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.
E MUST not cleave so fast unto our humours and dispositions. Our chiefest sufficiency is to apply our selves to divers fashions. It is a being, but not a life, to bee tied and bound by necessity to one onely course. The goodliest mindes are those that have most variety and pliablenesse in them. Behold an honourable testimony of old Cato. Huic versatile ingenium sic pariter ad omnia fuit, ut natum ad id unum diceres, quodcunque ageret: (LIV. Bel. Mac. ix.) 'He had a wit so turneable for all things alike, as one would say hee had beene onely borne for that hee went about to do.' Were I to dresse my selfe after mine owne manner, there is no fashion so good whereto I would be so affected or tied as not to know how to leave and loose it. Life is a motion unequall, irregular, and multiforme. It is not to bee the friend (lesse the master) but the slave of ones selfe to follow uncessantly, and bee so addicted to his inclinations, as hee cannot stray from them, nor wrest them. This I say now, as being extreamly pestred with the importunity of my mind, forsomuch as shee cannot ammuse her selfe, but whereon it is busied; nor employ it selfe, but bent and whole. How light soever the subject is one gives it, it willingly amplifiethl and wire-drawes the same, even unto the highest pitch of toile. Its idlenesse is therefore a painefull trade unto mee, and offensive to my health. Most wits have neede of extravagant stuffe, to un-benumme and exercise themselves: mine hath neede of it rather to settle and continue it selfe. Vitia otii negotio discutienda sunt: (Sen. Ep. lvi.) 'The vices of idlenesse should be shaken off with businesse.' For, the most laborious care and principall studie of it is to studie it selfe. Bookes are one of those businesses that seduce it from studie. At the first thoughts that present themselves, it rouzeth up and makes proofe of all the vigour it hath. It exerciseth its function sometimes toward force, sometimes towards order and comelinesse, it rangeth, moderates and fortifieth. It hath of it selfe to awaken the faculties of it: Nature having given it, as unto all other, matter of its owne for advantage, subjects fit enough whereon to devise and determine. Meditation is a large and powerfull study to such as vigorously can taste and employ themselves therein. I had rather forge then furnish my minde.
There is no office or occupation either weaker or stronger then that of entertaining of ones thoughts according to the mind, whatsoever it be. The greatest make it their vacation, Quibus vivere est cogitate, to whom it is all one to live and to meditate. Nature hath also favoured it with this priviledge, that there is nothing we can do so long, nor action whereto we give our selves more ordinarily and easily. It is the worke of Gods (saith Aristotle) whence both their happinesse and ours proceedeth. Reading serves mee especially to awake my conceit by divers objects: to busie my judgement, not my memory. Few entertainements then stay mee without vigour and force. 'Tis true that courtesie and beautie possesse mee as much or more then waight and depth. And because I slumber in all other communications, and lend but the superficiall parts of my attention unto them, it often befalleth mee in such kinde of weake and absurd discourses (discourses of countenance) to blurt out and answer ridiculous toies and fond absurdities, unworthy a childe; or wilfully to hold my Peace; therewithall more foolishly and incivilly. I have a kind of raving fancie-full behaviour, that retireth mee into my selfe; and on the other side, a grosse and childish ignorance of many ordinary things; by meanes of which two qualities, I have in my daies committed five or six as sottish trickes as any one whosoever; which to my derogation may bee reported. But to follow my purpose, this harsh complexion of mine makes me mee nice in conversing with men (whom I must picke and cull out for the nonce) and unfit for common actions. Wee live and negotiate with the people: If their behaviour importune us, if wee disdaine to lend our selves to base and vulgar spirits, which often are as regular as those of a finer mould; and all wisedome is unsavourie that is not conformed to common insipience. Wee are no longer to inter-meddle either with our or other mens affaires; and both publicke and private forsake such kinde of people.
