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Montaigne's Essays: Book II


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Note on the e-text: this Renascence Editionstext 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.


THE WORLD is nothing but variety and dissemblance. Vices are all alike, inasmuch as they are all vices: And so do haply the Stoikes meane it. But though they are equally vices, they are not equall vices; and that hee who hath started a hundred steps beyond the limits
Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum, --Hor. i. Sat. i. 107.

On this side, or beyond the which
No man can hold a right true pitch,

is not of worse condition than he that is ten steps short of it, is no whit credible: and that sacrilege is not worse than the stealing of a colewort out of a garden.
Nec vincet ratio, tantumdem ut peccet, idemque,
Qui teneros caules alieni fregerit horti,
Et qui nocturnus divum sacra legerit. -- Sat. iii. 115

No reason can evict, as great or same sinne taints
Him that breakes in anothers Garden tender plants,
And him that steales by night things consecrate to Saints.

  There is as much diversity in that as in any other thing. The confusion of order and measure of crimes is dangerous: Murtherers, Traitors and Tyrants, have too much gaine by it: it is no reason their conscience should be eased, in that some other is either idle or lascivious, or lesse assiduous unto devotion. Every man poiseth upon his fellowes sinne, and elevates his owne. Even teachers do often range it ill in my conceit. As Socrates said, that the chiefest office of wisdome was to distinguish goods and evils. We others, to whom the best is ever in vice, should say the like of knowledge, to distinguish vices. Without which, and that very exact, both vertuous and wicked men remaine confounded and unknowen. Now drunkennesse amongst others, appeareth to mee a grose and brutish vice. The minde hath more part else where; and some vices there are, which (if it may lawfully be spoken) have a kinde of I wot not what generosity in them. Some there are,, that have learning, diligence, valour, prudence, wit, cunning, dexterity, and subtlety joyned with them; whereas this is merely corporall, and terrestriall. And the grosest and rudest nation, that liveth amongst us at this day, is only that which keepeth it in credit. Other vices but alter and distract the understanding, whereas this utterly subverteth the same, and astonieth the body.
---- cum vini vis penetravit,
Consequitur gravitas membrorum, præpediuntur
Crura vacillanti, tardescit lingua, madet mens,
Nant oculi, clamor, sigultis, jurgia gliscunt.  --  Lucr. iii. 479.

When once the force of wine hath inly pierst,
Limbes-heavinesse is next, legs faine would goe,
But reeling cannot, tongue drawles, mindes disperst,
Eyes swimme, ciries, hickups, brables grow.

  The worst estate of man, is where he loseth the knowledge and government of himselfe. And amongst other things, it is, said, that as must wine boyling and working in a vessell, workes and sends upward what ever it containeth in the bottome, so doth wine cause those that drinke excessively of it, worke up, and breake out their most concelaed secrets.
----tu sapientium
Curas, et arcanum jocoso
Consilium retegis Lyæo. --  Hor. iii. Od. xxi. 14.

Thou (wine-cup) doest by wine reveale
The cares, which wise men would conceale,
And close drifts, at a merry meale.

  Josephus reporteth that by making an Ambassador to tipple-square, whom his enemies had sent unto him, he wrested all his secrets out of him. Neverthelesse Augustus having trusted Lucius Piso, that conquered Thrace, with the secretest affaires he had in hand, had never cause to be discontented with him; nor Tiberius with Cossus, to whom he imparted all his seriousest counsels, although we know them both to have so given themselves to drinking of wine that they were often faine to be carried from the Senat, and both were reputed notable drunkards.
-------- Hesterno inflatum venas de more Lyæo -- Virg. Buc. Ec. vi. 15.

Veines pufft up, as it used alway
By wine which was dranke yesterday.

  And as faithfully as the complot and purpose to kill Cæsar committed unto Cimber, who would daily be drunke with quaffing of wine, as unto Cassius, that drunke nothing but water, whereupon he answered very pleasantly, 'What! shall I bear a tyrant that am not able to beare wine?' We see our carowsing tospot German souldiers, when they are most plunged in their cups and as drunke as rats, to have perfect remembrance of their quarter, of the watchword, and of their files.
-------- Nec facilis victoria de madidis, et
Bloesis, atque mero titubantibus. -- Juven. Sat. xv. 47.

Nor is the conquest easie of men sow'st,
Lisping and reeling with wine they carow'st.

