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Renascence Editions

Montaigne's Essays


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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. Send comments and corrections to the


R N all my travels I did ever observe this custome, that is, alwaies to learne something by the communication of others (which is one of the best schooles that may be) to reduce those I confer withall to speake of that wherein they are most conversant and skilfull.
Basti al nocch iero ragionar de' venti,
Albifolco de' tori, e le sue piaghe
Conti 'l guerrier, conti 'l pastor gl' armenti.-- Idem PROPERT. ii. El. i. 43.

Sailers of windes plow-men of beasts take keepe,
Let Souldiers count their woundes, shepherds their sheepe.

For commonly we see the contrary, that many chuse rather to discourse of any other trade than their owne; supposing it to be so much new reputation gotten: witnes the quip Archidamus gave Periander, saying that he forsooke the credit of a good Physitian, to become a paltry Poet. Note but how Cæsar displaieth his inventiton at large, when he would have us conceive his inventions how to build bridges, and devices, how to frame other war-like engins; and in respect of that how close and succinct he writes, when he speaketh of the offices belonging to his profession, of his valour, and of the conduct of his war-fare. His exploits prove him a most excellent Captaine, but he would be known for a skilfull Ingenier, a quality somewhat strange in him. Dionysius the elder was a very great chieftaine and Leader in warre, as a thing best fitting his fortune; but be greatly laboured by meanes of Poetry, to assume high commendation unto himselfe, howbeit he had but little skill in it. A certaine Lawier was not long since brought to see a study, stored with all manner of bookes, both of his owne, and of all other faculties, wherein he found no occasion to entertaine him selfe withal, but like a fond cunning clarke earnestly busied himselfe to glosse and censure a fence or a barricado, placed over the screw of the study, which a hundred Captaines and Souldiers see everie day, without obsererving or taking offence at them.
Optat ephippia bos piger, optat arare caballus. --Hor. i. Epist. xiv. 43.

The Oxe would trappings weare,
The Horse, ploughs-yoake would beare.

By this course you never come to perfection, or bring any thing to good passe. Thus m ust a man endevour to induce the Architect, the Painter, the Shoemaker, to speake of their owne trade, and so of the rest, every man in his vocation. And to this purpose am I wont, in reading of histories (which is the subject of most men) to consider who are the writers: If they be such as professe nothing but bare learning, the chiefe thing I learne in them, is their stile and language: if Physitians, I beleeve them in whatsoever they shall report concerning the temperatenesse of the aire, the h ealth and complexion of Princes, or of hurts and infirmities: If Lawiers, we should observe the controversies of rights, titles, and pretenses of lawes and customes, the establishment of policies, and such like things: If Divines, we may note the affaires of the Church, the Ecclesiasticall censures, dispensations, cases of conscience, and marriages: If Courtiers, manners, complements, ceremonies, and entertainments: If Warriors, what belongs unto their charge, but chiefly the managing and conduc t of the atchievements or exploits wherein they have been themselves in person: If Ambassadors, the negotiations, intelligences, practices, policies, and manner how to direct, complot, and conduct them. And therefore what in another Writer I should peradventure have cursorie passed over, I have with some advisednesse considered and marked the same in the historie of the Lord of Langley, a man most expert and intelligen t in such matters: which is, that after he had exactly set downe and declared those glorious, and farre- fetcht remonstrances of the Emperor Charles the fifth made in the consistorie of Rome, in the presence of the Bishop of Mascon, and the Lord of Velly, our Ambassadors; wherein he entermixed many bitter and outrageous words against us; and amongst others, that if his Captaines and Souldiers were not of much more faithfulnesse and sufficiencie in the art of warre than our Kings, he would forthwith tie a rope about his necke, and goe aske him mercy: whereof he seemed to beleeve something: for afterward whilest he lived, he chanced twice or thrice to utter the verie same words. Moreover, that he had challenged the King to fight with him, man to man in his shirt, with Rapier and dagger in a boat. The said Lord of Langey, following his storie addeth that the said Ambassadors making a dispatch of what had passed unto the King, dissembled the chiefest part unto him, yea and concealed the two pr ecedent articles from him. Now me thought it very strange, that it should lie in the power of an Ambassador to dispence with any point, concerning the advertizements he should give unto his Master, namely of such consequence, comming from such a person, and spoken in so great an assembly, whereas me seemed it should have beene the office of a trustie servant, truly and exactly to set downe thin as they were, and in what manner they had succeeded: to the end the libertie of disposing, judging and ch using, might wholly lie in the master. For to alter and conceale the truth from him, for feare he should conster and take it other than he ought, and lest that might provoke him to some had resolution; and in the meanewhile to suffer him to be ignorant of his owne affaires, mee thought should rather have appertained to him that giveth the law, than to him that receiveth the same; the Master or overseer of the schools, and not to him who should thinke himselfe inferior, as well in authority as in wisdome and good counsell. Howsoever it were, I would be loth be so used in mine owne small and particular businesse, we do so willingly upon every slight occasion and pretence neglect and forgoe commandement, and are so farre from obeying, that we rather usurp a kinde of mastery and free power: every man doth so naturally aspire unto liberty and authoritie, that no profit ought to be so dear unto a superior, proceeding from those that serve him as their simple and naturall obedience. Whosoever obeyeth by discretion, and not by subjection, corrupteth and abuseth the office of commanding. And P. Crassus he whom the Romans deemed five times happy, when he was Consull in Asia, having sent a Graecian Inginer, to bring the greatest of two ship-masts before him, which he had seene in Athens, therewith to frame an engine of batterie: This man under colour of his skill, presumed to doe otherwise than he was bidden, and brought the lesser of the two masts which according to his arts reason hee deemed the fittest. Crassus having patiently heard his reasons and allegations, caused him to be well whipped; preferring the interest of true discipline, before that of the worke. On the other side a man might also consider, that this so strict obedience belongs but to precise and prefixed commandements. Ambassadors have a more scopefull and free charge, which in many points dependeth chiefly of their disposition. They doe not meerely execute, but frame and direct by their owne advice and counsell, the will of their Master. I have in dayes seene some persons of commandement, checked and found fault withall, because they had rather obeyed the literall sense, and bare words of the Kings letters, than the occasions of the affaires they had in hand. Men of understanding and experience doe yet at this daye condemne the custome of the Kings of Persia, which was to mince the instructions given to their Agents, and Lieutenants so small, that in the least accident they might have recourse to their directions and ordinainces: This delay, in so farre reaching a scope of domination, having often brought great prejudice, and notable dammage unto their affaires. And Crassus writing unto a man of that profession and advertizing him of the use whereto he purp osed the foresaid mast; seemeth he not to enter into conference with him concerning his determination, and wish him to interpose his censure or advice of it.

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