The Essays of Montaigne, V4
Michel de Montaigne

This etext was produced by David Widger

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Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt



XXII. Of custom, and that we should not easily change a law received
XXIII. Various events from the same counsel.
XXIV. Of pedantry.



He seems to me to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of
custom, who first invented the story of a country-woman who, having
accustomed herself to play with and carry a young calf in her arms, and
daily continuing to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that,
when grown to be a great ox, she was still able to bear it. For, in
truth, custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by
little and little, slily and unperceived, slips in the foot of her
authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the
benefit of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and
tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the
power so much as to lift up our eyes. We see her, at every turn, forcing
and violating the rules of nature:

"Usus efficacissimus rerum omnium magister."

["Custom is the best master of all things."
--Pliny, Nat. Hist.,xxvi. 2.]

I refer to her Plato's cave in his Republic, and the physicians, who so
often submit the reasons of their art to her authority; as the story of
that king, who by custom brought his stomach to that pass, as to live by
poison, and the maid that Albertus reports to have lived upon spiders.
In that new world of the Indies, there were found great nations, and in
very differing climates, who were of the same diet, made provision of
them, and fed them for their tables; as also, they did grasshoppers,
mice, lizards, and bats; and in a time of scarcity of such delicacies, a
toad was sold for six crowns, all which they cook, and dish up with
several sauces. There were also others found, to whom our diet, and the
flesh we eat, were venomous and mortal:

"Consuetudinis magna vis est: pernoctant venatores in nive:
in montibus uri se patiuntur: pugiles, caestibus contusi,
ne ingemiscunt quidem."

["The power of custom is very great: huntsmen will lie out all
night in the snow, or suffer themselves to be burned up by the sun
on the mountains; boxers, hurt by the caestus, never utter a
groan."--Cicero, Tusc., ii. 17]

These strange examples will not appear so strange if we consider what we
have ordinary experience of, how much custom stupefies our senses. We
need not go to what is reported of the people about the cataracts of the
Nile; and what philosophers believe of the music of the spheres, that the
bodies of those circles being solid and smooth, and coming to touch and
rub upon one another, cannot fail of creating a marvellous harmony, the
changes and cadences of which cause the revolutions and dances of the
stars; but that the hearing sense of all creatures here below, being
universally, like that of the Egyptians, deafened, and stupefied with the
continual noise, cannot, how great soever, perceive it--[This passage is
taken from Cicero, "Dream of Scipio"; see his De Republica, vi. II. The
Egyptians were said to be stunned by the noise of the Cataracts.]--
Smiths, millers, pewterers, forgemen, and armourers could never be able
to live in the perpetual noise of their own trades, did it strike their
ears with the same violence that it does ours.

My perfumed doublet gratifies my own scent at first; but after I have
worn it three days together, 'tis only pleasing to the bystanders. This
is yet more strange, that custom, notwithstanding long intermissions and
intervals, should yet have the power to unite and establish the effect of
its impressions upon our senses, as is manifest in such as live near unto
steeples and the frequent noise of the bells. I myself lie at home in a
tower, where every morning and evening a very great bell rings out the
Ave Maria: the noise shakes my very tower, and at first seemed
insupportable to me; but I am so used to it, that I hear it without any
manner of offence, and often without awaking at it.

Plato--[Diogenes Laertius, iii. 38. But he whom Plato censured was not
a boy playing at nuts, but a man throwing dice.]--reprehending a boy for
playing at nuts, "Thou reprovest me," says the boy, "for a very little
thing." "Custom," replied Plato, "is no little thing." I find that our
greatest vices derive their first propensity from our most tender
infancy, and that our principal education depends upon the nurse.
Mothers are mightily pleased to see a child writhe off the neck of a
chicken, or to please itself with hurting a dog or a cat; and such wise
fathers there are in the world, who look upon it as a notable mark of a
martial spirit, when they hear a son miscall, or see him domineer over a
poor peasant, or a lackey, that dares not reply, nor turn again; and a
great sign of wit, when they see him cheat and overreach his playfellow
by some malicious treachery and deceit. Yet these are the true seeds and
roots of cruelty, tyranny, and treason; they bud and put out there, and
afterwards shoot up vigorously, and grow to prodigious bulk, cultivated
by custom. And it is a very dangerous mistake to excuse these vile
inclinations upon the tenderness of their age, and the triviality of the
subject: first, it is nature that speaks, whose declaration is then more
sincere, and inward thoughts more undisguised, as it is more weak and
young; secondly, the deformity of cozenage does not consist nor depend
upon the difference betwixt crowns and pins; but I rather hold it more
just to conclude thus: why should he not cozen in crowns since he does it
in pins, than as they do, who say they only play for pins, they would not
do it if it were for money? Children should carefully be instructed to
abhor vices for their own contexture; and the natural deformity of those
vices ought so to be represented to them, that they may not only avoid
them in their actions, but especially so to abominate them in their
hearts, that the very thought should be hateful to them, with what mask
soever they may be disguised.

I know very well, for what concerns myself, that from having been brought
up in my childhood to a plain and straightforward way of dealing, and
from having had an aversion to all manner of juggling and foul play in my
childish sports and recreations (and, indeed, it is to be noted, that the
plays of children are not performed in play, but are to be judged in them
as their most serious actions), there is no game so small wherein from my
own bosom naturally, and without study or endeavour, I have not an
extreme aversion from deceit. I shuffle and cut and make as much clatter
with the cards, and keep as strict account for farthings, as it were for
double pistoles; when winning or losing against my wife and daughter,
'tis indifferent to me, as when I play in good earnest with others, for
round sums. At all times, and in all places, my own eyes are sufficient
to look to my fingers; I am not so narrowly watched by any other, neither
is there any I have more respect to.

I saw the other day, at my own house, a little fellow, a native of
Nantes, born without arms, who has so well taught his feet to perform the
services his hands should have done him, that truly these have half
forgotten their natural office; and, indeed, the fellow calls them his
hands; with them he cuts anything, charges and discharges a pistol,
threads a needle, sews, writes, puts off his hat, combs his head, plays
at cards and dice, and all this with as much dexterity as any other could
do who had more, and more proper limbs to assist him. The money I gave
him--for he gains his living by shewing these feats--he took in his foot,
as we do in our hand. I have seen another who, being yet a boy,
flourished a two-handed sword, and, if I may so say, handled a halberd
with the mere motions of his neck and shoulders for want of hands; tossed
them into the air, and caught them again, darted a dagger, and cracked a
whip as well as any coachman in France.

But the effects of custom are much more manifest in the strange
impressions she imprints in our minds, where she meets with less
resistance. What has she not the power to impose upon our judgments and
beliefs? Is there any so fantastic opinion (omitting the gross
impostures of religions, with which we see so many great nations, and so
many understanding men, so strangely besotted; for this being beyond the
reach of human reason, any error is more excusable in such as are not
endued, through the divine bounty, with an extraordinary illumination
from above), but, of other opinions, are there any so extravagant, that
she has not planted and established for laws in those parts of the world
upon which she has been pleased to exercise her power? And therefore
that ancient exclamation was exceeding just:

"Non pudet physicum, id est speculatorem venatoremque naturae,
ab animis consuetudine imbutis petere testimonium veritatis?"

["Is it not a shame for a natural philosopher, that is, for an
observer and hunter of nature, to seek testimony of the truth from
minds prepossessed by custom?"--Cicero, De Natura Deor., i. 30.]

I do believe, that no so absurd or ridiculous fancy can enter into human
imagination, that does not meet with some example of public practice, and
that, consequently, our reason does not ground and back up. There are
people, amongst whom it is the fashion to turn their backs upon him they
salute, and never look upon the man they intend to honour. There is a
place, where, whenever the king spits, the greatest ladies of his court
put out their hands to receive it; and another nation, where the most
eminent persons about him stoop to take up his ordure in a linen cloth.
Let us here steal room to insert a story.