  I would never have beleeved so sound, so deepe and so excessive drunkennesse had I not read in histories that Attalus having envited to sup with him (with intent to doe him some notable indignity) the same Pausanias who for the same cause killed afterward Philip, King of Macedon (a king, who by the eminent faire qualities that were in him, bore a testimonie of the education he had learned in the house and company of Epaminondas), made him so dead-drunke that insensibly and without feeling he might prostitute his beauty as the body of a common hedge-harlot, to Mulettiers, Groomes and many of the abject servants of his house. And what a lady (whom I much honour and highly esteeme) told mee, protesting that neere Bourdeaux, towards Castres, where her house is, a widdow country-woman, reputed very chaste and honest, suspecting herselfe to be with childe, told her neighbours that had she a husband she should verily thinke she was with childe; but the occasion of this suspition increasing more and more, and perceiving herseIfe so big-bellied that she could no longer conceale it, she resolved to make the Parish-priest acquainted with it, whom she entreated to publish in the Church that whosover hee were that were guilty of the fact, and would avow it, she would freely forgive him, and if hee were so pleased, take him to her husband. A certaine swaine or hyne-boy of hers, emboldened by this proclamation, declared how that having one holliday found her welltippled with wine, and so sound asleep by the chimnie side lying so fit and ready for him, without awaking her he had the full use of her body. Whom she accepted for her husband, and both live together at this day. It is assured that antiquitie hath not greatly described this vice. The compositions of diverse Philosophers speake but sparingly of it. Yea, and some of the Stoikes deeme it not amisse for man sometimes to take his liquor roundly, and drinke drunke, thereby to recreate his spirits.
Hoc quoque virtutum quondam certamine magnum
   Socratem pa lmam promeruisse ferunt. -- Cor. Gal. El. i.

They say, in this too, Socrates the wise,
And great in vertues combats, bare the prize.

  Cato, that strict censurer and severe corrector of others, hath beene reproved for much drinking,
Narratur et prisci Catonis Saepe mero coluisse virtus.  -- Hor. iii. Od. xxi. 11.

'Tis said, by use of wine repeated
Old Catoes vertue oft was heated.

