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The Essays of Montaigne, Complete by Michel de Montaigne

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As we have doublet and breeches-makers, distinct trades, to clothe us,
and are so much the better fitted, seeing that each of them meddles only
with his own business, and has less to trouble his head with than the
tailor who undertakes all; and as in matter of diet, great persons, for
their better convenience, and to the end they may be better served, have
cooks for the different offices, this for soups and potages, that for
roasting, instead of which if one cook should undertake the whole
service, he could not so well perform it; so also as to the cure of our
maladies. The Egyptians had reason to reject this general trade of
physician, and to divide the profession: to each disease, to each part of
the body, its particular workman; for that part was more properly and
with less confusion cared for, seeing the person looked to nothing else.
Ours are not aware that he who provides for all, provides for nothing;
and that the entire government of this microcosm is more than they are
able to undertake. Whilst they were afraid of stopping a dysentery, lest
they should put the patient into a fever, they killed me a friend,
--[Estienne de la Boetie.]--who was worth more than the whole of them.
They counterpoise their own divinations with the present evils; and
because they will not cure the brain to the prejudice of the stomach,
they injure both with their dissentient and tumultuary drugs.

As to the variety and weakness of the rationale of this art, they are
more manifest in it than in any other art; aperitive medicines are proper
for a man subject to the stone, by reason that opening and dilating the
passages they help forward the slimy matter whereof gravel and stone are
engendered, and convey that downward which begins to harden and gather in
the reins; aperitive things are dangerous for a man subject to the stone,
by reason that, opening and dilating the passages, they help forward the
matter proper to create the gravel toward the reins, which by their own
propension being apt to seize it, 'tis not to be imagined but that a
great deal of what has been conveyed thither must remain behind;
moreover, if the medicine happen to meet with anything too large to be
carried through all the narrow passages it must pass to be expelled, that
obstruction, whatever it is, being stirred by these aperitive things and
thrown into those narrow passages, coming to stop them, will occasion a
certain and most painful death. They have the like uniformity in the
counsels they give us for the regimen of life: it is good to make water
often; for we experimentally see that, in letting it lie long in the
bladder, we give it time to settle the sediment, which will concrete into
a stone; it is good not to make water often, for the heavy excrements it
carries along with it will not be voided without violence, as we see by
experience that a torrent that runs with force washes the ground it rolls
over much cleaner than the course of a slow and tardy stream; so, it is
good to have often to do with women, for that opens the passages and
helps to evacuate gravel; it is also very ill to have often to do with
women, because it heats, tires, and weakens the reins. It is good to
bathe frequently in hot water, forasmuch as that relaxes and mollifies
the places where the gravel and stone lie; it is also ill by reason that
this application of external heat helps the reins to bake, harden, and
petrify the matter so disposed. For those who are taking baths it is
most healthful. To eat little at night, to the end that the waters they
are to drink the next morning may have a better operation upon an empty
stomach; on the other hand, it is better to eat little at dinner, that it
hinder not the operation of the waters, while it is not yet perfect, and
not to oppress the stomach so soon after the other labour, but leave the
office of digestion to the night, which will much better perform it than
the day, when the body and soul are in perpetual moving and action. Thus
do they juggle and trifle in all their discourses at our expense; and
they could not give me one proposition against which I should not know
how to raise a contrary of equal force. Let them, then, no longer
exclaim against those who in this trouble of sickness suffer themselves
to be gently guided by their own appetite and the advice of nature, and
commit themselves to the common fortune.

I have seen in my travels almost all the famous baths of Christendom, and
for some years past have begun to make use of them myself: for I look
upon bathing as generally wholesome, and believe that we suffer no little
inconveniences in our health by having left off the custom that was
generally observed, in former times, almost by all nations, and is yet in
many, of bathing every day; and I cannot imagine but that we are much the
worse by, having our limbs crusted and our pores stopped with dirt. And
as to the drinking of them, fortune has in the first place rendered them
not at all unacceptable to my taste; and secondly, they are natural and
simple, which at least carry no danger with them, though they may do us
no good, of which the infinite crowd of people of all sorts and
complexions who repair thither I take to be a sufficient warranty; and
although I have not there observed any extraordinary and miraculous
effects, but that on the contrary, having more narrowly than ordinary
inquired into it, I have found all the reports of such operations that
have been spread abroad in those places ill-grounded and false, and those
that believe them (as people are willing to be gulled in what they
desire) deceived in them, yet I have seldom known any who have been made
worse by those waters, and a man cannot honestly deny but that they beget
a better appetite, help digestion, and do in some sort revive us, if we
do not go too late and in too weak a condition, which I would dissuade
every one from doing. They have not the virtue to raise men from
desperate and inveterate diseases, but they may help some light
indisposition, or prevent some threatening alteration. He who does not
bring along with him so much cheerfulness as to enjoy the pleasure of the
company he will there meet, and of the walks and exercises to which the
amenity of those places invite us, will doubtless lose the best and
surest part of their effect. For this reason I have hitherto chosen to
go to those of the most pleasant situation, where there was the best
conveniency of lodging, provision, and company, as the baths of Bagneres
in France, those of Plombieres on the frontiers of Germany and Lorraine,
those of Baden in Switzerland, those of Lucca in Tuscany, and especially
those of Della Villa, which I have the most and at various seasons

Every nation has particular opinions touching their use, and particular
rules and methods in using them; and all of them, according to what I
have seen, almost with like effect. Drinking them is not at all received
in Germany; the Germans bathe for all diseases, and will lie dabbling in
the water almost from sun to sun; in Italy, where they drink nine days,
they bathe at least thirty, and commonly drink the water mixed with some
other drugs to make it work the better. Here we are ordered to walk to
digest it; there we are kept in bed after taking it till it be wrought
off, our stomachs and feet having continually hot cloths applied to them
all the while; and as the Germans have a particular practice generally to
use cupping and scarification in the bath, so the Italians have their
'doccie', which are certain little streams of this hot water brought
through pipes, and with these bathe an hour in the morning, and as much
in the afternoon, for a month together, either the head, stomach, or any
other part where the evil lies. There are infinite other varieties of
customs in every country, or rather there is no manner of resemblance to
one another. By this you may see that this little part of physic to
which I have only submitted, though the least depending upon art of all
others, has yet a great share of the confusion and uncertainty everywhere
else manifest in the profession.

The poets put what they would say with greater emphasis and grace;
witness these two epigrams:

"Alcon hesterno signum Jovis attigit: ille,
Quamvis marmoreus, vim patitur medici.
Ecce hodie, jussus transferri ex aeede vetusta,
Effertur, quamvis sit Deus atque lapis."

["Alcon yesterday touched Jove's statue; he, although marble,
suffers the force of the physician: to-day ordered to be transferred
from the old temple, where it stood, it is carried out, although it
be a god and a stone."--Ausonius, Ep., 74.]

and the other:

"Lotus nobiscum est, hilaris coenavit; et idem
Inventus mane est mortuus Andragoras.
Tam subitae mortis causam, Faustine, requiris?
In somnis medicum viderat Hermocratem:"

["Andragoras bathed with us, supped gaily, and in the morning the
same was found dead. Dost thou ask, Faustinus, the cause of this so
sudden death? In his dreams he had seen the physician Hermocrates."
--Martial, vi. 53.]

upon which I will relate two stories.

The Baron de Caupene in Chalosse and I have betwixt us the advowson of a
benefice of great extent, at the foot of our mountains, called Lahontan.
It is with the inhabitants of this angle, as 'tis said of those of the
Val d'Angrougne; they lived a peculiar sort of life, their fashions,
clothes, and manners distinct from other people; ruled and governed by
certain particular laws and usages, received from father to son, to which
they submitted, without other constraint than the reverence to custom.
This little state had continued from all antiquity in so happy a
condition, that no neighbouring judge was ever put to the trouble of
inquiring into their doings; no advocate was ever retained to give them
counsel, no stranger ever called in to compose their differences; nor was
ever any of them seen to go a-begging. They avoided all alliances and
traffic with the outer world, that they might not corrupt the purity of
their own government; till, as they say, one of them, in the memory of
man, having a mind spurred on with a noble ambition, took it into his
head, to bring his name into credit and reputation, to make one of his
sons something more than ordinary, and having put him to learn to write
in a neighbouring town, made him at last a brave village notary. This
fellow, having acquired such dignity, began to disdain their ancient
customs, and to buzz into the people's ears the pomp of the other parts
of the nation; the first prank he played was to advise a friend of his,
whom somebody had offended by sawing off the horns of one of his goats,
to make his complaint to the royal judges thereabout, and so he went on
from one to another, till he had spoiled and confounded all. In the tail
of this corruption, they say, there happened another, and of worse
consequence, by means of a physician, who, falling in love with one of
their daughters, had a mind to marry her and to live amongst them. This
man first of all began to teach them the names of fevers, colds, and
imposthumes; the seat of the heart, liver, and intestines, a science till
then utterly unknown to them; and instead of garlic, with which they were
wont to cure all manner of diseases, how painful or extreme soever, he
taught them, though it were but for a cough or any little cold, to take
strange mixtures, and began to make a trade not only of their health, but
of their lives. They swear till then they never perceived the evening
air to be offensive to the head; that to drink when they were hot was
hurtful, and that the winds of autumn were more unwholesome than those of
spring; that, since this use of physic, they find themselves oppressed
with a legion of unaccustomed diseases, and that they perceive a general
decay in their ancient vigour, and their lives are cut shorter by the
half. This is the first of my stories.

The other is, that before I was afflicted with the stone, hearing that
the blood of a he-goat was with many in very great esteem, and looked
upon as a celestial manna rained down upon these latter ages for the good
and preservation of the lives of men, and having heard it spoken of by
men of understanding for an admirable drug, and of infallible operation;
I, who have ever thought myself subject to all the accidents that can
befall other men, had a mind, in my perfect health, to furnish myself
with this miracle, and therefore gave order to have a goat fed at home
according to the recipe: for he must be taken in the hottest month of all
summer, and must only have aperitive herbs given him to eat, and white
wine to drink. I came home by chance the very day he was to be killed;
and some one came and told me that the cook had found two or three great
balls in his paunch, that rattled against one another amongst what he had
eaten. I was curious to have all his entrails brought before me, where,
having caused the skin that enclosed them to be cut, there tumbled out
three great lumps, as light as sponges, so that they appeared to be
hollow, but as to the rest, hard and firm without, and spotted and mixed
all over with various dead colours; one was perfectly round, and of the
bigness of an ordinary ball; the other two something less, of an
imperfect roundness, as seeming not to be arrived at their, full growth.
I find, by inquiry of people accustomed to open these animals, that it is
a rare and unusual accident. 'Tis likely these are stones of the same
nature with ours and if so, it must needs be a very vain hope in
those who have the stone, to extract their cure from the blood of a beast
that was himself about to die of the same disease. For to say that the
blood does not participate of this contagion, and does not thence alter
its wonted virtue, it is rather to be believed that nothing is engendered
in a body but by the conspiracy and communication of all the parts: the
whole mass works together, though one part contributes more to the work
than another, according to the diversity of operations; wherefore it is
very likely that there was some petrifying quality in all the parts of
this goat. It was not so much for fear of the future, and for myself,
that I was curious in this experiment, but because it falls out in mine,
as it does in many other families, that the women store up such little
trumperies for the service of the people, using the same recipe in fifty
several diseases, and such a recipe as they will not take themselves, and
yet triumph when they happen to be successful.