A French gentleman was always wont to blow his nose with his fingers (a
thing very much against our fashion), and he justifying himself for so
doing, and he was a man famous for pleasant repartees, he asked me, what
privilege this filthy excrement had, that we must carry about us a fine
handkerchief to receive it, and, which was more, afterwards to lap it
carefully up, and carry it all day about in our pockets, which, he said,
could not but be much more nauseous and offensive, than to see it thrown
away, as we did all other evacuations. I found that what he said was not
altogether without reason, and by being frequently in his company, that
slovenly action of his was at last grown familiar to me; which
nevertheless we make a face at, when we hear it reported of another
country. Miracles appear to be so, according to our ignorance of nature,
and not according to the essence of nature the continually being
accustomed to anything, blinds the eye of our judgment. Barbarians are
no more a wonder to us, than we are to them; nor with any more reason, as
every one would confess, if after having travelled over those remote
examples, men could settle themselves to reflect upon, and rightly to
confer them, with their own. Human reason is a tincture almost equally
infused into all our opinions and manners, of what form soever they are;
infinite in matter, infinite in diversity. But I return to my subject.

There are peoples, where, his wife and children excepted, no one speaks
to the king but through a tube. In one and the same nation, the virgins
discover those parts that modesty should persuade them to hide, and the
married women carefully cover and conceal them. To which, this custom,
in another place, has some relation, where chastity, but in marriage, is
of no esteem, for unmarried women may prostitute themselves to as many as
they please, and being got with child, may lawfully take physic, in the
sight of every one, to destroy their fruit. And, in another place, if a
tradesman marry, all of the same condition, who are invited to the
wedding, lie with the bride before him; and the greater number of them
there is, the greater is her honour, and the opinion of her ability and
strength: if an officer marry, 'tis the same, the same with a labourer,
or one of mean condition; but then it belongs to the lord of the place to
perform that office; and yet a severe loyalty during marriage is
afterward strictly enjoined. There are places where brothels of young
men are kept for the pleasure of women; where the wives go to war as well
as the husbands, and not only share in the dangers of battle, but,
moreover, in the honours of command. Others, where they wear rings not
only through their noses, lips, cheeks, and on their toes, but also
weighty gimmals of gold thrust through their paps and buttocks; where, in
eating, they wipe their fingers upon their thighs, genitories, and the
soles of their feet: where children are excluded, and brothers and
nephews only inherit; and elsewhere, nephews only, saving in the
succession of the prince: where, for the regulation of community in goods
and estates, observed in the country, certain sovereign magistrates have
committed to them the universal charge and overseeing of the agriculture,
and distribution of the fruits, according to the necessity of every one
where they lament the death of children, and feast at the decease of old
men: where they lie ten or twelve in a bed, men and their wives together:
where women, whose husbands come to violent ends, may marry again, and
others not: where the condition of women is looked upon with such
contempt, that they kill all the native females, and buy wives of their
neighbours to supply their use; where husbands may repudiate their wives,
without showing any cause, but wives cannot part from their husbands, for
what cause soever; where husbands may sell their wives in case of
sterility; where they boil the bodies of their dead, and afterward pound
them to a pulp, which they mix with their wine, and drink it; where the
most coveted sepulture is to be eaten by dogs, and elsewhere by birds;
where they believe the souls of the blessed live in all manner of
liberty, in delightful fields, furnished with all sorts of delicacies,
and that it is these souls, repeating the words we utter, which we call
Echo; where they fight in the water, and shoot their arrows with the most
mortal aim, swimming; where, for a sign of subjection, they lift up their
shoulders, and hang down their heads; where they put off their shoes when
they enter the king's palace; where the eunuchs, who take charge of the
sacred women, have, moreover, their lips and noses cut off, that they may
not be loved; where the priests put out their own eyes, to be better
acquainted with their demons, and the better to receive their oracles;
where every one makes to himself a deity of what he likes best; the
hunter of a lion or a fox, the fisher of some fish; idols of every human
action or passion; in which place, the sun, the moon, and the earth are
the 'principal deities, and the form of taking an oath is, to touch the
earth, looking up to heaven; where both flesh and fish is eaten raw;
where the greatest oath they take is, to swear by the name of some dead
person of reputation, laying their hand upon his tomb; where the
newyear's gift the king sends every year to the princes, his vassals, is
fire, which being brought, all the old fire is put out, and the
neighbouring people are bound to fetch of the new, every one for
themselves, upon pain of high treason; where, when the king, to betake
himself wholly to devotion, retires from his administration (which often
falls out), his next successor is obliged to do the same, and the right
of the kingdom devolves to the third in succession: where they vary the
form of government, according to the seeming necessity of affairs: depose
the king when they think good, substituting certain elders to govern in
his stead, and sometimes transferring it into the hands of the
commonality: where men and women are both circumcised and also baptized:
where the soldier, who in one or several engagements, has been so
fortunate as to present seven of the enemies' heads to the king, is made
noble: where they live in that rare and unsociable opinion of the
mortality of the soul: where the women are delivered without pain or
fear: where the women wear copper leggings upon both legs, and if a louse
bite them, are bound in magnanimity to bite them again, and dare not
marry, till first they have made their king a tender of their virginity,
if he please to accept it: where the ordinary way of salutation is by
putting a finger down to the earth, and then pointing it up toward
heaven: where men carry burdens upon their heads, and women on their
shoulders; where the women make water standing, and the men squatting:
where they send their blood in token of friendship, and offer incense to
the men they would honour, like gods: where, not only to the fourth, but
in any other remote degree, kindred are not permitted to marry: where the
children are four years at nurse, and often twelve; in which place, also,
it is accounted mortal to give the child suck the first day after it is
born: where the correction of the male children is peculiarly designed to
the fathers, and to the mothers of the girls; the punishment being to
hang them by the heels in the smoke: where they circumcise the women:
where they eat all sorts of herbs, without other scruple than of the
badness of the smell: where all things are open the finest houses,
furnished in the richest manner, without doors, windows, trunks, or
chests to lock, a thief being there punished double what they are in
other places: where they crack lice with their teeth like monkeys, and
abhor to see them killed with one's nails: where in all their lives they
neither cut their hair nor pare their nails; and, in another place, pare
those of the right hand only, letting the left grow for ornament and
bravery: where they suffer the hair on the right side to grow as long as
it will, and shave the other; and in the neighbouring provinces, some let
their hair grow long before, and some behind, shaving close the rest:
where parents let out their children, and husbands their wives, to their
guests to hire: where a man may get his own mother with child, and
fathers make use of their own daughters or sons, without scandal: where,
at their solemn feasts, they interchangeably lend their children to one
another, without any consideration of nearness of blood. In one place,
men feed upon human flesh; in another, 'tis reputed a pious office for a
man to kill his father at a certain age; elsewhere, the fathers dispose
of their children, whilst yet in their mothers' wombs, some to be
preserved and carefully brought up, and others to be abandoned or made
away. Elsewhere the old husbands lend their wives to young men; and in
another place they are in common without offence; in one place
particularly, the women take it for a mark of honour to have as many gay
fringed tassels at the bottom of their garment, as they have lain with
several men. Moreover, has not custom made a republic of women
separately by themselves? has it not put arms into their hands, and made
them raise armies and fight battles? And does she not, by her own
precept, instruct the most ignorant vulgar, and make them perfect in
things which all the philosophy in the world could never beat into the
heads of the wisest men? For we know entire nations, where death was not
only despised, but entertained with the greatest triumph; where children
of seven years old suffered themselves to be whipped to death, without
changing countenance; where riches were in such contempt, that the
meanest citizen would not have deigned to stoop to take up a purse of
crowns. And we know regions, very fruitful in all manner of provisions,
where, notwithstanding, the most ordinary diet, and that they are most
pleased with, is only bread, cresses, and water. Did not custom,
moreover, work that miracle in Chios that, in seven hundred years, it was
never known that ever maid or wife committed any act to the prejudice of
her honour?

To conclude; there is nothing, in my opinion, that she does not, or may
not do; and therefore, with very good reason it is that Pindar calls her
the ruler of the world. He that was seen to beat his father, and
reproved for so doing, made answer, that it was the custom of their
family; that, in like manner, his father had beaten his grandfather, his
grandfather his great-grandfather, "And this," says he, pointing to his
son, "when he comes to my age, shall beat me." And the father, whom the
son dragged and hauled along the streets, commanded him to stop at a
certain door, for he himself, he said, had dragged his father no farther,
that being the utmost limit of the hereditary outrage the sons used to
practise upon the fathers in their family. It is as much by custom as
infirmity, says Aristotle, that women tear their hair, bite their nails,
and eat coals and earth, and more by custom than nature that men abuse
themselves with one another.

