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Montaigne's Essays: Book II


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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.


IT IS a hard matter (although our conceit doe willingly apply, it selfe unto it) that Discourse and Instruction should sufficiently be powerful to direc t us to action, and addresse us to performance, if, over and besides that, we doe not by experience exercise and frame our minde to the traine whereunto we will range it: otherwise, when we shall be on the point of the effects, it will doubtlesse finde it selfe much engaged and empeached. And that is the reason why amongst Philosophers, those that have willed to attaine to some greater excellence, have not beene content, at home and at rest, to expect the rigors of fortune, for feare she should surprise them unexperienced and finde them novices, if she should chance to enter fight with them but have rather gone to meet and front her before, and witting-earnestly cast themselves to the triall of the hardest difficulties. Some have thereby voluntarily forsaken great riches, onely to practise a voluntarie povertie; others have willingly found out labour, and an austeritie of a toylesome life thereby to harden and enure themselves to evill and travell; othersome have frankly deprived themselves of the dearest and best parts of their body, as of their eyes and members of generation, lest their overpleasing and too-too wanton service might in any sort mollifie and distract the constant resolution of their minde. But to dye, which is the greatest worke we have to doe, exercise can nothing availe us thereunto. A man may, by custome aud experience, fortifie himselfe against griefe, sorrow, shame, want, and such like accidents; but concerning death, we can but once feele and trie the same. We are all novices, and new to learne when we come unto it. There have, in former times, beene found men so good husbands and thrifty of time, that even in death they have assayed to taste and savor it; and bent their minde to observe and see what manner of thing that passage of death was; but none did ever yet come backe againe to tell us tidings of it..
-------- nemo expergitus extat
Frigida quem semel est vita i pausa sequuta.  --Lucr. iii. 973.

No man doth ever-after wake,
Whom once his lifes cold rest doth take.

Canius Iulius, a noble Romane, a man of singular vertue and constancie, having beene condemned to death by that lewdly-mischievous monster of men, Caligula: besides many marvelous evident assurances he gave of his matchlesse resolution, when he was even in the nicke to endure the last stroke of the executioner; a Philosopher, being his friend, interrupted him with this question, saying: 'Canius, in what state is your soule now? what doth she? what thoughts possesse you now? 'I thought,' answered he, to keepe me ready and prepared with all my force, to see whether in this instant of death, so short and so neere at hand, I might perceive some dislodging or distraction of the soule, and whether it will shew some feeling of her sudden departure; that (if I apprehend or learne any thing of her) I may afterward, if I can, returne and give advertisement thereof unto my friends.' Loe-here a Philosopher, not only untill death, but even in death it selfe: what assurance was it, and what fiercenes of courage, to will that his owne death should serve him as a lesson, and have leasure to thinke else where in a matter of such consequence;
-------- jus hoc animi morientis habebat. --Lucan. viii. 636.

This power of minde had he,
When it from him did flee.

