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The Essays of Montaigne, Complete by Michel de Montaigne

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"Neque, ut omnia, qux praescripta et imperata sint,
defendat, necessitate ulla cogitur."

["Neither is their any necessity upon him, that he should defend
all things that are prescribed and enjoined him."
--Cicero, Acad., ii. 3.]

If his governor be of my humour, he will form his will to be a very good
and loyal subject to his prince, very affectionate to his person, and
very stout in his quarrel; but withal he will cool in him the desire of
having any other tie to his service than public duty. Besides several
other inconveniences that are inconsistent with the liberty every honest
man ought to have, a man's judgment, being bribed and prepossessed by
these particular obligations, is either blinded and less free to exercise
its function, or is blemished with ingratitude and indiscretion. A man
that is purely a courtier, can neither have power nor will to speak or
think otherwise than favourably and well of a master, who, amongst so
many millions of other subjects, has picked out him with his own hand to
nourish and advance; this favour, and the profit flowing from it, must
needs, and not without some show of reason, corrupt his freedom and
dazzle him; and we commonly see these people speak in another kind of
phrase than is ordinarily spoken by others of the same nation, though
what they say in that courtly language is not much to be believed.

Let his conscience and virtue be eminently manifest in his speaking, and
have only reason for their guide. Make him understand, that to
acknowledge the error he shall discover in his own argument, though only
found out by himself, is an effect of judgment and sincerity, which are
the principal things he is to seek after; that obstinacy and contention
are common qualities, most appearing in mean souls; that to revise and
correct himself, to forsake an unjust argument in the height and heat of
dispute, are rare, great, and philosophical qualities.

Let him be advised, being in company, to have his eye and ear in every
corner; for I find that the places of greatest honour are commonly seized
upon by men that have least in them, and that the greatest fortunes are
seldom accompanied with the ablest parts. I have been present when,
whilst they at the upper end of the chamber have been only commenting the
beauty of the arras, or the flavour of the wine, many things that have
been very finely said at the lower end of the table have been lost and
thrown away. Let him examine every man's talent; a peasant, a
bricklayer, a passenger: one may learn something from every one of these
in their several capacities, and something will be picked out of their
discourse whereof some use may be made at one time or another; nay, even
the folly and impertinence of others will contribute to his instruction.
By observing the graces and manners of all he sees, he will create to
himself an emulation of the good, and a contempt of the bad.

Let an honest curiosity be suggested to his fancy of being inquisitive
after everything; whatever there is singular and rare near the place
where he is, let him go and see it; a fine house, a noble fountain, an
eminent man, the place where a battle has been anciently fought, the
passages of Caesar and Charlemagne:

"Qux tellus sit lenta gelu, quae putris ab aestu,
Ventus in Italiam quis bene vela ferat."

["What country is bound in frost, what land is friable with heat,
what wind serves fairest for Italy."--Propertius, iv. 3, 39.]

Let him inquire into the manners, revenues, and alliances of princes,
things in themselves very pleasant to learn, and very useful to know.

In this conversing with men, I mean also, and principally, those who only
live in the records of history; he shall, by reading those books,
converse with the great and heroic souls of the best ages. 'Tis an idle
and vain study to those who make it so by doing it after a negligent
manner, but to those who do it with care and observation, 'tis a study of
inestimable fruit and value; and the only study, as Plato reports, that
the Lacedaemonians reserved to themselves. What profit shall he not reap
as to the business of men, by reading the Lives of Plutarch? But,
withal, let my governor remember to what end his instructions are
principally directed, and that he do not so much imprint in his pupil's
memory the date of the ruin of Carthage, as the manners of Hannibal and
Scipio; nor so much where Marcellus died, as why it was unworthy of his
duty that he died there. Let him not teach him so much the narrative
parts of history as to judge them; the reading of them, in my opinion,
is a thing that of all others we apply ourselves unto with the most
differing measure. I have read a hundred things in Livy that another has
not, or not taken notice of at least; and Plutarch has read a hundred
more there than ever I could find, or than, peradventure, that author
ever wrote; to some it is merely a grammar study, to others the very
anatomy of philosophy, by which the most abstruse parts of our human
nature penetrate. There are in Plutarch many long discourses very worthy
to be carefully read and observed, for he is, in my opinion, of all
others the greatest master in that kind of writing; but there are a
thousand others which he has only touched and glanced upon, where he only
points with his finger to direct us which way we may go if we will, and
contents himself sometimes with giving only one brisk hit in the nicest
article of the question, whence we are to grope out the rest. As, for
example, where he says'--[In the Essay on False Shame.]--that the
inhabitants of Asia came to be vassals to one only, for not having been
able to pronounce one syllable, which is No. Which saying of his gave
perhaps matter and occasion to La Boetie to write his "Voluntary
Servitude." Only to see him pick out a light action in a man's life, or
a mere word that does not seem to amount even to that, is itself a whole
discourse. 'Tis to our prejudice that men of understanding should so
immoderately affect brevity; no doubt their reputation is the better by
it, but in the meantime we are the worse. Plutarch had rather we should
applaud his judgment than commend his knowledge, and had rather leave us
with an appetite to read more, than glutted with that we have already
read. He knew very well, that a man may say too much even upon the best
subjects, and that Alexandridas justly reproached him who made very good.
but too long speeches to the Ephori, when he said: "O stranger! thou
speakest the things thou shouldst speak, but not as thou shouldst speak
them."--[Plutarch, Apothegms of the Lacedamonians.]--Such as have lean
and spare bodies stuff themselves out with clothes; so they who are
defective in matter endeavour to make amends with words.

Human understanding is marvellously enlightened by daily conversation
with men, for we are, otherwise, compressed and heaped up in ourselves,
and have our sight limited to the length of our own noses. One asking
Socrates of what country he was, he did not make answer, of Athens, but
of the world;--[Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., v. 37; Plutarch, On Exile, c. 4.]--
he whose imagination was fuller and wider, embraced the whole world for
his country, and extended his society and friendship to all mankind;
not as we do, who look no further than our feet. When the vines of my
village are nipped with the frost, my parish priest presently concludes,
that the indignation of God has gone out against all the human race, and
that the cannibals have already got the pip. Who is it that, seeing the
havoc of these civil wars of ours, does not cry out, that the machine of
the world is near dissolution, and that the day of judgment is at hand;
without considering, that many worse things have been seen, and that in
the meantime, people are very merry in a thousand other parts of the
earth for all this? For my part, considering the licence and impunity
that always attend such commotions, I wonder they are so moderate, and
that there is no more mischief done. To him who feels the hailstones
patter about his ears, the whole hemisphere appears to be in storm and
tempest; like the ridiculous Savoyard, who said very gravely, that if
that simple king of France could have managed his fortune as he should
have done, he might in time have come to have been steward of the
household to the duke his master: the fellow could not, in his shallow
imagination, conceive that there could be anything greater than a Duke of
Savoy. And, in truth, we are all of us, insensibly, in this error, an
error of a very great weight and very pernicious consequence. But
whoever shall represent to his fancy, as in a picture, that great image
of our mother nature, in her full majesty and lustre, whoever in her face
shall read so general and so constant a variety, whoever shall observe
himself in that figure, and not himself but a whole kingdom, no bigger
than the least touch or prick of a pencil in comparison of the whole,
that man alone is able to value things according to their true estimate
and grandeur.

This great world which some do yet multiply as several species under one
genus, is the mirror wherein we are to behold ourselves, to be able to
know ourselves as we ought to do in the true bias. In short, I would
have this to be the book my young gentleman should study with the most
attention. So many humours, so many sects, so many judgments, opinions,
laws, and customs, teach us to judge aright of our own, and inform our
understanding to discover its imperfection and natural infirmity, which
is no trivial speculation. So many mutations of states and kingdoms, and
so many turns and revolutions of public fortune, will make us wise enough
to make no great wonder of our own. So many great names, so many famous
victories and conquests drowned and swallowed in oblivion, render our
hopes ridiculous of eternising our names by the taking of half-a-score of
light horse, or a henroost, which only derives its memory from its ruin.
The pride and arrogance of so many foreign pomps, the inflated majesty of
so many courts and grandeurs, accustom and fortify our sight without
closing our eyes to behold the lustre of our own; so many trillions of
men, buried before us, encourage us not to fear to go seek such good
company in the other world: and so of the rest Pythagoras was want to
say,--[Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., v. 3.]--that our life resembles the great
and populous assembly of the Olympic games, wherein some exercise the
body, that they may carry away the glory of the prize: others bring
merchandise to sell for profit: there are also some (and those none of
the worst sort) who pursue no other advantage than only to look on, and
consider how and why everything is done, and to be spectators of the
lives of other men, thereby the better to judge of and regulate their

To examples may fitly be applied all the profitable discourses of
philosophy, to which all human actions, as to their best rule, ought to
be especially directed: a scholar shall be taught to know--

"Quid fas optare: quid asper
Utile nummus habet: patrix carisque propinquis
Quantum elargiri deceat: quern te Deus esse
Jussit, et humana qua parte locatus es in re;
Quid sumus, et quidnam victuri gignimur."

["Learn what it is right to wish; what is the true use of coined
money; how much it becomes us to give in liberality to our country
and our dear relations; whom and what the Deity commanded thee to
be; and in what part of the human system thou art placed; what we
are ant to what purpose engendered."--Persius, iii. 69]

what it is to know, and what to be ignorant; what ought to be the end and
design of study; what valour, temperance, and justice are; the difference
betwixt ambition and avarice, servitude and subjection, licence and
liberty; by what token a man may know true and solid contentment; how far
death, affliction, and disgrace are to be apprehended;

"Et quo quemque modo fugiatque feratque laborem."

["And how you may shun or sustain every hardship."
--Virgil, AEneid, iii. 459.]

by what secret springs we move, and the reason of our various agitations
and irresolutions: for, methinks the first doctrine with which one should
season his understanding, ought to be that which regulates his manners
and his sense; that teaches him to know himself, and how both well to dig
and well to live. Amongst the liberal sciences, let us begin with that
which makes us free; not that they do not all serve in some measure to
the instruction and use of life, as all other things in some sort also
do; but let us make choice of that which directly and professedly serves
to that end. If we are once able to restrain the offices of human life
within their just and natural limits, we shall find that most of the
sciences in use are of no great use to us, and even in those that are,
that there are many very unnecessary cavities and dilatations which we
had better let alone, and, following Socrates' direction, limit the
course of our studies to those things only where is a true and real

"Sapere aude;
Incipe; Qui recte vivendi prorogat horam,
Rusticus exspectat, dum defluat amnis; at ille
Labitur, et labetur in omne volubilis oevum."

["Dare to be wise; begin! he who defers the hour of living well is
like the clown, waiting till the river shall have flowed out: but
the river still flows, and will run on, with constant course, to
ages without end."--Horace, Ep., i. 2.]

'Tis a great foolery to teach our children:

"Quid moveant Pisces, animosaque signa Leonis,
Lotus et Hesperia quid Capricornus aqua,"

["What influence Pisces have, or the sign of angry Leo, or
Capricorn, washed by the Hesperian wave."--Propertius, iv. I, 89.]

the knowledge of the stars and the motion of the eighth sphere before
their own:

["What care I about the Pleiades or the stars of Taurus?"
--Anacreon, Ode, xvii. 10.]

Anaximenes writing to Pythagoras, "To what purpose," said he, "should I
trouble myself in searching out the secrets of the stars, having death or
slavery continually before my eyes?" for the kings of Persia were at that
time preparing to invade his country. Every one ought to say thus,
"Being assaulted, as I am by ambition, avarice, temerity, superstition,
and having within so many other enemies of life, shall I go ponder over
the world's changes?"