As to what remains, I honour physicians, not according to the precept
for their necessity (for to this passage may be opposed another of the
prophet reproving King Asa for having recourse to a physician), but for
themselves, having known many very good men of that profession, and most
worthy to be beloved. I do not attack them; 'tis their art I inveigh
against, and do not much blame them for making their advantage of our
folly, for most men do the same. Many callings, both of greater and of
less dignity than theirs, have no other foundation or support than public
abuse. When I am sick I send for them if they be near, only to have
their company, and pay them as others do. I give them leave to command
me to keep myself warm, because I naturally love to do it, and to appoint
leeks or lettuce for my broth; to order me white wine or claret; and so
as to all other things, which are indifferent to my palate and custom.
I know very well that I do nothing for them in so doing, because
sharpness and strangeness are incidents of the very essence of physic.
Lycurgus ordered wine for the sick Spartans. Why? because they
abominated the drinking it when they were well; as a gentleman, a
neighbour of mine, takes it as an excellent medicine in his fever,
because naturally he mortally hates the taste of it. How many do we see
amongst them of my humour, who despise taking physic themselves, are men
of a liberal diet, and live a quite contrary sort of life to what they
prescribe others? What is this but flatly to abuse our simplicity? for
their own lives and health are no less dear to them than ours are to us,
and consequently they would accommodate their practice to their rules, if
they did not themselves know how false these are.

'Tis the fear of death and of pain, impatience of disease, and a violent
and indiscreet desire of a present cure, that so blind us: 'tis pure
cowardice that makes our belief so pliable and easy to be imposed upon:
and yet most men do not so much believe as they acquiesce and permit; for
I hear them find fault and complain as well as we; but they resolve at
last, "What should I do then?" As if impatience were of itself a better
remedy than patience. Is there any one of those who have suffered
themselves to be persuaded into this miserable subjection, who does not
equally surrender himself to all sorts of impostures? who does not give
up himself to the mercy of whoever has the impudence to promise him a
cure? The Babylonians carried their sick into the public square; the
physician was the people: every one who passed by being in humanity and
civility obliged to inquire of their condition, gave some advice
according to his own experience. We do little better; there is not so
simple a woman, whose gossips and drenches we do not make use of: and
according to my humour, if I were to take physic, I would sooner choose
to take theirs than any other, because at least, if they do no good, they
will do no harm. What Homer and Plato said of the Egyptians, that they
were all physicians, may be said of all nations; there is not a man
amongst any of them who does not boast of some rare recipe, and who will
not venture it upon his neighbour, if he will let him. I was the other
day in a company where one, I know not who, of my fraternity brought us
intelligence of a new sort of pills made up of a hundred and odd
ingredients: it made us very merry, and was a singular consolation, for
what rock could withstand so great a battery? And yet I hear from those
who have made trial of it, that the least atom of gravel deigned not to
stir fort.

I cannot take my hand from the paper before I have added a word
concerning the assurance they give us of the certainty of their drugs,
from the experiments they have made.

The greatest part, I should say above two-thirds of the medicinal
virtues, consist in the quintessence or occult property of simples,
of which we can have no other instruction than use and custom; for
quintessence is no other than a quality of which we cannot by our reason
find out the cause. In such proofs, those they pretend to have acquired
by the inspiration of some daemon, I am content to receive (for I meddle
not with miracles); and also the proofs which are drawn from things that,
upon some other account, often fall into use amongst us; as if in the
wool, wherewith we are wont to clothe ourselves, there has accidentally
some occult desiccative property been found out of curing kibed heels, or
as if in the radish we eat for food there has been found out some
aperitive operation. Galen reports, that a man happened to be cured of a
leprosy by drinking wine out of a vessel into which a viper had crept by
chance. In this example we find the means and a very likely guide and
conduct to this experience, as we also do in those that physicians
pretend to have been directed to by the example of some beasts. But in
most of their other experiments wherein they affirm they have been
conducted by fortune, and to have had no other guide than chance, I find
the progress of this information incredible. Suppose man looking round
about him upon the infinite number of things, plants, animals, metals;
I do not know where he would begin his trial; and though his first fancy
should fix him upon an elk's horn, wherein there must be a very pliant
and easy belief, he will yet find himself as perplexed in his second
operation. There are so many maladies and so many circumstances
presented to him, that before he can attain the certainty of the point to
which the perfection of his experience should arrive, human sense will be
at the end of its lesson: and before he can, amongst this infinity of
things, find out what this horn is; amongst so many diseases, what is
epilepsy; the many complexions in a melancholy person; the many seasons
in winter; the many nations in the French; the many ages in age; the many
celestial mutations in the conjunction of Venus and Saturn; the many
parts in man's body, nay, in a finger; and being, in all this, directed
neither by argument, conjecture, example, nor divine inspirations, but
merely by the sole motion of fortune, it must be by a perfectly
artificial, regular and methodical fortune. And after the cure is
performed, how can he assure himself that it was not because the disease
had arrived at its period or an effect of chance? or the operation of
something else that he had eaten, drunk, or touched that day? or by
virtue of his grandmother's prayers? And, moreover, had this experiment
been perfect, how many times was it repeated, and this long bead-roll of
haps, and concurrences strung anew by chance to conclude a certain rule?
And when the rule is concluded, by whom, I pray you? Of so many
millions, there are but three men who take upon them to record their
experiments: must fortune needs just hit one of these? What if another,
and a hundred others, have made contrary experiments? We might,
peradventure, have some light in this, were all the judgments and
arguments of men known to us; but that three witnesses, three doctors,
should lord it over all mankind, is against reason: it were necessary
that human nature should have deputed and chosen them out, and that they
were declared our comptrollers by express procuration:


--[Marguerite de Grammont, widow of Jean de Durfort, Seigneur de
Duras, who was killed near Leghorn, leaving no posterity. Montaigne
seems to have been on terms of considerable intimacy with her, and
to have tendered her some very wholesome and frank advice in regard
to her relations with Henry IV.]--

"MADAME,--The last time you honoured me with a visit, you found me at work
upon this chapter, and as these trifles may one day fall into your hands,
I would also that they testify in how great honour the author will take
any favour you shall please to show them. You will there find the same
air and mien you have observed in his conversation; and though I could
have borrowed some better or more favourable garb than my own, I would
not have done it: for I require nothing more of these writings, but to
present me to your memory such as I naturally am. The same conditions
and faculties you have been pleased to frequent and receive with much
more honour and courtesy than they deserve, I would put together (but
without alteration or change) in one solid body, that may peradventure
continue some years, or some days, after I am gone; where you may find
them again when you shall please to refresh your memory, without putting
you to any greater trouble; neither are they worth it. I desire you
should continue the favour of your friendship to me, by the same
qualities by which it was acquired.

"I am not at all ambitious that any one should love and esteem me more
dead than living. The humour of Tiberius is ridiculous, but yet common,
who was more solicitous to extend his renown to posterity than to render
himself acceptable to men of his own time. If I were one of those to
whom the world could owe commendation, I would give out of it one-half to
have the other in hand; let their praises come quick and crowding about
me, more thick than long, more full than durable; and let them cease, in
God's name, with my own knowledge of them, and when the sweet sound can
no longer pierce my ears. It were an idle humour to essay, now that I am
about to forsake the commerce of men, to offer myself to them by a new
recommendation. I make no account of the goods I could not employ in the
service of my life. Such as I am, I will be elsewhere than in paper: my
art and industry have been ever directed to render myself good for
something; my studies, to teach me to do, and not to write. I have made
it my whole business to frame my life: this has been my trade and my
work; I am less a writer of books than anything else. I have coveted
understanding for the service of my present and real conveniences, and
not to lay up a stock for my posterity. He who has anything of value in
him, let him make it appear in his conduct, in his ordinary discourses,
in his courtships, and his quarrels: in play, in bed, at table, in the
management of his affairs, in his economics. Those whom I see make good
books in ill breeches, should first have mended their breeches, if they
would have been ruled by me. Ask a Spartan whether he had rather be a
good orator or a good soldier: and if I was asked the same question, I
would rather choose to be a good cook, had I not one already to serve me.
My God! Madame, how should I hate such a recommendation of being a
clever fellow at writing, and an ass and an inanity in everything else!
Yet I had rather be a fool both here and there than to have made so ill a
choice wherein to employ my talent. And I am so far from expecting to
gain any new reputation by these follies, that I shall think I come off
pretty well if I lose nothing by them of that little I had before. For
besides that this dead and mute painting will take from my natural being,
it has no resemblance to my better condition, but is much lapsed from my
former vigour and cheerfulness, growing faded and withered: I am towards
the bottom of the barrel, which begins to taste of the lees.

"As to the rest, Madame, I should not have dared to make so bold with the
mysteries of physic, considering the esteem that you and so many others
have of it, had I not had encouragement from their own authors. I think
there are of these among the old Latin writers but two, Pliny and Celsus
if these ever fall into your hands, you will find that they speak much
more rudely of their art than I do; I but pinch it, they cut its throat.
Pliny, amongst other things, twits them with this, that when they are at
the end of their rope, they have a pretty device to save themselves, by
recommending their patients, whom they have teased and tormented with
their drugs and diets to no purpose, some to vows and miracles, others to
the hot baths. (Be not angry, Madame; he speaks not of those in our
parts, which are under the protection of your house, and all Gramontins.)
They have a third way of saving their own credit, of ridding their hands
of us and securing themselves from the reproaches we might cast in their
teeth of our little amendment, when they have had us so long in their
hands that they have not one more invention left wherewith to amuse us,
which is to send us to the better air of some other country. This,
Madame, is enough; I hope you will give me leave to return to my
discourse, from which I have so far digressed, the better to divert you."

It was, I think, Pericles, who being asked how he did: "You may judge,"
says he, "by these," showing some little scrolls of parchment he had tied
about his neck and arms. By which he would infer that he must needs be
very sick when he was reduced to a necessity of having recourse to such
idle and vain fopperies, and of suffering himself to be so equipped.
I dare not promise but that I may one day be so much a fool as to commit
my life and death to the mercy and government of physicians; I may fall
into such a frenzy; I dare not be responsible for my future constancy:
but then, if any one ask me how I do, I may also answer, as Pericles did,
"You may judge by this," shewing my hand clutching six drachms of opium.
It will be a very evident sign of a violent sickness: my judgment will be
very much out of order; if once fear and impatience get such an advantage
over me, it may very well be concluded that there is a dreadful fever in
my mind.

I have taken the pains to plead this cause, which I understand
indifferently, a little to back and support the natural aversion to drugs
and the practice of physic I have derived from my ancestors, to the end
it may not be a mere stupid and inconsiderate aversion, but have a little
more form; and also, that they who shall see me so obstinate in my
resolution against all exhortations and menaces that shall be given me,
when my infirmity shall press hardest upon me, may not think 'tis mere
obstinacy in me; or any one so ill-natured as to judge it to be any
motive of glory: for it would be a strange ambition to seek to gain
honour by an action my gardener or my groom can perform as well as I.
Certainly, I have not a heart so tumorous and windy, that I should
exchange so solid a pleasure as health for an airy and imaginary
pleasure: glory, even that of the Four Sons of Aymon, is too dear bought
by a man of my humour, if it cost him three swinging fits of the stone.
Give me health, in God's name! Such as love physic, may also have good,
great, and convincing considerations; I do not hate opinions contrary to
my own: I am so, far from being angry to see a discrepancy betwixt mine
and other men's judgments, and from rendering myself unfit for the
society of men, from being of another sense and party than mine, that on
the contrary (the most general way that nature has followed being
variety, and more in souls than bodies, forasmuch as they are of a more
supple substance, and more susceptible of forms) I find it much more rare
to see our humours and designs jump and agree. And there never were, in
the world, two opinions alike, no more than two hairs, or two grains:
their most universal quality is diversity.