  Cyrus, that so far-renowned king, amongst his other commendations, meaning to preferre himselfe before his brother Artaxerxes, and get the start of him, aleageth that he could drinke better and tipple more than he. And amongst the best policed and formalest nations, the custome of drinking and pledging of healths was much in use. I have heard Silvius, that excellelent phisitian of Paris, affirme that to preserve the vigor of our stomake from, empairing, it is not amisse once a month to rowze up the same by this excesse of drinking, and lest it should grow dull and stupid thereby to stirre it up. And it is written that the Persians, after they had well tippled, were wont to consult of their chiefest affaires. My taste, my rellish, and my complexion are sharper enemies unto this vice than my discourse, for besides that I captivatee more easily my conceits under the auctoritie of ancient opinions, indeed I finde it to be a fond, a stupid, and a base kinde of vice, but lesse malicious and hurtfull than others; all which shocke and with a sharper edge wound publike societie. And if we cannot give ourselves any pleasure except (as they say) it cost us something; I finde this vice to be lesse chargeable unto our conscience than others; besides it is not hard to be prepared, difficult to be found; a consideration not to be despised. A man well advanced in years and dignitie, amongst three principall commodities he told me to have remaining in life, counted this: and where shall a man more rightly finde it than amongst the naturall? But he tooke it ill, delicatenesse, and the choice of wines is therein to be avoided. If you prepare your voluptuousnesse to drinke it with pleasure and daintily neat, you tie your selfe unto an inconvenience to drinke it other than is alwayes to be had. A man must have a milder, a loose and freer taste. To be a true drinker a man should not have so tender and squeamish a palat. The Germans doe in a manner drinke equally of all sorts of wine with like pleasure. Their end is rather to gulpe it downe freely than to tast it kindly. And to say truth they have it better cheape. Their voluptuousnesse is more plenteous and fuller. Secondarily, to drinke after the French manner, as two droughts and moderately, is over much to restraine the favours of that God. There is more time and constancie required thereunto. Our forefathers were wont to spend whole nights in that exercise, yea often times they joyned whole long dayes unto them. And a man must proportion his ordinarie more large and firme. I have in my dayes seene a principall Lord, a man of great employment and enterprises and famous for good success, who without straining himselfe and eating but an ordinary meales-meate, was wont to drinke little lesse than five pottles of wine, yet at his rising seemed to be nothing distempered, but rather, as we have found to our no small cost in managing our affaires, over-wise and considerate. The pleasure of that whereof we would make account in the course of our life ought to be employed longer space. It were necessary, as shop-boyes or labouring people, that we should refuse no occasion to drinke and continually to have this desire in our minde. It seemeth that wee daily shorten the use of this, and that in our houses (as I have seene in mine infancie) breakfasts, nunchions, and beavers should be more frequent and often used than now adayes they are. And should wee thereby in any sort proceed towards amendment? No verily. But it may be that we have much more given our selves over unto paillardise and all manner of luxurie than our fathers were. They are two occupations that enter-hinder one another in their vigor. On the one side it hath empaired and weakned our stomacke, and on the other sobrietie serveth to make us more jolly-quaint, lusty, and wanton for the exercise of love matters. It is a wonder to thinke on the strange tales I have heard my father report of the chastitie of his time. He might well speake of it as he that was both by art and nature proper for the use and solace of ladies. He spake little and well, few words, but to the purpose, and was ever wont to entermixe some ornament taken from vulgar bookes, and above all Spanish amongst his common speeches. And of all Spanish authors, none was more familiar unto him than Marcus Aurelius. His demeanour and carriage was ever milde, meeke, gentle, and, very modest, and above all grave and stately. There is nothing he seemed to be more carefull of than of his honesty, and observe a kinde of decencie of his person, and orderly decorum in his habits, were it on foot or on horsebacke. He was exceeding nice in performing his word or promise. And so strictly concscientious and obsequious in religion, that generally he seemed to incline toward superstition than the contrary. Though he were but a little man, his courage and vigor was great. He was of an upright and well proportioned stature, of a pleasing, cheerfull-Iooking countenance, of a swarthy hue, nimbly addicted, and exquisitely nimble unto all noble and gentleman-like exercises. I have seene some hollow staves of his filled with lead which hee wont to use and exercise his armes withall, the better to enable himselfe to pitch the barre, to throw the sledge, to cast the pole, and to play at fence; and shoes with leaden soles, which he wore to ensure himselfe to leape, to vault, and to run. I may without blushing say, that in memorie of himselfe, he hath left certaine petie miracles amongst us. I have seene him when he was past threescore years of age mocke at all our sports, and out-countenance our youthfull pastimes, with a heavy furr'd gowne about him to leap into his saddle. To make the pommada round about a table upon his thumb, and seldome to ascend any staires without skipping three or four steps at once. And concerning my discourse, hee was wont to say that in a whole province there was scarce any woman of qualitie that had an ill name. Hee would often report strange familiarities, namely of his owne, with very honest women, without any suspicion at all. And protested very religiously that when he was married he was yet a pure virgine; yet had he long time followed the warres beyond the mountaines, and therein served long, whereof he hath left a Journall-booke of his owne collecting, wherein he hath particularly noted whatsoever happened day by day worthy the observation so long as he served, both for the publike and his particular use. And he was well strucken in years when he tooke a wife. For returning out of Italie in the yeare of our Lord one thousand five hundred eight and twenty, and being full three and thirty years old by the way hee chose himselfe a wife. But come we to our drinking againe. The incommodities of age wbich need some helpe and refreshing, might with some reason beget in me a desire or longing of this faculty, for it is in a man the last pleasure which the course of our years stealeth upon us. Good fellowes say that naturall heat is first taken in our feet: that properly belongeth to infancie. From thence it ascendeth unto the middle region, where it is setled and contitlueth a long time, and in mine opinion there produceth the only true and moving pleasures of this corporall life. Other delight and sensualities in respect of t hat doe but sleepe. In the end, like unto a vapour which by little and little exhaleth and mounteth aloft, it comes unto the throat and there makes her last bode. Yet could I never conceive how any man may either encrease or prolong the pleasure of drinking beyond thirst, and in his imagination frame an artificial appetite, and against nature. My stomacke could not well reach so farre: it is very much troubled to come to an end of that which it takes for his need. My constitution is to make no accompt of drinking but to succeed meat, and therefore doe I ever make my last draught the greatest. And forasmmuch as in age we have the roofe of our mouthes covered with rhume, or distempered, distated and altered through some other evill constitution, wine seemeth better unto us and of a quicker relish, according as our pores be either more or lesse open and washed. At least I seldome relish the same very well, except it be the first drought I take. Anacharsis wondered to see the Grecians drinke in greater glasses at the end of their meales than in the beginning. It was (as I imagine) for the very same reason that the Germans doe it, who never begin to carouse but when they have well fed. Plato forbiddeth children to drinke any wine before they be eighteene yeares of age, and to be drunke before they come to forty. But to such as have once attained the age of fortie he is content to pardon them, if they chance to delight themselves with it, and alloweth them somwhat to blend the influence of Dionysius in their banquets, that good God, who bestoweth cheerfulnesse upon men, and youth unto aged men, who layeth and aswageteh the passions of the minde, even as yron is made flexible by the fire: and in his profitable lawes holds drinking- meetings or quaffing companies as necessary and commendable (alwaies provided there be a chiefe leader amongst them to containe and order them) drunkennesse being a good and certaine tryall of every mans nature; and therewithall proper to give aged men the courage to make merry in dancing and musicke; things alowable and profitable, and such as they dare not undertake being sober and settled: That wine is capable to supply the mind with temperance and the body with health. Notwithstanding, these restrictions, partly borrowed of the Carthaginians, please him well. Let those forbeare it that are going about any expedition of warre. Let every magistrate and all judges abstain from it at what time they are to execute their charge, and to consult of publike affaires. Let none bestow the day in drinking, as the time that is due unto more serious negotiations, nor the nights wherein a man intendeth to get children. It is reported that Stilpo the Philosopher, finding himselfe surcharged with age, did purposely hasten his end by drinking of with pure wine. The like cause (though not wittingly) did also suffocate the vital forces, crazed through old age, of the Philosopher Arcesilaus. But it is an old and pleasant question whether a wise mans mind were like to yeeld unto the force of wine.
Si munitae adhibet vim sapientiæ.  -- Od. xxviii. 4.

