds at fit seasons, to make
rivers run their course, and to cause the earth to bear all things
necessary for his people.

I differ from this common fashion, and am more apt to suspect the
capacity when I see it accompanied with that grandeur of fortune and
public applause; we are to consider of what advantage it is to speak when
a man pleases, to choose his subject, to interrupt or change it, with a
magisterial authority; to protect himself from the oppositions of others
by a nod, a smile, or silence, in the presence of an assembly that
trembles with reverence and respect. A man of a prodigious fortune
coming to give his judgment upon some slight dispute that was foolishly
set on foot at his table, began in these words: "It can be no other but
a liar or a fool that will say otherwise than so and so." Pursue this
philosophical point with a dagger in your hand.

There is another observation I have made, from which I draw great
advantage; which is, that in conferences and disputes, every word that
seems to be good, is not immediately to be accepted. Most men are rich
in borrowed sufficiency: a man may say a good thing, give a good answer,
cite a good sentence, without at all seeing the force of either the one
or the other. That a man may not understand all he borrows, may perhaps
be verified in myself. A man must not always presently yield, what truth
or beauty soever may seem to be in the opposite argument; either he must
stoutly meet it, or retire, under colour of not understanding it, to try,
on all parts, how it is lodged in the author. It may happen that we
entangle ourselves, and help to strengthen the point itself. I have
sometimes, in the necessity and heat of the combat, made answers that
have gone through and through, beyond my expectation or hope; I only gave
them in number, they were received in weight. As, when I contend with a
vigorous man, I please myself with anticipating his conclusions, I ease
him of the trouble of explaining himself, I strive to forestall his
imagination whilst it is yet springing and imperfect; the order and
pertinency of his understanding warn and threaten me afar off: I deal
quite contrary with the others; I must understand, and presuppose nothing
but by them. If they determine in general words, "this is good, that is
naught," and that they happen to be in the right, see if it be not
fortune that hits it off for them: let them a little circumscribe and
limit their judgment; why, or how, it is so. These universal judgments
that I see so common, signify nothing; these are men who salute a whole
people in a crowd together; they, who have a real acquaintance, take
notice of and salute them individually and by name. But 'tis a hazardous
attempt; and from which I have, more than every day, seen it fall out,
that weak understandings, having a mind to appear ingenious, in taking
notice, as they read a book, of what is best and most to be admired, fix
their admiration upon some thing so very ill chosen, that instead of
making us discern the excellence of the author; they make us very well
see their own ignorance. This exclamation is safe, "That is fine," after
having heard a whole page of Virgil; by that the cunning sort save
themselves; but to undertake to follow him line by line, and, with an
expert and tried judgment, to observe where a good author excels himself,
weighing the words, phrases, inventions, and his various excellences, one
after another; keep aloof from that:

"Videndum est, non modo quid quisque loquatur, sed etiam quid
quisque sentiat, atque etiam qua de causa quisque sentiat."

["A man is not only to examine what every one says, but also what
every one thinks, and from what reason every one thinks."
--Cicero, De Offic:, i. 41.]

I every day hear fools say things that are not foolish: they say a good
thing; let us examine how far they understand it, whence they have it,
and what they mean by it. We help them to make use of this fine
expression, of this fine sentence, which is none of theirs; they only
have it in keeping; they have bolted it out at a venture; we place it for
them in credit and esteem. You lend them your hand. To what purpose?
they do not think themselves obliged to you for it, and become more inept
still. Don't help them; let them alone; they will handle the matter like
people who are afraid of burning their fingers; they dare change neither
its seat nor light, nor break into it; shake it never so little, it slips
through their fingers; they give it up, be it never so strong or fair
they are fine weapons, but ill hafted: How many times have I seen the
experience of this? Now, if you come to explain anything to them, and to
confirm them, they catch at it, and presently rob you of the advantage of
your interpretation; "It was what I was about to say; it was just my
idea; if I did not express it so, it was for want of language." Mere
wind! Malice itself must be employed to correct this arrogant ignorance.
The dogma of Hegesias, "that we are neither to hate nor accuse, but
instruct," is correct elsewhere; but here 'tis injustice and inhumanity
to relieve and set him right who stands in no need on't, and is the worse
for't. I love to let them step deeper into the mire; and so deep, that,
if it be possible, they may at last discern their error.

