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Renascence Editions

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.


YEA but, will some tell me, this desseigne in a man to make himselfe a subject to write of might be excused in rare and famous men, and who by their reputation had bred some desire in others of their acquaintance. It is true, I confesse it, and I know that a handicraftsman will scarcely looke off his worke to gaze upon an ordinary man: whereas to see a notable great person come into a towne, he will leave both worke and shop. It ill-beseemeth any man to make himselfe knowen, onely he excepted that hath somewhat in him worthy imitation, and whose life and opinions may stand as a pattern to all. Cæsar and Xenophon have had wherewithall to ground and establish their narration in the greatnesse of their deedes as on a just and solid groundworke. So are the jornall bookes of Alexander the great, the Commentaries which Augustus, Cato, Brutus, Sylla, and divers others had left of their gests, greatly to be desired. Such mens images are both beloved and studied, be they either in brasse or stone. This admonition is most true, but it concerneth me very little.
Non recito cuiquam: nisi amicis, idque rogatus,
Non ubivis, coramve quibuslibet.  In medio qui
Scripta foro recitant sunt multi, quique lavantes. -- Hor. Ser. i. Sat. iv. 73.

My writings I reade not, but to my friends, to any,
Nor each-where, nor to all, nor but desir'd, yet many
In market-place read theirs, In bathes, in barbers-chaires.

  I erect not here a statue to be set up in the marketplace of a towne, or in a church, or in any other publike place:
Non equidem hoc studeo bullatis ut mihi nugis
Pagina turgescat:  ---- Pers. Sat. v. 19.

I studie not, my written leaves should grow
Big-swolne with bubled toyes, which vaine breathes blow.

Secreti loquimur. --- 21.

We speake alone,
Or one to one.

It is for the corner of a Library, or to ammuse a neighbour, a kinsman, or a friend of mine withall, who by this image may happily take pleasure to renew acquaintance and to reconverse with me. Others have beene emboldned to speake of themselves because they have found worthy add rich subject in themselves. 1, contrariwise, because I have found mine so barren and so shallow, that it cannot admit suspition of ostentation. I willingly judge other mens actions; of mine by reason of their nullity, I give small cause to judge. I finde not so much good in my self, but I may speake of it without blushing. Oh what contentment were it unto me to hear somebody that would relate the custome, the visage, the countenance, the most usuall words, and the fortunes of my ancestors. Oh, how attentively would I listen unto it. Verily it were an argument of a bad nature, to seeme to despise the very pictures of our friends and predecessors, the fashion of their garments and armes. I keepe the writing, the manuall seale, and a peculiar sword: and I reserve still in my cabinet certaine long switches or wands which my father was wont to carry in his hand. Paterna vestis et annulus, tanto charior est posteris, quanto erga parentes maior affectus: 'The fathers garment and his ring is so much more esteemed of his successors, as their affection is greater towards their progenitors.' Notwithstanding if my posteritie be of another minde, I shall have wherewith to be avenged, for they cannot make so little accompt of me, as then I shal doe of them. All the commerce I have in this with the world is that I borrow the instruments of their writing, as more speedy and more easie; in requitall whereof I may peradventure hinder the melting of some piece of butter in the market or a grocer from selling an ounce of pepper.
Ne toga cordyllis, ne penula desit olivis. -- Mart. xiii. Epig. i. I.

Lest fish-fry should a fit gowne want,
Lest cloakes should be for olives scant.

Et laxas scombris sæpe dabo tunicas. -- Catul. Epig. Eleg. xxvii.8.

To long-tail'd mackrels often I,
Will side-wide (paper) cotes apply.