I am towards the bottom of the barrel
Accusing all others of ignorance and imposition
Affection towards their husbands, (not)until they have lost them
Anything of value in him, let him make it appear in his conduct
As if impatience were of itself a better remedy than patience
Assurance they give us of the certainty of their drugs
At least, if they do no good, they will do no harm
Attribute to itself; all the happy successes that happen
Best part of a captain to know how to make use of occasions
Burnt and roasted for opinions taken upon trust from others
Commit themselves to the common fortune
Crafty humility that springs from presumption
Did not approve all sorts of means to obtain a victory
Disease had arrived at its period or an effect of chance?
Dissentient and tumultuary drugs
Do not much blame them for making their advantage of our folly
Doctors: more felicity and duration in their own lives?
Doctrine much more intricate and fantastic than the thing itself
Drugs being in its own nature an enemy to our health
Even the very promises of physic are incredible in themselves
Fathers conceal their affection from their children
He who provides for all, provides for nothing
Health depends upon the vanity and falsity of their promises
Health is altered and corrupted by their frequent prescriptions
Health to be worth purchasing by all the most painful cauteries
Homer: The only words that have motion and action
I dare not promise but that I may one day be so much a fool
I see no people so soon sick as those who take physic
Indiscreet desire of a present cure, that so blind us
Intended to get a new husband than to lament the old
Let it alone a little
Life should be cut off in the sound and living part
Live a quite contrary sort of life to what they prescribe others
Live, not so long as they please, but as long as they ought
Llaying the fault upon the patient, by such frivolous reasons
Long a voyage I should at last run myself into some disadvantage
Making their advantage of our folly, for most men do the same
Man may with less trouble adapt himself to entire abstinence
Man runs a very great hazard in their hands (of physicians)
Mark of singular good nature to preserve old age
Men must embark, and not deliberate, upon high enterprises
Mercenaries who would receive any (pay)
Moderation is a virtue that gives more work than suffering
More valued a victory obtained by counsel than by force
Most men do not so much believe as they acquiesce and permit
Never any man knew so much, and spake so little
No danger with them, though they may do us no good
No other foundation or support than public abuse
No physic that has not something hurtful in it
Noble and rich, where examples of virtue are rarely lodged
Obstinacy is the sister of constancy
Order a purge for your brain, it will there be much better
Ordinances it (Medicine)foists upon us
Passion has a more absolute command over us than reason
Pay very strict usury who did not in due time pay the principal
People are willing to be gulled in what they desire
Physician's "help", which is very often an obstacle
Physicians are not content to deal only with the sick
Physicians fear men should at any time escape their authority
Physicians were the only men who might lie at pleasure
Physicians: earth covers their failures
Plato said of the Egyptians, that they were all physicians
Pure cowardice that makes our belief so pliable
Recommendation of strangeness, rarity, and dear purchase
Send us to the better air of some other country
Should first have mended their breeches
Smile upon us whilst we are alive
So austere and very wise countenance and carriage (of physicians)
So much are men enslaved to their miserable being
Solon said that eating was physic against the malady hunger
Strangely suspect all this merchandise: medical care
Studies, to teach me to do, and not to write
Such a recipe as they will not take themselves
That he could neither read nor swim
The Babylonians carried their sick into the public square
They (good women) are not by the dozen, as every one knows
They have not one more invention left wherewith to amuse us
They juggle and trifle in all their discourses at our expense
They never loved them till dead
Tis in some sort a kind of dying to avoid the pain of living wel
Tis not the number of men, but the number of good men
Tis there she talks plain French
To be, not to seem
To keep me from dying is not in your power
Two opinions alike, no more than two hairs
Tyrannical authority physicians usurp over poor creatures
Venture it upon his neighbour, if he will let him
Venture the making ourselves better without any danger
We confess our ignorance in many things
We do not easily accept the medicine we understand
What are become of all our brave philosophical precepts?
What we have not seen, we are forced to receive from other hands
Whatever was not ordinary diet, was instead of a drug
Whimpering is offensive to the living and vain to the dead
Who does not boast of some rare recipe
Who ever saw one physician approve of another's prescription
Willingly give them leave to laugh after we are dead
With being too well I am about to die
Wont to give others their life, and not to receive it
You may indeed make me die an ill death


Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



I. Of Profit and Honesty.
II. Of Repentance.
III. Of Three Commerces.
IV. Of Diversion.





No man is free from speaking foolish things; but the worst on't is, when
a man labours to play the fool:

"Nae iste magno conatu magnas nugas dixerit."

["Truly he, with a great effort will shortly say a mighty trifle."
---Terence, Heaut., act iii., s. 4.]

This does not concern me; mine slip from me with as little care as they
are of little value, and 'tis the better for them. I would presently
part with them for what they are worth, and neither buy nor sell them,
but as they weigh. I speak on paper, as I do to the first person I meet;
and that this is true, observe what follows.

To whom ought not treachery to be hateful, when Tiberius refused it in a
thing of so great importance to him? He had word sent him from Germany
that if he thought fit, they would rid him of Arminius by poison: this
was the most potent enemy the Romans had, who had defeated them so
ignominiously under Varus, and who alone prevented their aggrandisement
in those parts.

He returned answer, "that the people of Rome were wont to revenge
themselves of their enemies by open ways, and with their swords in their
hands, and not clandestinely and by fraud": wherein he quitted the
profitable for the honest. You will tell me that he was a braggadocio; I
believe so too: and 'tis no great miracle in men of his profession. But
the acknowledgment of virtue is not less valid in the mouth of him who
hates it, forasmuch as truth forces it from him, and if he will not
inwardly receive it, he at least puts it on for a decoration.

Our outward and inward structure is full of imperfection; but there is
nothing useless in nature, not even inutility itself; nothing has
insinuated itself into this universe that has not therein some fit and
proper place. Our being is cemented with sickly qualities: ambition,
jealousy, envy, revenge, superstition, and despair have so natural a
possession in us, that its image is discerned in beasts; nay, and
cruelty, so unnatural a vice; for even in the midst of compassion we feel
within, I know not what tart-sweet titillation of ill-natured pleasure in
seeing others suffer; and the children feel it:

"Suave mari magno, turbantibus aequora ventis,
E terra magnum alterius spectare laborem:"

["It is sweet, when the winds disturb the waters of the vast sea, to
witness from land the peril of other persons."--Lucretius, ii. I.]

of the seeds of which qualities, whoever should divest man, would destroy
the fundamental conditions of human life. Likewise, in all governments
there are necessary offices, not only abject, but vicious also. Vices
there help to make up the seam in our piecing, as poisons are useful for
the conservation of health. If they become excusable because they are of
use to us, and that the common necessity covers their true qualities, we
are to resign this part to the strongest and boldest citizens, who
sacrifice their honour and conscience, as others of old sacrificed their
lives, for the good of their country: we, who are weaker, take upon us
parts both that are more easy and less hazardous. The public weal
requires that men should betray, and lie, and massacre; let us leave this
commission to men who are more obedient and more supple.

In earnest, I have often been troubled to see judges, by fraud and false
hopes of favour or pardon, allure a criminal to confess his fact, and
therein to make use of cozenage and impudence. It would become justice,
and Plato himself, who countenances this manner of proceeding, to furnish
me with other means more suitable to my own liking: this is a malicious
kind of justice, and I look upon it as no less wounded by itself than by
others. I said not long since to some company in discourse, that I
should hardly be drawn to betray my prince for a particular man, who
should be much ashamed to betray any particular man for my prince; and I
do not only hate deceiving myself, but that any one should deceive
through me; I will neither afford matter nor occasion to any such thing.

In the little I have had to mediate betwixt our princes--[Between the
King of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV., and the Duc de Guise. See De
Thou, De Vita Sua, iii. 9.]--in the divisions and subdivisions by which
we are at this time torn to pieces, I have been very careful that they
should neither be deceived in me nor deceive others by me. People of
that kind of trading are very reserved, and pretend to be the most
moderate imaginable and nearest to the opinions of those with whom they
have to do; I expose myself in my stiff opinion, and after a method the
most my own; a tender negotiator, a novice, who had rather fail in the
affair than be wanting to myself. And yet it has been hitherto with so
good luck (for fortune has doubtless the best share in it), that few
things have passed from hand to hand with less suspicion or more favour
and privacy. I have a free and open way that easily insinuates itself
and obtains belief with those with whom I am to deal at the first
meeting. Sincerity and pure truth, in what age soever, pass for current;
and besides, the liberty and freedom of a man who treats without any
interest of his own is never hateful or suspected, and he may very well
make use of the answer of Hyperides to the Athenians, who complained of
his blunt way of speaking: "Messieurs, do not consider whether or no I am
free, but whether I am so without a bribe, or without any advantage to my
own affairs." My liberty of speaking has also easily cleared me from all
suspicion of dissembling by its vehemency, leaving nothing unsaid, how
home and bitter soever (so that I could have said no worse behind their
backs), and in that it carried along with it a manifest show of
simplicity and indifference. I pretend to no other fruit by acting than
to act, and add to it no long arguments or propositions; every action
plays its own game, win if it can.

As to the rest, I am not swayed by any passion, either of love or hatred,
towards the great, nor has my will captivated either by particular injury
or obligation. I look upon our kings with an affection simply loyal and
respectful, neither prompted nor restrained by any private interest, and
I love myself for it. Nor does the general and just cause attract me
otherwise than with moderation, and without heat. I am not subject to
those penetrating and close compacts and engagements. Anger and hatred
are beyond the duty of justice; and are passions only useful to those who
do not keep themselves strictly to their duty by simple reason:

"Utatur motu animi, qui uti ratione non potest."

["He may employ his passion, who can make no use of his reason."
--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., iv. 25.]

All legitimate intentions are temperate and equable of themselves; if
otherwise, they degenerate into seditious and unlawful. This is it which
makes me walk everywhere with my head erect, my face and my heart open.
In truth, and I am not afraid to confess it, I should easily, in case of
need, hold up one candle to St. Michael and another to his dragon, like
the old woman; I will follow the right side even to the fire, but
exclusively, if I can. Let Montaigne be overwhelmed in the public ruin
if need be; but if there be no need, I should think myself obliged to
fortune to save me, and I will make use of all the length of line my duty
allows for his preservation. Was it not Atticus who, being of the just
but losing side, preserved himself by his moderation in that universal
shipwreck of the world, amongst so many mutations and diversities? For
private man, as he was, it is more easy; and in such kind of work, I
think a man may justly not be ambitious to offer and insinuate himself.
For a man, indeed, to be wavering and irresolute, to keep his affection
unmoved and without inclination in the troubles of his country and public
divisions, I neither think it handsome nor honest:

"Ea non media, sed nulla via est, velut eventum
exspectantium, quo fortunae consilia sua applicent."

["That is not a middle way, but no way, to await events, by which
they refer their resolutions to fortune."--Livy, xxxii. 21.]

This may be allowed in our neighbours' affairs; and thus Gelo, the tyrant
of Syracuse, suspended his inclination in the war betwixt the Greeks and
barbarians, keeping a resident ambassador with presents at Delphos, to
watch and see which way fortune would incline, and then take fit occasion
to fall in with the victors. It would be a kind of treason to proceed
after this manner in our own domestic affairs, wherein a man must of
necessity be of the one side or the other; though for a man who has no
office or express command to call him out, to sit still I hold it more
excusable (and yet I do not excuse myself upon these terms) than in
foreign expeditions, to which, however, according to our laws, no man is
pressed against his will. And yet even those who wholly engage
themselves in such a war may behave themselves with such temper and
moderation, that the storm may fly over their heads without doing them
any harm. Had we not reason to hope such an issue in the person of the
late Bishop of Orleans, the Sieur de Morvilliers?

[An able negotiator, who, though protected by the Guises, and
strongly supporting them, was yet very far from persecuting the
Reformists. He died 1577.]

And I know, amongst those who behave themselves most bravely in the
present war, some whose manners are so gentle, obliging, and just, that
they will certainly stand firm, whatever event Heaven is preparing for
us. I am of opinion that it properly belongs to kings only to quarrel
with kings; and I laugh at those spirits who, out of lightness of heart,
lend themselves to so disproportioned disputes; for a man has never the
more particular quarrel with a prince, by marching openly and boldly
against him for his own honour and according to his duty; if he does not
love such a person, he does better, he esteems him. And notably the
cause of the laws and of the ancient government of a kingdom, has this
always annexed to it, that even those who, for their own private
interest, invade them, excuse, if they do not honour, the defenders.

