The Essays of Montaigne, V17
Michel de Montaigne

This etext was produced by David Widger

[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]


Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



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

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

"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,

["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

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 0ffic., 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

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

"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

["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

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

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

"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

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

["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

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.

I have a thousand times gone to bed in my own house with an apprehension
that I should be betrayed and murdered that very night; compounding with
fortune, that it might be without terror and with quick despatch; and,
after my Paternoster, I have cried out,

"Impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit!"

["Shall impious soldiers have these new-ploughed grounds?"
--Virgil, Ecl., i. 71.]

What remedy? 'tis the place of my birth, and that of most of my
ancestors; they have here fixed their affection and name. We inure
ourselves to whatever we are accustomed to; and in so miserable a
condition as ours is, custom is a great bounty of nature, which benumbs
out senses to the sufferance of many evils. A civil war has this with it
worse than other wars have, to make us stand sentinels in our own houses.

"Quam miserum, porta vitam muroque tueri,
Vixque suae tutum viribus esse domus!"

["'Tis miserable to protect one's life by doors and walls, and to be
scarcely safe in one's own house."--Ovid, Trist., iv. I, 69.]

'Tis a grievous extremity for a man to be jostled even in his own house
and domestic repose. The country where I live is always the first in
arms and the last that lays them down, and where there is never an
absolute peace:

"Tunc quoque, cum pax est, trepidant formidine belli....
Quoties Romam fortuna lacessit;
Hac iter est bellis.... Melius, Fortuna, dedisses
Orbe sub Eco sedem, gelidaque sub Arcto,
Errantesque domos."

["Even when there's peace, there is here still the dear of war when
Fortune troubles peace, this is ever the way by which war passes."
--Ovid, Trist., iii. 10, 67.]

["We might have lived happier in the remote East or in the icy
North, or among the wandering tribes."--Lucan, i. 255.]

I sometimes extract the means to fortify myself against these
considerations from indifference and indolence, which, in some sort,
bring us on to resolution. It often befalls me to imagine and expect
mortal dangers with a kind of delight: I stupidly plunge myself headlong
into death, without considering or taking a view of it, as into a deep
and obscure abyss which swallows me up at one leap, and involves me in an
instant in a profound sleep, without any sense of pain. And in these
short and violent deaths, the consequence that I foresee administers more
consolation to me than the effect does fear. They say, that as life is
not better for being long, so death is better for being not long. I do
not so much evade being dead, as I enter into confidence with dying. I
wrap and shroud myself into the storm that is to blind and carry me away
with the fury of a sudden and insensible attack. Moreover, if it should
fall out that, as some gardeners say, roses and violets spring more
odoriferous near garlic and onions, by reason that the last suck and
imbibe all the ill odour of the earth; so, if these depraved natures
should also attract all the malignity of my air and climate, and render
it so much better and purer by their vicinity, I should not lose all.
That cannot be: but there may be something in this, that goodness is more
beautiful and attractive when it is rare; and that contrariety and
diversity fortify and consolidate well-doing within itself, and inflame
it by the jealousy of opposition and by glory. Thieves and robbers, of
their special favour, have no particular spite at me; no more have I to
them: I should have my hands too full. Like consciences are lodged under
several sorts of robes; like cruelty, disloyalty, rapine; and so much the
worse, and more falsely, when the more secure and concealed under colour
of the laws. I less hate an open professed injury than one that is
treacherous; an enemy in arms, than an enemy in a gown. Our fever has
seized upon a body that is not much the worse for it; there was fire
before, and now 'tis broken out into a flame; the noise is greater, not
the evil. I ordinarily answer such as ask me the reason of my travels,
"That I know very well what I fly from, but not what I seek." If they
tell me that there may be as little soundness amongst foreigners, and
that their manners are no better than ours: I first reply, that it is
hard to be believed;

"Tam multa: scelerum facies!"

["There are so many forms of crime."--Virgil, Georg., i. 506.]

secondly, that it is always gain to change an ill condition for one that
is uncertain; and that the ills of others ought not to afflict us so much
as our own.

I will not here omit, that I never mutiny so much against France, that I
am not perfectly friends with Paris; that city has ever had my heart from
my infancy, and it has fallen out, as of excellent things, that the more
beautiful cities I have seen since, the more the beauty of this still
wins upon my affection. I love her for herself, and more in her own
native being, than in all the pomp of foreign and acquired
embellishments. I love her tenderly, even to her warts and blemishes.
I am a Frenchman only through this great city, great in people, great in
the felicity of her situation; but, above all, great and incomparable in
variety and diversity of commodities: the glory of France, and one of the
most noble ornaments of the world. May God drive our divisions far from
her. Entire and united, I think her sufficiently defended from all other
violences. I give her caution that, of all sorts of people, those will
be the worst that shall set her in discord; I have no fear for her, but
of herself, and, certainly, I have as much fear for her as for any other
part of the kingdom. Whilst she shall continue, I shall never want a
retreat, where I may stand at bay, sufficient to make me amends for
parting with any other retreat.

Not because Socrates has said so, but because it is in truth my own
humour, and peradventure not without some excess, I look upon all men as
my compatriots, and embrace a Polander as a Frenchman, preferring the
universal and common tie to all national ties whatever. I am not much
taken with the sweetness of a native air: acquaintance wholly new and
wholly my own appear to me full as good as the other common and
fortuitous ones with Four neighbours: friendships that are purely of our
own acquiring ordinarily carry it above those to which the communication
of climate or of blood oblige us. Nature has placed us in the world free
and unbound; we imprison ourselves in certain straits, like the kings of
Persia, who obliged themselves to drink no other water but that of the
river Choaspes, foolishly quitted claim to their right in all other
streams, and, so far as concerned themselves, dried up all the other
rivers of the world. What Socrates did towards his end, to look upon a
sentence of banishment as worse than a sentence of death against him, I
shall, I think, never be either so decrepid or so strictly habituated to
my own country to be of that opinion. These celestial lives have images
enough that I embrace more by esteem than affection; and they have some
also so elevated and extraordinary that I cannot embrace them so much as
by esteem, forasmuch as I cannot conceive them. That fancy was singular
in a man who thought the whole world his city; it is true that he
disdained travel, and had hardly ever set his foot out of the Attic
territories. What say you to his complaint of the money his friends
offered to save his life, and that he refused to come out of prison by
the mediation of others, in order not to disobey the laws in a time when
they were otherwise so corrupt? These examples are of the first kind for
me; of the second, there are others that I could find out in the same
person: many of these rare examples surpass the force of my action, but
some of them, moreover, surpass the force of my judgment.

Besides these reasons, travel is in my opinion a very profitable
exercise; the soul is there continually employed in observing new and
unknown things, and I do not know, as I have often said a better school
wherein to model life than by incessantly exposing to it the diversity
of so many other lives, fancies, and usances, and by making it relish a
perpetual variety of forms of human nature. The body is, therein,
neither idle nor overwrought; and that moderate agitation puts it in
breath. I can keep on horseback, tormented with the stone as I am,
without alighting or being weary, eight or ten hours together:

"Vires ultra sorternque senectae."

["Beyond the strength and lot of age."--AEneid, vi. 114.]

No season is enemy to me but the parching heat of a scorching sun; for
the umbrellas made use of in Italy, ever since the time of the ancient
Romans, more burden a man's arm than they relieve his head. I would fain
know how it was that the Persians, so long ago and in the infancy of
luxury, made ventilators where they wanted them, and planted shades, as
Xenophon reports they did. I love rain, and to dabble in the dirt, as
well as ducks do. The change of air and climate never touches me; every
sky is alike; I am only troubled with inward alterations which I breed
within myself, and those are not so frequent in travel. I am hard to be
got out, but being once upon the road, I hold out as well as the best.
I take as much pains in little as in great attempts, and am as solicitous
to equip myself for a short journey, if but to visit a neighbour, as for
the longest voyage. I have learned to travel after the Spanish fashion,
and to make but one stage of a great many miles; and in excessive heats
I always travel by night, from sun set to sunrise. The other method of
baiting by the way, in haste and hurry to gobble up a dinner, is,
especially in short days, very inconvenient. My horses perform the
better; never any horse tired under me that was able to hold out the
first day's journey. I water them at every brook I meet, and have only a
care they have so much way to go before I come to my inn, as will digest
the water in their bellies. My unwillingness to rise in a morning gives
my servants leisure to dine at their ease before they set out; for my own
part, I never eat too late; my appetite comes to me in eating, and not
else; I am never hungry but at table.