Folly and absurdity are not to be cured by bare admonition; and what
Cyrus answered to him, who importuned him to harangue his army, upon the
point of battle, "that men do not become valiant and warlike upon a
sudden, by a fine oration, no more than a man becomes a good musician by
hearing a fine song," may properly be said of such an admonition as this.
These are apprenticeships that are to be served beforehand, by a long and
continued education. We owe this care and this assiduity of correction
and instruction to our own people; but to go preach to the first passer-
by, and to become tutor to the ignorance and folly of the first we meet,
is a thing that I abhor. I rarely do it, even in private conversation,
and rather give up the whole thing than proceed to these initiatory and
school instructions; my humour is unfit either to speak or write for
beginners; but for things that are said in common discourse, or amongst
other things, I never oppose them either by word or sign, how false or
absurd soever.

As to the rest, nothing vexes me so much in folly as that it is more
satisfied with itself than any reason can reasonably be. 'Tis
unfortunate that prudence forbids us to satisfy and trust ourselves,
and always dismisses us timorous and discontented; whereas obstinacy and
temerity fill those who are possessed with them with joy and assurance.
'Tis for the most ignorant to look at other men over the shoulder, always
returning from the combat full of joy and triumph. And moreover, for the
most part, this arrogance of speech and gaiety of countenance gives them
the better of it in the opinion of the audience, which is commonly weak
and incapable of well judging and discerning the real advantage.
Obstinacy of opinion and heat in argument are the surest proofs of folly;
is there anything so assured, resolute, disdainful, contemplative,
serious and grave as the ass?

May we not include under the title of conference and communication the
quick and sharp repartees which mirth and familiarity introduce amongst
friends, pleasantly and wittily jesting and rallying with one another?
'Tis an exercise for which my natural gaiety renders me fit enough, and
which, if it be not so tense and serious as the other I spoke of but now,
is, as Lycurgus thought, no less smart and ingenious, nor of less
utility. For my part, I contribute to it more liberty than wit, and have
therein more of luck than invention; but I am perfect in suffering, for I
endure a retaliation that is not only tart, but indiscreet to boot,
without being moved at all; and whoever attacks me, if I have not a brisk
answer immediately ready, I do not study to pursue the point with a
tedious and impertinent contest, bordering upon obstinacy, but let it
pass, and hanging down cheerfully my ears, defer my revenge to another
and better time: there is no merchant that always gains: Most men change
their countenance and their voice where their wits fail, and by an
unseasonable anger, instead of revenging themselves, accuse at once their
own folly and impatience. In this jollity, we sometimes pinch the secret
strings of our imperfections which, at another and graver time, we cannot
touch without offence, and so profitably give one another a hint of our
defects. There are other jeux de main,--[practical jokes]--rude and
indiscreet, after the French manner, that I mortally hate; my skin is
very tender and sensible: I have in my time seen two princes of the blood
buried upon that very account. 'Tis unhandsome to fight in play. As to
the rest, when I have a mind to judge of any one, I ask him how far he is
contented with himself; to what degree his speaking or his work pleases
him. I will none of these fine excuses, "I did it only in sport:

'Ablatum mediis opus est incudibus istud.'

["That work was taken from the anvil half finished."
--Ovid, Trist., i. 6, 29.]

I was not an hour about it: I have never looked at it since." Well,
then, say I, lay these aside, and give me a perfect one, such as you
would be measured by. And then, what do you think is the best thing in
your work? is it this part or that? is it grace or the matter, the
invention, the judgment, or the learning? For I find that men are,
commonly, as wide of the mark in judging of their own works, as of those
of others; not only by reason of the kindness they have for them, but for
want of capacity to know and distinguish them: the work, by its own force
and fortune, may second the workman, and sometimes outstrip him, beyond
his invention and knowledge. For my part, I judge of the value of other
men's works more obscurely than of my own; and place the Essays, now
high, or low, with great doubt and inconstancy. There are several books
that are useful upon the account of their subjects, from which the author
derives no praise; and good books, as well as good works, that shame the
workman. I may write the manner of our feasts, and the fashion of our
clothes, and may write them ill; I may publish the edicts of my time, and
the letters of princes that pass from hand to hand; I may make an
abridgment of a good book (and every abridgment of a good book is a
foolish abridgment), which book shall come to be lost; and so on:
posterity will derive a singular utility from such compositions: but what
honour shall I have unless by great good fortune? Most part of the
famous books are of this condition.

When I read Philip de Commines, doubtless a very good author, several
years ago, I there took notice of this for no vulgar saying, "That a man
must have a care not to do his master so great service, that at last he
will not know how to give him his just reward"; but I ought to commend
the invention, not him, because I met with it in Tacitus, not long since:

"Beneficia ea usque lxta sunt, dum videntur exsolvi posse;
ubi multum antevenere, pro gratis odium redditur;"

["Benefits are so far acceptable as they appear to be capable of
recompense; where they much exceed that point, hatred is returned
instead of thanks."--Tacitus, Annal., iv. 18.]

and Seneca vigorously says:

"Nam qui putat esse turpe non reddere,
non vult esse cui reddat:"

["For he who thinks it a shame not to requite, does not wish to
have the man live to whom he owes return."--Seneca, Ep., 81.]

