[Renascence Editions] Return to
Renascence Editions

Montaigne's Essays: Book III.


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.


IT IS a custome of our law to condemne some for the warning of others. To condemne them because they have misdone were folly, as saith Plato. For what is once done can never be undone: but they are condemned to the end that they should not offend a gaine, or that other, may avoide the example of their offence. 'He who is hanged is not corrected, but others by him.' Even so doe I. My errors are sometimes naturall, incorrigible, and remedilesse. But whereas honest men profit the Common wealth in causing themselves to be imitated, I shall happily benefit the same in making my selfe to be evitated.
Nonne vides Albi ut male vivat filius, utque
Barrus inops magnum documentum, ne patriam rem
Perdere quis velit. --  HOR. Ser. i. sect. iv. 109.

Doe you not see how that mans sonne lives badly,
That man's a beggar by his spending madly?
A lesson great, that none take joy: His patrimony to destroy.

By publishing and accusing my imperfections, some man may peradventure learne to feare them. The parts I most esteeme in my selfe, reape more honor by accusing then by commending my selfe. And that's the cause I more often fall into them againe and rest upon them. But when all the cardes be told, a man never speakes of himselfe without losse. A mans own condemnations are ever increased: praises ever decreased. There may be some of my complexion, who am better instructed by contrariety then by similitude; and more by escaping then by following. Cato senior had a speciall regard to this kind of discipline when he said that wisemen have more to learne of fooles then fooles of wisemen. And that ancient player on the Lyra, whom Pausanias reporteth to have beene accustomed to compell his schollers sometimes to goe heare a bad Player, who dwelt right over-against him, where they might learne to hate his discords and false measures. The horror of cruelty draws me neerer unto clemency then any patterne of clemency can possibly win me. A cunning rider or skilfull horseman doth not so properly teach me to sit well on horsebacke, as doth one of our Lawyers, or a Venetian by seeing him ride. And an ill manner of speech doth better reforme mine then any well polished forme of speaking. The sottish countenance of another doth daily advertise and forewarne me; that which pricketh, toucheth, and rouzeth better, then that which delighteth. These times are fit to reforme us backward, more by dissenting then by consenting more by difference then by accord. Being but little instructed by good examples, I make use of bad; the lesson of which is ordinary. I have endeavoured, nay I have laboured, to yeeld my selfe as pleasing and affable as I saw others peevish and froward; as constant, as I saw others variable; as gentle and milde, as I perceived others intractable and wild; and as good and honest, as I discerned others wicked and dishonest. But I proposed certaine invincible measures unto my selfe. The most fruitfull and naturall exercise of our spirit is, in my selfe-pleasing conceit, conference. The use whereof I finde to be more delightsome then any other action of our life: And that's the reason why, if I were now forced to choose (being in the minde I now am in), I would rather yeeld to lose my sight then forgoe my bearing or my speech. The Athenians and also the Romans did ever hold this exercise in high honor and reputation, namely, in their Academies. And at this day the Italians doe yet keepe a kinde of forme and trace of it, to their great profit, as may apparently be discerned by comparing their wits unto ours. The study and plodding on bookes is a languishing and weake kinde of motion, and which heateth or earnesteth nothing; whereas conference doth both learne, teach and exercise at once. If I conferre with a stubborne wit and encounter a sturdy wrestler, he toucheth me to the quicke, hits me on the flanks, and pricks me both on the left and right side; his imaginations vanquish and confound mine. Jelousie, glory and contention drive, cast and raise me above my selfe. And an unison or consent is a quality altogether tedious and wearisome in conference. But as our minde is fortified by the communication of regular and vigorous spirits, it cannot well be expressed how much it loseth and is bastardized by the continuall commerce and frequentation we have with base, weake and dull spirits. No contagion spreds it selfe further then that. I know by long experience what an ell of it is worth. I love to contest and discourse, but not with many, and onely for my selfe. For to serve as a spectacle unto great men, and by way of contention for one to make a glorious shew of his ready wit and running tongue. I deeme it a profession farre unfitting a man of honor. Sottishnes is an ill quality, but not to be able to endure it, and to fret and vex at it, as it hapneth to me, is another kinde of imperfection which in opportunity is not much behind sottishnes; and that's it I will now accuse in my selfe. I doe with great liberty and facility enter into conference and disputation; forsomuch as opinion findes but a hard soile to enter and take any deepe roote in me. No propositions amaze me, no conceit woundeth me, what contrariety soever they have to mine. There is no fantazie so frivolous or humor so extravagant, that in mine opinion is not sortable to the production of humane wit. Wee others, who debarre our judgement of the right to make conclusions, regard but negligently the diverse opinions: and if we lend it not our judgement, we easily affoord it our eares. Where one scale of the ballance is altogether empty, I let the other waver too and fro, under an old wives dreames. And me seemeth I may well be excused if I rather except an odde number than an even: Thursday in respect of Friday, if I had rather make a twelfth or fourteenth at a table, then a thirteenth; if when I am travelling I would rather see a Hare coasting then crossing my way; and rather reach my left then my right foote to be shod. All such fond conceits, now in credit abo ut us, deserve at least to be listned unto. As for me, they onely beare away inanity, and surely they do so. Vulgar and casuall opinions are yet of some waight, which in nature are something els then nothing. And who wadeth not so far into them to avoid the vice of superstition, falleth happily into the blame of wilfulnesse. The contradictions then of judgements doe neither offend nor move, but awaken and exercise me. We commonly shunne correction, whereas we should rather seeke and present our selves unto it, chiefly when it commeth by the way of conference, and not of regency. At every opposition we consider not whether it be just, but be it right or wrong, how we may avoide it; In stead of reaching our armes, we stretch forth our clawes unto it. I should endure to bee rudely handled and checked by my friends, though they should call me foole, coxecombe, or say I raved. I love a man that doth stoutly expresse himselfe amongst honest and worthy men, and whose words answere his thoughts. We should fortifie and harden our hearing against the tendernesse of the ceremonious sound of words. I love a friendly society and a virile and constant familiarity; An amitie which in the earnestnesse and vigor of its commerce flattereth it selfe: as love in bitings and bloody scratchings. It is not sufficiently generous or vigorous, except it be contentious and quarrelous; if she be civilised and