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The Essays of Montaigne, Complete by Michel de Montaigne

Part 21 out of 23

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reformation by the worst of deformations; and advanced towards salvation
by the most express causes that we have of most assured damnation; that
by overthrowing government, the magistracy, and the laws, in whose
protection God has placed him, by dismembering his good mother, and
giving her limbs to be mangled by her old enemies, filling fraternal
hearts with parricidal hatreds, calling devils and furies to his aid, he
can assist the most holy sweetness and justice of the divine law.
Ambition, avarice, cruelty, and revenge have not sufficient natural
impetuosity of their own; let us bait them with the glorious titles of
justice and devotion. There cannot a worse state of things be imagined
than where wickedness comes to be legitimate, and assumes, with the
magistrates' permission, the cloak of virtue:

"Nihil in speciem fallacius, quam prava religio,
ubi deorum numen prxtenditur sceleribus."

["Nothing has a more deceiving face than false religion, where the
divinity of the gods is obscured by crimes."--Livy, xxxix. 16.]

The extremest sort of injustice, according to Plato, is where that which
is unjust should be reputed for just.

The common people then suffered very much, and not present damage only:

"Undique totis
Usque adeo turbatur agris,"

["Such great disorders overtake our fields on every side."
--Virgil, Eclog., i. II.]

but future too; the living were to suffer, and so were they who were yet
unborn; they stript them, and consequently myself, even of hope, taking
from them all they had laid up in store to live on for many years:

"Quae nequeunt secum ferre aut abducere, perdunt;
Et cremat insontes turba scelesta casas . . .
Muris nulla fides, squalent populatibus agri."

["What they cannot bear away, they spoil; and the wicked mob burn
harmless houses; walls cannot secure their masters, and the fields
are squalid with devastation."
--Ovid, Trist., iii. 10, 35; Claudianus, In Eutyop., i. 244.]

Besides this shock, I suffered others: I underwent the inconveniences
that moderation brings along with it in such a disease: I was robbed on
all hands; to the Ghibelline I was a Guelph, and to the Guelph a
Ghibelline; one of my poets expresses this very well, but I know not
where it is.

["So Tories called me Whig, and Whigs a Tory."--Pope, after Horace.]

The situation of my house, and my friendliness with my neighbours,
presented me with one face; my life and my actions with another. They
did not lay formal accusations to my charge, for they had no foundation
for so doing; I never hide my head from the laws, and whoever would have
questioned me, would have done himself a greater prejudice than me; they
were only mute suspicions that were whispered about, which never want
appearance in so confused a mixture, no more than envious or idle heads.
I commonly myself lend a hand to injurious presumptions that fortune
scatters abroad against me, by a way I have ever had of evading to
justify, excuse, or explain myself; conceiving that it were to compromise
my conscience to plead in its behalf:

"Perspicuitas enim argumentatione elevatur;"

["For perspicuity is lessened by argument."
("The clearness of a cause is clouded by argumentation.")
--Cicero, De Nat. Deor., iii. 4.]

and, as if every one saw as clearly into me as I do myself, instead of
retiring from an accusation, I step up to meet it, and rather give it
some kind of colour by an ironical and scoffing confession, if I do not
sit totally mute, as of a thing not worth my answer. But such as look
upon this kind of behaviour of mine as too haughty a confidence, have as
little kindness for me as they who interpret the weakness of an
indefensible cause; namely, the great folks, towards whom want of
submission is the great fault, harsh towards all justice that knows and
feels itself, and is not submissive humble, and suppliant; I have often
knocked my head against this pillar. So it is that at what then befell
me, an ambitious man would have hanged himself, and a covetous man would
have done the same. I have no manner of care of getting;

"Si mihi, quod nunc est, etiam minus; et mihi vivam
Quod superest aevi, si quid superesse volent dii:"

["If I may have what I now own, or even less, and may live for
myself what of life remains, if the gods grant me remaining years."
--Horace, Ep., i. 18, 107.]

but the losses that befall me by the injury of others, whether by theft
or violence, go almost as near my heart as they would to that of the most
avaricious man. The offence troubles me, without comparison, more than
the loss. A thousand several sorts of mischiefs fell upon me in the neck
of one another; I could more cheerfully have borne them all at once.

I was already considering to whom, amongst my friends, I might commit a
necessitous and discredited old age; and having turned my eyes quite
round, I found myself bare. To let one's self fall plump down, and from
so great a height, it ought to be in the arms of a solid, vigorous, and
fortunate friendship: these are very rare, if there be any. At last, I
saw that it was safest for me to trust to myself in my necessity; and if
it should so fall out, that I should be but upon cold terms in Fortune's
favour, I should so much the more pressingly recommend me to my own, and
attach myself and look to myself all the more closely. Men on all
occasions throw themselves upon foreign assistance to spare their own,
which is alone certain and sufficient to him who knows how therewith to
arm himself. Every one runs elsewhere, and to the future, forasmuch as
no one is arrived at himself. And I was satisfied that they were
profitable inconveniences; forasmuch as, first, ill scholars are to be
admonished with the rod, when reason will not do, as a crooked piece of
wood is by fire and straining reduced to straightness. I have a great
while preached to myself to stick close to my own concerns, and separate
myself from the affairs of others; yet I am still turning my eyes aside.
A bow, a favourable word, a kind look from a great person tempts me; of
which God knows if there is scarcity in these days, and what they
signify. I, moreover, without wrinkling my forehead, hearken to the
persuasions offered me, to draw me into the marketplace, and so gently
refuse, as if I were half willing to be overcome. Now for so indocile a
spirit blows are required; this vessel which thus chops and cleaves, and
is ready to fall one piece from another, must have the hoops forced down
with good sound strokes of a mallet. Secondly, that this accident served
me for exercise to prepare me for worse, if I, who both by the benefit of
fortune, and by the condition of my manners, hoped to be among the last,
should happen to be one of the first assailed by this storm; instructing
myself betimes to constrain my life, and fit it for a new state. The
true liberty is to be able to do what a man will with himself:

"Potentissimus est, qui se habet in potestate."

["He is most potent who is master of himself."--Seneca, Ep., 94.]

In an ordinary and quiet time, a man prepares himself for moderate and
common accidents; but in the confusion wherein we have been for these
thirty years, every Frenchman, whether personal or in general, sees
himself every hour upon the point of the total ruin and overthrow of his
fortune: by so much the more ought he to have his courage supplied with
the strongest and most vigorous provisions. Let us thank fortune, that
has not made us live in an effeminate, idle, and languishing age; some
who could never have been so by other means will be made famous by their
misfortunes. As I seldom read in histories the confusions of other
states without regret that I was not present, the better to consider
them, so does my curiosity make me in some sort please myself in seeing
with my own eyes this notable spectacle of our public death, its form and
symptoms; and since I cannot hinder it, I am content to have been
destined to be present therein, and thereby to instruct myself. So do
we eagerly covet to see, though but in shadow and the fables of theatres,
the pomp of tragic representations of human fortune; 'tis not without
compassion at what we hear, but we please ourselves in rousing our
displeasure, by the rarity of these pitiable events. Nothing tickles
that does not pinch. And good historians skip over, as stagnant water
and dead sea, calm narrations, to return to seditions, to wars, to which
they know that we invite them.

I question whether I can decently confess with how small a sacrifice of
its repose and tranquillity I have passed over above the one half of my
life amid the ruin of my country. I lend myself my patience somewhat too
cheap, in accidents that do not privately assail me; and do not so much
regard what they take from me, as what remains safe, both within and
without. There is comfort in evading, one while this, another while
that, of the evils that are levelled at ourselves too, at last, but at
present hurt others only about us; as also, that in matters of public
interest, the more universally my affection is dispersed, the weaker it
is: to which may be added, that it is half true:

"Tantum ex publicis malis sentimus,
quantum ad privatas res pertinet;"

["We are only so far sensible of public evils as they respect our
private affairs."--Livy, xxx. 44.]

and that the health from which we fell was so ill, that itself relieves
the regret we should have for it. It was health, but only in comparison
with the sickness that has succeeded it: we are not fallen from any great
height; the corruption and brigandage which are in dignity and office
seem to me the least supportable: we are less injuriously rifled in a
wood than in a place of security. It was an universal juncture of
particular members, each corrupted by emulation of the others, and most
of them with old ulcers, that neither received nor required any cure.
This convulsion, therefore, really more animated than pressed me, by the
assistance of my conscience, which was not only at peace within itself,
but elevated, and I did not find any reason to complain of myself. Also,
as God never sends evils, any more than goods, absolutely pure to men,
my health continued at that time more than usually good; and, as I can
do nothing without it, there are few things that I cannot do with it.
It afforded me means to rouse up all my faculties, and to lay my hand
before the wound that would else, peradventure, have gone farther; and I
experienced, in my patience, that I had some stand against fortune, and
that it must be a great shock could throw me out of the saddle. I do not
say this to provoke her to give me a more vigorous charge: I am her
humble servant, and submit to her pleasure: let her be content, in God's
name. Am I sensible of her assaults? Yes, I am. But, as those who are
possessed and oppressed with sorrow sometimes suffer themselves,
nevertheless, by intervals to taste a little pleasure, and are sometimes
surprised with a smile, so have I so much power over myself, as to make
my ordinary condition quiet and free from disturbing thoughts; yet I
suffer myself, withal, by fits to be surprised with the stings of those
unpleasing imaginations that assault me, whilst I am arming myself to
drive them away, or at least to wrestle with them.

But behold another aggravation of the evil which befell me in the tail of
the rest: both without doors and within I was assailed with a most
violent plague, violent in comparison of all others; for as sound bodies
are subject to more grievous maladies, forasmuch as they, are not to be
forced but by such, so my very healthful air, where no contagion, however
near, in the memory of man, ever took footing, coming to be corrupted,
produced strange effects:

"Mista senum et juvenum densentur funera; nullum
Saeva caput Proserpina fugit;"

["Old and young die in mixed heaps. Cruel Proserpine forbears
none."--Horace, Od., i. 28, 19.]

I had to suffer this pleasant condition, that the sight of my house, was
frightful to me; whatever I had there was without guard, and left to the
mercy of any one who wished to take it. I myself, who am so hospitable,
was in very great distress for a retreat for my family; a distracted
family, frightful both to its friends and itself, and filling every place
with horror where it attempted to settle, having to shift its abode so
soon as any one's finger began but to ache; all diseases are then
concluded to be the plague, and people do not stay to examine whether
they are so or no. And the mischief on't is that, according to the rules
of art, in every danger that a man comes near, he must undergo a
quarantine in fear of the evil, your imagination all the while tormenting
you at pleasure, and turning even your health itself into a fever. Yet
all this would have much less affected me had I not withal been compelled
to be sensible of the sufferings of others, and miserably to serve six
months together for a guide to this caravan; for I carry my own antidotes
within myself, which are resolution and patience. Apprehension, which is
particularly feared in this disease, does not much trouble me; and, if
being alone, I should have been taken, it had been a less cheerless and
more remote departure; 'tis a kind of death that I do not think of the
worst sort; 'tis commonly short, stupid, without pain, and consoled by
the public condition; without ceremony, without mourning, without a
crowd. But as to the people about us, the hundredth part of them could
not be saved:

"Videas desertaque regna
Pastorum, et longe saltus lateque vacantes."

["You would see shepherds' haunts deserted, and far and wide empty
pastures."--Virgil, Georg., iii. 476.]

In this place my largest revenue is manual: what an hundred men ploughed
for me, lay a long time fallow.