After having taught him what will make him more wise and good, you may
then entertain him with the elements of logic, physics, geometry,
rhetoric, and the science which he shall then himself most incline to,
his judgment being beforehand formed and fit to choose, he will quickly
make his own. The way of instructing him ought to be sometimes by
discourse, and sometimes by reading; sometimes his governor shall put the
author himself, which he shall think most proper for him, into his hands,
and sometimes only the marrow and substance of it; and if himself be not
conversant enough in books to turn to all the fine discourses the books
contain for his purpose, there may some man of learning be joined to him,
that upon every occasion shall supply him with what he stands in need of,
to furnish it to his pupil. And who can doubt but that this way of
teaching is much more easy and natural than that of Gaza,--[Theodore
Gaza, rector of the Academy of Ferrara.]--in which the precepts are so
intricate, and so harsh, and the words so vain, lean; and insignificant,
that there is no hold to be taken of them, nothing that quickens and
elevates the wit and fancy, whereas here the mind has what to feed upon
and to digest. This fruit, therefore, is not only without comparison,
much more fair and beautiful; but will also be much more early ripe.

'Tis a thousand pities that matters should be at such a pass in this age
of ours, that philosophy, even with men of understanding, should be,
looked upon as a vain and fantastic name, a thing of no use, no value,
either in opinion or effect, of which I think those ergotisms and petty
sophistries, by prepossessing the avenues to it, are the cause. And
people are much to blame to represent it to children for a thing of so
difficult access, and with such a frowning, grim, and formidable aspect.
Who is it that has disguised it thus, with this false, pale, and ghostly
countenance? There is nothing more airy, more gay, more frolic, and I
had like to have said, more wanton. She preaches nothing but feasting
and jollity; a melancholic anxious look shows that she does not inhabit
there. Demetrius the grammarian finding in the temple of Delphos a knot
of philosophers set chatting together, said to them,--[Plutarch, Treatise
on Oracles which have ceased]--"Either I am much deceived, or by your
cheerful and pleasant countenances, you are engaged in no, very deep
discourse." To which one of them, Heracleon the Megarean, replied:
"Tis for such as are puzzled about inquiring whether the future tense of
the verb------is spelt with a double A, or that hunt after the
derivation of the comparatives-----and-----, and the superlatives----
and------, to knit their brows whilst discoursing of their science: but
as to philosophical discourses, they always divert and cheer up those
that entertain them, and never deject them or make them sad."

"Deprendas animi tormenta latentis in aegro
Corpore; deprendas et gaudia; sumit utrumque
Inde habitum facies."

["You may discern the torments of mind lurking in a sick body; you
may discern its joys: either expression the face assumes from the
mind."--Juvenal, ix. 18]

The soul that lodges philosophy, ought to be of such a constitution of
health, as to render the body in like manner healthful too; she ought to
make her tranquillity and satisfaction shine so as to appear without, and
her contentment ought to fashion the outward behaviour to her own mould,
and consequently to fortify it with a graceful confidence, an active and
joyous carriage, and a serene and contented countenance. The most
manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness; her state is like
that of things in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene.
'Tis Baroco and Baralipton--[Two terms of the ancient scholastic
logic.]--that render their disciples so dirty and ill-favoured, and not
she; they do not so much as know her but by hearsay. What! It is she
that calms and appeases the storms and tempests of the soul, and who
teaches famine and fevers to laugh and sing; and that, not by certain
imaginary epicycles, but by natural and manifest reasons. She has virtue
for her end, which is not, as the schoolmen say, situate upon the summit
of a perpendicular, rugged, inaccessible precipice: such as have
approached her find her, quite on the contrary, to be seated in a fair,
fruitful, and flourishing plain, whence she easily discovers all things
below; to which place any one may, however, arrive, if he know but the
way, through shady, green, and sweetly-flourishing avenues, by a
pleasant, easy, and smooth descent, like that of the celestial vault.
'Tis for not having frequented this supreme, this beautiful, triumphant,
and amiable, this equally delicious and courageous virtue, this so
professed and implacable enemy to anxiety, sorrow, fear, and constraint,
who, having nature for her guide, has fortune and pleasure for her
companions, that they have gone, according to their own weak imagination,
and created this ridiculous, this sorrowful, querulous, despiteful,
threatening, terrible image of it to themselves and others, and placed it
upon a rock apart, amongst thorns and brambles, and made of it a
hobgoblin to affright people.

But the governor that I would have, that is such a one as knows it to be
his duty to possess his pupil with as much or more affection than
reverence to virtue, will be able to inform him, that the poets have
evermore accommodated themselves to the public humour, and make him
sensible, that the gods have planted more toil and sweat in the avenues
of the cabinets of Venus than in those of Minerva. And when he shall
once find him begin to apprehend, and shall represent to him a Bradamante
or an Angelica--[Heroines of Ariosto.]--for a mistress, a natural,
active, generous, and not a viragoish, but a manly beauty, in comparison
of a soft, delicate, artificial simpering, and affected form; the one in
the habit of a heroic youth, wearing a glittering helmet, the other
tricked up in curls and ribbons like a wanton minx; he will then look
upon his own affection as brave and masculine, when he shall choose quite
contrary to that effeminate shepherd of Phrygia.

Such a tutor will make a pupil digest this new lesson, that the height
and value of true virtue consists in the facility, utility, and pleasure
of its exercise; so far from difficulty, that boys, as well as men, and
the innocent as well as the subtle, may make it their own; it is by
order, and not by force, that it is to be acquired. Socrates, her first
minion, is so averse to all manner of violence, as totally to throw it
aside, to slip into the more natural facility of her own progress; 'tis
the nursing mother of all human pleasures, who in rendering them just,
renders them also pure and permanent; in moderating them, keeps them in
breath and appetite; in interdicting those which she herself refuses,
whets our desire to those that she allows; and, like a kind and liberal
mother, abundantly allows all that nature requires, even to satiety, if
not to lassitude: unless we mean to say that the regimen which stops the
toper before he has drunk himself drunk, the glutton before he has eaten
to a surfeit, and the lecher before he has got the pox, is an enemy to
pleasure. If the ordinary fortune fail, she does without it, and forms
another, wholly her own, not so fickle and unsteady as the other. She
can be rich, be potent and wise, and knows how to lie upon soft perfumed
beds: she loves life, beauty, glory, and health; but her proper and
peculiar office is to know how to regulate the use of all these good
things, and how to lose them without concern: an office much more noble
than troublesome, and without which the whole course of life is
unnatural, turbulent, and deformed, and there it is indeed, that men may
justly represent those monsters upon rocks and precipices.

If this pupil shall happen to be of so contrary a disposition, that he
had rather hear a tale of a tub than the true narrative of some noble
expedition or some wise and learned discourse; who at the beat of drum,
that excites the youthful ardour of his companions, leaves that to follow
another that calls to a morris or the bears; who would not wish, and find
it more delightful and more excellent, to return all dust and sweat
victorious from a battle, than from tennis or from a ball, with the prize
of those exercises; I see no other remedy, but that he be bound prentice
in some good town to learn to make minced pies, though he were the son of
a duke; according to Plato's precept, that children are to be placed out
and disposed of, not according to the wealth, qualities, or condition of
the father, but according to the faculties and the capacity of their own

Since philosophy is that which instructs us to live, and that infancy has
there its lessons as well as other ages, why is it not communicated to
children betimes?

"Udum et molle lutum est; nunc, nunc properandus, et acri
Fingendus sine fine rota."

["The clay is moist and soft: now, now make haste, and form the
pitcher on the rapid wheel."--Persius, iii. 23.]

They begin to teach us to live when we have almost done living.
A hundred students have got the pox before they have come to read
Aristotle's lecture on temperance. Cicero said, that though he should
live two men's ages, he should never find leisure to study the lyric
poets; and I find these sophisters yet more deplorably unprofitable.
The boy we would breed has a great deal less time to spare; he owes but
the first fifteen or sixteen years of his life to education; the
remainder is due to action. Let us, therefore, employ that short time in
necessary instruction. Away with the thorny subtleties of dialectics;
they are abuses, things by which our lives can never be amended: take the
plain philosophical discourses, learn how rightly to choose, and then
rightly to apply them; they are more easy to be understood than one of
Boccaccio's novels; a child from nurse is much more capable of them, than
of learning to read or to write. Philosophy has discourses proper for
childhood, as well as for the decrepit age of men.

I am of Plutarch's mind, that Aristotle did not so much trouble his great
disciple with the knack of forming syllogisms, or with the elements of
geometry; as with infusing into him good precepts concerning valour,
prowess, magnanimity, temperance, and the contempt of fear; and with this
ammunition, sent him, whilst yet a boy, with no more than thirty thousand
foot, four thousand horse, and but forty-two thousand crowns, to
subjugate the empire of the whole earth. For the other acts and
sciences, he says, Alexander highly indeed commended their excellence and
charm, and had them in very great honour and esteem, but not ravished
with them to that degree as to be tempted to affect the practice of them
In his own person:

"Petite hinc, juvenesque senesque,
Finem ammo certum, miserisque viatica canis."

["Young men and old men, derive hence a certain end to the mind,
and stores for miserable grey hairs."--Persius, v. 64.]

Epicurus, in the beginning of his letter to Meniceus,--[Diogenes
Laertius, x. 122.]--says, "That neither the youngest should refuse to
philosophise, nor the oldest grow weary of it." Who does otherwise,
seems tacitly to imply, that either the time of living happily is
not yet come, or that it is already past. And yet, a for all that, I
would not have this pupil of ours imprisoned and made a slave to his
book; nor would I have him given up to the morosity and melancholic
humour of a sour ill-natured pedant.

I would not have his spirit cowed and subdued, by applying him to the
rack, and tormenting him, as some do, fourteen or fifteen hours a day,
and so make a pack-horse of him. Neither should I think it good, when,
by reason of a solitary and melancholic complexion, he is discovered to
be overmuch addicted to his book, to nourish that humour in him; for that
renders him unfit for civil conversation, and diverts him from better
employments. And how many have I seen in my time totally brutified by an
immoderate thirst after knowledge? Carneades was so besotted with it,
that he would not find time so much as to comb his head or to pare his
nails. Neither would I have his generous manners spoiled and corrupted
by the incivility and barbarism of those of another. The French wisdom
was anciently turned into proverb: "Early, but of no continuance." And,
in truth, we yet see, that nothing can be more ingenious and pleasing
than the children of France; but they ordinarily deceive the hope and
expectation that have been conceived of them; and grown up to be men,
have nothing extraordinary or worth taking notice of: I have heard men of
good understanding say, these colleges of ours to which we send our young
people (and of which we have but too many) make them such animals as they
are.--[Hobbes said that if he Had been at college as long as other people
he should have been as great a blockhead as they. W.C.H.] [And Bacon
before Hobbe's time had discussed the "futility" of university teaching.

But to our little monsieur, a closet, a garden, the table, his bed,
solitude, and company, morning and evening, all hours shall be the same,
and all places to him a study; for philosophy, who, as the formatrix of
judgment and manners, shall be his principal lesson, has that privilege
to have a hand in everything. The orator Isocrates, being at a feast
entreated to speak of his art, all the company were satisfied with and
commended his answer: "It is not now a time," said he, "to do what I can
do; and that which it is now time to do, I cannot do."--[Plutarch,
Symp., i. I.]--For to make orations and rhetorical disputes in a company
met together to laugh and make good cheer, had been very unreasonable and
improper, and as much might have been said of all the other sciences.
But as to what concerns philosophy, that part of it at least that treats
of man, and of his offices and duties, it has been the common opinion of
all wise men, that, out of respect to the sweetness of her conversation,
she is ever to be admitted in all sports and entertainments. And Plato,
having invited her to his feast, we see after how gentle and obliging a
manner, accommodated both to time and place, she entertained the company,
though in a discourse of the highest and most important nature:

"Aeque pauperibus prodest, locupletibus aeque;
Et, neglecta, aeque pueris senibusque nocebit."