Some of my friends blame me for continuing this travelling humour, being
married and old. But they are out in't; 'tis the best time to leave a
man's house, when he has put it into a way of continuing without him, and
settled such order as corresponds with its former government. 'Tis much
greater imprudence to abandon it to a less faithful housekeeper, and who
will be less solicitous to look after your affairs.

The most useful and honourable knowledge and employment for the mother of
a family is the science of good housewifery. I see some that are
covetous indeed, but very few that are good managers. 'Tis the supreme
quality of a woman, which a man ought to seek before any other, as the
only dowry that must ruin or preserve our houses. Let men say what they
will, according to the experience I have learned, I require in married
women the economical virtue above all other virtues; I put my wife to't,
as a concern of her own, leaving her, by my absence, the whole government
of my affairs. I see, and am vexed to see, in several families I know,
Monsieur about noon come home all jaded and ruffled about his affairs,
when Madame is still dressing her hair and tricking up herself, forsooth,
in her closet: this is for queens to do, and that's a question, too: 'tis
ridiculous and unjust that the laziness of our wives should be maintained
with our sweat and labour. No man, so far as in me lie, shall have a
clearer, a more quiet and free fruition of his estate than I. If the
husband bring matter, nature herself will that the wife find the form.

As to the duties of conjugal friendship, that some think to be impaired
by these absences, I am quite of another- opinion. It is, on the
contrary, an intelligence that easily cools by a too frequent and
assiduous companionship. Every strange woman appears charming, and we
all find by experience that being continually together is not so pleasing
as to part for a time and meet again. These interruptions fill me with
fresh affection towards my family, and render my house more pleasant to
me. Change warms my appetite to the one and then to the other. I know
that the arms of friendship are long enough to reach from the one end of
the world to the other, and especially this, where there is a continual
communication of offices that rouse the obligation and remembrance. The
Stoics say that there is so great connection and relation amongst the
sages, that he who dines in France nourishes his companion in Egypt; and
that whoever does but hold out his finger, in what part of the world
soever, all the sages upon the habitable earth feel themselves assisted
by it. Fruition and possession principally appertain to the imagination;
it more fervently and constantly embraces what it is in quest of, than
what we hold in our arms. Cast up your daily amusements; you will find
that you are most absent from your friend when he is present with you;
his presence relaxes your attention, and gives you liberty to absent
yourself at every turn and upon every occasion. When I am away at Rome,
I keep and govern my house, and the conveniences I there left; see my
walls rise, my trees shoot, and my revenue increase or decrease, very
near as well as when I am there:

"Ante oculos errat domus, errat forma locorum."

["My house and the forms of places float before my eyes"
--Ovid, Trist, iii. 4, 57.]

If we enjoy nothing but what we touch, we may say farewell to the money
in our chests, and to our sons when they are gone a hunting. We will
have them nearer to us: is the garden, or half a day's journey from home,
far? What is ten leagues: far or near? If near, what is eleven, twelve,
or thirteen, and so by degrees. In earnest, if there be a woman who can
tell her husband what step ends the near and what step begins the remote,
I would advise her to stop between;

"Excludat jurgia finis . . . .
Utor permisso; caudaeque pilos ut equinae
Paulatim vello, et demo unum, demo etiam unum
Dum cadat elusus ratione ruentis acervi:"

["Let the end shut out all disputes . . . . I use what is
permitted; I pluck out the hairs of the horse's tail one by one;
while I thus outwit my opponent."--Horace, Ep., ii, I, 38, 45]

and let them boldly call philosophy to their assistance; in whose teeth
it may be cast that, seeing it neither discerns the one nor the other end
of the joint, betwixt the too much and the little, the long and the
short, the light and the heavy, the near and the remote; that seeing it
discovers neither the beginning nor the end, it must needs judge very
uncertainly of the middle:

"Rerum natura nullam nobis dedit cognitionem finium."

["Nature has green to us no knowledge of the end of things."
--Cicero, Acad., ii. 29.]

Are they not still wives and friends to the dead who are not at the end
of this but in the other world? We embrace not only the absent, but
those who have been, and those who are not yet. We do not promise in
marriage to be continually twisted and linked together, like some little
animals that we see, or, like the bewitched folks of Karenty,--[Karantia,
a town in the isle of Rugen. See Saxo-Grammaticus, Hist. of Denmark,
book xiv.]--tied together like dogs; and a wife ought not to be so
greedily enamoured of her husband's foreparts, that she cannot endure to
see him turn his back, if occasion be. But may not this saying of that
excellent painter of woman's humours be here introduced, to show the
reason of their complaints?

"Uxor, si cesses, aut to amare cogitat,
Aut tete amari, aut potare, aut animo obsequi;
Et tibi bene esse soli, cum sibi sit male;"

["Your wife, if you loiter, thinks that you love or are beloved; or
that you are drinking or following your inclination; and that it is
well for you when it is ill for her (all the pleasure is yours and
hers all the care)."
--Terence, Adelph., act i., sc. I, v. 7.]

or may it not be, that of itself opposition and contradiction entertain
and nourish them, and that they sufficiently accommodate themselves,
provided they incommodate you?

In true friendship, wherein I am perfect, I more give myself to my
friend, than I endeavour to attract him to me. I am not only better
pleased in doing him service than if he conferred a benefit upon me,
but, moreover, had rather he should do himself good than me, and he most
obliges me when he does so; and if absence be either more pleasant or
convenient for him, 'tis also more acceptable to me than his presence;
neither is it properly absence, when we can write to one another: I have
sometimes made good use of our separation from one another: we better
filled and further extended the possession of life in being parted.
He--[La Boetie.]--lived, enjoyed, and saw for me, and I for him, as
fully as if he had himself been there; one part of us remained idle, and
we were too much blended in one another when we were together; the
distance of place rendered the conjunction of our wills more rich. This
insatiable desire of personal presence a little implies weakness in the
fruition of souls.

As to what concerns age, which is alleged against me, 'tis quite
contrary; 'tis for youth to subject itself to common opinions, and to
curb itself to please others; it has wherewithal to please both the
people and itself; we have but too much ado to please ourselves alone.
As natural conveniences fail, let us supply them with those that are
artificial. 'Tis injustice to excuse youth for pursuing its pleasures,
and to forbid old men to seek them. When young, I concealed my wanton
passions with prudence; now I am old, I chase away melancholy by debauch.
And thus do the platonic laws forbid men to travel till forty or fifty
years old, so that travel might be more useful and instructive in so
mature an age. I should sooner subscribe to the second article of the
same Laws, which forbids it after threescore.

"But, at such an age, you will never return from so long a journey."
What care I for that? I neither undertake it to return, nor to finish it
my business is only to keep myself in motion, whilst motion pleases me;
I only walk for the walk's sake. They who run after a benefit or a hare,
run not; they only run who run at base, and to exercise their running.
My design is divisible throughout: it is not grounded upon any great
hopes: every day concludes my expectation: and the journey of my life is
carried on after the same manner. And yet I have seen places enough a
great way off, where I could have wished to have stayed. And why not,
if Chrysippus, Cleanthes, Diogenes, Zeno, Antipater, so many sages of the
sourest sect, readily abandoned their country, without occasion of
complaint, and only for the enjoyment of another air. In earnest, that
which most displeases me in all my travels is, that I cannot resolve to
settle my abode where I should best like, but that I must always propose
to myself to return, to accommodate myself to the common humour.