a skilfull artist; if it feare a shocke or free encounter, and have hir starting holes or forced by-wayes. Neque enim disputari sine reprehensione potest: 'Disputation cannot be held without reprehension.' When I am impugned or contraried, then is mine attention and not mine anger stirred up. I advance my selfe toward him that doth gainesay and instruct me. The cause of truth ought to be the common cause both to one and other. What can he answer? The passion of choller hath already wounded his judgement: before reason hath seized upon it. It were both profitable and necessary that the determining of our disputations might be decided by way of wagers, and that there were a materiall marke of our losses; that we might better remember and make more accompt of it; and that my boy might say unto me: Sir, if you call to minde your contestation, your ignorance, and your selfe-wilfulnesse, at severall times, cost you a hundred crownes the last yeare: I feast, I cherish and I embrace truth, where and in whom soever I finde it, and willingly and merily yeeld my selfe unto her, as soone as I see but her approach, though it be a farre-off, I lay downe my weapon and yeeld my selfe vanquished. And alwayes provided one persist not or proceede therein, with an over-imperious stiffnesse or commanding surlinesse, I am well pleased to be reprooved. And I often accommodate my selfe unto my accusers more by reason of civility then by occasion of amendment: loving by the facility of yeelding to gratifie and foster their libertie, to teach or advertise me. It is notwithstanding no easie matter to draw men of my times unto it. They have not the courage to correct, because they want the heart to endure correction; and ever speake with dissimulation in presence one of another. I take so great a pleasure to be judged and knowne, that it is indifferent to me in whether of the two formes I be so. Mine owne imagination doth so often contradict and condemne it selfe, that if another do it, all is one unto me; especially seeing I give his reprehension no other authority then I list. But I shall breake a straw or fall at ods with him, that keepes himselfe so aloft; as I know some that will fret and chafe if their opinions be not believed, and who take it as an injury, yea and fall out with their best friends, if they will not follow it. And that Socrates, ever smiling, made a collection of such contradictions as were opposed to his discourse, one might say his force was cause of it, and that the advantage being assuredly to fall on his side, he tooke them as a subject of a new victory; neverthelesse we see on the contrary that nothing doth so nicely yeeld our sense unto it as the opinion of preheminence and disdaine of the adversary. And that by reason it rather befits the weakest to accept of opposition in good part, which restore and repaire him. Verily I seeke more the conversation of such as curbe me, then of those that feare me. It is an unsavory and hurtful pleasure to have to doe with men who admire and give us place. Antisthenes commanded his children never to be beholding unto or thanke any that should commend them. I feele my selfe more lusty and cranke for the victory I gaine over my selfe, when in the heate or fury of the combate I perceive to bend and fall under the power of my adversaries reason, then I am pleased with the victory I obtain of him by his weakenesse. To conclude, I receive all blowes and allow all attaints given directly, how weake soever; but am very impatient at such as are strucken at randan and without order. I care but little for the matter, and with me opinions are all one, and the victory of the subject in a manner indifferent: I shall quietly contest a whole day, if the conduct of the controversie be followed with order and decorum. It is not force nor subtilty that I so much require, as forme and order. The forme and order dayly seene in the altercations of shepheards, or contentions of shop-prentise boyes; but never amongst us. If they part or give one another over, it is with incivilitie; and so doe we. But their wrangling, their brawling and impatience, cannot make them to forgoe or forget their theame.
    Their discourse holds on his course. If they prevent one another, if they stay not for, at least they understand one another. A man doth ever answere sufficiently well for me if he answere what I say. But when the disputation is confounded and orderlesse, I quit the matter and betake me to the forme, with spight and indiscretion; and embrace a kinde of debating, teasty, headlong, malicious and imperious, whereat I afterward blush. It is impossible to treate quietly and dispute orderly with a foole. My judgement is not onely corrupted under the hand of so imperious a maister, but my conscience also. Our disputations ought to be forbidden and punished, as other verball crimes. What vice raise they not, and heape up together, being ever swayed and commanded by choller? First we enter into enmity with the reasons, and then with the men. We learne not to dispute, except it be to contradict; and every man contradicting and being contradicted, it commonly followeth that the fruit of disputing is to loose and to disanull the trueth. So Plato in his common wealth forbiddeth foolish, unapt and base-minded spirits to undertake that exercise. To what purpose goe you about to quest or enquire that which is with him who hath neither good pace nor proceeding of woorth? No man wrongs the subject when he quits the same for want of meanes to treat or mannage it. I meane not a scholasticall and artist meane, but intend a naturall meane, and of a sound understanding. What will the end be? one goeth Eastward and another Westward: They loose the principall, and stray it in the throng of incidents. At the end of an houres wrangling they wot not what they seeke for: one is high, another low, and another wide. Some take hold of a word, some of a similitude. Some forget what was objected against them, so much are they engaged in the pursuite, and thinke to follow themselves, and not you. Some finding themselves weake-backt, feare all, refuse all, and at the very entrance mingle the subject and confound the purpose; or in the heate of the disputation mutinie to hold their peace altogether: through a spightfull ignorance, affecting a proud kinde of contempt, or a foolish modesty avoyding of contention. Provided that one strike and hit, he c areth not how open he lye. Another compteth his words, and wayeth them for reasons; Another employeth nothing but the advantage of his voyce and winde. Here one concludeth against himselfe; here another wearyeth you with idle prefaces and frivolous digressions. Another armeth himselfe afore hand with injuries, and seekes after a Dutch quarrell, to rid himselfe of the society and shake off the conference of a spirit that presseth and overbeareth his. This last hath no insight at all in reason, but still beleagreth you with the dialecticall or logicall close of his clause, and ties you to the rule of his arte or forme of his skill. Now who doth not enter into distrust of sciences, and is not in doubt, whether in any necessity of life he may reape solid fruit of them, if he consider the use we have of them? Nihil sanantibus literis: Since learning doth not cure. Who hath learnt any wit or understanding in Logique? Where are her faire promises? Nec ad melius vivendum, nec ad commodius disserendum: Neither to live better or to dispute fitter. Shall a man beare more brabling or confusion in the