  Me seemeth, neverthelesse, that in some sort there is a meane to familiarize our selves with it, and to assay it. We may have some experience of it, if not whole and perfect, at least such as may not altogether be unprofitable, and which may yeeld us better fortified and more assured. If we cannot attaine unto it, we may at least approch it, and discerne the same: And if we cannot enter her fort, yet shal we see and frequent the approches unto it. It is not without reason we are taught to take notice of our sleepe for the resemblance it hath with death. How easily we passe from wakmg to sleeping; with how little interest we lose the knowledge of light and of our selves. The facultie of sleepe might haply seeme unprofitable and against nature, sithence it depriveth up of all actions and barreth us of all sense, were it not that nature doth thereby instruct us that she hath equally made us as well to live as to die; and by life presenteth the eternal state unto us which she after the same reserveth for us, so to accustome us thereunto, and remove the feare of it from us. But such as by some violent accident are falne into a faintnes of heart, and have lost all senses, they, in mine opinion, have well-nigh beene where they might behold her true and naturall visage: For, touching the instant or moment of the passage, it is not to be feared it should bring any traveil or displeasure with it, forasmuch as we can have nor sense nor feeling without pleasure. Our sufferances have need of time, which is so short, and plunged in death, that necessarily it must be insensible. It is the approches that lead unto it we should feare; and those may fall within the compasse of mans experience. Many things seeme greater by imagination than by effect. I have passed over a good part of my age in sound and perfect health. I say not only sound but blithe and wantonly lustfull. That state full of lust, of prime and mirth, made me deeme the consideration of sicknesses so yrkesome and horrible, that when I came to the experience of them I have found their fits but weake, and their assaults but faint, in respect of my apprehended feare. Lo here what I daily prove. Let me be under a roofe, in a good chamber, warme-clad, and well at ease, in some tempestuous and stormy night. I am exceedingly perplexed and much grieved for such as are abroad and have no shelter: But let me be in the storme my selfe, I doe not so much as desire to be else-where: Only to be continually pent up in a chamber seemed intolerable to me. I have now enured my selfe to live a whole weeke, yea a moneth in my chamber, full of care, trouble, alteration, and weaknesse; and have found that in the time of my best health I moaned such as were sicke much more than I can well moane my selfe when I am ill at ease: and that the power of my apprehension did well-nigh halfe endeare the essence and truth of the thing it selfe. I am in good hope the like will happen to me of death: and that it is not worth the labour I take for so many preparations as I prepare against her; and so many helpes as I call to sustaine, and assemble to endure the shocke and violence of it. But hab or nab we can never take too much advantage of it. During our second or third troubles (I doe not well remember which) I fortuned one day, for recreation sake, to goe forth and take the ayre, about a league from my house, who am seated even in the bowels of all troubles of our civill warres of France, supposing to be most safe, so neere mine owne home and retreite, that I had no need of better attendance or equipage. I was mounted upon a very easie-going nag, but not very sure. At my returning home againe, a sudden occasion being offered me to make use of this nag in a peece of service whereto he was neither trained nor accustomed, one of my men (a strong sturdy fellow), mounted upon a young strongheaded horse, and that a desperate hard mouth, fresh, lusty and in breath, to shew his courage, and to outgoe his fellowes, fortuned with might and maine to set spurrs unto him, and giving him the bridle, to come right into the path where I was, and as a Colossus with his weight riding over me and my nag, that were both very little, he overthrew us both, and made us fall with our heeles upward: so that the nag lay along astonied in one place, and I in a trance groveling on the ground ten or twelve paces wide of him: my face all torne and brused, my sword which I had in my hand a good way from me, my girdle broken, with no more motion or sense in me than a stocke. It is the only swooning that ever I felt yet. Those that were with, me, after they had assayed all possible meanes to bring me to my selfe againe, supposing me dead, tooke me in their armes, and with much adoe were carrying me home to my house, which was about halfe a French league thence: upon the way, and after I had for two houres space by all beene supposed dead and past all recoverie, I began to stir and breathe: for so great aboundance of bloud was falne into my stomake, that to discharge it nature was foreed to rowse up her spirits. I was immediately set upon my feet, and bending forward, I presently cast up in quantitie as much clottie pure bloud as a bucket will hold and by the way was constrained to doe the like divers times before I could get home, whereby, I began to recover a little life, but it was by little and little, and so long adoing, that my chiefe senses were much more enclining to death than to life.
Perche dubbiosa ancor del suo ritorno
Non s'assicura attonita la mente.

For yet the minde doubtfull of it's returne
Is not assured, but astonished.

   The remembrance whereof (which yet I beare deepely imprinted in my minde) representing me her visage and Idea so lively and so naturally, doth in some sort reconcile me unto her. And when I began to see, it was with so dim, so weake and so troubled a sight, that I could not discerne anything of the light,
-------- come quel ch'or apre, or chiude
Gli occhi, mezzo tra l' sonno e l'esser desto.

As he that sometimes opens, sometimes shuts
His eyes, betweene sleepe and awake.

  Touching the functions of the soule, they started up and came in the same progresse as those of the bodie. I perceived my selfe all bloudy; for my doublet was all sullied with the bloud I had cast. The first conceit I apprehended was that I had received some shot in my head; and in truth, at the same instant, there were divers that shot round about us. Me thought my selfe had no other hold of me but of my lips-ends. I closed mine eyes to help (as me seemed) to send it forth, and tooke a kinde of pleasure to linger and languishingly to let my selfe goe from my selfe. It was an imagination swimming superficially in my minde, as weake and as tender as all the rest: but in truth, not only exempted from displeasure but rather commixt with that pleasant sweetesse which they feel that suffer themselves to fall into a soft-slumbring and sense-entrancing sleepe. I beleeve it is the same state they find themselves in, whom in the agony of death we see to droop and faint thorow weaknesse: and am of opinion we plaine and moane them without cause, esteeming that either they are agitated with grievous pangs, or that their soule is pressed with painfull cogitations. It was ever my conceit against the opinion of many, yea and against that of Stephanus la Boetie, that those whom we see so overwhelmed and faintly-drooping at the approches of their end, or utterly cast downe with the lingring tediousnesse of their deseases, or by accident of some apoplexie or falling-evill,
            ----- (vi morbi sæpe coactus
Ante oculos aliquis nostros ut fulminis ictu,
Concidit, et spumas agit, ingemit, et fremit artus,
Desipit exentant nervos torquetur, anhelat,
Inconstanter et in jactando membra fatigat), -- Lucr. iii. 490.

