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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.


IAM not possessed with this common errour, to judge of others according to what I am my selfe. I am easie to beleeve things differing from my selfe. Though I be engaged to one forme, I doe not tie the world unto it, as every man doth. And I beleeve and conceive a thousand manners of life, contrarie to the common sort: I more easily admit and receive difference than resemblance in us. I discharge as much as a man will, another being of my conditions and principles, and simply consider of it in my selfe without relation, framing it upon its owne modell. Though my selfe be not continent, yet doe I sincerely commend and allow the continencie of the Capuchins and Theatines, and highly praise their course of life. I doe by imagination insinuate my selfe into their place: and by how much more they bee other than my selfe, so much the more doe I love and honour him. I would gladly have every man judged apart, and not be drawne my selfe in consequence of others examples. My weaknesse doth no way alter the opinions I should have of the force and vigor of those that deserve it. Sunt, qui nihil suadent, quam quod se imitari posse confidunt (Cic. Orat. ad Brit.). 'There be such as advise to nothing but what they trust themselves can imitate.' Crawling on the face of the earthe I cease not to marke, even into the clouds, in the imitable height of some heroicke minds. It is much for me to have a formall and prescript judgement, if the effects bee not so, and at least to maintaine the chiefe part exempted from corruption. It is something thing to have a good minde, when my forces faile me. The age we live in (at least our climate) is so dull and leaden, that not only the execution, but the very imagination of vertue is farre to seeke, and seemes to be no other thing than a College supposition and a gibrish word.
   ------ virtutem verba putant, ut Lucum ligna --Hor. Ep. vi. i. 31.

Vertue seemes words to these,
As trees are wood, or woods are trees.