The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature,
proceed from custom; every one, having an inward veneration for the
opinions and manners approved and received amongst his own people,
cannot, without very great reluctance, depart from them, nor apply
himself to them without applause. In times past, when those of Crete
would curse any one, they prayed the gods to engage him in some ill
custom. But the principal effect of its power is, so to seize and
ensnare us, that it is hardly in us to disengage ourselves from its
gripe, or so to come to ourselves, as to consider of and to weigh the
things it enjoins. To say the truth, by reason that we suck it in with
our milk, and that the face of the world presents itself in this posture
to our first sight, it seems as if we were born upon condition to follow
on this track; and the common fancies that we find in repute everywhere
about us, and infused into our minds with the seed of our fathers, appear
to be the most universal and genuine; from whence it comes to pass, that
whatever is off the hinges of custom, is believed to be also off the
hinges of reason; how unreasonably for the most part, God knows.

If, as we who study ourselves have learned to do, every one who hears a
good sentence, would immediately consider how it does in any way touch
his own private concern, every one would find, that it was not so much a
good saying, as a severe lash to the ordinary stupidity of his own
judgment: but men receive the precepts and admonitions of truth, as
directed to the common sort, and never to themselves; and instead of
applying them to their own manners, do only very ignorantly and
unprofitably commit them to memory. But let us return to the empire of

Such people as have been bred up to liberty, and subject to no other
dominion but the authority of their own will, look upon all other form of
government as monstrous and contrary to nature. Those who are inured to
monarchy do the same; and what opportunity soever fortune presents them
with to change, even then, when with the greatest difficulties they have
disengaged themselves from one master, that was troublesome and grievous
to them, they presently run, with the same difficulties, to create
another; being unable to take into hatred subjection itself.

'Tis by the mediation of custom, that every one is content with the place
where he is planted by nature; and the Highlanders of Scotland no more
pant after Touraine; than the Scythians after Thessaly. Darius asking
certain Greeks what they would take to assume the custom of the Indians,
of eating the dead bodies of their fathers (for that was their use,
believing they could not give them a better nor more noble sepulture than
to bury them in their own bodies), they made answer, that nothing in the
world should hire them to do it; but having also tried to persuade the
Indians to leave their custom, and, after the Greek manner, to burn the
bodies of their fathers, they conceived a still greater horror at the
motion.--[Herodotus, iii. 38.]--Every one does the same, for use veils
from us the true aspect of things.

"Nil adeo magnum, nec tam mirabile quidquam
Principio, quod non minuant mirarier omnes Paullatim."

["There is nothing at first so grand, so admirable, which by degrees
people do not regard with less admiration."--Lucretius, ii. 1027]

Taking upon me once to justify something in use amongst us, and that was
received with absolute authority for a great many leagues round about us,
and not content, as men commonly do, to establish it only by force of law
and example, but inquiring still further into its origin, I found the
foundation so weak, that I who made it my business to confirm others, was
very near being dissatisfied myself. 'Tis by this receipt that Plato--
[Laws, viii. 6.]--undertakes to cure the unnatural and preposterous
loves of his time, as one which he esteems of sovereign virtue, namely,
that the public opinion condemns them; that the poets, and all other
sorts of writers, relate horrible stories of them; a recipe, by virtue of
which the most beautiful daughters no more allure their fathers' lust;
nor brothers, of the finest shape and fashion, their sisters' desire; the
very fables of Thyestes, OEdipus, and Macareus, having with the harmony
of their song, infused this wholesome opinion and belief into the tender
brains of children. Chastity is, in truth, a great and shining virtue,
and of which the utility is sufficiently known; but to treat of it, and
to set it off in its true value, according to nature, is as hard as 'tis
easy to do so according to custom, laws, and precepts. The fundamental
and universal reasons are of very obscure and difficult research, and our
masters either lightly pass them over, or not daring so much as to touch
them, precipitate themselves into the liberty and protection of custom,
there puffing themselves out and triumphing to their heart's content:
such as will not suffer themselves to be withdrawn from this original
source, do yet commit a greater error, and subject themselves to wild
opinions; witness Chrysippus,--[Sextus Empiricus, Pyyrhon. Hypotyp., i.
14.]--who, in so many of his writings, has strewed the little account he
made of incestuous conjunctions, committed with how near relations

Whoever would disengage himself from this violent prejudice of custom,
would find several things received with absolute and undoubting opinion,
that have no other support than the hoary head and rivelled face of
ancient usage. But the mask taken off, and things being referred to the
decision of truth and reason, he will find his judgment as it were
altogether overthrown, and yet restored to a much more sure estate. For
example, I shall ask him, what can be more strange than to see a people
obliged to obey laws they never understood; bound in all their domestic
affairs, as marriages, donations, wills, sales, and purchases, to rules
they cannot possibly know, being neither written nor published in their
own language, and of which they are of necessity to purchase both the
interpretation and the use? Not according to the ingenious opinion of
Isocrates,--[Discourse to Nicocles.]--who counselled his king to make
the traffics and negotiations of his subjects, free, frank, and of profit
to them, and their quarrels and disputes burdensome, and laden with heavy
impositions and penalties; but, by a prodigious opinion, to make sale of
reason itself, and to give to laws a course of merchandise. I think
myself obliged to fortune that, as our historians report, it was a Gascon
gentleman, a countryman of mine, who first opposed Charlemagne, when he
attempted to impose upon us Latin and imperial laws.

What can be more savage, than to see a nation where, by lawful custom,
the office of a judge is bought and sold, where judgments are paid for
with ready money, and where justice may legitimately be denied to him
that has not wherewithal to pay; a merchandise in so great repute, as in
a government to create a fourth estate of wrangling lawyers, to add to
the three ancient ones of the church, nobility, and people; which fourth
estate, having the laws in their own hands, and sovereign power over
men's lives and fortunes, makes another body separate from nobility:
whence it comes to pass, that there are double laws, those of honour and
those of justice, in many things altogether opposite one to another; the
nobles as rigorously condemning a lie taken, as the other do a lie
revenged: by the law of arms, he shall be degraded from all nobility and
honour who puts up with an affront; and by the civil law, he who
vindicates his reputation by revenge incurs a capital punishment: he who
applies himself to the law for reparation of an offence done to his
honour, disgraces himself; and he who does not, is censured and punished
by the law. Yet of these two so different things, both of them referring
to one head, the one has the charge of peace, the other of war; those
have the profit, these the honour; those the wisdom, these the virtue;
those the word, these the action; those justice, these valour; those
reason, these force; those the long robe, these the short;--divided
betwixt them.

For what concerns indifferent things, as clothes, who is there seeking to
bring them back to their true use, which is the body's service and
convenience, and upon which their original grace and fitness depend; for
the most fantastic, in my opinion, that can be imagined, I will instance
amongst others, our flat caps, that long tail of velvet that hangs down
from our women's heads, with its party-coloured trappings; and that vain
and futile model of a member we cannot in modesty so much as name, which,
nevertheless, we make show and parade of in public. These
considerations, notwithstanding, will not prevail upon any understanding
man to decline the common mode; but, on the contrary, methinks, all
singular and particular fashions are rather marks of folly and vain
affectation than of sound reason, and that a wise man, within, ought to
withdraw and retire his soul from the crowd, and there keep it at liberty
and in power to judge freely of things; but as to externals, absolutely
to follow and conform himself to the fashion of the time. Public society
has nothing to do with our thoughts, but the rest, as our actions, our
labours, our fortunes, and our lives, we are to lend and abandon them to
its service and to the common opinion, as did that good and great
Socrates who refused to preserve his life by a disobedience to the
magistrate, though a very wicked and unjust one for it is the rule of
rules, the general law of laws, that every one observe those of the place
wherein he lives.

["It is good to obey the laws of one's country."
--Excerpta ex Trag. Gyaecis, Grotio interp., 1626, p. 937.]

And now to another point. It is a very great doubt, whether any so
manifest benefit can accrue from the alteration of a law received, let it
be what it will, as there is danger and inconvenience in altering it;
forasmuch as government is a structure composed of divers parts and
members joined and united together, with so strict connection, that it is
impossible to stir so much as one brick or stone, but the whole body will
be sensible of it. The legislator of the Thurians--[Charondas; Diod.
Sic., xii. 24.]--ordained, that whosoever would go about either to
abolish an old law, or to establish a new, should present himself with a
halter about his neck to the people, to the end, that if the innovation
he would introduce should not be approved by every one, he might
immediately be hanged; and he of the Lacedaemonians employed his life to
obtain from his citizens a faithful promise that none of his laws should
be violated.--[Lycurgus; Plutarch, in Vita, c. 22.]--The Ephoros who so
rudely cut the two strings that Phrynis had added to music never stood to
examine whether that addition made better harmony, or that by its means
the instrument was more full and complete; it was enough for him to
condemn the invention, that it was a novelty, and an alteration of the
old fashion. Which also is the meaning of the old rusty sword carried
before the magistracy of Marseilles.