But then, what example of resolution did we not see in the simplicity of
all this people? Generally, every one renounced all care of life; the
grapes, the principal wealth of the country, remained untouched upon the
vines; every man indifferently prepared for and expected death, either
to-night or to-morrow, with a countenance and voice so far from fear,
as if they had come to terms with this necessity, and that it was an
universal and inevitable sentence. 'Tis always such; but how slender
hold has the resolution of dying? The distance and difference of a few
hours, the sole consideration of company, renders its apprehension
various to us. Observe these people; by reason that they die in the same
month, children, young people, and old, they are no longer astonished at
it; they no longer lament. I saw some who were afraid of staying behind,
as in a dreadful solitude; and I did not commonly observe any other
solicitude amongst them than that of sepulture; they were troubled to see
the dead bodies scattered about the fields, at the mercy of the wild
beasts that presently flocked thither. How differing are the fancies of
men; the Neorites, a nation subjected by Alexander, threw the bodies of
their dead into the deepest and less frequented part of their woods, on
purpose to have them there eaten; the only sepulture reputed happy
amongst them. Some, who were yet in health, dug their own graves; others
laid themselves down in them whilst alive; and a labourer of mine, in
dying, with his hands and feet pulled the earth upon him. Was not this
to nestle and settle himself to sleep at greater ease? A bravery in some
sort like that of the Roman soldiers who, after the battle of Cannae,
were found with their heads thrust into holes in the earth, which they
had made, and in suffocating themselves, with their own hands pulled the
earth about their ears. In short, a whole province was, by the common
usage, at once brought to a course nothing inferior in undauntedness to
the most studied and premeditated resolution.

Most of the instructions of science to encourage us herein have in them
more of show than of force, and more of ornament than of effect. We have
abandoned Nature, and will teach her what to do; teach her who so happily
and so securely conducted us; and in the meantime, from the footsteps of
her instruction, and that little which, by the benefit of ignorance,
remains of her image imprinted in the life of this rustic rout of
unpolished men, science is constrained every day to borrow patterns for
her disciples of constancy, tranquillity, and innocence. It is pretty to
see that these persons, full of so much fine knowledge, have to imitate
this foolish simplicity, and this in the primary actions of virtue; and
that our wisdom must learn even from beasts the most profitable
instructions in the greatest and most necessary concerns of our life;
as, how we are to live and die, manage our property, love and bring up
our children, maintain justice: a singular testimony of human infirmity;
and that this reason we so handle at our pleasure, finding evermore some
diversity and novelty, leaves in us no apparent trace of nature. Men
have done with nature as perfumers with oils; they have sophisticated her
with so many argumentations and far-fetched discourses, that she is
become variable and particular to each, and has lost her proper,
constant, and universal face; so that we must seek testimony from beasts,
not subject to favour, corruption, or diversity of opinions. It is,
indeed, true that even these themselves do not always go exactly in the
path of nature, but wherein they swerve, it is so little that you may
always see the track; as horses that are led make many bounds and
curvets, but 'tis always at the length of the halter, and still follow
him that leads them; and as a young hawk takes its flight, but still
under the restraint of its tether:

"Exsilia, torments, bells, morbos, naufragia meditare . . .
ut nullo sis malo tiro."

["To meditate upon banishments, tortures, wars, diseases, and
shipwrecks, that thou mayest not be a novice in any disaster."
--Seneca, Ep., 91, 107.]

What good will this curiosity do us, to anticipate all the inconveniences
of human nature, and to prepare ourselves with so much trouble against
things which, peradventure, will never befall us?

"Parem passis tristitiam facit, pati posse;"

["It troubles men as much that they may possibly suffer,
as if they really did suffer."--Idem, ibid., 74.]

not only the blow, but the wind of the blow strikes us: or, like
phrenetic people--for certainly it is a phrensy--to go immediately and
whip yourself, because it may so fall out that Fortune may one day make
you undergo it; and to put on your furred gown at Midsummer, because you
will stand in need of it at Christmas! Throw yourselves, say they, into
the experience of all the evils, the most extreme evils that can possibly
befall you, and so be assured of them. On the contrary, the most easy
and most natural way would be to banish even the thoughts of them; they
will not come soon enough; their true being will not continue with us
long enough; our mind must lengthen and extend them; we must incorporate
them in us beforehand, and there entertain them, as if they would not
otherwise sufficiently press upon our senses. "We shall find them heavy
enough when they come," says one of our masters, of none of the tender
sects, but of the most severe; "in the meantime, favour thyself; believe
what pleases thee best; what good will it do thee to anticipate thy ill
fortune, to lose the present for fear of the future: and to make thyself
miserable now, because thou art to be so in time?" These are his words.
Science, indeed, does us one good office in instructing us exactly as to
the dimensions of evils,

"Curis acuens mortalia corda!"

["Probing mortal hearts with cares."--Virgil, Georg., i. 23.]

'Twere pity that any part of their greatness should escape our sense and

'Tis certain that for the most part the preparation for death has
administered more torment than the thing itself. It was of old truly
said, and by a very judicious author:

"Minus afficit sensus fatigatio, quam cogitatio."

["Suffering itself less afflicts the senses than the apprehension
of suffering."--Quintilian, Inst. Orat., i. 12.]

The sentiment of present death sometimes, of itself, animates us with a
prompt resolution not to avoid a thing that is utterly inevitable: many
gladiators have been seen in the olden time, who, after having fought
timorously and ill, have courageously entertained death, offering their
throats to the enemies' sword and bidding them despatch. The sight of
future death requires a courage that is slow, and consequently hard to be
got. If you know not how to die, never trouble yourself; nature will, at
the time, fully and sufficiently instruct you: she will exactly do that
business for you; take you no care--

"Incertam frustra, mortales, funeris horam,
Quaeritis et qua sit mors aditura via....
Poena minor certam subito perferre ruinam;
Quod timeas, gravius sustinuisse diu."

["Mortals, in vain you seek to know the uncertain hour of death,
and by what channel it will come upon you."--Propertius, ii. 27, 1.
"'Tis less painful to undergo sudden destruction; 'tis hard to bear
that which you long fear."--Incert. Auct.]

We trouble life by the care of death, and death by the care of life: the
one torments, the other frights us. It is not against death that we
prepare, that is too momentary a thing; a quarter of an hour's suffering,
without consequence and without damage, does not deserve especial
precepts: to say the truth, we prepare ourselves against the preparations
of death. Philosophy ordains that we should always have death before our
eyes, to see and consider it before the time, and then gives us rules and
precautions to provide that this foresight and thought do us no harm;
just so do physicians, who throw us into diseases, to the end they may
have whereon to employ their drugs and their art. If we have not known
how to live, 'tis injustice to teach us how to die, and make the end
difform from all the rest; if we have known how to live firmly and
quietly, we shall know how to die so too. They may boast as much as they

"Tota philosophorum vita commentatio mortis est;"

["The whole life of philosophers is the meditation of death."
--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 30.]

but I fancy that, though it be the end, it is not the aim of life; 'tis
its end, its extremity, but not, nevertheless, its object; it ought
itself to be its own aim and design; its true study is to order, govern,
and suffer itself. In the number of several other offices, that the
general and principal chapter of Knowing how to live comprehends, is this
article of Knowing how to die; and, did not our fears give it weight,
one of the lightest too.

To judge of them by utility and by the naked truth, the lessons of
simplicity are not much inferior to those which learning teaches us: nay,
quite the contrary. Men differ in sentiment and force; we must lead them
to their own good according to their capacities and by various ways:

"Quo me comque rapit tempestas, deferor hospes."

["Wherever the season takes me,(where the tempest drives me)
there I am carried as a guest."--Horace, Ep., i. i, 15.]

I never saw any peasant among my neighbours cogitate with what
countenance and assurance he should pass over his last hour; nature
teaches him not to think of death till he is dying; and then he does it
with a better grace than Aristotle, upon whom death presses with a double
weight, both of itself and from so long a premeditation; and, therefore,
it was the opinion of Caesar, that the least premeditated death was the
easiest and the most happy:

"Plus dolet quam necesse est, qui ante dolet, quam necesse est."

["He grieves more than is necessary, who grieves before it is
necessary."--Seneca, Ep., 98.]

The sharpness of this imagination springs from our curiosity: 'tis thus
we ever impede ourselves, desiring to anticipate and regulate natural
prescripts. It is only for the doctors to dine worse for it, when in the
best health, and to frown at the image of death; the common sort stand in
need of no remedy or consolation, but just in the shock, and when the
blow comes; and consider on't no more than just what they endure. Is it
not then, as we say, that the stolidity and want of apprehension in the
vulgar give them that patience m present evils, and that profound
carelessness of future sinister accidents? That their souls, in being
more gross and dull, are less penetrable and not so easily moved? If it
be so, let us henceforth, in God's name, teach nothing but ignorance;
'tis the utmost fruit the sciences promise us, to which this stolidity so
gently leads its disciples.

We have no want of good masters, interpreters of natural simplicity.
Socrates shall be one; for, as I remember, he speaks something to this
purpose to the judges who sat upon his life and death.

[That which follows is taken from the Apology of Socrates in Plato,
chap. 17, &c.]

"I am afraid, my masters, that if I entreat you not to put me to death, I
shall confirm the charge of my accusers, which is, that I pretend to be
wiser than others, as having some more secret knowledge of things that
are above and below us. I have neither frequented nor known death, nor
have ever seen any person that has tried its qualities, from whom to
inform myself. Such as fear it, presuppose they know it; as for my part,
I neither know what it is, nor what they do in the other world. Death
is, peradventure, an indifferent thing; peradventure, a thing to be
desired. 'Tis nevertheless to be believed, if it be a transmigration
from one place to another, that it is a bettering of one's condition to
go and live with so many great persons deceased, and to be exempt from
having any more to do with unjust and corrupt judges; if it be an
annihilation of our being, 'tis yet a bettering of one's condition to
enter into a long and peaceable night; we find nothing more sweet in life
than quiet repose and a profound sleep without dreams. The things that
I know to be evil, as to injure one's neighbour and to disobey one's
superior, whether it be God or man, I carefully avoid; such as I do not
know whether they be good or evil, I cannot fear them. If I am to die
and leave you alive, the gods alone only know whether it will go better
with you or with me. Wherefore, as to what concerns me, you may do as
you shall think fit. But according to my method of advising just and
profitable things, I say that you will do your consciences more right to
set me at liberty, unless you see further into my cause than I do; and,
judging according to my past actions, both public and private, according
to my intentions, and according to the profit that so many of our
citizens, both young and old, daily extract from my conversation, and the
fruit that you all reap from me, you cannot more duly acquit yourselves
towards my merit than in ordering that, my poverty considered, I should
be maintained at the Prytanaeum, at the public expense, a thing that I
have often known you, with less reason, grant to others. Do not impute
it to obstinacy or disdain that I do not, according to the custom,
supplicate and go about to move you to commiseration. I have both
friends and kindred, not being, as Homer says, begotten of wood or of
stone, no more than others, who might well present themselves before you
with tears and mourning, and I have three desolate children with whom to
move you to compassion; but I should do a shame to our city at the age I
am, and in the reputation of wisdom which is now charged against me, to
appear in such an abject form. What would men say of the other
Athenians? I have always admonished those who have frequented my
lectures, not to redeem their lives by an unbecoming action; and in the
wars of my country, at Amphipolis, Potidea, Delia, and other expeditions
where I have been, I have effectually manifested how far I was from
securing my safety by my shame. I should, moreover, compromise your
duty, and should invite you to unbecoming things; for 'tis not for my
prayers to persuade you, but for the pure and solid reasons of justice.
You have sworn to the gods to keep yourselves upright; and it would seem
as if I suspected you, or would recriminate upon you that I do not
believe that you are so; and I should testify against myself, not to
believe them as I ought, mistrusting their conduct, and not purely
committing my affair into their hands. I wholly rely upon them; and hold
myself assured they will do in this what shall be most fit both for you
and for me: good men, whether living or dead, have no reason to fear the

Is not this an innocent child's pleading of an unimaginable loftiness,
true, frank, and just, unexampled?--and in what a necessity employed!
Truly, he had very good reason to prefer it before that which the great
orator Lysias had penned for him: admirably couched, indeed, in the
judiciary style, but unworthy of so noble a criminal. Had a suppliant
voice been heard out of the mouth of Socrates, that lofty virtue had
struck sail in the height of its glory; and ought his rich and powerful
nature to have committed her defence to art, and, in her highest proof,
have renounced truth and simplicity, the ornaments of his speaking, to
adorn and deck herself with the embellishments of figures and the
flourishes of a premeditated speech? He did very wisely, and like
himself, not to corrupt the tenor of an incorrupt life, and so sacred an
image of the human form, to spin out his decrepitude another year, and to
betray the immortal memory of that glorious end. He owed his life not to
himself, but to the example of the world; had it not been a public
damage, that he should have concluded it after a lazy and obscure manner?
Assuredly, that careless and indifferent consideration of his death
deserved that posterity should consider it so much the more, as indeed
they did; and there is nothing so just in justice than that which fortune
ordained for his recommendation; for the Athenians abominated all those
who had been causers of his death to such a degree, that they avoided
them as excommunicated persons, and looked upon everything as polluted
that had been touched by them; no one would wash with them in the public
baths, none would salute or own acquaintance with them: so that, at last,
unable longer to support this public hatred, they hanged themselves.