If I feared to die in any other place than that of my birth; if I thought
I should die more uneasily remote from my own family, I should hardly go
out of France; I should not, without fear, step out of my parish; I feel
death always pinching me by the throat or by the back. But I am
otherwise constituted; 'tis in all places alike to me. Yet, might I have
my choice, I think I should rather choose to die on horseback than in
bed; out of my own house, and far from my own people. There is more
heartbreaking than consolation in taking leave of one's friends; I am
willing to omit that civility, for that, of all the offices of
friendship, is the only one that is unpleasant; and I could, with all my
heart, dispense with that great and eternal farewell. If there be any
convenience in so many standers-by, it brings an hundred inconveniences
along with it. I have seen many dying miserably surrounded with all this
train: 'tis a crowd that chokes them. 'Tis against duty, and is a
testimony of little kindness and little care, to permit you to die in
repose; one torments your eyes, another your ears, another your tongue;
you have neither sense nor member that is not worried by them. Your
heart is wounded with compassion to hear the mourning of friends, and,
perhaps with anger, to hear the counterfeit condolings of pretenders.
Who ever has been delicate and sensitive, when well, is much more so when
ill. In such a necessity, a gentle hand is required, accommodated to his
sentiment, to scratch him just in the place where he itches, otherwise
scratch him not at all. If we stand in need of a wise woman--[midwife,
Fr. 'sage femme'.]--to bring us into the world, we have much more need
of a still wiser man to help us out of it. Such a one, and a friend to
boot, a man ought to purchase at any cost for such an occasion. I am not
yet arrived to that pitch of disdainful vigour that is fortified in
itself, that nothing can assist or disturb; I am of a lower form; I
endeavour to hide myself, and to escape from this passage, not by fear,
but by art. I do not intend in this act of dying to make proof and show
of my constancy. For whom should I do it? all the right and interest I
have in reputation will then cease. I content myself with a death
involved within itself, quiet, solitary, and all my own, suitable to my
retired and private life; quite contrary to the Roman superstition, where
a man was looked upon as unhappy who died without speaking, and who had
not his nearest relations to close his eyes. I have enough to do to
comfort myself, without having to console others; thoughts enough in my
head, not to need that circumstances should possess me with new; and
matter enough to occupy me without borrowing. This affair is out of the
part of society; 'tis the act of one single person. Let us live and be
merry amongst our friends; let us go repine and die amongst strangers; a
man may find those, for his money, who will shift his pillow and rub his
feet, and will trouble him no more than he would have them; who will
present to him an indifferent countenance, and suffer him to govern
himself, and to complain according to his own method.

I wean myself daily by my reason from this childish and inhuman humour,
of desiring by our sufferings to move the compassion and mourning of our
friends: we stretch our own incommodities beyond their just extent when
we extract tears from others; and the constancy which we commend in every
one in supporting his adverse fortune, we accuse and reproach in our
friends when the evil is our own; we are not satisfied that they should
be sensible of our condition only, unless they be, moreover, afflicted.
A man should diffuse joy, but, as much as he can, smother grief. He who
makes himself lamented without reason is a man not to be lamented when
there shall be real cause: to be always complaining is the way never to
be lamented; by making himself always in so pitiful a taking, he is never
commiserated by any. He who makes himself out dead when he is alive, is
subject to be thought living when he is dying. I have seen some who have
taken it ill when they have been told that they looked well, and that
their pulse was good; restrain their smiles, because they betrayed a
recovery, and be angry, at their health because it was not to be
lamented: and, which is a great deal more, these were not women.
I describe my infirmities, such as they really are, at most, and avoid
all expressions of evil prognostic and composed exclamations. If not
mirth, at least a temperate countenance in the standers-by, is proper in
the presence of a wise sick man: he does not quarrel with health, for,
seeing himself in a contrary condition, he is pleased to contemplate it
sound and entire in others, and at least to enjoy it for company: he does
not, for feeling himself melt away, abandon all living thoughts, nor
avoid ordinary discourse. I would study sickness whilst I am well; when
it has seized me, it will make its impression real enough, without the
help of my imagination. We prepare ourselves beforehand for the journeys
we undertake, and resolve upon them; we leave the appointment of the hour
when to take horse to the company, and in their favour defer it.

I find this unexpected advantage in the publication of my manners, that
it in some sort serves me for a rule. I have, at times, some
consideration of not betraying the history of my life: this public
declaration obliges me to keep my way, and not to give the lie to the
image I have drawn of my qualities, commonly less deformed and
contradictory than consists with the malignity and infirmity of the
judgments of this age. The uniformity and simplicity of my manners
produce a face of easy interpretation; but because the fashion is a
little new and not in use, it gives too great opportunity to slander.
Yet so it is, that whoever would fairly assail me, I think I so
sufficiently assist his purpose in my known and avowed imperfections,
that he may that way satisfy his ill-nature without fighting with the
wind. If I myself, to anticipate accusation and discovery, confess
enough to frustrate his malice, as he conceives, 'tis but reason that he
make use of his right of amplification, and to wire-draw my vices as far
as he can; attack has its rights beyond justice; and let him make the
roots of those errors I have laid open to him shoot up into trees: let
him make his use, not only of those I am really affected with, but also
of those that only threaten me; injurious vices, both in quality and
number; let him cudgel me that way. I should willingly follow the
example of the philosopher Bion: Antigonus being about to reproach him
with the meanness of his birth, he presently cut him short with this
declaration: "I am," said he, "the son of a slave, a butcher, and
branded, and of a strumpet my father married in the lowest of his
fortune; both of them were whipped for offences they had committed. An
orator bought me, when a child, and finding me a pretty and hopeful boy,
bred me up, and when he died left me all his estate, which I have
transported into this city of Athens, and here settled myself to the
study of philosophy. Let the historians never trouble themselves with
inquiring about me: I will tell them about it." A free and generous
confession enervates reproach and disarms slander. So it is that, one
thing with another, I fancy men as often commend as undervalue me beyond
reason; as, methinks also, from my childhood, in rank and degree of
honour, they have given me a place rather above than below my right.
I should find myself more at ease in a country where these degrees were
either regulated or not regarded. Amongst men, when an altercation about
the precedence either of walking or sitting exceeds three replies, 'tis
reputed uncivil. I never stick at giving or taking place out of rule, to
avoid the trouble of such ceremony; and never any man had a mind to go
before me, but I permitted him to do it.

Besides this profit I make of writing of myself, I have also hoped for
this other advantage, that if it should fall out that my humour should
please or jump with those of some honest man before I die, he would then
desire and seek to be acquainted with me. I have given him a great deal
of made-way; for all that he could have, in many years, acquired by close
familiarity, he has seen in three days in this memorial, and more surely
and exactly. A pleasant fancy: many things that I would not confess to
any one in particular, I deliver to the public, and send my best friends
to a bookseller's shop, there to inform themselves concerning my most
secret thoughts;

"Excutienda damus praecordia."

["We give our hearts to be examined."--Persius, V. 22.]

Did I, by good direction, know where to seek any one proper for my
conversation, I should certainly go a great way to find him out: for the
sweetness of suitable and agreeable company cannot; in my opinion, be
bought too dear. O what a thing is a true friend! how true is that old
saying, that the use of a friend is more pleasing and necessary than the
elements of water and fire!

To return to my subject: there is, then, no great harm in dying privately
and far from home; we conceive ourselves obliged to retire for natural
actions less unseemly and less terrible than this. But, moreover, such
as are reduced to spin out a long languishing life, ought not, perhaps,
to wish to trouble a great family with their continual miseries;
therefore the Indians, in a certain province, thought it just to knock a
man on the head when reduced to such a necessity; and in another of their
provinces, they all forsook him to shift for himself as well as he could.
To whom do they not, at last, become tedious and insupportable? the
ordinary offices of fife do not go that length. You teach your best
friends to be cruel perforce; hardening wife and children by long use
neither to regard nor to lament your sufferings. The groans of the stone
are grown so familiar to my people, that nobody takes any notice of them.
And though we should extract some pleasure from their conversation (which
does not always happen, by reason of the disparity of conditions, which
easily begets contempt or envy toward any one whatever), is it not too
much to make abuse of this half a lifetime? The more I should see them
constrain themselves out of affection to be serviceable to me, the more I
should be sorry for their pains. We have liberty to lean, but not to lay
our whole weight upon others, so as to prop ourselves by their ruin; like
him who caused little children's throats to be cut to make use of their
blood for the cure of a disease he had, or that other, who was
continually supplied with tender young girls to keep his old limbs warm
in the night, and to mix the sweetness of their breath with his, sour and
stinking. I should readily advise Venice as a retreat in this decline of
life. Decrepitude is a solitary quality. I am sociable even to excess,
yet I think it reasonable that I should now withdraw my troubles from the
sight of the world and keep them to myself. Let me shrink and draw up
myself in my own shell, like a tortoise, and learn to see men without
hanging upon them. I should endanger them in so slippery a passage: 'tis
time to turn my back to company.