["It profits poor and rich alike, but, neglected, equally hurts old
and young."--Horace, Ep., i. 25.]

By this method of instruction, my young pupil will be much more and
better employed than his fellows of the college are. But as the steps we
take in walking to and fro in a gallery, though three times as many, do
not tire a man so much as those we employ in a formal journey, so our
lesson, as it were accidentally occurring, without any set obligation of
time or place, and falling naturally into every action, will insensibly
insinuate itself. By which means our very exercises and recreations,
running, wrestling, music, dancing, hunting, riding, and fencing, will
prove to be a good part of our study. I would have his outward fashion
and mien, and the disposition of his limbs, formed at the same time with
his mind. 'Tis not a soul, 'tis not a body that we are training up, but
a man, and we ought not to divide him. And, as Plato says, we are not to
fashion one without the other, but make them draw together like two
horses harnessed to a coach. By which saying of his, does he not seem to
allow more time for, and to take more care of exercises for the body, and
to hold that the mind, in a good proportion, does her business at the
same time too?

As to the rest, this method of education ought to be carried on with a
severe sweetness, quite contrary to the practice of our pedants, who,
instead of tempting and alluring children to letters by apt and gentle
ways, do in truth present nothing before them but rods and ferules,
horror and cruelty. Away with this violence! away with this compulsion!
than which, I certainly believe nothing more dulls and degenerates a
well-descended nature. If you would have him apprehend shame and
chastisement, do not harden him to them: inure him to heat and cold, to
wind and sun, and to dangers that he ought to despise; wean him from all
effeminacy and delicacy in clothes and lodging, eating and drinking;
accustom him to everything, that he may not be a Sir Paris, a carpet-
knight, but a sinewy, hardy, and vigorous young man. I have ever from a
child to the age wherein I now am, been of this opinion, and am still
constant to it. But amongst other things, the strict government of most
of our colleges has evermore displeased me; peradventure, they might have
erred less perniciously on the indulgent side. 'Tis a real house of
correction of imprisoned youth. They are made debauched by being
punished before they are so. Do but come in when they are about their
lesson, and you shall hear nothing but the outcries of boys under
execution, with the thundering noise of their pedagogues drunk with fury.
A very pretty way this, to tempt these tender and timorous souls to love
their book, with a furious countenance, and a rod in hand! A cursed and
pernicious way of proceeding! Besides what Quintilian has very well
observed, that this imperious authority is often attended by very
dangerous consequences, and particularly our way of chastising. How much
more decent would it be to see their classes strewed with green leaves
and fine flowers, than with the bloody stumps of birch and willows? Were
it left to my ordering. I should paint the school with the pictures of
joy and gladness; Flora and the Graces, as the philosopher Speusippus did
his. Where their profit is, let them there have their pleasure too.
Such viands as are proper and wholesome for children, should be sweetened
with sugar, and such as are dangerous to them, embittered with gall.
'Tis marvellous to see how solicitous Plato is in his Laws concerning the
gaiety and diversion of the youth of his city, and how much and often he
enlarges upon the races, sports, songs, leaps, and dances: of which, he
says, that antiquity has given the ordering and patronage particularly to
the gods themselves, to Apollo, Minerva, and the Muses. He insists long
upon, and is very particular in, giving innumerable precepts for
exercises; but as to the lettered sciences, says very little, and only
seems particularly to recommend poetry upon the account of music.

All singularity in our manners and conditions is to be avoided, as
inconsistent with civil society. Who would not be astonished at so
strange a constitution as that of Demophoon, steward to Alexander the
Great, who sweated in the shade and shivered in the sun? I have seen
those who have run from the smell of a mellow apple with greater
precipitation than from a harquebuss-shot; others afraid of a mouse;
others vomit at the sight of cream; others ready to swoon at the making
of a feather bed; Germanicus could neither endure the sight nor the
crowing of a cock. I will not deny, but that there may, peradventure,
be some occult cause and natural aversion in these cases; but, in my
opinion, a man might conquer it, if he took it in time. Precept has in
this wrought so effectually upon me, though not without some pains on my
part, I confess, that beer excepted, my appetite accommodates itself
indifferently to all sorts of diet. Young bodies are supple; one should,
therefore, in that age bend and ply them to all fashions and customs: and
provided a man can contain the appetite and the will within their due
limits, let a young man, in God's name, be rendered fit for all nations
and all companies, even to debauchery and excess, if need be; that is,
where he shall do it out of complacency to the customs of the place.
Let him be able to do everything, but love to do nothing but what is
good. The philosophers themselves do not justify Callisthenes for
forfeiting the favour of his master Alexander the Great, by refusing to
pledge him a cup of wine. Let him laugh, play, wench with his prince:
nay, I would have him, even in his debauches, too hard for the rest of
the company, and to excel his companions in ability and vigour, and that
he may not give over doing it, either through defect of power or
knowledge how to do it, but for want of will.

"Multum interest, utrum peccare ali quis nolit, an nesciat."

["There is a vast difference betwixt forbearing to sin, and not
knowing how to sin."--Seneca, Ep., 90]

I thought I passed a compliment upon a lord, as free from those excesses
as any man in France, by asking him before a great deal of very good
company, how many times in his life he had been drunk in Germany, in the
time of his being there about his Majesty's affairs; which he also took
as it was intended, and made answer, "Three times"; and withal told us
the whole story of his debauches. I know some who, for want of this
faculty, have found a great inconvenience in negotiating with that
nation. I have often with great admiration reflected upon the wonderful
constitution of Alcibiades, who so easily could transform himself to so
various fashions without any prejudice to his health; one while outdoing
the Persian pomp and luxury, and another, the Lacedaemonian austerity and
frugality; as reformed in Sparta, as voluptuous in Ionia:

"Omnis Aristippum decuit color, et status, et res."

["Every complexion of life, and station, and circumstance became
Aristippus."--Horace, Ep., xvii. 23.]

I would have my pupil to be such an one,

"Quem duplici panno patentia velat,
Mirabor, vitae via si conversa decebit,
Personamque feret non inconcinnus utramque."

["I should admire him who with patience bearing a patched garment,
bears well a changed fortune, acting both parts equally well."
--Horace Ep., xvii. 25.]

These are my lessons, and he who puts them in practice shall reap more
advantage than he who has had them read to him only, and so only knows
them. If you see him, you hear him; if you hear him, you see him. God
forbid, says one in Plato, that to philosophise were only to read a great
many books, and to learn the arts.

"Hanc amplissimam omnium artium bene vivendi disciplinam,
vita magis quam literis, persequuti sunt."

["They have proceeded to this discipline of living well, which of
all arts is the greatest, by their lives, rather than by their
reading."--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., iv. 3.]

Leo, prince of the Phliasians, asking Heraclides Ponticus--[It was not
Heraclides of Pontus who made this answer, but Pythagoras.]--of what art
or science he made profession: "I know," said he, "neither art nor
science, but I am a philosopher." One reproaching Diogenes that, being
ignorant, he should pretend to philosophy; "I therefore," answered he,
"pretend to it with so much the more reason." Hegesias entreated that he
would read a certain book to him: "You are pleasant," said he; "you
choose those figs that are true and natural, and not those that are
painted; why do you not also choose exercises which are naturally true,
rather than those written?"

The lad will not so much get his lesson by heart as he will practise it:
he will repeat it in his actions. We shall discover if there be prudence
in his exercises, if there be sincerity and justice in his deportment, if
there be grace and judgment in his speaking; if there be constancy in his
sickness; if there be modesty in his mirth, temperance in his pleasures,
order in his domestic economy, indifference in palate, whether what he
eats or drinks be flesh or fish, wine or water:

"Qui disciplinam suam non ostentationem scientiae, sed legem vitae
putet: quique obtemperet ipse sibi, et decretis pareat."

["Who considers his own discipline, not as a vain ostentation of
science, but as a law and rule of life; and who obeys his own
decrees, and the laws he has prescribed for himself."
--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 4.]

The conduct of our lives is the true mirror of our doctrine. Zeuxidamus,
to one who asked him, why the Lacedaemonians did not commit their
constitutions of chivalry to writing, and deliver them to their young men
to read, made answer, that it was because they would inure them to
action, and not amuse them with words. With such a one, after fifteen or
sixteen years' study, compare one of our college Latinists, who has
thrown away so much time in nothing but learning to speak. The world is
nothing but babble; and I hardly ever yet saw that man who did not rather
prate too much, than speak too little. And yet half of our age is
embezzled this way: we are kept four or five years to learn words only,
and to tack them together into clauses; as many more to form them into a
long discourse, divided into four or five parts; and other five years, at
least, to learn succinctly to mix and interweave them after a subtle and
intricate manner let us leave all this to those who make a profession of

Going one day to Orleans, I met in that plain on this side Clery, two
pedants who were travelling towards Bordeaux, about fifty paces distant
from one another; and, a good way further behind them, I discovered a
troop of horse, with a gentleman at the head of them, who was the late
Monsieur le Comte de la Rochefoucauld. One of my people inquired of the
foremost of these masters of arts, who that gentleman was that came after
him; he, having not seen the train that followed after, and thinking his
companion was meant, pleasantly answered, "He is not a gentleman; he is a
grammarian; and I am a logician." Now we who, quite contrary, do not
here pretend to breed a grammarian or a logician, but a gentleman, let us
leave them to abuse their leisure; our business lies elsewhere. Let but
our pupil be well furnished with things, words will follow but too fast;
he will pull them after him if they do not voluntarily follow. I have
observed some to make excuses, that they cannot express themselves, and
pretend to have their fancies full of a great many very fine things,
which yet, for want of eloquence, they cannot utter; 'tis a mere shift,
and nothing else. Will you know what I think of it? I think they are
nothing but shadows of some imperfect images and conceptions that they
know not what to make of within, nor consequently bring out; they do not
yet themselves understand what they would be at, and if you but observe
how they haggle and stammer upon the point of parturition, you will soon
conclude, that their labour is not to delivery, but about conception, and
that they are but licking their formless embryo. For my part, I hold,
and Socrates commands it, that whoever has in his mind a sprightly and
clear imagination, he will express it well enough in one kind of tongue
or another, and, if he be dumb, by signs--

"Verbaque praevisam rem non invita sequentur;"

["Once a thing is conceived in the mind, the words to express it
soon present themselves." ("The words will not reluctantly follow the
thing preconceived.")--Horace, De Arte Poetica. v. 311]

And as another as poetically says in his prose:

"Quum res animum occupavere, verbs ambiunt,"

["When things are once in the mind, the words offer themselves
readily." ("When things have taken possession of the mind, the
words trip.")--Seneca, Controvers., iii. proem.]

and this other.

"Ipsae res verbs rapiunt."

["The things themselves force the words to express them."
--Cicero, De Finib., iii. 5.]

