"Videndum est, non modo quid quisque loquatur, sed etiam quid quisque sentiat, atque etiam qua de causa quisque sentiat."
["A man is not only to examine what every one says, but also what every one thinks, and from what reason every one thinks." —Cicero, De Offic:, i. 41.]
I every day hear fools say things that are not foolish: they say a good thing; let us examine how far they understand it, whence they have it, and what they mean by it. We help them to make use of this fine expression, of this fine sentence, which is none of theirs; they only have it in keeping; they have bolted it out at a venture; we place it for them in credit and esteem. You lend them your hand. To what purpose? they do not think themselves obliged to you for it, and become more inept still. Don't help them; let them alone; they will handle the matter like people who are afraid of burning their fingers; they dare change neither its seat nor light, nor break into it; shake it never so little, it slips through their fingers; they give it up, be it never so strong or fair they are fine weapons, but ill hafted: How many times have I seen the experience of this? Now, if you come to explain anything to them, and to confirm them, they catch at it, and presently rob you of the advantage of your interpretation; "It was what I was about to say; it was just my idea; if I did not express it so, it was for want of language." Mere wind! Malice itself must be employed to correct this arrogant ignorance. The dogma of Hegesias, "that we are neither to hate nor accuse, but instruct," is correct elsewhere; but here 'tis injustice and inhumanity to relieve and set him right who stands in no need on't, and is the worse for't. I love to let them step deeper into the mire; and so deep, that, if it be possible, they may at last discern their error.
Folly and absurdity are not to be cured by bare admonition; and what Cyrus answered to him, who importuned him to harangue his army, upon the point of battle, "that men do not become valiant and warlike upon a sudden, by a fine oration, no more than a man becomes a good musician by hearing a fine song," may properly be said of such an admonition as this. These are apprenticeships that are to be served beforehand, by a long and continued education. We owe this care and this assiduity of correction and instruction to our own people; but to go preach to the first passer-by, and to become tutor to the ignorance and folly of the first we meet, is a thing that I abhor. I rarely do it, even in private conversation, and rather give up the whole thing than proceed to these initiatory and school instructions; my humour is unfit either to speak or write for beginners; but for things that are said in common discourse, or amongst other things, I never oppose them either by word or sign, how false or absurd soever.
As to the rest, nothing vexes me so much in folly as that it is more satisfied with itself than any reason can reasonably be. 'Tis unfortunate that prudence forbids us to satisfy and trust ourselves, and always dismisses us timorous and discontented; whereas obstinacy and temerity fill those who are possessed with them with joy and assurance. 'Tis for the most ignorant to look at other men over the shoulder, always returning from the combat full of joy and triumph. And moreover, for the most part, this arrogance of speech and gaiety of countenance gives them the better of it in the opinion of the audience, which is commonly weak and incapable of well judging and discerning the real advantage. Obstinacy of opinion and heat in argument are the surest proofs of folly; is there anything so assured, resolute, disdainful, contemplative, serious and grave as the ass?
May we not include under the title of conference and communication the quick and sharp repartees which mirth and familiarity introduce amongst friends, pleasantly and wittily jesting and rallying with one another? 'Tis an exercise for which my natural gaiety renders me fit enough, and which, if it be not so tense and serious as the other I spoke of but now, is, as Lycurgus thought, no less smart and ingenious, nor of less utility. For my part, I contribute to it more liberty than wit, and have therein more of luck than invention; but I am perfect in suffering, for I endure a retaliation that is not only tart, but indiscreet to boot, without being moved at all; and whoever attacks me, if I have not a brisk answer immediately ready, I do not study to pursue the point with a tedious and impertinent contest, bordering upon obstinacy, but let it pass, and hanging down cheerfully my ears, defer my revenge to another and better time: there is no merchant that always gains: Most men change their countenance and their voice where their wits fail, and by an unseasonable anger, instead of revenging themselves, accuse at once their own folly and impatience. In this jollity, we sometimes pinch the secret strings of our imperfections which, at another and graver time, we cannot touch without offence, and so profitably give one another a hint of our defects. There are other jeux de main,—[practical jokes]—rude and indiscreet, after the French manner, that I mortally hate; my skin is very tender and sensible: I have in my time seen two princes of the blood buried upon that very account. 'Tis unhandsome to fight in play. As to the rest, when I have a mind to judge of any one, I ask him how far he is contented with himself; to what degree his speaking or his work pleases him. I will none of these fine excuses, "I did it only in sport,
'Ablatum mediis opus est incudibus istud.'
["That work was taken from the anvil half finished." —Ovid, Trist., i. 6, 29.]
I was not an hour about it: I have never looked at it since." Well, then, say I, lay these aside, and give me a perfect one, such as you would be measured by. And then, what do you think is the best thing in your work? is it this part or that? is it grace or the matter, the invention, the judgment, or the learning? For I find that men are, commonly, as wide of the mark in judging of their own works, as of those of others; not only by reason of the kindness they have for them, but for want of capacity to know and distinguish them: the work, by its own force and fortune, may second the workman, and sometimes outstrip him, beyond his invention and knowledge. For my part, I judge of the value of other men's works more obscurely than of my own; and place the Essays, now high, or low, with great doubt and inconstancy. There are several books that are useful upon the account of their subjects, from which the author derives no praise; and good books, as well as good works, that shame the workman. I may write the manner of our feasts, and the fashion of our clothes, and may write them ill; I may publish the edicts of my time, and the letters of princes that pass from hand to hand; I may make an abridgment of a good book (and every abridgment of a good book is a foolish abridgment), which book shall come to be lost; and so on: posterity will derive a singular utility from such compositions: but what honour shall I have unless by great good fortune? Most part of the famous books are of this condition.
When I read Philip de Commines, doubtless a very good author, several years ago, I there took notice of this for no vulgar saying, "That a man must have a care not to do his master so great service, that at last he will not know how to give him his just reward"; but I ought to commend the invention, not him, because I met with it in Tacitus, not long since:
"Beneficia ea usque lxta sunt, dum videntur exsolvi posse; ubi multum antevenere, pro gratis odium redditur;"
["Benefits are so far acceptable as they appear to be capable of recompense; where they much exceed that point, hatred is returned instead of thanks."—Tacitus, Annal., iv. 18.]
and Seneca vigorously says:
"Nam qui putat esse turpe non reddere, non vult esse cui reddat:"
["For he who thinks it a shame not to requite, does not wish to have the man live to whom he owes return."—Seneca, Ep., 81.]
Q. Cicero says with less directness.:
"Qui se non putat satisfacere, amicus esse nullo modo potest."
["Who thinks himself behind in obligation, can by no means be a friend."—Q. Cicero, De Petitione Consul, c. 9.]
The subject, according to what it is, may make a man looked upon as learned and of good memory; but to judge in him the parts that are most his own and the most worthy, the vigour and beauty of his soul, one must first know what is his own and what is not; and in that which is not his own, how much we are obliged to him for the choice, disposition, ornament, and language he has there presented us with. What if he has borrowed the matter and spoiled the form, as it often falls out? We, who are little read in books, are in this strait, that when we meet with a high fancy in some new poet, or some strong argument in a preacher, we dare not, nevertheless, commend it till we have first informed ourselves, through some learned man, if it be the writer's wit or borrowed from some other; until that I always stand upon my guard.
I have lately been reading the history of Tacitus quite through, without interrupting it with anything else (which but seldom happens with me, it being twenty years since I have kept to any one book an hour together), and I did it at the instance of a gentleman for whom France has a great esteem, as well for his own particular worth, as upon the account of a constant form of capacity and virtue which runs through a great many brothers of them. I do not know any author in a public narrative who mixes so much consideration of manners and particular inclinations: and I am of a quite contrary opinion to him, holding that, having especially to follow the lives of the emperors of his time, so various and extreme in all sorts of forms, so many notable actions as their cruelty especially produced in their subjects, he had a stronger and more attractive matter to treat of than if he had had to describe battles and universal commotions; so that I often find him sterile, running over those brave deaths as if he feared to trouble us with their multitude and length. This form of history is by much the most useful; public movements depend most upon the conduct of fortune, private ones upon our own. 'Tis rather a judgment than a narration of history; there are in it more precepts than stories: it is not a book to read, 'tis a book to study and learn; 'tis full of sententious opinions, right or wrong; 'tis a nursery of ethic and politic discourses, for the use and ornament of those who have any place in the government of the world. He always argues by strong and solid reasons, after a pointed and subtle manner, according to the affected style of that age, which was so in love with an inflated manner, that where point and subtlety were wanting in things it supplied these with lofty and swelling words. 'Tis not much unlike the style of Seneca: I look upon Tacitus as more sinewy, and Seneca as more sharp. His pen seems most proper for a troubled and sick state, as ours at present is; you would often say that he paints and pinches us.