"But, in these travels, you will be taken ill in some wretched place,
where nothing can be had to relieve you." I always carry most things
necessary about me; and besides, we cannot evade Fortune if she once
resolves to attack us. I need nothing extraordinary when I am sick.
I will not be beholden to my bolus to do that for me which nature cannot.
At the very beginning of my fevers and sicknesses that cast me down,
whilst still entire, and but little, disordered in health, I reconcile
myself to Almighty God by the last Christian, offices, and find myself by
so doing less oppressed and more easy, and have got, methinks, so much
the better of my disease. And I have yet less need of a notary or
counsellor than of a physician. What I have not settled of my affairs
when I was in health, let no one expect I should do it when I am sick.
What I will do for the service of death is always done; I durst not so
much as one day defer it; and if nothing be done, 'tis as much as to say
either that doubt hindered my choice (and sometimes 'tis well chosen not
to choose), or that I was positively resolved not to do anything at all.

I write my book for few men and for few years. Had it been matter of
duration, I should have put it into firmer language. According to the
continual variation that ours has been subject to, up to this day, who
can expect that its present form should be in use fifty years hence?
It slips every day through our fingers, and since I was born, it is
altered above one-half. We say that it is now perfect; and every age
says the same of its own. I shall hardly trust to that, so long as it
varies and changes as it does. 'Tis for good and useful writings to
rivet it to them, and its reputation will go according to the fortune of
our state. For which reason I am not afraid to insert in it several
private articles, which will spend their use amongst the men that are now
living, and that concern the particular knowledge of some who will see
further into them than every common reader. I will not, after all, as I
often hear dead men spoken of, that men should say of me: "He judged, he
lived so and so; he would have done this or that; could he have spoken
when he was dying, he would have said so or so, and have given this thing
or t'other; I knew him better than any." Now, as much as decency
permits, I here discover my inclinations and affections; but I do more
willingly and freely by word of mouth to any one who desires to be
informed. So it is that in these memoirs, if any one observe, he will
find that I have either told or designed to tell all; what I cannot
express, I point out with my finger:

"Verum animo satis haec vestigia parva sagaci
Sunt, per quae possis cognoscere caetera tute"

["By these footsteps a sagacious mind many easily find all other
matters (are sufficient to enable one to learn the rest well.)"
--Lucretius, i. 403.]

I leave nothing to be desired or to be guessed at concerning me. If
people must be talking of me, I would have it to be justly and truly; I
would come again, with all my heart, from the other world to give any one
the lie who should report me other than I was, though he did it to honour
me. I perceive that people represent, even living men, quite another
thing than what they really are; and had I not stoutly defended a friend
whom I have lost,--[De la Boetie.]--they would have torn him into a
thousand contrary pieces.

To conclude the account of my poor humours, I confess that in my travels
I seldom reach my inn but that it comes into my mind to consider whether
I could there be sick and dying at my ease. I desire to be lodged in
some private part of the house, remote from all noise, ill scents, and
smoke. I endeavour to flatter death by these frivolous circumstances;
or, to say better, to discharge myself from all other incumbrances, that
I may have nothing to do, nor be troubled with anything but that which
will lie heavy enough upon me without any other load. I would have my
death share in the ease and conveniences of my life; 'tis a great part of
it, and of great importance, and I hope it will not in the future
contradict the past. Death has some forms that are more easy than
others, and receives divers qualities, according to every one's fancy.
Amongst the natural deaths, that which proceeds from weakness and stupor
I think the most favourable; amongst those that are violent, I can worse
endure to think of a precipice than of the fall of a house that will
crush me in a moment, and of a wound with a sword than of a harquebus
shot; I should rather have chosen to poison myself with Socrates, than
stab myself with Cato. And, though it, be all one, yet my imagination
makes as great a difference as betwixt death and life, betwixt throwing
myself into a burning furnace and plunging into the channel of a river:
so idly does our fear more concern itself in the means than the effect.
It is but an instant, 'tis true, but withal an instant of such weight,
that I would willingly give a great many days of my life to pass it over
after my own fashion. Since every one's imagination renders it more or
less terrible, and since every one has some choice amongst the several
forms of dying, let us try a little further to find some one that is
wholly clear from all offence. Might not one render it even voluptuous,
like the Commoyientes of Antony and Cleopatra? I set aside the brave and
exemplary efforts produced by philosophy and religion; but, amongst men
of little mark there have been found some, such as Petronius and
Tigellinus at Rome, condemned to despatch themselves, who have, as it
were, rocked death asleep with the delicacy of their preparations; they
have made it slip and steal away in the height of their accustomed
diversions amongst girls and good fellows; not a word of consolation, no
mention of making a will, no ambitious affectation of constancy, no talk
of their future condition; amongst sports, feastings, wit, and mirth,
common and indifferent discourses, music, and amorous verses. Were it
not possible for us to imitate this resolution after a more decent
manner? Since there are deaths that are good for fools, deaths good for
the wise, let us find out such as are fit for those who are betwixt both.
My imagination suggests to me one that is easy, and, since we must die,
to be desired. The Roman tyrants thought they did, in a manner, give a
criminal life when they gave him the choice of his death. But was not
Theophrastus, that so delicate, so modest, and so wise a philosopher,
compelled by reason, when he durst say this verse, translated by Cicero:

"Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia?"

["Fortune, not wisdom, sways human life."
--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., V. 31.]

Fortune assists the facility of the bargain of my life, having placed it
in such a condition that for the future it can be neither advantage nor
hindrance to those who are concerned in me; 'tis a condition that I would
have accepted at any time of my life; but in this occasion of trussing up
my baggage, I am particularly pleased that in dying I shall neither do
them good nor harm. She has so ordered it, by a cunning compensation,
that they who may pretend to any considerable advantage by my death will,
at the same time, sustain a material inconvenience. Death sometimes is
more grievous to us, in that it is grievous to others, and interests us
in their interest as much as in our own, and sometimes more.

In this conveniency of lodging that I desire, I mix nothing of pomp and
amplitude--I hate it rather; but a certain plain neatness, which is
oftenest found in places where there is less of art, and that Nature has
adorned with some grace that is all her own:

"Non ampliter, sea munditer convivium."

["To eat not largely, but cleanly."--Nepos, Life of Atticus, c. 13]

"Plus salis quam sumptus."

["Rather enough than costly (More wit than cost)"--Nonius, xi. 19.]

And besides, 'tis for those whose affairs compel them to travel in the
depth of winter through the Grisons country to be surprised upon the way
with great inconveniences. I, who, for the most part, travel for my
pleasure, do not order my affairs so ill. If the way be foul on my right
hand, I turn on my left; if I find myself unfit to ride, I stay where I
am; and, so doing, in earnest I see nothing that is not as pleasant and
commodious as my own house. 'Tis true that I always find superfluity
superfluous, and observe a kind of trouble even in abundance itself.
Have I left anything behind me unseen, I go back to see it; 'tis still on
my way; I trace no certain line, either straight or crooked.--[Rousseau
has translated this passage in his Emile, book v.]--Do I not find in the
place to which I go what was reported to me--as it often falls out that
the judgments of others do not jump with mine, and that I have found
their reports for the most part false--I never complain of losing my
labour: I have, at least, informed myself that what was told me was not

I have a constitution of body as free, and a palate as indifferent, as
any man living: the diversity of manners of several nations only affects
me in the pleasure of variety: every usage has its reason. Let the plate
and dishes be pewter, wood, or earth; my meat be boiled or roasted; let
them give me butter or oil, of nuts or olives, hot or cold, 'tis all one
to me; and so indifferent, that growing old, I accuse this generous
faculty, and would wish that delicacy and choice should correct the
indiscretion of my appetite, and sometimes soothe my stomach. When I
have been abroad out of France and that people, out of courtesy, have
asked me if I would be served after the French manner, I laughed at the
question, and always frequented tables the most filled with foreigners.
I am ashamed to see our countrymen besotted with this foolish humour of
quarrelling with forms contrary to their own; they seem to be out of
their element when out of their own village: wherever they go, they keep
to their own fashions and abominate those of strangers. Do they meet
with a compatriot in Hungary? O the happy chance! They are henceforward
inseparable; they cling together, and their whole discourse is to condemn
the barbarous manners they see about them. Why barbarous, because they
are not French? And those have made the best use of their travels who
have observed most to speak against. Most of them go for no other end
but to come back again; they proceed in their travel with vast gravity
and circumspection, with a silent and incommunicable prudence, preserving
themselves from the contagion of an unknown air. What I am saying of
them puts me in mind of something like it I have at times observed in
some of our young courtiers; they will not mix with any but men of their
own sort, and look upon us as men of another world, with disdain or pity.
Put them upon any discourse but the intrigues of the court, and they are
utterly at a loss; as very owls and novices to us as we are to them.
'Tis truly said that a well-bred man is a compound man. I, on the
contrary, travel very much sated with our own fashions; I do not look for
Gascons in Sicily; I have left enough of them at home; I rather seek for
Greeks and Persians; they are the men I endeavour to be acquainted with
and the men I study; 'tis there that I bestow and employ myself. And
which is more, I fancy that I have met but with few customs that are not
as good as our own; I have not, I confess, travelled very far; scarce out
of the sight of the vanes of my own house.

