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.
INCE WE cannot attaine unto it, let us revenge our selves with railing against it: yet is it not absolute railing to finde fault with any thing: There are defects found in all things, how faire soever in show and desirable they be. It hath generally this evident advantage, that whenever it pleaseth it will decline, and hath well-nigh the choise of one and other condition. For a man doth not fall from all heights; divers there are whence a man may descend without falling. Verily, me seemeth that we value it at too high a rate, and prize over-deare the resolution of those whom we have either seene or heard to have contemned, or of their owne motion rejected the same. Her essence is not so evidently commodious but a man may refuse it without wonder. Indeed I finde the labour very hard in suffering of evils; but in the contentment of a meane measure of fortune and shunning of greatnesse, therein I see no great difficillty. In my conceit it is a vertue whereunto my selfe, who am but a simple ninny, might easily attaine, and without great contention. What shall they doe who would also bring into consideration the glory which accompanieth this refusall, wherein may fall more ambition then even in the desire and absolute enjoying of greatnesse? Forsomuch as ambition is never better directed according to it selfe then by a straying and unfrequented path. I sharpen my courage toward patience, and weaken the same against desire. I have as much to wish for as another, and leave my wishes as much liberty and indiscretion; but yet it never came into my minde to wish for Empire, for Royalty, or eminency of high and commanding fortunes. I aime not that way: I love my selfe too well. When I thinke to grow, It is but meanly, with a forced and coward advancement, fit for me; yea in resolution, in wisedome, in health, in beauty, and also in riches. But this credite, this aspiring reputation, this overswaying authority, suppresseth my imagination. And cleane opposite to some other, I should peradventure love my selfe better to be the second or third man in Perigot then the first in Paris; At least, without faining, I had rather be the third man in Paris then the first in charge. I will neither contend with an Usher of a doore, as a silly unknowen man; nor with gaping and adoration make a Lane through the throng as I passe. I am enured to a meane calling; mediocrity best fitteth me, as well by my fortune as by mine owne humor. And I have shewed by the conduct of my life and course of my enterprises, that I have rather sought to avoid then otherwise to embrace beyond the degree of fortune that at my birth it pleased God to call me unto. Each naturall constitution is equally just and easie. My minde is so dull and slowe that I measure not good fortune according to her height, but rather according to her facility. And if my hart be not great enough, it is ratably free and open, and who biddeth me bouldly to publish my weaknesse. Should any will me, on the one part, to conferre and consider the life of L. Thurius Balbus, a worthy gallant man, wise, faire, goodly, healthy, of good understanding, richly plenteous in all maner of commodities and pleasures, leading a quiet easefull life, altogether his owne, with a minde armed and well prepared against death, superstition, griefes, cares and other encombrances of humane necessity; dying in his old age in an honourable battell, with his weapons in his hand, for the defence of his countrie; and on the other side the life of M. Regulus, so high and great, as all men know, together with his admirable and glorious end: the one unmentioned and without dignity, the other exemplare and wonderfull renouned: truly I would say what Cicero saith of it, had I the gift of well-speaking as hee had. But if I were to sute them unto mine, I would also say that the former is as much agreeing to my qualitie, and to the desire I endevour to conforme my quaiity unto, as the second is farre beyond it. That to this I cannot attaine but by veneration; and to the other I would willingly attaine by custome. But returne we to our temporall greatnesse, whence we have digressed. I am distasted of all mastry, both active and passive. Otanes, one of the seaven that by right might chalenge the crowne or pretend the Kingdome of Persia, resolved upon such a resolution as I should easily have done the like, which was, that he utterly renounced all maner of claime he might in any sort pretend unto that crowne to his fellow competitores, were it either by election or chance: alwayes provided that both himselfe and all his might live in that Empire free from all subjections and exempted from all maner of commandement, except that of the ancient lawes, and might both challenge all liberty and enjoy all immunities that should not prejudice them: being as impacient to command as to be commanded. The sharpest and most dificile profession of the world is (in mine opinion) worthily to act and play the king. I excuse more of their faults then commonly other men doe; and that in consideration of the downe-bearing waight of their immense charge, which much astonisheth me, It is a very hard task to keep a due measure in so unmeasurable a power. Yet is it, that even with those that are of a lesse excellent nature it is a singular incitation to vertue to be seated in such a place where you shall doe no maner of good that is not registred and recorded, and where the least wel-dooing extendeth to so many persons, and where your sufficiency (as that of Preachers) is principally directed to the people; a weake and partiall judge, easily to be beguiled, and easie to be pleased. There are but few things of which we may give a sincere judgement; for there be very few wherein in some sort or other we are not particularly interessed. Superiority and inferiority, maistry and subjection, are joyntly tied unto a naturall kinde of envy and contestation; they must perpetually enter-spoile one another. I beleeve neither the one nor the other concerning hir companions rights: let us suffer reason to speake of it) which is inflexible and impassible, when or how we shall make an end. I was not long since reading of two Scottish bookes striving upon this subject. The popular makes the King to be of worse condition then a Carter; and he that extolleth, Monarchy placeth him both in power and soveraignty many steps above