Q. Cicero says with less directness.:

"Qui se non putat satisfacere,
amicus esse nullo modo potest."

["Who thinks himself behind in obligation, can by no
means be a friend."--Q. Cicero, De Petitione Consul, c. 9.]

The subject, according to what it is, may make a man looked upon as
learned and of good memory; but to judge in him the parts that are most
his own and the most worthy, the vigour and beauty of his soul, one must
first know what is his own and what is not; and in that which is not his
own, how much we are obliged to him for the choice, disposition,
ornament, and language he has there presented us with. What if he has
borrowed the matter and spoiled the form, as it often falls out? We, who
are little read in books, are in this strait, that when we meet with a
high fancy in some new poet, or some strong argument in a preacher, we
dare not, nevertheless, commend it till we have first informed ourselves,
through some learned man, if it be the writer's wit or borrowed from some
other; until that I always stand upon my guard.

I have lately been reading the history of Tacitus quite through, without
interrupting it with anything else (which but seldom happens with me, it
being twenty years since I have kept to any one book an hour together),
and I did it at the instance of a gentleman for whom France has a great
esteem, as well for his own particular worth, as upon the account of a
constant form of capacity and virtue which runs through a great many
brothers of them. I do not know any author in a public narrative who
mixes so much consideration of manners and particular inclinations: and I
am of a quite contrary opinion to him, holding that, having especially to
follow the lives of the emperors of his time, so various and extreme in
all sorts of forms, so many notable actions as their cruelty especially
produced in their subjects, he had a stronger and more attractive matter
to treat of than if he had had to describe battles and universal
commotions; so that I often find him sterile, running over those brave
deaths as if he feared to trouble us with their multitude and length.
This form of history is by much the most useful; public movements depend
most upon the conduct of fortune, private ones upon our own. 'Tis rather
a judgment than a narration of history; there are in it more precepts
than stories: it is not a book to read, 'tis a book to study and learn;
'tis full of sententious opinions, right or wrong; 'tis a nursery of
ethic and politic discourses, for the use and ornament of those who have
any place in the government of the world. He always argues by strong and
solid reasons, after a pointed and subtle manner, according to the
affected style of that age, which was so in love with an inflated manner,
that where point and subtlety were wanting in things it supplied these
with lofty and swelling words. 'Tis not much unlike the style of Seneca:
I look upon Tacitus as more sinewy, and Seneca as more sharp. His pen
seems most proper for a troubled and sick state, as ours at present is;
you would often say that he paints and pinches us.

They who doubt his good faith sufficiently accuse themselves of being his
enemy upon some other account. His opinions are sound, and lean to the
right side in the Roman affairs. And yet I am angry at him for judging
more severely of Pompey than consists with the opinion of those worthy
men who lived in the same time, and had dealings with him; and to have
reputed him on a par with Marius and Sylla, excepting that he was more
close. Other writers have not acquitted his intention in the government
of affairs from ambition and revenge; and even his friends were afraid
that victory would have transported him beyond the bounds of reason, but
not to so immeasurable a degree as theirs; nothing in his life threatened
such express cruelty and tyranny. Neither ought we to set suspicion
against evidence; and therefore I do not believe Plutarch in this matter.
That his narrations were genuine and straightforward may, perhaps, be
argued from this very thing, that they do not always apply to the
conclusions of his judgments, which he follows according to the bias he
has taken, very often beyond the matter he presents us withal, which he
has not deigned to alter in the least degree. He needs no excuse for
having approved the religion of his time, according as the laws enjoined,
and to have been ignorant of the true; this was his misfortune, not his

I have principally considered his judgment, and am not very well
satisfied therewith throughout; as these words in the letter that
Tiberius, old and sick, sent to the senate. "What shall I write to you,
sirs, or how should I write to you, or what should I not write to you at
this time? May the gods and goddesses lay a worse punishment upon me
than I am every day tormented with, if I know!" I do not see why he
should so positively apply them to a sharp remorse that tormented the
conscience of Tiberius; at least, when I was in the same condition, I
perceived no such thing.