As to the rest, most of the accidental company a man falls into upon the
road beget him more trouble than pleasure; I waive them as much as I
civilly can, especially now that age seems in some sort to privilege and
sequester me from the common forms. You suffer for others or others
suffer for you; both of them inconveniences of importance enough, but the
latter appears to me the greater. 'Tis a rare fortune, but of
inestimable solace; to have a worthy man, one of a sound judgment and of
manners conformable to your own, who takes a delight to bear you company.
I have been at an infinite loss for such upon my travels. But such a
companion should be chosen and acquired from your first setting out.
There can be no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so
much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind, that it does not grieve
me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to communicate it to:

"Si cum hac exceptione detur sapientia,
ut illam inclusam teneam, nec enuntiem, rejiciam."

["If wisdom be conferred with this reservation, that I must keep it
to myself, and not communicate it to others, I would none of it."
--Seneca, Ep., 6.]

This other has strained it one note higher:

"Si contigerit ea vita sapienti, ut ommum rerum afliuentibus copiis,
quamvis omnia, quae cognitione digna sunt, summo otio secum ipse
consideret et contempletur, tamen, si solitudo tanta sit, ut hominem
videre non possit, excedat a vita."

["If such a condition of life should happen to a wise man, that in
the greatest plenty of all conveniences he might, at the most
undisturbed leisure, consider and contemplate all things worth the
knowing, yet if his solitude be such that he must not see a man, let
him depart from life."--Cicero, De Offic., i. 43.]

Architas pleases me when he says, "that it would be unpleasant, even in
heaven itself, to wander in those great and divine celestial bodies
without a companion. But yet 'tis much better to be alone than in
foolish and troublesome company. Aristippus loved to live as a stranger
in all places:

"Me si fata meis paterentur ducere vitam

["If the fates would let me live in my own way."--AEneid, iv. 340.]

I should choose to pass away the greatest part of my life on horseback:

"Visere gestiens,
Qua pane debacchentur ignes,
Qua nebula, pluviique rores."

["Visit the regions where the sun burns, where are the thick rain-
clouds and the frosts."--Horace, Od., iii. 3, 54.]

"Have you not more easy diversions at home? What do you there want? Is
not your house situated in a sweet and healthful air, sufficiently
furnished, and more than sufficiently large? Has not the royal majesty
been more than once there entertained with all its train? Are there not
more below your family in good ease than there are above it in eminence?
Is there any local, extraordinary, indigestible thought that afflicts

"Qua to nunc coquat, et vexet sub pectore fixa."

["That may now worry you, and vex, fixed in your breast."
--Cicero, De Senect, c. 1, Ex Ennio.]

"Where do you think to live without disturbance?"

"Nunquam simpliciter Fortuna indulget."

["Fortune is never simply complaisant (unmixed)."
--Quintus Curtius, iv. 14]

You see, then, it is only you that trouble yourself; you will everywhere
follow yourself, and everywhere complain; for there is no satisfaction
here below, but either for brutish or for divine souls. He who, on so
just an occasion, has no contentment, where will he think to find it?
How many thousands of men terminate their wishes in such a condition as
yours? Do but reform yourself; for that is wholly in your own power!
whereas you have no other right but patience towards fortune:

"Nulla placida quies est, nisi quam ratio composuit."

["There is no tranquillity but that which reason has conferred."
--Seneca, Ep., 56.]

I see the reason of this advice, and see it perfectly well; but he might
sooner have done, and more pertinently, in bidding me in one word be
wise; that resolution is beyond wisdom; 'tis her precise work and
product. Thus the physician keeps preaching to a poor languishing
patient to "be cheerful"; but he would advise him a little more
discreetly in bidding him "be well." For my part, I am but a man of the
common sort. 'Tis a wholesome precept, certain and easy to be
understood, "Be content with what you have," that is to say, with reason:
and yet to follow this advice is no more in the power of the wise men of
the world than in me. 'Tis a common saying, but of a terrible extent:
what does it not comprehend? All things fall under discretion and
qualification. I know very well that, to take it by the letter, this
pleasure of travelling is a testimony of uneasiness and irresolution,
and, in sooth, these two are our governing and predominating qualities.
Yes, I confess, I see nothing, not so much as in a dream, in a wish,
whereon I could set up my rest: variety only, and the possession of
diversity, can satisfy me; that is, if anything can. In travelling, it
pleases me that I may stay where I like, without inconvenience, and that
I have a place wherein commodiously to divert myself. I love a private
life, because 'tis my own choice that I love it, not by any dissenting
from or dislike of public life, which, peradventure, is as much according
to my complexion. I serve my prince more cheerfully because it is by the
free election of my own judgment and reason, without any particular
obligation; and that I am not reduced and constrained so to do for being
rejected or disliked by the other party; and so of all the rest. I hate
the morsels that necessity carves me; any commodity upon which I had only
to depend would have me by the throat;

"Alter remus aquas, alter mihi radat arenas;"

["Let me have one oar in the water, and with the other rake the
shore."--Propertius, iii. 3, 23.]

one cord will never hold me fast enough. You will say, there is vanity
in this way of living. But where is there not? All these fine precepts
are vanity, and all wisdom is vanity:

"Dominus novit cogitationes sapientum, quoniam vanae sunt."

["The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain."
--Ps. xciii. II; or I Cor. iii. 20.]

These exquisite subtleties are only fit for sermons; they are discourses
that will send us all saddled into the other world. Life is a material
and corporal motion, an action imperfect and irregular of its own proper
essence; I make it my business to serve it according to itself:

"Quisque suos patimur manes."

["We each of us suffer our own particular demon."--AEneid, vi. 743.]

"Sic est faciendum, ut contra naturam universam nihil contendamus;
ea tamen conservata propriam sequamur."

["We must so order it as by no means to contend against universal
nature; but yet, that rule being observed, to follow our own."
--Cicero, De Offcc., i. 31.]

To what end are these elevated points of philosophy, upon which no human
being can rely? and those rules that exceed both our use and force?

I see often that we have theories of life set before us which neither the
proposer nor those who hear him have any hope, nor, which is more, any
inclination to follow. Of the same sheet of paper whereon the judge has
but just written a sentence against an adulterer, he steals a piece
whereon to write a love-letter to his companion's wife. She whom you
have but just now illicitly embraced will presently, even in your
hearing, more loudly inveigh against the same fault in her companion than
a Portia would do;--[The chaste daughter of Cato of Utica.]--and men
there are who will condemn others to death for crimes that they
themselves do not repute so much as faults. I have, in my youth, seen a
man of good rank with one hand present to the people verses that excelled
both in wit and debauchery, and with the other, at the same time, the
most ripe and pugnacious theological reformation that the world has been
treated withal these many years. And so men proceed; we let the laws and
precepts follow their way; ourselves keep another course, not only from
debauchery of manners, but ofttimes by judgment and contrary opinion. Do
but hear a philosophical lecture; the invention, eloquence, pertinency
immediately strike upon your mind and move you; there is nothing that
touches or stings your conscience; 'tis not to this they address
themselves. Is not this true? It made Aristo say, that neither a bath
nor a lecture did aught unless it scoured and made men clean. One may
stop at the skin; but it is after the marrow is picked out as, after we
have swallowed good wine out of a fine cup, we examine the designs and
workmanship. In all the courts of ancient philosophy, this is to be
found, that the same teacher publishes rules of temperance and at the
same time lessons in love and wantonness; Xenophon, in the very bosom of
Clinias, wrote against the Aristippic virtue. 'Tis not that there is any
miraculous conversion in it that makes them thus wavering; 'tis that
Solon represents himself, sometimes in his own person, and sometimes in
that of a legislator; one while he speaks for the crowd, and another for
himself; taking the free and natural rules for his own share, feeling
assured of a firm and entire health:

"Curentur dubii medicis majoribus aegri."