If unresisted force it bends,
Gainst wisdome which it selfe defends.

  Unto what vanity doth the good opinion we have of our selves provoke us? The most temperate and perfectest minde of the world findes it too great a taske to keepe herselfe upright, lest she fall by her owne weaknesse. Of a thousand there is not one perfectly righteous and settled but one instant of her life, and question might be made whether according to her natural condition she might at any time be so. But to joyne constancie unto it [is] her last perfection: I meane if nothing should shocke her; which a thousand accidents may doe. Lucretius, that famous Poet, may philosophie and bandie at his pleasure: Loe where be lieth senslesse of an amorous potion. Thinkes any man that an apoplexie cannot as soone astonish Socrates as a poore labouring man? Some of them have by the force of a sicknesse forgot their own names, and a slight hurt hath overthrown the judgement of others. Let him be as wise as he can, in the end he is but a man; what is more fraile, more miserable, or more vaine? Wisdome forceth not our naturall conditions.
Sudores itaque, et pallorem existere toto
Corpore, et infringi linguam, vocemque aboriri
Caligare, oculos, sonari aures, succidere art us,
Denique concidere ex animi terrore videmus. -- Lucr. iii. 155.

We see therefore, paleness and sweats oregrow
Our bodies, tongues doe falter, voyce doth breake,
Eyes dazle, eares buzze, joints doe shrinke below,
Lastly we swoune by hart-fright, terrours weake.

  He must [s]eele his eyes against the blow that threateneth him; being. neere the brimme of a precipice, he must cry out like a child: Nature having purposed to reserve these light markes other aucthoritie unto herselfe, inexpugnable unto our reason, and to the Stoicke vertue: to teach him his mortalitie and our insipiditie. He waxeth pale for feare, be blusheth for shame, he groaneth feeling the cholike, if not with a desperate and lowd-roaring voice, yet with a low, smothered, and hoarse-sounding noise.
Humani a se nihil alienum putat. --  Ter. Heaut. act. i. sc. i. 25.

He thinkes, that nothing strange be can
To him, that longs to any man.

  Giddie-headed Poets, that faine what they list, dare not so much as discharge their Heroes from tears.
Sic fatur lachrymans, classigue immitit habemas. -- Virg. Æn. vi. 1.