For my own part, I have a great aversion from a novelty, what face or
what pretence soever it may carry along with it, and have reason, having
been an eyewitness of the great evils it has produced. For those which
for so many years have lain so heavy upon us, it is not wholly
accountable; but one may say, with colour enough, that it has
accidentally produced and begotten the mischiefs and ruin that have since
happened, both without and against it; it, principally, we are to accuse
for these disorders:

"Heu! patior telis vulnera facta meis."

["Alas! The wounds were made by my own weapons."
--Ovid, Ep. Phyll. Demophoonti, vers. 48.]

They who give the first shock to a state, are almost naturally the first
overwhelmed in its ruin the fruits of public commotion are seldom enjoyed
by him who was the first motor; he beats and disturbs the water for
another's net. The unity and contexture of this monarchy, of this grand
edifice, having been ripped and torn in her old age, by this thing called
innovation, has since laid open a rent, and given sufficient admittance
to such injuries: the royal majesty with greater difficulty declines from
the summit to the middle, then it falls and tumbles headlong from the
middle to the bottom. But if the inventors do the greater mischief, the
imitators are more vicious to follow examples of which they have felt and
punished both the horror and the offence. And if there can be any degree
of honour in ill-doing, these last must yield to the others the glory of
contriving, and the courage of making the first attempt. All sorts of
new disorders easily draw, from this primitive and ever-flowing fountain,
examples and precedents to trouble and discompose our government: we read
in our very laws, made for the remedy of this first evil, the beginning
and pretences of all sorts of wicked enterprises; and that befalls us,
which Thucydides said of the civil wars of his time, that, in favour of
public vices, they gave them new and more plausible names for their
excuse, sweetening and disguising their true titles; which must be done,
forsooth, to reform our conscience and belief:

"Honesta oratio est;"

["Fine words truly."--Ter. And., i. I, 114.]

but the best pretence for innovation is of very dangerous consequence:

"Aden nihil motum ex antiquo probabile est."

["We are ever wrong in changing ancient ways."--Livy, xxxiv. 54]

And freely to speak my thoughts, it argues a strange self-love and great
presumption to be so fond of one's own opinions, that a public peace must
be overthrown to establish them, and to introduce so many inevitable
mischiefs, and so dreadful a corruption of manners, as a civil war and
the mutations of state consequent to it, always bring in their train, and
to introduce them, in a thing of so high concern, into the bowels of
one's own country. Can there be worse husbandry than to set up so many
certain and knowing vices against errors that are only contested and
disputable? And are there any worse sorts of vices than those committed
against a man's own conscience, and the natural light of his own reason?
The Senate, upon the dispute betwixt it and the people about the
administration of their religion, was bold enough to return this evasion
for current pay:

"Ad deos id magis, quam ad se, pertinere: ipsos visuros,
ne sacra sua polluantur;"

["Those things belong to the gods to determine than to them; let the
gods, therefore, take care that their sacred mysteries were not
profaned."--Livy, x. 6.]

according to what the oracle answered to those of Delphos who, fearing to
be invaded by the Persians in the Median war, inquired of Apollo, how
they should dispose of the holy treasure of his temple; whether they
should hide, or remove it to some other place? He returned them answer,
that they should stir nothing from thence, and only take care of
themselves, for he was sufficient to look to what belonged to him.
--[Herodotus, viii. 36.].--

The Christian religion has all the marks of the utmost utility and
justice: but none more manifest than the severe injunction it lays
indifferently upon all to yield absolute obedience to the civil
magistrate, and to maintain and defend the laws. Of which, what a
wonderful example has the divine wisdom left us, that, to establish the
salvation of mankind, and to conduct His glorious victory over death and
sin, would do it after no other way, but at the mercy of our ordinary
forms of justice subjecting the progress and issue of so high and so
salutiferous an effect, to the blindness and injustice of our customs
and observances; sacrificing the innocent blood of so many of His elect,
and so long a loss of so many years, to the maturing of this inestimable
fruit? There is a vast difference betwixt the case of one who follows
the forms and laws of his country, and of another who will undertake to
regulate and change them; of whom the first pleads simplicity, obedience,
and example for his excuse, who, whatever he shall do, it cannot be
imputed to malice; 'tis at the worst but misfortune:

"Quis est enim, quem non moveat clarissimis monumentis
testata consignataque antiquitas?"

["For who is there that antiquity, attested and confirmed by the
fairest monuments, cannot move?"--Cicero, De Divin., i. 40.]

besides what Isocrates says, that defect is nearer allied to moderation
than excess: the other is a much more ruffling gamester; for whosoever
shall take upon him to choose and alter, usurps the authority of judging,
and should look well about him, and make it his business to discern
clearly the defect of what he would abolish, and the virtue of what he is
about to introduce.

This so vulgar consideration is that which settled me in my station, and
kept even my most extravagant and ungoverned youth under the rein, so as
not to burden my shoulders with so great a weight, as to render myself
responsible for a science of that importance, and in this to dare, what
in my better and more mature judgment, I durst not do in the most easy
and indifferent things I had been instructed in, and wherein the temerity
of judging is of no consequence at all; it seeming to me very unjust to
go about to subject public and established customs and institutions, to
the weakness and instability of a private and particular fancy (for
private reason has but a private jurisdiction), and to attempt that upon
the divine, which no government will endure a man should do, upon the
civil laws; with which, though human reason has much more commerce than
with the other, yet are they sovereignly judged by their own proper
judges, and the extreme sufficiency serves only to expound and set forth
the law and custom received, and neither to wrest it, nor to introduce
anything, of innovation. If, sometimes, the divine providence has gone
beyond the rules to which it has necessarily bound and obliged us men,
it is not to give us any dispensation to do the same; those are
masterstrokes of the divine hand, which we are not to imitate, but to
admire, and extraordinary examples, marks of express and particular
purposes, of the nature of miracles, presented before us for
manifestations of its almightiness, equally above both our rules and
force, which it would be folly and impiety to attempt to represent and
imitate; and that we ought not to follow, but to contemplate with the
greatest reverence: acts of His personage, and not for us. Cotta very
opportunely declares:

"Quum de religione agitur, Ti. Coruncanium, P. Scipionem,
P. Scaevolam, pontifices maximos, non Zenonem, aut Cleanthem,
aut Chrysippum, sequor."

["When matter of religion is in question, I follow the high priests
T. Coruncanius, P. Scipio, P. Scaevola, and not Zeno, Cleanthes, or
Chrysippus."--Cicero, De Natura Deor., iii. 2.]

God knows, in the present quarrel of our civil war, where there are a
hundred articles to dash out and to put in, great and very considerable,
how many there are who can truly boast, they have exactly and perfectly
weighed and understood the grounds and reasons of the one and the other
party; 'tis a number, if they make any number, that would be able to give
us very little disturbance. But what becomes of all the rest, under what
ensigns do they march, in what quarter do they lie? Theirs have the same
effect with other weak and ill-applied medicines; they have only set the
humours they would purge more violently in work, stirred and exasperated
by the conflict, and left them still behind. The potion was too weak to
purge, but strong enough to weaken us; so that it does not work, but we
keep it still in our bodies, and reap nothing from the operation but
intestine gripes and dolours.