Quam vereri deberent, etia m si percipere non possent. 'Which yet they should reverence, though they could not reach unto.' It is an eare-ring or pendant to hang in a cabinet, or at the tongues end, as well as at an eare for an ornament. There are no more vertuous actions knowne; those that beare a shew of vertue have no essence of it: for profit, glorie, custome, feare, and other like strange causes direct us to produce them. Justice, valour, integritie, which we then exercise, may by others consideration, and by the countenance they publikly beare, be termed so: but with the true workman it is no vertue at all. There is another end proposed; another efficient cause. Vertue alloweth of nothing but what is done by her, and for her alone. In that great battell at Potidæa which the Grecians under Pausanias gained of Mardonius and the Persians, the victors following their custome, comming to share the glorie and prise of the victorie betweene them, ascribed the pre-excellencie of valor in that conflict to the Spartane nation. The Spartines, impartiall Judges of vertue, when they came to decide to what particular man of their countrie the honour to have done best in that day should of right belong, they found that Aristodemus had most couragiously engaged and hazarded himselfe: Yet gave him not the prise of honour of it, because his vertue had beene therunto incited by an earnest desire to purge himselfe from the reproch and infamie which hee had incurred in the action at Thermopyles, and from all daring ambition to die courageously, thereby to warrant his former imputation. Our judgements are yet sicke, and follow the depravations of our customes. I see the greatest part of our spirits to affect wit, and to shew themselves ingenious, by obscuring and detracting from the glorie of famous and generall ancient actions, giving them some base and malicious interpetation, fondly and enviously charging them with vaine causes and frivolous occasions. A subtill invention no doubt. Let any man present me with the most excellent and blameless action, and I will oppose it with fiftie vicious and bad intentions, all which shall carrie a face of likelihood. God knowes (to him that will extend them) what diversitie of images our internal will doth suffer: They doe not so maliciously as grosely and rudely endeavour to be ingenious with all their railing and detraction. The same paine a man taketh to detract from these noble and famous names, and the verie same libertie would I as willingly take to lend them my shoulders to extoll and magnifie them. I would endevour to charge these rare and choise figures, selected by the consent of wise men for the worlds examples as much and as high as my invention would give me leave with honour, in a plausible interpretation and favourable circumstance. And a man must thinke that the diligent labours of our invention are farre beyond their merit. It is the part of honest minded men to pourtray vertue as faire as possible faire may be. A thing which would no whit be mis- seeming or undecent, if passion should transport us to the favour and pursuit of so sacred formes, what these doe contrarie, they either doe it through malice or knaverie, with purpose to reduce and sute their beleefe to their capacitie whereof I lately spake; or rather, as I thinke, because their sight is not of sufficient power or clearnes, nor addressed to conceive or apprehend the farre-shining brightnes of vertue in naturall and genuine puritie: as Plutarke saith, that in his time some imputed the cause of Cato the youngers death to the feare he had conceived of Cesar: whereat he hath some reason to be moved: by which a man may judge how much more he would have beene offended with those that have ascribed the same unto ambition. Oh foolish people! Hee would no doubt have performed a faire action, so generous and so just, rather with ignominie than for glorie. This man was truly a patterne whom nature chose to shew how farre humane vertue may reach, and mans constancie attaine unto. But my purpose is not here to treat this rich argument: I will only confront together the sayings of five Latin Poets upon Catoes commendations, and for the interest of Cato, and by incidencie for theirs also. Now ought a gentleman, well-bred, in respect of others, finde the two former somewhat languish ing; the third more vigorous, but suppressed by the extravagancie of force. He will judge there were yet place for one or two degrees of invention, to reach unto the fourth, in consideration of which he will through admiration joyne hands for the last (yet first in some degree and space, but which space he will sweare can by no humane spirit be filled up) he will be much amazed, he will be much amated. Loe, here are wonders, we have more Poets than judges and interpreters of poesie. It is an easier matter to frame it than to know it: Being base and humble, it may be judged by the precepts and art of it: But the good and loftie, the supreme and divine, is beyond rules and above reason. Whosoever discerneth her beautie, with a constant, quicke- seeing, and setled looke, he can no more see and comprehend the same than the splendor of a lightning flash. It hath no communitie with our judgement; but ransacketh and ravisheth the same. The furie which prickes and moves him that can penetrate h er, doth also stricke and wound a third man, if he heare it either handled or recited, as the adamant stone drawes not only a needle, but infuseth some of her facultie in the same to draw others: And it is more apparently seene in theaters, that the sacred inspiration of the Muses, having first stirred up the Poet with a kinde of agitation unto choler, unto griefe, unto hatred, yea and beyond himselfe, whither and howsoever they please, doth also by the Poet strike and enter into the Actor, and consequently by the Actor a whole auditorie or multitude. It is the ligament of our senses depending one of another. Even from my infancie Poesie hath had the vertue to transpierce and transport me. But that lively and feeling-movino that is naturally in me have diversly beene handled, by the diversitie of forms, not so much higher or lower (for they were ever the highest in every kind) as different in colour. First a blithe and ingenious fluiditie, then a quaint-wittie and loftie conceit. To conclude, a ripe and constant force. Ovid, Lucan, and Virgil will better declare it. But here our Gallants are in their full cariere.
Sit Cato dum vivit sane vel Cæsare major. -- Mart. Epig. xxxii. 5.

Let Cato Junior, while he
doth live, greater than Cæsar be.

Saith one.
------ et invictum devicta morte Catonem: --Manil. Astr. iv. 87.

Cato unconquered, death being vanquished.

Saith another: And the third, speaking of the civill warres betweene Cæsar and Pompey.
Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni. -- Lucan. Bel. Civ. i. 127.

The cause that overcame with Gods was greater;
But the cause overcome pleased Cato better.

And the fourth upon Cæsars commendations:
Et cuncta terrarum subacta,
Præter atrocem animum Catonis. -- Hor. ii. Od. i. 23.

Of all the earth all parts enthralled,
Catoes minde only unappalled.

And the harps-master, after he hath installed the names of the greatest Romans in his picture, ended thus:
----- -his dantem jura Catonem. --Virg. Æn. viii. 670.

Chiefe justice Cato doe decree
Lawes that for righteous soules should be.

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