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Montaigne's Essays: Book I


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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.


PLUTARKE saith in some place, that he findes no such great difference betweene beast and beast, as he findeth diversitie betweene man and man.' He speaketh of the sufficience of the minde and of internall qualities. Verily I find Epaminondas so farre (taking him as I suppose him) from some that I know (I meane capable of common sense) as I could finde in my heart to endeare upon Plutarke, and say there is more difference betweene such and such a man than there is diversitie betweene such a man and such a beast.
Hem vir viro quid præstat! -- Ter. Phor. act. v. sc. 3.

O Sir, how much hath one,
Another man out-gone?

  And that there be so many degrees of spirits as there are steps betweene heaven and earth and as innumerable. But concerning the estimation of men, it is marvell that, except our selves, no one thing is esteemed but for its proper qualities. We commend a horse because he is strong and nimble,
                       --- --volucrem
Sic laudamus equum, facili cui plurima palma
Fervet, et exultat rauco victoria circo.  -- Juven. Sat. viii. 57.

We praise the horse, that beares most bells with flying,
And triumphs most in races hoarse with crying,

and not for his furniture: a greyhound for his swiftnesse, not for his collar: a hawke for her wing, not for her cranes or bells. Why do we not likewise esteeme a man for that which is his owne? He hath a goodly traine of men following him, a stately pallace to dwell in, so great credit amongst men, and so much rent comming in. Alas, all that is about him and not in him. No man will buy a pig in a poke. If you cheapen a horse, you will take his saddle and clothes from him, you will see him bare and abroad: or if he be covered as in old times they wont to present them unto Princes to be sold, it is only his least necessarie parts, lest you should ammuse your selfe to consider his colour or breadth of his crupper; but chiefly to view his legs, his head, his eyes, and his foot, which are the most remarkable parts, and above all to be considered and required in him.
Regibus hic mos est, ubi equos mercantur, opertos
Inspiciunt, ne sifacies, ut sæpe, decora
Molli fulta pedi est, emptorem inducat hiantem.
Quod pulchra clunes, breve quod caput, ardua cervix. -- Hor. i. Sat. ii. 86.

This is Kings manner, when they horses buy,
They see them bare, lest if, as oft we try,
Faire face have soft hoofes, gull'd the, buyer be,
They buttockes round, short head, high crest may see.

  When you will esteeme a man, why should you survey him all wrapt and envelloped? He then but showeth us those parts which are no whit his owne, and hideth those from us by which alone his worth is to be judged. It is the goodnesse of the sword you seeke after, and not the worth of the scabbard; for which peradventure you would not give a farthing if it want his lyning. A man should be judged by himselfe, and not by his complements. And as an Ancient saith very pleasantly: Doe you know wherefore you esteeme him tall? You account the height of his pattens. The base is no part of his stature: measure him without his stilts. Let him lay aside his riches and externall honours, and shew himselfe in his shirt. Hath he a body proper to his functions, sound and cheerefull? What minde hath he? Is it faire, capable and unpolluted, and happily provided with all her necessary parts? Is shee rich of her owne or of others goods? Hath fortune nothing of hers to survey therein? If broad-waking she wil looke upon a naked sword: if shee care not which way her life goeth from her, whether by the mouth or by the throat, whether it be setled, equable, and contented. It is that a man must see and consider, and thereby judge the extreme differences that are betweene us. Is he
            ------ sapiens, sibique imperiosus,
Quem neque pauperies, neque mors neque vincula terrent,
Responsare cupidinibus, contemnere honores
Fortis et seipso totus teres atque rotundus
Externi ne quid valeat per læve morari,
In quem manca ruit semper fortuna?

A wise man, of himselfe commander high,
Whom want, nor death, nor bands can terrifie,
Resolv'd t'affront desires, honors to scorne,
All in himselfe, close, round and neatly-borne,
As nothing outward on his smooth can stay,
Gainst whom still fortune makes a lame assay.

Such a man is five hundred degrees beyond kingdomes and principalities: himselfe is a kingdome unto him selfe.
Sapiens pol ipse fingit fortunam sibi. -- Plau. Trin. act. ii. sc. 2.

Trust me, who beares a wise mans name,
His fortune to himselfe may frame.

What is there else for him to wish for?
           ------nonne videmus
Nil aliud sibi naturam latrare, nisi ut quoi
Corpore sejunctus dolor absit, mente fruatur
Incundo sensu, cura semiotus metuque? -- Lucr. ii. 16.