tittle-tattle of fish wives or scoulding sluts, then in the publike disputations of men of this profession? I had rather my child should learne to speake in a Taverne then in the schooles of well-speaking Art. Take you a maister of arts, and conferre with him, why doth hee not make us perceive his artificiall excellency, and by the admiration of his reasons-constancy, or with the beauty of his quaint order and grace of his method, ravish silly women, and bleare ignorant men as we are? Why doth he not sway, winde and perswade us as hee list? Why should one so advantageous in matter and conduct entermixe injuries, indiscretion and chollericke rage with his fence? Let him pull of his two-faced hoode, his gowne and his latine, let him not fill our eares with meerely beleeved Aristotle, you will discover and take him for one of us, and worse if may be. Me thinks this implication and entangling of speech, wherewith they doe so much importune us, may fitly be compared unto juglers play of fast and loose; their nimblenesse combats and forceth our sences, but it nothing shaketh our beliefe: Take away their jugling, what they doe is but base, common and slight. Though they be more witty and nimble spirited, they are not tthe lesse foolish, simple and unapt. I love wit and honour wi sedome as much as them that have it. And beeing rightly used, it is the noblest, the most forcible, yea and richest purchase men can make. But in such (of which kinde the number is infinit) that upon it establish their fundamentall sufficiency and worth: that from their wit refer themselves to their memory, sub aliena umbra latentes: reposing them under another mans protection, and can do nothing but by the booke (if I may be bold to say so) I hate the same a little more then sottishnes. In my country and in my dayes learning and bookishnes doth much mend purses, but minds nothing at all. If it chance to finde them empty, light and dry, it filleth, it overburthens and swelleth them: a raw and indigested masse; if thinne, it doth easily purifie, clarifie, extenuate and subtilize them even unto exinanition or evacuation. It is a thing of a quality very neare indifferent: a most profitable accessory or ornament unto a wel-borne mind, but pernicious and hurtfully damageable unto any other or rather a thing of most precious use, that will not basely be gotten nor vily possessed. In some hands a royall scepter, in other some a rude mattocke. But let us proceed. What greater or more glorious victory can you expect, then teach your enemy that hee cannot withstand you? When you gaine the advantage of your proposition, it is Truth that winneth; when you get the advantage of the order and conduct, it is you that winne. I am of opinion that both in Plato and in Xenophon, Socrates disputeth more in favour of the disputers then in grace of the disputation; and more to instruct Euthydemus and Protagoras with the knowledge of the impertinency of their art. He takes hold of the first matter, as who hath a more profitable end, then to cleare it; that is, to cleare the spirits he undertaketh to manage and to exercise. Agitation, stirring and hunting, is properly belonging to our subject or drift; wee are not excusable to conduct the same ill and impertinently, but to misse the game and faile in taking, that's another matter. For wee are borne to quest and seeke after trueth; to possesse it belongs to a greater power. It is not (as Democritus said) hidden in the deepes of abisse; but rather elevated in infinite height of divine knowledge. The world is but a Schoole of inquisition. The matter is not who shall put in, but who shall runne the fairest courses. As well may hee play the foole that speaketh truely as hee that speaketh falsely; for wee are upon the manner and not upon the matter of speaking. My humour is, to have as great a regard to the forme as to the substance; as much respect to the Advocat as to the cause; as Alcibiades appointed we should doe. And I dayly ammuse my selfe to read in authors, without care of their learning; therein seeking their manner, not their subject. Even as I pursue the communication of some famous wit, not that he should teach me, but that I may know him; and knowing him (if he deserve it) I may immitate him. Every one may speake truely, but to speake orderly, methodically, wisely and sufficiemtly, few can doe it. So falsehood proceeding from from ignorance doth not offend me; ineptnesse and trifling doth. I have broken off divers bargaines, that would have beene very commodious unto me, by the impertinency of their contestation, with whom I did bargaine. I am not mooved once a yeare, with the faults or oversights of those over whom I have power: but touching the point of the sottishnesse and foolishnes of their allegations, excuses, and defences, rude and brutish, we are every day ready to goe by the eares. They neither understand what is said nor wherefore, and even so they answer; a thing able to make one despaire. I feele not my head to shocke hard but by being hit with another. And I rather enter into composition with my peoples vices, then with their rashnesse, importunity and foolishnesse. Let them doe lesse, provided they be capable to doe. You live in hope to enflame their will. But of a blocke there is nothing to be hoped for, nor any thing of worth to bee enjoyed. Now, what if I take things otherwise then they are? So it may bee; and therefore I accuse my impatience. And first Ihould that it is equally vicious in him who is in the right as in him that is in the wrong; For it is ever a kinde of tyrannicall sharpenesse not to be able to endure a forme different from his; and verily, since there is not a greater fondnesse, a more constant gullishnesse, or more heteroclite insipidity then for one to move or vex himselfe at the fondnesse, at the gullishnesse, or insipidity of the world: For it principally formalizeth and moveth us against our selves; and that Philosopher of former ages should never have wanted occasion to weepe so long as he had considered himselfe. Miso, one of the seaven sages (a man of a Timonian disposition and Democraticall humour) being demanded where-at he laughed alone, be answered, because I laugh alone; how many follies doe I speake and answer every day, according to my selfe; and then how much more frequent according to others? And if I bite mine owne lips at them, what ought others to doe? In fine, wee must live with the quicke, and let the water runne under the bridge, without any care, or at least without alteration to us. In good sooth, why meet we sometimes with crooked, deformed, and in body mishapen men, without falling into rage and discontent, and cannot endure to light-upon a froward, skittish, and ill-ranged spirit, without falling into anger and vexation? This vicious austerity is rather in the Judge then in the fault. Let us ever have that saying of Plato in our mouthes: What I find unwholsome, is it not to be unhealthy my selfe? Am not I in fault my selfe? May not mine owne advertisement be retorted against my selfe? Oh wise and divine restraint, that curbeth the most universall and common error of men. Not onely the reproches wee doe one to another, but our reasons, our arguments and matter controversed, are ordinarily retortable unto us; and we pinch our selves up in our owne armes. Whereof antiquity hath left me divers grave examples. It was ingeniously spoken and fit to the purpose by him that first devised the same:
Stercus cuique suum bene olet.  --  ERAS. Chil. iii. cent. iv. ad. 2.