And this also seemed to me a little mean in him that, having to say that
he had borne an honourable office in Rome, he excuses himself that he
does not say it out of ostentation; this seems, I say, mean for such a
soul as his; for not to speak roundly of a man's self implies some want
of courage; a man of solid and lofty judgment, who judges soundly and
surely, makes use of his own example upon all occasions, as well as those
of others; and gives evidence as freely of himself as of a third person.
We are to pass by these common rules of civility, in favour of truth and
liberty. I dare not only speak of myself, but to speak only of myself:
when I write of anything else, I miss my way and wander from my subject.
I am not so indiscreetly enamoured of myself, so wholly mixed up with,
and bound to myself, that I cannot distinguish and consider myself apart,
as I do a neighbour or a tree: 'tis equally a fault not to discern how
far a man's worth extends, and to say more than a man discovers in
himself. We owe more love to God than to ourselves, and know Him less;
and yet speak of Him as much as we will.

If the writings of Tacitus indicate anything true of his qualities, he
was a great personage, upright and bold, not of a superstitious but of a
philosophical and generous virtue. One may think him bold in his
relations; as where he tells us, that a soldier carrying a burden of
wood, his hands were so frozen and so stuck to the load that they there
remained closed and dead, being severed from his arms. I always in such
things bow to the authority of so great witnesses.

What also he says, that Vespasian, by the favour of the god Serapis,
cured a blind woman at Alexandria by anointing her eyes with his spittle,
and I know not what other miracle," he says by the example and duty of
all his good historians. They record all events of importance; and
amongst public incidents are the popular rumours and opinions. 'Tis
their part to relate common beliefs, not to regulate them: that part
concerns divines and philosophers, directors of consciences; and
therefore it was that this companion of his, and a great man like
himself, very wisely said:

"Equidem plura transcribo, quam credo: nam nec affirmare
sustineo, de quibus dubito, nec subducere quae accepi;"

["Truly, I set down more things than I believe, for I can neither
affirm things whereof I doubt, nor suppress what I have heard."
--Quintus Curtius, ix.]

and this other:

"Haec neque affirmare neque refellere operae
pretium est; famae rerum standum est."

["'Tis neither worth the while to affirm or to refute these things;
we must stand to report"--Livy, i., Praef., and viii. 6.]

And writing in an age wherein the belief of prodigies began to decline,
he says he would not, nevertheless, forbear to insert in his Annals, and
to give a relation of things received by so many worthy men, and with so
great reverence of antiquity; 'tis very well said. Let them deliver to
us history, more as they receive it than as they believe it. I, who am
monarch of the matter whereof I treat, and who am accountable to none, do
not, nevertheless, always believe myself; I often hazard sallies of my
own wit, wherein I very much suspect myself, and certain verbal quibbles,
at which I shake my ears; but I let them go at a venture. I see that
others get reputation by such things: 'tis not for me alone to judge. I
present myself standing and lying, before and behind, my right side and
my left, and, in all my natural postures. Wits, though equal in force,
are not always equal in taste and application.

This is what my memory presents to me in gross, and with uncertainty
enough; all judgments in gross are weak and imperfect.


A hundred more escape us than ever come to our knowledge
A man must have courage to fear
A man never speaks of himself without loss
A man's accusations of himself are always believed
Agitation has usurped the place of reason
All judgments in gross are weak and imperfect
Any argument if it be carried on with method
Apprenticeships that are to be served beforehand
Arrogant ignorance
Avoid all magnificences that will in a short time be forgotten
Being as impatient of commanding as of being commanded
Defer my revenge to another and better time
Desires, that still increase as they are fulfilled
Detest in others the defects which are more manifest in us
Disdainful, contemplative, serious and grave as the ass
Do not, nevertheless, always believe myself
Events are a very poor testimony of our worth and parts.
Every abridgment of a good book is a foolish abridgment
Fault not to discern how far a man's worth extends
Folly and absurdity are not to be cured by bare admonition
Folly satisfied with itself than any reason can reasonably be
Folly than to be moved and angry at the follies of the world
Give us history, more as they receive it than as they believe it
I every day hear fools say things that are not foolish
I hail and caress truth in what quarter soever I find it
I hate all sorts of tyranny, both in word and deed
I love stout expressions amongst gentle men
I was too frightened to be ill
If it be the writer's wit or borrowed from some other
Ignorance does not offend me, but the foppery of it.
It is not a book to read, 'tis a book to study and learn
"It was what I was about to say; it was just my idea,"
Judge by justice, and choose men by reason
Knock you down with the authority of their experience
Learning improves fortunes enough, but not minds
Liberality at the expense of others
Malice must be employed to correct this arrogant ignorance
Man must have a care not to do his master so great service
Mix railing, indiscretion, and fury in his disputations
Most men are rich in borrowed sufficiency
My humour is unfit either to speak or write for beginners
My reason is not obliged to bow and bend; my knees are
Never oppose them either by word or sign, how false or absurd
New World: sold it opinions and our arts at a very dear rate
Obstinancy and heat in argument are the surest proofs of folly
One must first know what is his own and what is not
Our knowledge, which is a wretched foundation
Passion has already confounded his judgment
Pinch the secret strings of our imperfections
Practical Jokes: Tis unhandsome to fight in play
Presumptive knowledge by silence
Silent mien procured the credit of prudence and capacity
Spectators can claim no interest in the honour and pleasure
Study of books is a languishing and feeble motion
The cause of truth ought to be the common cause
The event often justifies a very foolish conduct
The ignorant return from the combat full of joy and triumph
The very name Liberality sounds of Liberty.
There are some upon whom their rich clothes weep
There is no merchant that always gains
There is nothing single and rare in respect of nature
They have heard, they have seen, they have done so and so
They have not the courage to suffer themselves to be corrected
Tis impossible to deal fairly with a fool
To fret and vex at folly, as I do, is folly itself
Transferring of money from the right owners to strangers
Tutor to the ignorance and folly of the first we meet
Tyrannic sourness not to endure a form contrary to one's own
Universal judgments that I see so common, signify nothing
"What he laughed at, being alone?"--"That I do laugh alone,"
We are not to judge of counsels by events
We do not correct the man we hang; we correct others by him
We neither see far forward nor far backward
Whilst thou wast silent, thou seemedst to be some great thing
Who has once been a very fool, will never after be very wise
Wide of the mark in judging of their own works
Wise may learn more of fools, than fools can of the wise


Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



IX. Of Vanity



There is, peradventure, no more manifest vanity than to write of it so
vainly. That which divinity has so divinely expressed to us--["Vanity
of vanities: all is vanity."--Eccles., i. 2.]--ought to be carefully and
continually meditated by men of understanding. Who does not see that I
have taken a road, in which, incessantly and without labour, I shall
proceed so long as there shall be ink and paper in the world? I can give
no account of my life by my actions; fortune has placed them too low: I
must do it by my fancies. And yet I have seen a gentleman who only
communicated his life by the workings of his belly: you might see on his
premises a show of a row of basins of seven or eight days' standing; it
was his study, his discourse; all other talk stank in his nostrils.
Here, but not so nauseous, are the excrements of an old mind, sometimes
thick, sometimes thin, and always indigested. And when shall I have done
representing the continual agitation and mutation of my thoughts, as they
come into my head, seeing that Diomedes wrote six thousand books upon the
sole subject of grammar?

[It was not Diomedes, but Didymus the grammarian, who, as Seneca
(Ep., 88) tells us, wrote four not six thousand books on questions
of vain literature, which was the principal study of the ancient
grammarian.--Coste. But the number is probably exaggerated, and for
books we should doubtless read pamphlets or essays.]

What, then, ought prating to produce, since prattling and the first
beginning to speak, stuffed the world with such a horrible load of
volumes? So many words for words only. O Pythagoras, why didst not thou
allay this tempest? They accused one Galba of old for living idly; he
made answer, "That every one ought to give account of his actions, but
not of his home." He was mistaken, for justice also takes cognisance of
those who glean after the reaper.

But there should be some restraint of law against foolish and impertinent
scribblers, as well as against vagabonds and idle persons; which if there
were, both I and a hundred others would be banished from the reach of our
people. I do not speak this in jest: scribbling seems to be a symptom of
a disordered and licentious age. When did we write so much as since our
troubles? when the Romans so much, as upon the point of ruin? Besides
that, the refining of wits does not make people wiser in a government:
this idle employment springs from this, that every one applies himself
negligently to the duty of his vocation, and is easily debauched from it.
The corruption of the age is made up by the particular contribution of
every individual man; some contribute treachery, others injustice,
irreligion, tyranny, avarice, cruelty, according to their power; the
weaker sort contribute folly, vanity, and idleness; of these I am one.
It seems as if it were the season for vain things, when the hurtful
oppress us; in a time when doing ill is common, to do but what signifies
nothing is a kind of commendation. 'Tis my comfort, that I shall be one
of the last who shall be called in question; and whilst the greater
offenders are being brought to account, I shall have leisure to amend:
for it would, methinks, be against reason to punish little
inconveniences, whilst we are infested with the greater. As the
physician Philotimus said to one who presented him his finger to dress,
and who he perceived, both by his complexion and his breath, had an ulcer
in his lungs: "Friend, it is not now time to play with your nails."--
[Plutarch, How we may distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend.]