See we not nature nothing else doth bark
Unto her-selfe, but he, whose bodies barke
Is free from paines-touch, should his minde enjoy.
Remov'd from care and feare, with sense of joy!

Compare unto him the vulgar troupes of our men, stupide, base, servile, wavering, and continually floting on the tempestuous ocean of divers passions which tosse and retosse the same, wholy depending of others. There is more difference than is betweene heaven and earth, and yet such is the blindnesse of our custome that we make little or no account of it. Whereas, if we consider a Cottager and a King, a noble and a handycrafts man, a magistrate and a private man, a rich man and a poore, an extreme disparitie doth immediately present itselfe unto our eies, which, as a man may say, differ in nothing but in their clothes. In Thrace, the King was after a pleasant manner distinguished from his people, and which was much endeared. He had a religion apart: a God severall unto himselfe, whom his subjects might no waies adore. It was Mercurie: and he disdained their gods, which were Mars, Bacchus, and Diana; yet are they but pictures which make no essential dissemblance. For, as enterlude-plaiers, you shal now see them on the stage play a King, an Emperor, or a Duke, but they are no sooner off the stage but they are base rascals, vagabond abjects, and porterly hirelings, which is their naturall and originall condition. Even so the Emperor whose glorious pomp doth so dazzle you in publike:
Scilicet et grandes viridi cum luce smaragdi
Auro includuntur, teriturque Thalassina vestis
Assidue, et Veneris sudorem exercita potat. --Lucr. iv. 1137.

Great emeralds with their grass-greene light in gold
Are clos'd, nor long can marriage linnen hold,
But worne with use and heat
      of Venerie drinks the sweat.

   View him behinde the curtaine, and you see but an ordinarie man, and peradventure more vile and more seely than the least of his subjects. Ille beatus introrsum est; istius bracteata fælicitas est: (Sen. Epist. cxv.) 'One is inwardly happy: anothers felicitie is plated and guilt-over.' Cowardise, irresolution, ambition, spight, anger, and envie, move and worke in him as in another:
Non enim gazæ, neque consularis
Summovet lictor miseres tumultus
Mentis, et curas, laqueata circum
        -- Tecta [volantes]: -- Hor. ii. Od. xvi. 9.
Nor treasures, nor Maires officers remove
The miserable tumults of the minde,
Or cares that lie about, or flie above
Their high-roof't houses with huge beames combinde.
And feare, and care, and suspect haunt and follow him, even in the middest of his armed troupes.
Re veraque metus hominum, curæque sequaces,
Nec metuunt sonitus armorum, nec fera tela,
Audacterque inter reges, rerumque potentes
Versantur, neque fulgorem reverentur ab auro. --Lucr. ii. 46.

Indeed mens still-attending cares and feare,
Nor armor's clashing, nor fierce weapons feare,
With Kings converse they boldly, and Kings peeres,
Fearing no lightning that from gold appeares.

   Doth the ague, the megrim, or the gout spare him more than us? When age shall once seize on his shoulders can then the tall yeomen of his guard discharge him of it? When the terror of ruthless balefull death shall assails him, can he be comforted by the assistance of the gentlemen of his chamber? If he chance to be jealous or capricious, will our lowting curtzies, or putting off of hatts, bring him in tune againe? His bedstead enchased all with gold and pearles hath no vertue to allay the pinching pangues of the cholicke.
Nec calidæ citius decedent corpore febres,
Textilibus si in picturis ostroque rubenti
Iacteris, quam si plebeia in veste cubandum est. --Id. ib. 34.

Feavers no sooner from thy body flie
If thou on arms or red scarlet lie
Tossing, than if thou rest
On coverlets home-drest.

   The flatterers of Alexander the great made him beleeve that he was the sonne of Iupiter; but being one day fore-hurt, and seeing the bloud gush out of his wounds: 'And what thinke you of this? (said he unto them), Is not this bloud of a lively red hew, and meerly humane? Methinkes it is not of that temper and which Homer faineth to trill from the gods wounds.'Hermodorus the Poet made certaine verses in honour of Antigonus, in which he called him the sonne of Phoebus; to whom he replied: 'My friend, he that emptieth my close-stools knoweth well there is no such matter.' He is but a man at all assaies: And if of himselfe he be a man ill-borne, the Empire of the whole world cannot restore him.
Hunc rapiant, quicquid calcaverit, hic rosa fiat. -- Pers. Sat. ii. 37.

