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Montaigne's Essays: Book II.


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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



THOSE WHICH exercise themselves in controuling humane actions, finde no such let in any one part as to peece them together and bring them to one same lustre: For they commonly contradict one another so strangely, as it seemeth impossible they should be parcels of one Warehouse. Young Marias is sometimes found to be the sonne of Mars, and other times the childe of Venus. Pope Boniface the Eight is reported to have entred into his charge as a Fox, to have carried himselfe therein as a Lion, and to have died like a Dog. And who would thinke it was Nero, that lively image of cruelty, who being required to sign (as the custome was) the sentence of a criminall offender that had beene condemned to die, that ever he should answer, 'Oh would to God I could never have written?' So neare was his heart grieved to doome a man to death. The world is so full of such examples that every man may store himselfe; and I wonder to see men of understanding trouble themselves with sorting these parcels: Sithence (mee seemeth) irresolution is the most apparent and common vice of our nature: as witnesseth that famous verse of Publius the Commedian:
Malum consilium est, quod mutari non potest. -- Pub. Mim.

The counsel is but bad,
Whose change may not be had.

  There is some apparence to judge a man by the most common conditions of his life but seeing the naturall instability of our customes and opinions, I have often thought that even good Authors doe ill and take a wrong course, wilfully to opinionate themselves about framing a constant and solide contexture of us. They chuse an universal ayre, and following that image, range and interpret all a mans actions; which if they cannot wrest sufficiently, they remit them unto dissimulation. Augustus hath escaped their hands; for there is so apparent, so sudden and continual a variety of actions found in him through the course of his life, that even the boldest Judges and strictest censurers have beene faine to give him over, and leave him undecided. There is nothing I so hardly beleeve to be in man as constancie, and nothing so easie to be found in him, as inconstancy. He that should distinctly and part by part judge of him, should often jumpe to speake truth. View all antiquity over, and you shall finde it a hard matter to chuse out of a dozen of men that have directed their life unto one certaine, setled, and assured course; which is the surest drift of wisdome. For to comprehend all in one word, saith an ancient writer, and to embrace all the rules of our life into one, it is at all times to will, and not to will one same thing. I would not vouchsafe (saith he) to adde anything: alwayes provided the will be just: for, if it be unjust, it is impossible it should ever continue one. Verily, I have heretofore learned that vice is nothing but a disorder and want of measure, and by consequence it is impossible to fasten constancy unto it. It is a saying of Demosthenes (as some report) that consultation and deliberation is the beginning of all virtue, and constancie the end and perfection. If by reason or discourse we should take a certaine way, we should then take the fairest: but no man hath thought on it.
Quod petiit, spernit, repetit quod nuper omisit
Astuat, et vitæ disconvenit ordine toto. -- Hor. i. Epist i. 98.

He scornes that which he sought, seek's that he scorn'd of late,
He flowes, ebbes, disagrees in his lifes whole estate.

  Our ordinary manner is to follow the inclination of our appetite this way and that way, in the left and on the right hand; upward and downeward, according as the winde of occasions doth transport us: we never thinke on what we would have, but at the instant we would have it: and change as that beast that takes the colour of the place wherein it is laid. What we even now purposed we alter by and by, and presently returne to out former biase; all is but changing, motion and inconstancy:
Ducimur ut nervis alienis mobile lignum. -- Hor. ii. Sat. vii. 82.

So are we drawne, as wood is shoved,
By others sinnewes each way moved.

  We goe not, but we are carried: as things that flote, now gliding gently, now hulling violently, according as the water is, either stormy or calme.
-------- nonne videmus
Quid sibi quisque relit nescire et quaerere semper,
Commuttare locum quasi onus deponere possit? -- Lucr. iii. 1100.

See we not, every man in his thoughts height
Knowes not what he would have, yet seekes he streight
To change place, as he could lay downe his weight?

  Every day new toyes, each hour new fantasies, and our humours move and fleet with the fleetings and movings of time.
Tales sunt hominum mentes, quali Pater ipse
Jupiter auctifero lustravit lumine terras. -- Cic. Fragm.

Such are mens mindes, as that great God of might
Surveies the earth with encrease bearing light.

