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.
HE manner wherewith our Lawes assay to moderate the foolish and vaine expences of table-cheare and apparell seemeth contrarie to its end. The best course were to beget in men a contempt of gold and silkwearinge as of vaine and non-profitable things, whereas we encrease their credit and price: a most indirect course to withdraw men from them. As, for example, to let none but Princes eat dainties, or weare velvets and clothes of Tissew, and interdict the people to doe it, what is it but to give reputation unto those things, and to encrease their longing to use them? Let Kings boldly quit those badges of honour; they have many other besides: Such excesse is more excusable in other men than in Princes. We may, by the examples of divers Nations, learne sundrie better fashions to distinguish our selves and our degrees (which truly I esteeme requisit in an estate) without nourishing to that purpose this so manifest corruption and apparant inconvenience. It is strange how custome in these indifferent things doth easily encroach and suddenly establish the footing of her authoritie. We had scarce worne cloth one whole yeare at the Court, what time we mourned for our King Henrie the second, but certainly in every mans opinion all manner of silks were already become so vile and abject, that was any man seene to weare them he was presently judged to be some countrie fellow or mechanicall man. They were left only for Chyrurgians and Physitians. And albeit most men were apparreled alike, yet were there other sufficient apparant distinctions of mens qualities. How soone doe plaine chamoy-jerkins and greasie canvase doublets creepe into fashion and credit amongst our souldiers if they lie in the field? And the garishnesse, neatnesse, and riches of silken garments grow in contempt and scorne? Let Kings first begin to leave these superfluous expenses. We shall all follow, and within a moneth, without edicts, ordinances, proclamations, and acts of Parliament, it will be observed as a law. The statutes should speake contrarie, as thus: That no man or woman, of what qualitie soever, shall, upon paine of great forfeitures, weare any manner of silke, of scarlet, or any goldsmiths worke, except only Enterlude-players, Harlots, and Curtizans. With such an invention did Zeleucus whilome correct the corrupted manners of the Locrines. His ordinances were such: 'Be it enacted that no woman of free condition shall have any more than one maid-servant to follow her when she goeth abroad, except when she shall be drunken: And further, that she-may not goe out of the Citie by night, nor weare any jewels of gold or precious stones about her, nor any gowne beset with goldsmiths worke or enbroiderie, except she be a publike- professed whore: and moreover, that except panders and bawds, it shall not be lawfull for any man to weare any gold-rings on his fingers, nor any rich garments, as are such of cloth made in the Citie of Miletum.' So did he by these reproachfull exceptions ingeniously drive his Citizens from vaine superfluities and pernicious dainties. It was a most profitable course, by honour and ambition to allure men unto their dutie and obedience. Our Kings have the power to addresse all these externall reformations. Their inclination serveth them as a law. Quicquid Principes faciunt, præcipere videntur: 'Whatsoever Princes doe, that they seeme to command.' The rest of France takes the modell of the court as a rule unto it selfe to follow. Let Courtiers first begin to leave off and loathe there filthy and apish breeches that so openly shew our secret parts: t he bumbasting of long pease-cod bellied doublets, which makes us seeme so far from what we are, and which are so cumbersome to arme: These long, effeminate, and dangling locks: That fond custome to kisse what we present to others, and Beso las manos in saluting of our friends (a ceremonie heretofore only due unto princes): And for a gentleman to come to any place of respect, without his rapier by his side, all unbraced, all untrust, as if he came from his close-stoole; And that against our forefathers manner, and the particular libertie of our French nobilitie, we should stand hare-headed, aloofe-off from them, wheresoever they be; and as about them, about many others: So many petty-kings and petty-petty-kinglets have we now adayes: And so of other like new-fangled and vicious introductions: They shall soone he seene to vanish and be left. Although but superficiall faults, yet are they of evill presages. And we are warned that the foundation or maine summers of our houses faile and shrinke, when we see the quarters bend or wals to breake. Plato in his Lawes, thinkes there is no worse plague, or more pernicious in his Citie, than to suffer youth to have the reines of libertie in her owne hand, to change in their attires, in their gestures, dances, exercises, and songs, from one forme to another: And to remove their judgement, now to this, now to that place; following newfangled devices, and regarding their inventors: By which old customes are corrupted, and ancient institutions despised. In all things, except the wicked, mutation is to be feared; yea, even the alteration of seasons, of winds, of livings, and of humours. And no lawes are in perfect credit but those to which God hath given some ancient continuance: so that no man know their, of-spring, nor that ever they were other than they are.