Wenches must ravish him, what ever he
Shall tread upon, eftsoones a rose must be.

   What of that? If he be of a grose, stupide, and senseles minde: voluptuousnesse and good fortune it selfe, are not perceived without vigor, wit and livelinesse.
Hæc perinde sunt, ut illius animus qui ea possidet,
Qui uti scit, ei bona, illi qui non utitur recte, mala. -- Ter. Heaut. act. i. sc. ii. 21.

These things are such, as the possessors minde,
Good, if well us'd; if ill, them ill we finde.

Whatsoever the goods of fortune are, a man must have a proper sense to favour them: It is the enjoying, and not the possessing of them, that makes us happy.
Non domus et fundus, non æris acervus et auri,
Aegroto domini deduxit corpore febres,
Non animo curas; valeat possessor oportet,
Qui comportatis rebus bene cogitat uti.
Qui cupit, aut metuit, juvat illum sic domus aut res,
Ut lippum pictæ tabulæ, fomenta podagram. -- Hor. i. Ep. ii. 47.

Not house and land, and heapes of corne and gold
Rid agues, which their sicke Lords body hold,
Or cares from minde: th' owner must be in health,
That well doth thinke to use his hoarded wealth.
Him that desires or feares, house, goods delight
As foments doe the gout, pictures sore-sight.

   He is a foole, his taste is wallowish and distracted, he enjoyeth it no more than one that hath a great cold doth the sweetnesse of Greeke wine, or a horse the riches of a costly faired furniture, wherewith he is trapped. Even as Plato saith, 'That health, beautie, strength, riches, and all things else he calleth good, are equally as ill to the unjust as good to the just; and the evil contrariwise.' And then, where the body and the soule are in ill plight, what need these externall commodities? seeing the least pricks of a needle and passion of the mind is able to deprive us of the pleasure of the worlds Monarchy. The first fit of an ague, or the first gird that the gout gave him, what avails his goodly tales of Majesty?
Totus et argento conflatus, totus et auro. -- Tibul. i. El. vii. 71.

All made of silver fine,
All gold pure from the mine

Doth he not forthwith lose the remembrance of his pallaces and states? If he be angrie or vexed, can his principalitie keepe him from blushing, from growing pale, from gnashing his teeth like a Bedlam? Now if it be a man of worth, and well borne, his royaltie and his glorious titles will add but little unto his good fortune.
Si ventri bene, si lateri est, pedibusque tuis, nil
Divitiæ poterunt regales addere majus. -- Hor. i. Ep. xii. 5.

If it be well with belly, feet, and sides.
A Kings estate, no greater good provides.

   He seeth they are but illusions and vain deceits. He may haply be of King Seleucus his advice: 'That he who fore-knew the weight of a sceptre, should he finde it lying on the ground, he would not daigne to take it up.' This he said by reason of the weightie, irksome and painfull charges that are incident unto a good King. Truely, it is no small in matter to govern others, since so many crosses and difficulties offer themselves, if we will govern ourselves well. Touching commanding of others, which in show seemeth to be so sweet, considering the imbecillitie of mans judgement, and the difficultie of choice in new and doubtful things: I am confidently of this opinion, that it is much more easie and plausible to follow than to guide: and that it is a great setling of the minde to be tied but to one beaten-path, and to answer but for himselfe.
Ut satius multo jam sit, parere quietum,
Quam regere imperio res velle. -- Lucr. v. 1137.

Much better 'tis in quiet to obey,
Than to desire with Kings-power all to sway.

   Seeing Cyrus said, that it belongs not to a man to command that is not of more worth than those whom he commandeth.' But King Hieron in Xenophon addeth moreover, 'That in truly enjoying of carnall sensualities, they are of much worse condition than private men: forasmuch as ease and facilitie depriveth them of that sowre-sweet tickling which we finde in them.'
Pinguis amor nimiumque potens, in tædia nobis,
Vertitur, et stomacho dulcis ut esca nocet. -- Ovid. Am. ii. El. xix. 25.

Fat over-powerfull love doth loathsome grow,
As fulsome sweet-meats stomackes overthrow.