They who doubt his good faith sufficiently accuse themselves of being his enemy upon some other account. His opinions are sound, and lean to the right side in the Roman affairs. And yet I am angry at him for judging more severely of Pompey than consists with the opinion of those worthy men who lived in the same time, and had dealings with him; and to have reputed him on a par with Marius and Sylla, excepting that he was more close. Other writers have not acquitted his intention in the government of affairs from ambition and revenge; and even his friends were afraid that victory would have transported him beyond the bounds of reason, but not to so immeasurable a degree as theirs; nothing in his life threatened such express cruelty and tyranny. Neither ought we to set suspicion against evidence; and therefore I do not believe Plutarch in this matter. That his narrations were genuine and straightforward may, perhaps, be argued from this very thing, that they do not always apply to the conclusions of his judgments, which he follows according to the bias he has taken, very often beyond the matter he presents us withal, which he has not deigned to alter in the least degree. He needs no excuse for having approved the religion of his time, according as the laws enjoined, and to have been ignorant of the true; this was his misfortune, not his fault.
I have principally considered his judgment, and am not very well satisfied therewith throughout; as these words in the letter that Tiberius, old and sick, sent to the senate. "What shall I write to you, sirs, or how should I write to you, or what should I not write to you at this time? May the gods and goddesses lay a worse punishment upon me than I am every day tormented with, if I know!" I do not see why he should so positively apply them to a sharp remorse that tormented the conscience of Tiberius; at least, when I was in the same condition, I perceived no such thing.
And this also seemed to me a little mean in him that, having to say that he had borne an honourable office in Rome, he excuses himself that he does not say it out of ostentation; this seems, I say, mean for such a soul as his; for not to speak roundly of a man's self implies some want of courage; a man of solid and lofty judgment, who judges soundly and surely, makes use of his own example upon all occasions, as well as those of others; and gives evidence as freely of himself as of a third person. We are to pass by these common rules of civility, in favour of truth and liberty. I dare not only speak of myself, but to speak only of myself: when I write of anything else, I miss my way and wander from my subject. I am not so indiscreetly enamoured of myself, so wholly mixed up with, and bound to myself, that I cannot distinguish and consider myself apart, as I do a neighbour or a tree: 'tis equally a fault not to discern how far a man's worth extends, and to say more than a man discovers in himself. We owe more love to God than to ourselves, and know Him less; and yet speak of Him as much as we will.
If the writings of Tacitus indicate anything true of his qualities, he was a great personage, upright and bold, not of a superstitious but of a philosophical and generous virtue. One may think him bold in his relations; as where he tells us, that a soldier carrying a burden of wood, his hands were so frozen and so stuck to the load that they there remained closed and dead, being severed from his arms. I always in such things bow to the authority of so great witnesses.
What also he says, that Vespasian, "by the favour of the god Serapis, cured a blind woman at Alexandria by anointing her eyes with his spittle, and I know not what other miracle," he says by the example and duty of all his good historians. They record all events of importance; and amongst public incidents are the popular rumours and opinions. 'Tis their part to relate common beliefs, not to regulate them: that part concerns divines and philosophers, directors of consciences; and therefore it was that this companion of his, and a great man like himself, very wisely said:
"Equidem plura transcribo, quam credo: nam nec affirmare sustineo, de quibus dubito, nec subducere quae accepi;"
["Truly, I set down more things than I believe, for I can neither affirm things whereof I doubt, nor suppress what I have heard." —Quintus Curtius, ix.]
and this other:
"Haec neque affirmare neque refellere operae pretium est; famae rerum standum est."
["'Tis neither worth the while to affirm or to refute these things; we must stand to report"—Livy, i., Praef., and viii. 6.]
And writing in an age wherein the belief of prodigies began to decline, he says he would not, nevertheless, forbear to insert in his Annals, and to give a relation of things received by so many worthy men, and with so great reverence of antiquity; 'tis very well said. Let them deliver to us history, more as they receive it than as they believe it. I, who am monarch of the matter whereof I treat, and who am accountable to none, do not, nevertheless, always believe myself; I often hazard sallies of my own wit, wherein I very much suspect myself, and certain verbal quibbles, at which I shake my ears; but I let them go at a venture. I see that others get reputation by such things: 'tis not for me alone to judge. I present myself standing and lying, before and behind, my right side and my left, and, in all my natural postures. Wits, though equal in force, are not always equal in taste and application.
This is what my memory presents to me in gross, and with uncertainty enough; all judgments in gross are weak and imperfect.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A hundred more escape us than ever come to our knowledge A man must have courage to fear A man never speaks of himself without loss A man's accusations of himself are always believed Agitation has usurped the place of reason All judgments in gross are weak and imperfect Any argument if it be carried on with method Apprenticeships that are to be served beforehand Arrogant ignorance Avoid all magnificences that will in a short time be forgotten Being as impatient of commanding as of being commanded Defer my revenge to another and better time Desires, that still increase as they are fulfilled Detest in others the defects which are more manifest in us Disdainful, contemplative, serious and grave as the ass Do not, nevertheless, always believe myself Events are a very poor testimony of our worth and parts. Every abridgment of a good book is a foolish abridgment Fault not to discern how far a man's worth extends Folly and absurdity are not to be cured by bare admonition Folly satisfied with itself than any reason can reasonably be Folly than to be moved and angry at the follies of the world Give us history, more as they receive it than as they believe it I every day hear fools say things that are not foolish I hail and caress truth in what quarter soever I find it I hate all sorts of tyranny, both in word and deed I love stout expressions amongst gentle men I was too frightened to be ill If it be the writer's wit or borrowed from some other Ignorance does not offend me, but the foppery of it. It is not a book to read, 'tis a book to study and learn "It was what I was about to say; it was just my idea," Judge by justice, and choose men by reason Knock you down with the authority of their experience Learning improves fortunes enough, but not minds Liberality at the expense of others Malice must be employed to correct this arrogant ignorance Man must have a care not to do his master so great service Mix railing, indiscretion, and fury in his disputations Most men are rich in borrowed sufficiency My humour is unfit either to speak or write for beginners My reason is not obliged to bow and bend; my knees are Never oppose them either by word or sign, how false or absurd New World: sold it opinions and our arts at a very dear rate Obstinancy and heat in argument are the surest proofs of folly One must first know what is his own and what is not Our knowledge, which is a wretched foundation Passion has already confounded his judgment Pinch the secret strings of our imperfections Practical Jokes: Tis unhandsome to fight in play Presumptive knowledge by silence Silent mien procured the credit of prudence and capacity Spectators can claim no interest in the honour and pleasure Study of books is a languishing and feeble motion The cause of truth ought to be the common cause The event often justifies a very foolish conduct The ignorant return from the combat full of joy and triumph The very name Liberality sounds of Liberty. There are some upon whom their rich clothes weep There is no merchant that always gains There is nothing single and rare in respect of nature They have heard, they have seen, they have done so and so They have not the courage to suffer themselves to be corrected Tis impossible to deal fairly with a fool To fret and vex at folly, as I do, is folly itself Transferring of money from the right owners to strangers Tutor to the ignorance and folly of the first we meet Tyrannic sourness not to endure a form contrary to one's own Universal judgments that I see so common, signify nothing "What he laughed at, being alone?"—"That I do laugh alone," We are not to judge of counsels by events We do not correct the man we hang; we correct others by him We neither see far forward nor far backward Whilst thou wast silent, thou seemedst to be some great thing Who has once been a very fool, will never after be very wise Wide of the mark in judging of their own works Wise may learn more of fools, than fools can of the wise
ESSAYS OF MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE
Translated by Charles Cotton
Edited by William Carew Hazlitt
CONTENTS OF VOLUME 17.