So said he weeping, and so saide,
Himselfe hand to the sterage laide.

  Let it suffice him to bridle his affections, and moderate his inclinations; for it is not in him to beare them away. Plutarke himselfe, who is so perfect and excellent a judge of human actions, seeing Brutus and Torquatus to kill their own children, remaineth doubtfull whether vertue could reach so far and whether such men were not rather moved by some other passion. All actions beyond the ordinary limits are subject to some sinister interpretation. Forasmuch as our taste doth no more come unto that which is above it, than to that which is under it. Let us omit that other sect which maketh open profession of fierceness. But when in the very same sect which is esteemed the most demisse, we heare the bragges of Metrodorus: Occupavite, Fortuna, atqe cepi; omnesque aditus tuos interclusi, ut ad me amirare non posses: (Metr. Cic. Tusc. Quest. 5.) 'Fortune, I have prevented, caught, and overtaken thee: I have mured and ramd up all thy passages, whereby thou mightest attaine unto mee:1 When Anaxarchus, by the appointment of Nicocreon, the tyrant of Cipres, being laid along in a trough of stone, and smoten with yron sledges, ceaseth not to crie out, 'Streeke, smite and breake; it is not Anaxarchus, it is but his vaile you martyr so:' When we heare our martyrs in the middst of a flame crie aloud unto the Tyrant, 'This side is roasted enough, chop it, eat it, it is full roasted, now begin on the other:' When in Josephus wee heere a child all to rent with biting snippers, and pierced with the breath of Antiochus, to d fie him to death, crie with a lowde-assured and undismaid voyce, 'Tyrant, thou losest time, loe I am still at mine ease; where is that smarting paine, where are those torments wherewith whilom thou didst so threaten me? My constancie doth more trouble thee than I have feeling of thy crueltie: Oh faint hearted varlet, doest thou yeeld when I gather strength? Make mee to faint or shrinke, cause me to moane or lament, force me to yeeld and sue for grace if thou canst; encourage thy satallities, hard en thy executioners; loe how they droope and have no more power; arme them, strengthen them, flesh them.' Verely we must needs confesse there is some alteration, and some furie (how holy soever) in those mindes, When we come unto these Stoick evasions: I had rather be furious than voluptuous: the saying of Antisthenes, Μανειην μαλλον η ησθειην (Antist. Diogen. Laert. vi. c. 1.) 'Rather would I be mad than merry;' when Sextius telleth us, he had rather be surprised with pain than sensuality; when Epicurus undertakes to have the goute to wantonize and faune upon him, and refuseth ease and health, with a hearty cheerefullnesse defie all evils, and scornefully despising lesse sharpe griefs disdaining to grapple with them, he blithely desireth and calleth for sharper, more forcible and worthy of him.
Spumantemque dari, pecora inter inertia, votis
Optat aprum, aut fulvum descendere monte leonem:  --  Virg.  Æn. iv. 158.

He wisht, mongst hartlesse beasts some foming Bore,
Or mountaine-Lyon would come downe and rore;

  Who would not judge them to be prankes of a courage removed from his wonted seate? Our minde cannot out of her place attaine so higb. She must quit it and raise herselfe aloft, and taking the bridle in her teeth, carry and transport her man so farre, that afterward he wonder at himselfe, and rest amazed at his actions. As in exploit of warre, the heat and earnestnesse of the fight doth often provoke the noble minded souldiers to adventure on so dangerous passages that afterward being better advised, they are the first to wonder at it. As also Poets are often surprised and rapt with admiration at their owne labours, and forget the trace by which they pass so happy a career. It is that which some terme a fury or madnesse in them. And as Plato saith that a setled and reposed man doth in vaine knocke at Poesies gate; Aristotle likewise saith that no excellent minde is freely exempted from some or other entermixture of folly. And be hath reason to call any starting or extraordinarie conceit (how commendable soever) and which exceedeth our judgement and discourse, folly. Forsomuch as wisdome is an orderly and regular managing of the minde, and which; she addresseth with measure, and conducteth with proportion; and taketh her owne word for it. Plato disputeth thus: that the facultie of prophesying and divination is far above us, and that when wee treat it, we must be besides ourselves: our wisdome must be darkened and over shadowed by sleepe, by sicknesse, or by drowzinesse; or by some celestial fury, ravished from her owne seat.

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