We float and waver betweene divers opinions: we will nothing freely, nothing absolutely, nothing constantly. Had any man prescribed certaine Lawes or established assured policies in his owne head, in his life should we daily see to shine an equality of customes, an assured order and an infallible relation from one thing to another (Empedocles noted this deformitie to he amongst the Agrigentines, that they gave themselves so over unto delights as if they should die to morrow next, and built as if they should never die) the discourse thereof were easie to be made. As is seene in young Cato: He that toucht but one step of it hath touched all. It is an harmony of well according tunes and which cannnot contradict it selfe. With us it is clean contrarie, so many actions, so many particular judgements are there required. The surest way (in mine opinion) were to refer them unto the next circumstances, without entering into further search, and without concluding any other consequence of them. During the late tumultuous broiles of our mangled estate, it was told me that a young woman not farre from mee had headlong cast her selfe out of a high window, with intent to kill herselfe, only to avoid the ravishment of a rascally-base souldier that lay in her house, who offered to force her: and perceiving that with the fall she had not killed herselfe, to make an end of her enterprize she would have cut her owne throat with a knife, but that she was hindered by some that came into her: Neverthelesse having sore wounded herselfe, she voluntarily confessed that the souldier had yet but urged her with importunate requests, suing solicitations, and golden bribes, but she feared he would in the end have obtained his purpose by compulsion: by whose earnest speeches, resolute countenance, and gored bloud (a true testimony of her chaste vertue) she might appeare to be the lively patterne of another Lucrece, yet know I certainly that, both before that time and afterward, she had beene enjoyed of others upon easier composition. And as the common saying is; Faire and soft, as squemish-honest as she seemes, although you misse of your intent, conclude not rashly an inviolable chastitie to be in your Mistresse; for a groome or a horse- keeper may finde an houre to thrive in; and a dog hath a day. Antigonus having taken upon him to favour a souldier of his by reason of his vertue and valour, to have great care of him, and see whether they could recover him of a lingering and inward disease which had long tormented him, who being perfectly cured, he afterward perceiving him to be nothing so earnest and diligent in his affaires, demanded of him how he was so changed from himselfe, and become so cowardish: 'Your selfe, good sir,' answered he, 'have made me so by ridding me of those infirmities which so did grieve me that I made no accompt of my life.' A souldier of Lucullus, having by his enemies beene robbed of all he had, to revenge himselfe undertooke a notable and desperat atempt upon them; and having recovered his losses, Lucullus conceived a very good opinion of him, and with the greatest shewes of assured trust and loving kindnesse be could bethinke himselfe, made especiall accompt of him, and in any dangerous enterprize seemed to trust and employ him only:
Verbis quæ timido quoque possent addere mentem./1 -- Hor. ii. Epist ii. 34.

With words, which to a coward might
Adde courage, had he any spright.

  "Imploy,' said he unto him, "some wretch-stripped and robbed Souldier,
 ------- (quantumvis rusticus ibit, Ibit eo quo vis, qui zonam perdidit, inquit.) -- 39.

(None is, saith he, so clownish, but will-on,
Where you will have him, if his purse be gone)