IX. Of Vanity
There is, peradventure, no more manifest vanity than to write of it so vainly. That which divinity has so divinely expressed to us—["Vanity of vanities: all is vanity."—Eccles., i. 2.]—ought to be carefully and continually meditated by men of understanding. Who does not see that I have taken a road, in which, incessantly and without labour, I shall proceed so long as there shall be ink and paper in the world? I can give no account of my life by my actions; fortune has placed them too low: I must do it by my fancies. And yet I have seen a gentleman who only communicated his life by the workings of his belly: you might see on his premises a show of a row of basins of seven or eight days' standing; it was his study, his discourse; all other talk stank in his nostrils. Here, but not so nauseous, are the excrements of an old mind, sometimes thick, sometimes thin, and always indigested. And when shall I have done representing the continual agitation and mutation of my thoughts, as they come into my head, seeing that Diomedes wrote six thousand books upon the sole subject of grammar?
[It was not Diomedes, but Didymus the grammarian, who, as Seneca (Ep., 88) tells us, wrote four not six thousand books on questions of vain literature, which was the principal study of the ancient grammarian.—Coste. But the number is probably exaggerated, and for books we should doubtless read pamphlets or essays.]
What, then, ought prating to produce, since prattling and the first beginning to speak, stuffed the world with such a horrible load of volumes? So many words for words only. O Pythagoras, why didst not thou allay this tempest? They accused one Galba of old for living idly; he made answer, "That every one ought to give account of his actions, but not of his home." He was mistaken, for justice also takes cognisance of those who glean after the reaper.
But there should be some restraint of law against foolish and impertinent scribblers, as well as against vagabonds and idle persons; which if there were, both I and a hundred others would be banished from the reach of our people. I do not speak this in jest: scribbling seems to be a symptom of a disordered and licentious age. When did we write so much as since our troubles? when the Romans so much, as upon the point of ruin? Besides that, the refining of wits does not make people wiser in a government: this idle employment springs from this, that every one applies himself negligently to the duty of his vocation, and is easily debauched from it. The corruption of the age is made up by the particular contribution of every individual man; some contribute treachery, others injustice, irreligion, tyranny, avarice, cruelty, according to their power; the weaker sort contribute folly, vanity, and idleness; of these I am one. It seems as if it were the season for vain things, when the hurtful oppress us; in a time when doing ill is common, to do but what signifies nothing is a kind of commendation. 'Tis my comfort, that I shall be one of the last who shall be called in question; and whilst the greater offenders are being brought to account, I shall have leisure to amend: for it would, methinks, be against reason to punish little inconveniences, whilst we are infested with the greater. As the physician Philotimus said to one who presented him his finger to dress, and who he perceived, both by his complexion and his breath, had an ulcer in his lungs: "Friend, it is not now time to play with your nails." —[Plutarch, How we may distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend.]
And yet I saw, some years ago, a person, whose name and memory I have in very great esteem, in the very height of our great disorders, when there was neither law nor justice, nor magistrate who performed his office, no more than there is now, publish I know not what pitiful reformations about cloths, cookery, and law chicanery. Those are amusements wherewith to feed a people that are ill-used, to show that they are not totally forgotten. Those others do the same, who insist upon prohibiting particular ways of speaking, dances, and games, to a people totally abandoned to all sorts of execrable vices. 'Tis no time to bathe and cleanse one's self, when one is seized by a violent fever; it was for the Spartans alone to fall to combing and curling themselves, when they were just upon the point of running headlong into some extreme danger of their life.
For my part, I have that worse custom, that if my slipper go awry, I let my shirt and my cloak do so too; I scorn to mend myself by halves.
When I am in a bad plight, I fasten upon the mischief; I abandon myself through despair; I let myself go towards the precipice, and, as they say, "throw the helve after the hatchet"; I am obstinate in growing worse, and think myself no longer worth my own care; I am either well or ill throughout. 'T is a favour to me, that the desolation of this kingdom falls out in the desolation of my age: I better suffer that my ill be multiplied, than if my well had been disturbed.—[That, being ill, I should grow worse, than that, being well, I should grow ill.]—The words I utter in mishap are words of anger: my courage sets up its bristles, instead of letting them down; and, contrary to others, I am more devout in good than in evil fortune, according to the precept of Xenophon, if not according to his reason; and am more ready to turn up my eyes to heaven to return thanks, than to crave. I am more solicitous to improve my health, when I am well, than to restore it when I am sick; prosperities are the same discipline and instruction to me that adversities and rods are to others. As if good fortune were a thing inconsistent with good conscience, men never grow good but in evil fortune. Good fortune is to me a singular spur to modesty and moderation: an entreaty wins, a threat checks me; favour makes me bend, fear stiffens me.
Amongst human conditions this is common enough: to be better pleased with foreign things than with our own, and to love innovation and change:
"Ipsa dies ideo nos grato perluit haustu, Quod permutatis hora recurrit equis:"
["The light of day itself shines more pleasantly upon us because it changes its horses every hour." Spoke of a water hour-glass, adds Cotton.]
I have my share. Those who follow the other extreme, of being quite satisfied and pleased with and in themselves, of valuing what they have above all the rest, and of concluding no beauty can be greater than what they see, if they are not wiser than we, are really more happy; I do not envy their wisdom, but their good fortune.
This greedy humour of new and unknown things helps to nourish in me the desire of travel; but a great many more circumstances contribute to it; I am very willing to quit the government of my house. There is, I confess, a kind of convenience in commanding, though it were but in a barn, and in being obeyed by one's people; but 'tis too uniform and languid a pleasure, and is, moreover, of necessity mixed with a thousand vexatious thoughts: one while the poverty and the oppression of your tenants: another, quarrels amongst neighbours: another, the trespasses they make upon you afflict you;
"Aut verberatae grandine vineae, Fundusque mendax, arbore nunc aquas Culpante, nunc torrentia agros Sidera, nunc hyemes iniquas."
["Or hail-smitten vines and the deceptive farm; now trees damaged by the rains, or years of dearth, now summer's heat burning up the petals, now destructive winters."—Horatius, Od., iii. I, 29.]
and that God scarce in six months sends a season wherein your bailiff can do his business as he should; but that if it serves the vines, it spoils the meadows:
"Aut nimiis torret fervoribus aetherius sol, Aut subiti perimunt imbres, gelidoeque pruinae, Flabraque ventorum violento turbine vexant;"
["Either the scorching sun burns up your fields, or sudden rains or frosts destroy your harvests, or a violent wind carries away all before it."—Lucretius, V. 216.]
to which may be added the new and neat-made shoe of the man of old, that hurts your foot,
[Leclerc maliciously suggests that this is a sly hit at Montaigne's wife, the man of old being the person mentioned in Plutarch's Life of Paulus Emilius, c. 3, who, when his friends reproached him for repudiating his wife, whose various merits they extolled, pointed to his shoe, and said, "That looks a nice well-made shoe to you; but I alone know where it pinches."]
and that a stranger does not understand how much it costs you, and what you contribute to maintain that show of order that is seen in your family, and that peradventure you buy too dear.
I came late to the government of a house: they whom nature sent into the world before me long eased me of that trouble; so that I had already taken another bent more suitable to my humour. Yet, for so much as I have seen, 'tis an employment more troublesome than hard; whoever is capable of anything else, will easily do this. Had I a mind to be rich, that way would seem too long; I had served my kings, a more profitable traffic than any other. Since I pretend to nothing but the reputation of having got nothing or dissipated nothing, conformably to the rest of my life, improper either to do good or ill of any moment, and that I only desire to pass on, I can do it, thanks be to God, without any great endeavour. At the worst, evermore prevent poverty by lessening your expense; 'tis that which I make my great concern, and doubt not but to do it before I shall be compelled. As to the rest, I have sufficiently settled my thoughts to live upon less than I have, and live contentedly:
"Non aestimatione census, verum victu atque cultu, terminantur pecunix modus."
["'Tis not by the value of possessions, but by our daily subsistence and tillage, that our riches are truly estimated." —Cicero, Paradox, vi. 3.]
My real need does not so wholly take up all I have, that Fortune has not whereon to fasten her teeth without biting to the quick. My presence, heedless and ignorant as it is, does me great service in my domestic affairs; I employ myself in them, but it goes against the hair, finding that I have this in my house, that though I burn my candle at one end by myself, the other is not spared.
