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.
NE WORD more in comparison of these two: There are gathered out of Ciceroes writings and from Plinies (in mine opinion little agreeing with his unckle) infinite testimonies of a nature beyond measure ambitious. Amongst others, that they openly solicit the Historians of their times not to forget them in their writings: and fortune, as it were in spight, hath made the vanitie of their request to continue even to our daies, and long since the histories were lost. But this exceedeth all hearts-basenesse in persons of that stampe, to have gone about to draw some principall glorie from prating and speaking, even to imploy their private Epistles written to their friends; in such sort, as some missing the opportunitie to be sent, they notwithstanding cause them to be published, with this worthy excuse, that they would not lose their travell and lucubrations. Is it not a seemly thing in two Romane Consuls, chiefs magistrates of the common-wealth, Empresse of the world, to spend their time in wittily devising and closely hudling up of a quaint missive or wittie epistle, thereby to attaine the reputation that they perfectly understand their mother tongue? What could a seely Schoolmaster, who gets his living by such trash, do worse? If the acts of Xenophon, or Cæsar, had not by much exceeded their eloquence, I cannot beleeve they would ever have written them. They have endevored to recommend unto posterity, not their sayings, but their doings. And if the perfection of well-speaking might bring any glorie sutable unto a great personage, Scipio and Lelius would never have resigned the honour of their comedies, and the elegancies and smooth-sportfull conceits of the Latine tongue, unto an African servant: For, to prove this labour to be theirs , the exquisit eloquence and excellent invention thereof doth sufficiently declare it: and Terence himselfe doth avouch it: And I could hardly be removed from this opinion. It is a kind of mockerie and injurie to raise a man to worth by qualities mis-seeming his place and unfitting his calling, although for some other respects praise-worthy; and also by qualities that ought not to be his principall object. As he that would commend a King to be a cunning painter, or a skilfull architect, or an excellent Harquibuzier, or a never-missing-missing runner at the Ring. These commendations acquire a man no honour if they be not presented altogether with those that are proper and convenient unto him, that is to say, justice, and the skill to governe, and knowledge to direct his people both in peace and warre. In this sort doth Agriculture honour Cyrus, and Eloquence Charlemaine, together with his knowledge in good letters. I have in my time seene some who by writing did earnestly get both their titles and living, to disavow their aprentissage, mar their pen, and affect the ignorance of so vulgar a qualitie; and which our people holds to be seldome found amongst wise men, endeavouring to commend for better qualities. Demosthenes his companions in their ambassage to Philip, praised their Prince to be faire, eloquent, and a good quaffer. Demosthenes said, they were commendations rather fitting a woman, an advocate, and a spunge, than a King.Imperet bellante prior, jacentemIt is not his profession to know either how to hunt cunningly or to dance nimbly.
Lenis in hostem. -- 1 HOR. Car. Secul. 51.
Better he rule, who mercifull will rue
His foe subdued, than he that can subdue.Orabunt causas alii, cælique meatusPlutarke saith, moreover, That to appear so absolutely excellent in these lesse-necessarie parts, is to produce a witnesse against himselfe, to have ill spent his houres and fondly-bestowed his studye which might better have been employed to more behoovefull and profitable use. So that Philip, King of Macedon, having heard great Alexander, his sonne, sing at a feast and vie with the best musitians: 'Art thou not ashamed (said he unto him) to sing so well?' And to the same Philip said a musitian, gainst whom he contended about his Art, 'God forbid, my Sovereigne, that ever so much hurt should befall you, that you should understand these things better than my selfe.' A King ought to be able to answer, as Iphicrates did the Orator who in his invective urged him in this manner: 'And what art thou, thou shouldst so brave it? Art thou a man at Armes? Art thou an Archer? Art thou a Pikeman?' 'I am none of all those, but I am he who command all those.' And Antisthenes made it as an argument of little value in Ismenias, when some commended him to be an excellent Flutist. Well I wot that when I heare some give themselves to dwell on the phrase of my Essayes, I would rather have them hold their peace: They doe not so much raise the words as depresse the sense; so much the more sharply by how much more obliquely. Yet am I deceived if some others take not more hold on the matter; and how well or ill soever, if any writer hath scattered the same, either more materiall, or at least thicker on his paper: That I may collect the more, I doe but huddle it; the arguments or chiefe heads. Let me but adde what followes them, I shall daily increase this volume. And how many stories have I glanced at therein, that speake not a word, which whosoever shall unfold may from them draw infinite Essayes? Nor they, nor my allegations doe ever serve simply for examples, authoritie, or ornament. I doe not only respect them for the use I draw from them. They often (beyond my purpose) produce the seed of a richer subject and bolder matter, and often, collaterally, a more harmonious tune, both for me, that will expresse no more in this place, and for them that shall hit upon my tune. But returning to virtue. I find no great choice betweene him that can speake nothing but evill, and one that can talke nothing but to talke well. Non est ornamentum virile concinnitas (Sen. Epist. cxv. p.). 