The least wrested and most naturall proceedings of our minde are the fairest; the best occupations, those which are least forced. Good God, how good an office doth wisedome unto those whose desires she squareth according to their power! There is no science more profitable. As one may, was the burden and favoured saying of Socrates: A sentence of great substance. We must addresse and stay our desires to things most easie and neerest. Is it not a fond-peevish humour in mee to disagree from a thousand to whom my fortune joineth mee, without whom I cannot live, to adhere unto one or two that are out of my commerce and conversion; or rather to a fantasticall conceit, or fanciefull desire, for a thing I cannot obtaine? My soft behaviours and milde manners, enemies to all sharpenesse and foes to all bitternesse, may easily have discharged mee from envie and contention: To bee beloved, I say not, but not to be hated, never did man give more occasion. But the coldnesse of my conversation hath with reason robd mee of the good will of many; which may bee excused if they interpret the same to other or worse sense. I am most capable of getting rare amities, and continuing exquisite acquaintances. For so as with so greedie hunger I snatch at such acquaintances as answer my taste and square with my humour. I so greedily produce and headlong cast my selfe upon them, that I do not easily misse to cleave unto them, and where I light on, to make a steady impression; I have often made happie and successefull trial of it.
In vulgar worldly friendships, I am somewhat cold and barren: for my proceeding is not naturall, if not unresisted and with hoised- full sailes. Moreover, my fortune having enured and allured mee, even from my infancie, to one sole singular and perfect amitie, hath verily, in some sort, distasted mee from others: and over deeply imprinted in my fantasies that it is a beast sociable and for companies and not of troupe, as said an ancient writer. So that it is naturally a paine unto mee to communicate my selfe by halves and with modification: and that servile or suspicious wisedome which in the conversation of these numerous and imperfect amities, is ordained and proposed unto us: Prescribed in these dayes especially, wherein one cannot speake of the world but dangerously or falsely. Yet I see, that who (as I do) makes for his ende, the commodities of his life (I meane essentiall commodities) must avoide as a plague these difficulties and quaintnesse of humour.
I should commend a high-raysed minde, that could both bende and discharge it selfe: that where-ever hir fortune might transport hir, shee might continue constant: that could discourse with hir neighbours of all matters, as of hir building, of hir bunting and of any quarrell; and entertaine with delight a Carpenter or a Gardiner. I envie those which can be familiar with the meanest of their followers, and vouchsafe to contract friendship and frame discourse with their owne servants. Nor do I like the advise of Plato, ever to speake imperiously unto our attendants, without blithnesse and sance any familiarity: be it to men or women servants. For, besides my reason, it is inhumanity and injustice to attribute so much unto that prerogative of fortune and the governement: where lesse inequality is permitted betweene the servant and master, is in my conceite the more indifferent. Some other study to rouze and raise their minde, but I to abase and prostrate mine: it is not faulty but in extension.Narras et genus Aeaci,Even as the Lacedemonian valour had neede of moderation and of sweet and pleasing sounds of Flutes, to flatter and allay it in time of warre, least it should runne head-long into rashnesse and fury: whereas all other nations use commonly pearcing sounds and strong shouts, which violently excite and enflame their souldiers courage: so thinke I (against ordinary custome) that in the employment of our spirit, wee have for the most part more need of leade then wings; of coldnesse and quiet, then of heate and agitation. Above all, in my mind, the onely way to play the foole well is to seeme wise among fooles: to speake as though ones tongue were ever bent to Favelar' in punta di forchetta: (Italian prov.) 'To syllabize or speake minsingly.' One must lend himself unto those hee is with, and sometimes affect ignorance. Set force and subtiltie aside; In common employments 'tis enough to reserve order; dragge your selfe even close to the ground, they will have it so. The learned stumble willingly on this blocke: making continuall muster and open show of their skill, and dispersing their bookes abroade: And have in these dayes so filled the closets, and possessed the eares of Ladyes, that if they retaine not their substance, at least they have their countenance: using in all sorts of discourse and subject how base or popular soever, a newe, an affected and learned fashion of speaking and writing.
Et pugnata sacro bella sub Ilio.
Quo Chium pretio cadum
Mercemur, quis aquam temperet ignibus,
Quo præbente domum, et quota
Pelignis caream frigoribus, taces. -- Hor. Car. iii. Od. xix. 3.
You tell of Æacus the pedegree -
The warres at sacred Troye you do display.