Ev'ry mans ordure well, To his owne sense doth smell.

Our eyes see nothing backward. A hundred times a day we mocke our selves upon our neigbbours subject, and detest some defects in others that are much more apparent in us; yea, and admire them with a strange impudency and unheedinesse. Even yesterday I chanced to see a man of reasonable understanding, who no lesse pleasantly then justly flouted at anothers fond fashion, and yet upon every silly occasion doth nothing but molest all men with the impertinent bedrowle and register of his pedigrees, genealogies and alliances, more then halfe false and wrested in (for it is the manner of such people commonly to undertake such foolish discourses, whose qualities are more doubtfull and lesse sure); who if be had impartially considered and looked upon himselfe, should doubtlesse have found himselfe no lesse intemperate, indiscreet, and tedious, in publishing and extolling the prerogative of his wives pedigree and descent. Oh importunate presumption, wherewith the wife seeth her selfe armed by the hands of her own husband. If he understand Latin, a man should say to him,
Age, si hæc non insanit satis sua sponte, instiga. --  TER. And. act. iv. sc. 2.

Goe too, if of her owne accord before,
She were not mad enough, provoke her more.

I say not that none should accuse except hee bee spotlesse in himselfe; For then none might accuse: no not spotlesse in the same kinde of fault. But my meaning is, that our judgement charging and blaming another, of whom there is then question, spareth us nothing of an inward and severe jurisdiction. It is an office of charity, that he who cannot remove a vice from himselfe, should neverthelesse endevour to remove it from others, where it may have a lesse hurtfull and froward seed. Nor doe I deeme it a fit answer for him that warneth me of my fault, to say the same is likewise in him. But what of that? Well meaning warning is alwayes true and profitable. Had we a good and sound nose, our owne ordure should be more unsavory unto our selves, forasmuch as it is our owne. And Socrates is of opinion that he who should find himselfe, and his son, and a stranger guilty of any violence or injury, ought first begin by himselfe, and present himselfe to the sentence and condemnation of the law, and for his owne discharge and acquital implore the assistance of the executioners hand: secondly, for his son, and lastly, for the stranger. If this precept take his tune somewhat too high, it should at lest be first presented to the punishment of one's owne conscience. Our senses are our proper and first judges, who distinguish not things, but by externall accidents; and no marvell, if in all parts of the service belonging to our society there is so perpetuall and universall commixture of ceremonies and superficiall apparances; so that the best and most effectuall part of policies consists in that. It is man with whom we have alwayes to doe, whose condition is marvellously corporall. Let those who in these latter dayes have so earnestly laboured to frame and establish unto us an exercise of Religion and Service of God, so contemplative and immateriall, ponder nothing at all if some be found who thinke it would have escaped and moultred away betweene their fingers, if it had not held and continued amongst us, as a marke, a title, and instrument of division and faction, more then by it selfe. As in conference, The gravity, the gowne, and the fortune of him that speaketh, doth often adde and winne credit unto vaine, trifling, and absurd discourses. It is not to bee presumed that one of these gowne-Clarkes or quoifed Serjants, so followed and so redoubled, have not some sufficiency within him more then popular: and that a man so sullen, so grim, and so disdainfull, to whom so many commissions, charges, and authorities are given, be not more sufficient and worthy then another who saluteth and vaileth to him so farre-off, and whom no man employeth. Not onely the words, but the powtings of such people are considered and registred, every one applying himselfe to give them some notable and solide interpretation. If they stoope to common conference, and that a man affoord or shew them other then reverence and approbation, they overthrow you with the autority of their experience: they have read, they have heard, seene, and done goodly things, you are cleane overwhelmed with examples. I would faine tell them that the fruit of a Chirurgion's experience is not the story of his practises, or the remembrance that hee hath cured foure who had the Plague, and healed as many that had the Goute, except hee know and have the wit, from his use and experience, to draw a methode how to frame his judgements, and by his skill and practise make us perceave hee is become wiser in his art. As in a consort of instruments, one heares not severally a Lute, a Vyol, a Flute, or a paire of Virginalles, but a perfect-full harmony: the assembly and fruit of all those instruments in one. If their travels and charges have amended them, it is in the production of their understanding to make it appeare. It sufficeth not to number the experiments; they ought to bee well poised and orderly sorted: and to extract the reasons and conclusions they containe, they should be well disgested and thorowly distilled. There were never so many Historians. It is ever good and profitable to heare them; for out of the magazin of their memory they store us with divers good instructions and commendable documents. Verily a chiefe part, for the assistance of our life. But now a dayes wee seeke not after that, but rather whether the Collectors and reporters of them be praise worthy and directing themselves. I hate al manner of tyranny both verball and effectuall. I willingly band and oppose my selfe against these vaine and frivolous circumstances, which by the sences delude our judgement; and holding my selfe aloofe of from these extraordinary greatnesses, have found that for the most part they are but men as others be:
Rarus enim ferme sensus communis in illa
Fortuna  --   JUV. Sat. viii. 73

For common sense is seldome found In fortunes that so much abound.

They are, peradventure, esteemed and discerned lesse then they bee, forsomuch as they undertake more, and so shew themselves; they answer not the charge they have taken. There must necessarily be more vigour and strength in the bearer then in the burden. He who is not growne to his full strength, leaves you to ghesse whether he have any left him beyond that, or have beene tried to the utmost of his power. He who fainteth under his burden bewrayeth his measure and the weaknesse of his shoulders. Thats the reason why amongst the wiser sort there are so many foolish and unapt minds seene, and more then of others. They might happily have beene made good husbandmen, thriving merchants, and plodding artificers. Their naturall vigour was cut out to this proportion. Learning is a matter of great consequence: they faint under it. To enstall and distribute so rich and so powerfall a matter, and availefully to employ the same, their wit hath neither sufficient vigour, nor conduct enough to manage it. It hath no prevailing vertue but in a strong nature, and they are very rare; and such as are weake (saith Socrates) corrupt and spoilingly deface the dignity of Philosophy in handling the same . She seemeth faulty and unprofitable, being ill placed and unorderly disposed. Loe here how they spoile and entangle themselves.
Humani qualis simulator simius oris,
Quem puer arridens, pretioso stamine serum
Velavit, nudasque nates ac terga reliquit,
Ludibrium mensis. --  CLAUD. Eutrop. 1. i. 803.

