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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.


LET us leave apart this outworne comparison, betweene a solitarie and an active life: And touching that goodly saying under which ambition and avance shroud themselves, that we are not borne for our particular, but for the publike good: let us boldly refer ourselves to those that are engaged and let them beat their conscience, if on the contrarie the states, the charges, and this trash of the world are not rather sought and sued for to draw a private commoditie from the publike. The bad and indirect meanes whereth rough in our age men canvase and toyle to attaine the same, doe manifestly declare the end thereof to be of no great consequence. Let us answer ambition, that herselfe gives us the taste of solitarinesse. For what doth she shun so much as company? What seeketh shee more than elbow-roome? There is no place but there are meanes and waies to doe well or ill. Neverthelesse if the saying of Bias be true, 'That the worst part is the greatest:' Or that which Ecclesiastes saith, 'That of a thousand there is not one good:'

Rari quippe boni: numero vix sunt totidem, quot

Thebarum portæ, vel divitis ostia Nili:  --  Juven. Sat. xiii. 26.

1 Good men are rare, so many scarce (I feare)

As gates of Thebes, mouths of rich Nilus were.

Contagion is very dangerous in a throng. A man must imitate the vicious, or hate them: both are dangerous: for to resemble them is perilous, because they are many , and to hate many is hazardous, because they are dissemblable, and Merchants that travell by sea have reason to take heed that those which goe in the same ship be not dissolute, blasphemers, and wicked, judging such company unfortunate. Therefore Bias said pleasantly to those that together with him passt the danger of a great storme, and called to the Gods for helpe: 'Peace, my masters, lest they should heare that you are here with me.' And of a more militarie example, Albuberque, Viceroy in India for Emanuel King of Portugall, in an extreme danger of a sea-tempest, tooke a young boy upon his shoulders, for this only end, that in the common perill his innocence might be his warrant and recommending to Gods favour to set him on shore: yet may a wise man live every where contented, yea and alone, in the throng of a Pallace: but if he may chuse, he will (saith he) avoid the sight of it. If need require, he will endure the first: but if he may have his choice, he will chuse the latter. He thinks he hath not sufficiently rid himselfe from vices if he must also contest with other mens faults. Charondas punished those for wicked that were convicted to have frequented lewd companies. There is nothing so dis-sociable and sociable as man, the one for his vice, the other for his nature. And I think Antisthenes did not satisfie him that upbraided him with his conversation with the wicked, saying, 'That Physicians live amongst the sicke:' Who if they stead sicke mens healths, they impaire their owne by the infection, continuall visiting, touching, and frequenting of diseases. Now (as I suppose) the end is both one, thereby to live more at leasure and better at ease. But man doth not alwaies seeke the best way to come unto it, who often supposeth to have quit affaires when he hath but changed them. There is not much lesse vexation in the government of a private family than in the managing of an entire state: wheresoever the minde is busied, there it is all. And though domesticall occupations be lesse important, they are as importunate. Moreover, though we have freed ourselves from the court and from the market, we are not free from the principall torments of our life.

       ----- ratio et prudentia curas,
Non locus effusi late maris arbiter aufert.  --  Hor. i. Epist. xi. 25.

Reason and wisdome may set cares aside.
Not place the Arbiter of seas so wide.

Shift we or change we places never so often, ambition, avar ice, irresolution, feare, and concupiscences never leave us.
Et post equitem sedet atra cura. --  Hor. iii. Od. i. 39.

Care, looking grim and blacke, doth sit
Behind his backe that rides from it.

They often follow us, even into immured cloisters. and into schooles of philosophy; nor doe hollow rocks, nor wearing of haire-shirts, nor continuall fastings, rid us from them.
Hæret lateri lethalis arundo.  --  Virg. Æn. iv. 73.

The shaft that death implide
Sticks by the flying side.

It was told Socrates that one was no whit amended by his travell: 'I believe it wel (said he) for he carried himselfe with him.'
       Quid terras alio calentes
Sole mutamus? patria quis exul
       Se quoque fugit? --  Hor. ii. Od. xvi. 18.