And yet I saw, some years ago, a person, whose name and memory I have in
very great esteem, in the very height of our great disorders, when there
was neither law nor justice, nor magistrate who performed his office, no
more than there is now, publish I know not what pitiful reformations
about cloths, cookery, and law chicanery. Those are amusements wherewith
to feed a people that are ill-used, to show that they are not totally
forgotten. Those others do the same, who insist upon prohibiting
particular ways of speaking, dances, and games, to a people totally
abandoned to all sorts of execrable vices. 'Tis no time to bathe and
cleanse one's self, when one is seized by a violent fever; it was for the
Spartans alone to fall to combing and curling themselves, when they were
just upon the point of running headlong into some extreme danger of their

For my part, I have that worse custom, that if my slipper go awry, I let
my shirt and my cloak do so too; I scorn to mend myself by halves.

When I am in a bad plight, I fasten upon the mischief; I abandon myself
through despair; I let myself go towards the precipice, and, as they say,
"throw the helve after the hatchet"; I am obstinate in growing worse, and
think myself no longer worth my own care; I am either well or ill
throughout. 'T is a favour to me, that the desolation of this kingdom
falls out in the desolation of my age: I better suffer that my ill be
multiplied, than if my well had been disturbed.--[That, being ill, I
should grow worse, than that, being well, I should grow ill.]--The words
I utter in mishap are words of anger: my courage sets up its bristles,
instead of letting them down; and, contrary to others, I am more devout
in good than in evil fortune, according to the precept of Xenophon, if
not according to his reason; and am more ready to turn up my eyes to
heaven to return thanks, than to crave. I am more solicitous to improve
my health, when I am well, than to restore it when I am sick;
prosperities are the same discipline and instruction to me that
adversities and rods are to others. As if good fortune were a thing
inconsistent with good conscience, men never grow good but in evil
fortune. Good fortune is to me a singular spur to modesty and
moderation: an entreaty wins, a threat checks me; favour makes me bend,
fear stiffens me.

Amongst human conditions this is common enough: to be better pleased with
foreign things than with our own, and to love innovation and change:

"Ipsa dies ideo nos grato perluit haustu,
Quod permutatis hora recurrit equis:"

["The light of day itself shines more pleasantly upon us because it
changes its horses every hour." Spoke of a water hour-glass,
adds Cotton.]

I have my share. Those who follow the other extreme, of being quite
satisfied and pleased with and in themselves, of valuing what they have
above all the rest, and of concluding no beauty can be greater than what
they see, if they are not wiser than we, are really more happy; I do not
envy their wisdom, but their good fortune.

This greedy humour of new and unknown things helps to nourish in me the
desire of travel; but a great many more circumstances contribute to it;
I am very willing to quit the government of my house. There is, I
confess, a kind of convenience in commanding, though it were but in a
barn, and in being obeyed by one's people; but 'tis too uniform and
languid a pleasure, and is, moreover, of necessity mixed with a thousand
vexatious thoughts: one while the poverty and the oppression of your
tenants: another, quarrels amongst neighbours: another, the trespasses
they make upon you afflict you;

"Aut verberatae grandine vineae,
Fundusque mendax, arbore nunc aquas
Culpante, nunc torrentia agros
Sidera, nunc hyemes iniquas."

["Or hail-smitten vines and the deceptive farm; now trees damaged
by the rains, or years of dearth, now summer's heat burning up the
petals, now destructive winters."--Horatius, Od., iii. I, 29.]

and that God scarce in six months sends a season wherein your bailiff can
do his business as he should; but that if it serves the vines, it spoils
the meadows:

"Aut nimiis torret fervoribus aetherius sol,
Aut subiti perimunt imbres, gelidoeque pruinae,
Flabraque ventorum violento turbine vexant;"

["Either the scorching sun burns up your fields, or sudden rains or
frosts destroy your harvests, or a violent wind carries away all
before it."--Lucretius, V. 216.]

to which may be added the new and neat-made shoe of the man of old, that
hurts your foot,

[Leclerc maliciously suggests that this is a sly hit at Montaigne's
wife, the man of old being the person mentioned in Plutarch's Life
of Paulus Emilius, c. 3, who, when his friends reproached him for
repudiating his wife, whose various merits they extolled, pointed to
his shoe, and said, "That looks a nice well-made shoe to you; but I
alone know where it pinches."]

and that a stranger does not understand how much it costs you, and what
you contribute to maintain that show of order that is seen in your
family, and that peradventure you buy too dear.

