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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  WOULD willingly excuse our people for having no other patterne or rule of perfection, but his owne customes, his owne fashions: For, it is a common vice, not only in the vulgar sort, but as it were in all men, to bend their ayme, and frame their thoughts unto the fashions wherein they were borne. I am pleased when he shall see FabriciusLælius, who, because they are neither attired nor fashioned according to our manner, that he condemne their countenance to be strange and their cariage barbarous. But I bewaile his particular indiscretion, in that he suffereth himselfe to be so blinded and deceived by the authoritie of present custome, and that if custome pleaseth he is ready to change opinion and varie advice, every moneth, nay every day, and judgeth so diversly of himselfe. When he wore short-wasted doublets, and but little lower than his breast, he would maintaine by militant reasons that the waste was in his right place: but when not long after he came to weare them so long-wasted, yea almost so low as his privates, than began he to condemne the former fashion, as fond, intolerable and deformed; and to commend the latter as comely, handsome, and commendable. A new fashion of apparel creepeth no sooner into use but presently he blameth and dispraiseth the old, and that with so earnest a resolution and universall a consent, that you would say, it is some kind of madnesse or selfe-fond humor that giddieth his understanding.     And forasmuch as our changing or altering of fashion is so sudden and new-fangled, that the inventions and new devices of all the tailors in the world cannot so fast invent novelties, it must necessarily follow that neglected and stale rejected fashions doe often come into credit and use again: And the latest and newest within a while after come to be outcast and despised, and that one selfe-same judgment within the space of fifteene or twentie yeares admitteth not only two or three different, but also cleane contrarie opinions, with so light and incredible inconstancie, that any man would wonder at it. There is no man so suttle-crafty amongst us, that suffereth not himself to be enveigled and over-reached by this contradiction, and that is not insensibly dazeled both with his inward and externall eies. I will heere huddle-up some few ancient fashions that I remember: Some of them like unto ours, othersome farre differing from them: To the end, that having ever this continuall variation of humane things in our minde, we may the better enlighten and confirme our transported judgment. That manner of fight which we use now adaies with rapier and cloke, was also used among the Romanes, as saith Cæsar: Sini stras sagis involvunt, gladiosque distringunt: (Cæs. Bel. Civ. i.) they wrap their left armes in their clokes, and draw their swords. We may to this day observe this vice to be amongst us, and which we have taken from them, that is, to stay such passengers as we meet by the way, and force them to tell us who they are, whence they come, whither they goe, and to count it as an injurie and cause of quarrell they refuse to answer our demand. In Baths, which our forefathers used daily before meals, as ordinarily as we use water to wash our hands, when first they came into them they washed but their armes and legges, but afterward (which custome lasted many after-ages, and to this day continueth amongst divers nations of the world) their whole body over with compounded and perfumed waters, in such sort as they held it as a great testimonie of simplicitie to wash themselves in pure and uncompounded water: Such as were most delicate and effeminate were wont to perfume their whole bodies over and over, three or four times every day: And often (as our French women have lately taken up) to picke and snip out the haires of their fore-head, so they of all their body. or
Quod pectus, quod crura ubi, quod brachia vellis. Mart. ii. Epig. lxii. 1.
That you from breast, legges, armes, the haire
Neatly pull off (to make them faire).
Although they had choice of ointments fit for the purpose.
Psilotro nitet, aut arida latet abdita creta. Lib. vi. Epi. xciii. 9.
She shines with ointments that make haire to fall.
Or with dry chalke she over-covers all.
    They loved to lie soft, and on fine downe beds, aleaging lying on hard mattresses as a signe of patience. They fed lying on their beds, neere after the manner of the Turks nowadaies,
Inde thoro pater æneas sic orsus ab alto. --Virg. Æn. ii.2.
Father Æneas thus gan say,
From stately couch where then he lay.
    And it is reported of Cato Junior that after the battell of Pharsalia, and that he began to mourne and bewaile the miserable state of the common-wealth, and ill condition of publike affaires, he ever eat sitting on the ground, following an austere, and observing a strict kinde of life. The Beso las manos was used as a signe of honour and humilitie only towards great persons. If friends met, after friendly salutations they used to kisse one another, as the Venetians do at this day.
Gratatusque darem cum dulcibus oscula verbis. Ovid. Pont. iv. El. ix. 13.
Give her I would with greetings graced,
Kisses with sweet words enterlaced.
    And in saluting or suing to any great man they touched his knees, Pasicles the philosopher, brother unto Crates, comming to salute one, whereas he should have carried his hand to his knee, carried the same unto his genitories: The partie saluted having rudely pusht him away, What, quoth he, is not that part yours as well as the other? Their manner of feeding was as ours, their fruit last. They were wont to wipe their tailes (this vaine superstition of words must be left unto women) with a sponge, and that's the reason why Spongia in Latine is counted an obscene word: which sponge was ever tied to the end of a gaffe, as witnesseth the storie of him that was carried to be devoured of the wild beasts before the people, who desiring leave to go toe a privie before his death, and having no other meanes to kill himselfe, thrust downe the sponge and staffe hee found in the privie into his throte wherewith he choked himselfe. Having ended the delights of nature, they were wont to wipe their privities with perfumed wooll.