Such counterfeits as Apes are of mans face,
Whom children sporting at, featly incase
In costly coates, but leave his backeside bare
For men to laugh at, when they feasting are.

To those likewise who sway and command us, and have the world in their owne bands, 'tis not sufficient to have a common understanding, and to be able to doe what we can effect. They are farre beneath us, if they be not much above us. As they promise more, so owe they more. And therefore silence is in them, not only a countenance of respect and gravitie, but often of thrift and profit. Megabysus going to visite Apelles in his worke-house, stood still a good while without speaking one word, and then began to discourse of his workes. Of whom he received this rude and nipping cheke: So long as thou holdest thy peace, by reason of thy garish clothes, goodly chaines and stately pompe, thou seemedst to be some worthy gallant; but now thou hast spoken, there is not the simplest boy of my shop but scorneth and contemns thee.' That great state of his, those rich habiliments and goodly traine did not permit him to be ignorant with a popular ignorance, and to speak impertinently of painting. He should have kept mute and concealed his externall and presuming sufficiency. Unto how many fond and shallow minds hath in my dayes a sullen, cold, and silent countenance served as a title of wisedome and capacity? Dignities, charges and places are necessarily given more by fortune then by merit; and they are often to blame, that for it lay the blame on Kings. Contrariwise it is a wonder that, being so untoward, they should therein have so good lucke: Principis est virtue maxima nosse suos: 'Chiefe vertue it is knowne, In Kings to know their owne.' For Nature hath not given them so perfect  a sight that it might extend it selfe and overlooke so many people, to discerne their pre-excellency; and enter their breasts where lodgeth the knowledge of our will and better worth. It is by conjectures, and as it were groping they must try us; by our race, alliances, dependences, riches, learning, and the peoples voice: all over-weake arguments. He that could devise a meane how men might be judged by law, chosen by reason and advanced by desert, should establish a perfect forme of a commonwealth. Yea but hee hath brought that great businesse unto a good passe. It is to say something, but not to say sufficiently. For this sentence is justly received, That counsels ought not to be judged by the events. The Carthaginians were wont to punish the ill counsels of their Captaines, although corrected by some fortunate successes And the Roman people hath often refused triumphes to famous, successfull and most profitable victories, forsomuch as the Generals conduct answeared not his good fortune. It is commonly perceived by the worlds actions that fortune, to teach us how farre hir power extendeth unto all things, and who taketh pleasure to abate our presumption, having not bin able to make silly men wise, she hath made them fortunate in envy of vertue; and commonly gives hir selfe to favour executions, when as their complot and devise is meerly hirs. Whence we dayly see that the simplest amongst us compass divers great and important affaires, both publike and private. And as Sirannez, the Persian Prince, answered those who seemed to wonder how his negotiations succeeded so ill, his discourses being so wise, that he was onely maister of his discourses, but fortune mistris of his affaires successes. These may answer the like; but with a contrary bias. Most things of the world are made by themselves.
Fata viam inveniunt.  --   VIRG. Æn. iii. 356.

Fates finde and know which way to goe.

The issue doth often aucthorize a simple conduct. Our interposition is in a manner nothing els but an experience, and more commonly a consideration of use and example then of reason. And as one amazed at the greatnesse of some businesses I have sometimes understood by those who had atchieved them, both their motives and addresses: wherein I have found but vulgar advises: and the most vulgar and used are peradventure the surest and most commodious for the practice, if not for the shew. And what if the plainest reasons, are the best seated, the meanest, basest and most beaten, are best applied unto affaires? To maintaine the authority of our Kings counsell it is not requisite that prophane persons should be partakers of it, and looke further into it then from the first barre. To uphold its reputation, it should be reverenced upon credit, and at full. My consultation doth somewhat roughly hew the matter, and by its first shew, lightly consider the same: the maine and chiefe point of the worke I am wont to resigne to heaven.
Permitte, divis cætera. --  HOR. i. Od. ix. 9.

How all the rew shall goe,
Give leave to Gods to know.

Good and bad fortune are in my conceit two soveraigne powers. 'Tis folly to thinke that humane wisdome may act the full part of fortune. And vaine is his enterprise that presumeth to embrace both causes and consequences, and lead the progresse of his fact by the hand. And above all, vainest in military deliberations. There was never more circumspection and military wisedome then is sometimes seene amongst us: may it be that man feareth to lose himselfe by the way, reserving himselfe to the catastrophe of that play? I say, moreover, that even our wisdome and consultation for the most part followeth the conduct of hazard. My will and my discourse is sometimes mooved by one ayre and sometimes by another; and there be many of these motions that are governed without me. My reason hath dayly impulsions and casuall agitations:
Vertuntur species animorum, et pectora motus
Nunc alios, alios dum nubila ventus agebat,
Concipiunt.  --  VIRG. Geo. iv. 20.

The showes of mindes are chang'd, and brests conceave
At one time motions which anon they leave,
And others take againe, As winds drive clouds amaine.

Let but a man looke who are the mightiest in Cities and who thrive best in their businesse: he shall commonly find they are the siliest and poorest in wit. It hath hapned to simple women, to weake children, and to mad men to command great states, as well as the most sufficient Princes. And the gullish or shallow-pated (saith Thucidides) doe more ordinarily come unto them then the wisest and subtilest. We ascribe their good fortunes effects unto their prudence.
                    ------ ut quisque fortuna utitur,
Ita præcellit: atque exinde sapere illum omnes dicimus.  --  PLAU. Pse. act v. sc. 4.

As men their fortune use, so they excell,
And so we say, they are wise and doe well.