(Some man by force of sicknesse drivn doth fall,
As if by thunder stroke, before our eyes;
He fomes, he grones, he trembles over all,
He raves, he stretches, he's vext, panting lyes,
He tyr's his limmes by tossing,
Now this now that way crossing,)

or hurt in the head, whom we heare throb and rattle, and send forth grones and gaspes, although we gather some tokens from them, whereby it seemeth they have yet some knowledge left and certaine motions we see them make with their body: I say, I have ever thought they had their soule and body buried and asleepe.
Vivat et est vitæ nescius ipse suæ.  -- Ovid. Trist. i. El. iii. 12.

He lives yet knowes not he,
That he alive should be.

   And I could not beleeve that at so great an astonishment of members and deffailance of senses the soule could maintaine any force within, to know herselfe; and therefore had no manner of discourse tormenting them, which might make them judge and feele the misery of their condition, and that consequently they were not greatly to be moaned. As for my selfe, I imagine no state so intolerable nor condition so horrible, as to have a feelingly-afflicted soule, void of meanes to disburthen and declare herselfe: As I would say of those we send to execution, having first caused their tongue to be cut out, were it not that in this manner of death the most dumbe seemes unto me the fittest, namely, if it be accompanied with a resolute and grave countenance. And as those miserable prisoners which light in the hands of those hard-harted and villenous Souldiers of these times, of whom they are tormented with all maner of cruell entreatie, by compulsion to drawe them unto some excessive and unpossible ransoms, keeping them al that while in so hard a condition and place, that they have no way left them to utter their thoughts and expresse their miserie. The Poets have fained there were some Gods that favoured the release of such as suffered so languishing deaths.
            -----hunc ego Diti
Sacrum jussa fero, teque isto corpore solvo.-- Virg. Æn. iv. 703, Iris.

This to death sacred, I, as was my charge,
Doe beare, and from this body thee enlarge.

   And the faltering speeches and uncertaine answers, that by continuall ringing in their eares and incessant urging them, are sometimes by force wrested from them, or by the motions which seeme to have some sympathy with that whereof they are examined, is notwithstanding no witnes that they live at least a perfect sound life. We do also in yawning, before sleep fully seize upon us, apprehend as it were in a slumber, what is done about us, and with a troubled and uncertains hearing, follow the voyces, which seeme to sound but on the outward limits of our soule; and frame answers according to the last words we heard, which taste more of chance than of sense: which thing now I have proved by experience, I make no doubt but hitherto I have well judged of it. For, first lying as in a trance, I laboured even with my nailes to open my doublet (for I was unarmed), and well I wot that in my imagination I felt nothing did hurt me. For, there are several motions in us which proceed not of our free wil.
Semianimesque micant digiti, ferrumque retractant.  -- x. 396.

The halfe-dead fingers stirre, and feele,
(Though it they cannot stirre) for steele.

   Those that fall, doe commonly by a naturall impulsion cast their armes abroad before their falling, which sheweth that our members have certaine offices, which they lend one to another, and possesse certaine agitations, apart from our discourse:
Falciferos memorant currus abscindere membra,
Ut tremere in terra videatur ab artubus, id quod
Decidit abscissum, cum mens tamen atque hominis vis
Mobilitate mali non quit sentire dolorem. -- Lucr. iii. 648.

They say, sith-bearing chariots limbes bereave,
So as on earth, that which cut-off they leave,
Doth seeme to quake; when yet mans force and minde
Doth not the paine, through so quicke motion, finde.