Why change we soyles warm'd with another Sunne?
Who from home banisht hath himselfe outrunne?

     If a man doe not first discharge both himselfe and his minde from the burthen that presseth her, removing from place to place will stirre and presse her the more, I as in a ship, wares well stowed and closely piled take up least roome, you doe a sicke-man more hurt than good to make him change place, you settle an evill in removing the same; as stakes or poles, the more they are stirred and shaken, the faster they sticke, and sinke deeper into the ground. Therefore is it not enough for a man to have sequestered himselfe from the concourse of people: is it not sufficient to shift place, a man must also sever himselfe from the popular conditions that are in us. A man must sequester and recover himselfe from himselfe.
       -----rupi jam vincula, dicas,
Nam luctata canis nodum arripit, attamen illa
Cum fugit, a collo trahitur pars longa catenæ.  --  Pers. Sat. v. 158.

You will say haply I my bonds have quit,
Why so the striving dog the knot hath bit;
Yet when he flies, much chaine doth follow it.

We carry our fetters with us: is it not all absolute libertie; we still cast backe our lookes towards that we have left behinde: our minde doth still run on it; our fancie is full of it.
----- nisi purgatum est pectus, quæm prælia nobis
Atque pericula tunc ingratis insinuandum?
Quantæ conscindunt hominem cupidinis actes
Solicitum curæ, quantique perinde timores?
Quidve superbia, spurcidia ac petulantia, quantas
Efficiunt clades, quid luxus, desidiesque? --  Lucr. v. 44.

Unlesse our breast be purg'd, what warres must wee
What perils then, though much displeased, see?
How great teares, how great cares of sharpe desire
Doe carefull man distract, torment, enfire?
Uncleannesse, wantonnesse, sloth, riot, pride,
How great calamities have these implide?

Our evill is rooted in our minde: and it cannot scape from it selfe.
In culpa est animus, qui se non effugit unquam, --  Hor. i. Epist. xiv. 13.
The minde in greatest fault must lie
Which from itselfe can never flie,
    Therefore must it be reduced and brought into it selfe: It is the true solitarinesse, and which may be enjoyed even in the frequencie of peopled Cities and Kings courts; but it is more commodiously enjoyed  apart. Now sithence wee undertake to live solitarie, and without companie, let us cause our contentment to depend of our selves: Let us shake off all bonds that tie us unto others: Gaine we that victorie over us, that in good earnest we may live solitarie, and therein live at our ease. Stilphon having escaped the combustion of his Citie, wherein he had lost both wife and children, and all his goods; Demetrius Poliorcetes seeing him in so great a ruine of his Countrie with an unaffrighted countenance, demanded of him, whether he had received any losse: He answered, No: and that (thanks given to God) he had lost nothing of his owne. It is that which Antisthenes the Philosopher said very pleasantly, 'That man ought to provide himselfe with munitions that might float upon the water, and by swimming escape the danger of shipwracke with him.' Verily, 'a man of understanding hath lost nothing if he yet have himselfe.' When the Citie of Nola was over-run by the Barbarians, Paulinus, bishop thereof, having lost all he had there, and being their prisoner, prayed thus unto God: 'O Lord, deliver me from feeling of this losse: for thou knowest as yet they have toucht nothing that is mine.' The riches that made him rich, and the goods which made him good, were yet absolutely whole. Behold what it is to chuse treasures well, that may be freed from injurie; and to hide them in a place where no man may enter, and which cannot be betraied but by our selves. A man that is able may have wives, children, goods, and chiefly health, but not so tie himselfe unto them that his felicitie depend on them. We should reserve a store-house for our selves, what need soever change; altogether ours, and wholly free, wherein we may hoard up and establish our true libertie, and principall retreit and solitarinesse, wherein we must go alone to our selves, take out ordinarie entertainment, and so privateIy that no acquai ntance or communication of any strange thing may therein find place: there to discourse, to meditate and laugh, as, without wife, without children, and goods, without traine or servants; that if by any occasion they be lost, it seeme not strange to us to passe it over; we have a minde moving and turning in it selfe; it may keep it selfe companie; it hath wherewith to offend and defend, wherewith to receive, and wherewith to give. Let us not feare that we shall faint and droop through tedious and mind-trying idlenesse in this solitarinesse.
In solis sis tibi turba locis.