He knows nothing of ablative, conjunctive, substantive, or grammar, no
more than his lackey, or a fishwife of the Petit Pont; and yet these will
give you a bellyful of talk, if you will hear them, and peradventure
shall trip as little in their language as the best masters of art in
France. He knows no rhetoric, nor how in a preface to bribe the
benevolence of the courteous reader; neither does he care to know it.
Indeed all this fine decoration of painting is easily effaced by the
lustre of a simple and blunt truth; these fine flourishes serve only to
amuse the vulgar, of themselves incapable of more solid and nutritive
diet, as Aper very evidently demonstrates in Tacitus." The ambassadors
of Samos, prepared with a long and elegant oration, came to Cleomenes,
king of Sparta, to incite him to a war against the tyrant Polycrates;
who, after he had heard their harangue with great gravity and patience,
gave them this answer: "As to the exordium, I remember it not, nor
consequently the middle of your speech; and for what concerns your
conclusion, I will not do what you desire:"--[Plutarch, Apothegms of the
Lacedaemonians.]--a very pretty answer this, methinks, and a pack of
learned orators most sweetly gravelled. And what did the other man say?
The Athenians were to choose one of two architects for a very great
building they had designed; of these, the first, a pert affected fellow,
offered his service in a long premeditated discourse upon the subject of
the work in hand, and by his oratory inclined the voices of the people in
his favour; but the other in three words: "O Athenians, what this man
says, I will do."--[Plutarch, Instructions to Statesmen, c. 4.]--
When Cicero was in the height and heat of an eloquent harangue, many were
struck with admiration; but Cato only laughed, saying, "We have a
pleasant (mirth-making) consul." Let it go before, or come after, a good
sentence or a thing well said, is always in season; if it neither suit
well with what went before, nor has much coherence with what follows
after, it is good in itself. I am none of those who think that good
rhyme makes a good poem. Let him make short long, and long short if he
will, 'tis no great matter; if there be invention, and that the wit and
judgment have well performed their offices, I will say, here's a good
poet, but an ill rhymer.

"Emunctae naris, durus componere versus."

["Of delicate humour, but of rugged versification."
--Horace, Sat, iv. 8.]

Let a man, says Horace, divest his work of all method and measure,

"Tempora certa modosque, et, quod prius ordine verbum est,
Posterius facias, praeponens ultima primis
Invenias etiam disjecti membra poetae."

["Take away certain rhythms and measures, and make the word which
was first in order come later, putting that which should be last
first, you will still find the scattered remains of the poet."
--Horace, Sat., i. 4, 58.]

he will never the more lose himself for that; the very pieces will be
fine by themselves. Menander's answer had this meaning, who being
reproved by a friend, the time drawing on at which he had promised a
comedy, that he had not yet fallen in hand with it; "It is made, and
ready," said he, "all but the verses."--[Plutarch, Whether the Athenians
more excelled in Arms or in Letters.]--Having contrived the subject, and
disposed the scenes in his fancy, he took little care for the rest.
Since Ronsard and Du Bellay have given reputation to our French poesy,
every little dabbler, for aught I see, swells his words as high, and
makes his cadences very near as harmonious as they:

"Plus sonat, quam valet."

["More sound than sense"--Seneca, Ep., 40.]

For the vulgar, there were never so many poetasters as now; but though
they find it no hard matter to imitate their rhyme, they yet fall
infinitely short of imitating the rich descriptions of the one, and the
delicate invention of the other of these masters.

But what will become of our young gentleman, if he be attacked with the
sophistic subtlety of some syllogism? "A Westfalia ham makes a man
drink; drink quenches thirst: ergo a Westfalia ham quenches thirst."
Why, let him laugh at it; it will be more discretion to do so, than to go
about to answer it; or let him borrow this pleasant evasion from
Aristippus: "Why should I trouble myself to untie that, which bound as
it is, gives me so much trouble?"--[Diogenes Laertius, ii. 70.]--
One offering at this dialectic juggling against Cleanthes, Chrysippus
took him short, saying, "Reserve these baubles to play with children,
and do not by such fooleries divert the serious thoughts of a man of
years." If these ridiculous subtleties,

"Contorta et aculeata sophismata,"

as Cicero calls them, are designed to possess him with an untruth, they
are dangerous; but if they signify no more than only to make him laugh,
I do not see why a man need to be fortified against them. There are some
so ridiculous, as to go a mile out of their way to hook in a fine word:

"Aut qui non verba rebus aptant, sed res extrinsecus
arcessunt, quibus verba conveniant."

["Who do not fit words to the subject, but seek out for things
quite from the purpose to fit the words."--Quintilian, viii. 3.]

And as another says,

"Qui, alicujus verbi decore placentis, vocentur ad id,
quod non proposuerant scribere."

["Who by their fondness of some fine sounding word, are tempted to
something they had no intention to treat of."--Seneca, Ep., 59.]

I for my part rather bring in a fine sentence by head and shoulders to
fit my purpose, than divert my designs to hunt after a sentence. On the
contrary, words are to serve, and to follow a man's purpose; and let
Gascon come in play where French will not do. I would have things so
excelling, and so wholly possessing the imagination of him that hears,
that he should have something else to do, than to think of words. The
way of speaking that I love, is natural and plain, the same in writing as
in speaking, and a sinewy and muscular way of expressing a man's self,
short and pithy, not so elegant and artificial as prompt and vehement;

"Haec demum sapiet dictio, qux feriet;"

["That has most weight and wisdom which pierces the ear." ("That
utterance indeed will have a taste which shall strike the ear.")
--Epitaph on Lucan, in Fabricius, Biblioth. Lat., ii. 10.]

rather hard than wearisome; free from affectation; irregular,
incontinuous, and bold; where every piece makes up an entire body; not
like a pedant, a preacher, or a pleader, but rather a soldier-like style,
as Suetonius calls that of Julius Caesar; and yet I see no reason why he
should call it so. I have ever been ready to imitate the negligent garb,
which is yet observable amongst the young men of our time, to wear my
cloak on one shoulder, my cap on one side, a stocking in disorder, which
seems to express a kind of haughty disdain of these exotic ornaments, and
a contempt of the artificial; but I find this negligence of much better
use in the form of speaking. All affectation, particularly in the French
gaiety and freedom, is ungraceful in a courtier, and in a monarchy every
gentleman ought to be fashioned according to the court model; for which
reason, an easy and natural negligence does well. I no more like a web
where the knots and seams are to be seen, than a fine figure, so
delicate, that a man may tell all the bones and veins:

"Quae veritati operam dat oratio, incomposita sit et simplex."

["Let the language that is dedicated to truth be plain and
unaffected.--Seneca, Ep. 40.]

"Quis accurat loquitur, nisi qui vult putide loqui?"

["For who studies to speak accurately, that does not at the same
time wish to perplex his auditory?"--Idem, Ep., 75.]

That eloquence prejudices the subject it would advance, that wholly
attracts us to itself. And as in our outward habit, 'tis a ridiculous
effeminacy to distinguish ourselves by a particular and unusual garb or
fashion; so in language, to study new phrases, and to affect words that
are not of current use, proceeds from a puerile and scholastic ambition.
May I be bound to speak no other language than what is spoken in the
market-places of Paris! Aristophanes the grammarian was quite out, when
he reprehended Epicurus for his plain way of delivering himself, and the
design of his oratory, which was only perspicuity of speech.
The imitation of words, by its own facility, immediately disperses itself
through a whole people; but the imitation of inventing and fitly applying
those words is of a slower progress. The generality of readers, for
having found a like robe, very mistakingly imagine they have the same
body and inside too, whereas force and sinews are never to be borrowed;
the gloss, and outward ornament, that is, words and elocution, may. Most
of those I converse with, speak the same language I here write; but
whether they think the same thoughts I cannot say. The Athenians, says
Plato, study fulness and elegancy of speaking; the Lacedaemonians affect
brevity, and those of Crete to aim more at the fecundity of conception
than the fertility of speech; and these are the best. Zeno used to say
that he had two sorts of disciples, one that he called cy-----ous,
curious to learn things, and these were his favourites; the other,
aoy---ous, that cared for nothing but words. Not that fine speaking is
not a very good and commendable quality; but not so excellent and so
necessary as some would make it; and I am scandalised that our whole life
should be spent in nothing else. I would first understand my own
language, and that of my neighbours, with whom most of my business and
conversation lies.

No doubt but Greek and Latin are very great ornaments, and of very great
use, but we buy them too dear. I will here discover one way, which has
been experimented in my own person, by which they are to be had better
cheap, and such may make use of it as will. My late father having made
the most precise inquiry that any man could possibly make amongst men of
the greatest learning and judgment, of an exact method of education, was
by them cautioned of this inconvenience then in use, and made to believe,
that the tedious time we applied to the learning of the tongues of them
who had them for nothing, was the sole cause we could not arrive to the
grandeur of soul and perfection of knowledge, of the ancient Greeks and
Romans. I do not, however, believe that to be the only cause. So it is,
that the expedient my father found out for this was, that in my infancy,
and before I began to speak, he committed me to the care of a German, who
since died a famous physician in France, totally ignorant of our
language, and very fluent and a great critic in Latin. This man, whom he
had fetched out of his own country, and whom he entertained with a great
salary for this only one end, had me continually with him; he had with
him also joined two others, of inferior learning, to attend me, and to
relieve him; these spoke to me in no other language but Latin. As to the
rest of his household, it was an inviolable rule, that neither himself,
nor my mother, nor valet, nor chambermaid, should speak anything in my
company, but such Latin words as each one had learned to gabble with me.
--[These passages are, the basis of a small volume by the Abbe Mangin:
"Education de Montaigne; ou, L'Art d'enseigner le Latin a l'instar des
meres latines."]--It is not to be imagined how great an advantage this
proved to the whole family; my father and my mother by this means learned
Latin enough to understand it perfectly well, and to speak it to such a
degree as was sufficient for any necessary use; as also those of the
servants did who were most frequently with me. In short, we Latined it
at such a rate, that it overflowed to all the neighbouring villages,
where there yet remain, that have established themselves by custom,
several Latin appellations of artisans and their tools. As for what
concerns myself, I was above six years of age before I understood either
French or Perigordin, any more than Arabic; and without art, book,
grammar, or precept, whipping, or the expense of a tear, I had, by that
time, learned to speak as pure Latin as my master himself, for I had no
means of mixing it up with any other. If, for example, they were to give
me a theme after the college fashion, they gave it to others in French;
but to me they were to give it in bad Latin, to turn it into that which
was good. And Nicolas Grouchy, who wrote a book De Comitiis Romanorum;
Guillaume Guerente, who wrote a comment upon Aristotle: George Buchanan,
that great Scottish poet: and Marc Antoine Muret (whom both France and
Italy have acknowledged for the best orator of his time), my domestic
tutors, have all of them often told me that I had in my infancy that
language so very fluent and ready, that they were afraid to enter into
discourse with me. And particularly Buchanan, whom I since saw attending
the late Mareschal de Brissac, then told me, that he was about to write a
treatise of education, the example of which he intended to take from
mine; for he was then tutor to that Comte de Brissac who afterward proved
so valiant and so brave a gentleman.

