[Renascence Editions] Return to
Renascence Editions

Montaigne's Essays

Table of Contents.

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.



I  PROPOSE certaine formelesse and irresolute fantasies, as do those schollers who in schooles publish doubtfull and sophisticall questions to be disputed and canvased: not to establish the truth, but to find it out, which I submit to their judgements, to whom the ordering and directing not only of my actions and compositions, but, also of my thoughts, belongeth. The condemnation, as well as the approbation of them, will be equally acceptable and profitable unto me, deeming it absurd and impious if anything be either ignorantly or unadvisedly set downe in this rapsody, contrarie unto the sacred resolutions and repugnant to the holy prescriptions of the Catholike, Apostolike, and Romane Church, wherein I was borne, and out of which I purpose not to die. And therefore alwaies referring myselfe unto their censures that have all power over me, doe I meddle so rashly to write of all manner of purposes and discourses as I doe here. I wot not whether I be deceived, but, sithence by an especiall and singular favour of Gods divine bounty, a certain forme of prayer hath by the very mouth of God, word by word, been prescribed and directed unto us, I have ever thought the use of it should be more ordinarie with us than it is. And might I be believed, both rising and going to bed, sitting downe and rising from boord, and going about any particular action or businesse, I would have all good Christians to say the Paternoster, and if no other praier, at least not to omit that. The Church may extend, amplifie, and diversifie praiers according to the need of our instruction: For I know it is alwaies the same substance, and the same thing. But that one should ever have this privilege, that all manner of people should at all times and upon every occasion have it in their mouth: For it is most certaine that only it containeth whatsoever we want, and is most fit and effectuall in all events. It is the only praier I use in every place, at all times, and upon every accident; and instead of changing, I use often repetition of it: whence it commeth to passe that I remember none so well as that one. I was even now considering whence this generall errour commeth, that in all our desseignes and enterprises, of what nature soever, we immediately have recourse unto God, and in every necessitie we call upon his holy name: And at what time soever we stand in need of any help and that our weaknesse wanteth assistance, we only invoke him, without considering whether the occasion be just or unjust; and what estate or action we be in, or goe about, be it never so vicious or unlawfull we call upon his name and power. Indeed, he is our only protector, and of power to affoord us all manner of helpe and comfort; but although he vouchsafe to honour us with this joy-bringing fatherly adoption, yet is he as just as he is good, and as good and just as he is mightie: But oftner useth his justice than his might, and favoureth us according to the reason of the same, and not according to our requests. Plato in his lawes maketh three sorts of injurious beliefs in the Gods: First, that there is none at all; Secondly that they meddle not with our affaires; Thirdly, that they never refuse any thing unto our vowes, offerings, and sacrifices. The first errour, according to his opinion, did never continue immutable in man, even from his first infancie unto this latter age. The two succeeding may admit some constancie. His justice and power are inseparable. It is but in vaine to implore his power in a bad cause. Man must have an unpolluted soule when he praieth (at least in that moment he addresseth himselfe to pray) and absolutely free from all vicious passions; otherwise we ourselves present him the rods to scourge us withall. In liew of redressing our fault, we redouble the same by presenting him with an affection fraught with irreverence, sinne, and hatred, to whom only we should sue for grace and forgivenesse. Loe here, why I doe not willingly commend those Pharisaicall humours, whom I so often behold, and more than ordinarie, to pray unto God, except their actions immediately preceding or succeeding their praiers witnesse some show of reformation or hope of amendment.
-- Si nocturnus adulter
Tempora sanctonico velas adoperta cucullo. Juven. Sat. viii. 144.