You tell not at what price a hogs-head we
May buy of the best Wine; who shall allaye
Wine-fire with water, at whose house to holde
At what a-clock I may be kept from colde.Hoc sermone pavent, hoc iram, gaudia, curas,And alledge Plato and Saint Thomas for things, which the first man they meete would decide as well, and stand for as good a witnesse. Such learning as could not enter into their minde, hath staid on their tongues. If the well-borne will give any credit unto me, they shall be pleased to make their own and naturall riches to prevaile and be of worth: They hide and shroud their formes under forraine and borrowed beauties: It is great simplicity for any body to smoother and conceale his owne brightnesse, to shine with a borrowed light: They are buried and entombed under the Arte of CAPSVLA TOTÆ. It is because they do not sufficiently know themselves: the world containes nothing of more beauty: It is for them to honour artes, and to beautifie embellishment. What neede they more then to live beloved and honoured: They have, and know but too much in that matter. There needes but a little rouzing and enflaming of the faculties that are in them.
Hoc cuncta effundunt animi secreta, quid ultra?
Concumbunt docte. -- Juven. Sat. vi. 189.
They in this language feare, in this they fashion
Their joyes, their cares, their rage, their inward passion;
What more? they learned are in copulation.
When I see them medling with Rhetoricke, with Law, and with Logicke, and such like trash, so vaine and unprofitable for their use, I enter into feare that those who advise them to such things, doe it that they may have more law to governe them under that pretence. For what other excuse can I devise for them? It is sufficient, that without us, they may frame, or roule the grace of their eyes, unto cheerefulnesse, unto severity, and unto mildnesse: and season a 'No' with frowardnesse, with doubt and with favour; and require not an interpreter in discourses made for their service. With this learning they command without controule, and over-rule both Regents and Schooles. Yet if it offend them to yeeld us any preheminence, and would for curiosity sake have part in bookes also: Poesie is a study fit for their purpose, being a wanton, ammusing, subtill, disguised, and pratling Arte; all in delight, all in shew, like to them-selves. They may also select divers commodities out of History. In Morall Philosophy they may take the discourses which enable them to judge of our humours, to censure our conditions, and to avoid our guiles and treacheries; to temper the rashnesse of their owne desires, to husband their liberty: lengthen the delights of life, gently to beare the inconstancy of a servant, the peevishnesse of rudenesse of a husband, the importunity of yeares, the unwelcomnesse of wrinkles, and such like minde-troubling accidents. Loe here the most and greatest share of learning I would assigne them. There are some particular, retired and close dispositions.
My essentiall forme is fit for communication and proper for production: I am all outward and in apparance; borne for society and unto friendship. The solitude I love and commend is especially but to retire my affections and redeeme my thoughts unto my selfe to restraine and close up, not my steppes, but my desires and my cares, resigning all forraigne solicitude and trouble, and mortally shunning all manner of servitude and obligation; and not so much the throng of men as the importunity of affaires. Locall solitarinesse (to say trueth) doth rather extend and enlarge me outwardly; I give my selfe to State-businesse and to the world more willingly when I am all alone. At the court, and in presse of people, I close and slinke into mine owne skinne. Assemblies thrust mee againe into my selfe. And I never entertaine my selfe so fondly, so licentiously, and so particularly, as in places of respect and ceremonious discretion. Our follies make mee not laugh, but our wisdomes doe. Of mine owne complexion, I am no enemy to the agitations and stirrings of our Courts: I have there past great part of my life and am inured to bee merry in great assemblies so it be by intermission, and sutable to my humour.
But this tendernesse and coinesse of judgement (whereof I speake) doth perforce tie me unto solitarinesse. Yea even in mine owne house, in the middest of a numerous family and most frequented houses, I see people more then a good many, but seldome such as I love to converse or communicate withall. And there I reserve, both for my selfe and others, an unaccustomed liberty; making truce with ceremonies, assistance, and invitings, and such other troublesome ordinances of our courtesies (O servile custome and importunate manner) there every man demeaneth himselfe as hee pleaseth, and entertaineth what his thoughts affect: whereas I keepe my selfe silent, meditating and close, without offence to my guests or friends.