["Desperate maladies require the best doctors."
--Juvenal, xiii. 124.]

Antisthenes allows a sage to love, and to do whatever he thinks
convenient, without regard to the laws, forasmuch as he is better advised
than they, and has a greater knowledge of virtue. His disciple Diogenes
said, that "men to perturbations were to oppose reason: to fortune,
courage: to the laws, nature." For tender stomachs, constrained and
artificial recipes must be prescribed: good and strong stomachs serve
themselves simply with the prescriptions of their own natural appetite;
after this manner do our physicians proceed, who eat melons and drink
iced wines, whilst they confine their patients to syrups and sops.
"I know not," said the courtezan Lais, "what they may talk of books,
wisdom, and philosophy; but these men knock as often at my door as any
others." At the same rate that our licence carries us beyond what is
lawful and allowed, men have, often beyond universal reason, stretched
the precepts and rules of our life:

"Nemo satis credit tantum delinquere, quantum

["No one thinks he has done ill to the full extent of what he may."
--Juvenal, xiv. 233.]

It were to be wished that there was more proportion betwixt the command
and the obedience; and the mark seems to be unjust to which one cannot
attain. There is no so good man, who so squares all his thoughts and
actions to the laws, that he is not faulty enough to deserve hanging ten
times in his life; and he may well be such a one, as it were great
injustice and great harm to punish and ruin:

"Ole, quid ad te
De cute quid faciat ille vel ille sua?"

["Olus, what is it to thee what he or she does with their skin?"
--Martial, vii. 9, I.]

and such an one there may be, who has no way offended the laws, who,
nevertheless, would not deserve the character of a virtuous man, and whom
philosophy would justly condemn to be whipped; so unequal and perplexed
is this relation. We are so far from being good men, according to the
laws of God, that we cannot be so according to our own human wisdom never
yet arrived at the duties it had itself prescribed; and could it arrive
there, it would still prescribe to itself others beyond, to which it
would ever aspire and pretend; so great an enemy to consistency is our
human condition. Man enjoins himself to be necessarily in fault: he is
not very discreet to cut out his own duty by the measure of another being
than his own. To whom does he prescribe that which he does not expect
any one should perform? is he unjust in not doing what it is impossible
for him to do? The laws which condemn us not to be able, condemn us for
not being able.

At the worst, this difform liberty of presenting ourselves two several
ways, the actions after one manner and the reasoning after another, may
be allowed to those who only speak of things; but it cannot be allowed to
those who speak of themselves, as I do: I must march my pen as I do my
feet. Common life ought to have relation to the other lives: the virtue
of Cato was vigorous beyond the reason of the age he lived in; and for a
man who made it his business to govern others, a man dedicated to the
public service, it might be called a justice, if not unjust, at least
vain and out of season. Even my own manners, which differ not above an
inch from those current amongst us, render me, nevertheless, a little
rough and unsociable at my age. I know not whether it be without reason
that I am disgusted with the world I frequent; but I know very well that
it would be without reason, should I complain of its being disgusted with
me, seeing I am so with it. The virtue that is assigned to the affairs
of the world is a virtue of many wavings, corners, and elbows, to join
and adapt itself to human frailty, mixed and artificial, not straight,
clear, constant, nor purely innocent. Our annals to this very day
reproach one of our kings for suffering himself too simply to be carried
away by the conscientious persuasions of his confessor: affairs of state
have bolder precepts;

"Exeat aula,
Qui vult esse pius."

["Let him who will be pious retire from the court."
--Lucan, viii. 493]

I formerly tried to employ in the service of public affairs opinions and
rules of living, as rough, new, unpolished or unpolluted, as they were
either born with me, or brought away from my education, and wherewith I
serve my own turn, if not so commodiously, at least securely, in my own
particular concerns: a scholastic and novice virtue; but I have found
them unapt and dangerous. He who goes into a crowd must now go one way
and then another, keep his elbows close, retire or advance, and quit the
straight way, according to what he encounters; and must live not so much
according to his own method as to that of others; not according to what
he proposes to himself, but according to what is proposed to him,
according to the time, according to the men, according to the occasions.
Plato says, that whoever escapes from the world's handling with clean
breeches, escapes by miracle: and says withal, that when he appoints his
philosopher the head of a government, he does not mean a corrupt one like
that of Athens, and much less such a one as this of ours, wherein wisdom
itself would be to seek. A good herb, transplanted into a soil contrary
to its own nature, much sooner conforms itself to the soil than it
reforms the soil to it. I found that if I had wholly to apply myself to
such employments, it would require a great deal of change and new
modelling in me before I could be any way fit for it: And though I could
so far prevail upon myself (and why might I not with time and diligence
work such a feat), I would not do it. The little trial I have had of
public employment has been so much disgust to me; I feel at times
temptations toward ambition rising in my soul, but I obstinately oppose

"At tu, Catulle, obstinatus obdura."

["But thou, Catullus, be obstinately firm."--Catullus, viii. 19.]

I am seldom called to it, and as seldom offer myself uncalled; liberty
and laziness, the qualities most predominant in me, are qualities
diametrically contrary to that trade. We cannot well distinguish the
faculties of men; they have divisions and limits hard and delicate to
choose; to conclude from the discreet conduct of a private life a
capacity for the management of public affairs is to conclude ill; a man
may govern himself well who cannot govern others so, and compose Essays
who could not work effects: men there may be who can order a siege well,
who would ill marshal a battle; who can speak well in private, who would
ill harangue a people or a prince; nay, 'tis peradventure rather a
testimony in him who can do the one that he cannot do the other, than
otherwise. I find that elevated souls are not much more proper for mean
things than mean souls are for high ones. Could it be imagined that
Socrates should have administered occasion of laughter, at the expense of
his own reputation, to the Athenians for: having never been able to sum
up the votes of his tribe, to deliver it to the council? Truly, the
veneration I have for the perfections of this great man deserves that his
fortune should furnish, for the excuse of my principal imperfections, so
magnificent an example. Our sufficiency is cut out into small parcels;
mine has no latitude, and is also very contemptible in number.
Saturninus, to those who had conferred upon him the command in chief:
"Companions," said he, "you have lost a good captain, to make of him a
bad general."

Whoever boasts, in so sick a time as this, to employ a true and sincere
virtue in the world's service, either knows not what it is, opinions
growing corrupt with manners (and, in truth, to hear them describe it, to
hear the most of them glorify themselves in their deportments, and lay
down their rules; instead of painting virtue, they paint pure vice and
injustice, and so represent it false in the education of princes); or if
he does know it, boasts unjustly and let him say what he will, does a
thousand things of which his own conscience must necessarily accuse him.
I should willingly take Seneca's word on the experience he made upon the
like occasion, provided he would deal sincerely with me. The most
honourable mark of goodness in such a necessity is freely to confess both
one's own faults and those of others; with the power of its virtue to
stay one's inclination towards evil; unwillingly to follow this
propension; to hope better, to desire better. I perceive that in these
divisions wherein we are involved in France, every one labours to defend
his cause; but even the very best of them with dissimulation and
disguise: he who would write roundly of the true state of the quarrel,
would write rashly and wrongly. The most just party is at best but a
member of a decayed and worm-eaten body; but of such a body, the member
that is least affected calls itself sound, and with good reason,
forasmuch as our qualities have no title but in comparison; civil
innocence is measured according to times and places. Imagine this in
Xenophon, related as a fine commendation of Agesilaus: that, being
entreated by a neighbouring prince with whom he had formerly had war, to
permit him to pass through his country, he granted his request, giving
him free passage through Peloponnesus; and not only did not imprison or
poison him, being at his mercy, but courteously received him according to
the obligation of his promise, without doing him the least injury or
offence. To such ideas as theirs this were an act of no especial note;
elsewhere and in another age, the frankness and unanimity of such an
action would be thought wonderful; our monkeyish capets

[Capets, so called from their short capes, were the students of
Montaigne College at Paris, and were held in great contempt.]

would have laughed at it, so little does the Spartan innocence resemble
that of France. We are not without virtuous men, but 'tis according to
our notions of virtue. Whoever has his manners established in regularity
above the standard of the age he lives in, let him either wrest or blunt
his rules, or, which I would rather advise him to, let him retire, and
not meddle with us at all. What will he get by it?