If any one shall think that, amongst so many other examples that I had to
choose out of in the sayings of Socrates for my present purpose, I have
made an ill choice of this, and shall judge this discourse of his
elevated above common conceptions, I must tell them that I have properly
selected it; for I am of another opinion, and hold it to be a discourse,
in rank and simplicity, much below and behind common conceptions. He
represents, in an inartificial boldness and infantine security, the pure
and first impression and ignorance of nature; for it is to be believed
that we have naturally a fear of pain, but not of death, by reason of
itself; 'tis a part of our being, and no less essential than living.

To what end should nature have begotten in us a hatred to it and a horror
of it, considering that it is of so great utility to her in maintaining
the succession and vicissitude of her works? and that in this universal
republic, it conduces more to birth and augmentation than to loss or

"Sic rerum summa novatur."

"Mille animas una necata dedit."

"The failing of one life is the passage to a thousand other lives."

Nature has imprinted in beasts the care of themselves and of their
conservation; they proceed so far as hitting or hurting to be timorous of
being worse, of themselves, of our haltering and beating them, accidents
subject to their sense and experience; but that we should kill them, they
cannot fear, nor have they the faculty to imagine and conclude such a
thing as death; it is said, indeed, that we see them not only cheerfully
undergo it, horses for the most part neighing and swans singing when they
die, but, moreover, seek it at need, of which elephants have given many

Besides, the method of arguing, of which Socrates here makes use, is it
not equally admirable both in simplicity and vehemence? Truly it is much
more easy to speak like Aristotle and to live like Caesar than to speak
and live as Socrates did; there lies the extreme degree of perfection and
difficulty; art cannot reach it. Now, our faculties are not so trained
up; we do not try, we do not know them; we invest ourselves with those of
others, and let our own lie idle; as some one may say of me, that I have
here only made a nosegay of foreign flowers, having furnished nothing of
my own but the thread to tie them.

Certainly I have so far yielded to public opinion, that those borrowed
ornaments accompany me; but I do not mean that they shall cover me and
hide me; that is quite contrary to my design, who desire to make a show
of nothing but what is my own, and what is my own by nature; and had I
taken my own advice, I had at all hazards spoken purely alone, I more and
more load myself every day,

[In fact, the first edition of the Essays (Bordeaux, 1580) has very
few quotations. These became more numerous in the edition of 1588;
but the multitude of classical texts which at times encumber
Montaigne's text, only dates from the posthumous edition of 1595, he
had made these collections in the four last years of his life, as an
amusement of his" idleness."--Le Clerc. They grow, however, more
sparing in the Third Book.]

beyond my purpose and first method, upon the account of idleness and the
humour of the age. If it misbecome me, as I believe it does, 'tis no
matter; it may be of use to some others. Such there are who quote Plato
and Homer, who never saw either of them; and I also have taken things out
of places far enough distant from their source. Without pains and
without learning, having a thousand volumes about me in the place where I
write, I can presently borrow, if I please, from a dozen such scrap-
gatherers, people about whom I do not much trouble myself, wherewith to
trick up this treatise of Physiognomy; there needs no more but a
preliminary epistle of a German to stuff me with quotations. And so it
is we go in quest of a tickling story to cheat the foolish world. These
lumber pies of commonplaces, wherewith so many furnish their studies, are
of little use but to common subjects, and serve but to show us, and not
to direct us: a ridiculous fruit of learning, that Socrates so pleasantly
discusses against Euthydemus. I have seen books made of things that were
never either studied or understood; the author committing to several of
his learned friends the examination of this and t'other matter to compile
it, contenting himself, for his share, with having projected the design,
and by his industry to have tied together this faggot of unknown
provisions; the ink and paper, at least, are his. This is to buy or
borrow a book, and not to make one; 'tis to show men not that he can make
a book, but that, whereof they may be in doubt, he cannot make one.
A president, where I was, boasted that he had amassed together two
hundred and odd commonplaces in one of his judgments; in telling which,
he deprived himself of the glory he had got by it: in my opinion, a
pusillanimous and absurd vanity for such a subject and such a person.
I do the contrary; and amongst so many borrowed things, am glad if I can
steal one, disguising and altering it for some new service; at the hazard
of having it said that 'tis for want of understanding its natural use;
I give it some particular touch of my own hand, to the end it may not be
so absolutely foreign. These set their thefts in show and value
themselves upon them, and so have more credit with the laws than I have:
we naturalists I think that there is a great and incomparable preference
in the honour of invention over that of allegation.

If I would have spoken by learning, I had spoken sooner; I had written of
the time nearer to my studies, when I had more wit and better memory, and
should sooner have trusted to the vigour of that age than of this, would
I have made a business of writing. And what if this gracious favour--
[His acquaintance with Mademoiselle de Gournay.]--which Fortune has
lately offered me upon the account of this work, had befallen me in that
time of my life, instead of this, wherein 'tis equally desirable to
possess, soon to be lost! Two of my acquaintance, great men in this
faculty, have, in my opinion, lost half, in refusing to publish at forty
years old, that they might stay till threescore. Maturity has its
defects as well as green years, and worse; and old age is as unfit for
this kind of business as any other. He who commits his decrepitude to
the press plays the fool if he think to squeeze anything out thence that
does not relish of dreaming, dotage, and drivelling; the mind grows
costive and thick in growing old. I deliver my ignorance in pomp and
state, and my learning meagrely and poorly; this accidentally and
accessorily, that principally and expressly; and write specifically of
nothing but nothing, nor of any science but of that inscience. I have
chosen a time when my life, which I am to give an account of, lies wholly
before me; what remains has more to do with death; and of my death
itself, should I find it a prating death, as others do, I would willingly
give an account at my departure.

Socrates was a perfect exemplar in all great qualities, and I am vexed
that he had so deformed a face and body as is said, and so unsuitable to
the beauty of his soul, himself being so amorous and such an admirer of
beauty: Nature did him wrong. There is nothing more probable than the
conformity and relation of the body to the soul:

"Ipsi animi magni refert, quali in corpore locati sint: multo enim a
corpore existunt, qux acuant mentem: multa qua obtundant;"

["It is of great consequence in what bodies minds are placed, for
many things spring from the body that may sharpen the mind, and many
that may blunt it."--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., i. 33.]

this refers to an unnatural ugliness and deformity of limbs; but we call
ugliness also an unseemliness at first sight, which is principally lodged
in the face, and disgusts us on very slight grounds: by the complexion, a
spot, a rugged countenance, for some reasons often wholly inexplicable,
in members nevertheless of good symmetry and perfect. The deformity,
that clothed a very beautiful soul in La Boetie, was of this predicament:
that superficial ugliness, which nevertheless is always the most
imperious, is of least prejudice to the state of the mind, and of little
certainty in the opinion of men. The other, which is never properly
called deformity, being more substantial, strikes deeper in. Not every
shoe of smooth shining leather, but every shoe well-made, shews the shape
of the foot within. As Socrates said of his, it betrayed equal ugliness
in his soul, had he not corrected it by education; but in saying so, I
hold he was in jest, as his custom was; never so excellent a soul formed

I cannot often enough repeat how great an esteem I have for beauty, that
potent and advantageous quality; he (La Boetie) called it "a short
tyranny," and Plato, "the privilege of nature." We have nothing that
excels it in reputation; it has the first place in the commerce of men;
it presents itself in the front; seduces and prepossesses our judgments
with great authority and wonderful impression. Phryne had lost her cause
in the hands of an excellent advocate, if, opening her robe, she had not
corrupted her judges by the lustre of her beauty. And I find that Cyrus,
Alexander, and Caesar, the three masters of the world, never neglected
beauty in their greatest affairs; no more did the first Scipio. The same
word in Greek signifies both fair and good; and the Holy Word often says
good when it means fair: I should willingly maintain the priority in good
things, according to the song that Plato calls an idle thing, taken out
of some ancient poet: "health, beauty, riches." Aristotle says that the
right of command appertains to the beautiful; and that, when there is a
person whose beauty comes near the images of the gods, veneration is
equally due to him. To him who asked why people oftener and longer
frequent the company of handsome persons: "That question," said he, "is
only to be asked by the blind." Most of the philosophers, and the
greatest, paid for their schooling, and acquired wisdom by the favour and
mediation of their beauty. Not only in the men that serve me, but also
in the beasts, I consider it within two fingers' breadth of goodness.

And yet I fancy that those features and moulds of face, and those
lineaments, by which men guess at our internal complexions and our
fortunes to come, is a thing that does not very directly and simply lie
under the chapter of beauty and deformity, no more than every good odour
and serenity of air promises health, nor all fog and stink infection in a
time of pestilence. Such as accuse ladies of contradicting their beauty
by their manners, do not always hit right; for, in a face which is none
of the best, there may dwell some air of probity and trust; as, on the
contrary, I have read, betwixt two beautiful eyes, menaces of a dangerous
and malignant nature. There are favourable physiognomies, so that in a
crowd of victorious enemies, you shall presently choose, amongst men you
never saw before, one rather than another to whom to surrender, and with
whom to intrust your life; and yet not properly upon the consideration of

A person's look is but a feeble warranty; and yet it is something
considerable too; and if I had to lash them, I would most severely
scourge the wicked ones who belie and betray the promises that nature has
planted in their foreheads; I should with greater severity punish malice
under a mild and gentle aspect. It seems as if there were some lucky and
some unlucky faces; and I believe there is some art in distinguishing
affable from merely simple faces, severe from rugged, malicious from
pensive, scornful from melancholic, and such other bordering qualities.
There are beauties which are not only haughty, but sour, and others that
are not only gentle, but more than that, insipid; to prognosticate from
them future events is a matter that I shall leave undecided.