So it is, nevertheless, that Fortune still reserving her authority in
defiance of whatever we are able to do or say, sometimes presents us with
a necessity so urgent, that 'tis requisite the laws should a little yield
and give way; and when one opposes the increase of an innovation that
thus intrudes itself by violence, to keep a man's self in so doing, in
all places and in all things within bounds and rules against those who
have the power, and to whom all things are lawful that may in any way
serve to advance their design, who have no other law nor rule but what
serves best to their own purpose, 'tis a dangerous obligation and an
intolerable inequality:

"Aditum nocendi perfido praestat fides,"

["Putting faith in a treacherous person, opens the door to
harm."--Seneca, OEdip., act iii., verse 686.]

forasmuch as the ordinary discipline of a healthful state does not
provide against these extraordinary accidents; it presupposes a body that
supports itself in its principal members and offices, and a common
consent to its obedience and observation. A legitimate proceeding is
cold, heavy, and constrained, and not fit to make head against a
headstrong and unbridled proceeding. 'Tis known to be to this day cast
in the dish of those two great men, Octavius and Cato, in the two civil
wars of Sylla and Caesar, that they would rather suffer their country to
undergo the last extremities, than relieve their fellow-citizens at the
expense of its laws, or be guilty of any innovation; for in truth, in
these last necessities, where there is no other remedy, it would,
peradventure, be more discreetly done, to stoop and yield a little to
receive the blow, than, by opposing without possibility of doing good,
to give occasion to violence to trample all under foot; and better to
make the laws do what they can, when they cannot do what they would.
After this manner did he--[Agesilaus.]--who suspended them for four-and-
twenty hours, and he who, for once shifted a day in the calendar, and
that other--[Alexander the Great.]--who of the month of June made a
second of May. The Lacedaemonians themselves, who were so religious
observers of the laws of their country, being straitened by one of their
own edicts, by which it was expressly forbidden to choose the same man
twice to be admiral; and on the other side, their affairs necessarily
requiring, that Lysander should again take upon him that command, they
made one Aratus admiral; 'tis true, but withal, Lysander went general of
the navy; and, by the same subtlety, one of their ambassadors being sent
to the Athenians to obtain the revocation of some decree, and Pericles
remonstrating to him, that it was forbidden to take away the tablet
wherein a law had once been engrossed, he advised him to turn it only,
that being not forbidden; and Plutarch commends Philopoemen, that being
born to command, he knew how to do it, not only according to the laws,
but also to overrule even the laws themselves, when the public necessity
so required.



Jacques Amiot, grand almoner of France, one day related to me this story,
much to the honour of a prince of ours (and ours he was upon several very
good accounts, though originally of foreign extraction),--[The Duc de
Guise, surnamed Le Balafre.]--that in the time of our first commotions,
at the siege of Rouen,--[In 1562]--this prince, having been advertised
by the queen-mother of a conspiracy against his life, and in her letters
particular notice being given him of the person who was to execute the
business (who was a gentleman of Anjou or of Maine, and who to this
effect ordinarily frequented this prince's house), discovered not a
syllable of this intelligence to any one whatever; but going the next day
to the St. Catherine's Mount,--[An eminence outside Rouen overlooking the
Seine. D.W.]--from which our battery played against the town (for it
was during the time of the siege), and having in company with him the
said lord almoner, and another bishop, he saw this gentleman, who had
been denoted to him, and presently sent for him; to whom, being come
before him, seeing him already pale and trembling with the conscience of
his guilt, he thus said, "Monsieur," such an one, "you guess what I have
to say to you; your countenance discovers it; 'tis in vain to disguise
your practice, for I am so well informed of your business, that it will
but make worse for you, to go about to conceal or deny it: you know very
well such and such passages" (which were the most secret circumstances of
his conspiracy), "and therefore be sure, as you tender your own life,
to confess to me the whole truth of the design." The poor man seeing
himself thus trapped and convicted (for the whole business had been
discovered to the queen by one of the accomplices), was in such a taking,
he knew not what to do; but, folding his hands, to beg and sue for mercy,
he threw himself at his prince's feet, who taking him up, proceeded to
say, "Come, sir; tell me, have I at any time done you offence? or have
I, through private hatred or malice, offended any kinsman or friend of
yours? It is not above three weeks that I have known you; what
inducement, then, could move you to attempt my death?" To which the
gentleman with a trembling voice replied, "That it was no particular
grudge he had to his person, but the general interest and concern of his
party, and that he had been put upon it by some who had persuaded him it
would be a meritorious act, by any means, to extirpate so great and so
powerful an enemy of their religion." "Well," said the prince, "I will
now let you see, how much more charitable the religion is that I
maintain, than that which you profess: yours has counselled you to kill
me, without hearing me speak, and without ever having given you any cause
of offence; and mine commands me to forgive you, convict as you are, by
your own confession, of a design to kill me without reason.--[Imitated by
Voltaire. See Nodier, Questions, p. 165.]--Get you gone; let me see you
no more; and, if you are wise, choose henceforward honester men for your
counsellors in your designs."--[Dampmartin, La Fortune de la Coup, liv.
ii., p. 139]

The Emperor Augustus,--[This story is taken from Seneca, De Clementia,
i. 9.]--being in Gaul, had certain information of a conspiracy L. Cinna
was contriving against him; he therefore resolved to make him an example;
and, to that end, sent to summon his friends to meet the next morning in
counsel. But the night between he passed in great unquietness of mind,
considering that he was about to put to death a young man, of an
illustrious family, and nephew to the great Pompey, and this made him
break out into several passionate complainings. "What then," said he,
"is it possible that I am to live in perpetual anxiety and alarm, and
suffer my would-be assassin, meantime, to walk abroad at liberty? Shall
he go unpunished, after having conspired against my life, a life that I
have hitherto defended in so many civil wars, in so many battles by land
and by sea? And after having settled the universal peace of the whole
world, shall this man be pardoned, who has conspired not only to murder,
but to sacrifice me?"--for the conspiracy was to kill him at sacrifice.
After which, remaining for some time silent, he began again, in louder
tones, and exclaimed against himself, saying: "Why livest thou, if it be
for the good of so many that thou shouldst die? must there be no end of
thy revenges and cruelties? Is thy life of so great value, that so many
mischiefs must be done to preserve it?" His wife Livia, seeing him in
this perplexity: "Will you take a woman's counsel?" said she. "Do as
the physicians do, who, when the ordinary recipes will do no good, make
trial of the contrary. By severity you have hitherto prevailed nothing;
Lepidus has followed Salvidienus; Murena, Lepidus; Caepio, Murena;
Egnatius, Caepio. Begin now, and try how sweetness and clemency will
succeed. Cinna is convict; forgive him, he will never henceforth have
the heart to hurt thee, and it will be an act to thy glory." Augustus
was well pleased that he had met with an advocate of his own humour;
wherefore, having thanked his wife, and, in the morning, countermanded
his friends he had before summoned to council, he commanded Cinna all
alone to be brought to him; who being accordingly come, and a chair by
his appointment set him, having ordered all the rest out of the room, he
spake to him after this manner: "In the first place, Cinna, I demand of
thee patient audience; do not interrupt me in what I am about to say, and
I will afterwards give thee time and leisure to answer. Thou knowest,
Cinna,--[This passage, borrowed from Seneca, has been paraphrased in
verse by Corneille. See Nodier, Questions de la Literature llgale, 1828,
pp. 7, 160. The monologue of Augustus in this chapter is also from
Seneca. Ibid., 164.]--that having taken thee prisoner in the enemy's
camp, and thou an enemy, not only so become, but born so, I gave thee thy
life, restored to thee all thy goods, and, finally, put thee in so good a
posture, by my bounty, of living well and at thy ease, that the
victorious envied the conquered. The sacerdotal office which thou madest
suit to me for, I conferred upon thee, after having denied it to others,
whose fathers have ever borne arms in my service. After so many
obligations, thou hast undertaken to kill me." At which Cinna crying out
that he was very far from entertaining any so wicked a thought: "Thou
dost not keep thy promise, Cinna," continued Augustus, "that thou wouldst
not interrupt me. Yes, thou hast undertaken to murder me in such a
place, on such a day, in such and such company, and in such a manner."
At which words, seeing Cinna astounded and silent, not upon the account
of his promise so to be, but interdict with the weight of his conscience:
"Why," proceeded Augustus, "to what end wouldst thou do it? Is it to be
emperor? Believe me, the Republic is in very ill condition, if I am the
only man betwixt thee and the empire. Thou art not able so much as to
defend thy own house, and but t'other day was baffled in a suit, by the
opposed interest of a mere manumitted slave. What, hast thou neither
means nor power in any other thing, but only to undertake Caesar? I quit
the throne, if there be no other than I to obstruct thy hopes. Canst
thou believe that Paulus, that Fabius, that the Cossii and the Servilii,
and so many noble Romans, not only so in title, but who by their virtue
honour their nobility, would suffer or endure thee?" After this, and a
great deal more that he said to him (for he was two long hours in
speaking), "Now go, Cinna, go thy way: I give thee that life as traitor
and parricide, which I before gave thee in the quality of an enemy. Let
friendship from this time forward begin betwixt us, and let us show
whether I have given, or thou hast received thy life with the better
faith"; and so departed from him. Some time after, he preferred him to
the consular dignity, complaining that he had not the confidence to
demand it; had him ever after for his very great friend, and was, at
last, made by him sole heir to all his estate. Now, from the time of
this accident which befell Augustus in the fortieth year of his age, he
never had any conspiracy or attempt against him, and so reaped the due
reward of this his so generous clemency. But it did not so happen with
our prince, his moderation and mercy not so securing him, but that he
afterwards fell into the toils of the like treason,--[The Duc de Guise
was assassinated in 1563 by Poltrot.]--so vain and futile a thing is
human prudence; throughout all our projects, counsels and precautions,
Fortune will still be mistress of events.