Be thou, when with thee is not any,
As good unto thy selfe as many.

Vertue is contented with it selfe, without discipline, without words, and without effects. In our accustomed actions, of a thousand there is not one found that regards us: he whom thou seest so furiously, and as it were besides himselfe, to clamber or crawle up the citie wals or breach, as a point-blank to a whole voly of shot, and another all wounded and skarred, crazed and faint, and wel-nie hunger-starven, resolved rather to die than to open his enemie the gate and give him entrance; doest thou think he is there for himselfe? No verily. It is peradventure for such a one whom neither he nor so many of his fellowes ever saw, and who haply takes no care at all for them; but is therewhilst wallowing up to the ears in sensualitie, slouth, and all manner of carnal delights . This man, whom about mid-night, when others take their rest, thou seest come out of his study, meagre looking, with eyes trilling, flegmatick, squalide, and spauling, doest thou thinke that plodding on his books doth seek how he shall become an honester man, or more wise, or more content? There is no such matter. He wil either die in his pursuit, or teach posteritie the measure of Plautus verses and the true orthography of a Latine word. Who doth not willingly chop and counterchange his health, his ease, yea and his life, for glorie and for reputation? The most unprofitable, vaine, and counterfet coine, that is in use with us. Our death is not sufficient to make us afraid; let us also charge ourselves with that of our wives, of our children, and of our friends and people. Our owne affaires doe not sufficiently trouble and vexe us: Let us also drudge, toile, vex, and torment ourselves with our neighbours and friends matters.
Vah quemquamne hominem in animum instituere, aut
Parare, quod sit charius, quam ipse est sibi?  --  Ter. Adel. act. i. scen. i. 13.

Fie, that a man should cast, that ought, than he
Himselfe of himselfe more belov'd should be.

    Solitarinesse, mee seemeth, hath more apparence and reason in those which have given their most active and flourishing age into the world, in imitation of of Thales. We have lived long enough for others, live we the remainder of our life unto our selves: let us bring home our cogitations and inventions unto our selves and unto our ease. It is no easie matter to make a safe retreit: it doth over-much trouble us with joyning other enterprises unto it; since God gives us leasure to dispose of our dislodging. Let us prepare ourselves unto it, packe wee up our baggage. Let us betimes bid our companie farewell. Shake we off these violent holdfasts which else-where engage us, and estrange us from our selves. These so strong bonds must be untied, and a man must eft-soones love this or that, but wed nothing but himselfe; That is to say, let the rest be our owne: yet not so combined and glued together that it may not be sundred without fleaing us, and therewithall pull away some peece of our owne. The greatest thing of the world is for a man to know how to be his owne. It is high time to shake off societie, since we can bring nothing to it. And he that cannot lend, let him take heed of borrowing. Our forces faile us: retire we them, and shut them up into our selves. He that can suppresse and confound in himselfe the offices of so many amities, and of the company, let him doe it. In this fall which makes us inutile, irkesome, and importunate to others, let him take heed he be not importunate, irkesome, and unprofitable to himselfe. Let him flatter court, and cherish himselfe, and above all let him governe him selfe, respecting his reason and fearing his conscience, so that he may not without shame stumble or trip in their presence. Rarum est enim, ut satis se quisque vereatur: 'For it is a rare matter that every man sufficiently should stand in awe and reverence of himselfe.' Socrates saith, 'That young men ought to be instructed, and men exercised in well doing; and old men withdraw themselves from all civill and military negotiations, living at their owne discretion, without obligation to any certaine office.' There are some complexions more proper for these precepts of retreit than orhers. Those which have a tender and demisse apprehension, a squemish affection, a delicate will, and which cannot easily subject or imploy it selfe (of which both by naturall condition and propense discourse I am one) wil better apply themselves unto this counsell than active minds and busie spirits; which imbrace all, ever where engage, and in all things passionate themselves, that offer, that present and yeeld themselves to all occasions. A man must make use of all these accidentall commodities, and which are without us, so long as they be pleasing to us; but not make them our principall foundation: It is not so; nor reason, nor nature permit it. Why should we against their lawes subject our contentment to the power of others? Moreover, to anticipate the accidents of fortune, for a man to deprive himselfe of the commodities he hath in possession, as many have done for devotion, and some Philosophers by discourse; to serve themselves, to lie upon the hard ground, to pull out their own eyes, to cast their riches into the sea, to seeke for paine and smart (some by tormenting this life for the happinesse of another; othersome placing themselves on the lowest step, thereby to warrant themselves from a new fall) is the action of an excessive vertue. Let sterner and more vigorous complexions make their lurking glorious and exemplar.
          ------ tuta et parvula laudo,
Cum res deficiunt, satis inter vilia fortis:
Verum ubi quid melius contingit et unctius, idem
Hos sapere, et solos aio bene vivere, quorum
Conspicitur nitidis fundata pecunia villis.  --  Hor. i. Epist. xv. 42.