"Egregium sanctumque virum si cerno, bimembri
Hoc monstrum puero, et miranti jam sub aratro
Piscibus inventis, et foetae comparo mulae."

["If I see an exemplary and good man, I liken it to a two-headed
boy, or a fish turned up by the plough, or a teeming mule."
--Juvenal, xiii. 64.]

One may regret better times, but cannot fly from the present; we may wish
for other magistrates, but we must, notwithstanding, obey those we have;
and, peradventure, 'tis more laudable to obey the bad than the good. So
long as the image of the ancient and received laws of this monarchy shall
shine in any corner of the kingdom, there will I be. If they
unfortunately happen to thwart and contradict one another, so as to
produce two parts, of doubtful and difficult choice, I will willingly
choose to withdraw and escape the tempest; in the meantime nature or the
hazards of war may lend me a helping hand. Betwixt Caesar and Pompey,
I should frankly have declared myself; but, as amongst the three robbers
who came after,--[Octavius, Mark Antony, and Lepidus.]--a man must have
been necessitated either to hide himself, or have gone along with the
current of the time, which I think one may fairly do when reason no
longer guides:

"Quo diversus abis?"

["Whither dost thou run wandering?"--AEneid, v. 166.]

This medley is a little from my theme; I go out of my way; but 'tis
rather by licence than oversight; my fancies follow one another, but
sometimes at a great distance, and look towards one another, but 'tis
with an oblique glance. I have read a dialogue of Plato,--[The
Phaedrus.]--of the like motley and fantastic composition, the beginning
about love, and all the rest to the end about rhetoric; they fear not
these variations, and have a marvellous grace in letting themselves be
carried away at the pleasure of the wind, or at least to seem as if they
were. The titles of my chapters do not always comprehend the whole
matter; they often denote it by some mark only, as these others, Andria,
Eunuchus; or these, Sylla, Cicero, Toyquatus. I love a poetic progress,
by leaps and skips; 'tis an art, as Plato says, light, nimble, demoniac.
There are pieces in Plutarch where he forgets his theme; where the
proposition of his argument is only found by incidence, stuffed and half
stifled in foreign matter. Observe his footsteps in the Daemon of
Socrates. O God! how beautiful are these frolicsome sallies, those
variations and digressions, and all the more when they seem most
fortuitous and careless. 'Tis the indiligent reader who loses my
subject, and not I; there will always be found some word or other in a
corner that is to the purpose, though it lie very close. I ramble
indiscreetly and tumultuously; my style and my wit wander at the same
rate. He must fool it a little who would not be deemed wholly a fool,
say both the precepts, and, still more, the examples of our masters. A
thousand poets flag and languish after a prosaic manner; but the best old
prose (and I strew it here up and down indifferently for verse) shines
throughout with the lustre, vigour, and boldness of poetry, and not
without some air of its fury. And certainly prose ought to have the pre-
eminence in speaking. The poet, says Plato, seated upon the muses
tripod, pours out with fury whatever comes into his mouth, like the pipe
of a fountain, without considering and weighing it; and things escape him
of various colours, of contrary substance, and with an irregular torrent.
Plato himself is throughout poetical; and the old theology, as the
learned tell us, is all poetry; and the first philosophy is the original
language of the gods. I would have my matter distinguish itself; it
sufficiently shows where it changes, where it concludes, where it begins,
and where it rejoins, without interlacing it with words of connection
introduced for the relief of weak or negligent ears, and without
explaining myself. Who is he that had not rather not be read at all than
after a drowsy or cursory manner?

"Nihil est tam utile, quod intransitu prosit."

["Nothing is so useful as that which is cursorily so."
--Seneca, Ep., 2.]

If to take books in hand were to learn them: to look upon them were to
consider them: and to run these slightly over were to grasp them, I were
then to blame to make myself out so ignorant as I say I am. Seeing I
cannot fix the attention of my reader by the weight of what I write,
'manco male', if I should chance to do it by my intricacies. "Nay, but
he will afterwards repent that he ever perplexed himself about it."
'Tis very true, but he will yet be there perplexed. And, besides, there
are some humours in which comprehension produces disdain; who will think
better of me for not understanding what I say, and will conclude the
depth of my sense by its obscurity; which, to speak in good sooth, I
mortally hate, and would avoid it if I could. Aristotle boasts somewhere
in his writings that he affected it: a vicious affectation. The frequent
breaks into chapters that I made my method in the beginning of my book,
having since seemed to me to dissolve the attention before it was raised,
as making it disdain to settle itself to so little, I, upon that account,
have made them longer, such as require proposition and assigned leisure.
In such an employment, to whom you will not give an hour you give
nothing; and you do nothing for him for whom you only do it whilst you
are doing something else. To which may be added that I have,
peradventure, some particular obligation to speak only by halves, to
speak confusedly and discordantly. I am therefore angry at this trouble-
feast reason, and its extravagant projects that worry one's life, and its
opinions, so fine and subtle, though they be all true, I think too dear
bought and too inconvenient. On the contrary, I make it my business to
bring vanity itself in repute, and folly too, if it produce me any
pleasure; and let myself follow my own natural inclinations, without
carrying too strict a hand upon them.

I have seen elsewhere houses in ruins, and statues both of gods and men:
these are men still. 'Tis all true; and yet, for all that, I cannot so
often revisit the tomb of that so great and so puissant city,--[Rome]--
that I do not admire and reverence it. The care of the dead is
recommended to us; now, I have been bred up from my infancy with these
dead; I had knowledge of the affairs of Rome long before I had any of
those of my own house; I knew the Capitol and its plan before I knew the
Louvre, and the Tiber before I knew the Seine. The qualities and
fortunes of Lucullus, Metellus, and Scipio have ever run more in my head
than those of any of my own country; they are all dead; so is my father
as absolutely dead as they, and is removed as far from me and life in
eighteen years as they are in sixteen hundred: whose memory,
nevertheless, friendship and society, I do not cease to embrace and
utilise with a perfect and lively union. Nay, of my own inclination, I
pay more service to the dead; they can no longer help themselves, and
therefore, methinks, the more require my assistance: 'tis there that
gratitude appears in its full lustre. The benefit is not so generously
bestowed, where there is retrogradation and reflection. Arcesilaus,
going to visit Ctesibius, who was sick, and finding him in a very poor
condition, very finely conveyed some money under his pillow, and, by
concealing it from him, acquitted him, moreover, from the acknowledgment
due to such a benefit. Such as have merited from me friendship and
gratitude have never lost these by being no more; I have better and more
carefully paid them when gone and ignorant of what I did; I speak most
affectionately of my friends when they can no longer know it. I have had
a hundred quarrels in defending Pompey and for the cause of Brutus; this
acquaintance yet continues betwixt us; we have no other hold even on
present things but by fancy. Finding myself of no use to this age, I
throw myself back upon that other, and am so enamoured of it, that the
free, just, and flourishing state of that ancient Rome (for I neither
love it in its birth nor its old age) interests and impassionates me;
and therefore I cannot so often revisit the sites of their streets and
houses, and those ruins profound even to the Antipodes, that I am not
interested in them. Is it by nature, or through error of fancy, that the
sight of places which we know to have been frequented and inhabited by
persons whose memories are recommended in story, moves us in some sort
more than to hear a recital of their--acts or to read their writings?

"Tanta vis admonitionis inest in locis....Et id quidem in hac urbe
infinitum; quacumque enim ingredimur, in aliquam historiam vestigium

["So great a power of reminiscence resides in places; and that truly
in this city infinite, for which way soever we go, we find the
traces of some story."--Cicero, De Fin., v. I, 2.]

It pleases me to consider their face, bearing, and vestments: I pronounce
those great names betwixt my teeth, and make them ring in my ears:

"Ego illos veneror, et tantis nominibus semper assurgo."

["I reverence them, and always rise to so great names."
--Seneca, Ep., 64.]

Of things that are in some part great and admirable, I admire even the
common parts: I could wish to see them in familiar relations, walk, and
sup. It were ingratitude to contemn the relics and images of so many
worthy and valiant men as I have seen live and die, and who, by their
example, give us so many good instructions, knew we how to follow them.