We repute physicians fortunate when they hit upon a lucky cure, as if
there was no other art but theirs that could not stand upon its own legs,
and whose foundations are too weak to support itself upon its own basis;
as if no other art stood in need of Fortune's hand to help it. For my
part, I think of physic as much good or ill as any one would have me:
for, thanks be to God, we have no traffic together. I am of a quite
contrary humour to other men, for I always despise it; but when I am
sick, instead of recanting, or entering into composition with it, I
begin, moreover, to hate and fear it, telling them who importune me to
take physic, that at all events they must give me time to recover my
strength and health, that I may be the better able to support and
encounter the violence and danger of their potions. I let nature work,
supposing her to be sufficiently armed with teeth and claws to defend
herself from the assaults of infirmity, and to uphold that contexture,
the dissolution of which she flies and abhors. I am afraid, lest,
instead of assisting her when close grappled and struggling with disease,
I should assist her adversary, and burden her still more with work to do.

Now, I say, that not in physic only, but in other more certain arts,
fortune has a very great part.

The poetic raptures, the flights of fancy, that ravish and transport the
author out of himself, why should we not attribute them to his good
fortune, since he himself confesses that they exceed his sufficiency and
force, and acknowledges them to proceed from something else than himself,
and that he has them no more in his power than the orators say they have
those extraordinary motions and agitations that sometimes push them
beyond their design. It is the same in painting, where touches shall
sometimes slip from the hand of the painter, so surpassing both his
conception and his art, as to beget his own admiration and astonishment.
But Fortune does yet more evidently manifest the share she has in all
things of this kind, by the graces and elegances we find in them, not
only beyond the intention, but even without the knowledge of the workman:
a competent reader often discovers in other men's writings other
perfections than the author himself either intended or perceived, a
richer sense and more quaint expression.

As to military enterprises, every one sees how great a hand Fortune has
in them. Even in our counsels and deliberations there must, certainly,
be something of chance and good-luck mixed with human prudence; for all
that our wisdom can do alone is no great matter; the more piercing,
quick, and apprehensive it is, the weaker it finds itself, and is by so
much more apt to mistrust itself. I am of Sylla's opinion;--["Who freed
his great deeds from envy by ever attributing them to his good fortune,
and finally by surnaming himself Faustus, the Lucky."--Plutarch, How far a
Man may praise Himself, c. 9.]--and when I closely examine the most
glorious exploits of war, I perceive, methinks, that those who carry them
on make use of counsel and debate only for custom's sake, and leave the
best part of the enterprise to Fortune, and relying upon her aid,
transgress, at every turn, the bounds of military conduct and the rules
of war. There happen, sometimes, fortuitous alacrities and strange
furies in their deliberations, that for the most part prompt them to
follow the worst grounded counsels, and swell their courage beyond the
limits of reason. Whence it happened that several of the great captains
of old, to justify those rash resolutions, have been fain to tell their
soldiers that they were invited to such attempts by some inspiration,
some sign and prognostic.

Wherefore, in this doubt and uncertainty, that the shortsightedness of
human wisdom to see and choose the best (by reason of the difficulties
that the various accidents and circumstances of things bring along with
them) perplexes us withal, the surest way, in my opinion, did no other
consideration invite us to it, is to pitch upon that wherein is the
greatest appearance of honesty and justice; and not, being certain of the
shortest, to keep the straightest and most direct way; as in the two
examples I have just given, there is no question but it was more noble
and generous in him who had received the offence, to pardon it, than to
do otherwise. If the former--[The Duc de Guise.]--miscarried in it, he
is not, nevertheless, to be blamed for his good intention; neither does
any one know if he had proceeded otherwise, whether by that means he had
avoided the end his destiny had appointed for him; and he had, moreover,
lost the glory of so humane an act.

You will read in history, of many who have been in such apprehension,
that the most part have taken the course to meet and anticipate
conspiracies against them by punishment and revenge; but I find very few
who have reaped any advantage by this proceeding; witness so many Roman
emperors. Whoever finds himself in this danger, ought not to expect much
either from his vigilance or power; for how hard a thing is it for a man
to secure himself from an enemy, who lies concealed under the countenance
of the most assiduous friend we have, and to discover and know the wills
and inward thoughts of those who are in our personal service. 'Tis to
much purpose to have a guard of foreigners about one, and to be always
fenced about with a pale of armed men; whosoever despises his own life,
is always master of that of another man.--[Seneca, Ep., 4.]--And
moreover, this continual suspicion, that makes a prince jealous of all
the world, must of necessity be a strange torment to him. Therefore it
was, that Dion, being advertised that Callippus watched all opportunities
to take away his life, had never the heart to inquire more particularly
into it, saying, that he had rather die than live in that misery, that he
must continually stand upon his guard, not only against his enemies, but
his friends also;--[Plutarch, Apothegms.]--which Alexander much more
vividly and more roundly manifested in effect, when, having notice by a
letter from Parmenio, that Philip, his most beloved physician, was by
Darius' money corrupted to poison him, at the same time he gave the
letter to Philip to read, drank off the potion he had brought him. Was
not this to express a resolution, that if his friends had a mind to
despatch him out of the world, he was willing to give them opportunity to
do it? This prince is, indeed, the sovereign pattern of hazardous
actions; but I do not know whether there be another passage in his life
wherein there is so much firm courage as in this, nor so illustrious an
image of the beauty and greatness of his mind.

Those who preach to princes so circumspect and vigilant a jealousy and
distrust, under colour of security, preach to them ruin and dishonour:
nothing noble can be performed without danger. I know a person,
naturally of a very great daring and enterprising courage, whose good
fortune is continually marred by such persuasions, that he keep himself
close surrounded by his friends, that he must not hearken to any
reconciliation with his ancient enemies, that he must stand aloof, and
not trust his person in hands stronger than his own, what promises or
offers soever they may make him, or what advantages soever he may see
before him. And I know another, who has unexpectedly advanced his
fortunes by following a clear contrary advice.

Courage, the reputation and glory of which men seek with so greedy an
appetite, presents itself, when need requires, as magnificently in
cuerpo, as in full armour; in a closet, as in a camp; with arms pendant,
as with arms raised.

This over-circumspect and wary prudence is a mortal enemy to all high and
generous exploits. Scipio, to sound Syphax's intention, leaving his
army, abandoning Spain, not yet secure nor well settled in his new
conquest, could pass over into Africa in two small ships, to commit
himself, in an enemy's country, to the power of a barbarian king, to a
faith untried and unknown, without obligation, without hostage, under the
sole security of the grandeur of his own courage, his good fortune, and
the promise of his high hopes.--[ Livy, xxviii. 17.]

"Habita fides ipsam plerumque fidem obligat."

["Trust often obliges fidelity."--Livy, xxii. 22.]

In a life of ambition and glory, it is necessary to hold a stiff rein
upon suspicion: fear and distrust invite and draw on offence. The most
mistrustful of our kings--[ Louis XI.]--established his affairs
principally by voluntarily committing his life and liberty into his
enemies' hands, by that action manifesting that he had absolute
confidence in them, to the end they might repose as great an assurance in
him. Caesar only opposed the authority of his countenance and the
haughty sharpness of his rebukes to his mutinous legions in arms against

"Stetit aggere fulti
Cespitis, intrepidus vultu: meruitque timeri,
Nil metuens."

["He stood on a mound, his countenance intrepid, and merited to be
feared, he fearing nothing."--Lucan, v. 316.]