When riches faile, I praise the safe estate,
Though small; base things do not high thoughts abate.
But when tis better, finer with me, I
They only live well, and are wise, doe crie,
Whose corne in faire farmes doth well-grounded lie.

    There is worke enough for me to doe without going so far. It sufficeth me, under fortunes favour, to prepare my selfe for her disfavour; and being at ease, as far as imagination may attaine unto, so represent the evill to come unto my selfe: Even as we enure our selves to Tilts and Tourneyes, and counterfeit warre in time of peace. I esteeme not Arcesilaus the Philosopher lesse reformed because I know him to have used household implements of gold and silver, according as the condition of his fortune gave him leave. I rather value him the more than if he had not done it, forsomuch as he both moderately and liberally made use of them. I know unto what limits naturall necessitie goeth; and I consider a poore almesman begging at my doore to be often more plump-cheekt, in better health and liking, than I am: Then doe I enter into his estate, and essay to frame and sute my mind unto his byase. And so over-running other examples, albeit I imagine death, povertie, contempt, and sicknesse to be at my heeles, I easily resolve my selfe not to apprehend any feare of that which one of lesse worth than my selfe doth tolerate and undergoe with such patience: And I cannot beleeve that the basenesse or shallownesse of understanding can doe more than vigor and far-seeing, or that the effects and reason of discretion cannot reach to the effects of custome and use. And knowing what slender hold-fast these accessorie commodities have, I omit not in full jovyssance of them, humbly to beseech God of his mercie (as a soveraigne request) to make me contented with my selfe, and with the goods proceeding from me. I see some gallantly-disposed young men, who notwithstanding their faire-seeming shew, have boxes full of pils in their coffers at home, to take when the rhume shall assaile them; which so much the lesse the feare, when they thinke the remedy to be at hand. So must a man doe: as also if he feele himselfe subject to some greater infirmitie, to store himselfe with medicaments that may asswage, supple, and stupifie the part grieved. The occupation a man should chuse for such a life must neither be painfull nor tedious, otherwise in vaine should we accompt to have sought our abiding there, which depends from the particular taste of every man. Mine doth no way accommodate itselfe to husbandrie. Those that love it, must with moderation apply themselves unto it.
Conentur sibi res, non se submittere rebus.  --  Epist. i. 19.

Endevour they things to them to submit,
Not them to things (if they have Horace wit)

    Husbandrie is otherwise a servile office, as Salust termeth it: It hath more excusable parts, as the care of gardening, which Xenophon ascribeth to Cyrus: A meane or mediocritie may be found betweene this base and vile carking care, extended and full of toiling labor, which we see in men that wholly plunge themselves therein, and that profound and extreme retchlesnesse to let all things goe at six and seven, which is seen in others.
          ------ Democriti pecus edit agellos
Cultague, dum peregre est animus sine corpore velox.  --  Epist. xii. 12.

Cattle destroyd Democritus his sets,
While his mind bodilesse vagaries fets.