   Thinke wee, that high-minded men take great pleasure in musicke? That satietie thereof makes it rather tedious unto them. Feasts, banquets, revels, dancings, masks and turneys, rejoyce them that but seldome see them, and that have much desired to see them: the taste of which becommeth cloysome and unpleasing to those that daily see and ordinarily have them: Nor doe ladies tickle those that at pleasure and without suspect may be glutted with them. He that cannot stay till he be thirsty, can take no pleasure in drinking. Enterludes and commedies, rejoyce and make us merry, but to players they are tedious and tastelesse. Which to prove, we see it is a delight for Princes, and a recreation for them, sometimes to disguise themselves, and to take upon them a base and popular kinde of life.
Plerumque gratæ principibus vices,
Mundæque parvo sub lare pauperum
Cænæ sine aulæis et ostro,
Sollicitam explicuere frontem. -- Hor. iii. Od. xxix. 13.

Princes doe commonly like enterchange,
And cleanely meales where poore-men poorely house,
Without all tapistrie or carpets strange,
Unwrinkled have their care-knit, thought-bent browes.

   Nothing doth sooner breed a distaste or satietie than plentie. What longing lust would not bee alaid to see three hundred women at his dispose and pleasure as hath the Grande Turke in his Seraille? And what a desire and shew of hawking had he reserved to himselfe from his ancestors, that never went abroad without seven thousand falkners at least? Besides which, I thinke, the luster of greatnesse brings no small incommodities to the enjoying of sweeter pleasures: they lie too open and are too much in sight. And I wot not why a man should longer desire them to conceale or hide their fault; for what in us is indiscretion the people judgeth to be tyrannie, contempt, and disdaine of the laws in them: And besides the ready inclination unto vice, it seemeth they also adde unto it the pleasure of gourmandizing, and to prostrate publicke-observances under their feet. Verily Plato in his Gorgias defineth him to be a tyrant that in a Citie hath leave and power to do whatever he list. And therefore often the show and publication of their vice hurteth more than the sinne it selfe. Every man feareth to be spied and controlled; which they are even in their countenances and thoughts: all the people esteeming to have right and interest to judge of them. And wee see that blemishes grow either lesser or bigger according to the eminence and light of the place where they are set, and that a mole or a wart in ones forehead is more apparently perceived than a scarre in another place. And that is the reason why Poets faine Jupiters loves to have beene effected under other countenances than his owne; and of so many amorous shifts and love practices they impute to him, there is but one (as farre as I remember) where he is to be seene in his greatnesse and majestie. But returne we to Hieron: he also relateth how many incommodities he findeth in his royaltie, being so barred that he cannot at his libertie travell goe whether he pleaseth, being as it were a prisoner within the limits of his country; and that in all his actions he is encircled and hemd-in with an importunate and tedious multitude. Truely, to see Our Princes all alone, sitting at their meat, beleagred round with so many talkers, whisperers, and gazing beholders, unknowne what they are or where they come, I have often rather pittied than envied them. King Alphonsus was wont to say, that 'burthen bearing asses were in that in farre better condition than Kings; for their masters suffer them to feed at their ease, whereas Kings cannot obtaine that privilege of their servants.' And it could never fall into my minde that it might be any speciall commoditie to the life of a man of understanding to have a score of find-faults, picke-thanks, and controllers about his close-stoole, nor that the service of a man that hath a thousand pound rent a yeare, or that hath taken Casal, or defended Sienna, is more commodious or acceptable to him than that of a sufficient and well- experienced groome. Princelike advantages are in a manner but imaginarie preheminences. Every degree of fortune hath some image of Principalitie: Cæsar termeth all the Lords, which in his time had justice in France, to be Kinglets, or pettie Kings. And truly, except the name of Sire, we goe very farre with our Kings. Looke but in the Provinces remote and farre from the court: As for example, in Britaine, the attending traine, the flocking subjects, the number of officers, the many affaires the diligent service, the obsequious ceremonies of a Lord, that liveth retired, and in his own house, brought up amongst his own servants, tenants, and followers: And note also the high pitch of his imaginations and humours, there is no greater royaltie can be seene: He heareth no more talke of his master than of the Persian King, and hapily but once a year; And knowes but some farre-streicht and old kindred or pedigree, which his Secretarie findes or keepes upon some ancient record or evidence. Verily our lawes are very free, and the burthen of soveraigntie doth scarsly concerne a gentleman of France twice in his whole life. Essentiall and effectuall subjection amongst us doth not respect any but such as allure themselves unto it, and that affect to honour, and love to enrich themselves by such service: For he that can shrowd and retire himselfe in his owne home, and can manage and direct his house without sutes in lawe, or quarrell with his neighbours, or domesticall encombrances, is as free as the Duke of Venice. Paucos servitus, plures servitutem tenent: (Sen. Epist. 22.) 'Service holds few, but many hold service.' But above all things Hieron seemeth to complaine that he perceiveth himselfe deprived of all mutuall friendship, reciprocall societie, and familiar conversation, wherein consisteth the most perfect and sweetest fruit of humane life. For, what undoubted testimonie of affection and good will can I expect or exact from him, that, will he or nill he, oweth me all he hath, all he can? Can I make account of his humble speech, of his low lowting curtzie, or of his courteous offers, since it lieth not in his power to refuse them me? The honour we receive of those which feare and stand in awe of us, is no true honour. Such respects are rather due to royaltie, to majestie, than to me.
-----maximum hoc regni bonum est,
Quod facta domini cogitur populus sui
Quam ferre, tam laudare. -- Sen. Thyest. act. ii. sc. 1.