But we are not, as we nowadays do, to call peevishness and inward
discontent, that spring from private interest and passion, duty, nor a
treacherous and malicious conduct, courage; they call their proneness to
mischief and violence zeal; 'tis not the cause, but their interest, that
inflames them; they kindle and begin a war, not because it is just, but
because it is war.

A man may very well behave himself commodiously and loyally too amongst
those of the adverse party; carry yourself, if not with the same equal
affection (for that is capable of different measure), at least with an
affection moderate, well tempered, and such as shall not so engage you to
one party, that it may demand all you are able to do for that side,
content yourself with a moderate proportion of their, favour and
goodwill; and to swim in troubled waters without fishing in them.

The other way, of offering a man's self and the utmost service he is able
to do, both to one party and the other, has still less of prudence in it
than conscience. Does not he to whom you betray another, to whom you
were as welcome as to himself, know that you will at another time do as
much for him? He holds you for a villain; and in the meantime hears what
you will say, gathers intelligence from you, and works his own ends out
of your disloyalty; double-dealing men are useful for bringing in, but we
must have a care they carry out as little as is possible.

I say nothing to one party that I may not, upon occasion, say to the
other, with a little alteration of accent; and report nothing but things
either indifferent or known, or what is of common consequence. I cannot
permit myself, for any consideration, to tell them a lie. What is
intrusted to my secrecy, I religiously conceal; but I take as few trusts
of that nature upon me as I can. The secrets of princes are a
troublesome burthen to such as are not interested in them. I very
willingly bargain that they trust me with little, but confidently rely
upon what I tell them. I have ever known more than I desired. One open
way of speaking introduces another open way of speaking, and draws out
discoveries, like wine and love. Philippides, in my opinion, answered
King Lysimachus very discreetly, who, asking him what of his estate he
should bestow upon him? "What you will," said he, "provided it be none
of your secrets." I see every one is displeased if the bottom of the
affair be concealed from him wherein he is employed, or that there be any
reservation in the thing; for my part, I am content to know no more of
the business than what they would have me employ myself in, nor desire
that my knowledge should exceed or restrict what I have to say. If I
must serve for an instrument of deceit, let it be at least with a safe
conscience: I will not be reputed a servant either so affectionate or so
loyal as to be fit to betray any one: he who is unfaithful to himself, is
excusably so to his master. But they are princes who do not accept men
by halves, and despise limited and conditional services: I cannot help
it: I frankly tell them how far I can go; for a slave I should not be,
but to reason, and I can hardly submit even to that. And they also are
to blame to exact from a freeman the same subjection and obligation to
their service that they do from him they have made and bought, or whose
fortune particularly and expressly depends upon theirs. The laws have
delivered me from a great anxiety; they have chosen a side for me, and
given me a master; all other superiority and obligation ought to be
relative to that, and cut, off from all other. Yet this is not to say,
that if my affection should otherwise incline me, my hand should
presently obey it; the will and desire are a law to themselves; but
actions must receive commission from the public appointment.

All this proceeding of mine is a little dissonant from the ordinary
forms; it would produce no great effects, nor be of any long duration;
innocence itself could not, in this age of ours, either negotiate without
dissimulation, or traffic without lying; and, indeed, public employments
are by no means for my palate: what my profession requires, I perform
after the most private manner that I can. Being young, I was engaged up
to the ears in business, and it succeeded well; but I disengaged myself
in good time. I have often since avoided meddling in it, rarely
accepted, and never asked it; keeping my back still turned to ambition;
but if not like rowers who so advance backward, yet so, at the same time,
that I am less obliged to my resolution than to my good fortune, that I
was not wholly embarked in it. For there are ways less displeasing to my
taste, and more suitable to my ability, by which, if she had formerly
called me to the public service, and my own advancement towards the
world's opinion, I know I should, in spite of all my own arguments to the
contrary, have pursued them. Such as commonly say, in opposition to what
I profess, that what I call freedom, simplicity, and plainness in my
manners, is art and subtlety, and rather prudence than goodness, industry
than nature, good sense than good luck, do me more honour than disgrace:
but, certainly, they make my subtlety too subtle; and whoever has
followed me close, and pryed narrowly into me, I will give him the
victory, if he does not confess that there is no rule in their school
that could match this natural motion, and maintain an appearance of
liberty and licence, so equal and inflexible, through so many various and
crooked paths, and that all their wit and endeavour could never have led
them through. The way of truth is one and simple; that of particular
profit, and the commodity of affairs a man is entrusted with, is double,
unequal, and casual. I have often seen these counterfeit and artificial
liberties practised, but, for the most part, without success; they relish
of AEsop's ass who, in emulation of the dog, obligingly clapped his two
fore-feet upon his master's shoulders; but as many caresses as the dog
had for such an expression of kindness, twice so many blows with a cudgel
had the poor ass for his compliment:

"Id maxime quemque decet, quod est cujusque suum maxime."

["That best becomes every man which belongs most to him;"
--Cicero, De Offic., i. 31.]

I will not deprive deceit of its due; that were but ill to understand the
world: I know it has often been of great use, and that it maintains and
supplies most men's employment. There are vices that are lawful, as
there are many actions, either good or excusable, that are not lawful in

The justice which in itself is natural and universal is otherwise and
more nobly ordered than that other justice which is special, national,
and constrained to the ends of government,

"Veri juris germanaeque justitiae solidam et expressam
effigiem nullam tenemus; umbra et imaginibus utimur;"

["We retain no solid and express portraiture of true right and
germane justice; we have only the shadow and image of it."
--Cicero, De Offic., iii. 17.]

insomuch that the sage Dandamis, hearing the lives of Socrates,
Pythagoras, and Diogenes read, judged them to be great men every way,
excepting that they were too much subjected to the reverence of the laws,
which, to second and authorise, true virtue must abate very much of its
original vigour; many vicious actions are introduced, not only by their
permission, but by their advice:

"Ex senatus consultis plebisquescitis scelera exercentur."

["Crimes are committed by the decrees of the Senate and the
popular assembly."--Seneca, Ep., 95.]

I follow the common phrase that distinguishes betwixt profitable and
honest things, so as to call some natural actions, that are not only
profitable but necessary, dishonest and foul.

But let us proceed in our examples of treachery two pretenders to the
kingdom of Thrace--[Rhescuporis and Cotys. Tacitus, Annal., ii. 65]--
were fallen into dispute about their title; the emperor hindered them
from proceeding to blows: but one of them, under colour of bringing
things to a friendly issue by an interview, having invited his competitor
to an entertainment in his own house, imprisoned and killed him. Justice
required that the Romans should have satisfaction for this offence; but
there was a difficulty in obtaining it by ordinary ways; what, therefore,
they could not do legitimately, without war and without danger, they
resolved to do by treachery; and what they could not honestly do, they
did profitably. For which end, one Pomponius Flaccus was found to be a
fit instrument. This man, by dissembled words and assurances, having
drawn the other into his toils, instead of the honour and favour he had
promised him, sent him bound hand and foot to Rome. Here one traitor
betrayed another, contrary to common custom: for they are full of
mistrust, and 'tis hard to overreach them in their own art: witness the
sad experience we have lately had.--[Montaigne here probably refers to
the feigned reconciliation between Catherine de Medici and Henri, Duc de
Guise, in 1588.]

Let who will be Pomponius Flaccus, and there are enough who would: for my
part, both my word and my faith are, like all the rest, parts of this
common body: their best effect is the public service; this I take for
presupposed. But should one command me to take charge of the courts of
law and lawsuits, I should make answer, that I understood it not; or the
place of a leader of pioneers, I would say, that I was called to a more
honourable employment; so likewise, he that would employ me to lie,
betray, and forswear myself, though not to assassinate or to poison, for
some notable service, I should say, "If I have robbed or stolen anything
from any man, send me rather to the galleys." For it is permissible in a
man of honour to say, as the Lacedaemonians did,--[Plutarch, Difference
between a Flatterer and a Friend, c. 21.]--having been defeated by
Antipater, when just upon concluding an agreement: "You may impose as
heavy and ruinous taxes upon us as you please, but to command us to do
shameful and dishonest things, you will lose your time, for it is to no
purpose." Every one ought to make the same vow to himself that the kings
of Egypt made their judges solemnly swear, that they would not do
anything contrary to their consciences, though never so much commanded to
it by themselves. In such commissions there is evident mark of ignominy
and condemnation; and he who gives it at the same time accuses you, and
gives it, if you understand it right, for a burden and a punishment.
As much as the public affairs are bettered by your exploit, so much are
your own the worse, and the better you behave yourself in it, 'tis so
much the worse for yourself; and it will be no new thing, nor,
peradventure, without some colour of justice, if the same person ruin
you who set you on work.

If treachery can be in any case excusable, it must be only so when it is
practised to chastise and betray treachery. There are examples enough of
treacheries, not only rejected, but chastised and punished by those in
favour of whom they were undertaken. Who is ignorant of Fabricius
sentence against the physician of Pyrrhus?

But this we also find recorded, that some persons have commanded a thing,
who afterward have severely avenged the execution of it upon him they had
employed, rejecting the reputation of so unbridled an authority, and
disowning so abandoned and base a servitude and obedience. Jaropelk,
Duke of Russia, tampered with a gentleman of Hungary to betray Boleslaus,
king of Poland, either by killing him, or by giving the Russians
opportunity to do him some notable mischief. This worthy went ably to
work: he was more assiduous than before in the service of that king, so
that he obtained the honour to be of his council, and one of the chiefest
in his trust. With these advantages, and taking an opportune occasion of
his master's absence, he betrayed Vislicza, a great and rich city, to the
Russians, which was entirely sacked and burned, and not only all the
inhabitants of both sexes, young and old, put to the sword, but moreover
a great number of neighbouring gentry, whom he had drawn thither to that
end. Jaropelk, his revenge being thus satisfied and his anger appeased,
which was not, indeed, without pretence (for Boleslaus had highly
offended him, and after the same manner), and sated with the fruit of
this treachery, coming to consider the fulness of it, with a sound
judgment and clear from passion, looked upon what had been done with so
much horror and remorse that he caused the eyes to be bored out and the
tongue and shameful parts to be cut off of him who had performed it.

Antigonus persuaded the Argyraspides to betray Eumenes, their general,
his adversary, into his hands; but after he had caused him, so delivered,
to be slain, he would himself be the commissioner of the divine justice
for the punishment of so detestable a crime, and committed them into the
hands of the governor of the province, with express command, by whatever
means, to destroy and bring them all to an evil end, so that of that
great number of men, not so much as one ever returned again into
Macedonia: the better he had been served, the more wickedly he judged it
to be, and meriting greater punishment.

The slave who betrayed the place where his master, P. Sulpicius, lay
concealed, was, according to the promise of Sylla's proscription,
manumitted for his pains; but according to the promise of the public
justice, which was free from any such engagement, he was thrown headlong
from the Tarpeian rock.

Our King Clovis, instead of the arms of gold he had promised them, caused
three of Cararie's servants to be hanged after they had betrayed their
master to him, though he had debauched them to it: he hanged them with
the purse of their reward about their necks; after having satisfied his
second and special faith, he satisfied the general and first.

Mohammed II. having resolved to rid himself of his brother, out of
jealousy of state, according to the practice of the Ottoman family, he
employed one of his officers in the execution, who, pouring a quantity of
water too fast into him, choked him. This being done, to expiate the
murder, he delivered the murderer into the hands of the mother of him he
had so caused to be put to death, for they were only brothers by the
father's side; she, in his presence, ripped up the murderer's bosom, and
with her own hands rifled his breast for his heart, tore it out, and
threw it to the dogs. And even to the worst people it is the sweetest
thing imaginable, having once gained their end by a vicious action, to
foist, in all security, into it some show of virtue and justice, as by
way of compensation and conscientious correction; to which may be added,
that they look upon the ministers of such horrid crimes as upon men who
reproach them with them, and think by their deaths to erase the memory
and testimony of such proceedings.