I have, as I have said elsewhere as to my own concern, simply and
implicitly embraced this ancient rule, "That we cannot fail in following
Nature," and that the sovereign precept is to conform ourselves to her.
I have not, as Socrates did, corrected my natural composition by the
force of reason, and have not in the least disturbed my inclination by
art; I have let myself go as I came: I contend not; my two principal
parts live, of their own accord, in peace and good intelligence, but my
nurse's milk, thank God, was tolerably wholesome and good. Shall I say
this by the way, that I see in greater esteem than 'tis worth, and in use
solely among ourselves, a certain image of scholastic probity, a slave to
precepts, and fettered with hope and fear? I would have it such as that
laws and religions should not make, but perfect and authorise it; that
finds it has wherewithal to support itself without help, born and rooted
in us from the seed of universal reason, imprinted in every man by
nature. That reason which strengthens Socrates from his vicious bend
renders him obedient to the gods and men of authority in his city:
courageous in death, not because his soul is immortal, but because he is
mortal. 'Tis a doctrine ruinous to all government, and much more hurtful
than ingenious and subtle, which persuades the people that a religious
belief is alone sufficient, and without conduct, to satisfy the divine
justice. Use demonstrates to us a vast distinction betwixt devotion and

I have a favourable aspect, both in form and in interpretation:

"Quid dixi, habere me? imo habui, Chreme."

["What did I say? that I have? no, Chremes, I had."
--Terence, Heaut., act i., sec. 2, v. 42.]

"Heu! tantum attriti corporis ossa vides;"

["Alas! of a worn body thou seest only the bones"]

and that makes a quite contrary show to that of Socrates. It has often
befallen me, that upon the mere credit of my presence and air, persons
who had no manner of knowledge of me have put a very great confidence in
me, whether in their own affairs or mine; and I have in foreign parts
thence obtained singular and rare favours. But the two following
examples are, peradventure, worth particular relation. A certain person
planned to surprise my house and me in it; his scheme was to come to my
gates alone, and to be importunate to be let in. I knew him by name,
and had fair reason to repose confidence in him, as being my neighbour
and something related to me. I caused the gates to be opened to him,
as I do to every one. There I found him, with every appearance of alarm,
his horse panting and very tired. He entertained me with this story:
"That, about half a league off, he had met with a certain enemy of his,
whom I also knew, and had heard of their quarrel; that his enemy had
given him a very brisk chase, and that having been surprised in disorder,
and his party being too weak, he had fled to my gates for refuge;
and that he was in great trouble for his followers, whom (he said) he
concluded to be all either dead or taken." I innocently did my best to
comfort, assure, and refresh him. Shortly after came four or five of his
soldiers, who presented themselves in the same countenance and affright,
to get in too; and after them more, and still more, very well mounted and
armed, to the number of five-and-twenty or thirty, pretending that they
had the enemy at their heels. This mystery began a little to awaken my
suspicion; I was not ignorant what an age I lived in, how much my house
might be envied, and I had several examples of others of my acquaintance
to whom a mishap of this sort had happened. But thinking there was
nothing to be got by having begun to do a courtesy, unless I went through
with it, and that I could not disengage myself from them without spoiling
all, I let myself go the most natural and simple way, as I always do, and
invited them all to come in. And in truth I am naturally very little
inclined to suspicion and distrust; I willingly incline towards excuse
and the gentlest interpretation; I take men according to the common
order, and do not more believe in those perverse and unnatural
inclinations, unless convinced by manifest evidence, than I do in
monsters and miracles; and I am, moreover, a man who willingly commit
myself to Fortune, and throw myself headlong into her arms; and I have
hitherto found more reason to applaud than to blame myself for so doing,
having ever found her more discreet about, and a greater friend to, my
affairs than I am myself. There are some actions in my life whereof the
conduct may justly be called difficult, or, if you please, prudent; of
these, supposing the third part to have been my own, doubtless the other
two-thirds were absolutely hers. We make, methinks, a mistake in that we
do not enough trust Heaven with our affairs, and pretend to more from our
own conduct than appertains to us; and therefore it is that our designs
so often miscarry. Heaven is jealous of the extent that we attribute to
the right of human prudence above its own, and cuts it all the shorter by
how much the more we amplify it. The last comers remained on horseback
in my courtyard, whilst their leader, who was with me in the parlour,
would not have his horse put up in the stable, saying he should
immediately retire, so soon as he had news of his men. He saw himself
master of his enterprise, and nothing now remained but its execution.
He has since several times said (for he was not ashamed to tell the story
himself) that my countenance and frankness had snatched the treachery out
of his hands. He again mounted his horse; his followers, who had their
eyes intent upon him, to see when he would give the signal, being very
much astonished to find him come away and leave his prey behind him.

Another time, relying upon some truce just published in the army, I took
a journey through a very ticklish country. I had not ridden far, but I
was discovered, and two or three parties of horse, from various places,
were sent out to seize me; one of them overtook me on the third day, and
I was attacked by fifteen or twenty gentlemen in vizors, followed at a
distance by a band of foot-soldiers. I was taken, withdrawn into the
thick of a neighbouring forest, dismounted, robbed, my trunks rifled, my
money-box taken, and my horses and equipage divided amongst new masters.
We had, in this copse, a very long contest about my ransom, which they
set so high, that it was manifest that I was not known to them. They
were, moreover, in a very great debate about my life; and, in truth,
there were various circumstances that clearly showed the danger I was in:

"Tunc animis opus, AEnea, tunc pectore firmo."

["Then, AEneas, there is need of courage, of a firm heart."
--AEneid, vi. 261.]

I still insisted upon the truce, too willing they should have the gain of
what they had already taken from me, which was not to be despised,
without promise of any other ransom. After two or three hours that we
had been in this place, and that they had mounted me upon a horse that
was not likely to run from them, and committed me to the guard of fifteen
or twenty harquebusiers, and dispersed my servants to others, having
given order that they should carry us away prisoners several ways, and I
being already got some two or three musket-shots from the place,

"Jam prece Pollucis, jam Castoris, implorata,"

["By a prayer addressed now to Pollux, now to Castor."
--Catullus, lxvi. 65.]

behold a sudden and unexpected alteration; I saw the chief return to me
with gentler language, making search amongst the troopers for my
scattered property, and causing as much as could be recovered to be
restored to me, even to my money-box; but the best present they made was
my liberty, for the rest did not much concern me at that time. The true
cause of so sudden a change, and of this reconsideration, without any
apparent impulse, and of so miraculous a repentance, in such a time, in a
planned and deliberate enterprise, and become just by usage (for, at the
first dash, I plainly confessed to them of what party I was, and whither
I was going), truly, I do not yet rightly understand. The most prominent
amongst them, who pulled off his vizor and told me his name, repeatedly
told me at the time, over and over again, that I owed my deliverance to
my countenance, and the liberty and boldness of my speech, that rendered
me unworthy of such a misadventure, and should secure me from its
repetition. 'Tis possible that the Divine goodness willed to make use of
this vain instrument for my preservation; and it, moreover, defended me
the next day from other and worse ambushes, of which these my assailants
had given me warning. The last of these two gentlemen is yet living
himself to tell the story; the first was killed not long ago.

If my face did not answer for me, if men did not read in my eyes and in
my voice the innocence of intention, I had not lived so long without
quarrels and without giving offence, seeing the indiscreet whatever comes
into my head, and to judge so rashly of things. This way may, with
reason, appear uncivil, and ill adapted to our way of conversation; but
I have never met with any who judged it outrageous or malicious, or that
took offence at my liberty, if he had it from my own mouth; words
repeated have another kind of sound and sense. Nor do I hate any person;
and I am so slow to offend, that I cannot do it, even upon the account of
reason itself; and when occasion has required me to sentence criminals,
I have rather chosen to fail in point of justice than to do it:

"Ut magis peccari nolim, quam satis animi
ad vindicanda peccata habeam."

["So that I had rather men should not commit faults than that I
should have sufficient courage to condemn them."---Livy, xxxix. 21.]

Aristotle, 'tis said, was reproached for having been too merciful to a
wicked man: "I was indeed," said he, "merciful to the man, but not to his
wickedness." Ordinary judgments exasperate themselves to punishment by
the horror of the fact: but it cools mine; the horror of the first murder
makes me fear a second; and the deformity of the first cruelty makes me
abhor all imitation of it.' That may be applied to me, who am but a
Squire of Clubs, which was said of Charillus, king of Sparta: "He cannot
be good, seeing he is not evil even to the wicked." Or thus--for
Plutarch delivers it both these ways, as he does a thousand other things,
variously and contradictorily--"He must needs be good, because he is so
even to the wicked." Even as in lawful actions I dislike to employ
myself when for such as are displeased at it; so, to say the truth, in
unlawful things I do not make conscience enough of employing myself when
it is for such as are willing.


A man should abhor lawsuits as much as he may
A person's look is but a feeble warranty
Accept all things we are not able to refute
Admiration is the foundation of all philosophy
Advantageous, too, a little to recede from one's right
All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice
Apt to promise something less than what I am able to do
As if anything were so common as ignorance
Authority of the number and antiquity of the witnesses
Best test of truth is the multitude of believers in a crowd
Books have not so much served me for instruction as exercise
Books of things that were never either studied or understood
Condemn the opposite affirmation equally
Courageous in death, not because his soul is immortal--Socrates
Death conduces more to birth and augmentation than to loss
Decree that says, "The court understands nothing of the matter"
Deformity of the first cruelty makes me abhor all imitation
Enters lightly into a quarrel is apt to go as lightly out of it
Establish this proposition by authority and huffing
Extend their anger and hatred beyond the dispute in question
Fabric goes forming and piling itself up from hand to hand
Fortune heaped up five or six such-like incidents
Hard to resolve a man's judgment against the common opinions
Haste trips up its own heels, fetters, and stops itself
He cannot be good, seeing he is not evil even to the wicked
He who stops not the start will never be able to stop the course
"How many things," said he, "I do not desire!"
How much easier is it not to enter in than it is to get out
I am a little tenderly distrustful of things that I wish
I am no longer in condition for any great change
I am not to be cuffed into belief
I am plain and heavy, and stick to the solid and the probable
I do not judge opinions by years
I ever justly feared to raise my head too high
I would as willingly be lucky as wise
If I stand in need of anger and inflammation, I borrow it
If they hear no noise, they think men sleep
Impose them upon me as infallible
Inconveniences that moderation brings (in civil war)
Lend himself to others, and only give himself to himself
Let not us seek illusions from without and unknown
"Little learning is needed to form a sound mind."--Seneca
Long toleration begets habit; habit, consent and imitation
Men are not always to rely upon the personal confessions
Merciful to the man, but not to his wickedness--Aristotle
Miracles and strange events have concealed themselves from me
My humour is no friend to tumult
Nosegay of foreign flowers, having furnished nothing of my own
Not believe from one, I should not believe from a hundred
Nothing is so supple and erratic as our understanding
Number of fools so much exceeds the wise
Opinions we have are taken on authority and trust
Others adore all of their own side
Pitiful ways and expedients to the jugglers of the law
Prepare ourselves against the preparations of death
Profession of knowledge and their immeasurable self-conceit
Quiet repose and a profound sleep without dreams
Reasons often anticipate the effect
Refusin to justify, excuse, or explain myself
Remotest witness knows more about it than those who were nearest
Restoring what has been lent us, wit usury and accession
Richer than we think we are; but we are taught to borrow
Right of command appertains to the beautiful-Aristotle
Rude and quarrelsome flatly to deny a stated fact
Suffer my judgment to be made captive by prepossession
Swell and puff up their souls, and their natural way of speaking
Taught to be afraid of professing our ignorance
The last informed is better persuaded than the first
The mind grows costive and thick in growing old
The particular error first makes the public error
Their souls seek repose in agitation
They gently name them, so they patiently endure them (diseases)
Those oppressed with sorrow sometimes surprised by a smile
Threats of the day of judgment
Tis better to lean towards doubt than assurance--Augustine
Tis no matter; it may be of use to some others
To forbear doing is often as generous as to do
To kill men, a clear and strong light is required
Too contemptible to be punished
True liberty is to be able to do what a man will with himself
Vast distinction betwixt devotion and conscience
We have naturally a fear of pain, but not of death
What did I say? that I have? no, Chremes, I had
Who discern no riches but in pomp and show
Whoever will be cured of ignorance must confess it
Would have every one in his party blind or a blockhead
Wrong the just side when they go about to assist it with fraud
Yet at least for ambition's sake, let us reject ambition


Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



XIII. Of Experience.



There is no desire more natural than that of knowledge. We try all ways
that can lead us to it; where reason is wanting, we therein employ

"Per varios usus artem experientia fecit,
Exemplo monstrante viam,"

["By various trials experience created art, example shewing the
way."--Manilius, i. 59.]

which is a means much more weak and cheap; but truth is so great a thing
that we ought not to disdain any mediation that will guide us to it.
Reason has so many forms that we know not to which to take; experience
has no fewer; the consequence we would draw from the comparison of events
is unsure, by reason they are always unlike. There is no quality so
universal in this image of things as diversity and variety. Both the
Greeks and the Latins and we, for the most express example of similitude,
employ that of eggs; and yet there have been men, particularly one at
Delphos, who could distinguish marks of difference amongst eggs so well
that he never mistook one for another, and having many hens, could tell
which had laid it.

