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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.


W HAT diversitie soever there be in herbs, all are shuffled up together under the name of a sallade. Even so upon the consideration of names I will here huddle up a gallymafry of diverse articles. Every several nation hath some names which, I wot not how, are sometimes taken in ill part: as with us, Iacke, Hodge, Tom, Will, Bat, Benet, and so forth. Item, it seemeth that in the genealogies of Princes there are certaine names fatally affected; as Ptolomeus with the Ægyptians, Henries in England, Charles in France, Baldwins in Flanders, and Williams in our ancient Aquitanie, whence some say came the name of Guienne; which is but a cold invention: As if in Plato himselfe there were not some as harsh and ill-sounding. Item, it is an idle matter, yet nevertheless, by reason of the strangenesse, worthy the memorie, and recorded by an ocular witnesse, that Henric Duke of Normandie, sonne to Henrie the second King of England, making a great feast in France, the assembly of the Nobilitie was so great, that for pastimes sake, being, by the resemblance of their names, divided into severall companies: in the first were found a hundred and ten Knights sitting at one table and all called Williams; besides private gentlemen and servants. It is as pleasant to distribute the tables by the names of the assistants as it was unto Geta the Emperor, who would have all his messes of dishes served in at his table orderly according the first letters of their names: As, for example, those that began with P, as pig, pie, pike, puddings, pouts, proke, pancakes, &c. were all served in together; and so of all the rest. Item, it is a common saying, 'That it is good to have a good name:' As much to say, good credit or good reputation. Yet verily it is very commodious to have a well-sounding and smooth name, and which is easie to be pronounced, and facile to be remembered: For Kings, Princes, Lords, and Magistrates know and remember us the better by them, and will not so soone forget us. Marke but of those that serve and follow us, whether we doe not more ordinarily command and sooner employ such whose names come readier to our tongue or memorie. I have seene our King Henrie the second, who could never hit on the right name of a Gentleman of Gascoigne, and did ever call a Lady waiting on the Queene by the generall surname of her house, because that of her father was so harsh and hard to be remembered. And Socrates saith: 'It ought to be a fathers speciall care to give his children good and easie-sounding names.' Item, it is reported that the foundation of our Lady, the great at Poitiers had this beginning: 'A licentious young man having his dwelling-house where the Church now standeth, had one night gotten a wench to lie with him, who so soone as she came to bed, he demanded her name, who answered Marie: The young man hearing that name, was suddenly so strucken with a motive of religion, and an awefull respect unto that sacred name of the virgin Marie, the blessed mother of our Saviour and Redeemer, that he did not onely presently put her away from him, but reformed all the remainder of his succeeding life: And that in consideration of this miracle there was first erected a chappell in the place where this young mans house stood, consecrated unto that holy name, and afterward the faire great Church which yet continueth.' This vocal and auricular correction, and so full of devotion, strucke right unto his soule. This other following, of the same kind, insinuated it selfe by the corporall senses. Pythagoras being in companie with two young men, whom he heard complot and consult ( being somewhat heated with feasting and drinking) to go and ravish a chast-house, commanded immediately the minstrels to change their tune; and so by a solemne, grave, severe, and spondaicall kinde of musicke, did sweetly inchaunt, allay, and in-trance their rash, violent, and law-lesse lust. Item, shall not succeeding posteritie say that our moderne reformation hath been exact and delicate, to have not only oppugned and resisted errors and vices, and filled the world with devotion, humilitie, obedience, peace, and every other kinde of vertue, but even to have combated their ancient names of baptisme, Charles, Lewis, Francis, to people the world with Methusalem, Ezechiel, Malachie, much better feeling of a lively faith? A Gentleman my neighbour esteeming the commodities of ancient times in regard of our daies, forgot not to sledge the fiercenesse and magnificence of the names of the Nobilitie of those times, as Don Grumedan, Quedragan, and Agesilan: And that, but to hear them sounded, a man might easily perceive they had been other manner of men than Peter, Guilliam, or Michell. Item, I commend and am much beholding to Iames Amiot, in the course of a French oration of his, to have still kept the full ancient Latine names, without disguising or changing them, to give them a new French cadence. At the first they seemed somewhat harsh unto the reader: but now, by reason of the credit which his Plutarke hath deservedly gotten amongst us, custome has removed all strangenesse from us. I have often wished that those who write histories in Latine, would leave us our names whole, and such as they are: For, altering VaudemontVallemontanus, and metamorphosing them by muting them to the Grecian or Latin tongue, we know not what to make of them, and are often at a non-plus. To conclude my discourse: It is an ill custome, and of exceeding bad consequence in our countrie of France, to call every man by the name of his Towne, Mannor, Hamlet, or Lordship, as the thing that doth most confound houses, and bring surnames out of knowledge. A cadet or yonger-brother of a good house, having had for his appanage a Lordship, by whose name he hath been knowne and honoured, cannot well forsake and leave the same ten yeares after his death: his Lordship commeth unto a stranger, who doth the like: Ghesse then where we are, and how we shall doe to come to the perfect knowledge of these men. We need not goe far for other examples, but looke into our Royall house, where so many partages, so many surnames, and so many severall titles have so encumbred us, that the originall of the stocke is utterly lost. There is so much libertie in these mutations, that even in my time I have seene no man nor woman advanced by fortune into some extraordinarie preferment, that hath not immediately had adjoined unto him or her genealogicall titles, new and unknowne to their fathers, and that hath not been engraffed into some noble stocke or family. And as good lucke serveth, the basest upstart and most obscure houses are most apt unto adulteration and falsification. How many privat Gentlemen have we in FrancePeter or William that beareth the same (marke it well, reader) and to whom it belongeth. Is not hope a courageous facultie, which in a mortall subject, and in a moment, seeks to usurp infinitie and immensitie, and to replenish his Masters indigence with the po esession of all things he can imagine or desire before it would? Nature hath given us a pleasant joy to play withall in that. Is it Peter or William. And what is that but a word for al mouths? or three or foure dashes of a pen, first, so easie to be varied, as I would willingly ask those whom the honor of so many victories concerneth, or whether Guesquin, or Glesquin, or Gueaquin? yet were there more apparence her than in Lucian that Σ did sue T. For, to which, according to their accompt and blazoning of their gentrie, are of the royall house or race? I beleeve more than others. Was it not prettily said, and with a good grace, by one of my friends? There was a great companie banded together about a quarrell which a Gentleman had with another, who in very truth had some prerogative of titles, honours, and alliances above the common sort of Nobilitie; upon which word of his prerogative, every one seeking to equall himselfe unto him, alleaged, some one ofspring, some another, some the resemblance of his name, some of his armes, othersome an old farfetcht pedigree, and the meanest of them to be the great grandchild of some King beyond the seas. When they came all to dinner, this man, whom hitherto they had all followed, in liew of takin g his wonted place, making low lowting reverences, went to the lowest end of the board, entreating the companie to hold him excused, that through rash-unadvisednesse he had hitherto lived with them companion-like, but now being lately enformed of their right qualities, he began to know them according to their ancient degrees, and that it did not duly belong unto him to sit above so many Princes. And after he had acted his play, he began to raile upon them with a thousand injuries; saying thus unto them: For the love of God, content your selves with what your forefathers have been contented, and with the state whereto God hath called us; we have sufficient if we can maintaine it well, let us not disparage the fortune and condition of our predecessors, and reject we these fond imagitiations, which cannot faile any man, whatsoever he be, that is so imprudent as to alleage them. Crests, Armes, and Coats have no more certaintie than surnames. I beare Azure seme of trefoiles, a Lions Paw in fæce. Or armed Gules. What privilege hath this Coat, that it should for ever continue particularly to my house? A sonne in law will transferre the same into another family: Some silly upstart purchaser of Armes will make it his chiefe Coat. 'There is nothing wherein meet so many alterations and so much confusion. But this consideration draweth me perforce unto another field. Let us somewhat narrowly search into, and for God's sake consider, on what foundation we ground this glorie and reputation, for which the world is turned topsie-turvie. On what do we establish this transitorie renowne, which with so great mind-possessing toyle and industrie we seek and gape-after? In fine, it is
  ----- non levia aut ludicra petuntur Præmia: -- Vir. Æn. xii. 764.