Or if, perhaps, you are rewarded, not to frustrate the public necessity
for that extreme and desperate remedy, he who does it cannot for all
that, if he be not such himself, but look upon you as an accursed and
execrable fellow, and conclude you a greater traitor than he does,
against whom you are so: for he tries the malignity of your disposition
by your own hands, where he cannot possibly be deceived, you having no
object of preceding hatred to move you to such an act; but he employs you
as they do condemned malefactors in executions of justice, an office as
necessary as dishonourable. Besides the baseness of such commissions,
there is, moreover, a prostitution of conscience. Seeing that the
daughter of Sejanus could not be put to death by the law of Rome, because
she was a virgin, she was, to make it lawful, first ravished by the
hangman and then strangled: not only his hand but his soul is slave to
the public convenience.

When Amurath I., more grievously to punish his subjects who had taken
part in the parricide rebellion of his son, ordained that their nearest
kindred should assist in the execution, I find it very handsome in some
of them to have rather chosen to be unjustly thought guilty of the
parricide of another than to serve justice by a parricide of their own.
And where I have seen, at the taking of some little fort by assault in my
time, some rascals who, to save their own lives, would consent to hang
their friends and companions, I have looked upon them to be of worse
condition than those who were hanged. 'Tis said, that Witold, Prince of
Lithuania, introduced into the nation the practice that the criminal
condemned to death should with his own hand execute the sentence,
thinking it strange that a third person, innocent of the fault, should be
made guilty of homicide.

A prince, when by some urgent circumstance or some impetuous and
unforeseen accident that very much concerns his state, compelled to
forfeit his word and break his faith, or otherwise forced from his
ordinary duty, ought to attribute this necessity to a lash of the divine
rod: vice it is not, for he has given up his own reason to a more
universal and more powerful reason; but certainly 'tis a misfortune: so
that if any one should ask me what remedy? "None," say I, "if he were
really racked between these two extremes: 'sed videat, ne quoeratur
latebya perjurio', he must do it: but if he did it without regret, if it
did not weigh on him to do it, 'tis a sign his conscience is in a sorry
condition." If there be a person to be found of so tender a conscience
as to think no cure whatever worth so important a remedy, I shall like
him never the worse; he could not more excusably or more decently perish.
We cannot do all we would, so that we must often, as the last anchorage,
commit the protection of our vessels to the simple conduct of heaven.
To what more just necessity does he reserve himself? What is less
possible for him to do than what he cannot do but at the expense of his
faith and honour, things that, perhaps, ought to be dearer to him than
his own safety, or even the safety of his people. Though he should, with
folded arms, only call God to his assistance, has he not reason to hope
that the divine goodness will not refuse the favour of an extraordinary
arm to just and pure hands? These are dangerous examples, rare and
sickly exceptions to our natural rules: we must yield to them, but with
great moderation and circumspection: no private utility is of such
importance that we should upon that account strain our consciences to
such a degree: the public may be, when very manifest and of very great

Timoleon made a timely expiation for his strange exploit by the tears he
shed, calling to mind that it was with a fraternal hand that he had slain
the tyrant; and it justly pricked his conscience that he had been
necessitated to purchase the public utility at so great a price as the
violation of his private morality. Even the Senate itself, by his means
delivered from slavery, durst not positively determine of so high a fact,
and divided into two so important and contrary aspects; but the
Syracusans, sending at the same time to the Corinthians to solicit their
protection, and to require of them a captain fit to re-establish their
city in its former dignity and to clear Sicily of several little tyrants
by whom it was oppressed, they deputed Timoleon for that service, with
this cunning declaration; "that according as he should behave himself
well or ill in his employment, their sentence should incline either to
favour the deliverer of his country, or to disfavour the murderer of his
brother." This fantastic conclusion carries along with it some excuse,
by reason of the danger of the example, and the importance of so strange
an action: and they did well to discharge their own judgment of it, and
to refer it to others who were not so much concerned. But Timoleon's
comportment in this expedition soon made his cause more clear, so
worthily and virtuously he demeaned himself upon all occasions; and the
good fortune that accompanied him in the difficulties he had to overcome
in this noble employment, seemed to be strewed in his way by the gods,
favourably conspiring for his justification.

The end of this matter is excusable, if any can be so; but the profit of
the augmentation of the public revenue, that served the Roman Senate for
a pretence to the foul conclusion I am going to relate, is not sufficient
to warrant any such injustice.

Certain cities had redeemed themselves and their liberty by money, by the
order and consent of the Senate, out of the hands of L. Sylla: the
business coming again in question, the Senate condemned them to be
taxable as they were before, and that the money they had disbursed for
their redemption should be lost to them. Civil war often produces such
villainous examples; that we punish private men for confiding in us when
we were public ministers: and the self-same magistrate makes another man
pay the penalty of his change that has nothing to do with it; the
pedagogue whips his scholar for his docility; and the guide beats the
blind man whom he leads by the hand; a horrid image of justice.

There are rules in philosophy that are both false and weak. The example
that is proposed to us for preferring private utility before faith given,
has not weight enough by the circumstances they put to it; robbers have
seized you, and after having made you swear to pay them a certain sum of
money, dismiss you. 'Tis not well done to say, that an honest man can be
quit of his oath without payment, being out of their hands. 'Tis no such
thing: what fear has once made me willing to do, I am obliged to do it
when I am no longer in fear; and though that fear only prevailed with my
tongue without forcing my will, yet am I bound to keep my word. For my
part, when my tongue has sometimes inconsiderately said something that I
did not think, I have made a conscience of disowning it: otherwise, by
degrees, we shall abolish all the right another derives from our promises
and oaths:

"Quasi vero forti viro vis possit adhiberi."

["As though a man of true courage could be compelled."
--Cicero, De Offic., iii. 30.]

And 'tis only lawful, upon the account of private interest, to excuse
breach of promise, when we have promised something that is unlawful and
wicked in itself; for the right of virtue ought to take place of the
right of any obligation of ours.

I have formerly placed Epaminondas in the first rank of excellent men,
and do not repent it. How high did he stretch the consideration of his
own particular duty? he who never killed a man whom he had overcome; who,
for the inestimable benefit of restoring the liberty of his country, made
conscience of killing a tyrant or his accomplices without due form of
justice: and who concluded him to be a wicked man, how good a citizen
soever otherwise, who amongst his enemies in battle spared not his friend
and his guest. This was a soul of a rich composition: he married
goodness and humanity, nay, even the tenderest and most delicate in the
whole school of philosophy, to the roughest and most violent human
actions. Was it nature or art that had intenerated that great courage of
his, so full, so obstinate against pain and death and poverty, to such an
extreme degree of sweetness and compassion? Dreadful in arms and blood,
he overran and subdued a nation invincible by all others but by him
alone; and yet in the heat of an encounter, could turn aside from his
friend and guest. Certainly he was fit to command in war who could so
rein himself with the curb of good nature, in the height and heat of his
fury, a fury inflamed and foaming with blood and slaughter. 'Tis a
miracle to be able to mix any image of justice with such violent actions:
and it was only possible for such a steadfastness of mind as that of
Epaminondas therein to mix sweetness and the facility of the gentlest
manners and purest innocence. And whereas one told the Mamertini that
statutes were of no efficacy against armed men; and another told the
tribune of the people that the time of justice and of war were distinct
things; and a third said that the noise of arms deafened the voice of
laws, this man was not precluded from listening to the laws of civility
and pure courtesy. Had he not borrowed from his enemies the custom of
sacrificing to the Muses when he went to war, that they might by their
sweetness and gaiety soften his martial and rigorous fury? Let us not
fear, by the example of so great a master, to believe that there is
something unlawful, even against an enemy, and that the common concern
ought not to require all things of all men, against private interest:

"Manente memoria, etiam in dissidio publicorum
foederum, privati juris:"

["The memory of private right remaining even amid
public dissensions."--Livy, xxv. 18.]

"Et nulla potentia vires
Praestandi, ne quid peccet amicus, habet;"

["No power on earth can sanction treachery against a friend."
--Ovid, De Ponto, i. 7, 37.]

and that all things are not lawful to an honest man for the service of
his prince, the laws, or the general quarrel:

"Non enim patria praestat omnibus officiis....
et ipsi conducit pios habere cives in parentes."

["The duty to one's country does not supersede all other duties.
The country itself requires that its citizens should act piously
toward their parents."--Cicero, De Offic., iii. 23.]

Tis an instruction proper for the time wherein we live: we need not
harden our courage with these arms of steel; 'tis enough that our
shoulders are inured to them: 'tis enough to dip our pens in ink without
dipping them in blood. If it be grandeur of courage, and the effect of a
rare and singular virtue, to contemn friendship, private obligations, a
man's word and relationship, for the common good and obedience to the
magistrate, 'tis certainly sufficient to excuse us, that 'tis a grandeur
that can have no place in the grandeur of Epaminondas' courage.

I abominate those mad exhortations of this other discomposed soul,

"Dum tela micant, non vos pietatis imago
Ulla, nec adversa conspecti fronte parentes
Commoveant; vultus gladio turbate verendos."

["While swords glitter, let no idea of piety, nor the face even of a
father presented to you, move you: mutilate with your sword those
venerable features "--Lucan, vii. 320.]

Let us deprive wicked, bloody, and treacherous natures of such a pretence
of reason: let us set aside this guilty and extravagant justice, and
stick to more human imitations. How great things can time and example
do! In an encounter of the civil war against Cinna, one of Pompey's
soldiers having unawares killed his brother, who was of the contrary
party, he immediately for shame and sorrow killed himself: and some years
after, in another civil war of the same people, a soldier demanded a
reward of his officer for having killed his brother.

A man but ill proves the honour and beauty of an action by its utility:
and very erroneously concludes that every one is obliged to it, and that
it becomes every one to do it, if it be of utility:

"Omnia non pariter rerum sunt omnibus apta."

["All things are not equally fit for all men."
--Propertius, iii. 9, 7.]

Let us take that which is most necessary and profitable for human
society; it will be marriage; and yet the council of the saints find the
contrary much better, excluding from it the most venerable vocation of
man: as we design those horses for stallions of which we have the least



Others form man; I only report him: and represent a particular one, ill
fashioned enough, and whom, if I had to model him anew, I should
certainly make something else than what he is but that's past recalling.
Now, though the features of my picture alter and change, 'tis not,
however, unlike: the world eternally turns round; all things therein are
incessantly moving, the earth, the rocks of Caucasus, and the pyramids of
Egypt, both by the public motion and their own. Even constancy itself is
no other but a slower and more languishing motion. I cannot fix my
object; 'tis always tottering and reeling by a natural giddiness; I take
it as it is at the instant I consider it; I do not paint its being, I
paint its passage; not a passing from one age to another, or, as the
people say, from seven to seven years, but from day to day, from minute
to minute, I must accommodate my history to the hour: I may presently
change, not only by fortune, but also by intention. 'Tis a counterpart
of various and changeable accidents, and of irresolute imaginations, and,
as it falls out, sometimes contrary: whether it be that I am then another
self, or that I take subjects by other circumstances and considerations:
so it is that I may peradventure contradict myself, but, as Demades said,
I never contradict the truth. Could my soul once take footing, I would
not essay but resolve: but it is always learning and making trial.