the Gods. Now the incommodity if greatnesse, which here I have undertaken to note and to speak of (upon some occasion lately befalne mee), is this: There is peradventure nothing more pleasing to the commerce of men then the Essayes which we through jealousie of honour or valour make one against another, be it in the exercise of the body or minde wherein soveraigne greatnesse hath no true or essentiall part. Verily, it hath often seemed unto me, that through over-much respect Princes are therein used disdainefully and treated injuriously; For the thing whereat (in my youth) I was infinitely offended was, that those which were trained and schooled with mee, should forbeare to doe it in good earnest, because they found me unworthy to bee withstood or to resist their endevours. It is that we dayly see to happen unto them; every man finding himselfe unworthy to force himselfe against them. If one perceive them never so little affected to have the victory, there is none but will strive to yeeld it them, and that will not rather wrong his glory then offend theirs: no man imployeth more diligence then needs he must to serve their honour. What share have Princes in the throng, where all are for them? Mee thinks I see those Paladines of former ages presenting themselves in joustes, tiltings and combates, with bodies and armes enchanted. Brisson running against Alexander, counterfeited his course; Alexander chid him for it; but he should have caused him to be whipt. For this consideration was Carneades wont to say, that 'Princes children learn't nothing aright but to mannage and ride horses; forsomuch as in all other exercises every man yeeldeth and giveth them the victory; but a horse who is neyther a flatterer nor a Courtier, will as soone throw the child of a King as the son of a base porter.' Homer hath beene forced to consent that Venus (so sweet a saint and delicate a Goddesse) should be hurt at the siege of Troy, thereby to ascribe courage and hardinesse unto her, qualities never seene in those that are exempted from danger. The Gods themselves are fained to be angry, to feare, to be jealous, to grieve, to shew passion, and be subject to mortall sense, thereby to honour them with the vertues which the Poets and Philosophers invent amongst us: Nay, they are supposed to runne away, and to have a feeling of all our imperfections. Who doth not participate both hazard and difficulties, cannot justly pretend interest in the honor, or challenge share in the pleasure that followeth dangerous actions or hazardous attempts. it is pitty a man should be so powerfull, that all things must yeeld and give place unto him. Such as are in so high eminency of greatnesse, their fortune rejects society and conversation too farre from them: she placeth them in over remote and uncouth places. This easefull life and plausible facility to bring all under, and subject mens mindes, is an enemy to all manner of Pleasure. It is a kinde of sliding, and not a going: It is to sleepe and not to live. Conceive man accompanied with omnipotency, you overwhelme him: he must in begging manner crave some empeachment and resistance of you. His being and his food is in want and indigence. Their good qualities are dead and lost, for they are not heard but by comparison, and they are excluded: they have little knowledge of true praise, being beaten with so continuall and uniforme an approbation. Have they to doe with the simplest of their subjects? They have no meane to take advantage of him if he but say, It is because he is my King, he supposeth to have sufficiently expressed, and you must understand that in so saying he hath lent a helping hand to overthrow himselfe. This qualitie suppresseth and consumeth all other true and essentiall qualities: they are even drowned in the Royaltie; which gives them no leave to make the offices of their charge to prevaile, except in such actions as directly concerne and stead the same. To be a King is a matter of that consequence, that onely by it he is so. That strange glimmering and eye-dazeling light which round about environeth, overcasteth and hideth from us: or weake sight is thereby bleared and dissipated, as beeing filled and obscured by that greater and further-spredding brightnesse. The Senate allotted the honour and prize of eloquence unto Tiberius; he refused it, supposing that if it had beene true, he could not revenge himselfe of so limited and partiall judgement. As we yeeld Princes all advantages of bonor, so we aucthorize their defects and sooth-up their vices; not onely by approbation, but also by imitation. All Alexanders followers bare their heads sideling, as he did. And such as flattered Dionysius in his owne presence did run and jostle one another, and either stumbled at or over-threw what ever stood before their feete, to inferre that they were as short-sighted or spur-blinde as he was. Naturall imperfections have sometimes served for commendation and favour. Nay, I have seene deafnesse affected. And because the maister hated his wife, Plutarch hath seen courtiers to sue a divorce of tbeirs, whom they loved very well. And which is more, paillardise and all maner of dissolution hath thereby beene held in credit; as also disloyalty, blasphemy, cruelty, heresie, superstition, irreligion, wantonnesse, and worse, if worse may be. Yea, by an example more dangerous then that of Mithridates his flatterers, who for so much as their master pretended to have skill in phisick and aspired to the honor of a good Physition, came to him to have their members incized and cauterized. For these others suffer to have their soules cauterized; a much more precious and nobler part then the body. But to end where I began: Adrian the Emperor, debating with Favorinus the Philosopher about the interpretation of some word, Favorinus did soone yeeld the victory unto him, his friends finding fault with him for it: 'you but jest, my masters' (quoth he); 'would you not have him to be much wiser than I, who hath the absolute command over thirty legions?' Augustus writ some verses against Asinius Pollio, which Pollio hearing, he said, 'I will hold my peace; for it is no wisedome to contend in writing with him who may proscribe.' And they had reason; for Dionysius, because he could not equall Philoxenus in poesie, nor match Plato in discourse, condemned the one to the stone-quarries, and sent the other to bee sold as a slave in the Ile of Aegina.