Journeys do me no harm but only by their expense, which is great, and more than I am well able to bear, being always wont to travel with not only a necessary, but a handsome equipage; I must make them so much shorter and fewer; I spend therein but the froth, and what I have reserved for such uses, delaying and deferring my motion till that be ready. I will not that the pleasure of going abroad spoil the pleasure of being retired at home; on the contrary, I intend they shall nourish and favour one another. Fortune has assisted me in this, that since my principal profession in this life was to live at ease, and rather idly than busily, she has deprived me of the necessity of growing rich to provide for the multitude of my heirs. If there be not enough for one, of that whereof I had so plentifully enough, at his peril be it: his imprudence will not deserve that I should wish him any more. And every one, according to the example of Phocion, provides sufficiently for his children who so provides for them as to leave them as much as was left him. I should by no means like Crates' way. He left his money in the hands of a banker with this condition—that if his children were fools, he should then give it to them; if wise, he should then distribute it to the most foolish of the people; as if fools, for being less capable of living without riches, were more capable of using them.
At all events, the damage occasioned by my absence seems not to deserve, so long as I am able to support it, that I should waive the occasions of diverting myself by that troublesome assistance.
There is always something that goes amiss. The affairs, one while of one house, and then of another, tear you to pieces; you pry into everything too near; your perspicacity hurts you here, as well as in other things. I steal away from occasions of vexing myself, and turn from the knowledge of things that go amiss; and yet I cannot so order it, but that every hour I jostle against something or other that displeases me; and the tricks that they most conceal from me, are those that I the soonest come to know; some there are that, not to make matters worse, a man must himself help to conceal. Vain vexations; vain sometimes, but always vexations. The smallest and slightest impediments are the most piercing: and as little letters most tire the eyes, so do little affairs most disturb us. The rout of little ills more offend than one, how great soever. By how much domestic thorns are numerous and slight, by so much they prick deeper and without warning, easily surprising us when least we suspect them.
[Now Homer shews us clearly enough how surprise gives the advantage; who represents Ulysses weeping at the death of his dog; and not weeping at the tears of his mother; the first accident, trivial as it was, got the better of him, coming upon him quite unexpectedly; he sustained the second, though more potent, because he was prepared for it. 'Tis light occasions that humble our lives. ]
I am no philosopher; evils oppress me according to their weight, and they weigh as much according to the form as the matter, and very often more. If I have therein more perspicacity than the vulgar, I have also more patience; in short, they weigh with me, if they do not hurt me. Life is a tender thing, and easily molested. Since my age has made me grow more pensive and morose,
"Nemo enim resistit sibi, cum caeperit impelli,"
["For no man resists himself when he has begun to be driven forward."—Seneca, Ep., 13.]
for the most trivial cause imaginable, I irritate that humour, which afterwards nourishes and exasperates itself of its own motion; attracting and heaping up matter upon matter whereon to feed:
"Stillicidi casus lapidem cavat:"
["The ever falling drop hollows out a stone."—Lucretius, i. 314.]
these continual tricklings consume and ulcerate me. Ordinary inconveniences are never light; they are continual and inseparable, especially when they spring from the members of a family, continual and inseparable. When I consider my affairs at distance and in gross, I find, because perhaps my memory is none of the best, that they have gone on hitherto improving beyond my reason or expectation; my revenue seems greater than it is; its prosperity betrays me: but when I pry more narrowly into the business, and see how all things go:
"Tum vero in curas animum diducimus omnes;"
["Indeed we lead the mind into all sorts of cares." —AEneid, v. 720.]
I have a thousand things to desire and to fear. To give them quite over, is very easy for me to do: but to look after them without trouble, is very hard. 'Tis a miserable thing to be in a place where everything you see employs and concerns you; and I fancy that I more cheerfully enjoy the pleasures of another man's house, and with greater and a purer relish, than those of my own. Diogenes answered according to my humour him who asked him what sort of wine he liked the best: "That of another," said he.—[Diogenes Laertius, vi. 54.]
My father took a delight in building at Montaigne, where he was born; and in all the government of domestic affairs I love to follow his example and rules, and I shall engage those who are to succeed me, as much as in me lies, to do the same. Could I do better for him, I would; and am proud that his will is still performing and acting by me. God forbid that in my hands I should ever suffer any image of life, that I am able to render to so good a father, to fail. And wherever I have taken in hand to strengthen some old foundations of walls, and to repair some ruinous buildings, in earnest I have done it more out of respect to his design, than my own satisfaction; and am angry at myself that I have not proceeded further to finish the beginnings he left in his house, and so much the more because I am very likely to be the last possessor of my race, and to give the last hand to it. For, as to my own particular application, neither the pleasure of building, which they say is so bewitching, nor hunting, nor gardens, nor the other pleasures of a retired life, can much amuse me. And 'tis what I am angry at myself for, as I am for all other opinions that are incommodious to me; which I would not so much care to have vigorous and learned, as I would have them easy and convenient for life, they are true and sound enough, if they are useful and pleasing. Such as hear me declare my ignorance in husbandry, whisper in my ear that it is disdain, and that I neglect to know its instruments, its seasons, its order, how they dress my vines, how they graft, and to know the names and forms of herbs and fruits, and the preparing the meat on which I live, the names and prices of the stuffs I wear, because, say they; I have set my heart upon some higher knowledge; they kill me in saying so. It is not disdain; it is folly, and rather stupidity than glory; I had rather be a good horseman than a good logician:
"Quin to aliquid saltem potius, quorum indiget usus, Viminibus mollique paras detexere junco."
["'Dost thou not rather do something which is required, and make osier and reed basket."—Virgil, Eclog., ii. 71.]
We occupy our thoughts about the general, and about universal causes and conducts, which will very well carry on themselves without our care; and leave our own business at random, and Michael much more our concern than man. Now I am, indeed, for the most part at home; but I would be there better pleased than anywhere else:
"Sit meae sedes utinam senectae, Sit modus lasso maris, et viarum, Militiaeque."
["Let my old age have a fixed seat; let there be a limit to fatigues from the sea, journeys, warfare."—Horace, Od., ii. 6, 6.]
I know not whether or no I shall bring it about. I could wish that, instead of some other member of his succession, my father had resigned to me the passionate affection he had in his old age to his household affairs; he was happy in that he could accommodate his desires to his fortune, and satisfy himself with what he had; political philosophy may to much purpose condemn the meanness and sterility of my employment, if I can once come to relish it, as he did. I am of opinion that the most honourable calling is to serve the public, and to be useful to many,
"Fructus enim ingenii et virtutis, omnisque praestantiae, tum maximus capitur, quum in proximum quemque confertur:"
["For the greatest enjoyment of evil and virtue, and of all excellence, is experienced when they are conferred on some one nearest."—Cicero, De Amicil., c.]
for myself, I disclaim it; partly out of conscience (for where I see the weight that lies upon such employments, I perceive also the little means I have to supply it; and Plato, a master in all political government himself, nevertheless took care to abstain from it), and partly out of cowardice. I content myself with enjoying the world without bustle; only-to live an excusable life, and such as may neither be a burden to myself nor to any other.
Never did any man more fully and feebly suffer himself to be governed by a third person than I should do, had I any one to whom to entrust myself. One of my wishes at this time should be, to have a son-in-law that knew handsomely how to cherish my old age, and to rock it asleep; into whose hands I might deposit, in full sovereignty, the management and use of all my goods, that he might dispose of them as I do, and get by them what I get, provided that he on his part were truly acknowledging, and a friend. But we live in a world where loyalty of one's own children is unknown.
He who has the charge of my purse in his travels, has it purely and without control; he could cheat me thoroughly, if he came to reckoning; and, if he is not a devil, I oblige him to deal faithfully with me by so entire a trust:
"Multi fallere do cuerunt, dum timent falli; et aliis jus peccandi suspicando fecerunt."
["Many have taught others to deceive, while they fear to be deceived, and, by suspecting them, have given them a title to do ill."—Seneca, Epist., 3.]
The most common security I take of my people is ignorance; I never presume any to be vicious till I have first found them so; and repose the most confidence in the younger sort, that I think are least spoiled by ill example. I had rather be told at two months' end that I have spent four hundred crowns, than to have my ears battered every night with three, five, seven: and I have been, in this way, as little robbed as another. It is true, I am willing enough not to see it; I, in some sort, purposely, harbour a kind of perplexed, uncertain knowledge of my money: up to a certain point, I am content to doubt. One must leave a little room for the infidelity or indiscretion of a servant; if you have left enough, in gross, to do your business, let the overplus of Fortune's liberality run a little more freely at her mercy; 'tis the gleaner's portion. After all, I do not so much value the fidelity of my people as I contemn their injury. What a mean and ridiculous thing it is for a man to study his money, to delight in handling and telling it over and over again! 'Tis by this avarice makes its approaches.