If in a cape-cloake-hood befrenchifide
Thou a night-whore-munger thy head dost hide
   And the state of a man that commixeth devotion unto an execrable life, seemeth in some sort to be more condemnable than that of one that is conformable unto himselfe, and every way dissolute. Therefore doth our Church continually refuse the favour of her enterance and societie unto customes and manners wilfully obstinate on some egregious villanie. We only pray by custome and use, and for fashion sake, or, to say better we but reade and pronounce our prayers: To conclude, it is nothing but a shew of formalitie, and a formall shew. And it greeveth me to see many men, who at grace before and after meat will with great shew of devotion crosse themselves three or foure times (and it vexeth me so much the more, when I call to mind that it is a signe I greatly reverence, and have in continual use, yea, if I be but gaping) and there whilst, shall you see them bestow all other houres of the day in all maner of hatred, malice, covetousnesse, and injustice. Many houres spend they about vice, but one to God, and that as it were by way of recompense and composition. It is wonderous to see so far different and divers actions, continue with so even a tenor, that no interruptions or alteration at all can be perceived, either about their confines, or passage from one unto another. What prodigious conscience can be at any harts-ease, fostring, and feeding with so mutuall, quiet, and agreeing society in one selfe same mansion, both crime and judge? A man whose Paillardize and luxurie doth uncessantly sway and rule the head, and who judgeth the same abhominable and most hatefull in the sight of God; what saith he unto his all-seeing Majesty, when he openeth his lips, either of mouth or hart, to speake to him of it? He reclaimeth himselfe, but falleth sodainly againe. If the object of his divine justice, and his presence should strike, (as he saith) and chastise his soule, how short-soever the penitence were, feare it self would so often cast his thought on it, that he would presently perceive himselfe master of those vices which are habituated, inbred, setled, and enfleshed in him. But what of those which ground a whole life upon the fruit and benefit of that sinne they know to be mortall? How many trades, professions, occupations, and vocations have we daily and continually used, frequented, and allowed amongst us, whose essence is vicious and most pernicious? And he that would needs confesse himselfe unto me, and of his owne accord told me, that for feare of losing his credit and to keepe the honour of his offices; he had for a whole age made shew and profession, and acted the effects of a religion, which in his owne selfe-accusing conscience he judged damnable, and cleane contrarie unto that he had in his hart: How could he admit and foster so contradictorie and impious a discourse in his hart? With what language entertaine they divine justice concerning this subject? Their repentance, consisting in visible amends and manageable reparation; they lose both towards God and us, the meanes to alleage the same. Are they so malapart and fond-hardy as to crave pardon without satisfaction, and sans repentance? I thinke it goeth with the first as with the last: But obstinacie is not herein so easie to be vanquished. This so suddaine contrarietie, and violent volubilitie of opinion, which they faine unto us, seemeth to me a miracle. They present us with the state of an indigestible agonie. How fantasticall seemed their imagination unto me, who these latter yeares had taken up a fashion, to checke and reprove all men that professed the Catholike Religion, in whom shined any extraordinarie brightnesse of spirit, saying, that it was but fained: and to doe him honour, held that whatsoever he said in apparance he could not inwardly chuse but have his beliefe reformed according to their byase. It is a peevish infirmitie for a man to thinke himselfe so firmely grounded as to perswade himselfe that the contrarie may not be believed: And more peevish also, to be perswaded by such a spirit, that preferreth I wot not what disparitie of fortune, before the hopes and threats of eternall life. They may beleeve me: If any thing could have attempted my youth, the ambition of the hazard and difficultie which followed this late-moderne enterprize, should have had good part therein. It is not without great reason, in my poor judgement, that the Church forbiddeth the confused, rash and indiscreet use of the sacred and divine songs which the holy spirit hath indited unto David. God ought not to be commixed in our actions, but with awful reverence, and an attention full of honour and respect. The word or voice is too divine, having no other use but to exercise our lungs and to please our eares. It is from the conscience and not from the tongue that it must proceed. It is not consonant unto reason that a prentise or shop-keeping boy, amiddest his idle, vaine, and frivolous conceits, should be suffered to entertaine himselfe, and play therewith. Nor is it seemely or tolerable to see the sacred booke of our beliefes Mysteries tossed up and downe and plaid withall, in a shop, or a hall, or a kitchen. They have heretofore beene accompted mysteries, but through the abuse of times they are now held as sports and recreations. So