As to Greek, of which I have but a mere smattering, my father also
designed to have it taught me by a device, but a new one, and by way of
sport; tossing our declensions to and fro, after the manner of those who,
by certain games of tables, learn geometry and arithmetic. For he,
amongst other rules, had been advised to make me relish science and duty
by an unforced will, and of my own voluntary motion, and to educate my
soul in all liberty and delight, without any severity or constraint;
which he was an observer of to such a degree, even of superstition, if I
may say so, that some being of opinion that it troubles and disturbs the
brains of children suddenly to wake them in the morning, and to snatch
them violently--and over-hastily from sleep (wherein they are much more
profoundly involved than we), he caused me to be wakened by the sound of
some musical instrument, and was never unprovided of a musician for that
purpose. By this example you may judge of the rest, this alone being
sufficient to recommend both the prudence and the affection of so good a
father, who is not to be blamed if he did not reap fruits answerable to
so exquisite a culture. Of this, two things were the cause: first, a
sterile and improper soil; for, though I was of a strong and healthful
constitution, and of a disposition tolerably sweet and tractable, yet I
was, withal, so heavy, idle, and indisposed, that they could not rouse me
from my sloth, not even to get me out to play. What I saw, I saw clearly
enough, and under this heavy complexion nourished a bold imagination and
opinions above my age. I had a slow wit that would go no faster than it
was led; a tardy understanding, a languishing invention, and above all,
incredible defect of memory; so that, it is no wonder, if from all these
nothing considerable could be extracted. Secondly, like those who,
impatient of along and steady cure, submit to all sorts of prescriptions
and recipes, the good man being extremely timorous of any way failing in
a thing he had so wholly set his heart upon, suffered himself at last to
be overruled by the common opinions, which always follow their leader as
a flight of cranes, and complying with the method of the time, having no
more those persons he had brought out of Italy, and who had given him the
first model of education, about him, he sent me at six years of age to
the College of Guienne, at that time the best and most flourishing in
France. And there it was not possible to add anything to the care he had
to provide me the most able tutors, with all other circumstances of
education, reserving also several particular rules contrary to the
college practice; but so it was, that with all these precautions, it was
a college still. My Latin immediately grew corrupt, of which also by
discontinuance I have since lost all manner of use; so that this new way
of education served me to no other end, than only at my first coming to
prefer me to the first forms; for at thirteen years old, that I came out
of the college, I had run through my whole course (as they call it), and,
in truth, without any manner of advantage, that I can honestly brag of,
in all this time.

The first taste which I had for books came to me from the pleasure in
reading the fables of Ovid's Metamorphoses; for, being about seven or
eight years old, I gave up all other diversions to read them, both by
reason that this was my own natural language, the easiest book that I was
acquainted with, and for the subject, the most accommodated to the
capacity of my age: for as for the Lancelot of the Lake, the Amadis of
Gaul, the Huon of Bordeaux, and such farragos, by which children are most
delighted with, I had never so much as heard their names, no more than I
yet know what they contain; so exact was the discipline wherein I was
brought up. But this was enough to make me neglect the other lessons
that were prescribed me; and here it was infinitely to my advantage,
to have to do with an understanding tutor, who very well knew discreetly
to connive at this and other truantries of the same nature; for by this
means I ran through Virgil's AEneid, and then Terence, and then Plautus,
and then some Italian comedies, allured by the sweetness of the subject;
whereas had he been so foolish as to have taken me off this diversion,
I do really believe, I had brought away nothing from the college but a
hatred of books, as almost all our young gentlemen do. But he carried
himself very discreetly in that business, seeming to take no notice, and
allowing me only such time as I could steal from my other regular
studies, which whetted my appetite to devour those books. For the chief
things my father expected from their endeavours to whom he had delivered
me for education, were affability and good-humour; and, to say the truth,
my manners had no other vice but sloth and want of metal. The fear was
not that I should do ill, but that I should do nothing; nobody
prognosticated that I should be wicked, but only useless; they foresaw
idleness, but no malice; and I find it falls out accordingly:
The complaints I hear of myself are these: "He is idle, cold in the
offices of friendship and relation, and in those of the public, too
particular, too disdainful." But the most injurious do not say, "Why has
he taken such a thing? Why has he not paid such an one?" but, "Why does
he part with nothing? Why does he not give?" And I should take it for a
favour that men would expect from me no greater effects of supererogation
than these. But they are unjust to exact from me what I do not owe, far
more rigorously than they require from others that which they do owe.
In condemning me to it, they efface the gratification of the action, and
deprive me of the gratitude that would be my due for it; whereas the
active well-doing ought to be of so much the greater value from my hands,
by how much I have never been passive that way at all. I can the more
freely dispose of my fortune the more it is mine, and of myself the more
I am my own. Nevertheless, if I were good at setting out my own actions,
I could, peradventure, very well repel these reproaches, and could give
some to understand, that they are not so much offended, that I do not
enough, as that I am able to do a great deal more than I do.

Yet for all this heavy disposition of mine, my mind, when retired into
itself, was not altogether without strong movements, solid and clear
judgments about those objects it could comprehend, and could also,
without any helps, digest them; but, amongst other things, I do really
believe, it had been totally impossible to have made it to submit by
violence and force. Shall I here acquaint you with one faculty of my
youth? I had great assurance of countenance, and flexibility of voice
and gesture, in applying myself to any part I undertook to act: for

"Alter ab undecimo tum me vix ceperat annus,"

["I had just entered my twelfth year."--Virgil, Bucol., 39.]

I played the chief parts in the Latin tragedies of Buchanan, Guerente,
and Muret, that were presented in our College of Guienne with great
dignity: now Andreas Goveanus, our principal, as in all other parts of
his charge, was, without comparison, the best of that employment in
France; and I was looked upon as one of the best actors. 'Tis an
exercise that I do not disapprove in young people of condition; and I
have since seen our princes, after the example of some of the ancients,
in person handsomely and commendably perform these exercises; it was even
allowed to persons of quality to make a profession of it in Greece.

"Aristoni tragico actori rem aperit: huic et genus et
fortuna honesta erant: nec ars, quia nihil tale apud
Graecos pudori est, ea deformabat."

["He imparted this matter to Aristo the tragedian; a man of good
family and fortune, which neither of them receive any blemish by
that profession; nothing of this kind being reputed a disparagement
in Greece."--Livy, xxiv. 24.]

Nay, I have always taxed those with impertinence who condemn these
entertainments, and with injustice those who refuse to admit such
comedians as are worth seeing into our good towns, and grudge the people
that public diversion. Well-governed corporations take care to assemble
their citizens, not only to the solemn duties of devotion, but also to
sports and spectacles. They find society and friendship augmented by it;
and besides, can there possibly be allowed a more orderly and regular
diversion than what is performed m the sight of every one, and very often
in the presence of the supreme magistrate himself? And I, for my part,
should think it reasonable, that the prince should sometimes gratify his
people at his own expense, out of paternal goodness and affection; and
that in populous cities there should be theatres erected for such
entertainments, if but to divert them from worse and private actions.

To return to my subject, there is nothing like alluring the appetite and
affections; otherwise you make nothing but so many asses laden with
books; by dint of the lash, you give them their pocketful of learning to
keep; whereas, to do well you should not only lodge it with them, but
make them espouse it.



'Tis not, perhaps, without reason, that we attribute facility of belief
and easiness of persuasion to simplicity and ignorance: for I fancy I
have heard belief compared to the impression of a seal upon the soul,
which by how much softer and of less resistance it is, is the more easy
to be impressed upon.

"Ut necesse est, lancem in Libra, ponderibus impositis,
deprimi, sic animum perspicuis cedere."

["As the scale of the balance must give way to the weight that
presses it down, so the mind yields to demonstration."
--Cicero, Acad., ii. 12.]

By how much the soul is more empty and without counterpoise, with so much
greater facility it yields under the weight of the first persuasion. And
this is the reason that children, the common people, women, and sick
folks, are most apt to be led by the ears. But then, on the other hand,
'tis a foolish presumption to slight and condemn all things for false
that do not appear to us probable; which is the ordinary vice of such as
fancy themselves wiser than their neighbours. I was myself once one of
those; and if I heard talk of dead folks walking, of prophecies,
enchantments, witchcrafts, or any other story I had no mind to believe:

"Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula, sagas,
Nocturnos lemures, portentaque Thessala,"

["Dreams, magic terrors, marvels, sorceries, Thessalian prodigies."
--Horace. Ep. ii. 3, 208.]

I presently pitied the poor people that were abused by these follies.
Whereas I now find, that I myself was to be pitied as much, at least,
as they; not that experience has taught me anything to alter my former
opinions, though my curiosity has endeavoured that way; but reason has
instructed me, that thus resolutely to condemn anything for false and
impossible, is arrogantly and impiously to circumscribe and limit the
will of God, and the power of our mother nature, within the bounds of my
own capacity, than which no folly can be greater. If we give the names
of monster and miracle to everything our reason cannot comprehend, how
many are continually presented before our eyes? Let us but consider
through what clouds, and as it were groping in the dark, our teachers
lead us to the knowledge of most of the things about us; assuredly we
shall find that it is rather custom than knowledge that takes away their

"Jam nemo, fessus saturusque videndi,
Suspicere in coeli dignatur lucida templa;"

["Weary of the sight, now no one deigns to look up to heaven's lucid
temples."--Lucretius, ii. 1037. The text has 'statiate videnai']

and that if those things were now newly presented to us, we should think
them as incredible, if not more, than any others.

"Si nunc primum mortalibus adsint
Ex improviso, si sint objecta repente,
Nil magis his rebus poterat mirabile dici,
Aute minus ante quod auderent fore credere gentes."

[Lucretius, ii. 1032. The sense of the passage is in the preceding

He that had never seen a river, imagined the first he met with to be the
sea; and the greatest things that have fallen within our knowledge, we
conclude the extremes that nature makes of the kind.

"Scilicet et fluvius qui non est maximus, ei'st
Qui non ante aliquem majorem vidit; et ingens
Arbor, homoque videtur, et omnia de genere omni
Maxima quae vidit quisque, haec ingentia fingit."

["A little river seems to him, who has never seen a larger river, a
mighty stream; and so with other things--a tree, a man--anything
appears greatest to him that never knew a greater."--Idem, vi. 674.]

"Consuetudine oculorum assuescunt animi, neque admirantur,
neque requirunt rationes earum rerum, quas semper vident."

["Things grow familiar to men's minds by being often seen; so that
they neither admire nor are they inquisitive about things they daily
see."--Cicero, De Natura Deor., lib. ii. 38.]

The novelty, rather than the greatness of things, tempts us to inquire
into their causes. We are to judge with more reverence, and with greater
acknowledgment of our own ignorance and infirmity, of the infinite power
of nature. How many unlikely things are there testified by people worthy
of faith, which, if we cannot persuade ourselves absolutely to believe,
we ought at least to leave them in suspense; for, to condemn them as
impossible, is by a temerarious presumption to pretend to know the utmost
bounds of possibility. Did we rightly understand the difference betwixt
the impossible and the unusual, and betwixt that which is contrary to the
order and course of nature and contrary to the common opinion of men, in
not believing rashly, and on the other hand, in not being too
incredulous, we should observe the rule of 'Ne quid nimis' enjoined by

When we find in Froissart, that the Comte de Foix knew in Bearn the
defeat of John, king of Castile, at Jubera the next day after it
happened, and the means by which he tells us he came to do so, we may be
allowed to be a little merry at it, as also at what our annals report,
that Pope Honorius, the same day that King Philip Augustus died at
Mantes, performed his public obsequies at Rome, and commanded the like
throughout Italy, the testimony of these authors not being, perhaps, of
authority enough to restrain us. But what if Plutarch, besides several
examples that he produces out of antiquity, tells us, he knows of certain
knowledge, that in the time of Domitian, the news of the battle lost by
Antony in Germany was published at Rome, many days' journey from thence,
and dispersed throughout the whole world, the same day it was fought;
and if Caesar was of opinion, that it has often happened, that the report
has preceded the incident, shall we not say, that these simple people
have suffered themselves to be deceived with the vulgar, for not having
been so clear-sighted as we? Is there anything more delicate, more
clear, more sprightly; than Pliny's judgment, when he is pleased to set
it to work? Anything more remote from vanity? Setting aside his
learning, of which I make less account, in which of these excellences do
any of us excel him? And yet there is scarce a young schoolboy that does
not convict him of untruth, and that pretends not to instruct him in the
progress of the works of nature. When we read in Bouchet the miracles of
St. Hilary's relics, away with them: his authority is not sufficient to
deprive us of the liberty of contradicting him; but generally and offhand
to condemn all suchlike stories, seems to me a singular impudence. That
great St. Augustin' testifies to have seen a blind child recover sight
upon the relics of St. Gervasius and St. Protasius at Milan; a woman at
Carthage cured of a cancer, by the sign of the cross made upon her by a
woman newly baptized; Hesperius, a familiar friend of his, to have driven
away the spirits that haunted his house, with a little earth of the
sepulchre of our Lord; which earth, being also transported thence into
the church, a paralytic to have there been suddenly cured by it; a woman
in a procession, having touched St. Stephen's shrine with a nosegay, and
rubbing her eyes with it, to have recovered her sight, lost many years
before; with several other miracles of which he professes himself to have
been an eyewitness: of what shall we excuse him and the two holy bishops,
Aurelius and Maximinus, both of whom he attests to the truth of these
things? Shall it be of ignorance, simplicity, and facility; or of malice
and imposture? Is any man now living so impudent as to think himself
comparable to them in virtue, piety, learning, judgment, or any kind of

"Qui, ut rationem nullam afferrent,
ipsa auctoritate me frangerent."