   My stomacke was surcharged with clotted bloud, my hands of themselves were still running to it, as often they are wont (yea against the knowledge of our will) where we feele it to itch. There are many creatures, yea and some men, in whom after they are dead we may see their muskles to close and stirre. All men know by experience, there be some parts of our bodies which often without any consent of ours doe stirre, stand, and lye down againe. Now these passions, which but exteriourly touch us, cannot properly be termed ours; for, to make them ours, a man must wholy be engaged unto them: And the paities that our feet or hands feele whilst we sleepe are not ours. When I came neere my house, where the tidings of my fall was already come, and those of my household met me, with such outcries as are used in like times, I did not only answer some words to what I was demanded, but some tell me I had the memory to command my men to give my wife a horse, whom I perceived to be overtired, and labouring in the way, which is very hilly, foule, and rugged. It seemeth this consideration proceeded from a vigilant soule: yet was I cleane distracted from it, they were but vaine conceits, and as in a cloud, were only moved by the senses of the eyes and eares: they came not from my selfe. All which not withstanding, I knew neither whence I came nor whither I went, nor could I understand or consider what was spoken unto me. They were but light effects, that my senses produced of themselves, as it were of custome. Whatsoever the soule did assist it with was but a dreame, being lightly touched, and only sprinkled by the soft impression of the sense. In the meane time my state was verily most pleasant and easefull. I felt no manner of care or affliction, neither for my selfe nor others. It was a slumbering, languishing and extreme weaknesse, without any paine at all. I saw mine own house and knew it not; when I was laid in my bed, I felt great ease in my rest, For I had beene vilely hurried and haled by those poore men, which had taken the paines to carry me upon their armes a long and wearysome way, and to say truth, they had all beene wearied twice or thrice over, and were faine to shift severall times. Many remedies were presently offered me, but I tooke none, supposing verily I had beene deadly hurt in the head. To say truth, it had beene a very happy death: For, the weaknesse of my discourse hindered me from judging of it, and the feeblenesse of my body from feeling the same. Me thought I was yeelding up the ghost so gently, and after so easie and indolent a manner, that I feele no other action lesse burthensome than that was. But when I began to come to life againe and recover my former strength,
Vt tandem sensus convaluere mei. -- Ovid. Trist. i. El. iii. 14.

At last when all the sprites I beare,
Recalled aild recollected were,

which was within two or three houres after, I presently felt my selfe full of aches and paines all my body over; for, each part thereof was with the violence of the fall much brused and tainted; and for two or three nights after I found my self so ill, that I verily supposed I shold have had another fit of death: But that a more lively, and sensible one: (and to speak plaine) I feele my bruses yet, and feare me shall do while I live: I will not forget to tell you, that the last thing I could rightly fall into againe was the remembrance of this accident, and I made my men many times to repeat me over and over againe, whither I was going, whence I came, and what houre that chance befell me, before I could throughly conceive it. Concerning the manner of my falling, they in favour of him who had beene the cause of it, concealed the truth from me, and told me other flim flam tales. But a while after and the morrow next, when my memorie began to come to itselfe againe, and represent the state unto me wherein I was at the instant, when I perceived the horse riding over me (for being at my heeles, I chanced to espy him and helde my selfe for dead: yet was the conceit so sudden that feare had no leasure to enter my thoughts) me seemed it was a flashing or lightning that smote my soule with shaking, and that I came from another world. This discourse of so slight an accident is but vaine and frivolous were not the instructions I have drawne from thence for my use: For truly, for a man to acquaint himselfe with death, I finde no better way than to approach unto it. Now, as Plinie saith, every man is a good discipline unto himselfe, alwayes provided he be able to prie into himselfe. This is not my doctrine, it is but my study and not another man's lesson, but mine owne: Yet ought no man to blame me if I impart the same. What serves my turne may haply serve another mans: otherwise I marre nothing; what I make use of is mine owne. And if I play the foole, it is at mine owne cost, and without any other bodies interest, For it is but a kind of folly that dies in me, and hath no traine. We have notice but of two or three former ancients that have trodden this path; yet can we not say, whether altogether like unto this of mine, for we know but their names. No man since hath followed their steps; it is a thorny and crabbed enterprise, and more than it makes show of, to follow so strange and vagabond a path as that of our spirit: to penetrate the shady, and enter the thicke-covered depths of these infernall winding crankes; to chuse so many and settle so severall aires of his agitatations: And tis a new extraordinary ammusing that distracts us from the common occupation of the world, yea, and from the most recommended: Many yeares are past since I have no other aime whereto my thoughts bend, but my selfe, and that I controule and study nothing but my selfe. And if I study anything else, it is immediately to place it upon, or to say better in myselfe. And methinks I err not, as commonly men doe in other sciences, without all comparison less profitable. I impart what I have content not my selfe therein. 'There is no description so hard, nor so profitable, as is the description of a man own life.' Yet must a man handsomely trimme-up, yea and dispose and range himselfe to appeare on the Theatre of this world. Now I continually tricke up my selfe; for I uncessantly describe my selfe. Custome hath made a mans speech of himselfe vicious, and obstinately forbids it in hatred of boasting, which ever seemeth closely to follow one's selfe witnesses. Whereas a man should wipe the childs nose, that is now called to unnose himselfe.
In vicium ducit culpæ fuga. -- Hor. Art. Poet. 31.