The men whose familiarity and society I hunt after, are those which are called honest, vertuous, and sufficient: the image of whom doth distaste and divert mee from others. It is (being rightly taken) the rarest of our formes; and a forme or fashion chiefly due unto nature. The end or scope of this commerce is principally and simply familiarity, conference and frequentation: the exercise of mindes, without other fruite. In our discourses all subjects are alike to me: I care not though they want either waight or depth; grace and pertinency are never wanting; all therein is tainted with a ripe and constant judgement, and commixt with goodnesse, liberty, cheerefulnesse, and kindnesse. It is not onely in the subject of Laws and affaires of Princes, that our spirit sheweth its beauties grace and vigor: It sheweth them as much in private conferences. I know my people by their very silence and smyling, and peradventure discover them better at a Table then sitting in serious counsell.
Hippomacus said, hee discerned good Wrestlers but by seeing them march through a Street. If learning vouchsafe to step into our talke, shee shall not be refused; yet must not shee bee sterne, mastring, imperious and importunate, as commonly shee is; but assistant and docile of hirselfe. Therein wee seeke for nothing but recreation and pastime: when we shall looke to be instructed, taught and resolved, we will go seeke and sue to hir in hir throne. Let hir if she please keepe from us at that time; for, as commodious and pleasing as shee is. I presume that for a neede we could spare hir presence, and doe our businesse well enough without hir. Wits well borne, soundly bred and exercised in the practise and commerce of men, become gracious and plausible of themselves. Arte is but the Checke-roule and Register of the Productions uttered and conceites produced by them.
The company of faire and society of honest women is likewise a sweet commerce for me: Nam nos quoque oculos eruditos habemus: (Cic. Parad.) 'For we also have learned eyes.' If the minde have not so much to solace hirselfe as in the former, the corporall sences, whose part is more in the second, bring it to a proportion neere unto the other: although in mine opinion not equall. But it is a society wherein it behooveth a man somewhat to stand upon his guard: and especially those that are of a strong constitution, and whose body can do much, as in me. In my youth I heated my selfe therein and was very violent: and indured all the rages and furious assaults which Poets say happen to those who, without order or discretion, abandon themselves over-loosly and riotously unto it. True it is indeed, that the same lash hath since stood me instead of an instruction.Quicunque Argolico de classe Capharea fugit,It is folly to fasten all ones thoughts upon it, and with a furious and indiscret affection to engage himselfe unto it: But on the otherside, to meddle with it without love or bond of affection, as Comedians do, to play a common part of age and manners, without ought of their owne but bare-conned words, is verily a provision for ones safety: and yet but a cowardly one; as is that of him who would forgoe his honour, his profit or his pleasure, for feare of danger; for it is certaine that the practisers of such courses cannot hope for any fruite able to moove or satisfie a worthy minde.
Semper ab Euboicis vela retorquet aquis. -- Ovid. Trist. i. El. 83.
Greeke Sailers that Capharean Rockes did fly
From the Euboean Seas their sailes still ply.
One must very earnestly have desired that whereof he would enjoy an absolute delight. I meane, though fortune should unjustly favour their intention: which often hapneth, because there is no woman, how deformed or unhandsome soever, but thinkes hir selfe lovely, amiable and praiseworthy, either for hir age, hir haire or gate (for there are generally no more faire then foule ones): and the Brachmanian maides wanting other commendations, by Proclamation for that purpose, made shew of their matrimoniall parts unto the people assembled, to see if thereby at least they might get them husbands. By consequence there is not one of them, but upon the first oath one maketh to serve her, will very easily be perswaded to thinke well of her selfe. Now this common treason and ordinary protestations of men in these dayes must needs produce the effects experience already discovereth: which is, that either they joyne together, and cast away themselves on themselves to avoid us, or on their side follow also the example wee give them; acting their part of the play without passion, without care, and without love, lending themselves to this enter course: Neque affectui suo, aut alieno obnoxiæ: 'Neither liable to their own nor other folkes affection.' Thinking, according to Lysias perswasions in Plato, they may so much the more profitably and commodiously yield unto us, by how much lesse we love them: Wherein it will happen as in Comedies, the spectators shall have as much or more pleasure as the Comedians. For my part, I no more acknowledge Venus without Cupid, then a mother-hood without an off-spring: They are things which enterlend and enter-owe one another their essence. Thus doth this cozening rebound on him that useth it, and