["Who, though they should adduce no reason, would convince me with
their authority alone."--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes, i. 21.]

'Tis a presumption of great danger and consequence, besides the absurd
temerity it draws after it, to contemn what we do not comprehend. For
after, according to your fine understanding, you have established the
limits of truth and error, and that, afterwards, there appears a
necessity upon you of believing stranger things than those you have
contradicted, you are already obliged to quit your limits. Now, that
which seems to me so much to disorder our consciences in the commotions
we are now in concerning religion, is the Catholics dispensing so much
with their belief. They fancy they appear moderate, and wise, when they
grant to their opponents some of the articles in question; but, besides
that they do not discern what advantage it is to those with whom we
contend, to begin to give ground and to retire, and how much this
animates our enemy to follow his blow: these articles which they select
as things indifferent, are sometimes of very great importance. We are
either wholly and absolutely to submit ourselves to the authority of our
ecclesiastical polity, or totally throw off all obedience to it: 'tis not
for us to determine what and how much obedience we owe to it. And this I
can say, as having myself made trial of it, that having formerly taken
the liberty of my own swing and fancy, and omitted or neglected certain
rules of the discipline of our Church, which seemed to me vain and
strange coming afterwards to discourse of it with learned men, I have
found those same things to be built upon very good and solid ground and
strong foundation; and that nothing but stupidity and ignorance makes us
receive them with less reverence than the rest. Why do we not consider
what contradictions we find in our own judgments; how many things were
yesterday articles of our faith, that to-day appear no other than fables?
Glory and curiosity are the scourges of the soul; the last prompts us to
thrust our noses into everything, the other forbids us to leave anything
doubtful and undecided.


A child should not be brought up in his mother's lap
Acquiesce and submit to truth
Affect words that are not of current use
Anything appears greatest to him that never knew a greater
Appetite to read more, than glutted with that we have
Applaud his judgment than commend his knowledge
Attribute facility of belief to simplicity and ignorance
Away with this violence! away with this compulsion!
Bears well a changed fortune, acting both parts equally well
Belief compared to the impression of a seal upon the soul
cloak on one shoulder, my cap on one side, a stocking disordered
College: a real house of correction of imprisoned youth
Disgorge what we eat in the same condition it was swallowed
Education ought to be carried on with a severe sweetness
Eloquence prejudices the subject it would advance
Fear was not that I should do ill, but that I should do nothing
Glory and curiosity are the scourges of the soul
Hobbes said that if he had been at college as long as others----
Inquisitive after everything
Insert whole sections and pages out of ancient authors
It is no hard matter to get children
Learn what it is right to wish
Least touch or prick of a pencil in comparison of the whole
Let him be satisfied with correcting himself
Let him examine every man's talent
Light prognostics they give of themselves in their tender years
Living well, which of all arts is the greatest
Lodge nothing in his fancy upon simple authority and upon trust
Man may say too much even upon the best subjects
Miracle: everything our reason cannot comprehend
Morosity and melancholic humour of a sour ill-natured pedant
Mothers are too tender
Negligent garb, which is yet observable amongst the young men
Nobody prognosticated that I should be wicked, but only useless
Not having been able to pronounce one syllable, which is No!
O Athenians, what this man says, I will do
Obstinacy and contention are common qualities
Occasion to La Boetie to write his "Voluntary Servitude"
Philosophy has discourses proper for childhood
Philosophy is that which instructs us to live
Philosophy looked upon as a vain and fantastic name
Preface to bribe the benevolence of the courteous reader
Reading those books, converse with the great and heroic souls
Silence, therefore, and modesty are very advantageous qualities
So many trillions of men, buried before us
Sparing and an husband of his knowledge
The conduct of our lives is the true mirror of our doctrine
The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness
Their labour is not to delivery, but about conception
There is nothing like alluring the appetite and affections
They begin to teach us to live when we have almost done living
Things grow familiar to men's minds by being often seen
To condemn them as impossible, is by a temerarious presumption
To contemn what we do not comprehend
To go a mile out of their way to hook in a fine word
To know by rote, is no knowledge
Tongue will grow too stiff to bend
Totally brutified by an immoderate thirst after knowledge
Unbecoming rudeness to carp at everything
Unjust to exact from me what I do not owe
Where their profit is, let them there have their pleasure too
Who by their fondness of some fine sounding word


Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



XXVII. Of friendship.
XXVIII. Nine-and-twenty sonnets of Estienne de la Boetie.
XXIX. Of moderation.
XXX. Of cannibals.
XXXI. That a man is soberly to judge of the divine ordinances.
XXXII. That we are to avoid pleasures, even at the expense of life.
XXXIII. That fortune is oftentimes observed to act by the rule of
XXXIV. Of one defect in our government.
XXXV. Of the custom of wearing clothes.
XXXVI. Of Cato the Younger.
XXXVII. That we laugh and cry for the same thing.
XXXVIII. Of solitude.



Having considered the proceedings of a painter that serves me, I had a
mind to imitate his way. He chooses the fairest place and middle of any
wall, or panel, wherein to draw a picture, which he finishes with his
utmost care and art, and the vacuity about it he fills with grotesques,
which are odd fantastic figures without any grace but what they derive
from their variety, and the extravagance of their shapes. And in truth,
what are these things I scribble, other than grotesques and monstrous
bodies, made of various parts, without any certain figure, or any other
than accidental order, coherence, or proportion?

"Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne."

["A fair woman in her upper form terminates in a fish."
--Horace, De Arte Poetica, v. 4.]

In this second part I go hand in hand with my painter; but fall very
short of him in the first and the better, my power of handling not being
such, that I dare to offer at a rich piece, finely polished, and set off
according to art. I have therefore thought fit to borrow one of Estienne
de la Boetie, and such a one as shall honour and adorn all the rest of my
work--namely, a discourse that he called 'Voluntary Servitude'; but,
since, those who did not know him have properly enough called it "Le
contr Un." He wrote in his youth,--["Not being as yet eighteen years
old."--Edition of 1588.] by way of essay, in honour of liberty against
tyrants; and it has since run through the hands of men of great learning
and judgment, not without singular and merited commendation; for it is
finely written, and as full as anything can possibly be. And yet one may
confidently say it is far short of what he was able to do; and if in that
more mature age, wherein I had the happiness to know him, he had taken a
design like this of mine, to commit his thoughts to writing, we should
have seen a great many rare things, and such as would have gone very near
to have rivalled the best writings of antiquity: for in natural parts
especially, I know no man comparable to him. But he has left nothing
behind him, save this treatise only (and that too by chance, for I
believe he never saw it after it first went out of his hands), and some
observations upon that edict of January--[1562, which granted to the
Huguenots the public exercise of their religion.]--made famous by our
civil-wars, which also shall elsewhere, peradventure, find a place.
These were all I could recover of his remains, I to whom with so
affectionate a remembrance, upon his death-bed, he by his last will
bequeathed his library and papers, the little book of his works only
excepted, which I committed to the press. And this particular obligation
I have to this treatise of his, that it was the occasion of my first
coming acquainted with him; for it was showed to me long before I had the
good fortune to know him; and the first knowledge of his name, proving
the first cause and foundation of a friendship, which we afterwards
improved and maintained, so long as God was pleased to continue us
together, so perfect, inviolate, and entire, that certainly the like is
hardly to be found in story, and amongst the men of this age, there is no
sign nor trace of any such thing in use; so much concurrence is required
to the building of such a one, that 'tis much, if fortune bring it but
once to pass in three ages.

There is nothing to which nature seems so much to have inclined us, as to
society; and Aristotle , says that the good legislators had more respect
to friendship than to justice. Now the most supreme point of its
perfection is this: for, generally, all those that pleasure, profit,
public or private interest create and nourish, are so much the less
beautiful and generous, and so much the less friendships, by how much
they mix another cause, and design, and fruit in friendship, than itself.
Neither do the four ancient kinds, natural, social, hospitable, venereal,
either separately or jointly, make up a true and perfect friendship.

That of children to parents is rather respect: friendship is nourished by
communication, which cannot by reason of the great disparity, be betwixt
these, but would rather perhaps offend the duties of nature; for neither
are all the secret thoughts of fathers fit to be communicated to
children, lest it beget an indecent familiarity betwixt them; nor can the
advices and reproofs, which is one of the principal offices of
friendship, be properly performed by the son to the father. There are
some countries where 'twas the custom for children to kill their fathers;
and others, where the fathers killed their children, to avoid their being
an impediment one to another in life; and naturally the expectations of
the one depend upon the ruin of the other. There have been great
philosophers who have made nothing of this tie of nature, as Aristippus
for one, who being pressed home about the affection he owed to his
children, as being come out of him, presently fell to spit, saying, that
this also came out of him, and that we also breed worms and lice; and
that other, that Plutarch endeavoured to reconcile to his brother:
"I make never the more account of him," said he, "for coming out of the
same hole." This name of brother does indeed carry with it a fine and
delectable sound, and for that reason, he and I called one another
brothers but the complication of interests, the division of estates, and
that the wealth of the one should be the property of the other, strangely
relax and weaken the fraternal tie: brothers pursuing their fortune and
advancement by the same path, 'tis hardly possible but they must of
necessity often jostle and hinder one another. Besides, why is it
necessary that the correspondence of manners, parts, and inclinations,
which begets the true and perfect friendships, should always meet in
these relations? The father and the son may be of quite contrary
humours, and so of brothers: he is my son, he is my brother; but he is
passionate, ill-natured, or a fool. And moreover, by how much these are
friendships that the law and natural obligation impose upon us, so much
less is there of our own choice and voluntary freedom; whereas that
voluntary liberty of ours has no production more promptly and; properly
its own than affection and friendship. Not that I have not in my own
person experimented all that can possibly be expected of that kind,
having had the best and most indulgent father, even to his extreme old
age, that ever was, and who was himself descended from a family for many
generations famous and exemplary for brotherly concord:

"Et ipse
Notus in fratres animi paterni."

["And I myself, known for paternal love toward my brothers."
--Horace, Ode, ii. 2, 6.]