And if it happen no man read me, have I lost my time to have entertained my selfe so many idle houres about so pleasing and profitable thoughts? In framing this pourtraite by my selfe, I have so often beene faine to frizle and trimme me, that so I might the better extract my selfe that the patterne is thereby confirmed, and in some sort formed. Drawing my selfe for others, I have drawne my selfe with purer and better colours than were my first. I have no more made my booke then my booke hath made me. A booke consubstantiall to his author: a peculiar and fit occupation. A member of my life. Not of an occupation and end strange and forraine, as all other bookes. Have I mis-spent my time to have taken an account of my selfe so continually and so curiously? For those who onely run themselves over by fantasie, and by speech for some houres, examine not themselves so primely and exactly, nor enter they into themselves, as he doth who makes his studie his work, and occupation of it; who with all his might, and with all his credit, engageth himselfe to a register of continuance. The most delicious pleasures, though inwardly digested, shun to leave any trace of themselves, and avoide the sight not onely of the people, but of any other. How often hath this busines diverted me from tedious and yrksome cogitations? (and all frivolous ones must bee deemed tedious and yrksome). Nature hath endowed us with a large faculty to entertaine our selves apart, and often calleth us unto it: to teach us that partly we owe our selves unto society, but in the better part unto our selves. To the end I may in some order and project marshall my fantasie even to dote and keepe it from loosing and straggling in the aire, there is nothing so good as to give it a body and register so many idle imaginations as present themselves unto it. I listen to my humours and hearken to my conceits, because I must enroule them. How often, being grieved at some action, which civility and reason forbad me to with stand openly, have I disgorged my selfe upon them here, not-without an intent of publike instruction? And yet these poeticall rods,
Zon dessus l'oeil, zon sur le groin,
Zon sur le dos du Sagoin,
are also better imprinted upon paper than upon the quicke flesh; what if I lend mine ears somewhat more attentively unto bookes, sith I but watch if I can filch something from them wherewith to enammell and uphold mine? I never studie to make a booke, yet have I somewhat studied, because I had already made it (if to nibble or pinch, by the head or feet, now one Authour, and then another be in any sort to study), but nothing at all to forme my opinions. Yea, being long since formed to assist, to second, and to serve them. But whom shall we believe, speaking of himselfe in this corrupted age? since there are few or none who may beleeve speaking of others, where there is lesse interest to lie. The first part of customes corruption is the banishment of truth: for, as Pindarus said, to be sincerely true is the beginning of a great vertue; and the first article Plato requireth in the Governor of his Commonwealth. Now adaies, that is not the truth which is true, but that which is perswaded to others. As we call money not onely that which is true and good, but also the false; so it be currant. Our nation is long since taxed with this vice. For Salvianus Massiliensis, who lived in the time of Valentinian the Emperour, saith that amongst French-men to lie and forsweare is no vice, but a manner of speach. He that would endeare this testimonie might say, it is now rather deemed a vertue among them. Men frame and fashion themselves unto it as to an exercise of honour; for, dissimulation is one of the notablest qualities of this age. Thus have I often considered whence this custome might arise, which we observe so religiously, that we are more sharpely offended with the reproach of this vice, so ordinary in us, than with any other; and that it is the extremest injury may be done us in words, to upbraid and repoach us with a lie. Therein I find that it is naturall for a man to defend himselfe most from such defects as we are most tainted with. It seemeth that if we but shew a motion of revenge, or are but moved at the accusation, we in some sort discharge ourselves of the blame of imputation; if we have it in effect, at least we condemne it in apparance. May it not also be that this reproch seemes to enfold cowardice and faintnesse of hart? Is there any more manifest than for a man to eate and deny his owne word? What, to deny his word wittingly. To lie is a horrible filthy vice; and which an ancient writer setteth forth very shamefully, when he saith that whosoever lieth witnesseth that he contemneth God and therewithall feareth men. It is impossible more richly to represent the horrour, the vilenesse and the disorder of it: for, what can be imagined so vile and base as to be a coward towards men and a boaster towards God? Our intelligence being onely conducted by the way of the word: whoso falsifieth the same betraieth publike society. It is the only instrument by meanes whereof our wils and thoughts are communicated: it is the interpretour of our soules: If that faile us, we hold our selves no more, we enter-know one another no longer. If it deceive us, it breaketh al our commerce, and dissolveth al bonds of our policies. Certaine Nations of the new Indiæs (whose names we need not declare, because they are no more, for the desolation of this conquest hath extended it selfe to the absolute abolishing of names and ancient knowledge of places, with a marvellous and never the like heard example) offered humane blood unto their Gods, but no other than that which was drawne from their tongues and eares for an expiation of the sinne of lying as well heard as pronounced. That good fellow Græcian said children were dandled with toies, but men with words. Concerning the sundry fashions of our giving the lie, and the lawes of our honour in that and the changes they have received, I wil refer to another time to speake what I thinke and know of it, and if I can I will in the meane time learne at what time this custome tooke his beginning, so exactly to weigh and precisely to measure words, and tie our honour to them: for it is easie to judge that it was not anciently amongst the Romans and Græcians. And I have often thought it strange to see them wrong and give one another the lie, and yet never enter into quarrell. The lawes of their duty tooke some other course than ours. Cæsar is often called a thiefe, and sometimes a drunkard to his face. We see the liberty of their invectives, which they write one against another: I meane the greatest Chieftaines and Generals in war, of one and other nation, where words are onely retorted and revenged with words, and never wrested to further consequence.

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