as it cost him little, so gets he not much by it. Those which made Venus a goddesse, have respected that her principall beautie was incorporeall and spirituall. But shee whom these kinde of people hunt after is not so much as humane, nor also brutall; but such as wilde beasts would not have her so filthy and terrestriall. We see that imagination enflames them, and desire or lust urgeth them, before the body: We see in one and other sex, even in whole heards, choise and distinctions in their affections, and amongst themselves, acquaintances of long continued good-will and liking: And even those to whom age denieth bodily strength, doe yet bray, neigh, roare, skip and wince for love. Before the deed we see them full of hope and heat; and when the body hath plaid his part, even tickle and tingle themselves with the sweetenesse of that remem brance: some of them swell with pride at parting from it, others all weary and glutted, ring out songs of glee and triumph. Who makes no more of it but to discharge his body of some naturall necessitie, hath no cause to trouble others with so curious a preparation. It is no food for a greedy and clownish hunger. As one that would not be accounted better than I am, thus much I will display of my youths wanton-errors: Not onely for the danger of ones health that followes that game (yet could I not avoid two, although light and cursorie assaults) but also for contempt, I have not much beene given to mercenarie and common acquaintances. I have coveted to set an edge on that sensuall pleasure by difficultie, by desire, and for some glory. And liked Tiberius his fashions, who in his amours was swaied as much by modesty and noblenesse as by any other quality. And Floras humour, who would Prostitute her selfe to none worse then Dictators, Consuls, or Censors, and tooke delight in the dignitie and greatnesse of her lovers, doth somewhat sute with mine. Surely glittering pearles and silken cloathes adde some-thing unto it, and so doe titles, nobilitie and a worthie traine. Besides which, I made high esteeme of the minde, yet so as the body might not justly be found fault withall: For, to speake my conscience, if either of the two beauties were necessarily to be wanting, I would rather have chosen to want the mentall, whose use is to be emploied in better things. But in the subject of love, a subject that chiefly hath reference unto the two senses of seeing and touching, some thing may be done without the graces of the minde, but little or nothing without the corporall. Beautie is the true availefull advantage of women: It is so peculiarly theirs, that ours, though it require some features and different allurements, is not in her right kue or true bias, unlesse confused with theirs: childish and beardlesse. It is reported that such as serve the great Turke under the title of beautie (whereof the number is infinite) are dismissed at furthest when they once come to the age of two and twenty yeeres. Discourse, discretion, together with the offices of true amitie, are better found amongst men: and therefore governe they the worlds affaires. These two commerces or societies are accidentall and depending of others; the one is troublesome and tedious for its raritie, the other withers with old age: nor could they have sufficiently pro vided for my lives necessities. That of bookes, which is the third, is much more solid-sure and much more ours, some other advantages it yeeldeth to the two former, but hath for her share constancie and the facilite of her service. This accosteth and secondeth all my course, and every where assisteth me: It comforts me in age and solaceth me in solitarinesse; It easeth mee of the burthen of a weary-some sloth and at all times rids me of tedious companies: it abateth the edge of fretting sorrow, on condition it be not extreme and over-insolent. To divert me from any importunate imagination or insinuating conceit, there is no better way then to have recourse unto books; with ease they allure mee to them, and with facility they remoove them all. And though they perceive I neither frequent nor seeke them, but wanting other more essential, lively, and more naturall commodities, they never mutinie or murmur at mee; but still entertaine mee with one and selfe-same visage. He may well walke a foote that leades his horse by the bridle, saith the proverbe. And our James king of Naples and Sicili, being faire, young, healthy and in good plight, caused himselfe to be caried abroad in a plaine wagon or skreene, lying upon an homely pillow of course feathers, cloathed in a sute of home spunne gray, and a bonet of the same, yet royally attended on by a gallant troupe of Nobles, of Litters, Coches, and of all sorts of choice led-horses, a number of gentlemen and officers, represented a tender and wavering austerity. The sicke man is not to be moaned that hath his health in his sleeve. In the experience and use of this sentence, which is most true, consisteth all the commoditie I reape of bookes. In effect I make no other use of them then those who know them not. I enjoy them, as a miser doth his gold; to know that I may enjoy them when I list, my mind is setled and satisfied with the right of possession. I never travel without bookes, nor in