    But let us heare the counsell which Plinie the younger giveth to his friend Cornelius Rufus, touching this point of Solitarinesse: 'I perswade thee in this full-gorged and fat retreit wherein thou art, to remit this base and abject care of husbandrie unto thy servants, and give thy selfe to the study of letters, whence thou maist gather something that may altogether be thine owne.' He meaneth reputation: like unto Ciceroes humor, who saith, That he will imploy his solitarinesse and residence from publike affaires to purchase unto himselfe by his writings an immortall life.
           ------ usque adeone
Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter?--  Pers. Sat. i. 27.

Is it then nothing worth that thou doest know.

Unlesse what thou doest know, thou others show? It seemth to be reason, when a man speaketh to withdraw himselfe from the world, that one should looke beyond him. These doe it but by halfes. Indeed they set their match against the time they shall be no more; but pretend to reap the fruit of their dessignes, when they shall be absent from the world, by a ridiculous contradiction. The imagination of those who through devotion seeke solitarinesse, filling their minds with the certaintie of heavenly promises, in the other life, is much more soundly consorted. They propose God as an object infinit in goodnesse and incomprehensible in power, unto themselves. The soule hath therein, in all free libertie, wherewith to glut her selfe. Afflictions and sorrowes redound to their profit, being imployed for the purchase and attaining of health and eternall gladnesse. Death, according to ones wish, is a passage to so perfect an estate. The sharpnesse of their rules is presently made smooth and easie by custome; and carnall concupiscences rejected, abated, and lulled asleep by refusing them: for nothing entertaineth them but use and exercise. This only end of another life, blessedly immortall, doth rightly merit we should abandon the pleasures and commodities of this our life. And he that can enlighten his soule with the flame of a lively faith and hope, really and constantly, in his solitarinesse doth build unto himselfe a voluptuous and delicious life, far surmounting all other lives. Therefore doth neither the end nor middle of this counsell please me. We are ever falling into a relaps from an ague to a burning fever. This plodding occupation of bookes is as painfull as any other, and as great an enemie unto health, which ought principally to be considered. And a man should not suffer himselfe to be inveagled by the pleasure he takes in them: It is the same pleasure that loseth the thriving husband-man, the greedy-covetous, the sinning-voluptuous, and the puft-up ambitious. The wisest men teach us sufficiently to beware and shield us from the treasons of our appetites, and to discerne true and perfect pleasures from delights blended and entermingled with more paine. For most pleasures (say they) tickle, fawne upon, and embrace us, with purpose to strangle us, as did the theeves whom the Egyptians termed Philistas: And if the head-ach would seize upon us before drunkennesse, we would then beware of too much drinking: but sensualitie, the better to entrap us, marcheth before, and hideth her tracke from us. Bookes are delightfull, but if by continuall frequenting them, we in the end lose both health and cheerefulnesse (our best parts) let us leave them. I am one of those who thinke their fruit can no way countervaile this losse. As men that have long time felt themselves enfeebled through some indisposition, doe in the end yeeld to the mercie of Physicke, and by art have certaine rules of life prescribed them, which they will not transgresse: So he that with-drawes himselfe, as digested and over-tired with the common life, ought likewise to frame and prescribe this unto the rules of reason; direct and range the same by premeditation and discourse. He must bid all manner of travell farewell, what shew soever it beare; and in generall shun all passions that any way empeach the tranquillitie of mind and body, and follow the course best agreeing with his humour.
Vnusquisque sua noverit ire via.  --  Propert. ii. El. xxv. 38.

His owne way every man
Tread-out directly can.

    A man must give to thriving husbandrie, to laborious study, to toilesome hunting, and to every other exercise, the utmost bounds of pleasure; and beware he engage himselfe no further, if once paine begin to intermeddle it selfe with her; we should reserve businesse and negotiations only for so much as is behoovefull to keepe us in breath, and to warrant us from the inconveniences which the other extremitie of a base, faint-harted idlenesse drawes after it. There are certaine barren and thornie sciences, which for the most part are forged for the multitude: they should be left for those who are for the service of the world. As for my selfe, I love no books but such as are pleasant and easie, and which tickle me, or such as comfort and counsell me, to direct my life and death.
       -----tacitum sylvas inter reptare salubres
Curantem quidquid dignum sapiente bonoque est.  --  Hor. i. Epist. iv. 4.