'Finenesse is no great grace for a man.' Wise men say, that in respect of knowledge, there is nothing but philosophy, and in regard of effects, but Vertue: which is generally fit for all degrees and for all orders. Something there is alike in these two other philosophers; for they also promise eternitie to the Epistles they write to their friends. But after another fashion, and to a good purpose, accommodating themselves to others vanitie: For they send them word, that if care to make themselves knowen unto future ages, and respect of renowne, doth yet retaine them in the managing of affaires, and makes them feare solitarmesse and a retired life, to which they would call them, that they take no more paines for it: for as much as they have sufficient credit with posteritie, by answering them; and were it but by the epistles they write unto them, they will make Their name as famous and as farre knowen, as all their publike actions might doe. Besides this difference, they are not frivolous, idle, and triviall Epistles, and only compact and held together with exquisite choise words, hudled-up and ranged to a just smoothe cadence, but stufft and full of notable sayings and wise sentences; by which a man doth not only become more eloquent, but more wise, and that teach us not to say well, but to doe well. Fie on that eloquence which leaves us with a desire of it, and not of things; unlesse a man will say that Ciceroes being so exceedingly perfect doth frame it selfe a body of perfection. I will further alleage a storie, which to this purpose we reade of him, to make us palpably feele his naturall condition. He was to make an Oration in publike, and being urged betimes to prepare himselfe for it, Eros, one of his servants, came to tel him the Auditorie was deferred till the morrow next; he was so glad of it, that for so good newes he gave him his libertie. Touching this subject of Epistles, thus much I will say: It is a worke wherein my friends are of opinion I can doe something; and should more willingly have undertaken to publish my gifts had I had who to speake unto. It had beene requisite (as I have had other times) to have had a certaine commerce to draw me on, to encourage me, and to uphold me. For, to go about to catch the winde in a net, as others doe, I cannot; and it is but a dreame. I am a sworne enemie to all falsifications. I should have beene more attentive and more assured, having a friendly and strong direction, than to behold the divers images of a whole multitude: and I am deceived if it be not better succeeded with me. I have naturally a comical and familiar stile: But after a maner peculiar unto my self, inept to all publike Negotiations, answering my speech which is altogether close, broken, and particular: I have no skill in ceremonious letters, which have no other substance but a faire contexture of complemental phrases and curteous words. I have no taste nor faculty of these tedious offers of service or affection. I believe not so much as is said, and am nothing pleased to say more than I believe. It is farre from that which is used nowadaies: For, there was never so abject and servile a prostitution of presentations; life, soule, devotion, adoration, servant, slave; all these words are, so generally used, that when they would expresse a more emphatical intent and respective will, they have no meanes left them to expresse it. I deadly hate to heare a flatterer: which is the cause I naturally affect a pithy, sinnowie, drie, round, and harsh kind of speach; which of such as have no further acquaintance with me, is judged to encline to disdeine. I honor them most whom I seeme to regard least: And where my mind marcheth most cheerefully, I often forget the steps of gravitie: And I offer my selfe but faintly and rudely to those whose I am indeed, and present my selfe least to such as I have most given my selfe. Me thinkes they should read it in my heart, and that the expression of my words wrongeth my conception. To welcome, to take leave, to bid farewell, to give thanks, to salute, to present my service, and such verball complements of the ceremoniall lawes of our civilitie, I know no man so sottishly-barren of speeche as my selfe. And I was never imployed to indite letters of favour or commendatorie, but he for whom they were, judged them drie, barren, and faint. The Italians are great Printers of Epistles, whereof I thinke I have a hundred severall volumes. I deeme those of Hanniball Caro to be the best. If all the paper I have heretofore scribled for ladies were extant, at what time my hand was truly transported by my passion, a man should haply find some page worthy to be communicated unto idle and fond-doting youth, embabuinized with this furie. I ever write my letters in post-hast, and so rashly headlong, that howbeit I write intolerably ill, I had rather write with mine owne hand than imploy another: for I find none that can follow me, and I never copy them over againe. I have accustomed those great persons that know me to endure blots, blurs, dashes, and botches, in my letters, and a sheete without folding or margine. Those that cost me either most labour or studie are they that are least worth. When I once begin to traile them, it is a signe my mind is not upon them. I commonly begin without project: the first word begets the second. Our moderne letters are more fraught with borders and prefaces than with matters, as I had rather write two than fold and make up one, which charge I commonly resigne to others: So likewise when the matter is ended, I would willingly give another the charge to adde these long orations, offers, praiers, and imprecations, which we place at the end of them, and wish hartily some new fashion would discharge us of them. As also to superscribe them with a legend of qualities, titles, and callings, wherein, lest I might have tripped, I have often times omitted writing, especially to men of Justice, Lawyers, and Financiers. So many innovations of offices, so difficult a dispensation and ordinance of divers names and titles of honour, which being so dearely bought, can neither be exchanged or forgotten without offence. I likewise find it gracelesse and idly-fond to charge the front and inscription of the many bookes and pamphlets which we daily cause to be imprinted with them.
Describent radio, et fulgentia sidera dicent;
Hic regere imperio populos sciat. --Virg. Æn. vi. 850.
Others shall causes plead, describe the skies'
Motion by instrument, say how stars rise:
But let him know to rule (just, valiant, wise).