Wherefore I say well that howsoever events are but weake testimonies of our worth and capacity. I was now upon this point that we need but looke upon a man advanced to dignity; had we but three daies before knowne him to bee of little or no worth at all: an image of greatnesse and an Idea of sufficiency doth insensibly glide and creepe into our opinions; and we perswade our selves that increasing in state and credit and followers, hee is also increased in merit. We judge of him, not according to his worth, but after the maner of casting-counters, according to the prerogative of his ranke. But let fortune turne her wheele, let him againe decline and come down amongst the vulgar multitude; every one with admiration enquireth of the cause and how he was raised so high. Good Lord, is that he? will some say. What, knew he no more? had he no other skill when he was so aloft? Are Princes pleased with so little? Now in good sooth we were in very good hands, will others say. It is a thing my selfe have often seene in my dayes. Yea the very maske of greatnesse or habit of Majesty represented in Tragedies doth in some sort touch and beguile us. The thing I adore in Kings is the throng of their adorators. All inclination and submission is due unto them, except the mindes. My reason is not framed to bend or stoope: my knees are. Melanthius, being demanded what be thought of Dionysius his tragedy answered, I have not seene it, so much was it over-clouded with language. So should those say that judge of great mens discourses: I have not understood his discourse, so was it overdarkned with gravity, with greatness and with Majesty. Antisthenes one day perswaded the Athenians to command that their asses should as well be employed about the manuring of grounds as were their horses who answered him that the asse was not borne for such service: That's all one (quoth he), there needs but your allowance for it: for the most ignorant and incapable men you imploy about the directing of your warres leave not to be come out of hand most worthy onely because you employ them. Whereupon depends the custome of so many men, who canonize the King, whom they have made amongst them, and are not contented to honor him, unlesse they also adore him. Those of Mexico, after the ceremonies of his consecration are finished, dare no more looke him in the face; but as if by his Royalty they had deified him, they afterward deeme him to bee a God: amongst the oathes, they make him sweare to maintaine their Religion, to keepe their Lawes, to defend their liberties, to be valiant, just and debonaire; he is also sworne to make the Sun march in his accustomed light; in time of need to cause the clouds showre downe their waters; to enforce rivers to runne in their right wonted chanels; and compell the earth to produce all necessary things for his people. I differ from this common fashion, and more distrust sufficiency, when I see it accompanied with the greatnes of fortune, and lauded by popular commendation. Wee should speedfully marke of what consequence it is for a man to speake in due time, to choose fit opportunity, to breake or change his discourse with a magistrate authority; to defend himselfe from others oppositions, by a nod or moving of the head, by a smile, a shrug, or a silence, before an assembly trembling with reverence and respect. A man of monstrous fortune, chancing to shoote his boult, and give his opinion upon a frivolous subject, which but jestingly was tossed too and fro at his table, began ever thus: he cannot choose but be a lyer, or an ignorant asse, that will say otherwise then, &c. Follow this Philosophicall point, out commeth a dagger, and there is some mischiefe. Loe here another advertisement, from whence I reape good use; which is, that in disputations and conferences all good seeming words ought not presently to be allowed and accepted. Most men are rich of a strange sufficiency. Some may chance to speake a notable saying, to give a good answere, to use a witty sentence, and to propound it, without knowing the force of it. That a man holdeth not all he borroweth, may peradventure be verified in my selfe. A man should not alwayes yeeld, what truth or goodnes soever it seemeth to containe. A man must either combat the same in good earnest, or draw back, under colour of not understanding the matter: to try on all parts, how it is placed in it's author. It may fortune that we shut our selves up and further the stroake, beyond its caring. I have sometimes in necessity and throng of the combat employed some reviradoes or turnings, which beyond my intent have prooved false offers. I but gave them by tale, and they were received by waight. Even as when I contend with a vigourous man, I please my selfe to anticipate his conclusions; I ease him the labour to interpret himselfe; endevour to prevent his imperfect and yet budding imagination; the order and pertinency of his understanding forwarneth and menaceth a farre off. Of these others I do cleane contrary; a man must understand or presuppose nothing but by them. If they judge in generall termes: This is is good, that's naught: and that they jump right, see whether it be fortune that jumpeth for them. Let them a little circumscribe and restraine their sentence wherefore it is, and which way it is. These universall judgements I see so ordinarily say nothing at all. They are men that salute a whole multitude in throng and troupe. Such as have true knowledge of the same, salute and marks it by name and particularly. But it is a hazardous enterprise. Whence I have oftner and daily seene to happen that wits weakly grounded, intending to shew themselves ingenious by observing in the reading of some work the point of beauty, stay their admiration with so bad a choise, that in lieu of teaching us the authors excellency, they shew us their owne ignorance. This maner of exclamation is safe: Loe this is very excellent: Surely this is very good; having heard a whole page of Virgil. And that's the shift whereby the subtill save themselves. But to undertake to follow him by shrugs and crinches, and