In eighteen years that I have had my estate in my, own hands, I could never prevail with myself either to read over my deeds or examine my principal affairs, which ought, of necessity, to pass under my knowledge and inspection. 'Tis not a philosophical disdain of worldly and transitory things; my taste is not purified to that degree, and I value them at as great a rate, at least, as they are worth; but 'tis, in truth, an inexcusable and childish laziness and negligence. What would I not rather do than read a contract? or than, as a slave to my own business, tumble over those dusty writings? or, which is worse, those of another man, as so many do nowadays, to get money? I grudge nothing but care and trouble, and endeavour nothing so much, as to be careless and at ease. I had been much fitter, I believe, could it have been without obligation and servitude, to have lived upon another man's fortune than my own: and, indeed, I do not know, when I examine it nearer, whether, according to my humour, what I have to suffer from my affairs and servants, has not in it something more abject, troublesome, and tormenting than there would be in serving a man better born than myself, who would govern me with a gentle rein, and a little at my own case:
"Servitus obedientia est fracti animi et abjecti, arbitrio carentis suo."
["Servitude is the obedience of a subdued and abject mind, wanting its own free will."—Cicero, Paradox, V. I.]
Crates did worse, who threw himself into the liberty of poverty, only to rid himself of the inconveniences and cares of his house. This is what I would not do; I hate poverty equally with pain; but I could be content to change the kind of life I live for another that was humbler and less chargeable.
When absent from home, I divest myself of all these thoughts, and should be less concerned for the ruin of a tower, than I am, when present, at the fall of a tile. My mind is easily composed at distance, but suffers as much as that of the meanest peasant when I am at home; the reins of my bridle being wrongly put on, or a strap flapping against my leg, will keep me out of humour a day together. I raise my courage, well enough against inconveniences: lift up my eyes I cannot:
"Sensus, o superi, sensus."
["The senses, O ye gods, the senses."]
I am at home responsible for whatever goes amiss. Few masters (I speak of those of medium condition such as mine), and if there be any such, they are more happy, can rely so much upon another, but that the greatest part of the burden will lie upon their own shoulders. This takes much from my grace in entertaining visitors, so that I have, peradventure, detained some rather out of expectation of a good dinner, than by my own behaviour; and lose much of the pleasure I ought to reap at my own house from the visitation and assembling of my friends. The most ridiculous carriage of a gentleman in his own house, is to see him bustling about the business of the place, whispering one servant, and looking an angry look at another: it ought insensibly to slide along, and to represent an ordinary current; and I think it unhandsome to talk much to our guests of their entertainment, whether by way of bragging or excuse. I love order and cleanliness—
"Et cantharus et lanx Ostendunt mihi me"—
["The dishes and the glasses shew me my own reflection." —Horace, Ep., i. 5, 23]
more than abundance; and at home have an exact regard to necessity, little to outward show. If a footman falls to cuffs at another man's house, or stumble and throw a dish before him as he is carrying it up, you only laugh and make a jest on't; you sleep whilst the master of the house is arranging a bill of fare with his steward for your morrow's entertainment. I speak according as I do myself; quite appreciating, nevertheless, good husbandry in general, and how pleasant quiet and prosperous household management, carried regularly on, is to some natures; and not wishing to fasten my own errors and inconveniences to the thing; nor to give Plato the lie, who looks upon it as the most pleasant employment to every one to do his particular affairs without wrong to another.
When I travel I have nothing to care for but myself, and the laying out my money; which is disposed of by one single precept; too many things are required to the raking it together; in that I understand nothing; in spending, I understand a little, and how to give some show to my expense, which is indeed its principal use; but I rely too ambitiously upon it, which renders it unequal and difform, and, moreover, immoderate in both the one and the other aspect; if it makes a show, if it serve the turn, I indiscreetly let it run; and as indiscreetly tie up my purse-strings, if it does not shine, and does not please me. Whatever it be, whether art or nature, that imprints in us the condition of living by reference to others, it does us much more harm than good; we deprive ourselves of our own utilities, to accommodate appearances to the common opinion: we care not so much what our being is, as to us and in reality, as what it is to the public observation. Even the properties of the mind, and wisdom itself, seem fruitless to us, if only enjoyed by ourselves, and if it produce not itself to the view and approbation of others. There is a sort of men whose gold runs in streams underground imperceptibly; others expose it all in plates and branches; so that to the one a liard is worth a crown, and to the others the inverse: the world esteeming its use and value, according to the show. All over-nice solicitude about riches smells of avarice: even the very disposing of it, with a too systematic and artificial liberality, is not worth a painful superintendence and solicitude: he, that will order his expense to just so much, makes it too pinched and narrow. The keeping or spending are, of themselves, indifferent things, and receive no colour of good or ill, but according to the application of the will.
The other cause that tempts me out to these journeys is, inaptitude for the present manners in our state. I could easily console myself for this corruption in regard to the public interest:
"Pejoraque saecula ferri Temporibus, quorum sceleri non invenit ipsa Nomen, et a nullo posuit natura metallo;"
["And, worse than the iron ages, for whose crimes there is no similitude in any of Nature's metals."—Juvenal, xiii. 28.]
but not to my own. I am, in particular, too much oppressed by them: for, in my neighbourhood, we are, of late, by the long licence of our civil wars, grown old in so riotous a form of state,
"Quippe ubi fas versum atque nefas,"
["Where wrong and right have changed places." —Virgil, Georg., i. 504.]
that in earnest, 'tis a wonder how it can subsist:
"Armati terram exercent, semperque recentes Convectare juvat praedas; et vivere rapto."
["Men plough, girt with arms; ever delighting in fresh robberies, and living by rapine."—AEneid, vii. 748.]
In fine, I see by our example, that the society of men is maintained and held together, at what price soever; in what condition soever they are placed, they still close and stick together, both moving and in heaps; as ill united bodies, that, shuffled together without order, find of themselves a means to unite and settle, often better than they could have been disposed by art. King Philip mustered up a rabble of the most wicked and incorrigible rascals he could pick out, and put them all together into a city he had caused to be built for that purpose, which bore their name: I believe that they, even from vices themselves, erected a government amongst them, and a commodious and just society. I see, not one action, or three, or a hundred, but manners, in common and received use, so ferocious, especially in inhumanity and treachery, which are to me the worst of all vices, that I have not the heart to think of them without horror; and almost as much admire as I detest them: the exercise of these signal villainies carries with it as great signs of vigour and force of soul, as of error and disorder. Necessity reconciles and brings men together; and this accidental connection afterwards forms itself into laws: for there have been such, as savage as any human opinion could conceive, who, nevertheless, have maintained their body with as much health and length of life as any Plato or Aristotle could invent. And certainly, all these descriptions of polities, feigned by art, are found to be ridiculous and unfit to be put in practice.
These great and tedious debates about the best form of society, and the most commodious rules to bind us, are debates only proper for the exercise of our wits; as in the arts there are several subjects which have their being in agitation and controversy, and have no life but there. Such an idea of government might be of some value in a new world; but we take a world already made, and formed to certain customs; we do not beget it, as Pyrrha or Cadmus did. By what means soever we may have the privilege to redress and reform it anew, we can hardly writhe it from its wonted bent, but we shall break all. Solon being asked whether he had established the best laws he could for the Athenians; "Yes," said he, "of those they would have received." Varro excuses himself after the same manner: "that if he were to begin to write of religion, he would say what he believed; but seeing it was already received, he would write rather according to use than nature."
Not according to opinion, but in truth and reality, the best and most excellent government for every nation is that under which it is maintained: its form and essential convenience depend upon custom. We are apt to be displeased at the present condition; but I, nevertheless, maintain that to desire command in a few—[an oligarchy.]— in a republic, or another sort of government in monarchy than that already established, is both vice and folly:
"Ayme l'estat, tel que to le veois estre S'il est royal ayme la royaute; S'il est de peu, ou biers communaute, Ayme l'aussi; car Dieu t'y a faict naistre."
["Love the government, such as you see it to be. If it be royal, love royalty; if it is a republic of any sort, still love it; for God himself created thee therein."]
So wrote the good Monsieur de Pibrac, whom we have lately lost, a man of so excellent a wit, such sound opinions, and such gentle manners. This loss, and that at the same time we have had of Monsieur de Foix, are of so great importance to the crown, that I do not know whether there is another couple in France worthy to supply the places of these two Gascons in sincerity and wisdom in the council of our kings. They were both variously great men, and certainly, according to the age, rare and great, each of them in his kind: but what destiny was it that placed them in these times, men so remote from and so disproportioned to our corruption and intestine tumults?