We are not here to bring the love we bear to women, though it be an act
of our own choice, into comparison, nor rank it with the others. The
fire of this, I confess,

"Neque enim est dea nescia nostri
Qux dulcem curis miscet amaritiem,"

["Nor is the goddess unknown to me who mixes a sweet bitterness
with my love."---Catullus, lxviii. 17.]

is more active, more eager, and more sharp: but withal, 'tis more
precipitant, fickle, moving, and inconstant; a fever subject to
intermissions and paroxysms, that has seized but on one part of us.
Whereas in friendship, 'tis a general and universal fire, but temperate
and equal, a constant established heat, all gentle and smooth, without
poignancy or roughness. Moreover, in love, 'tis no other than frantic
desire for that which flies from us:

"Come segue la lepre il cacciatore
Al freddo, al caldo, alla montagna, al lito;
Ne piu l'estima poi the presa vede;
E sol dietro a chi fugge affretta il piede"

["As the hunter pursues the hare, in cold and heat, to the mountain,
to the shore, nor cares for it farther when he sees it taken, and
only delights in chasing that which flees from him."--Aristo, x. 7.]

so soon as it enters unto the terms of friendship, that is to say, into a
concurrence of desires, it vanishes and is gone, fruition destroys it,
as having only a fleshly end, and such a one as is subject to satiety.
Friendship, on the contrary, is enjoyed proportionably as it is desired;
and only grows up, is nourished and improved by enjoyment, as being of
itself spiritual, and the soul growing still more refined by practice.
Under this perfect friendship, the other fleeting affections have in my
younger years found some place in me, to say nothing of him, who himself
so confesses but too much in his verses; so that I had both these
passions, but always so, that I could myself well enough distinguish
them, and never in any degree of comparison with one another; the first
maintaining its flight in so lofty and so brave a place, as with disdain
to look down, and see the other flying at a far humbler pitch below.

As concerning marriage, besides that it is a covenant, the entrance into
which only is free, but the continuance in it forced and compulsory,
having another dependence than that of our own free will, and a bargain
commonly contracted to other ends, there almost always happens a thousand
intricacies in it to unravel, enough to break the thread and to divert
the current of a lively affection: whereas friendship has no manner of
business or traffic with aught but itself. Moreover, to say truth, the
ordinary talent of women is not such as is sufficient to maintain the
conference and communication required to the support of this sacred tie;
nor do they appear to be endued with constancy of mind, to sustain the
pinch of so hard and durable a knot. And doubtless, if without this,
there could be such a free and voluntary familiarity contracted, where
not only the souls might have this entire fruition, but the bodies also
might share in the alliance, and a man be engaged throughout, the
friendship would certainly be more full and perfect; but it is without
example that this sex has ever yet arrived at such perfection; and, by
the common consent of the ancient schools, it is wholly rejected from it.

That other Grecian licence is justly abhorred by our manners, which also,
from having, according to their practice, a so necessary disparity of age
and difference of offices betwixt the lovers, answered no more to the
perfect union and harmony that we here require than the other:

"Quis est enim iste amor amicitiae? cur neque deformem
adolescentem quisquam amat, neque formosum senem?"

["For what is that friendly love? why does no one love a deformed
youth or a comely old man?"--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., iv. 33.]

Neither will that very picture that the Academy presents of it, as I
conceive, contradict me, when I say, that this first fury inspired by the
son of Venus into the heart of the lover, upon sight of the flower and
prime of a springing and blossoming youth, to which they allow all the
insolent and passionate efforts that an immoderate ardour can produce,
was simply founded upon external beauty, the false image of corporal
generation; for it could not ground this love upon the soul, the sight of
which as yet lay concealed, was but now springing, and not of maturity to
blossom; that this fury, if it seized upon a low spirit, the means by
which it preferred its suit were rich presents, favour in advancement to
dignities, and such trumpery, which they by no means approve; if on a
more generous soul, the pursuit was suitably generous, by philosophical
instructions, precepts to revere religion, to obey the laws, to die for
the good of one's country; by examples of valour, prudence, and justice,
the lover studying to render himself acceptable by the grace and beauty
of the soul, that of his body being long since faded and decayed, hoping
by this mental society to establish a more firm and lasting contract.
When this courtship came to effect in due season (for that which they do
not require in the lover, namely, leisure and discretion in his pursuit,
they strictly require in the person loved, forasmuch as he is to judge of
an internal beauty, of difficult knowledge and abstruse discovery), then
there sprung in the person loved the desire of a spiritual conception;
by the mediation of a spiritual beauty. This was the principal; the
corporeal, an accidental and secondary matter; quite the contrary as to
the lover. For this reason they prefer the person beloved, maintaining
that the gods in like manner preferred him too, and very much blame the
poet AEschylus for having, in the loves of Achilles and Patroclus, given
the lover's part to Achilles, who was in the first and beardless flower
of his adolescence, and the handsomest of all the Greeks. After this
general community, the sovereign, and most worthy part presiding and
governing, and performing its proper offices, they say, that thence great
utility was derived, both by private and public concerns; that it
constituted the force and power of the countries where it prevailed, and
the chiefest security of liberty and justice. Of which the healthy loves
of Harmodius and Aristogiton are instances. And therefore it is that
they called it sacred and divine, and conceive that nothing but the
violence of tyrants and the baseness of the common people are inimical to
it. Finally, all that can be said in favour of the Academy is, that it
was a love which ended in friendship, which well enough agrees with the
Stoical definition of love:

"Amorem conatum esse amicitiae faciendae
ex pulchritudinis specie."

["Love is a desire of contracting friendship arising from the beauty
of the object."--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., vi. 34.]

I return to my own more just and true description:

"Omnino amicitiae, corroboratis jam confirmatisque,
et ingeniis, et aetatibus, judicandae sunt."

["Those are only to be reputed friendships that are fortified and
confirmed by judgement and the length of time."
--Cicero, De Amicit., c. 20.]

For the rest, what we commonly call friends and friendships, are nothing
but acquaintance and familiarities, either occasionally contracted, or
upon some design, by means of which there happens some little intercourse
betwixt our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, they mix and work
themselves into one piece, with so universal a mixture, that there is no
more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined. If a man
should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no
otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because
it was I. There is, beyond all that I am able to say, I know not what
inexplicable and fated power that brought on this union. We sought one
another long before we met, and by the characters we heard of one
another, which wrought upon our affections more than, in reason, mere
reports should do; I think 'twas by some secret appointment of heaven.
We embraced in our names; and at our first meeting, which was
accidentally at a great city entertainment, we found ourselves so
mutually taken with one another, so acquainted, and so endeared betwixt
ourselves, that from thenceforward nothing was so near to us as one
another. He wrote an excellent Latin satire, since printed, wherein he
excuses the precipitation of our intelligence, so suddenly come to
perfection, saying, that destined to have so short a continuance, as
begun so late (for we were both full-grown men, and he some years the
older), there was no time to lose, nor were we tied to conform to the
example of those slow and regular friendships, that require so many
precautions of long preliminary conversation: This has no other idea than
that of itself, and can only refer to itself: this is no one special
consideration, nor two, nor three, nor four, nor a thousand; 'tis I know
not what quintessence of all this mixture, which, seizing my whole will,
carried it to plunge and lose itself in his, and that having seized his
whole will, brought it back with equal concurrence and appetite to plunge
and lose itself in mine. I may truly say lose, reserving nothing to
ourselves that was either his or mine.--[All this relates to Estienne de
la Boetie.]

When Laelius,--[Cicero, De Amicit., c. II.]--in the presence of the
Roman consuls, who after thay had sentenced Tiberius Gracchus, prosecuted
all those who had had any familiarity with him also; came to ask Caius
Blosius, who was his chiefest friend, how much he would have done for
him, and that he made answer: "All things."--"How! All things!" said
Laelius. "And what if he had commanded you to fire our temples?"--"He
would never have commanded me that," replied Blosius.--"But what if he
had?" said Laelius.--"I would have obeyed him," said the other. If he
was so perfect a friend to Gracchus as the histories report him to have
been, there was yet no necessity of offending the consuls by such a bold
confession, though he might still have retained the assurance he had of
Gracchus' disposition. However, those who accuse this answer as
seditious, do not well understand the mystery; nor presuppose, as it was
true, that he had Gracchus' will in his sleeve, both by the power of a
friend, and the perfect knowledge he had of the man: they were more
friends than citizens, more friends to one another than either enemies or
friends to their country, or than friends to ambition and innovation;
having absolutely given up themselves to one another, either held
absolutely the reins of the other's inclination; and suppose all this
guided by virtue, and all this by the conduct of reason, which also
without these it had not been possible to do, Blosius' answer was such as
it ought to be. If any of their actions flew out of the handle, they
were neither (according to my measure of friendship) friends to one
another, nor to themselves. As to the rest, this answer carries no worse
sound, than mine would do to one that should ask me: "If your will should
command you to kill your daughter, would you do it?" and that I should
make answer, that I would; for this expresses no consent to such an act,
forasmuch as I do not in the least suspect my own will, and as little
that of such a friend. 'Tis not in the power of all the eloquence in the
world, to dispossess me of the certainty I have of the intentions and
resolutions of my friend; nay, no one action of his, what face soever it
might bear, could be presented to me, of which I could not presently,
and at first sight, find out the moving cause. Our souls had drawn so
unanimously together, they had considered each other with so ardent an
affection, and with the like affection laid open the very bottom of our
hearts to one another's view, that I not only knew his as well as my own;
but should certainly in any concern of mine have trusted my interest much
more willingly with him, than with myself.

Let no one, therefore, rank other common friendships with such a one as
this. I have had as much experience of these as another, and of the most
perfect of their kind: but I do not advise that any should confound the
rules of the one and the other, for they would find themselves much
deceived. In those other ordinary friendships, you are to walk with
bridle in your hand, with prudence and circumspection, for in them the
knot is not so sure that a man may not half suspect it will slip. "Love
him," said Chilo,--[Aulus Gellius, i. 3.]--"so as if you were one day to
hate him; and hate him so as you were one day to love him." This
precept, though abominable in the sovereign and perfect friendship I
speak of, is nevertheless very sound as to the practice of the ordinary
and customary ones, and to which the saying that Aristotle had so
frequent in his mouth, "O my friends, there is no friend," may very fitly
be applied. In this noble commerce, good offices, presents, and
benefits, by which other friendships are supported and maintained, do not
deserve so much as to be mentioned; and the reason is the concurrence of
our wills; for, as the kindness I have for myself receives no increase,
for anything I relieve myself withal in time of need (whatever the Stoics
say), and as I do not find myself obliged to myself for any service I do
myself: so the union of such friends, being truly perfect, deprives them
of all idea of such duties, and makes them loathe and banish from their
conversation these words of division and distinction, benefits,
obligation, acknowledgment, entreaty, thanks, and the like. All things,
wills, thoughts, opinions, goods, wives, children, honours, and lives,
being in effect common betwixt them, and that absolute concurrence of
affections being no other than one soul in two bodies (according to that
very proper definition of Aristotle), they can neither lend nor give
anything to one another. This is the reason why the lawgivers, to honour
marriage with some resemblance of this divine alliance, interdict all
gifts betwixt man and wife; inferring by that, that all should belong to
each of them, and that they have nothing to divide or to give to each

If, in the friendship of which I speak, one could give to the other, the
receiver of the benefit would be the man that obliged his friend; for
each of them contending and above all things studying how to be useful to
the other, he that administers the occasion is the liberal man, in giving
his friend the satisfaction of doing that towards him which above all
things he most desires. When the philosopher Diogenes wanted money, he
used to say, that he redemanded it of his friends, not that he demanded
it. And to let you see the practical working of this, I will here
produce an ancient and singular example. Eudamidas, a Corinthian, had
two friends, Charixenus a Sicyonian and Areteus a Corinthian; this man
coming to die, being poor, and his two friends rich, he made his will
after this manner. "I bequeath to Areteus the maintenance of my mother,
to support and provide for her in her old age; and to Charixenus I
bequeath the care of marrying my daughter, and to give her as good a
portion as he is able; and in case one of these chance to die, I hereby
substitute the survivor in his place." They who first saw this will made
themselves very merry at the contents: but the legatees, being made
acquainted with it, accepted it with very great content; and one of them,
Charixenus, dying within five days after, and by that means the charge of
both duties devolving solely on him, Areteus nurtured the old woman with
very great care and tenderness, and of five talents he had in estate, he
gave two and a half in marriage with an only daughter he had of his own,
and two and a half in marriage with the daughter of Eudamidas, and on one
and the same day solemnised both their nuptials.