with an expresse selected judgement to goe about to marke which way a good author surmounteth himselfe; pondring his words, his phrases, his inventions, and his severall vertues one after another: Away, goe by: It is not for you. Videndum est non modo, quid quisque loquatur, sed etiam quid quisque sen tiat, atque etiam qua de causa quisque sentiat: 'Man must take heed not onely what he speakes, but what he thinkes, and also why he thinkes.' I dayly heare fooles utter unfoolish words. Speake they any good thing; let us understand whence they know it, how farre they understand and whereby they hold it. Wee helpe them to employ this fine word and this goodly reason, which they possesse not, and have but in keeping; they have happily produced the same by chance and at random, our selves bring it in credit and esteeme with them. You lend them your hand what to doe? to konne you no thankes, and thereby become more simple and more foolish. Doe not second them: let them goe-on: they will handle this matter as men affraid to bewray themselves, they dare neither change her seats or light, nor enter into it. Shake it never so little, it escapeth them; quit the same how strong and goodly soever it be. They are handsome weapons, but ill hafted. How often have I seene the experience of it! Now if you come to expound and confirme them, they take hold of you, and presently steale the advantage of your interpretation from you. It was that which I was about to say: It was just my conceit; If I have not so exprest it, it is but for want of speech. Handy-dandy, what is this? Malice it selfe must be employed to correct this fierce rudenesse. Hegesias his position, that a man must neither hate nor accuse, but instruct, hath some reason else where. But here it is injustice to assist, and inhumanity to raise him up againe, that hath nothing to doe with it, and is thereby of lesser worth. I love to have them entangle and bemire themselves more then they are, and if it be possible to wade so deepe into the gulphe of error, that in the end they may recall and advise themselves. Sottishnesse and distraction of the senses is no disease curable by a tricke of advertisment. And we may fitly say of this reparation, as Cyrus answered one who urged him to exhort his army in the nicke when the battell should begin: 'That men are not made warlike and courageous in the field by an excellent oration, no more then one becommeth a ready cunning Musition by hearing a good song.' They are prentisages that must be learned a forehands by long and constant institution. This care we owe to ours, and this assiduity of correction and instruction; but to preach to him that first passeth by, or sway the ignorance or fondnesse of him we meete next, is a custome l cannot well away with. I seldome use it, even in such discourses as are made to me; and I rather quit all, then come to these far-fetcht and magistrate instructions. My humour is no more proper to speake then to write, namely for beginners. But in things commonly spoken, or amongst others, how false and absurd soever I judge them, I never crosse or gibe them, neither by word nor signe. Further, nothing doth more spight me in sottishnesse then that it pleaseth it selfe more then any reason may justly bee satisfied. It is ill lucke that wisedome forbids you to please and trust your selfe, and sends you alwayes way discontented and fearefull; whereas wilfulnesse and rashnesse fill their guests with gratulation and assurance. It is for the simplest and least able to looke at other men over their shoulders, ever returning from the combat full of glory and gladnesse. And most often also, this outrecuidance of speech and cheerefulnesse of countenance giveth them the victory over the bystanders, who are commonly weake, and incapable to judge a right and discerne true advantage. Obstinacy and earnestnesse in opinion is the surest tryall of folly and selfe conceit. Is there any thing so assured, so resolute, so disdainfull, so contemplative, so serious and so grave, as the Asse? May we not commixe with the title of conference and communication the sharpe and interrupted discourses which mirth and familiarity introduceth amongst friends, pleasantly dallying and wittily jesting one with another? An exercise to which my naturall blithnesse makes me very apt. And if it be not so wire-drawne and serious as this other exercise I now speake of, yet is it no lesse sharpe or ingenious, no lesse profitable, as it seemed to Lycurgus. For my regard I bring more liberty then wit unto it, and have therin more lucke then invention; but I am perfect in sufferance; for I endure the revenge, not onely sharpe but also indiscreete, without any alteration. And to any assault given me, if I have not presently or stoutly wherewith to worke mine owne amends, I ammuse not my selfe to follow that ward or point, with a tedious and selfe-wil'd contestation, enclining to pertinacy: I let it passe, and hanging downe mine eares, remit my selfe to a better houre to right my selfe. He is not a marchant that ever gaineth. Most men change both voice and countenance, where might faileth them: And by an importunate rage, instead of avenging themselves, they accuse their weaknesse and therewith bewray their impacience. In this jollity we now and then harpe upon some secret strings of our imperfections, which setled or considerate we cannot touch without offence, and we profitably enter-advertize our selves of our defects. There are other handy-sports indiscreete, fond and sharpe, just after the French maner, which I hate mortally; I have a tender and sensible skinne: I have in my daies seene two Princes of our Royall blood brought to their graves for it. It is an ill seeming thing for men in jest to hitte, or in sport to strike one another. In other matters, when I shall judge of any body, I demaund of him how farre or how much he is contented with himselfe; how farre his speach or his worke pleaseth him. I will avoyd these goodly excuses, I did it but in jest:
Ablatum mediis opus est incudibus istud.  --  OVID. Trist. 1. i. Eleg. vi. 29.