Nothing presses so hard upon a state as innovation: change only gives form to injustice and tyranny. When any piece is loosened, it may be proper to stay it; one may take care that the alteration and corruption natural to all things do not carry us too far from our beginnings and principles: but to undertake to found so great a mass anew, and to change the foundations of so vast a building, is for them to do, who to make clean, efface; who reform particular defects by an universal confusion, and cure diseases by death:
"Non tam commutandarum quam evertendarum rerum cupidi."
["Not so desirous of changing as of overthrowing things." —Cicero, De Offic., ii. i.]
The world is unapt to be cured; and so impatient of anything that presses it, that it thinks of nothing but disengaging itself at what price soever. We see by a thousand examples, that it ordinarily cures itself to its cost. The discharge of a present evil is no cure, if there be not a general amendment of condition. The surgeon's end is not only to cut away the dead flesh; that is but the progress of his cure; he has a care, over and above, to fill up the wound with better and more natural flesh, and to restore the member to its due state. Whoever only proposes to himself to remove that which offends him, falls short: for good does not necessarily succeed evil; another evil may succeed, and a worse, as it happened to Caesar's murderers, who brought the republic to such a pass, that they had reason to repent the meddling with the matter. The same has since happened to several others, even down to our own times: the French, my contemporaries, know it well enough. All great mutations shake and disorder a state.
Whoever would look direct at a cure, and well consider of it before he began, would be very willing to withdraw his hands from meddling in it. Pacuvius Calavius corrected the vice of this proceeding by a notable example. His fellow-citizens were in mutiny against their magistrates; he being a man of great authority in the city of Capua, found means one day to shut up the Senators in the palace; and calling the people together in the market-place, there told them that the day was now come wherein at full liberty they might revenge themselves on the tyrants by whom they had been so long oppressed, and whom he had now, all alone and unarmed, at his mercy. He then advised that they should call these out, one by one, by lot, and should individually determine as to each, causing whatever should be decreed to be immediately executed; with this proviso, that they should, at the same time, depute some honest man in the place of him who was condemned, to the end there might be no vacancy in the Senate. They had no sooner heard the name of one senator but a great cry of universal dislike was raised up against him. "I see," says Pacuvius, "that we must put him out; he is a wicked fellow; let us look out a good one in his room." Immediately there was a profound silence, every one being at a stand whom to choose. But one, more impudent than the rest, having named his man, there arose yet a greater consent of voices against him, an hundred imperfections being laid to his charge, and as many just reasons why he should not stand. These contradictory humours growing hot, it fared worse with the second senator and the third, there being as much disagreement in the election of the new, as consent in the putting out of the old. In the end, growing weary of this bustle to no purpose, they began, some one way and some another, to steal out of the assembly: every one carrying back this resolution in his mind, that the oldest and best known evil was ever more supportable than one that was, new and untried.
Seeing how miserably we are agitated (for what have we not done!)
"Eheu! cicatricum, et sceleris pudet, Fratrumque: quid nos dura refugimus AEtas? quid intactum nefasti Liquimus? Unde manus inventus Metu Deorum continuit? quibus Pepercit aris."
["Alas! our crimes and our fratricides are a shame to us! What crime does this bad age shrink from? What wickedness have we left undone? What youth is restrained from evil by the fear of the gods? What altar is spared?"—Horace, Od., i. 33, 35]
I do not presently conclude,
"Ipsa si velit Salus, Servare prorsus non potest hanc familiam;"
["If the goddess Salus herself wish to save this family, she absolutely cannot"—Terence, Adelph., iv. 7, 43.]
we are not, peradventure, at our last gasp. The conservation of states is a thing that, in all likelihood, surpasses our understanding;—a civil government is, as Plato says, a mighty and puissant thing, and hard to be dissolved; it often continues against mortal and intestine diseases, against the injury of unjust laws, against tyranny, the corruption and ignorance of magistrates, the licence and sedition of the people. In all our fortunes, we compare ourselves to what is above us, and still look towards those who are better: but let us measure ourselves with what is below us: there is no condition so miserable wherein a man may not find a thousand examples that will administer consolation. 'Tis our vice that we more unwillingly look upon what is above, than willingly upon what is below; and Solon was used to say, that "whoever would make a heap of all the ills together, there is no one who would not rather choose to bear away the ills he has than to come to an equal division with all other men from that heap, and take his share." Our government is, indeed, very sick, but there have been others more sick without dying. The gods play at ball with us and bandy us every way:
"Enimvero Dii nos homines quasi pilas habent."
The stars fatally destined the state of Rome for an example of what they could do in this kind: in it are comprised all the forms and adventures that concern a state: all that order or disorder, good or evil fortune, can do. Who, then, can despair of his condition, seeing the shocks and commotions wherewith Rome was tumbled and tossed, and yet withstood them all? If the extent of dominion be the health of a state (which I by no means think it is, and Isocrates pleases me when he instructs Nicocles not to envy princes who have large dominions, but those who know how to preserve those which have fallen into their hands), that of Rome was never so sound, as when it was most sick. The worst of her forms was the most fortunate; one can hardly discern any image of government under the first emperors; it is the most horrible and tumultuous confusion that can be imagined; it endured it, notwithstanding, and therein continued, preserving not a monarchy limited within its own bounds, but so many nations so differing, so remote, so disaffected, so confusedly commanded, and so unjustly conquered:
"Nec gentibus ullis Commodat in populum, terra pelagique potentem, Invidiam fortuna suam."
["Fortune never gave it to any nation to satisfy its hatred against the people, masters of the seas and of the earth."—Lucan, i. 32.]
Everything that totters does not fall. The contexture of so great a body holds by more nails than one; it holds even by its antiquity, like old buildings, from which the foundations are worn away by time, without rough-cast or mortar, which yet live and support themselves by their own weight:
"Nec jam validis radicibus haerens, Pondere tuta suo est."
Moreover, it is not rightly to go to work, to examine only the flank and the foss, to judge of the security of a place; we must observe which way approaches can be made to it, and in what condition the assailant is: few vessels sink with their own weight, and without some exterior violence. Now, let us everyway cast our eyes; everything about us totters; in all the great states, both of Christendom and elsewhere, that are known to us, if you will but look, you will there see evident menace of alteration and ruin:
"Et sua sunt illis incommoda; parque per omnes Tempestas."
["They all share in the mischief; the tempest rages everywhere."—AEneid, ii.]
Astrologers may very well, as they do, warn us of great revolutions and imminent mutations: their prophecies are present and palpable, they need not go to heaven to foretell this. There is not only consolation to be extracted from this universal combination of ills and menaces, but, moreover, some hopes of the continuation of our state, forasmuch as, naturally, nothing falls where all falls: universal sickness is particular health: conformity is antagonistic to dissolution. For my part, I despair not, and fancy that I discover ways to save us:
"Deus haec fortasse benigna Reducet in sedem vice."
["The deity will perchance by a favourable turn restore us to our former position."—Horace, Epod., xiii. 7.]
Who knows but that God will have it happen, as in human bodies that purge and restore themselves to a better state by long and grievous maladies, which render them more entire and perfect health than that they took from them? That which weighs the most with me is, that in reckoning the symptoms of our ill, I see as many natural ones, and that Heaven sends us, and properly its own, as of those that our disorder and human imprudence contribute to it. The very stars seem to declare that we have already continued long enough, and beyond the ordinary term. This also afflicts me, that the mischief which nearest threatens us, is not an alteration in the entire and solid mass, but its dissipation and divulsion, which is the most extreme of our fears.
I, moreover, fear, in these fantasies of mine, the treachery of my memory, lest, by inadvertence, it should make me write the same thing twice. I hate to examine myself, and never review, but very unwillingly, what has once escaped my pen. I here set down nothing new. These are common thoughts, and having, peradventure, conceived them an hundred times, I am afraid I have set them down somewhere else already. Repetition is everywhere troublesome, though it were in Homer; but 'tis ruinous in things that have only a superficial and transitory show. I do not love over-insisting, even in the most profitable things, as in Seneca; and the usage of his stoical school displeases me, to repeat, upon every subject, at full length and width the principles and presuppositions that serve in general, and always to realledge anew common and universal reasons.