Dissimilitude intrudes itself of itself in our works; no art can arrive
at perfect similitude: neither Perrozet nor any other can so carefully
polish and blanch the backs of his cards that some gamesters will not
distinguish them by seeing them only shuffled by another. Resemblance
does not so much make one as difference makes another. Nature has
obliged herself to make nothing other that was not unlike.

And yet I am not much pleased with his opinion, who thought by the
multitude of laws to curb the authority of judges in cutting out for them
their several parcels; he was not aware that there is as much liberty and
latitude in the interpretation of laws as in their form; and they but
fool themselves, who think to lessen and stop our disputes by recalling
us to the express words of the Bible: forasmuch as our mind does not find
the field less spacious wherein to controvert the sense of another than
to deliver his own; and as if there were less animosity and tartness in
commentary than in invention. We see how much he was mistaken, for we
have more laws in France than all the rest of the world put together, and
more than would be necessary for the government of all the worlds of

"Ut olim flagitiis, sic nunc legibus, laboramus."

["As we were formerly by crimes, so we are now overburdened by
laws."--Tacitus, Annal., iii. 25.]

and yet we have left so much to the opinions and decisions of our judges
that there never was so full a liberty or so full a license. What have
our legislators gained by culling out a hundred thousand particular
cases, and by applying to these a hundred thousand laws? This number
holds no manner of proportion with the infinite diversity of human
actions; the multiplication of our inventions will never arrive at the
variety of examples; add to these a hundred times as many more, it will
still not happen that, of events to come, there shall one be found that,
in this vast number of millions of events so chosen and recorded, shall
so tally with any other one, and be so exactly coupled and matched with
it that there will not remain some circumstance and diversity which will
require a diverse judgment. There is little relation betwixt our
actions, which are in perpetual mutation, and fixed and immutable laws;
the most to be desired are those that are the most rare, the most simple
and general; and I am even of opinion that we had better have none at all
than to have them in so prodigious a number as we have.

Nature always gives them better and happier than those we make ourselves;
witness the picture of the Golden Age of the Poets and the state wherein
we see nations live who have no other. Some there are, who for their
only judge take the first passer-by that travels along their mountains,
to determine their cause; and others who, on their market day, choose out
some one amongst them upon the spot to decide their controversies. What
danger would there be that the wisest amongst us should so determine
ours, according to occurrences and at sight, without obligation of
example and consequence? For every foot its own shoe. King Ferdinand,
sending colonies to the Indies, wisely provided that they should not
carry along with them any students of jurisprudence, for fear lest suits
should get footing in that new world, as being a science in its own
nature, breeder of altercation and division; judging with Plato, "that
lawyers and physicians are bad institutions of a country."

Whence does it come to pass that our common language, so easy for all
other uses, becomes obscure and unintelligible in wills and contracts?
and that he who so clearly expresses himself in whatever else he speaks
or writes, cannot find in these any way of declaring himself that does
not fall into doubt and contradiction? if it be not that the princes of
that art, applying themselves with a peculiar attention to cull out
portentous words and to contrive artificial sentences, have so weighed
every syllable, and so thoroughly sifted every sort of quirking
connection that they are now confounded and entangled in the infinity of
figures and minute divisions, and can no more fall within any rule or
prescription, nor any certain intelligence:

"Confusum est, quidquid usque in pulverem sectum est."

["Whatever is beaten into powder is undistinguishable (confused)."
--Seneca, Ep., 89.]

As you see children trying to bring a mass of quicksilver to a certain
number of parts, the more they press and work it and endeavour to reduce
it to their own will, the more they irritate the liberty of this generous
metal; it evades their endeavour and sprinkles itself into so many
separate bodies as frustrate all reckoning; so is it here, for in
subdividing these subtilties we teach men to increase their doubts; they
put us into a way of extending and diversifying difficulties, and
lengthen and disperse them. In sowing and retailing questions they make
the world fructify and increase in uncertainties and disputes, as the
earth is made fertile by being crumbled and dug deep.

"Difficultatem facit doctrina."

["Learning (Doctrine) begets difficulty."
--Quintilian, Insat. Orat., x. 3.]

We doubted of Ulpian, and are still now more perplexed with Bartolus and
Baldus. We should efface the trace of this innumerable diversity of
opinions; not adorn ourselves with it, and fill posterity with crotchets.
I know not what to say to it; but experience makes it manifest, that so
many interpretations dissipate truth and break it. Aristotle wrote to be
understood; if he could not do this, much less will another that is not
so good at it; and a third than he, who expressed his own thoughts. We
open the matter, and spill it in pouring out: of one subject we make a
thousand, and in multiplying and subdividing them, fall again into the
infinity of atoms of Epicurus. Never did two men make the same judgment
of the same thing; and 'tis impossible to find two opinions exactly
alike, not only in several men, but in the same man, at diverse hours.
I often find matter of doubt in things of which the commentary has
disdained to take notice; I am most apt to stumble in an even country,
like some horses that I have known, that make most trips in the smoothest

Who will not say that glosses augment doubts and ignorance, since there's
no book to be found, either human or divine, which the world busies
itself about, whereof the difficulties are cleared by interpretation.
The hundredth commentator passes it on to the next, still more knotty and
perplexed than he found it. When were we ever agreed amongst ourselves:
"This book has enough; there is now no more to be said about it"? This
is most apparent in the law; we give the authority of law to infinite
doctors, infinite decrees, and as many interpretations; yet do we find
any end of the need of interpretating? is there, for all that, any
progress or advancement towards peace, or do we stand in need of any
fewer advocates and judges than when this great mass of law was yet in
its first infancy? On the contrary, we darken and bury intelligence; we
can no longer discover it, but at the mercy of so many fences and
barriers. Men do not know the natural disease of the mind; it does
nothing but ferret and inquire, and is eternally wheeling, juggling, and
perplexing itself like silkworms, and then suffocates itself in its work;
"Mus in pice."--[" A mouse in a pitch barrel."]--It thinks it discovers
at a great distance, I know not what glimpses of light and imaginary
truth: but whilst running to it, so many difficulties, hindrances, and
new inquisitions cross it, that it loses its way, and is made drunk with
the motion: not much unlike AEsop's dogs, that seeing something like a
dead body floating in the sea, and not being able to approach it, set to
work to drink the water and lay the passage dry, and so choked
themselves. To which what one Crates' said of the writings of Heraclitus
falls pat enough, "that they required a reader who could swim well," so
that the depth and weight of his learning might not overwhelm and stifle
him. 'Tis nothing but particular weakness that makes us content with
what others or ourselves have found out in this chase after knowledge:
one of better understanding will not rest so content; there is always
room for one to follow, nay, even for ourselves; and another road; there
is no end of our inquisitions; our end is in the other world. 'Tis a
sign either that the mind has grown shortsighted when it is satisfied, or
that it has got weary. No generous mind can stop in itself; it will
still tend further and beyond its power; it has sallies beyond its
effects; if it do not advance and press forward, and retire, and rush and
wheel about, 'tis but half alive; its pursuits are without bound or
method; its aliment is admiration, the chase, ambiguity, which Apollo
sufficiently declared in always speaking to us in a double, obscure, and
oblique sense: not feeding, but amusing and puzzling us. 'Tis an
irregular and perpetual motion, without model and without aim; its
inventions heat, pursue, and interproduce one another:

Estienne de la Boetie; thus translated by Cotton:

"So in a running stream one wave we see
After another roll incessantly,
And as they glide, each does successively
Pursue the other, each the other fly
By this that's evermore pushed on, and this
By that continually preceded is:
The water still does into water swill,
Still the same brook, but different water still."

There is more ado to interpret interpretations than to interpret things,
and more books upon books than upon any other subject; we do nothing but
comment upon one another. Every place swarms with commentaries; of
authors there is great scarcity. Is it not the principal and most
reputed knowledge of our later ages to understand the learned? Is it not
the common and final end of all studies? Our opinions are grafted upon
one another; the first serves as a stock to the second, the second to the
third, and so forth; thus step by step we climb the ladder; whence it
comes to pass that he who is mounted highest has often more honour than
merit, for he is got up but an inch upon the shoulders of the last, but

How often, and, peradventure, how foolishly, have I extended my book to
make it speak of itself; foolishly, if for no other reason but this, that
it should remind me of what I say of others who do the same: that the
frequent amorous glances they cast upon their work witness that their
hearts pant with self-love, and that even the disdainful severity
wherewith they scourge them are but the dandlings and caressings of
maternal love; as Aristotle, whose valuing and undervaluing himself often
spring from the same air of arrogance. My own excuse is, that I ought in
this to have more liberty than others, forasmuch as I write specifically
of myself and of my writings, as I do of my other actions; that my theme
turns upon itself; but I know not whether others will accept this excuse.

I observed in Germany that Luther has left as many divisions and disputes
about the doubt of his opinions, and more, than he himself raised upon
the Holy Scriptures. Our contest is verbal: I ask what nature is, what
pleasure, circle, and substitution are? the question is about words, and
is answered accordingly. A stone is a body; but if a man should further
urge: "And what is a body?"--"Substance"; "And what is substance?" and
so on, he would drive the respondent to the end of his Calepin.

[Calepin (Ambrogio da Calepio), a famous lexicographer of the
fifteenth century. His Polyglot Dictionary became so famous, that
Calepin became a common appellation for a lexicon]

We exchange one word for another, and often for one less understood.
I better know what man is than I know what Animal is, or Mortal, or
Rational. To satisfy one doubt, they give me three; 'tis the Hydra's
head. Socrates asked Menon, "What virtue was." "There is," says Menon,
"the virtue of a man and of a woman, of a magistrate and of a private
person, of an old man and of a child." "Very fine," cried Socrates,
"we were in quest of one virtue, and thou hast brought us a whole
swarm." We put one question, and they return us a whole hive. As no
event, no face, entirely resembles another, so do they not entirely
differ: an ingenious mixture of nature. If our faces were not alike, we
could not distinguish man from beast; if they were not unlike, we could
not distinguish one man from another; all things hold by some similitude;
every example halts, and the relation which is drawn from experience is
always faulty and imperfect. Comparisons are ever-coupled at one end or
other: so do the laws serve, and are fitted to every one of our affairs,
by some wrested, biassed, and forced interpretation.