But it is true, withal, that this undaunted assurance is not to be
represented in its simple and entire form, but by such whom the
apprehension of death, and the worst that can happen, does not terrify
and affright; for to represent a pretended resolution with a pale and
doubtful countenance and trembling limbs, for the service of an important
reconciliation, will effect nothing to purpose. 'Tis an excellent way to
gain the heart and will of another, to submit and intrust one's self to
him, provided it appear to be freely done, and without the constraint of
necessity, and in such a condition, that a man manifestly does it out of
a pure and entire confidence in the party, at least, with a countenance
clear from any cloud of suspicion. I saw, when I was a boy, a gentleman,
who was governor of a great city, upon occasion of a popular commotion
and fury, not knowing what other course to take, go out of a place of
very great strength and security, and commit himself to the mercy of the
seditious rabble, in hopes by that means to appease the tumult before it
grew to a more formidable head; but it was ill for him that he did so,
for he was there miserably slain. But I am not, nevertheless, of
opinion, that he committed so great an error in going out, as men
commonly reproach his memory withal, as he did in choosing a gentle and
submissive way for the effecting his purpose, and in endeavouring to
quiet this storm, rather by obeying than commanding, and by entreaty
rather than remonstrance; and I am inclined to believe, that a gracious
severity, with a soldierlike way of commanding, full of security and
confidence, suitable to the quality of his person, and the dignity of his
command, would have succeeded better with him; at least, he had perished
with greater decency and, reputation. There is nothing so little to be
expected or hoped for from this many-headed monster, in its fury, as
humanity and good nature; it is much more capable of reverence and fear.
I should also reproach him, that having taken a resolution (in my
judgment rather brave than rash) to expose himself, weak and naked, in
this tempestuous sea of enraged madmen, he ought to have stuck to his
text, and not for an instant to have abandoned the high part he had
undertaken; whereas, coming to discover his danger nearer hand, and his
nose happening to bleed, he again changed that demiss and fawning
countenance he had at first put on, into another of fear and amazement,
filling his voice with entreaties and his eyes with tears, and,
endeavouring so to withdraw and secure his person, that carriage more
inflamed their fury, and soon brought the effects of it upon him.

It was upon a time intended that there should be a general muster of
several troops in arms (and that is the most proper occasion of secret
revenges, and there is no place where they can be executed with greater
safety), and there were public and manifest appearances, that there was
no safe coming for some, whose principal and necessary office it was to
review them. Whereupon a consultation was held, and several counsels
were proposed, as in a case that was very nice and of great difficulty;
and moreover of grave consequence. Mine, amongst the rest, was, that
they should by all means avoid giving any sign of suspicion, but that the
officers who were most in danger should boldly go, and with cheerful and
erect countenances ride boldly and confidently through the ranks, and
that instead of sparing fire (which the counsels of the major part tended
to) they should entreat the captains to command the soldiers to give
round and full volleys in honour of the spectators, and not to spare
their powder. This was accordingly done, and served so good use, as to
please and gratify the suspected troops, and thenceforward to beget a
mutual and wholesome confidence and intelligence amongst them.

I look upon Julius Caesar's way of winning men to him as the best and
finest that can be put in practice. First, he tried by clemency to make
himself beloved even by his very enemies, contenting himself, in detected
conspiracies, only publicly to declare, that he was pre-acquainted with
them; which being done, he took a noble resolution to await without
solicitude or fear, whatever might be the event, wholly resigning himself
to the protection of the gods and fortune: for, questionless, in this
state he was at the time when he was killed.

A stranger having publicly said, that he could teach Dionysius, the
tyrant of Syracuse, an infallible way to find out and discover all the
conspiracies his subjects could contrive against him, if he would give
him a good sum of money for his pains, Dionysius hearing of it, caused
the man to be brought to him, that he might learn an art so necessary to
his preservation. The man made answer, that all the art he knew, was,
that he should give him a talent, and afterwards boast that he had
obtained a singular secret from him. Dionysius liked the invention, and
accordingly caused six hundred crowns to be counted out to him.
--[Plutarch, Apothegms.]--It was not likely he should give so great a
sum to a person unknown, but upon the account of some extraordinary
discovery, and the belief of this served to keep his enemies in awe.
Princes, however, do wisely to publish the informations they receive of
all the practices against their lives, to possess men with an opinion
they have so good intelligence that nothing can be plotted against them,
but they have present notice of it. The Duke of Athens did a great many
foolish things in the establishment of his new tyranny over Florence:
but this especially was most notable, that having received the first
intimation of the conspiracies the people were hatching against him, from
Matteo di Morozzo, one of the conspirators, he presently put him to
death, to suppress that rumour, that it might not be thought any of the
city disliked his government.

I remember I have formerly read a story--[In Appian's Civil Wars, book
iv..]--of some Roman of great quality who, flying the tyranny of the
Triumvirate, had a thousand times by the subtlety of as many inventions
escaped from falling into the hands of those that pursued him. It
happened one day that a troop of horse, which was sent out to take him,
passed close by a brake where he was squat, and missed very narrowly of
spying him: but he considering, at this point, the pains and difficulties
wherein he had so long continued to evade the strict and incessant
searches that were every day made for him, the little pleasure he could
hope for in such a kind of life, and how much better it was for him to
die once for all, than to be perpetually at this pass, he started from
his seat, called them back, showed them his form,--[as of a squatting
hare.]--and voluntarily delivered himself up to their cruelty, by that
means to free both himself and them from further trouble. To invite a
man's enemies to come and cut his throat, seems a resolution a little
extravagant and odd; and yet I think he did better to take that course,
than to live in continual feverish fear of an accident for which there
was no cure. But seeing all the remedies a man can apply to such a
disease, are full of unquietness and uncertainty, 'tis better with a
manly courage to prepare one's self for the worst that can happen, and to
extract some consolation from this, that we are not certain the thing we
fear will ever come to pass.



I was often, when a boy, wonderfully concerned to see, in the Italian
farces, a pedant always brought in for the fool of the play, and that the
title of Magister was in no greater reverence amongst us: for being
delivered up to their tuition, what could I do less than be jealous of
their honour and reputation? I sought indeed to excuse them by the
natural incompatibility betwixt the vulgar sort and men of a finer
thread, both in judgment and knowledge, forasmuch as they go a quite
contrary way to one another: but in this, the thing I most stumbled at
was, that the finest gentlemen were those who most despised them; witness
our famous poet Du Bellay--

"Mais je hay par sur tout un scavoir pedantesque."

["Of all things I hate pedantic learning."--Du Bellay]

And 'twas so in former times; for Plutarch says that Greek and Scholar
were terms of reproach and contempt amongst the Romans. But since, with
the better experience of age, I find they had very great reason so to do,
and that--

"Magis magnos clericos non sunt magis magnos sapientes."

["The greatest clerks are not the wisest men." A proverb given in
Rabelais' Gargantua, i. 39.]

But whence it should come to pass, that a mind enriched with the
knowledge of so many things should not become more quick and sprightly,
and that a gross and vulgar understanding should lodge within it, without
correcting and improving itself, all the discourses and judgments of the
greatest minds the world ever had, I am yet to seek. To admit so many
foreign conceptions, so great, and so high fancies, it is necessary (as a
young lady, one of the greatest princesses of the kingdom, said to me
once, speaking of a certain person) that a man's own brain must be
crowded and squeezed together into a less compass, to make room for the
others; I should be apt to conclude, that as plants are suffocated and
drowned with too much nourishment, and lamps with too much oil, so with
too much study and matter is the active part of the understanding which,
being embarrassed, and confounded with a great diversity of things, loses
the force and power to disengage itself, and by the pressure of this
weight, is bowed, subjected, and doubled up. But it is quite otherwise;
for our soul stretches and dilates itself proportionably as it fills; and
in the examples of elder times, we see, quite contrary, men very proper
for public business, great captains, and great statesmen very learned

And, as to the philosophers, a sort of men remote from all public
affairs, they have been sometimes also despised by the comic liberty of
their times; their opinions and manners making them appear, to men of
another sort, ridiculous. Would you make them judges of a lawsuit, of
the actions of men? they are ready to take it upon them, and straight
begin to examine if there be life, if there be motion, if man be any
other than an ox;--["If Montaigne has copied all this from Plato's
Theatetes, p.127, F. as it is plain by all which he has added
immediately after, that he has taken it from that dialogue, he has
grossly mistaken Plato's sentiment, who says here no more than this, that
the philosopher is so ignorant of what his neighbour does, that he scarce
knows whether he is a man, or some other animal:--Coste."]--what it is to
do and to suffer? what animals law and justice are? Do they speak of
the magistrates, or to him, 'tis with a rude, irreverent, and indecent
liberty. Do they hear their prince, or a king commended? they make no
more of him, than of a shepherd, goatherd, or neatherd: a lazy Coridon,
occupied in milking and shearing his herds and flocks, but more rudely
and harshly than the herd or shepherd himself. Do you repute any man the
greater for being lord of two thousand acres of land? they laugh at such
a pitiful pittance, as laying claim themselves to the whole world for
their possession. Do you boast of your nobility, as being descended from
seven rich successive ancestors? they look upon you with an eye of
contempt, as men who have not a right idea of the universal image of
nature, and that do not consider how many predecessors every one of us
has had, rich, poor, kings, slaves, Greeks, and barbarians; and though
you were the fiftieth descendant from Hercules, they look upon it as a
great vanity, so highly to value this, which is only a gift of fortune.
And 'twas so the vulgar sort contemned them, as men ignorant of the most
elementary and ordinary things; as presumptuous and insolent.