My memory grows cruelly worse every day:
"Pocula Lethaeos ut si ducentia somnos, Arente fauce traxerim;"
["As if my dry throat had drunk seducing cups of Lethaean oblivion."—Horace, Epod., xiv. 3.]
I must be fain for the time to come (for hitherto, thanks be to God, nothing has happened much amiss), whereas others seek time and opportunity to think of what they have to say, to avoid all preparation, for fear of tying myself to some obligation upon which I must insist. To be tied and bound to a thing puts me quite out, and to depend upon so weak an instrument as my memory. I never read this following story that I am not offended at it with a personal and natural resentment: Lyncestes, accused of conspiracy against Alexander, the day that he was brought out before the army, according to the custom, to be heard as to what he could say for himself, had learned a studied speech, of which, hesitating and stammering, he pronounced some words. Whilst growing more and more perplexed, whilst struggling with his memory, and trying to recollect what he had to say, the soldiers nearest to him charged their pikes against him and killed him, looking upon him as convict; his confusion and silence served them for a confession; for having had so much leisure to prepare himself in prison, they concluded that it was not his memory that failed him, but that his conscience tied up his tongue and stopped his mouth. And, truly, well said; the place, the assembly, the expectation, astound a man, even when he has but the ambition to speak well; what can a man do when 'tis an harangue upon which his life depends?
For my part, the very being tied to what I am to say is enough to loose me from it. When I wholly commit and refer myself to my memory, I lay so much stress upon it that it sinks under me: it grows dismayed with the burden. So much as I trust to it, so much do I put myself out of my own power, even to the finding it difficult to keep my own countenance; and have been sometimes very much put to it to conceal the slavery wherein I was engaged; whereas my design is to manifest, in speaking, a perfect calmness both of face and accent, and casual and unpremeditated motions, as rising from present occasions, choosing rather to say nothing to purpose than to show that I came prepared to speak well, a thing especially unbecoming a man of my profession, and of too great obligation on him who cannot retain much. The preparation begets a great deal more expectation than it will satisfy. A man often strips himself to his doublet to leap no farther than he would have done in his gown:
"Nihil est his, qui placere volunt, turn adversarium, quam expectatio."
["Nothing is so adverse to those who make it their business to please as expectation"—Cicero, Acad., ii. 4]
It is recorded of the orator Curio, that when he proposed the division of his oration into three or four parts, or three or four arguments or reasons, it often happened either that he forgot some one, or added one or two more. I have always avoided falling into this inconvenience, having ever hated these promises and prescriptions, not only out of distrust of my memory, but also because this method relishes too much of the artist:
"Simpliciora militares decent."
["Simplicity becomes warriors."—Quintilian, Instit. Orat., xi. I.]
'Tis enough that I have promised to myself never again to take upon me to speak in a place of respect, for as to speaking, when a man reads his speech, besides that it is very absurd, it is a mighty disadvantage to those who naturally could give it a grace by action; and to rely upon the mercy of my present invention, I would much less do it; 'tis heavy and perplexed, and such as would never furnish me in sudden and important necessities.
Permit, reader, this essay its course also, and this third sitting to finish the rest of my picture: I add, but I correct not. First, because I conceive that a man having once parted with his labours to the world, he has no further right to them; let him do better if he can, in some new undertaking, but not adulterate what he has already sold. Of such dealers nothing should be bought till after they are dead. Let them well consider what they do before they, produce it to the light who hastens them? My book is always the same, saving that upon every new edition (that the buyer may not go away quite empty) I take the liberty to add (as 'tis but an ill jointed marqueterie) some supernumerary emblem; it is but overweight, that does not disfigure the primitive form of the essays, but, by a little artful subtlety, gives a kind of particular value to every one of those that follow. Thence, however, will easily happen some transposition of chronology, my stories taking place according to their opportuneness, not always according to their age.
Secondly, because as to what concerns myself, I fear to lose by change: my understanding does not always go forward, it goes backward too. I do not much less suspect my fancies for being the second or the third, than for being the first, or present, or past; we often correct ourselves as foolishly as we do others. I am grown older by a great many years since my first publications, which were in the year 1580; but I very much doubt whether I am grown an inch the wiser. I now, and I anon, are two several persons; but whether better, I cannot determine. It were a fine thing to be old, if we only travelled towards improvement; but 'tis a drunken, stumbling, reeling, infirm motion: like that of reeds, which the air casually waves to and fro at pleasure. Antiochus had in his youth strongly written in favour of the Academy; in his old age he wrote as much against it; would not, which of these two soever I should follow, be still Antiochus? After having established the uncertainty, to go about to establish the certainty of human opinions, was it not to establish doubt, and not certainty, and to promise, that had he had yet another age to live, he would be always upon terms of altering his judgment, not so much for the better, as for something else?
The public favour has given me a little more confidence than I expected; but what I 'most fear is, lest I should glut the world with my writings; I had rather, of the two, pique my reader than tire him, as a learned man of my time has done. Praise is always pleasing, let it come from whom, or upon what account it will; yet ought a man to understand why he is commended, that he may know how to keep up the same reputation still: imperfections themselves may get commendation. The vulgar and common estimation is seldom happy in hitting; and I am much mistaken if, amongst the writings of my time, the worst are not those which have most gained the popular applause. For my part, I return my thanks to those good-natured men who are pleased to take my weak endeavours in good part; the faults of the workmanship are nowhere so apparent as in a matter which of itself has no recommendation. Blame not me, reader, for those that slip in here by the fancy or inadvertency of others; every hand, every artisan, contribute their own materials; I neither concern myself with orthography (and only care to have it after the old way) nor pointing, being very inexpert both in the one and the other. Where they wholly break the sense, I am very little concerned, for they at least discharge me; but where they substitute a false one, as they so often do, and wrest me to their conception, they ruin me. When the sentence, nevertheless, is not strong enough for my proportion, a civil person ought to reject it as spurious, and none of mine. Whoever shall know how lazy I am, and how indulgent to my own humour, will easily believe that I had rather write as many more essays, than be tied to revise these over again for so childish a correction.
I said elsewhere, that being planted in the very centre of this new religion, I am not only deprived of any great familiarity with men of other kind of manners than my own, and of other opinions, by which they hold together, as by a tie that supersedes all other obligations; but moreover I do not live without danger, amongst men to whom all things are equally lawful, and of whom the most part cannot offend the laws more than they have already done; from which the extremist degree of licence proceeds. All the particular being summed up together, I do not find one man of my country, who pays so dear for the defence of our laws both in loss and damages (as the lawyers say) as myself; and some there are who vapour and brag of their zeal and constancy, that if things were justly weighed, do much less than I. My house, as one that has ever been open and free to all comers, and civil to all (for I could never persuade myself to make it a garrison of war, war being a thing that I prefer to see as remote as may be), has sufficiently merited popular kindness, and so that it would be a hard matter justly to insult over me upon my own dunghill; and I look upon it as a wonderful and exemplary thing that it yet continues a virgin from blood and plunder during so long a storm, and so many neighbouring revolutions and tumults. For to confess the truth, it had been possible enough for a man of my complexion to have shaken hands with any one constant and continued form whatever; but the contrary invasions and incursions, alternations and vicissitudes of fortune round about me, have hitherto more exasperated than calmed and mollified the temper of the country, and involved me, over and over again, with invincible difficulties and dangers.
I escape, 'tis true, but am troubled that it is more by chance, and something of my own prudence, than by justice; and am not satisfied to be out of the protection of the laws, and under any other safeguard than theirs. As matters stand, I live, above one half, by the favour of others, which is an untoward obligation. I do not like to owe my safety either to the generosity or affection of great persons, who allow me my legality and my liberty, or to the obliging manners of my predecessors, or my own: for what if I were another kind of man? If my deportment, and the frankness of my conversation or relationship, oblige my neighbours, 'tis that that they should acquit themselves of obligation in only permitting me to live, and they may say, "We allow him the free liberty of having divine service read in his own private chapel, when it is interdicted in all churches round about, and allow him the use of his goods and his life, as one who protects our wives and cattle in time of need." For my house has for many descents shared in the reputation of Lycurgus the Athenian, who was the general depository and guardian of the purses of his fellow-citizens. Now I am clearly of opinion that a man should live by right and by authority, and not either by recompense or favour. How many gallant men have rather chosen to lose their lives than to be debtors for them? I hate to subject myself to any sort of obligation, but above all, to that which binds me by the duty of honour. I think nothing so dear as what has been given me, and this because my will lies at pawn under the title of gratitude, and more willingly accept of services that are to be sold; I feel that for the last I give nothing but money, but for the other I give myself.