At ubi nil faciam, sed lota memtula lana. Mart. xi. Epig. li. 11.
To thee no such thing will I bring,
But with washt wooll another thing.
In every street of Rome were placed tubs and such other vessels, for passengers to make water in.
Pusi seape lacum propter, se dolia curta
Somno devincti credunt extollere vestem.
Lucr. iv. 1018.
Children asleepe oft thinke they take up all
Neere to some pissing tub, some lake, some wall.
    They used to break their fast, and nonchion between meals, and all summer-time had men that sold snowe up and down the streets, wherewith they refreshed their wines, of whom some were so daintie that all winter long they used to put snow into their wine, not deeming it cold enough. Principall and noble men had their cup bearers, tasters, carvers, and buffons to make them merry. In Winter their viandes were brought and set on the boord upon arches, as we use chafing dishes; and had portable kitchens (of which I have seene some) wherein might be drawne wheresoever one list a whole service and messe of meat.
Has vobis epulas habete, lauti.
Nos offendimur ambulante cæna.
Mart. vii. Epig. xlvii. 5.
Take you daintie mouth'd such stirring feasts
With walking meales we are offended guests.
    And in summer they often caused cold water (being carried through pipes) to drill upon them as they sate in their dining chambers, or lowe parlors, where in cisterns they kept store of fish alive, which the by-standers might at their pleasure chuse and take with their hands, and have it drest every man according to his fantasie. Fish hath ever had this privilege, as at this day it hath, that chiefe gentlemen are pleased and have skill to dress it best: And to say truth, the taste of fish is much more delicat and exquisit than that of flesh, at least in mine. But in all manner of magnificence, delitiousnes, riotous gluttonie, inventions of voluptuoushes, wantonnes, and sumptuositie, we truly endevour, as much as may be, to equall and come neere them: For our will and taste is as much corrupted as theirs, but our skill and sufficiencie is farre short of them: Our wit is no more capable, and our strength no more able to approach and match them in these vitious and blame-worthy parts than in vertuous and commendable actions: For both proceede from a vigor of spirit and farre-reaching wit, which, without comparison, was much greater in them than now in us. And mindes by how much more strong and excellent they are, so much lesse facultie and means have they to doe, either excellently well or notoriously ill. The chiefest aime amongst them was a meane or mediocrity. The Foremost or Last, in writing or speaking, had no signification of preheminence or greatness, as may evidently appeare by their writings. They would familiarly and as soon say, Oppius and Cæsar, as Cæsar and Oppius; and as indifferently I and thou, as thou and I. And that's the reason why I have heretofore noted in the life of Flaminius, in our French Plutarke, a place where it seemeth that the Author, speaking of the jealousie of glorie that was between the Ætolians and the Romans, for the gaine of a battell, which they had obtained in common, maketh for the purpose, that in Greeke songs the Ætolians were named before the Romans, except there bee some Amphibology in the French words: for in that toung I reade it. When Ladies came unto stoves or hot-houses, they made it not daintie to admit men into their companie, and to be washed, rubbed, chafed, and annointed by the hands of their groomes and pages.
Inguina succinctus nigra ubi servus aluta
Stat, quoties calidis nuda foveris æquis. -- Epig.
xxxiv. 1.
Your man, whose loynes blacke-lether girds, stands by, Whilst in warme water you starke-naked lie.
They also used to sprinkle themselves all over with certaine powders, thereby to alay and represse all manner of filth or sweat. The ancient Gaules (saith Sidonius Apollinaris ) wore their haire long before, and all the hinder part of their head shaven, a fashion that our wanton youths and effeminate gallants have lately renued, and in this new-fangled and fond-doting age, brought up againe, with wearing of long-dangling locks before. The ancient Romans paid the water-men their fare or due so soone as they came into the boat, whereas we pay it when they set us on shore.
-- dum as exigitur, dum mula ligature
Tota abit hora.
While they call for their fare, tie drawe-mule to,
There runs away a full houre, if not two.
Women were wont to lie on the utmost side of the, bed, and therefore was Cæsar called Spondam Regis Nicomedis:3 'King Nicomedes his beds side.' They tooke breath while they were drinking, and used to baptise or put water in their wines.
            -- quis puer ocius
Restinguit ardentis falerni
Pocula prætereunte limpha?
--Hor. ii.Od. xi. 18.
What boy of mine or thine
Shall coole our cup of wine
With running water fine?
Those cousening and minde-deceiving countenances of lakeis were also amongst them.
O Jane, a tergo quem nulla ciconia pinsit,
Nec manus auriculas imitata est mobilis albas,
Nec lingæ quantum sitiet canis Apula tantum.
O Janus, whom behinde no Storks-bill doth deride,
Nor nimble hand resembling mak'st ears white and wide,
Nor so much tongue lil'd out as dogges with thirst ore-dride.
    The Argian and Romane Ladies mourned in white, as our dames wont to doe, and if I might be credited, and beare-sway amongst them, they should continue it still. But because there are many bookes that treat of this argument, I will say no more of it.

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