Some shunning of some sinne,
Doe draw some further in.

  I finde more evill than good by this remedy: But suppose it were true, that for a man to entertaine the company with talking of himself were necessarily presumption, I ought not, following my generall intent, to refuse an action that publisheth this crazed quality, since I have it in my seIfe: and I should not conceal this fault, which I have not only in use but in profession. Neverthelesse, to speak my opinion of it, this custome to condemne wine is much to blame, because many are there with made drunke. Only good things may be abused. And I believe this rule hath only regard to popular defects: They are snares wherewith neither Saints, nor Philosophers, nor Divines, whom we heare so gloriously to speak of themselves, will in any sort be bridled. No more doe I, though I be no more the one than the other. If they write purposely or directly of it, yet when occasion doth conveniently lead them unto it, faine they not head long to cast themselves into the lists? Whereof doth Socrates treat more at large than of himselfe? To what doth he more often direct his disciples discourses, than to speake of themselves, not for their bookes lesson, but of the essence and moving of their soule? We religiously shrive our selves to God and our Confessor, as our neighbours to all the people. But will some answer me, we report but accusation; wee then report all: For even our virtue it self is faulty and repentable. My art and profession is to live. Who forbids me to speake of it according to my sense, experience, and custome; let him appoint the Architect to speake of buildings, not according to himselfe, but his neighbours according to anothers skill, and not his owne. If it be a glory for a man to publish his owne worth himselfe, why does not Cicero prefer the eloquence of Hortensius, and Hortensius that of Cicero? Some may peradventure suppose that by deeds and effects, and not simply by words, I witnesse of my selfe. I principally set forth my cogitations; a shapelesse subject, and which cannot fall within the compasse of a workemanlike production; with much adoe can I set it downe in this ayrie bodie of the voice. Wiser men, and more learned and devout, have lived avoiding all apparent effects. Effects would speak more of fortune than of me. They witnesse their part and not mine, unlesse it be conjecturally and unc ertainly: parcels of a particular shew. I wholy set forth and expose my selfe: It is a Sceletos; where at first sight appeare all the vaines, muskles, gristles, sinnewes and tendons, each severall part in his due place. The effect of the cough produceth, one part, that of palenesse or panting of the heart another, and that doubtfully. I write not my gests, but my selfe and my essence. I am of opinion that a man must be very wise to esteeme himselfe, and equally consciencious to give test imony of it: be it low, be it high indifferently. If I did absolutely seeme good and wise unto my selfe, I would boldly declare it. To speake lesse of himselfe than he possesseth, is folly, and not modesty. To say himself for lesse than he is worth is basenesse and pusilanimity, saith Aristotle. No vertue aids it self with false- hood, and truth is never a matter of errour. And yet for a man to say more of himself than he can well prove, is not ever presumption though often sottishnesse. For a man to over-weene and please himself exceedingly with what he is, and fall into indiscreet love with himselfe, is in my conceit the substance of this vice. The best remedy to cure him, is to do cleane contrary to that which those appoint, who in forbidding men to speak of themselves, do consequentiy also inhibit more to thinke of themselves. Pride consisteth in conceit. The tongue can have no great share in it. For one to ammuse on himself is i n their imagination to please himselfe: And for a man to frequent and practise himselfe, is at an over-deare rate to please himselfe. But this excess doth only breed in them, that but superficially feele and search themselves that are seene to follow their affaires, which call idleness and fondnesse for a man to entertaine, to applaud, and to endeare himselfe, and frame Chimeræs or build Castles in the ayre, deeming themselves as a third person and strangers to themselves. If any be besotted with his owne knowledge looking upon himselfe, let him cast his eyes towards former ages, his pride shall be abated, his ambition shall be quailed; for there shall he find many thousands of spirits that will cleane suppress and tread him under. If he fortune to enter any selfe-presumption of his own worth, let him but call to remembrance the lives of Scipio and Epaminondas; so many armies, and so many Nations which leave him so far behind them. No particular quality shall make him proud, that therewith shall reckon so many imperfect and weak qualities that in him and at last the nullity of the human condition. Forsomuch as Socrates had truly only nibled on the precept of his God to know himself, and had learned to contemne himself, he alone was esteemed worthy of the name of Wise. Whosoever shall so know himselfe let him boldly make himself known by his own mouth.

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