Since the ethic laws, that concern the particular duty of every one in
himself, are so hard to be framed, as we see they are, 'tis no wonder if
those which govern so many particulars are much more so. Do but consider
the form of this justice that governs us; 'tis a true testimony of human
weakness, so full is it of error and contradiction. What we find to be
favour and severity in justice--and we find so much of them both, that I
know not whether the medium is as often met with are sickly and unjust
members of the very body and essence of justice. Some country people
have just brought me news in great haste, that they presently left in a
forest of mine a man with a hundred wounds upon him, who was yet
breathing, and begged of them water for pity's sake, and help to carry
him to some place of relief; they tell me they durst not go near him, but
have run away, lest the officers of justice should catch them there; and
as happens to those who are found near a murdered person, they should be
called in question about this accident, to their utter ruin, having
neither money nor friends to defend their innocence. What could I have
said to these people? 'Tis certain that this office of humanity would
have brought them into trouble.

How many innocent people have we known that have been punished, and this
without the judge's fault; and how many that have not arrived at our
knowledge? This happened in my time: certain men were condemned to die
for a murder committed; their sentence, if not pronounced, at least
determined and concluded on. The judges, just in the nick, are informed
by the officers of an inferior court hard by, that they have some men in
custody, who have directly confessed the murder, and made an indubitable
discovery of all the particulars of the fact. Yet it was gravely
deliberated whether or not they ought to suspend the execution of the
sentence already passed upon the first accused: they considered the
novelty of the example judicially, and the consequence of reversing
judgments; that the sentence was passed, and the judges deprived of
repentance; and in the result, these poor devils were sacrificed by the
forms of justice. Philip, or some other, provided against a like
inconvenience after this manner. He had condemned a man in a great fine
towards another by an absolute judgment. The truth some time after being
discovered, he found that he had passed an unjust sentence. On one side
was the reason of the cause; on the other side, the reason of the
judicial forms: he in some sort satisfied both, leaving the sentence in
the state it was, and out of his own purse recompensing the condemned
party. But he had to do with a reparable affair; my men were irreparably
hanged. How many condemnations have I seen more criminal than the crimes

All which makes me remember the ancient opinions, "That 'tis of necessity
a man must do wrong by retail who will do right in gross; and injustice
in little things, who would come to do justice in great: that human
justice is formed after the model of physic, according to which, all that
is useful is also just and honest: and of what is held by the Stoics,
that Nature herself proceeds contrary to justice in most of her works:
and of what is received by the Cyrenaics, that there is nothing just of
itself, but that customs and laws make justice: and what the Theodorians
held that theft, sacrilege, and all sorts of uncleanness, are just in a
sage, if he knows them to be profitable to him." There is no remedy: I
am in the same case that Alcibiades was, that I will never, if I can help
it, put myself into the hands of a man who may determine as to my head,
where my life and honour shall more depend upon the skill and diligence
of my attorney than on my own innocence. I would venture myself with
such justice as would take notice of my good deeds, as well as my ill;
where I had as much to hope as to fear: indemnity is not sufficient pay
to a man who does better than not to do amiss. Our justice presents to
us but one hand, and that the left hand, too; let him be who he may, he
shall be sure to come off with loss.

In China, of which kingdom the government and arts, without commerce with
or knowledge of ours, surpass our examples in several excellent features,
and of which the history teaches me how much greater and more various the
world is than either the ancients or we have been able to penetrate, the
officers deputed by the prince to visit the state of his provinces, as
they punish those who behave themselves ill in their charge, so do they
liberally reward those who have conducted themselves better than the
common sort, and beyond the necessity of their duty; these there present
themselves, not only to be approved but to get; not simply to be paid,
but to have a present made to them.

No judge, thank God, has ever yet spoken to me in the quality of a judge,
upon any account whatever, whether my own or that of a third party,
whether criminal or civil; nor no prison has ever received me, not even
to walk there. Imagination renders the very outside of a jail
displeasing to me; I am so enamoured of liberty, that should I be
interdicted the access to some corner of the Indies, I should live a
little less at my ease; and whilst I can find earth or air open
elsewhere, I shall never lurk in any place where I must hide myself.
My God! how ill should I endure the condition wherein I see so many
people, nailed to a corner of the kingdom, deprived of the right to enter
the principal cities and courts, and the liberty of the public roads,
for having quarrelled with our laws. If those under which I live should
shake a finger at me by way of menace, I would immediately go seek out
others, let them be where they would. All my little prudence in the
civil wars wherein we are now engaged is employed that they may not
hinder my liberty of going and coming.

Now, the laws keep up their credit, not for being just, but because they
are laws; 'tis the mystic foundation of their authority; they have no
other, and it well answers their purpose. They are often made by fools,
still oftener by men who, out of hatred to equality, fail in equity, but
always by men, vain and irresolute authors. There is nothing so much,
nor so grossly, nor so ordinarily faulty, as the laws. Whoever obeys
them because they are just, does not justly obey them as he ought. Our
French laws, by their irregularity and deformity, lend, in some sort, a
helping hand to the disorder and corruption that all manifest in their
dispensation and execution: the command is so perplexed and inconstant,
that it in some sort excuses alike disobedience and defect in the
interpretation, the administration and the observation of it. What fruit
then soever we may extract from experience, that will little advantage
our institution, which we draw from foreign examples, if we make so
little profit of that we have of our own, which is more familiar to us,
and, doubtless, sufficient to instruct us in that whereof we have need.
I study myself more than any other subject; 'tis my metaphysic, my

"Quis deus hanc mundi temperet arte domum:
Qua venit exoriens, qua deficit: unde coactis
Cornibus in plenum menstrua luna redit
Unde salo superant venti, quid flamine captet
Eurus, et in nubes unde perennis aqua;
Sit ventura dies mundi quae subruat arces...."

["What god may govern with skill this dwelling of the world? whence
rises the monthly moon, whither wanes she? how is it that her horns
are contracted and reopen? whence do winds prevail on the main?
what does the east wind court with its blasts? and whence are the
clouds perpetually supplied with water? is a day to come which may
undermine the world?"--Propertius, iii. 5, 26.]

"Quaerite, quos agitat mundi labor."

["Ask whom the cares of the world trouble"--Lucan, i. 417.]

In this universality, I suffer myself to be ignorantly and negligently
led by the general law of the world: I shall know it well enough when I
feel it; my learning cannot make it alter its course; it will not change
itself for me; 'tis folly to hope it, and a greater folly to concern
one's self about it, seeing it is necessarily alike public and common.
The goodness and capacity of the governor ought absolutely to discharge
us of all care of the government: philosophical inquisitions and
contemplations serve for no other use but to increase our curiosity.
The philosophers; with great reason, send us back to the rules of nature;
but they have nothing to do with so sublime a knowledge; they falsify
them, and present us her face painted with too high and too adulterate a
complexion, whence spring so many different pictures of so uniform a
subject. As she has given us feet to walk with, so has she given us
prudence to guide us in life: not so ingenious, robust, and pompous a
prudence as that of their invention; but yet one that is easy, quiet, and
salutary, and that very well performs what the other promises, in him who
has the good luck to know how to employ it sincerely and regularly, that
is to say, according to nature. The most simply to commit one's self to
nature is to do it most wisely. Oh, what a soft, easy, and wholesome
pillow is ignorance and incuriosity, whereon to repose a well-ordered

I had rather understand myself well in myself, than in Cicero. Of the
experience I have of myself, I find enough to make me wise, if I were but
a good scholar: whoever will call to mind the excess of his past anger,
and to what a degree that fever transported him, will see the deformity
of this passion better than in Aristotle, and conceive a more just hatred
against it; whoever will remember the ills he has undergone, those that
have threatened him, and the light occasions that have removed him from
one state to another, will by that prepare himself for future changes,
and the knowledge of his condition. The life of Caesar has no greater
example for us than our own: though popular and of command, 'tis still a
life subject to all human accidents. Let us but listen to it; we apply
to ourselves all whereof we have principal need; whoever shall call to
memory how many and many times he has been mistaken in his own judgment,
is he not a great fool if he does not ever after suspect it? When I find
myself convinced, by the reason of another, of a false opinion, I do not
so much learn what he has said to me that is new and the particular
ignorance--that would be no great acquisition--as, in general, I learn my
own debility and the treachery of my understanding, whence I extract the
reformation of the whole mass. In all my other errors I do the same, and
find from this rule great utility to life; I regard not the species and
individual as a stone that I have stumbled at; I learn to suspect my
steps throughout, and am careful to place them right. To learn that a
man has said or done a foolish thing is nothing: a man must learn that he
is nothing but a fool, a much more ample, and important instruction. The
false steps that my memory has so often made, even then when it was most
secure and confident of itself, are not idly thrown away; it vainly
swears and assures me I shake my ears; the first opposition that is made
to its testimony puts me into suspense, and I durst not rely upon it in
anything of moment, nor warrant it in another person's concerns: and were
it not that what I do for want of memory, others do more often for want
of good faith, I should always, in matter of fact, rather choose to take
the truth from another's mouth than from my own. If every one would pry
into the effects and circumstances of the passions that sway him, as I
have done into those which I am most subject to, he would see them
coming, and would a little break their impetuosity and career; they do
not always seize us on a sudden; there is threatening and degrees

"Fluctus uti primo coepit cum albescere vento,
Paulatim sese tollit mare, et altius undas
Erigit, inde imo consurgit ad aethera fundo."

["As with the first wind the sea begins to foam, and swells, thence
higher swells, and higher raises the waves, till the ocean rises
from its depths to the sky."--AEneid, vii. 528.]

Judgment holds in me a magisterial seat; at least it carefully endeavours
to make it so: it leaves my appetites to take their own course, hatred
and friendship, nay, even that I bear to myself, without change or
corruption; if it cannot reform the other parts according to its own
model, at least it suffers not itself to be corrupted by them, but plays
its game apart.

The advice to every one, "to know themselves," should be of important
effect, since that god of wisdom and light' caused it to be written on
the front of his temple,--[At Delphi]--as comprehending all he had to
advise us. Plato says also, that prudence is no other thing than the
execution of this ordinance; and Socrates minutely verifies it in
Xenophon. The difficulties and obscurity are not discerned in any
science but by those who are got into it; for a certain degree of
intelligence is required to be able to know that a man knows not, and we
must push against a door to know whether it be bolted against us or no:
whence this Platonic subtlety springs, that "neither they who know are to
enquire, forasmuch as they know; nor they who do not know, forasmuch as
to inquire they must know what they inquire of. So in this, "of knowing
a man's self," that every man is seen so resolved and satisfied with
himself, that every man thinks himself sufficiently intelligent,
signifies that every one knows nothing about the matter; as Socrates
gives Euthydemus to understand. I, who profess nothing else, therein
find so infinite a depth and variety, that all the fruit I have reaped
from my learning serves only to make me sensible how much I have to
learn. To my weakness, so often confessed, I owe the propension I have
to modesty, to the obedience of belief prescribed me, to a constant
coldness and moderation of opinions, and a hatred of that troublesome and
wrangling arrogance, wholly believing and trusting in itself, the capital
enemy of discipline and truth. Do but hear them domineer; the first
fopperies they utter, 'tis in the style wherewith men establish religions
and laws:

"Nihil est turpius, quam cognitioni et perceptions
assertionem approbationemque praecurrere."

["Nothing is worse than that assertion and decision should precede
knowledge and perception."--Cicero, Acad., i. 13.]

Aristarchus said that anciently there were scarce seven sages to be found
in the world, and in his time scarce so many fools: have not we more
reason than he to say so in this age of ours? Affirmation and obstinacy
are express signs of want of wit. This fellow may have knocked his nose
against the ground a hundred times in a day, yet he will be at his Ergo's
as resolute and sturdy as before. You would say he had had some new soul
and vigour of understanding infused into him since, and that it happened
to him, as to that ancient son of the earth, who took fresh courage and
vigour by his fall;

"Cui cum tetigere parentem,
jam defecta vigent renovata robore membra:"

["Whose broken limbs, when they touched his mother earth,
immediately new force acquired."--Lucan, iv. 599.]

does not this incorrigible coxcomb think that he assumes a new
understanding by undertaking a new dispute? 'Tis by my own experience
that I accuse human ignorance, which is, in my opinion, the surest part
of the world's school. Such as will not conclude it in themselves, by so
vain an example as mine, or their own, let them believe it from Socrates,
the master of masters; for the philosopher Antisthenes said to his
disciples, "Let us go and hear Socrates; there I will be a pupil with you";
and, maintaining this doctrine of the Stoic sect, "that virtue was
sufficient to make a life completely happy, having no need of any other
thing whatever"; except of the force of Socrates, added he.