serious and venerable a study should not, by way of pastime and tumultuarie, be handled. It ought to be a fixed, a purposed, and setted action, to which this preface of our office sursum corda should ever be adjoyned; and the very exterior parts of the body should with such a countenance be referred unto it, that to all mens eyes it may witnesse a particular attention and duteous respect. It is not a study fitting all men, but only such as have vowed themselves unto it, and whom God hath, of his infinit mercie, called thereto. The wicked, the ungodly, and the ignorant, are thereby empaired. It is no historie to be fabulously reported, but a historie to be dutifully reverenced, awfully feared, and religiously adored. Are they not pleasantly conceited, who, because they have reduced the same into the vulgar tongues, and that all men may understand it, perswade themselves, that the people shall the better conceive and digest the same? Consisteth it but in the words, that they understand not all they find written? Shall I say more? By approaching thus little unto it, they goe back from it. Meere ignorance, and wholly relying on others, was verily more profitable and wiser than is this verball and vaine knowledge, the nurse of presumption and source of temeritie. Moreover, I am of opinion that the uncontrouled libertie, that all men have to wrest, dissipate, and wyredraw a word so religious and important, to so many severall idiomes, hath much more danger than profit following it. The Jewes, the Mahometans, and well- nigh all other nations, are wedded unto and reverence the language wherein their mysteries and religion had originally beene conceived; and any change or translation hath not without apparance of reason beene directly forbidden. Know we whether there be Judges enow in Basque and in Brittanie to establish this translation made in their tongue? The universall Church hath no more difficult and solemne judgement to make. Both in speaking and preaching the interpretation is wandring, free, and mutable, and of one parcell; so it is not alike. One of the Grecian Historians doth justly accuse his age, forasmuch as the secrets of Christian religion were dispersed in all publike places, and even amongst the basest artificers; and that every man might, at his pleasure, dispute of it, and at random speake his mind of the same. And it should be a great shame for us, who by the unspeakable grace of God injoy the pure and sacred mysteries of piety, to suffer the same to be profaned in the mouthes of ignorant and popular people, seeing the very Gentiles interdicted Socrates and Plato, and the wisest, to meddle, enquire or speake of things communicated unto the Priestes of Delphos. Saying, moreover, That the factions of Princes, touching the subject of Divinities, are armed, not with zeale, but with anger, that zeale dependeth of divine reason and justice, holding an orderly and moderate course, but that it changeth into hatred and envie, and in stead of corne and grape, it produceth nettles and darnell, if it be directed by humane passion. And justly saith this other, who counselling the Emperour Theodosius, affirmed that disputations did not so much appease and lull asleepe the schismes of the Church, as stir up and cause heresies. And therefore it hehooved to avoid all contentions, controversies, and logicall arguing, and wholly and sincerely refer himselfe unto the prescriptions and orders of faith, established by our forefathers. And Andronicus the Emperour, finding by chance in his pallace certaine principall men very earnestly disputing against Lapodius about one of our points of great importance, taunted and rated them very bitterly, and threatened if they gave not over, he would cause them to be cast into the river. Children and women doe now adaies governe and sway the oldest and most experienced men concerning Ecclesasticall Lawes: whereas the first that Plato made forbiddeth them to enquire after the reason of civill Lawes, and which ought to stand in place of divine ordinances. Allowing aged men to communicate the same amongst themselves, and with the magistrate, adding moreover, alwaies provided it be not in the presence of young men and before profane persons. A notable Bishop hath left written, that in the other end of the world there is an island called of our predecessours Dioscorida, very commodious and fertile of all sorts of fruits and trees, and of a pure and wholesome ayre; whose people are Christians, and have Churches and Altars, adorned with nothing else but crosses, without other images; great observers of fasting and holy daies; exact payers of their priests tithes, and so chaste that none of them may lawfully all his life long know any more than one wife. And in all other matters so well pleased with their fortune, that being seated in the middest of the sea, they have and know no use of ships: and so simple, that of their religion, which they so diligently and awfully observe, they know not, nor understand so much as one only word. A thing incredible to him that knew not how the Pagans, who are so devout and zealous idolaters, know nothing of their Gods but only their bare names and statues. The ancient beginning of Menalippe, a tragedie of Euripides, importeth thus:
Iupiter, car de toy rien sinon,
Ie ne cognois seulement que le nom. --Eurip.