And, moreover, this very Rome that we now see, deserves to be beloved, so
long and by so many titles allied to our crown; the only common and
universal city; the sovereign magistrate that commands there is equally
acknowledged elsewhere 'tis the metropolitan city of all the Christian
nations the Spaniard and Frenchman is there at home: to be a prince of
that state, there needs no more but to be of Christendom wheresoever.
There is no place upon earth that heaven has embraced with such an
influence and constancy of favour; her very ruins are grand and glorious,

"Laudandis pretiosior ruinis."

["More precious from her glorious ruins."
--Sidonius Apollinaris, Carm., xxiii.; Narba, v. 62.]

she yet in her very tomb retains the marks and images of empire:

"Ut palam sit, uno in loco gaudentis opus esse naturx."

["That it may be manifest that there is in one place the work of
rejoicing nature."--Pliny, Nat. Hist., iii. 5.]

Some would blame and be angry at themselves to perceive themselves
tickled with so vain a pleasure our humours are never too vain that are
pleasant let them be what they may, if they constantly content a man of
common understanding, I could not have the heart to blame him.

I am very much obliged to Fortune, in that, to this very hour, she has
offered me no outrage beyond what I was well able to bear. Is it not her
custom to let those live in quiet by whom she is not importuned?

"Quanto quisque sibi plum negaverit,
A diis plum feret: nil cupientium
Nudus castra peto . . . .
Multa petentibus
Desunt multa."

["The more each man denies himself, the more the gods give him.
Poor as I am, I seek the company of those who ask nothing; they who
desire much will be deficient in much."
--Horace, Od., iii. 16,21,42.]

If she continue her favour, she will dismiss me very well satisfied:

"Nihil supra
Deos lacesso."

["I trouble the gods no farther."--Horace, Od., ii. 18, 11.]

But beware a shock: there are a thousand who perish in the port.
I easily comfort myself for what shall here happen when I shall be gone,
present things trouble me enough:

"Fortunae caetera mando."

["I leave the rest to fortune."--Ovid, Metam., ii. 140.]

Besides, I have not that strong obligation that they say ties men to the
future, by the issue that succeeds to their name and honour; and
peradventure, ought less to covet them, if they are to be so much
desired. I am but too much tied to the world, and to this life, of
myself: I am content to be in Fortune's power by circumstances properly
necessary to my being, without otherwise enlarging her jurisdiction over
me; and have never thought that to be without children was a defect that
ought to render life less complete or less contented: a sterile vocation
has its conveniences too. Children are of the number of things that are
not so much to be desired, especially now that it would be so hard to
make them good:

"Bona jam nec nasci licet, ita corrupta Bunt semina;"

["Nothing good can be born now, the seed is so corrupt."
--Tertullian, De Pudicita.]

and yet they are justly to be lamented by such as lose them when they
have them.

He who left me my house in charge, foretold that I was like to ruin it,
considering my humour so little inclined to look after household affairs.
But he was mistaken; for I am in the same condition now as when I first
entered into it, or rather somewhat better; and yet without office or any
place of profit.

As to the rest, if Fortune has never done me any violent or extraordinary
injury, neither has she done me any particular favour; whatever we derive
from her bounty, was there above a hundred years before my time: I have,
as to my own particular, no essential and solid good, that I stand
indebted for to her liberality. She has, indeed, done me some airy
favours, honorary and titular favours, without substance, and those in
truth she has not granted, but offered me, who, God knows, am all
material, and who take nothing but what is real, and indeed massive too,
for current pay: and who, if I durst confess so much, should not think
avarice much less excusable than ambition: nor pain less to be avoided
than shame; nor health less to be coveted than learning, or riches than

Amongst those empty favours of hers, there is none that so much pleases
vain humour natural to my country, as an authentic bull of a Roman
burgess-ship, that was granted me when I was last there, glorious in
seals and gilded letters, and granted with all gracious liberality. And
because 'tis couched in a mixt style, more or less favourable, and that I
could have been glad to have seen a copy of it before it had passed the

Being before burgess of no city at all, I am glad to be created one of
the most noble that ever was or ever shall be. If other men would
consider themselves at the rate I do, they would, as I do, discover
themselves to be full of inanity and foppery; to rid myself of it, I
cannot, without making myself away. We are all steeped in it, as well
one as another; but they who are not aware on't, have somewhat the better
bargain; and yet I know not whether they have or no.

This opinion and common usage to observe others more than ourselves has
very much relieved us that way: 'tis a very displeasing object: we can
there see nothing but misery and vanity: nature, that we may not be
dejected with the sight of our own deformities, has wisely thrust the
action of seeing outward. We go forward with the current, but to turn
back towards ourselves is a painful motion; so is the sea moved and
troubled when the waves rush against one another. Observe, says every
one, the motions of the heavens, of public affairs; observe the quarrel
of such a person, take notice of such a one's pulse, of such another's
last will and testament; in sum, be always looking high or low, on one
side, before or behind you. It was a paradoxical command anciently given
us by that god of Delphos: "Look into yourself; discover yourself; keep
close to yourself; call back your mind and will, that elsewhere consume
themselves into yourself; you run out, you spill yourself; carry a more
steady hand: men betray you, men spill you, men steal you from yourself.
Dost thou not see that this world we live in keeps all its sight confined
within, and its eyes open to contemplate itself? 'Tis always vanity for
thee, both within and without; but 'tis less vanity when less extended.
Excepting thee, O man, said that god, everything studies itself first,
and has bounds to its labours and desires, according to its need. There
is nothing so empty and necessitous as thou, who embracest the universe;
thou art the investigator without knowledge, the magistrate without
jurisdiction, and, after all, the fool of the farce."


A man may govern himself well who cannot govern others so
A man should diffuse joy, but, as much as he can, smother grief
A well-bred man is a compound man
All over-nice solicitude about riches smells of avarice
Always complaining is the way never to be lamented
Appetite comes to me in eating
Better to be alone than in foolish and troublesome company
By suspecting them, have given them a title to do ill
Change only gives form to injustice and tyranny
Civil innocence is measured according to times and places
Conclude the depth of my sense by its obscurity
Concluding no beauty can be greater than what they see
Confession enervates reproach and disarms slander
Counterfeit condolings of pretenders
Crates did worse, who threw himself into the liberty of poverty
Desire of travel
Enough to do to comfort myself, without having to console others
Friend, it is not now time to play with your nails
Gain to change an ill condition for one that is uncertain
Giving is an ambitious and authoritative quality
Good does not necessarily succeed evil; another evil may succeed
Greedy humour of new and unknown things
He must fool it a little who would not be deemed wholly a fool
I always find superfluity superfluous
I am disgusted with the world I frequent
I am hard to be got out, but being once upon the road
I am very willing to quit the government of my house
I content myself with enjoying the world without bustle
I enter into confidence with dying
I grudge nothing but care and trouble
I hate poverty equally with pain
I scorn to mend myself by halves
I write my book for few men and for few years
Justice als takes cognisance of those who glean after the reaper
Known evil was ever more supportable than one that was, new
Laws (of Plato on travel), which forbids it after threescore.
Liberty and laziness, the qualities most predominant in me
Liberty of poverty
Liberty to lean, but not to lay our whole weight upon others
Little affairs most disturb us
Men as often commend as undervalue me beyond reason
Methinks I promise it, if I but say it
My mind is easily composed at distance
Neither be a burden to myself nor to any other
No use to this age, I throw myself back upon that other
Nothing falls where all falls
Nothing presses so hard upon a state as innovation
Obstinate in growing worse
Occupy our thoughts about the general, and about universal cause
One may regret better times, but cannot fly from the present
Opposition and contradiction entertain and nourish them
Our qualities have no title but in comparison
Preferring the universal and common tie to all national ties
Proceed so long as there shall be ink and paper in the world
Satisfied and pleased with and in themselves
Settled my thoughts to live upon less than I have
Some wives covetous indeed, but very few that are good managers
That looks a nice well-made shoe to you
There can be no pleasure to me without communication
Think myself no longer worth my own care
Tis for youth to subject itself to common opinions
Tis more laudable to obey the bad than the good
Titles of my chapters do not always comprehend the whole matter
Travel with not only a necessary, but a handsome equipage
Turn up my eyes to heaven to return thanks, than to crave
Weigh, as wise: men should, the burden of obligation
What sort of wine he liked the best: "That of another,"
What step ends the near and what step begins the remote
When I travel I have nothing to care for but myself
Wise man to keep a curbing hand upon the impetus of friendship
World where loyalty of one's own children is unknown
Wretched and dangerous thing to depend upon others
You have lost a good captain, to make of him a bad general


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