That long attention that I employ in considering myself, also fits rile
to judge tolerably enough of others; and there are few things whereof I
speak better and with better excuse. I happen very often more exactly to
see and distinguish the qualities of my friends than they do themselves:
I have astonished some with the pertinence of my description, and have
given them warning of themselves. By having from my infancy been
accustomed to contemplate my own life in those of others, I have acquired
a complexion studious in that particular; and when I am once interit upon
it, I let few things about me, whether countenances, humours,
or discourses, that serve to that purpose, escape me. I study all,
both what I am to avoid and what I am to follow. Also in my friends,
I discover by their productions their inward inclinations; not by
arranging this infinite variety of so diverse and unconnected actions
into certain species and chapters, and distinctly distributing my parcels
and divisions under known heads and classes;

"Sed neque quam multae species, nec nomina quae sint,
Est numerus."

["But neither can we enumerate how many kinds there what are their
names."--Virgil, Georg., ii. 103.]

The wise speak and deliver their fancies more specifically, and piece by
piece; I, who see no further into things than as use informs me, present
mine generally without rule and experimentally: I pronounce my opinion by
disjointed articles, as a thing that cannot be spoken at once and in
gross; relation and conformity are not to be found in such low and common
souls as ours. Wisdom is a solid and entire building, of which every
piece keeps its place and bears its mark:

"Sola sapientia in se tota conversa est."

["Wisdom only is wholly within itself"--Cicero, De Fin., iii. 7.]

I leave it to artists, and I know not whether or no they will be able to
bring it about, in so perplexed, minute, and fortuitous a thing, to
marshal into distinct bodies this infinite diversity of faces, to settle
our inconstancy, and set it in order. I do not only find it hard to
piece our actions to one another, but I moreover find it hard properly to
design each by itself by any principal quality, so ambiguous and variform
they are with diverse lights. That which is remarked for rare in
Perseus, king of Macedon, "that his mind, fixing itself to no one
condition, wandered in all sorts of living, and represented manners so
wild and erratic that it was neither known to himself or any other what
kind of man he was," seems almost to fit all the world; and, especially,
I have seen another of his make, to whom I think this conclusion might
more properly be applied; no moderate settledness, still running headlong
from one extreme to another, upon occasions not to be guessed at; no line
of path without traverse and wonderful contrariety: no one quality simple
and unmixed; so that the best guess men can one day make will be, that he
affected and studied to make himself known by being not to be known. A
man had need have sound ears to hear himself frankly criticised; and as
there are few who can endure to hear it without being nettled, those who
hazard the undertaking it to us manifest a singular effect of friendship;
for 'tis to love sincerely indeed, to venture to wound and offend us, for
our own good. I think it harsh to judge a man whose ill qualities are
more than his good ones: Plato requires three things in him who will
examine the soul of another: knowledge, benevolence, boldness.

I was sometimes asked, what I should have thought myself fit for, had any
one designed to make use of me, while I was of suitable years:

"Dum melior vires sanguis dabat, aemula necdum
Temporibus geminis canebat sparsa senectus:"

["Whilst better blood gave me vigour, and before envious old age
whitened and thinned my temples."--AEneid, V. 415.]

"for nothing," said I; and I willingly excuse myself from knowing
anything which enslaves me to others. But I had told the truth to my
master,--[Was this Henri VI.? D.W.]--and had regulated his manners, if
he had so pleased, not in gross, by scholastic lessons, which I
understand not, and from which I see no true reformation spring in those
that do; but by observing them by leisure, at all opportunities, and
simply and naturally judging them as an eye-witness, distinctly one by
one; giving him to understand upon what terms he was in the common
opinion, in opposition to his flatterers. There is none of us who would
not be worse than kings, if so continually corrupted as they are with
that sort of canaille. How, if Alexander, that great king and
philosopher, cannot defend himself from them!

I should have had fidelity, judgment, and freedom enough for that
purpose. It would be a nameless office, otherwise it would lose its
grace and its effect; and 'tis a part that is not indifferently fit for
all men; for truth itself has not the privilege to be spoken at all times
and indiscriminately; its use, noble as it is, has its circumspections
and limits. It often falls out, as the world goes, that a man lets it
slip into the ear of a prince, not only to no purpose, but moreover
injuriously and unjustly; and no man shall make me believe that a
virtuous remonstrance may not be viciously applied, and that the interest
of the substance is not often to give way to that of the form.

For such a purpose, I would have a man who is content with his own

"Quod sit, esse velit, nihilque malit,"

["Who is pleased with what he is and desires nothing further."
--Martial, x. ii, 18.]

and of moderate station; forasmuch as, on the one hand, he would not be
afraid to touch his master's heart to the quick, for fear by that means
of losing his preferment: and, on the other hand, being of no high
quality, he would have more easy communication with all sorts of people.
I would have this office limited to only one person; for to allow the
privilege of his liberty and privacy to many, would beget an inconvenient
irreverence; and of that one, I would above all things require the
fidelity of silence.

A king is not to be believed when he brags of his constancy in standing
the shock of the enemy for his glory, if for his profit and amendment he
cannot stand the liberty of a friend's advice, which has no other power
but to pinch his ear, the remainder of its effect being still in his own
hands. Now, there is no condition of men whatever who stand in so great
need of true and free advice and warning, as they do: they sustain a
public life, and have to satisfy the opinion of so many spectators, that,
as those about them conceal from them whatever should divert them from
their own way, they insensibly find themselves involved in the hatred and
detestation of their people, often upon occasions which they might have
avoided without any prejudice even of their pleasures themselves, had
they been advised and set right in time. Their favourites commonly have
more regard to themselves than to their master; and indeed it answers
with them, forasmuch as, in truth, most offices of real friendship, when
applied to the sovereign, are under a rude and dangerous hazard, so that
therein there is great need, not only of very great affection and
freedom, but of courage too.

In fine, all this hodge-podge which I scribble here, is nothing but a
register of the essays of my own life, which, for the internal soundness,
is exemplary enough to take instruction against the grain; but as to
bodily health, no man can furnish out more profitable experience than I,
who present it pure, and no way corrupted and changed by art or opinion.
Experience is properly upon its own dunghill in the subject of physic,
where reason wholly gives it place: Tiberius said that whoever had lived
twenty years ought to be responsible to himself for all things that were
hurtful or wholesome to him, and know how to order himself without

[All that Suetonius says in his Life of Tiberius is that this
emperor, after he was thirty years old, governed his health without
the aid of physicians; and what Plutarch tells us, in his essay on
the Rules and Precepts of Health, is that Tiberius said that the man
who, having attained sixty years, held out his pulse to a physician
was a fool.]

and he might have learned it of Socrates, who, advising his disciples to
be solicitous of their health as a chief study, added that it was hard if
a man of sense, having a care to his exercise and diet, did not better
know than any physician what was good or ill for him. And physic itself
professes always to have experience for the test of its operations: so
Plato had reason to say that, to be a right physician, it would be
necessary that he who would become such, should first himself have passed
through all the diseases he pretends to cure, and through all the
accidents and circumstances whereof he is to judge. 'Tis but reason they
should get the pox, if they will know how to cure it; for my part,
I should put myself into such hands; the others but guide us, like him
who paints seas and rocks and ports sitting at table, and there makes the
model of a ship sailing in all security; but put him to the work itself,
he knows not at which end to begin. They make such a description of our
maladies as a town crier does of a lost horse or dog--such a color, such
a height, such an ear--but bring it to him and he knows it not, for all
that. If physic should one day give me some good and visible relief,
then truly I will cry out in good earnest:

"Tandem effcaci do manus scientiae."

["Show me and efficacious science, and I will take it by the hand."
--Horace, xvii. I.]

The arts that promise to keep our bodies and souls in health promise a
great deal; but, withal, there are none that less keep their promise.
And, in our time, those who make profession of these arts amongst us,
less manifest the effects than any other sort of men; one may say of
them, at the most, that they sell medicinal drugs; but that they are
physicians, a man cannot say.

[The edition of 1588 adds: "Judging by themselves, and those
who are ruled by them."]

I have lived long enough to be able to give an account of the custom that
has carried me so far; for him who has a mind to try it, as his taster,
I have made the experiment. Here are some of the articles, as my memory
shall supply me with them; I have no custom that has not varied according
to circumstances; but I only record those that I have been best
acquainted with, and that hitherto have had the greatest possession of

My form of life is the same in sickness as in health; the same bed, the
same hours, the same meat, and even the same drink, serve me in both
conditions alike; I add nothing to them but the moderation of more or
less, according to my strength and appetite. My health is to maintain my
wonted state without disturbance. I see that sickness puts me off it on
one side, and if I will be ruled by the physicians, they will put me off
on the other; so that by fortune and by art I am out of my way.
I believe nothing more certainly than this, that I cannot be hurt by the
use of things to which I have been so long accustomed. 'Tis for custom
to give a form to a man's life, such as it pleases him; she is all in all
in that: 'tis the potion of Circe, that varies our nature as she best
pleases. How many nations, and but three steps from us, think the fear
of the night-dew, that so manifestly is hurtful to us, a ridiculous
fancy; and our own watermen and peasants laugh at it. You make a German
sick if you lay him upon a mattress, as you do an Italian if you lay him
on a feather-bed, and a Frenchman, if without curtains or fire. A Spanish
stomach cannot hold out to eat as we can, nor ours to drink like the
Swiss. A German made me very merry at Augsburg, by finding fault with
our hearths, by the same arguments which we commonly make use of in
decrying their stoves: for, to say the truth, the smothered heat, and
then the smell of that heated matter of which the fire is composed, very
much offend such as are not used to them; not me; and, indeed, the heat
being always equal, constant, and universal, without flame, without
smoke, and without the wind that comes down our chimneys, they may many
ways sustain comparison with ours. Why do we not imitate the Roman
architecture? for they say that anciently fires were not made in the
houses, but on the outside, and at the foot of them, whence the heat was
conveyed to the whole fabric by pipes contrived in the wall, which were
drawn twining about the rooms that were to be warmed: which I have seen
plainly described somewhere in Seneca. This German hearing me commend
the conveniences and beauties of his city, which truly deserves it, began
to compassionate me that I had to leave it; and the first inconvenience
he alleged to me was, the heaviness of head that the chimneys elsewhere
would bring upon me. He had heard some one make this complaint, and
fixed it upon us, being by custom deprived of the means of perceiving it
at home. All heat that comes from the fire weakens and dulls me. Evenus
said that fire was the best condiment of life: I rather choose any other
way of making myself warm.