I propose a life ordinary and without lustre: 'tis all one; all moral
philosophy may as well be applied to a common and private life, as to one
of richer composition: every man carries the entire form of human
condition. Authors communicate themselves to the people by some especial
and extrinsic mark; I, the first of any, by my universal being; as Michel
de Montaigne, not as a grammarian, a poet, or a lawyer. If the world
find fault that I speak too much of myself, I find fault that they do not
so much as think of themselves. But is it reason that, being so
particular in my way of living, I should pretend to recommend myself to
the public knowledge? And is it also reason that I should produce to the
world, where art and handling have so much credit and authority, crude
and simple effects of nature, and of a weak nature to boot? Is it not to
build a wall without stone or brick, or some such thing, to write books
without learning and without art? The fancies of music are carried on by
art; mine by chance. I have this, at least, according to discipline,
that never any man treated of a subject he better understood and knew
than I what I have undertaken, and that in this I am the most
understanding man alive: secondly, that never any man penetrated farther
into his matter, nor better and more distinctly sifted the parts and
sequences of it, nor ever more exactly and fully arrived at the end he
proposed to himself. To perfect it, I need bring nothing but fidelity to
the work; and that is there, and the most pure and sincere that is
anywhere to be found. I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much
as I dare; and I dare a little the more, as I grow older; for, methinks,
custom allows to age more liberty of prating, and more indiscretion of
talking of a man's self. That cannot fall out here, which I often see
elsewhere, that the work and the artificer contradict one another:
"Can a man of such sober conversation have written so foolish a book?"
Or "Do so learned writings proceed from a man of so weak conversation?"
He who talks at a very ordinary rate, and writes rare matter, 'tis to say
that his capacity is borrowed and not his own. A learned man is not
learned in all things: but a sufficient man is sufficient throughout,
even to ignorance itself; here my book and I go hand in hand together.
Elsewhere men may commend or censure the work, without reference to the
workman; here they cannot: who touches the one, touches the other. He
who shall judge of it without knowing him, will more wrong himself than
me; he who does know him, gives me all the satisfaction I desire. I
shall be happy beyond my desert, if I can obtain only thus much from the
public approbation, as to make men of understanding perceive that I was
capable of profiting by knowledge, had I had it; and that I deserved to
have been assisted by a better memory.

Be pleased here to excuse what I often repeat, that I very rarely repent,
and that my conscience is satisfied with itself, not as the conscience of
an angel, or that of a horse, but as the conscience of a man; always
adding this clause, not one of ceremony, but a true and real submission,
that I speak inquiring and doubting, purely and simply referring myself
to the common and accepted beliefs for the resolution. I do not teach; I
only relate.

There is no vice that is absolutely a vice which does not offend, and
that a sound judgment does not accuse; for there is in it so manifest a
deformity and inconvenience, that peradventure they are in the right who
say that it is chiefly begotten by stupidity and ignorance: so hard is it
to imagine that a man can know without abhorring it. Malice sucks up the
greatest part of its own venom, and poisons itself. Vice leaves
repentance in the soul, like an ulcer in the flesh, which is always
scratching and lacerating itself: for reason effaces all other grief and
sorrows, but it begets that of repentance, which is so much the more
grievous, by reason it springs within, as the cold and heat of fevers are
more sharp than those that only strike upon the outward skin. I hold for
vices (but every one according to its proportion), not only those which
reason and nature condemn, but those also which the opinion of men,
though false and erroneous, have made such, if authorised by law and

There is likewise no virtue which does not rejoice a well-descended
nature: there is a kind of, I know not what, congratulation in well-doing
that gives us an inward satisfaction, and a generous boldness that
accompanies a good conscience: a soul daringly vicious may, peradventure,
arm itself with security, but it cannot supply itself with this
complacency and satisfaction. 'Tis no little satisfaction to feel a
man's self preserved from the contagion of so depraved an age, and to say
to himself: "Whoever could penetrate into my soul would not there find me
guilty either of the affliction or ruin of any one, or of revenge or
envy, or any offence against the public laws, or of innovation or
disturbance, or failure of my word; and though the licence of the time
permits and teaches every one so to do, yet have I not plundered any
Frenchman's goods, or taken his money, and have lived upon what is my
own, in war as well as in peace; neither have I set any man to work
without paying him his hire." These testimonies of a good conscience
please, and this natural rejoicing is very beneficial to us, and the only
reward that we can never fail of.

To ground the recompense of virtuous actions upon the approbation of
others is too uncertain and unsafe a foundation, especially in so corrupt
and ignorant an age as this, wherein the good opinion of the vulgar is
injurious: upon whom do you rely to show you what is recommendable? God
defend me from being an honest man, according to the descriptions of
honour I daily see every one make of himself:

"Quae fuerant vitia, mores sunt."

["What before had been vices are now manners."--Seneca, Ep., 39.]

Some of my friends have at times schooled and scolded me with great
sincerity and plainness, either of their own voluntary motion, or by me
entreated to it as to an office, which to a well-composed soul surpasses
not only in utility, but in kindness, all other offices of friendship: I
have always received them with the most open arms, both of courtesy and
acknowledgment; but to say the truth, I have often found so much false
measure, both in their reproaches and praises, that I had not done much
amiss, rather to have done ill, than to have done well according to their
notions. We, who live private lives, not exposed to any other view than
our own, ought chiefly to have settled a pattern within ourselves by
which to try our actions: and according to that, sometimes to encourage
and sometimes to correct ourselves. I have my laws and my judicature to
judge of myself, and apply myself more to these than to any other rules:
I do, indeed, restrain my actions according to others; but extend them
not by any other rule than my own. You yourself only know if you are
cowardly and cruel, loyal and devout: others see you not, and only guess
at you by uncertain conjectures, and do not so much see your nature as
your art; rely not therefore upon their opinions, but stick to your own:

"Tuo tibi judicio est utendum.... Virtutis et vitiorum grave ipsius
conscientiae pondus est: qua sublata, jacent omnia."

["Thou must employ thy own judgment upon thyself; great is the
weight of thy own conscience in the discovery of virtues and vices:
which taken away, all things are lost."
--Cicero, De Nat. Dei, iii. 35; Tusc. Quaes., i. 25.]

But the saying that repentance immediately follows the sin seems not to
have respect to sin in its high estate, which is lodged in us as in its
own proper habitation. One may disown and retract the vices that
surprise us, and to which we are hurried by passions; but those which by
a long habit are rooted in a strong and vigorous will are not subject to
contradiction. Repentance is no other but a recanting of the will and an
opposition to our fancies, which lead us which way they please. It makes
this person disown his former virtue and continency:

"Quae mens est hodie, cur eadem non puero fait?
Vel cur his animis incolumes non redeunt genae?"

["What my mind is, why was it not the same, when I was a boy? or
why do not the cheeks return to these feelings?"
--Horace, Od., v. 10, 7.]

'Tis an exact life that maintains itself in due order in private. Every
one may juggle his part, and represent an honest man upon the stage: but
within, and in his own bosom, where all may do as they list, where all is
concealed, to be regular, there's the point. The next degree is to be so
in his house, and in his ordinary actions, for which we are accountable
to none, and where there is no study nor artifice. And therefore Bias,
setting forth the excellent state of a private family, says: "of which a
the master is the same within, by his own virtue and temper, that he is
abroad, for fear of the laws and report of men." And it was a worthy
saying of Julius Drusus, to the masons who offered him, for three
thousand crowns, to put his house in such a posture that his neighbours
should no longer have the same inspection into it as before; "I will give
you," said he, "six thousand to make it so that everybody may see into
every room." 'Tis honourably recorded of Agesilaus, that he used in his
journeys always to take up his lodgings in temples, to the end that the
people and the gods themselves might pry into his most private actions.
Such a one has been a miracle to the world, in whom neither his wife nor
servant has ever seen anything so much as remarkable; few men have been
admired by their own domestics; no one was ever a prophet, not merely in
his own house, but in his own country, says the experience of histories:
--[No man is a hero to his valet-de-chambre, said Marshal Catinat]--'tis
the same in things of nought, and in this low example the image of a
greater is to be seen. In my country of Gascony, they look upon it as a
drollery to see me in print; the further off I am read from my own home,
the better I am esteemed. I purchase printers in Guienne; elsewhere they
purchase me. Upon this it is that they lay their foundation who conceal
themselves present and living, to obtain a name when they are dead and
absent. I had rather have a great deal less in hand, and do not expose
myself to the world upon any other account than my present share; when I
leave it I quit the rest. See this functionary whom the people escort in
state, with wonder and applause, to his very door; he puts off the
pageant with his robe, and falls so much the lower by how much he was
higher exalted: in himself within, all is tumult and degraded. And
though all should be regular there, it will require a vivid and well-
chosen judgment to perceive it in these low and private actions; to which
may be added, that order is a dull, sombre virtue. To enter a breach,
conduct an embassy, govern a people, are actions of renown; to reprehend,
laugh, sell, pay, love, hate, and gently and justly converse with a man's
own family and with himself; not to relax, not to give a man's self the
lie, is more rare and hard, and less remarkable. By which means, retired
lives, whatever is said to the contrary, undergo duties of as great or
greater difficulty than the others do; and private men, says Aristotle,'
serve virtue more painfully and highly than those in authority do:
we prepare ourselves for eminent occasions, more out of glory than
conscience. The shortest way to arrive at glory, would be to do that for
conscience which we do for glory: and the virtue of Alexander appears to
me of much less vigour in his great theatre, than that of Socrates in his
mean and obscure employment. I can easily conceive Socrates in the place
of Alexander, but Alexander in that of Socrates, I cannot. Who shall ask
the one what he can do, he will answer, "Subdue the world": and who shall
put the same question to the other, he will say, "Carry on human life
conformably with its natural condition"; a much more general, weighty,
and legitimate science than the other.--[Montaigne added here, "To do for
the world that for which he came into the world," but he afterwards
erased these words from the manuscript.--Naigeon.]

The virtue of the soul does not consist in flying high, but in walking
orderly; its grandeur does not exercise itself in grandeur, but in
mediocrity. As they who judge and try us within, make no great account
of the lustre of our public actions, and see they are only streaks and
rays of clear water springing from a slimy and muddy bottom so, likewise,
they who judge of us by this gallant outward appearance, in like manner
conclude of our internal constitution; and cannot couple common
faculties, and like their own, with the other faculties that astonish
them, and are so far out of their sight. Therefore it is that we give
such savage forms to demons: and who does not give Tamerlane great
eyebrows, wide nostrils, a dreadful visage, and a prodigious stature,
according to the imagination he has conceived by the report of his name?
Had any one formerly brought me to Erasmus, I should hardly have believed
but that all was adage and apothegm he spoke to his man or his hostess.
We much more aptly imagine an artisan upon his close-stool, or upon his
wife, than a great president venerable by his port and sufficiency: we
fancy that they, from their high tribunals, will not abase themselves so
much as to live. As vicious souls are often incited by some foreign
impulse to do well, so are virtuous souls to do ill; they are therefore
to be judged by their settled state, when they are at home, whenever that
may be; and, at all events, when they are nearer repose, and in their
native station.

Natural inclinations are much assisted and fortified by education; but
they seldom alter and overcome their institution: a thousand natures of
my time have escaped towards virtue or vice, through a quite contrary

"Sic ubi, desuetae silvis, in carcere clausae
Mansuevere ferx, et vultus posuere minaces,
Atque hominem didicere pati, si torrida parvus
Venit in ora cruor, redeunt rabiesque fororque,
Admonitaeque tument gustato sanguine fauces
Fervet, et a trepido vix abstinet ira magistro;"

["So savage beasts, when shut up in cages and grown unaccustomed to
the woods, have become tame, and have laid aside their fierce looks,
and submit to the rule of man; if again a slight taste of blood
comes into their mouths, their rage and fury return, their jaws are
erected by thirst of blood, and their anger scarcely abstains from
their trembling masters."--Lucan, iv. 237.]

these original qualities are not to be rooted out; they may be covered
and concealed. The Latin tongue is as it were natural to me; I
understand it better than French; but I have not been used to speak it,
nor hardly to write it, these forty years. Unless upon extreme and
sudden emotions which I have fallen into twice or thrice in my life, and
once seeing my father in perfect health fall upon me in a swoon, I have
always uttered from the bottom of my heart my first words in Latin;
nature deafened, and forcibly expressing itself, in spite of so long a
discontinuation; and this example is said of many others.