and absolutely refused to obey him. When we reade that Mahomet, having outrageously rated Chasan, chiefe leader of his Janizers, because he saw his troup wel-nigh defeated by the Hungarians, and hee to behave himselfe but faintly in the fight, Chasan without making other reply alone as he was, and without more adoe, with his weapon in his hand rushed furiously in the thickest throng of his enemies that he first met withall, of whom he was instantly slaine: This, may haply be deemed rather a rash conceit than a justification, and a new spight than a naturall prowes. He whom you saw yesterday so boldly venturous, wonder not if you see him a dastardly meacocke to morrow next: for either anger or necessitie, company or wine, a sudden fury or the clang of a trumpet, might rowse-up his heart and stir up his courage. It is no heart nor courage so framed by discourse or deliberation: These circumstances have setled the same in him: Therefore it is no marvell if by other contrary circumstance he become a craven and change coppy. This supple variation and easie yeelding contradiction which is scene in us, hath made some to imagine that wee had two soules, and others two faculties; whereof every one as best she pleaseth, accompanieth and doth agitate us; the one towards good, the other towards evill. Forsomuch as such a rough diversitie cannot wel sort and agree in one simple subject. The blast of accidents doth not only remove me according to his inclination; for, besides, I remove and trouble my selfe by the instability of my posture, and whosoever looketh narrowly about himselfe, shall hardly see himselfe twice in the same state. Sometimes I give my soule one visage and sometimes another, according unto the posture or side I lay her in. If I speake diversly of selfe it is because I looke diversly upon my selfe. All contrarieties are found in her, according to some turne or removing, and in some fashion or other; shamefast, bashfull, insolent, chaste, luxurious, peevish, pratling, silent, fond, doting, labourious, nice, delicate, ingenious, slow, dull, froward, humorous, debonaire, wise, ignorant, false in words, true-speaking, both liberall, covetous, and prodigall. All these I perceive in some measure or other to bee in mee, according as I stirre or turne my selfe; And whosoever shall heedfully survey and consider himselfe, shall finde this volubility and discordance to be in himselfe, yea and in his very judgement. I have nothing to say entirely, simply, and with soliditie of my selfe, without confusion, disorder, blending, mingling, and in one word, Distinguo is the most universall part of my logike. Although I ever purpose to speak good of good, and rather to enterpret those things that will beare it, unto a good sense; yet is it that the strangenesse of our condition admitteth that we are often urged to doe well by vice it selfe, if well doing were not judged by the intention only. Therefore may not a courageous act conclude a man to be valiant. He that is so, when just occasion serveth, shall ever be so, and upon all occasions. If it were an habitude of vertue, and not a sudden humour, it would make a man equally resolute at all assayes, in all accidents: Such alone, as in company; such in a single combat, as in a set battel: For, whatsoever some say, valour is all alike, and not one in the street or towne, and another in the campe or field. As courageously should a man beare a sicknesse in his hed as a hurt in the field, and feare death no more at home in his house than abroad in an assault. We should not then see one same man enter the breach, or charge his enemie with an assured and undouted fiercenesse, and afterward having escaped that, to vexe, to grive and torment himselfe like unto a seely woman, or faint-hearted milkesop for the losse of a sute, or death of a childe. If one chance to be carelesly base-minded in his infancie, and constantly-resolute in povertie; if he be timorously-fearfull at sight of a barbers razor, and afterward stowtly-undismayed against his enemies swords: the action is commendable, but not the man. Divers Grecians (saith Cicero) cannot endure to looke their enemy in the face, yet are they most constant in their sicknesses; whereas the Cimbrians and Celtiberians are meere contrary. Nihil enim potest esse aequabile, quod non a certa ratione proficiscatur: (Cic. Tusc. Qu. ii. f.) 'For nothing can beare it selfe even which proceedeth not from resolved reason.' There is no valor more extreme in his kinde than that of Alexander; yet it is but in species, nor every where sufficiently full and universall. As incomparable as it is, it hath his blemishes, which is the reason that in the idlest of suspitions he apprehendeth at the conspiracies of his followers against his life, we see him so earnestly to vex and trouble himselfe: In search and pursuit of whereof he demeaneth himselfe with so vehement and indiscreet an injustice, and with such a demisse feare that even his naturall reason is thereby subverted. Also the superstition wherewith he is so thoroughly tainted beareth some shew of pusilanimitie. And the unlimited excesse of the repentance he shewed for the murther of Clitus is also a witnesse of the inequalitie of his courage. Our matters are but parcels hudled up and peeces patched tog ether, and we endevour to acquire honour by false meanes and untrue tokens. Vertue will not bee followed but by herselfe: and if at any time we borrow her maske, upon some other occasion she will as soone pull it from our face. It is a lively hew and strong die, if the soule be once dyed with the same perfectly, and which will never fade or be gone, except it carry the skin away with it. Therefore to judge a man, we must a long time follow, and very curiously marke his steps; whether constancie do wholy subsist and continue upon her owne foundation in him. Cui vivendi via considerata atque provisa est (Cic. Parad. v.). 'Who hath forecast and considered the way of life;' whether the variety of occurrences make him change his pace (I meane his way, for his pace may either be hastened or slowed) let him run on: such a one (as sayeth the imprease of our good Talbot) goeth before the wind. It is no marvell (saith an old writer) that hazard hath such power over us, since wee live by hazard. It is impossible for him to dispose of his particular actions, that bath not in grose directed his life unto one certaine end. It is impossible for him to range all peeces in order, that hath not a plot or forme of the totall frame in his head. What avayleth the provision of all sorts of colours unto one that knowes not what be is to draw? No man makes any certaine designe of his life, and we deliberate of it but by parcels. A skilfull archer ought first to know the marke he aimeth at, and then apply his hand, his bow, his string, his arrow and his motion accordingly. Our counsels goe astray because they are not rightly addressed, and have no fixed end. No winde makes for him that hath no intended port to saile unto. As for me, I allow not greatly of that judgement which some made of Sophocles, and to have concluded him sufficient in the managing of domesticall matters, against the accusation of his owne sonne, only by the sight of one of his tragedies. Nor doe I commend the conjecture of the Parians sent to reforme the Milesians, as sufficient to the consequence they drew thence. In visiting and surveying the ile, they marked the landes that were best husbanded, and observed the country houses that were, best governed. And having registered the names of their owners, and afterward made an assembly of the Townesmen of the Citie, they named and instituted those owners as new Governours and Magistrates, judging and concluding, that being good husbands and carefull of their housebold affaires, they must consequently be so of publike matters. We are all framed of flaps and patches and of so shapelesse and diverse a contexture that every peece and every moment playeth his part. And there is as much difference found betweene us and our selves as there is betweene ourselves and other. Magnam rem puta, unun hominem agere: 'Esteeme it a great matter to play but one man.' Since ambition may teach men both valor temperance, liberality, yea and justice: sith covetousnesse may settle in the minde of a Shop-prentise-boy, brought up in ease and idlenesse, a dreadlesse assurance to leave his home-bred ease, and forgoe his place of education, and in a small barke to yeeld himselfe unto the mercy of blustring waves, mercilesse windes and wrathfull Neptune; and that it also teacheth discretion and wisdome; And that Venus herself ministreth resolution and hardinesse unto tender youth as yet subject to the discipline of the rod, and teacheth the ruthlesse Souldier the soft and tenderly effeminate heart of women in their mothers laps:
Hac duce custodes furtim transgressa jacentes,
Adjuvenem tenebris sola puella venit. -- Tib. ii. El. i. 75.

The wench by stealeth her lodg'd guards having stript,
By this guide, sole, i'th darke, to' th yonker skipt.

  It is no part of a well-grounded judgement simply to judge ourselves by our exterior actions: A man must thorowly sound himselfe, and dive into his heart, and there see by what wards or springs the motions stirre. But forsomuch as it is a hazardous and high enterprise, I would not have so many to meddle with it as doe.

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