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Renascence Editions

Montaigne's Essays


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Note on the e-text: this Renascence Editions text was provided by Ben R. Schneider, Lawrence University, Wisconsin. It is in the public domain. "Florio's Translation of Montaigne's Essays was first published in 1603. In 'The World's Classics' the first volume was published in 1904, and reprinted in 1910 and 1924." Content unique to this presentation is copyright © 1998 The University of Oregon. For nonprofit and educational uses only.



I  CANNOT receive that manner, whereby we establish the continuance of our life. I see that some of the wiser sort doe greatly shorten the same in respect of the common opinion. What said Cato Iunior, to those who sought to hinder him from killing himselfe? 'Doe I now live the age, wherein I may justly be reproved to leave my life too soone?' Yet was he but eight and fortie yeares old. He thought that age very ripe, yea, and well advanced, considering how few men come unto it. And such as entertaine themselves with I wot not what kind of course, which they call naturall, promiseth some few yeares beyond, might do it, had they a privilege that could exempt them from so great a number of accidents, unto which each one of us stands subject by a naturall subjection and which may interrupt the said course they propose unto themselves. What fondnesse is it for a man to thinke he shall die, for and through a failing and defect of strength, which extreme age draweth with it, and to propose that terme unto our life, seeing it is the rarest kind of all deaths and least in use? We only call it naturall, as if it were against nature to see a man breake his necke with a fall; to be drowned by shipwracke; to be surprised with a pestilence or pleurisie, and as if our ordinarie condition did not present these inconveniences unto us all. Let us not flatter ourselves with these fond-goodly words: a man may peradventure rather call that naturall which is generall, common, and universall. To die of age is a rare, singular, and extraordinarie death, and so much lesse naturall than others: It is the last and extremest kind of dying: The further it is from us, so much the lesse is it to be hoped for: Indeed it is the limit beyond which we shall not passe, and which the law of nature hath prescribed unto us as that which should not be outgone by any: but it is a rare privilege peculiar unto her selfe, to make us continue unto it. It is an exemption, which through some particular favour she bestoweth on some one man, in the space of two or three ages, discharging him from the crosses, troubles, and difficulties she hath enterposed betweene both in this long cariere and pilgrimage. Therefore my opinion is, to consider that the age unto which we are come is an age whereto few arive: since men come not unto it by any ordinarie course, it is a signe we are verie forward. And since we have past the accustomed bounds, which is the true measure of our life, we must not hope that we shall goe much further. Having escaped so many occasions of death, wherein we see the world to fall, we must acknowledge that such an extraordinarie fortune as that is, which maintaineth us, and is beyond the common use, is not likely to continue long. It is a fault of the verie lawes to have this false imagination: They allow not a man to be capable and of discretion to manage and dispose of his owne goods, until he be five and twentie yeares old, yet shall he hardly preserve the state of his life so long. Augustus abridged five yeares of the ancient Romane lawes, and declared that for any man that should take upon him the charge of judgement, it sufficed to be thirtie yeares old. Servius Tullius dispensed with the Knights who were seven and fortie yeares of age from all voluntarie services of warre. Augustus brought them to fortie and five. To send men to their place of sojourning before they be five and fiftie or three score yeares of age, me seemeth carrieth no great apparance with it. My advice would be, that our vacation and employment should be extended as I far as might be for the publike commoditie; but I blame some, and condemne most, that we begin not soone enough to employ our selves. The same Augustus had been universall and supreme judge of the world when he was but nineteene yeares old, and would have another to be thirtie before he shall bee made a competent Judge of a cottage or farme. As for my part, I thinke our minds are as full growne and perfectly joynted at twentie yeares as they should be, and promise as much as they can. A mind which at that age hath not given some evident token or earnest of her sufficiencie, shall hardly give it afterward, put her to what triall you list. Natural qualities and vertues, if they have any vigorous or beauteous thing in them, will produce and shew the same within that time, or ever. They say in Dauphine,
Si l'espine nou picque quand nai,
A peine que picque jamai. --French prov.

 A thorne, unlesse at first it pricke,
Will hardly ever pearce to th' quicke.

    Of all humane honourable and glorious actions that ever came unto my knowledge, of what nature soever they be, I am perswaded I should have a harder taske to number those which, both in ancient times and in ours, have beene produced and atchieved before the age of thirtie yeares, than such as were performed after: yea, often in the life of the same men. May not I boldly speake it of those of Hanniball and Scipio his great adversarie? They lived the better part of their life with the glorie which they had gotten in their youth: And though afterward they were great men in respect of all others, yet were they but meane in regard of themselves. As for my particular, I am verily perswaded, that since that age both my spirit and my body have more decreased than encreased, more recoyled than advanced. It may be, that knowledge and experience shall encrease in them, together with life, that bestow their time well: but vivacitie, promptitude, constancie, and other parts much more our owne, more important and more essentiall, they droope, they languish, and they faint.
--ubi jam validis quassatum est virihus ævi
Corpus, et obtusia ceciderunt viribus artus,
Claudicat ingenium, delirat lingtiaque meusque.-- Lucr. iii. 457.

When once the body by shrewd strength of yeares
Is shak't, and limmes drawne downe from strength that weares,
Wit halts, both tongue and mind
Doe daily doat, we find.

    It is the body which sometimes yeeldeth first unto age, and other times the mind; and I have seene many that have had their braines weakened before their stomacke or legges. And forasmuch as it is a disease, little or nothing sensible unto him that endureth it, and maketh no great show, it is so much the more dangerous. Here I exclaime against our Lawes, not because they leave us so long and late in working and employment, but that they set us a worke no sooner, and it is so late before we be employed. Me thinkes that considering the weaknesse of our life, and seeing the infinit number of ordinarie rockes and naturall dangers it is subject unto, we should not so soone as we come into the world, alot so great a share thereof unto unprofitable wantonnesse in youth, il-breeding idlenesse, and slow-learning prentissage.


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