They who in my time have attempted to correct the manners of the world by
new opinions, reform seeming vices; but the essential vices they leave as
they were, if indeed they do not augment them, and augmentation is
therein to be feared; we defer all other well doing upon the account of
these external reformations, of less cost and greater show, and thereby
expiate good cheap, for the other natural, consubstantial, and intestine
vices. Look a little into our experience: there is no man, if he listen
to himself, who does not in himself discover a particular and governing
form of his own, that jostles his education, and wrestles with the
tempest of passions that are contrary to it. For my part, I seldom find
myself agitated with surprises; I always find myself in my place, as
heavy and unwieldy bodies do; if I am not at home, I am always near at
hand; my dissipations do not transport me very far; there is nothing
strange or extreme in the case; and yet I have sound and vigorous turns.

The true condemnation, and which touches the common practice of men, is
that their very retirement itself is full of filth and corruption; the
idea of their reformation composed, their repentance sick and faulty,
very nearly as much as their sin. Some, either from having been linked
to vice by a natural propension or long practice, cannot see its
deformity. Others (of which constitution I am) do indeed feel the weight
of vice, but they counterbalance it with pleasure, or some other
occasion; and suffer and lend themselves to it for a certain price, but
viciously and basely. Yet there might, haply, be imagined so vast a
disproportion of measure, where with justice the pleasure might excuse
the sin, as we say of utility; not only if accidental and out of sin, as
in thefts, but in the very exercise of sin, or in the enjoyment of women,
where the temptation is violent, and, 'tis said, sometimes not to be

Being the other day at Armaignac, on the estate of a kinsman of mine, I
there saw a peasant who was by every one nicknamed the thief. He thus
related the story of his life: that, being born a beggar, and finding
that he should not be able, so as to be clear of indigence, to get his
living by the sweat of his brow, he resolved to turn thief, and by means
of his strength of body had exercised this trade all the time of his
youth in great security; for he ever made his harvest and vintage in
other men's grounds, but a great way off, and in so great quantities,
that it was not to be imagined one man could have carried away so much in
one night upon his shoulders; and, moreover, he was careful equally to
divide and distribute the mischief he did, that the loss was of less
importance to every particular man. He is now grown old, and rich for a
man of his condition, thanks to his trade, which he openly confesses to
every one. And to make his peace with God, he says, that he is daily
ready by good offices to make satisfaction to the successors of those he
has robbed, and if he do not finish (for to do it all at once he is not
able), he will then leave it in charge to his heirs to perform the rest,
proportionably to the wrong he himself only knows he has done to each.
By this description, true or false, this man looks upon theft as a
dishonest action, and hates it, but less than poverty, and simply
repents; but to the extent he has thus recompensed he repents not. This
is not that habit which incorporates us into vice, and conforms even our
understanding itself to it; nor is it that impetuous whirlwind that by
gusts troubles and blinds our souls, and for the time precipitates us,
judgment and all, into the power of vice.

I customarily do what I do thoroughly and make but one step on't; I have
rarely any movement that hides itself and steals away from my reason, and
that does not proceed in the matter by the consent of all my faculties,
without division or intestine sedition; my judgment is to have all the
blame or all the praise; and the blame it once has, it has always; for
almost from my infancy it has ever been one: the same inclination, the
same turn, the same force; and as to universal opinions, I fixed myself
from my childhood in the place where I resolved to stick. There are some
sins that are impetuous, prompt, and sudden; let us set them aside: but
in these other sins so often repeated, deliberated, and contrived,
whether sins of complexion or sins of profession and vocation, I cannot
conceive that they should have so long been settled in the same
resolution, unless the reason and conscience of him who has them, be
constant to have them; and the repentance he boasts to be inspired with
on a sudden, is very hard for me to imagine or form. I follow not the
opinion of the Pythagorean sect, "that men take up a new soul when they
repair to the images of the gods to receive their oracles," unless he
mean that it must needs be extrinsic, new, and lent for the time; our own
showing so little sign of purification and cleanness, fit for such an

They act quite contrary to the stoical precepts, who do indeed command us
to correct the imperfections and vices we know ourselves guilty of, but
forbid us therefore to disturb the repose of our souls: these make us
believe that they have great grief and remorse within: but of amendment,
correction, or interruption, they make nothing appear. It cannot be a
cure if the malady be not wholly discharged; if repentance were laid upon
the scale of the balance, it would weigh down sin. I find no quality so
easy to counterfeit as devotion, if men do not conform their manners and
life to the profession; its essence is abstruse and occult; the
appearance easy and ostentatious.

For my own part, I may desire in general to be other than I am; I may
condemn and dislike my whole form, and beg of Almighty God for an entire
reformation, and that He will please to pardon my natural infirmity: but
I ought not to call this repentance, methinks, no more than the being
dissatisfied that I am not an angel or Cato. My actions are regular,
and conformable to what I am and to my condition; I can do no better;
and repentance does not properly touch things that are not in our power;
sorrow does.. I imagine an infinite number of natures more elevated and
regular than mine; and yet I do not for all that improve my faculties, no
more than my arm or will grow more strong and vigorous for conceiving
those of another to be so. If to conceive and wish a nobler way of
acting than that we have should produce a repentance of our own, we must
then repent us of our most innocent actions, forasmuch as we may well
suppose that in a more excellent nature they would have been carried on
with greater dignity and perfection; and we would that ours were so.
When I reflect upon the deportment of my youth, with that of my old age,
I find that I have commonly behaved myself with equal order in both
according to what I understand: this is all that my resistance can do.
I do not flatter myself; in the same circumstances I should do the same
things. It is not a patch, but rather an universal tincture, with which
I am stained. I know no repentance, superficial, half-way, and
ceremonious; it must sting me all over before I can call it so, and must
prick my bowels as deeply and universally as God sees into me.

As to business, many excellent opportunities have escaped me for want of
good management; and yet my deliberations were sound enough, according to
the occurrences presented to me: 'tis their way to choose always the
easiest and safest course. I find that, in my former resolves, I have
proceeded with discretion, according to my own rule, and according to the
state of the subject proposed, and should do the same a thousand years
hence in like occasions; I do not consider what it is now, but what it
was then, when I deliberated on it: the force of all counsel consists in
the time; occasions and things eternally shift and change. I have in my
life committed some important errors, not for want of good understanding,
but for want of good luck. There are secret, and not to be foreseen,
parts in matters we have in hand, especially in the nature of men; mute
conditions, that make no show, unknown sometimes even to the possessors
themselves, that spring and start up by incidental occasions; if my
prudence could not penetrate into nor foresee them, I blame it not: 'tis
commissioned no further than its own limits; if the event be too hard for
me, and take the side I have refused, there is no remedy; I do not blame
myself, I accuse my fortune, and not my work; this cannot be called

Phocion, having given the Athenians an advice that was not followed, and
the affair nevertheless succeeding contrary to his opinion, some one said
to him, "Well, Phocion, art thou content that matters go so well?"--"I am
very well content," replied he, "that this has happened so well, but I do
not repent that I counselled the other." When any of my friends address
themselves to me for advice, I give it candidly and clearly, without
sticking, as almost all other men do, at the hazard of the thing's
falling out contrary to my opinion, and that I may be reproached for my
counsel; I am very indifferent as to that, for the fault will be theirs
for having consulted me, and I could not refuse them that office.
--[We may give advice to others, says Rochefoucauld, but we cannot
supply them with the wit to profit by it.]

I, for my own part, can rarely blame any one but myself for my oversights
and misfortunes, for indeed I seldom solicit the advice of another,
if not by honour of ceremony, or excepting where I stand in need of
information, special science, or as to matter of fact. But in things
wherein I stand in need of nothing but judgment, other men's reasons may
serve to fortify my own, but have little power to dissuade me; I hear
them all with civility and patience; but, to my recollection, I never
made use of any but my own. With me, they are but flies and atoms, that
confound and distract my will; I lay no great stress upon my opinions;
but I lay as little upon those of others, and fortune rewards me
accordingly: if I receive but little advice, I also give but little. I
am seldom consulted, and still more seldom believed, and know no concern,
either public or private, that has been mended or bettered by my advice.
Even they whom fortune had in some sort tied to my direction, have more
willingly suffered themselves to be governed by any other counsels than
mine. And as a man who am as jealous of my repose as of my authority,
I am better pleased that it should be so; in leaving me there, they
humour what I profess, which is to settle and wholly contain myself
within myself. I take a pleasure in being uninterested in other men's
affairs, and disengaged from being their warranty, and responsible for
what they do.

In all affairs that are past, be it how it will, I have very little
regret; for this imagination puts me out of my pain, that they were so to
fall out they are in the great revolution of the world, and in the chain
of stoical 'causes: your fancy cannot, by wish and imagination, move one
tittle, but that the great current of things will not reverse both the
past and the future.

As to the rest, I abominate that incidental repentance which old age
brings along with it. He, who said of old, that he was obliged to his
age for having weaned him from pleasure, was of another opinion than I
am; I can never think myself beholden to impotency for any good it can do
to me:

"Nec tam aversa unquam videbitur ab opere suo providentia,
ut debilitas inter optima inventa sit."

["Nor can Providence ever seem so averse to her own work, that
debility should be found to be amongst the best things."
--Quintilian, Instit. Orat., v. 12.]

Our appetites are rare in old age; a profound satiety seizes us after the
act; in this I see nothing of conscience; chagrin and weakness imprint in
us a drowsy and rheumatic virtue. We must not suffer ourselves to be so
wholly carried away by natural alterations as to suffer our judgments to
be imposed upon by them. Youth and pleasure have not formerly so far
prevailed with me, that I did not well enough discern the face of vice in
pleasure; neither does the distaste that years have brought me, so far
prevail with me now, that I cannot discern pleasure in vice. Now that I
am no more in my flourishing age, I judge as well of these things as if I

["Old though I am, for ladies' love unfit,
The power of beauty I remember yet."--Chaucer.]

I, who narrowly and strictly examine it, find my reason the very same it
was in my most licentious age, except, perhaps, that 'tis weaker and more
decayed by being grown older; and I find that the pleasure it refuses me
upon the account of my bodily health, it would no more refuse now, in
consideration of the health of my soul, than at any time heretofore.
I do not repute it the more valiant for not being able to combat; my
temptations are so broken and mortified, that they are not worth its
opposition; holding but out my hands, I repel them. Should one present
the old concupiscence before it, I fear it would have less power to
resist it than heretofore; I do not discern that in itself it judges
anything otherwise now than it formerly did, nor that it has acquired any
new light: wherefore, if there be convalescence, 'tis an enchanted one.
Miserable kind of remedy, to owe one's health to one's disease! Tis not
that our misfortune should perform this office, but the good fortune of
our judgment. I am not to be made to do anything by persecutions and
afflictions, but to curse them: that is, for people who cannot be roused
but by a whip. My reason is much more free in prosperity, and much more
distracted, and put to't to digest pains than pleasures: I see best in a
clear sky; health admonishes me more cheerfully, and to better purpose,
than sickness. I did all that in me lay to reform and regulate myself
from pleasures, at a time when I had health and vigour to enjoy them;
I should be ashamed and envious that the misery and misfortune of my old
age should have credit over my good healthful, sprightly, and vigorous
years, and that men should estimate me, not by what I have been, but by
what I have ceased to be.