We are afraid to drink our wines, when toward the bottom of the cask; in
Portugal those fumes are reputed delicious, and it is the beverage of
princes. In short, every nation has many customs and usages that are not
only unknown to other nations, but savage and miraculous in their sight.
What should we do with those people who admit of no evidence that is not
in print, who believe not men if they are not in a book, nor truth if it
be not of competent age? we dignify our fopperies when we commit them to
the press: 'tis of a great deal more weight to say, "I have read such a
thing," than if you only say, "I have heard such a thing." But I, who no
more disbelieve a man's mouth than his pen, and who know that men write
as indiscreetly as they speak, and who look upon this age as one that is
past, as soon quote a friend as Aulus Gelliusor Macrobius; and what I
have seen, as what they have written. And, as 'tis held of virtue, that
it is not greater for having continued longer, so do I hold of truth,
that for being older it is none the wiser. I often say, that it is mere
folly that makes us run after foreign and scholastic examples; their
fertility is the same now that it was in the time of Homer and Plato.
But is it not that we seek more honour from the quotation, than from the
truth of the matter in hand? As if it were more to the purpose to borrow
our proofs from the shops of Vascosan or Plantin, than from what is to be
seen in our own village; or else, indeed, that we have not the wit to
cull out and make useful what we see before us, and to judge of it
clearly enough to draw it into example: for if we say that we want
authority to give faith to our testimony, we speak from the purpose;
forasmuch as, in my opinion, of the most ordinary, common, and known
things, could we but find out their light, the greatest miracles of
nature might be formed, and the most wonderful examples, especially upon
the subject of human actions.

Now, upon this subject, setting aside the examples I have gathered from
books, and what Aristotle says of Andron the Argian, that he travelled
over the arid sands of Lybia without drinking: a gentleman, who has very
well behaved himself in several employments, said, in a place where I
was, that he had ridden from Madrid to Lisbon, in the heat of summer,
without any drink at all. He is very healthful and vigorous for his age,
and has nothing extraordinary in the use of his life, but this, to live
sometimes two or three months, nay, a whole year, as he has told me,
without drinking. He is sometimes thirsty, but he lets it pass over,
and he holds that it is an appetite which easily goes off of itself;
and he drinks more out of caprice than either for need or pleasure.

Here is another example: 'tis not long ago that I found one of the
learnedest men in France, among those of not inconsiderable fortune,
studying in a corner of a hall that they had separated for him with
tapestry, and about him a rabble of his servants full of licence. He
told me, and Seneca almost says the same of himself, he made an
advantage of this hubbub; that, beaten with this noise, he so much
the more collected and retired himself into himself for contemplation,
and that this tempest of voices drove back his thoughts within himself.
Being a student at Padua, he had his study so long situated amid the
rattle of coaches and the tumult of the square, that he not only formed
himself to the contempt, but even to the use of noise, for the service of
his studies. Socrates answered Alcibiades, who was astonished how he
could endure the perpetual scolding of his wife, "Why," said he, "as
those do who are accustomed to the ordinary noise of wheels drawing
water." I am quite otherwise; I have a tender head and easily
discomposed; when 'tis bent upon anything, the least buzzing of a fly
murders it.

Seneca in his youth having warmly espoused the example of Sextius, of
eating nothing that had died, for a whole year dispensed with such food,
and, as he said, with pleasure, and discontinued it that he might not be
suspected of taking up this rule from some new religion by which it was
prescribed: he adopted, in like manner, from the precepts of Attalus a
custom not to lie upon any sort of bedding that gave way under his
weight, and, even to his old age, made use of such as would not yield to
any pressure. What the usage of his time made him account roughness,
that of ours makes us look upon as effeminacy.

Do but observe the difference betwixt the way of living of my labourers
and my own; the Scythians and Indians have nothing more remote both from
my capacity and my form. I have picked up charity boys to serve me: who
soon after have quitted both my kitchen and livery, only that they might
return to their former course of life; and I found one afterwards,
picking mussels out of the sewer for his dinner, whom I could neither by
entreaties nor threats reclaim from the sweetness he found in indigence.
Beggars have their magnificences and delights, as well as the rich, and,
'tis said, their dignities and polities. These are the effects of
custom; she can mould us, not only into what form she pleases (the sages
say we ought to apply ourselves to the best, which she will soon make
easy to us), but also to change and variation, which is the most noble
and most useful instruction of all she teaches us. The best of my bodily
conditions is that I am flexible and not very obstinate: I have
inclinations more my own and ordinary, and more agreeable than others;
but I am diverted from them with very little ado, and easily slip into a
contrary course. A young man ought to cross his own rules, to awaken his
vigour and to keep it from growing faint and rusty; and there is no
course of life so weak and sottish as that which is carried on by rule
and discipline;

"Ad primum lapidem vectari quum placet, hora
Sumitur ex libro; si prurit frictus ocelli
Angulus, inspecta genesi, collyria quaerit;"

["When he is pleased to have himself carried to the first milestone,
the hour is chosen from the almanac; if he but rub the corner of his
eye, his horoscope having been examined, he seeks the aid of
salves."---Juvenal, vi. 576.]

he shall often throw himself even into excesses, if he will take my
advice; otherwise the least debauch will destroy him, and render him
troublesome and disagreeable in company. The worst quality in a well-
bred man is over-fastidiousness, and an obligation to a certain
particular way; and it is particular, if not pliable and supple. It is a
kind of reproach, not to be able, or not to dare, to do what we see those
about us do; let such as these stop at home. It is in every man
unbecoming, but in a soldier vicious and intolerable: who, as Philopcemen
said, ought to accustom himself to every variety and inequality of life.

Though I have been brought up, as much as was possible, to liberty and
independence, yet so it is that, growing old, and having by indifference
more settled upon certain forms (my age is now past instruction, and has
henceforward nothing to do but to keep itself up as well as it can),
custom has already, ere I was aware, so imprinted its character in me in
certain things, that I look upon it as a kind of excess to leave them
off; and, without a force upon myself, cannot sleep in the daytime, nor
eat between meals, nor breakfast, nor go to bed, without a great interval
betwixt eating and sleeping,--[Gastroesophogeal Reflux. D.W.]--as of
three hours after supper; nor get children but before I sleep, nor get
them standing; nor endure my own sweat; nor quench my thirst either with
pure water or pure wine; nor keep my head long bare, nor cut my hair
after dinner; and I should be as uneasy without my gloves as without my
shirt, or without washing when I rise from table or out of my bed; and I
could not lie without a canopy and curtains, as if they were essential
things. I could dine without a tablecloth, but without a clean napkin,
after the German fashion, very incommodiously; I foul them more than the
Germans or Italians do, and make but little use either of spoon or fork.
I complain that they did not keep up the fashion, begun after the example
of kings, to change our napkin at every service, as they do our plate.
We are told of that laborious soldier Marius that, growing old, he became
nice in his drink, and never drank but out of a particular cup of his own
I, in like manner, have suffered myself to fancy a certain form of
glasses, and not willingly to drink in common glasses, no more than from
a strange common hand: all metal offends me in comparison of a clear and
transparent matter: let my eyes taste, too, according to their capacity.
I owe several other such niceties to custom. Nature has also, on the
other side, helped me to some of hers: as not to be able to endure more
than two full meals in one day, without overcharging my stomach, nor a
total abstinence from one of those meals without filling myself with
wind, drying up my mouth, and dulling my appetite; the finding great
inconvenience from overmuch evening air; for of late years, in night
marches, which often happen to be all night long, after five or six hours
my stomach begins to be queasy, with a violent pain in my head, so that I
always vomit before the day can break. When the others go to breakfast,
I go to sleep; and when I rise, I am as brisk and gay as before. I had
always been told that the night dew never rises but in the beginning of
the night; but for some years past, long and familiar intercourse with
a lord, possessed with the opinion that the night dew is more sharp and
dangerous about the declining of the sun, an hour or two before it sets,
which he carefully avoids, and despises that of the night, he almost
impressed upon me, not so much his reasoning as his experiences. What,
shall mere doubt and inquiry strike our imagination, so as to change us?
Such as absolutely and on a sudden give way to these propensions, draw
total destruction upon themselves. I am sorry for several gentlemen who,
through the folly of their physicians, have in their youth and health
wholly shut themselves up: it were better to endure a cough, than, by
disuse, for ever to lose the commerce of common life in things of so
great utility. Malignant science, to interdict us the most pleasant
hours of the day! Let us keep our possession to the last; for the most
part, a man hardens himself by being obstinate, and corrects his
constitution, as Caesar did the falling sickness, by dint of contempt.
A man should addict himself to the best rules, but not enslave himself to
them, except to such, if there be any such, where obligation and
servitude are of profit.

Both kings and philosophers go to stool, and ladies too; public lives are
bound to ceremony; mine, that is obscure and private, enjoys all natural
dispensation; soldier and Gascon are also qualities a little subject to
indiscretion; wherefore I shall say of this act of relieving nature, that
it is desirable to refer it to certain prescribed and nocturnal hours,
and compel one's self to this by custom, as I have done; but not to
subject one's self, as I have done in my declining years, to a particular
convenience of place and seat for that purpose, and make it troublesome
by long sitting; and yet, in the fouler offices, is it not in some
measure excusable to require more care and cleanliness?

"Naturt homo mundum et elegans animal est."

["Man is by nature a clean and delicate creature."--Seneca, Ep., 92.]

Of all the actions of nature, I am the most impatient of being
interrupted in that. I have seen many soldiers troubled with the
unruliness of their bellies; whereas mine and I never fail of our
punctual assignation, which is at leaping out of bed, if some
indispensable business or sickness does not molest us.

I think then, as I said before, that sick men cannot better place
themselves anywhere in more safety, than in sitting still in that course
of life wherein they have been bred and trained up; change, be it what it
will, distempers and puts one out. Do you believe that chestnuts can
hurt a Perigordin or a Lucchese, or milk and cheese the mountain people?
We enjoin them not only a new, but a contrary, method of life; a change
that the healthful cannot endure. Prescribe water to a Breton of
threescore and ten; shut a seaman up in a stove; forbid a Basque footman
to walk: you will deprive them of motion, and in the end of air and

"An vivere tanti est?
Cogimur a suetis animum suspendere rebus,
Atque, ut vivamus, vivere desinimus. .
Hos superesse reor, quibus et spirabilis aer
Et lux, qua regimur, redditur ipsa gravis."

["Is life worth so much? We are compelled to withhold the mind
from things to which we are accustomed; and, that we may live, we
cease to live . . . . Do I conceive that they still live, to
whom the respirable air, and the light itself, by which we are
governed, is rendered oppressive?"
--Pseudo-Gallus, Eclog., i. 155, 247.]

If they do no other good, they do this at least, that they prepare
patients betimes for death, by little and little undermining and cutting
off the use of life.

Both well and sick, I have ever willingly suffered myself to obey the
appetites that pressed upon me. I give great rein to my desires and
propensities; I do not love to cure one disease by another; I hate
remedies that are more troublesome than the disease itself. To be
subject to the colic and subject to abstain from eating oysters are two
evils instead of one; the disease torments us on the one side, and the
remedy on the other. Since we are ever in danger of mistaking, let us
rather run the hazard of a mistake, after we have had the pleasure. The
world proceeds quite the other way, and thinks nothing profitable that is
not painful; it has great suspicion of facility. My appetite, in various
things, has of its own accord happily enough accommodated itself to the
health of my stomach. Relish and pungency in sauces were pleasant to me
when young; my stomach disliking them since, my taste incontinently
followed. Wine is hurtful to sick people, and 'tis the first thing that
my mouth then finds distasteful, and with an invincible dislike.
Whatever I take against my liking does me harm; and nothing hurts me that
I eat with appetite and delight. I never received harm by any action
that was very pleasant to me; and accordingly have made all medicinal
conclusions largely give way to my pleasure; and I have, when I was

"Quem circumcursans huc atque huc saepe Cupido
Fulgebat crocink splendidus in tunic."

["When Cupid, fluttering round me here and there, shone in his rich
purple mantle."--Catullus, lxvi. 133.]

given myself the rein as licentiously and inconsiderately to the desire
that was predominant in me, as any other whomsoever:

"Et militavi non sine gloria;"

["And I have played the soldier not ingloriously."
--Horace, Od., iii. 26, 2.]

yet more in continuation and holding out, than in sally:

"Sex me vix memini sustinuisse vices."

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