O Iupiter, for unto me
Only the name is knowne of thee.
    I have also in my head certaine writings complained of, for so much as they are meerely humane and philosophicall, without medling with the diviity. He that should say to the contrarie, which a man might doe with reason, that heavenly doctrine, as a Queene and governesse doth better keepe her ranke apart; that she ought to be chiefe ruler and principall head everie where, and not suffragant and subsidiarie: And that peradventure examples in grammar, rethorike, and logike, might more fitly and sortably be taken from elsewhere, than from so sacred and holy a subject, as also the arguments of theatres, plots of plaies, and grounds of publike spectacles: That mysteriously divine reasons are more venerably and reverently considered alone, and in their native stile, than joyned and compared to human discourse. That this fault is oftener seene, which is, that Divines write too humanely, than this other, that humanists write not Theologically enough. Philosophy, saith S. Chrysostome, is long since banished from sacred schools as an unprofitable servant, and deemed unworthy to bebold, but in passing by the entrie or the vestrie of the sacred treasures of heavenly doctrine. That the formes of humane speech are more base, and ought by no means to make any use of the dignitie, majestie and preheminence of divine speech. As for my part I give it leave to say, Verbis indisciplinatis, With undisciplined words Fortune, destinie, chance, accident, fate, good lucke, ill lucke, the Gods, and other phrases, as best it pleaseth. I repose humane fantasies and mine owne, simply as humane conceits, and severally considered; not as setled, concluded, and directed by celestiall ordinance, incapable of any doubt or alteration. A matter of opinion, and not of faith. What I discourse according to my selfe, not what I believe according unto God, with a laicall fashion, and not a clericall manner; yet ever most religious; As children propose their essays, instructable, not instructing. And might not a man also say without apparance, that the institution which willeth no man shall dare to write of religion but sparingly and reservedly, except such as make expresse profession of it, would not want some shew of profit and justice; and happily to me to be silent. It hath beene told me, that even those which are not of our consent do flatly inhibite amongst themselves the use of the sacred name of God in all their vulgar and familiar discourses. They would have no man use it as an interjection or exclamation, not to be alleaged as a witnesse or comparison, wherein I find they have reason. And howsoever it be that we call God to our commerce and societie, it should be zealously, seriously, and religiously. There is, as far as I remember, such a like discourse in Xenophon, wherein be declareth: That we should more rarely pray unto God: forasmuch as it is not easie we should so often settle our minds in so regular, so reformed, and so devout a seat, where indeed it ought to be, to pray aright and effectually: otherwise our praiers are not only vaine and unprofitable, but vicious. Forgive us (say we) our offences, as we forgive them that trespasse against us. What else inferre we by that petition, but that we offer him our soule void of all revenge and free from all rancour? We neverthelesse invoke God and call on his aid, even in the complot of our grievousest faults, and desire his assistance in all manner of injustice and iniquitie.
Quæ nisi seductis nequeas committere -- Divis. Pers. Sat. ii. 4.
Which you to Saints not drawne aside,
Would thinke unfit to be applide.
   The covetous man sueth and praieth unto him for the vaine increase and superfluous preservation of his wrong-gotten treasure. The ambitious he importuneth God for the conduct of his fortune, and that he may have the victorie of all his desseignes. The theefe, the pirate, the murtherer, yea and the traitor, all call upon him, all implore his aid, and all solicite him, to give them courage in their attempts, constancie in their resolutions to remove all lets and difficulties, that in any sort may withstand their wicked executions and impious actions, or give him thanks if they have had good successe; the one if he have met with a good bootie, the other if he returne home rich, the third if no man has seene him kill his enemie, and the last though he have caused an execrable mischiefe. The souldier, if he but goe to besiege a cottage, to scale a castle, to rob a church, to pettard a gate, to force a religious house, or any villanous act, before he attempt it praieth to God for his assistance, though his intents and hopes be full-fraught with crueltie, murther, covetise, luxurie, sacrilege, and all iniquitie.
Hoc ipsum quo in Iovis aurem impellere tentas,
Dic agedum, Staio: proh Iupiter, O bone, clamet,
Iupiter! at sese non clamet Iupiter ipse. --21.