In my opinion, 'tis the happy living, and not (as Antisthenes' said) the
happy dying, in which human felicity consists. I have not made it my
business to make a monstrous addition of a philosopher's tail to the head
and body of a libertine; nor would I have this wretched remainder give
the lie to the pleasant, sound, and long part of my life: I would present
myself uniformly throughout. Were I to live my life over again, I should
live it just as I have lived it; I neither complain of the past, nor do I
fear the future; and if I am not much deceived, I am the same within that
I am without. 'Tis one main obligation I have to my fortune, that the
succession of my bodily estate has been carried on according to the
natural seasons; I have seen the grass, the blossom, and the fruit, and
now see the withering; happily, however, because naturally. I bear the
infirmities I have the better, because they came not till I had reason to
expect them, and because also they make me with greater pleasure remember
that long felicity of my past life. My wisdom may have been just the
same in both ages, but it was more active, and of better grace whilst
young and sprightly, than now it is when broken, peevish, and uneasy.
I repudiate, then, these casual and painful reformations. God must touch
our hearts; our consciences must amend of themselves, by the aid of our
reason, and not by the decay of our appetites; pleasure is, in itself,
neither pale nor discoloured, to be discerned by dim and decayed eyes.

We ought to love temperance for itself, and because God has commanded
that and chastity; but that which we are reduced to by catarrhs, and for
which I am indebted to the stone, is neither chastity nor temperance; a
man cannot boast that he despises and resists pleasure if he cannot see
it, if he knows not what it is, and cannot discern its graces, its force,
and most alluring beauties; I know both the one and the other, and may
therefore the better say it. But; methinks, our souls in old age are
subject to more troublesome maladies and imperfections than in youth;
I said the same when young and when I was reproached with the want of a
beard; and I say so now that my grey hairs give me some authority. We
call the difficulty of our humours and the disrelish of present things
wisdom; but, in truth, we do not so much forsake vices as we change them,
and in my opinion, for worse. Besides a foolish and feeble pride, an
impertinent prating, froward and insociable humours, superstition, and a
ridiculous desire of riches when we have lost the use of them, I find
there more envy, injustice, and malice. Age imprints more wrinkles in
the mind than it does on the face; and souls are never, or very rarely
seen, that, in growing old, do not smell sour and musty. Man moves all
together, both towards his perfection and decay. In observing the wisdom
of Socrates, and many circumstances of his condemnation, I should dare to
believe that he in some sort himself purposely, by collusion, contributed
to it, seeing that, at the age of seventy years, he might fear to suffer
the lofty motions of his mind to be cramped and his wonted lustre
obscured. What strange metamorphoses do I see age every day make in many
of my acquaintance! 'Tis a potent malady, and that naturally and
imperceptibly steals into us; a vast provision of study and great
precaution are required to evade the imperfections it loads us with, or
at least to weaken their progress. I find that, notwithstanding all my
entrenchments, it gets foot by foot upon me: I make the best resistance I
can, but I do not know to what at last it will reduce me. But fall out
what will, I am content the world may know, when I am fallen, from what I



We must not rivet ourselves so fast to our humours and complexions: our
chiefest sufficiency is to know how to apply ourselves to divers
employments. 'Tis to be, but not to live, to keep a man's self tied and
bound by necessity to one only course; those are the bravest souls that
have in them the most variety and pliancy. Of this here is an honourable
testimony of the elder Cato:

"Huic versatile ingenium sic pariter ad omnia fuit,
ut natum ad id unum diceres, quodcumque ageret."

["His parts were so pliable to all uses, that one would say he had
been born only to that which he was doing."--Livy, xxxix. 49.]

Had I liberty to set myself forth after my own mode, there is no so
graceful fashion to which I would be so fixed as not to be able to
disengage myself from it; life is an unequal, irregular and multiform
motion. 'Tis not to be a friend to one's self, much less a master 'tis
to be a slave, incessantly to be led by the nose by one's self, and to be
so fixed in one's previous inclinations, that one cannot turn aside nor
writhe one's neck out of the collar. I say this now in this part of my
life, wherein I find I cannot easily disengage myself from the
importunity of my soul, which cannot ordinarily amuse itself but in
things of limited range, nor employ itself otherwise than entirely and
with all its force; upon the lightest subject offered it expands and
stretches it to that degree as therein to employ its utmost power;
wherefore it is that idleness is to me a very painful labour, and very
prejudicial to my health. Most men's minds require foreign matter to
exercise and enliven them; mine has rather need of it to sit still and
repose itself,

"Vitia otii negotio discutienda sunt,"

["The vices of sloth are to be shaken off by business."
--Seneca, Ep. 56.]

for its chiefest and hardest study is to study itself. Books are to it
a sort of employment that debauch it from its study. Upon the first
thoughts that possess it, it begins to bustle and make trial of its
vigour in all directions, exercises its power of handling, now making
trial of force, now fortifying, moderating, and ranging itself by the way
of grace and order. It has of its own wherewith to rouse its faculties:
nature has given to it, as to all others, matter enough of its own to
make advantage of, and subjects proper enough where it may either invent
or judge.

Meditation is a powerful and full study to such as can effectually taste
and employ themselves; I had rather fashion my soul than furnish it.
There is no employment, either more weak or more strong, than that of
entertaining a man's own thoughts, according as the soul is; the greatest
men make it their whole business,

"Quibus vivere est cogitare;"

["To whom to live is to think."--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., v. 28.]

nature has therefore favoured it with this privilege, that there is
nothing we can do so long, nor any action to which we more frequently and
with greater facility addict ourselves. 'Tis the business of the gods,
says Aristotle,' and from which both their beatitude and ours proceed.

The principal use of reading to me is, that by various objects it rouses
my reason, and employs my judgment, not my memory. Few conversations
detain me without force and effort; it is true that beauty and elegance
of speech take as much or more with me than the weight and depth of the
subject; and forasmuch as I am apt to be sleepy in all other
communication, and give but the rind of my attention, it often falls out
that in such poor and pitiful discourses, mere chatter, I either make
drowsy, unmeaning answers, unbecoming a child, and ridiculous, or more
foolishly and rudely still, maintain an obstinate silence. I have a
pensive way that withdraws me into myself, and, with that, a heavy and
childish ignorance of many very ordinary things, by which two qualities I
have earned this, that men may truly relate five or six as ridiculous
tales of me as of any other man whatever.

But, to proceed in my subject, this difficult complexion of mine renders
me very nice in my conversation with men, whom I must cull and pick out
for my purpose; and unfits me for common society. We live and negotiate
with the people; if their conversation be troublesome to us, if we
disdain to apply ourselves to mean and vulgar souls (and the mean and
vulgar are often as regular as those of the finest thread, and all wisdom
is folly that does not accommodate itself to the common ignorance),
we must no more intermeddle either with other men's affairs or our own;
for business, both public and private, has to do with these people. The
least forced and most natural motions of the soul are the most beautiful;
the best employments, those that are least strained. My God! how good
an office does wisdom to those whose desires it limits to their power!
that is the most useful knowledge: "according to what a man can," was the
favourite sentence and motto of Socrates. A motto of great solidity.

We must moderate and adapt our desires to the nearest and easiest to be
acquired things. Is it not a foolish humour of mine to separate myself
from a thousand to whom my fortune has conjoined me, and without whom I
cannot live, and cleave to one or two who are out of my intercourse; or
rather a fantastic desire of a thing I cannot obtain? My gentle and easy
manners, enemies of all sourness and harshness, may easily enough have
secured me from envy and animosities; to be beloved, I do not say, but
never any man gave less occasion of being hated; but the coldness of my
conversation has, reasonably enough, deprived me of the goodwill of many,
who are to be excused if they interpret it in another and worse sense.

I am very capable of contracting and maintaining rare and exquisite
friendships; for by reason that I so greedily seize upon such
acquaintance as fit my liking, I throw myself with such violence upon
them that I hardly fail to stick, and to make an impression where I hit;
as I have often made happy proof. In ordinary friendships I am somewhat
cold and shy, for my motion is not natural, if not with full sail:
besides which, my fortune having in my youth given me a relish for one
sole and perfect friendship, has, in truth, created in me a kind of
distaste to others, and too much imprinted in my fancy that it is a beast
of company, as the ancient said, but not of the herd.--[Plutarch, On the
Plurality of Friends, c. 2.]--And also I have a natural difficulty of
communicating myself by halves, with the modifications and the servile
and jealous prudence required in the conversation of numerous and
imperfect friendships: and we are principally enjoined to these in this
age of ours, when we cannot talk of the world but either with danger or

Yet do I very well discern that he who has the conveniences (I mean the
essential conveniences) of life for his end, as I have, ought to fly
these difficulties and delicacy of humour, as much as the plague. I
should commend a soul of several stages, that knows both how to stretch
and to slacken itself; that finds itself at ease in all conditions
whither fortune leads it; that can discourse with a neighbour, of his
building, his hunting, his quarrels; that can chat with a carpenter or a
gardener with pleasure. I envy those who can render themselves familiar
with the meanest of their followers, and talk with them in their own way;
and dislike the advice of Plato, that men should always speak in a
magisterial tone to their servants, whether men or women, without being
sometimes facetious and familiar; for besides the reasons I have given,
'tis inhuman and unjust to set so great a value upon this pitiful
prerogative of fortune, and the polities wherein less disparity is
permitted betwixt masters and servants seem to me the most equitable.
Others study how to raise and elevate their minds; I, how to humble mine
and to bring it low; 'tis only vicious in extension:

"Narras et genus AEaci,
Et pugnata sacro bella sub Ilio
Quo Chium pretio cadum
Mercemur, quis aquam temperet ignibus,
Quo praebente domum, et quota,
Pelignis caream frigoribus, taces."

["You tell us long stories about the race of AEacus, and the battles
fought under sacred Ilium; but what to give for a cask of Chian
wine, who shall prepare the warm bath, and in whose house, and when
I may escape from the Pelignian cold, you do not tell us."
--Horace, Od., iii. 19, 3.]

Thus, as the Lacedaemonian valour stood in need of moderation, and of the
sweet and harmonious sound of flutes to soften it in battle, lest they
should precipitate themselves into temerity and fury, whereas all other
nations commonly make use of harsh and shrill sounds, and of loud and
imperious cries, to incite and heat the soldier's courage to the last
degree; so, methinks, contrary to the usual method, in the practice of
our minds, we have for the most part more need of lead than of wings; of
temperance and composedness than of ardour and agitation. But, above all
things, 'tis in my opinion egregiously to play the fool, to put on the
grave airs of a man of lofty mind amongst those who are nothing of the
sort: ever to speak in print (by the book),

"Favellare in puma di forchetta."

["To talk with the point of a fork," (affectedly)]

You must let yourself down to those with whom you converse; and sometimes
affect ignorance: lay aside power and subtilty in common conversation; to
preserve decorum and order 'tis enough-nay, crawl on the earth, if they
so desire it.

The learned often stumble at this stone; they will always be parading
their pedantic science, and strew their books everywhere; they have, in
these days, so filled the cabinets and ears of the ladies with them, that
if they have lost the substance, they at least retain the words; so as in
all discourse upon all sorts of subjects, how mean and common soever,
they speak and write after a new and learned way,

"Hoc sermone pavent, hoc iram, gaudia, curas,
Hoc cuncta effundunt animi secreta; quid ultra?
Concumbunt docte;"

["In this language do they express their fears, their anger, their
joys, their cares; in this pour out all their secrets; what more?
they lie with their lovers learnedly."--Juvenal, vi. 189.]

and quote Plato and Aquinas in things the first man they meet could
determine as well; the learning that cannot penetrate their souls hangs
still upon the tongue. If people of quality will be persuaded by me, they
shall content themselves with setting out their proper and natural
treasures; they conceal and cover their beauties under others that are
none of theirs: 'tis a great folly to put out their own light and shine
by a borrowed lustre: they are interred and buried under 'de capsula
totae"--[Painted and perfumed from head to foot." (Or:) "as if they were
things carefully deposited in a band-box."--Seneca, Ep. 115]--It is
because they do not sufficiently know themselves or do themselves
justice: the world has nothing fairer than they; 'tis for them to honour
the arts, and to paint painting. What need have they of anything but to

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