No light prize, no reward in jest
Is hunted after as the best.

  The wager goeth deepe: The question is, which letter must be paid with so many sieges, battels, hurts, emprisonments, and services done unto the Crowne of France by her ever renowned Constable. Nicholas Denisot hath had no care but of the letters of his name, and hath changed all the contexture of them, thereout to frame the Earl of Alsinoss, whom he hath honoured and presenteth with the glorie of his Poesie and Painting. And Suetonius the historian hath loved but the sense of his owne, and having taken away Lenis, which was his fathers surname, hath left Tranquillus successor of his compositions reputation. Who would beleeve Captain Bayard hath no honour but that which he hath borrowed from the acts of Peter Terraill? And that Antonio Escalin (even before his eies) suffered Captaine Poulin, and the Baron of La Garde, to steal so many Navigations, voyages, and attempts, both by sea and land, from him? Secondarily, they are dashes and trickes of the pen, common unto a thousand men. many are there in all races or families both of one name and surname! And how many in divers families, races, ages, and countries? Historie hath knowne three Socrates, five Platoes, eight Aristotles, seven Xenophons, twenty Demetrius, twenty Theodores: besides which, imagine how many came not to her knowledge. Who letteth my horse boy to call himselfe Pompey the great? But after all, what meanes, what devices are there that annex unto my horse-keeper deceased, or to that other who had his head cut off in Ægypt, or that joyne unto them this glorified and farrenowned word and these pen-dashes so much honoured, that they may thereby advantage themselves?
Id cinerem et manes credis curare sepultos? -- IV 34.

Thinke you, ghosts buried, ashes dead,
Care much how we alive are sped?

 What feeling motion of revenge have the two companions in chiefe valor amongst men: Epaminondas of that glorious verse, which so many ages since is so common in our mouthes for him?
Consiliis nostris laus est attrita Laconum. --Cic. Tusc. Qu. v.

By our complots the haught renowne,
Of Spartan Gallants was brought downe.

And Africanus of that other;
A sole exoriente supra Mæotis paludes
   Nemo est, qui factis me æquiparare queat? --Ibid.

From Sun rise to the Scythian-lake, of fame
None in exploits can equalize my name.

  Those that survive are tickled with the pleasure of these words, and by them solicited with jealousie and desire, doe presently without consideration transmit by fantasie this their proper motion of revenge unto the deceased; and with a fond-deceiving hope perswade, themselves, when their turne commeth, to be capable of it. God he knowes it, neverthelesse:
    ----- ad hæc se
Romanus Graiusque et Barbarus Induperator
Erexit, causas dicriminis atque laboris
Inde habuit, tanto major famæ sitis est, quam
Virtutis.                          -- Juv. Sat. x. 137.

Heerto himselfe the Romane Generall,
The Grecian, the Barbarian, rouz'd and rais'd;
Heere hence drew cause of perils, travells all:
So more, than to be good, thirst to be prais'd.

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