Go-to then, say the same to some bad fellow,
Which thou prepar'st for Gods eares: let him bellow,
God, good God; so God,
On himselfe would not plod.
   Margaret, Queene of Navarre, maketh mention of a young prince (whom, although she name not expressly, yet his greatnesse hath made him sufficiently knowne) who going about an amorous assignation, and to be with an advocates wife of Paris, his way lying alongst a church, he did never passe by so holy a place, whether it were in going or comming from his lecherie and cukolding-labour, but would make his praiers unto God, to be his help and furtherance. I would faine have an impartiall man tell me to what purpose this prince invoked and called on God for his divine favour, having his mind only bent to sinne, and his thoughts set on luxurie: Yet doth she alleage him for a speciall testimonie of singular devotion. But it is not only by this example a man might verifie that women are not very fit to manage or treat matters of religion and divinitie. A true and hartie praier, and an unfained religious reconciliation from us unto God, cannot likely fall into a wicked and impure soule, especially when Sathane swaieth the same. He that calleth upon God for his assistance, whilst he is engulphed and wallowing in filthy sinne, doth as the cut-purse that should call for justice unto his ayd, or those that produce God in witnesse of a lie.
-- tacito mala vota susurro
Concipimus. --Lucan. v. 94
With silent whispering we,
For ill things suppliants be.
There are few men that would dare to publish the secret requests they make to God.
Haud cuivis promptum est, murmur que humilesque susurros
Tollere de Templis et aperto vivere voto.
From Church low-whispering murmurs to expell,
'Tis not for all, or with knowne vowes live well.
   And that's the reason why the Pythagorians would have them publike that all night heare them, that no man should abusively call on God, and require any undecent or unjust thing of him as that man:
-- Clare cum dixit, Apollo,
Labra movet metuens audiri: pulchra Laverna
Da mihi fallere, da justum sanctumque videri.
Noctem peccatis, et fraudibus objice nubem. Hor. i. Epist. xvi. 59.
When he alowd hath said, Apollo heare,
Loth to be heard, Goddesse of theeves, said he,
Grant me to cousen, and yet just appeare,
My faults in night, my frauds in clouds let be.
   The Gods did grievously punish the unpious vowes of Oedipus by granting them unto him. His praier was, that his children might betweene themselves decide in armes the succession of his estate; he was so miserable as to be taken at his word. A man should not request that all things follow our will, but that it may follow wisdome. Verily, it seemeth that we make no other use of our praiers, than of a companie of gibrish phrases: and as those who employ holy and sacred words about witchcraft and magicall effects; and that we imagine their effect dependeth of the contexture, or sound, or succession of words, or from our countenance. For, our soule, being full-fraught with concupiscence and all manner of ungodly thoughts, nothing touched with repentence, nor moved with new reconciliation towards God, we headlong present unto him those heedlesse words which memorie affoordeth our tongue, by which we hope to obtaine an expiation and remission of our offences. There is nothing so easie, so sweet, so comfortable and favourable, as the law of God; she (of his infinit mercie) calleth us unto him, how faultie and detestable soever we be; she gently stretcheth forth her armes unto us and mildly receiveth us into her lap, how guiltie, polluted, and sinfull soever we are, and may be in aftertimes. But in recompence of so houndlesse and unspeakable a favour, she must be thankfully accepted, and cheerfully regarded: and so gracious a pardon must be received with a gratitude of the soule, and at least, in that instant, that we addresse ourselves unto her presence, to have our soule grieved for her faults, penitent of her sinnes, hating those passions and affections that have caused or provoked us to transgresse his lawes, to offend his Majestie, and to breake his commandments. Plato saith that neither the Gods nor holiest men will ever accept the offering of a wicked man.
Immunis aram si tetigit manus,
Non sumptuosa blandior hostia
Mollivit aversos Penates,
Farre pio et saliente mica. --iii. Od. xxiii. 17.
If guiltlesse hand the Altar tuch,
No offring, cost it neer so much,
Shall better please our God offended,
Than corne with crackling-corne-salt blended.

Table of Contents.

Renascence Editions