The knot that binds me by the laws of courtesy binds me more than that of civil constraint; I am much more at ease when bound by a scrivener, than by myself. Is it not reason that my conscience should be much more engaged when men simply rely upon it? In a bond, my faith owes nothing, because it has nothing lent it; let them trust to the security they have taken without me. I had much rather break the wall of a prison and the laws themselves than my own word. I am nice, even to superstition, in keeping my promises, and, therefore, upon all occasions have a care to make them uncertain and conditional. To those of no great moment, I add the jealousy of my own rule, to make them weight; it wracks and oppresses me with its own interest. Even in actions wholly my own and free, if I once say a thing, I conceive that I have bound myself, and that delivering it to the knowledge of another, I have positively enjoined it my own performance. Methinks I promise it, if I but say it: and therefore am not apt to say much of that kind. The sentence that I pass upon myself is more severe than that of a judge, who only considers the common obligation; but my conscience looks upon it with a more severe and penetrating eye. I lag in those duties to which I should be compelled if I did not go:
"Hoc ipsum ita justum est, quod recte fit, si est voluntarium."
["This itself is so far just, that it is rightly done, if it is voluntary."—Cicero, De Offic., i. 9.]
If the action has not some splendour of liberty, it has neither grace nor honour:
"Quod vos jus cogit, vix voluntate impetrent:"
["That which the laws compel us to do, we scarcely do with a will." —Terence, Adelph., iii. 3, 44.]
where necessity draws me, I love to let my will take its own course:
"Quia quicquid imperio cogitur, exigenti magis, quam praestanti, acceptum refertur."
["For whatever is compelled by power, is more imputed to him that exacts than to him that performs."—Valerius Maximus, ii. 2, 6.]
I know some who follow this rule, even to injustice; who will sooner give than restore, sooner lend than pay, and will do them the least good to whom they are most obliged. I don't go so far as that, but I'm not far off.
I so much love to disengage and disobligate myself, that I have sometimes looked upon ingratitudes, affronts, and indignities which I have received from those to whom either by nature or accident I was bound in some way of friendship, as an advantage to me; taking this occasion of their ill-usage, for an acquaintance and discharge of so much of my debt. And though I still continue to pay them all the external offices of public reason, I, notwithstanding, find a great saving in doing that upon the account of justice which I did upon the score of affection, and am a little eased of the attention and solicitude of my inward will:
"Est prudentis sustinere, ut currum, sic impetum benevolentia;"
["'Tis the part of a wise man to keep a curbing hand upon the impetus of friendship, as upon that of his horse." —Cicero, De Amicit., c. 17.]
'tis in me, too urging and pressing where I take; at least, for a man who loves not to be strained at all. And this husbanding my friendship serves me for a sort of consolation in the imperfections of those in whom I am concerned. I am very sorry they are not such as I could wish they were, but then I also am spared somewhat of my application and engagement towards them. I approve of a man who is the less fond of his child for having a scald head, or for being crooked; and not only when he is ill-conditioned, but also when he is of unhappy disposition, and imperfect in his limbs (God himself has abated so much from his value and natural estimation), provided he carry himself in this coldness of affection with moderation and exact justice: proximity, with me, lessens not defects, but rather aggravates them.
After all, according to what I understand in the science of benefit and acknowledgment, which is a subtle science, and of great use, I know no person whatever more free and less indebted than I am at this hour. What I do owe is simply to foreign obligations and benefits; as to anything else, no man is more absolutely clear:
"Nec sunt mihi nota potentum Munera."
["The gifts of great men are unknown to me."—AEneid, xii. 529.]
Princes give me a great deal if they take nothing from me; and do me good enough if they do me no harm; that's all I ask from them. O how am I obliged to God, that he has been pleased I should immediately receive from his bounty all I have, and specially reserved all my obligation to himself. How earnestly do I beg of his holy compassion that I may never owe essential thanks to any one. O happy liberty wherein I have thus far lived. May it continue with me to the last. I endeavour to have no express need of any one:
"In me omnis spec est mihi."
["All my hope is in myself."—Terence, Adelph., iii. 5, 9.]
'Tis what every one may do in himself, but more easily they whom God has placed in a condition exempt from natural and urgent necessities. It is a wretched and dangerous thing to depend upon others; we ourselves, in whom is ever the most just and safest dependence, are not sufficiently sure.
I have nothing mine but myself, and yet the possession is, in part, defective and borrowed. I fortify myself both in courage, which is the strongest assistant, and also in fortune, therein wherewith to satisfy myself, though everything else should forsake me. Hippias of Elis not only furnished himself with knowledge, that he might, at need, cheerfully retire from all other company to enjoy the Muses: nor only with the knowledge of philosophy, to teach his soul to be contented with itself, and bravely to subsist without outward conveniences, when fate would have it so; he was, moreover, so careful as to learn to cook, to shave himself, to make his own clothes, his own shoes and drawers, to provide for all his necessities in himself, and to wean himself from the assistance of others. A man more freely and cheerfully enjoys borrowed conveniences, when it is not an enjoyment forced and constrained by need; and when he has, in his own will and fortune, the means to live without them. I know myself very well; but 'tis hard for me to imagine any so pure liberality of any one towards me, any so frank and free hospitality, that would not appear to me discreditable, tyrannical, and tainted with reproach, if necessity had reduced me to it. As giving is an ambitious and authoritative quality, so is accepting a quality of submission; witness the insulting and quarrelsome refusal that Bajazet made of the presents that Tamerlane sent him; and those that were offered on the part of the Emperor Solyman to the Emperor of Calicut, so angered him, that he not only rudely rejected them, saying that neither he nor any of his predecessors had ever been wont to take, and that it was their office to give; but, moreover, caused the ambassadors sent with the gifts to be put into a dungeon. When Thetis, says Aristotle, flatters Jupiter, when the Lacedaemonians flatter the Athenians, they do not put them in mind of the good they have done them, which is always odious, but of the benefits they have received from them. Such as I see so frequently employ every one in their affairs, and thrust themselves into so much obligation, would never do it, did they but relish as I do the sweetness of a pure liberty, and did they but weigh, as wise: men should, the burden of obligation: 'tis sometimes, peradventure, fully paid, but 'tis never dissolved. 'Tis a miserable slavery to a man who loves to be at full liberty in all reapects. Such as know me, both above and below me in station, are able to say whether they have ever known a man less importuning, soliciting, entreating, and pressing upon others than I. If I am so, and a degree beyond all modern example, 'tis no great wonder, so many parts of my manners contributing to it: a little natural pride, an impatience at being refused, the moderation of my desires and designs, my incapacity for business, and my most beloved qualities, idleness and freedom; by all these together I have conceived a mortal hatred to being obliged to any other, or by any other than myself. I leave no stone unturned, to do without it, rather than employ the bounty of another in any light or important occasion or necessity whatever. My friends strangely trouble me when they ask me to ask a third person; and I think it costs me little less to disengage him who is indebted to me, by making use of him, than to engage myself to him who owes me nothing. These conditions being removed, and provided they require of me nothing if any great trouble or care (for I have declared mortal war against all care), I am very ready to do every one the best service I can. I have been very willing to seek occasion to do people a good turn, and to attach them to me; and methinks there is no more agreeable employment for our means. But I have yet more avoided receiving than sought occasions of giving, and moreover, according to Aristotle, it is more easy., My fortune has allowed me but little to do others good withal, and the little it can afford, is put into a pretty close hand. Had I been born a great person, I should have been ambitious to have made myself beloved, not to make myself feared or admired: shall I more plainly express it? I should more have endeavoured to please than to profit others. Cyrus very wisely, and by the mouth of a great captain, and still greater philosopher, prefers his bounty and benefits much before his valour and warlike conquests; and the elder Scipio, wherever he would raise himself in esteem, sets a higher value upon his affability and humanity, than on his prowess and victories, and has always this glorious saying in his mouth: "That he has given his enemies as much occasion to love him as his friends." I will then say, that if a man must, of necessity, owe something, it ought to be by a more legitimate title than that whereof I am speaking, to which the necessity of this miserable war compels me; and not in so great a debt as that of my total preservation both of life and fortune: it overwhelms me.