This example is very full, if one thing were not to be objected, namely
the multitude of friends for the perfect friendship I speak of is
indivisible; each one gives himself so entirely to his friend, that he
has nothing left to distribute to others: on the contrary, is sorry that
he is not double, treble, or quadruple, and that he has not many souls
and many wills, to confer them all upon this one object. Common
friendships will admit of division; one may love the beauty of this
person, the good-humour of that, the liberality of a third, the paternal
affection of a fourth, the fraternal love of a fifth, and so of the rest:
but this friendship that possesses the whole soul, and there rules and
sways with an absolute sovereignty, cannot possibly admit of a rival.
If two at the same time should call to you for succour, to which of them
would you run? Should they require of you contrary offices, how could
you serve them both? Should one commit a thing to your silence that it
were of importance to the other to know, how would you disengage
yourself? A unique and particular friendship dissolves all other
obligations whatsoever: the secret I have sworn not to reveal to any
other, I may without perjury communicate to him who is not another, but
myself. 'Tis miracle enough certainly, for a man to double himself, and
those that talk of tripling, talk they know not of what. Nothing is
extreme, that has its like; and he who shall suppose, that of two, I love
one as much as the other, that they mutually love one another too, and
love me as much as I love them, multiplies into a confraternity the most
single of units, and whereof, moreover, one alone is the hardest thing in
the world to find. The rest of this story suits very well with what I
was saying; for Eudamidas, as a bounty and favour, bequeaths to his
friends a legacy of employing themselves in his necessity; he leaves them
heirs to this liberality of his, which consists in giving them the
opportunity of conferring a benefit upon him; and doubtless, the force of
friendship is more eminently apparent in this act of his, than in that of
Areteus. In short, these are effects not to be imagined nor comprehended
by such as have not experience of them, and which make me infinitely
honour and admire the answer of that young soldier to Cyrus, by whom
being asked how much he would take for a horse, with which he had won the
prize of a race, and whether he would exchange him for a kingdom?--
"No, truly, sir," said he, "but I would give him with all my heart, to
get thereby a true friend, could I find out any man worthy of that
alliance."--[Xenophon, Cyropadia, viii. 3.]--He did not say ill in
saying, "could I find": for though one may almost everywhere meet with
men sufficiently qualified for a superficial acquaintance, yet in this,
where a man is to deal from the very bottom of his heart, without any
manner of reservation, it will be requisite that all the wards and
springs be truly wrought and perfectly sure.

In confederations that hold but by one end, we are only to provide
against the imperfections that particularly concern that end. It can be
of no importance to me of what religion my physician or my lawyer is;
this consideration has nothing in common with the offices of friendship
which they owe me; and I am of the same indifference in the domestic
acquaintance my servants must necessarily contract with me. I never
inquire, when I am to take a footman, if he be chaste, but if he be
diligent; and am not solicitous if my muleteer be given to gaming, as if
he be strong and able; or if my cook be a swearer, if he be a good cook.
I do not take upon me to direct what other men should do in the
government of their families, there are plenty that meddle enough with
that, but only give an account of my method in my own:

"Mihi sic usus est: tibi, ut opus est facto, face."

["This has been my way; as for you, do as you find needful.
--"Terence, Heaut., i. I., 28.]

For table-talk, I prefer the pleasant and witty before the learned and
the grave; in bed, beauty before goodness; in common discourse the ablest
speaker, whether or no there be sincerity in the case. And, as he that
was found astride upon a hobby-horse, playing with his children,
entreated the person who had surprised him in that posture to say nothing
of it till himself came to be a father,--[Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus,
c. 9.]--supposing that the fondness that would then possess his own
soul, would render him a fairer judge of such an action; so I, also,
could wish to speak to such as have had experience of what I say: though,
knowing how remote a thing such a friendship is from the common practice,
and how rarely it is to be found, I despair of meeting with any such
judge. For even these discourses left us by antiquity upon this subject,
seem to me flat and poor, in comparison of the sense I have of it, and in
this particular, the effects surpass even the precepts of philosophy

"Nil ego contulerim jucundo sanus amico."

["While I have sense left to me, there will never be anything more
acceptable to me than an agreeable friend."
--Horace, Sat., i. 5, 44.]

The ancient Menander declared him to be happy that had had the good
fortune to meet with but the shadow of a friend: and doubtless he had
good reason to say so, especially if he spoke by experience: for in good
earnest, if I compare all the rest of my life, though, thanks be to God,
I have passed my time pleasantly enough, and at my ease, and the loss of
such a friend excepted, free from any grievous affliction, and in great
tranquillity of mind, having been contented with my natural and original
commodities, without being solicitous after others; if I should compare
it all, I say, with the four years I had the happiness to enjoy the sweet
society of this excellent man, 'tis nothing but smoke, an obscure and
tedious night. From the day that I lost him:

"Quern semper acerbum,
Semper honoratum (sic, di, voluistis) habebo,"

["A day for me ever sad, for ever sacred, so have you willed ye
gods."--AEneid, v. 49.]

I have only led a languishing life; and the very pleasures that present
themselves to me, instead of administering anything of consolation,
double my affliction for his loss. We were halves throughout, and to
that degree, that methinks, by outliving him, I defraud him of his part.

"Nec fas esse ulla me voluptate hic frui
Decrevi, tantisper dum ille abest meus particeps."

["I have determined that it will never be right for me to enjoy any
pleasure, so long as he, with whom I shared all pleasures is away."
--Terence, Heaut., i. I. 97.]

I was so grown and accustomed to be always his double in all places and
in all things, that methinks I am no more than half of myself:

"Illam meae si partem anima tulit
Maturior vis, quid moror altera?
Nec carus aeque, nec superstes
Integer? Ille dies utramque
Duxit ruinam."

["If that half of my soul were snatch away from me by an untimely
stroke, why should the other stay? That which remains will not be
equally dear, will not be whole: the same day will involve the
destruction of both."]


["If a superior force has taken that part of my soul, why do I, the
remaining one, linger behind? What is left is not so dear, nor an
entire thing: this day has wrought the destruction of both."
--Horace, Ode, ii. 17, 5.]

There is no action or imagination of mine wherein I do not miss him; as I
know that he would have missed me: for as he surpassed me by infinite
degrees in virtue and all other accomplishments, so he also did in the
duties of friendship:

"Quis desiderio sit pudor, aut modus
Tam cari capitis?"

["What shame can there, or measure, in lamenting so dear a friend?"
--Horace, Ode, i. 24, I.]

"O misero frater adempte mihi!
Omnia tecum una perierunt gaudia nostra,
Quae tuus in vita dulcis alebat amor.
Tu mea, tu moriens fregisti commoda, frater;
Tecum una tota est nostra sepulta anima
Cujus ego interitu tota de menthe fugavi
Haec studia, atque omnes delicias animi.
Alloquar? audiero nunquam tua verba loquentem?
Nunquam ego te, vita frater amabilior
Aspiciam posthac; at certe semper amabo;"

["O brother, taken from me miserable! with thee, all our joys have
vanished, those joys which, in thy life, thy dear love nourished.
Dying, thou, my brother, hast destroyed all my happiness. My whole
soul is buried with thee. Through whose death I have banished from
my mind these studies, and all the delights of the mind. Shall I
address thee? I shall never hear thy voice. Never shall I behold
thee hereafter. O brother, dearer to me than life. Nought remains,
but assuredly I shall ever love thee."--Catullus, lxviii. 20; lxv.]

But let us hear a boy of sixteen speak:

--[In Cotton's translation the work referred to is "those Memoirs
upon the famous edict of January," of which mention has already been
made in the present edition. The edition of 1580, however, and the
Variorum edition of 1872-1900, indicate no particular work; but the
edition of 1580 has it "this boy of eighteen years"(which was the
age at which La Boetie wrote his "Servitude Volontaire"), speaks of
"a boy of sixteen" as occurring only in the common editions, and it
would seem tolerably clear that this more important work was, in
fact, the production to which Montaigne refers, and that the proper
reading of the text should be "sixteen years." What "this boy
spoke" is not given by Montaigne, for the reason stated in the next
following paragraph.]

"Because I have found that that work has been since brought out, and with
a mischievous design, by those who aim at disturbing and changing the
condition of our government, without troubling themselves to think
whether they are likely to improve it: and because they have mixed up his
work with some of their own performance, I have refrained from inserting
it here. But that the memory of the author may not be injured, nor
suffer with such as could not come near-hand to be acquainted with his
principles, I here give them to understand, that it was written by him in
his boyhood, and that by way of exercise only, as a common theme that has
been hackneyed by a thousand writers. I make no question but that he
himself believed what he wrote, being so conscientious that he would not
so much as lie in jest: and I moreover know, that could it have been in
his own choice, he had rather have been born at Venice, than at Sarlac;
and with reason. But he had another maxim sovereignty imprinted in his
soul, very religiously to obey and submit to the laws under which he was
born. There never was a better citizen, more affectionate to his
country; nor a greater enemy to all the commotions and innovations of his
time: so that he would much rather have employed his talent to the
extinguishing of those civil flames, than have added any fuel to them;
he had a mind fashioned to the model of better ages. Now, in exchange of
this serious piece, I will present you with another of a more gay and
frolic air, from the same hand, and written at the same age."




[They scarce contain anything but amorous complaints, expressed in a
very rough style, discovering the follies and outrages of a restless
passion, overgorged, as it were, with jealousies, fears and

[These....contained in the edition of 1588 nine-and-twenty sonnets
of La Boetie, accompanied by a dedicatory epistle to Madame de
Grammont. The former, which are referred to at the end of Chap.
XXVIL, do not really belong to the book, and are of very slight
interest at this time; the epistle is transferred to the
Correspondence. The sonnets, with the letter, were presumably sent
some time after Letters V. et seq. Montaigne seems to have had
several copies written out to forward to friends or acquaintances.]



As if we had an infectious touch, we, by our manner of handling, corrupt
things that in themselves are laudable and good: we may grasp virtue so
that it becomes vicious, if we embrace it too stringently and with too
violent a desire. Those who say, there is never any excess in virtue,
forasmuch as it is not virtue when it once becomes excess, only play upon

"Insani sapiens nomen ferat, aequus iniqui,
Ultra quam satis est, virtutem si petat ipsam."

["Let the wise man bear the name of a madman, the just one of an
unjust, if he seek wisdom more than is sufficient."
--Horace, Ep., i. 6, 15.]

["The wise man is no longer wise, the just man no longer just, if he
seek to carry his love for wisdom or virtue beyond that which is

This is a subtle consideration of philosophy. A man may both be too much
in love with virtue, and be excessive in a just action. Holy Writ agrees
with this, Be not wiser than you should, but be soberly wise.--[St.
Paul, Epistle to the Romans, xii. 3.]--I have known a great man,

--["It is likely that Montaigne meant Henry III., king of France.
The Cardinal d'Ossat, writing to Louise, the queen-dowager, told
her, in his frank manner, that he had lived as much or more like a
monk than a monarch (Letter XXIII.) And Pope Sextus V., speaking of
that prince one day to the Cardinal de Joyeuse, protector of the
affairs of France, said to him pleasantly, 'There is nothing that
your king hath not done, and does not do so still, to be a monk, nor
anything that I have not done, not to be a monk.'"--Coste.]

prejudice the opinion men had of his devotion, by pretending to be devout
beyond all examples of others of his condition. I love temperate and

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