Silently creeping midst the wholesome wood
With care what's for a wise man and a good.

    The wiser sort of men, having a strong and vigorous mind, may frame unto themselves an altogether spirituall life. But mine being common, I must help to uphold my selfe by corporall commodities: And age having eftsoones dispoiled me of those that were most mutable to my fantasia, I instruct and sharpen my appetite to those remaining most sortable this other season. We must tooth and naile retaine the use of this lives pleasures, which our yeares snatch from us one after another:
Carpamus dulcia, nostrum est,
Quod vivis: cinis et manes et fabula fies.  --  Pers. Sat. v. 155.

Plucke we sweet pleasures: we thy life give thee.
Thou shalt a tale, a ghost, and ashes be.

    Now concerning the end of glorie, which Plinie and Cicero propose unto us, it is far from my discourse: The most opposite humour to solitarie retiring is ambition. 'Glorie and rest are things that cannot squat in one same forme:' as far as I see, these have nought but their armes and legs out of the throng, their mind and intent is further and more engaged in them than ever it was.
Tun', vetule, auriculis alienis colligis escas?  --  Pers. Sat. i. 22.

Gatherst thou dotard at these yeares,
Fresh baits, fine food, for others eares?

    They have gone backe that they might leap the better, and with a stronger motion make a nimbler offer amidst the multitude. Will you see how they shoot-short by a cornes breadth? let us but counterpoise the advice of two Philosophers, and of two most different sects: The one writing to Idomeneus, the other to Lucilius, their friends, to divert them from the managing of affaires and greatnesse unto a solitarie kind of life. 'You have,' say they, 'lived hitherto swimming and floating adrift, come and die in the haven; you have given the past of your life unto light, give the remainder unto darknesse.' It is impossible to give over occupations if you doe not also give over the fruits of them: Therefore cleare your selfe from all care and glorie. There is great danger lest the glittering of your forepassed actions should over much dazle you, yea, and follow you even to your den. Together with other concupiscences, shake off that which commeth from the approbation of others. And touching your knowledge and sufficiencie, take you no care of them, they will lose no whit of their effect; if your selfe be anything the better for them. Remember but him, who being demanded to what purpose he toyled so much about an art, which could by no meanes come to the knowledge of many: 'Few are enow for me; one will suffice, yea, lesse than one will content me,' answered he. He said true: you and another are a sufficient theatre one for another; or you to your selfe alone. Let the people be one unto you, and one be all the people to you: it is a base ambition to goe about to draw glorie from ones idlenesse and from ones lurking hole. A man must doe as some wilde beasts, which at the entrance of their caves will have no  manner of footing seene. You must no longer seeke what the world saith of you, but how you must speake unto your selfe: withdraw your selfe into your selfe; but first prepare your selfe to receive your selfe: it were folly to trust to your selfe if you cannot governe your selfe. A man may as well faile in solitariness as in companie, there are waies for it, untill such time as you have framed your selfe, such that you dare not halt before your selfe, and that you shall be ashamed of and beare a kind of respect unto your selfe, Obversentur species honestæ animo: 'Let honest Ideæs still represent themselves before your mind:'2 Ever present Cato, Phocion, and Aristides unto your imagination in whose presence even fooles would hide their faults, and establish them as controulers of all your intentions. If they be disordered and untuned, their reverence will order and tune them againe: they will containe you in a way to be contented with your selfe; to borrow nothing but from your selfe, to settle and stay your mind in assured and limited cogitations, wherein it may best please it selfe, and having gotten knowledge of true felicities, which according to the measure a man understands them, he shall accordingly injoy, and with them rest satisfied, without wishing a further continuance either of life or name. Loe heere the counsell of truly-pure and purely-true philosophie not of a vaine-glorious, boasting, and prating philosophie, as is that of the two first.

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