This worke away was brought,
Halfe hamm ered, halfe wrought.

I was not an houre there: I have not seene him since. Now I say, let us then leave these partes; give me one that may represent you whole and entire, by which it may please you to be measured by another. And then, what finde you fairest in your owne worke? Is it that or this part? The grace or the matter, the invention, the judgement, or the learning? For I ordinarily perceive that a man misseth as much in judging of his owne worke as of anothers. Not onely by the affection he therein imployeth, but because be hath not sufficiencie to know, nor skill to distinguish it. The worke of its owne power and fortune may second the workeman, and transport him beyond his invention and knowledge. As for me, I judge not the worth of anothers worke more obscurely then of mine owne; and place my Essayes sometime lowe, sometimes high, very unconstantly and doubtfully. There are divers bookes profitable by reason of their subjects, of which the author reapeth no commendations at all; And good bookes, as also good workes, which make the workeman ashamed. I shall write the manner of our bankets and the fashion of our garments, and I shall write it with an ill grace: I shall publish the Edicts of my time, and the letters of Princes that publikely passe from hand to hand: I shall make an abridgement of a good booke (and every abridgement of a good booke is a foole abridged), which booke shall come to be lost, and such like things. Posterity shall reape singular profit by such compositions; but I, what honour except by my good fortune? Many famous bookes are of this condition. When I read Philip de Commines (now divers yeares since), a right excellent author, I noted this speech in him as a saying not vulgar: That a man should carefully take heed how be do his master so great or much service, that he thereby be hindred from finding his due recompence for it. I should have commended the invention, but not him. After that I found it in Tacitus: Beneficia eo usque lata sunt dum videntur exolvi posse, ubi multum antevenere pro gratia odium redditur: (CORN. TACIT. Annal. iv.) 'Benefits are so long wel-come, as wee thinke they may be requited, but when they much exceede all power of recompence, hate is returned for thankes and good will.' Seneca very stoutly: Nam qui putat esse turpe non reddere, non vult esse cui reddat: (SEN. Epist. lxxxi.) 'For he that thinkes it a shame not to requite, could wish he were not whom he should requite.' Q.Cicero with a looser byas: Qui se non putat satisfacere, amicus esse nullo modo potest: 'He that thinkes he doth not satisfie, can by no meanes be a friend.' The subject according as it is may make a man be judged learned, wise, and memorious; but to judge in him the parts most his owne and best worthy, together with the force and beautie of his minde, 'tis very requisite we know first what is his owne, and what not; and in what is not his owne, what we are beholding to him for, in consideration of his choise, disposition, ornament, and language he hath thereunto furnished. What if he have borrowed the matter and empaired the forme? as many times it commeth to passe. Wee others that have little practise with bookes are troubled with this, that when wee meet with any rare or quaint invention in a new Poet, or forcible argument in a Preacher, we dare not yet commend them untill we have taken instruction of some wise man, whether that art be their owne or another bodies, And untill then I ever stand upon mine owne guard. I come lately from reading over (and that without any intermission) the story of Tacitus (a matter not usuall with me; it is now twenty yeares, I never spent one whole houre together upon a booke), and I have now done it at the instant request of a gentleman whom France holdeth in high esteeme, as well for his owne worth and valour as for a constant forme of sufficiencie and goodnes apparently seene in divers brethren of his. I know no author that in a publike register entermixeth so many considerations of manners and particular inclinations. And I deeme cleane contrary to what hee thinketh; who being especially to follow the lives of the Emperours of his time, so divers and extreme in all manner of forme, so many notable and great actions, which namely their cruelty produced in their subjects, he had a more powerfull and attractive matter to discourse and relate, then if hee had beene to speake or treat of battels and universall agitations. So that I often find him barren, sleightlie running-over those glorious deaths, as if he feared to attediate and molest us with their multitude and continuance. This forme of historie is much more profitable: Publike innovations depend more on the conduct of fortune; private on ours. It is rather a judgement then a deduction of an history: therein are more precepts then narrations. It is not a booke to reade, but a volume to study and to learne; it is so fraught with sentences, that right or wrong they are hudled up. It is a seminary of morall and a magazine of pollitique discourses, for the provision and ornament of those that possesse some place in the managing of the world. He ever pleadeth with solid and forcible reasons, after a sharpe and witty fashion; following the affected and laboured stile of his age. They so much loved to raise and puffe themselves up, that where they found neither sharpnesse not subiility in things, they would borrow it of wordes. He draweth somewhat neare to Seneca's writing. I deeme Tacitus more sinnowy, Seneca more sharpe. His service is more proper to a crazed troubled state, as is ours at this present; you would often say, he pourtrayeth and toucheth us to the quicke. Such as doubt of his faith doe manyfestly accuse themselves to hate him for somewhat else. His opinions be sound, and enclining to the better side of the Romane affaires. I am neverthelesse something greeved that he hath more bitterly judged of Pompey then honest men's opinions, who lived and conversed with him, doe well allow of: to have esteemed him altogether equall to Marius and Silla, saving that he was more close and secret. His intention and canvasing for the government of affaires hath not beene exempted from ambition nor cleared from revenge; and his owne friends have feared that had he gotten the victory, it would have transported him beyond the limits of reason, but not unto an unbridled and raging measure. There is nothing in his life that hath threatned us with so manifest a cruelty and expresse tyranny. Yet must not the suspition be counterpoised to the evidence: So doe not I beleeve him. That his narrations are naturall and right might happily be argued by this, that they doe not alwaies exactly apply themselves to the conclusions of his judgement, which hee pursueth according to the course he hath taken, often beyond the matter he showeth us, which be hath dained to stoope unto with glance. He needeth no excuse to have approoved the religion of his times according to the lawes which commanded him, and beene ignorant of the true and perfect worship of God, That's his ill fortune, not his defect. I have principally considered his judgement, whereof I am not everywhere throughly resolved. As namely these words contayned in the letter, which Tiberius, being sicke and aged, sent to the Senate: 'What shall I write to you my masters, or how shall I write to you, or what shall I not write to you in these times? May the gods and goddesses loose me worse then I dayly feele myselfe to perish, if I can tell.' I cannot perceive why he should so certainly apply them onto a stinging remorse, tormenting the conscience of Tiberius; At least when my selfe was in the same plight, I saw it not. That hath likewise seemed somwhat demisse and base unto me, that having said how he exercised a certaine honourable magistracy in Rome, he goeth about to excuse himselfe that it is not for ostentation he spake it. This one tricke, namely in a minde of his quality, seemeth but base and course unto me; For not to dare speake roundly of himselfe, accuseth some want of courage. A constant, resolute, and high judgement, and which judgeth soundly and surely, every hand while useth his owne examples, as well as of any strange thing, and witnesseth as freely of himselfe as of a third person: a man must overgoe these populare reasons of civility in favour of truth and liberty. I dare not onely speake of my selfe, but speake alone of my selfe. I stragle when I write of any other matter, and digresse from my subject. I doe not so indiscreetly love my selfe, and am so tied and commixt to my selfe as that I can not distinguish and consider my selfe a part, as a neighbour, as a tree; it is an equall error either not to see how farre a mans worth stretcheth, or to say more of it then one seeth good cause. We owe more love to God then to our selves, and know him lesse, and yet we talke our fill of him. If his writings relate any thing of his conditions, he was a notable man, upright and courageous, not with a superstitious vertue, but Philosophicall and generous: He may be found over-hardy in his testimonies. As where he holdeth that a souldier carrying a burden of wood, his hands were so stifly benummed with cold that they stucke to his wood, and remained so fast unto it, that as dead flesh they were divided from his armes. In such cases I am wont to yeeld unto the authority of so great testimonies. Where he also saith that Vespasian, by the favour of the God Serapis, healed in the citie of Alexandria a blinde woman with the rubbing and anointing her eyes with fasting spettle, and some other miracles, which I remember not well now, he doth it by the example and devoire of all good historians. They keepe a register of important events; among publike accidents are allso popular reports and opinions. It is their part to relate common conceits, but not to sway them. This part belongeth to Divines and Philosophers, directors of consciences. Therefore, that companion of his, and as great a man as hee, said most wisely: Equidem plura transcribo quam credo: Nam nec affirmare sustineo de quibus dubito nec sub ducere quæ accepi: 'I write out more then I beleeve: for neither can I bide to affirm what I doubt of, nor to withdrawe what I have heard.' And that other: Hæc neque affirmare neque refellere operæ precium est: famæ rerum standum est: 'It is not worth the talke, or to avouch, or to refute these things wee must stand to report.' And writing in an age wherein the beliefe of prodigies began to decline, he saith he would notwithstanding not omit to insert in his Annals and give footing to a thing received and allowed of so many honest men, and with so great reverence by antiquity. It is very well said: That they yeelde us the history, more according as they receave then according as they esteeme it. I, who am king of the matter I treat of, and am not to give accompt of it to any creature living, doe neverthelesse not altogether beleeve my selfe for it: I often hazard upon certaine outslips of my minde for which I distrust my selfe; and certaine verball wilie-beguilies, whereat I shake mine eares; but I let them runne at hab or nab, I see some honour them selves with such like things: 'Tis not for me alone to judge of them. I present my selfe standing and lying before and behinde, on the right and left side, and in all by naturall motions. Spirits alike in force are not ever alike in application and taste. Loe here what my memory doth in grose, and yet very uncertainely present unto me of it. In breefe, all judgments are weake, demisse and imperfect.

Table of Contents.

RE Logotype for Renascence Editions
Renascence Editions