I came late to the government of a house: they whom nature sent into the
world before me long eased me of that trouble; so that I had already
taken another bent more suitable to my humour. Yet, for so much as I
have seen, 'tis an employment more troublesome than hard; whoever is
capable of anything else, will easily do this. Had I a mind to be rich,
that way would seem too long; I had served my kings, a more profitable
traffic than any other. Since I pretend to nothing but the reputation of
having got nothing or dissipated nothing, conformably to the rest of my
life, improper either to do good or ill of any moment, and that I only
desire to pass on, I can do it, thanks be to God, without any great
endeavour. At the worst, evermore prevent poverty by lessening your
expense; 'tis that which I make my great concern, and doubt not but to do
it before I shall be compelled. As to the rest, I have sufficiently
settled my thoughts to live upon less than I have, and live contentedly:

"Non aestimatione census, verum victu atque cultu,
terminantur pecunix modus."

["'Tis not by the value of possessions, but by our daily subsistence
and tillage, that our riches are truly estimated."
--Cicero, Paradox, vi. 3.]

My real need does not so wholly take up all I have, that Fortune has not
whereon to fasten her teeth without biting to the quick. My presence,
heedless and ignorant as it is, does me great service in my domestic
affairs; I employ myself in them, but it goes against the hair, finding
that I have this in my house, that though I burn my candle at one end by
myself, the other is not spared.

Journeys do me no harm but only by their expense, which is great, and
more than I am well able to bear, being always wont to travel with not
only a necessary, but a handsome equipage; I must make them so much
shorter and fewer; I spend therein but the froth, and what I have
reserved for such uses, delaying and deferring my motion till that be
ready. I will not that the pleasure of going abroad spoil the pleasure
of being retired at home; on the contrary, I intend they shall nourish
and favour one another. Fortune has assisted me in this, that since my
principal profession in this life was to live at ease, and rather idly
than busily, she has deprived me of the necessity of growing rich to
provide for the multitude of my heirs. If there be not enough for one,
of that whereof I had so plentifully enough, at his peril be it: his
imprudence will not deserve that I should wish him any more. And every
one, according to the example of Phocion, provides sufficiently for his
children who so provides for them as to leave them as much as was left
him. I should by no means like Crates' way. He left his money in the
hands of a banker with this condition--that if his children were fools,
he should then give it to them; if wise, he should then distribute it to
the most foolish of the people; as if fools, for being less capable of
living without riches, were more capable of using them.

At all events, the damage occasioned by my absence seems not to deserve,
so long as I am able to support it, that I should waive the occasions of
diverting myself by that troublesome assistance.

There is always something that goes amiss. The affairs, one while of one
house, and then of another, tear you to pieces; you pry into everything
too near; your perspicacity hurts you here, as well as in other things.
I steal away from occasions of vexing myself, and turn from the knowledge
of things that go amiss; and yet I cannot so order it, but that every
hour I jostle against something or other that displeases me; and the
tricks that they most conceal from me, are those that I the soonest come
to know; some there are that, not to make matters worse, a man must
himself help to conceal. Vain vexations; vain sometimes, but always
vexations. The smallest and slightest impediments are the most piercing:
and as little letters most tire the eyes, so do little affairs most
disturb us. The rout of little ills more offend than one, how great
soever. By how much domestic thorns are numerous and slight, by so much
they prick deeper and without warning, easily surprising us when least we
suspect them.

[Now Homer shews us clearly enough how surprise gives the advantage;
who represents Ulysses weeping at the death of his dog; and not
weeping at the tears of his mother; the first accident, trivial as
it was, got the better of him, coming upon him quite unexpectedly;
he sustained the second, though more potent, because he was prepared
for it. 'Tis light occasions that humble our lives. ]

I am no philosopher; evils oppress me according to their weight, and they
weigh as much according to the form as the matter, and very often more.
If I have therein more perspicacity than the vulgar, I have also more
patience; in short, they weigh with me, if they do not hurt me. Life is
a tender thing, and easily molested. Since my age has made me grow more
pensive and morose,

"Nemo enim resistit sibi, cum caeperit impelli,"

["For no man resists himself when he has begun to be driven
forward."--Seneca, Ep., 13.]

for the most trivial cause imaginable, I irritate that humour, which
afterwards nourishes and exasperates itself of its own motion; attracting
and heaping up matter upon matter whereon to feed:

"Stillicidi casus lapidem cavat:"

["The ever falling drop hollows out a stone."--Lucretius, i. 314.]

these continual tricklings consume and ulcerate me. Ordinary
inconveniences are never light; they are continual and inseparable,
especially when they spring from the members of a family, continual and
inseparable. When I consider my affairs at distance and in gross, I
find, because perhaps my memory is none of the best, that they have gone
on hitherto improving beyond my reason or expectation; my revenue seems
greater than it is; its prosperity betrays me: but when I pry more
narrowly into the business, and see how all things go:

"Tum vero in curas animum diducimus omnes;"

["Indeed we lead the mind into all sorts of cares."
--AEneid, v. 720.]