This is chiefe good of Princes domination,
Subiects are forc't their sovraignes actes and fashions
To beare with patience, passe with commendations.

   Doe I not see, that both the bad and the good king are served alike? That hee who is hated and he that is beloved are both courted alike? And the one as much fawned upon as the other? My predecessor was served with the same appearances, and waited upon with the like ceremonies, and so shall my successor be. If my subiects offend me not, it is no testimonie of any good affection. Wherefore shall I take it in that sense, sithence they cannot, if they would? No man followeth me for any friendship that is betweene him and me: inasmuch as no firme friendship can be contracted where is so small relation, so slender correspondencie, and such disparitie. My high degree hath excluded me from the commerce of men. There is too great an inequalitie and distant disproportion. They follow for countenance and of customs, or rather my fortune than my selfe: hoping thereby to increase theirs. Whatsoever they say, all they doe unto me is but a glosse, and but dissimulation, their libertie being every where brideled and checked by the great power I have over them. I see nothing about me but inscrutable hearts, hollow mindes, fained lookes, dissembled speeches, and counterfeit actions. His Courtiers one day commended Julian the Emperor for ministring of rights and doing of justice. 'I should easily grow proud' saith he, 'for these praises, if they came from such as durst either accuse or discommend my contrary actions, should I commit any.' All the true commodities that Princes have are common unto them with men of meane fortune. It is for Gods to mount winged horses, and to feed on Ambrosia. They have no other sleepe, nor no other appetite than ours. Their steele is of no better temper than that wherewith we arme our selves. Their crowne, their diadem can neither hide them from the Sun, or shelter them from the raine. Dioclesian, that wore one, so much reverenced and so fortunate, did voluntarily resigne the same, to withdraw himselfe unto the pleasure of a private life; but a while after, the urgent necessitie of publicke affaires requiring his presence, and that he should returne to re-assume his charge again, he answered those that solicited him unto it, 'You would never undertake to perswade me to that had you but seene the goodly rankes of trees which my selfe have planted in mine Orchard, or the faire muske-melons I have set in my garden.' According to Anacharsis his opinion, 'The happiest estate of a well-ordered commonwealth should be, where all other things being equally common, precedencie should be measured and preferments suited according to vertue and desert, and the contrarie according to vice.' At what time King Pirrhus undertooke to passe into Italy, Cyneas his wise and trustie counsellor, going about to make him perceive the vanitie of his ambition, one day bespake him thus: 'My good sir,' said he, 'to what end doe you prepare for so great an enterprise?' He answered suddenly, 'To make my selfe Lord of Italie.' 'That done, what will you doe then?' replied Cyneas, 'I will then passe,' said Pirrhus, 'into Gaule, and then into Spaine.' 'And what afterwards?' 'I will then invade Affrike, and subdue the same; and at last, when I shall have brought all the world under my subjection, I will then take my rest, and live contented at mine ease.' 'Now, for Gods sake, sir,' replied Cyneas, 'tell me what hinders you that you be not now, if so you please, in that estate? Wherefore doe you not now place your selfe where you meane to aspire, and save so much danger, so many hazards, and so great troubles as you enterpose betweene both?'
Nimirum quia non bene norat quæ esset habendi
Finis, et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas. -- Lucr. v. 1443.

The cause forsooth, he knew not what should be the end
Of leaving, nor how far true pleasure should extend.

   I will conclude and shut up this treatise with an ancient verse, which I singularly applaud and deeme fit to this purpose.
Mores cuique sui fingunt fortunam. --Cic. Parad. v. Cor. Nep.

Ev'ry mans manners and his mind,
His fortune to him frame and find.

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