peace nor in warre: yet doe I passe many dayes and moneths without using them. It shall be anon, say I, or to-morrow, or when I please; in the meane while the time runnes away, and passeth without hurting me. For it is wonderfull what repose I take, and how I continue in this consideration, that they are at my elbow to delight me when time shall serve; and in acknowledging what assistance they give unto my life. This is the best munition I have found in this humane peregrination, and I extremely bewaile those men of understanding that want the same. I accept with better will all other kindes of ammusements, how slight soever, forsomuch as this cannot faile me. At home I betake me somewhat the oftner to my library, whence all at once I command and survey all my houshold. It is seated in the chiefe entrie of my house, thence I behold under me my garden, my base court, my yard, and looke even into most roomes of my house. There without order, without method, and by peece-meales I turne over and ransacke, now one booke and now another. Sometimes I muse and rave; and walking up and downe I endight and enregister these my humours, these my conceits. It is placed on the third storie of a tower. The lowermost is my Chapell; the second a chamber with other lodgings, where I often lie, because I would be alone. Above it is a great ward-robe. It was in times past the most unprofitable place of all my house. There I pass the greatest pa t of my lives dayes, and weare out most houres of the day. I am never there a nights. Next unto it is a handsome neat cabinet, able and large enough to receive fire in winter, and very pleasantly windowen. And if I feared not care more then cost (care which drives and diverts me from all businesse), I might easily joyne a convenient gallerie of a hundred paces long and twelve broad on each side of it, and upon one floore; having already, for some other purpose, found all the walles raised unto a convenient height. Each retired place requireth a walke. My thoughts are prone to sleepe if I sit long. My minde goes not alone, as if [legges] did moove it. Those that studie without bookes are all in the same case. The forme of it is round, and hath no flat side, but what serveth for my table and chaire: In which bending or circling manner, at one looke it offereth me the full sight of all my books, set round about upon shelves or desks, five rancks one upon another. It hath three bay-windowes of a farre-extending, rich and unresisted prospect, and is in diameter sixteene paces void. In winter I am lesse continually there: for my house (as the name of it importeth) is pearched upon an over-pearing hillocke; and hath no part more subject to all wethers then this: which pleaseth me the more, both because the accesse unto it is somwhat troublesome and remote, and for the benefit of the exercise which is to be respected; and that I may the better seclude my selfe from companies and keepe incrochers from me: There is my seat, that is my throne. I endevour to make my rule therein absolute, and to sequester that only corner from the communitie of wife, of children and of acquaintance. Else-where I have but a verball authoritie, of confused essence. Miserable in my minde is he who in his owne home hath no where to be to himselfe; where hee may particularly court, and at his pleasure hide or with-draw selfe. Ambition paieth h r followers well to keepe them still in open view, as a statue in some conspicuous place. Magna servitus est magna fortuna: (Sen. Cons. ad Pol. c. xxvi. p.) 'A great fortune is a great bondage.' They cannot bee private so much as at their privie. I have deemed nothing so rude in the austerity of the life which our Church-men affect as that in some of their companies they institute a perpetuall societie of place, and a numerous assistance amongst them in anything they doe. And deeme it somewhat more tolerable to be ever alone, then never be able to be so. If any say to me, It is a kind of vilifying the Muses to use them only for sport and recreation, he wots not as I do, what worth, pleasure, sport and passe-time is of: I had well nigh termed all other ends rediculous. I live from hand to mouth, and, with reverence be it spoken, I live but to my selfe: there end all my designes. Being young I studied for ostentation ; then a little to enable my selfe and become wiser; now for delight and recreation, never for gaine. A vaine conceit and lavish humour I had after this kind of stuffe; not only to provide for my need, but somewhat further to adorne and embellish my selfe withall: I have since partlie left it. Bookes have and containe divers pleasing qualities to those that can duly choose them. But no good without paines; no Roses with out prickles. It is a pleasure not absolutely pure and neate; no more then all others; it hath his inconveniences attending on it, and sometimes waighty ones: The minde is the rein exercised, but the body (the care whereof I have not yet forgotten) remaineth there-whilst without action, and is wasted, and ensorrowed. I know no excesse more hurtfull for me, nor more to be avoided by me, in this declining age. Loe here my three most favoured and particular employments. I speake not of those I owe of dutie to the world.