I have a thousand things to desire and to fear. To give them quite over,
is very easy for me to do: but to look after them without trouble, is
very hard. 'Tis a miserable thing to be in a place where everything you
see employs and concerns you; and I fancy that I more cheerfully enjoy
the pleasures of another man's house, and with greater and a purer
relish, than those of my own. Diogenes answered according to my humour
him who asked him what sort of wine he liked the best: "That of another,"
said he.--[Diogenes Laertius, vi. 54.]

My father took a delight in building at Montaigne, where he was born; and
in all the government of domestic affairs I love to follow his example
and rules, and I shall engage those who are to succeed me, as much as in
me lies, to do the same. Could I do better for him, I would; and am
proud that his will is still performing and acting by me. God forbid
that in my hands I should ever suffer any image of life, that I am able
to render to so good a father, to fail. And wherever I have taken in
hand to strengthen some old foundations of walls, and to repair some
ruinous buildings, in earnest I have done it more out of respect to his
design, than my own satisfaction; and am angry at myself that I have not
proceeded further to finish the beginnings he left in his house, and so
much the more because I am very likely to be the last possessor of my
race, and to give the last hand to it. For, as to my own particular
application, neither the pleasure of building, which they say is so
bewitching, nor hunting, nor gardens, nor the other pleasures of a
retired life, can much amuse me. And 'tis what I am angry at myself for,
as I am for all other opinions that are incommodious to me; which I would
not so much care to have vigorous and learned, as I would have them easy
and convenient for life, they are true and sound enough, if they are
useful and pleasing. Such as hear me declare my ignorance in husbandry,
whisper in my ear that it is disdain, and that I neglect to know its
instruments, its seasons, its order, how they dress my vines, how they
graft, and to know the names and forms of herbs and fruits, and the
preparing the meat on which I live, the names and prices of the stuffs I
wear, because, say they; I have set my heart upon some higher knowledge;
they kill me in saying so. It is not disdain; it is folly, and rather
stupidity than glory; I had rather be a good horseman than a good

"Quin to aliquid saltem potius, quorum indiget usus,
Viminibus mollique paras detexere junco."

["'Dost thou not rather do something which is required, and make
osier and reed basket."--Virgil, Eclog., ii. 71.]

We occupy our thoughts about the general, and about universal causes and
conducts, which will very well carry on themselves without our care; and
leave our own business at random, and Michael much more our concern than
man. Now I am, indeed, for the most part at home; but I would be there
better pleased than anywhere else:

"Sit meae sedes utinam senectae,
Sit modus lasso maris, et viarum,

["Let my old age have a fixed seat; let there be a limit to fatigues
from the sea, journeys, warfare."--Horace, Od., ii. 6, 6.]

I know not whether or no I shall bring it about. I could wish that,
instead of some other member of his succession, my father had resigned to
me the passionate affection he had in his old age to his household
affairs; he was happy in that he could accommodate his desires to his
fortune, and satisfy himself with what he had; political philosophy may
to much purpose condemn the meanness and sterility of my employment, if I
can once come to relish it, as he did. I am of opinion that the most
honourable calling is to serve the public, and to be useful to many,

"Fructus enim ingenii et virtutis, omnisque praestantiae,
tum maximus capitur, quum in proximum quemque confertur:"

["For the greatest enjoyment of evil and virtue, and of all
excellence, is experienced when they are conferred on some one
nearest."--Cicero, De Amicil., c.]

for myself, I disclaim it; partly out of conscience (for where I see the
weight that lies upon such employments, I perceive also the little means
I have to supply it; and Plato, a master in all political government
himself, nevertheless took care to abstain from it), and partly out of
cowardice. I content myself with enjoying the world without bustle;
only-to live an excusable life, and such as may neither be a burden to
myself nor to any other.

Never did any man more fully and feebly suffer himself to be governed by
a third person than I should do, had I any one to whom to entrust myself.
One of my wishes at this time should be, to have a son-in-law that knew
handsomely how to cherish my old age, and to rock it asleep; into whose
hands I might deposit, in full sovereignty, the management and use of all
my goods, that he might dispose of them as I do, and get by them what I
get, provided that he on his part were truly acknowledging, and a friend.
But we live in a world where loyalty of one's own children is unknown.

He who has the charge of my purse in his travels, has it purely and
without control; he could cheat me thoroughly, if he came to reckoning;
and, if he is not a devil, I oblige him to deal faithfully with me by so
entire a trust:

"Multi fallere do cuerunt, dum timent falli;
et aliis jus peccandi suspicando fecerunt."

["Many have taught others to deceive, while they fear to be

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