But this Platonic picture is far different from that these pedants are
presented by. Those were envied for raising themselves above the common
sort, for despising the ordinary actions and offices of life, for having
assumed a particular and inimitable way of living, and for using a
certain method of high-flight and obsolete language, quite different from
the ordinary way of speaking: but these are contemned as being as much
below the usual form, as incapable of public employment, as leading a
life and conforming themselves to the mean and vile manners of the

"Odi ignava opera, philosopha sententia."

["I hate men who jabber about philosophy, but do nothing."
--Pacuvius, ap Gellium, xiii. 8.]

For what concerns the philosophers, as I have said, if they were in
science, they were yet much greater in action. And, as it is said of the
geometrician of Syracuse,--[Archimedes.]--who having been disturbed from
his contemplation, to put some of his skill in practice for the defence
of his country, that he suddenly set on foot dreadful and prodigious
engines, that wrought effects beyond all human expectation; himself,
notwithstanding, disdaining all his handiwork, and thinking in this he
had played the mere mechanic, and violated the dignity of his art, of
which these performances of his he accounted but trivial experiments and
playthings so they, whenever they have been put upon the proof of action,
have been seen to fly to so high a pitch, as made it very well appear,
their souls were marvellously elevated, and enriched by the knowledge of
things. But some of them, seeing the reins of government in the hands of
incapable men, have avoided all management of political affairs; and he
who demanded of Crates, how long it was necessary to philosophise,
received this answer: "Till our armies are no more commanded by fools."
--[Diogenes Laertius, vi. 92.]--Heraclitus resigned the royalty to his
brother; and, to the Ephesians, who reproached him that he spent his time
in playing with children before the temple: "Is it not better," said he,
"to do so, than to sit at the helm of affairs in your company?" Others
having their imagination advanced above the world and fortune, have
looked upon the tribunals of justice, and even the thrones of kings, as
paltry and contemptible; insomuch, that Empedocles refused the royalty
that the Agrigentines offered to him. Thales, once inveighing in
discourse against the pains and care men put themselves to to become
rich, was answered by one in the company, that he did like the fox, who
found fault with what he could not obtain. Whereupon, he had a mind, for
the jest's sake, to show them to the contrary; and having, for this
occasion, made a muster of all his wits, wholly to employ them in the
service of profit and gain, he set a traffic on foot, which in one year
brought him in so great riches, that the most experienced in that trade
could hardly in their whole lives, with all their industry, have raked so
much together.--[Diogenes Laertius, Life of Thales, i. 26; Cicero, De
Divin., i. 49.]--That which Aristotle reports of some who called both
him and Anaxagoras, and others of their profession, wise but not prudent,
in not applying their study to more profitable things--though I do not
well digest this verbal distinction--that will not, however, serve to
excuse my pedants, for to see the low and necessitous fortune wherewith
they are content, we have rather reason to pronounce that they are
neither wise nor prudent.

But letting this first reason alone, I think it better to say, that this
evil proceeds from their applying themselves the wrong way to the study
of the sciences; and that, after the manner we are instructed, it is no
wonder if neither the scholars nor the masters become, though more
learned, ever the wiser, or more able. In plain truth, the cares and
expense our parents are at in our education, point at nothing, but to
furnish our heads with knowledge; but not a word of judgment and virtue.
Cry out, of one that passes by, to the people: "O, what a learned man!"
and of another, "O, what a good man!"--[Translated from Seneca, Ep.,
88.]--they will not fail to turn their eyes, and address their respect
to the former. There should then be a third crier, "O, the blockheads!"
Men are apt presently to inquire, does such a one understand Greek or
Latin? Is he a poet? or does he write in prose? But whether he be
grown better or more discreet, which are qualities of principal concern,
these are never thought of. We should rather examine, who is better
learned, than who is more learned.

We only labour to stuff the memory, and leave the conscience and the
understanding unfurnished and void. Like birds who fly abroad to forage
for grain, and bring it home in the beak, without tasting it themselves,
to feed their young; so our pedants go picking knowledge here and there,
out of books, and hold it at the tongue's end, only to spit it out and
distribute it abroad. And here I cannot but smile to think how I have
paid myself in showing the foppery of this kind of learning, who myself
am so manifest an example; for, do I not the same thing throughout almost
this whole composition? I go here and there, culling out of several
books the sentences that best please me, not to keep them (for I have no
memory to retain them in), but to transplant them into this; where, to
say the truth, they are no more mine than in their first places. We are,
I conceive, knowing only in present knowledge, and not at all in what is
past, or more than is that which is to come. But the worst on't is,
their scholars and pupils are no better nourished by this kind of
inspiration; and it makes no deeper impression upon them, but passes from
hand to hand, only to make a show to be tolerable company, and to tell
pretty stories, like a counterfeit coin in counters, of no other use or
value, but to reckon with, or to set up at cards:

"Apud alios loqui didicerunt non ipsi secum."

["They have learned to speak from others, not from themselves."
--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes, v. 36.]

"Non est loquendum, sed gubernandum."

["Speaking is not so necessary as governing."--Seneca, Ep., 108.]

Nature, to shew that there is nothing barbarous where she has the sole
conduct, oftentimes, in nations where art has the least to do, causes
productions of wit, such as may rival the greatest effect of art
whatever. In relation to what I am now speaking of, the Gascon proverb,
derived from a cornpipe, is very quaint and subtle:

"Bouha prou bouha, mas a remuda lous dits quem."

["You may blow till your eyes start out; but if once you offer to
stir your fingers, it is all over."]

We can say, Cicero says thus; these were the manners of Plato; these are
the very words of Aristotle: but what do we say ourselves? What do we
judge? A parrot would say as much as that.

And this puts me in mind of that rich gentleman of Rome,--[Calvisius
Sabinus. Seneca, Ep., 27.]--who had been solicitous, with very great
expense, to procure men that were excellent in all sorts of science, whom
he had always attending his person, to the end, that when amongst his
friends any occasion fell out of speaking of any subject whatsoever, they
might supply his place, and be ready to prompt him, one with a sentence
of Seneca, another with a verse of Homer, and so forth, every one
according to his talent; and he fancied this knowledge to be his own,
because it was in the heads of those who lived upon his bounty; as they
also do, whose learning consists in having noble libraries. I know one,
who, when I question him what he knows, he presently calls for a book to
shew me, and dares not venture to tell me so much, as that he has piles
in his posteriors, till first he has consulted his dictionary, what piles
and what posteriors are.

We take other men's knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle
and superficial learning. We must make it our own. We are in this very
like him, who having need of fire, went to a neighbour's house to fetch
it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without
remembering to carry any with him home.--[Plutarch, How a Man should
Listen.]--What good does it do us to have the stomach full of meat, if
it do not digest, if it be not incorporated with us, if it does not
nourish and support us? Can we imagine that Lucullus, whom letters,
without any manner of experience, made so great a captain, learned to be
so after this perfunctory manner?--[Cicero, Acad., ii. I.]--We suffer
ourselves to lean and rely so strongly upon the arm of another, that we
destroy our own strength and vigour. Would I fortify myself against the
fear of death, it must be at the expense of Seneca: would I extract
consolation for myself or my friend, I borrow it from Cicero. I might
have found it in myself, had I been trained to make use of my own reason.
I do not like this relative and mendicant understanding; for though we
could become learned by other men's learning, a man can never be wise but
by his own wisdom:

["I hate the wise man, who in his own concern is not wise."
--Euripides, ap. Cicero, Ep. Fam., xiii. 15.]

Whence Ennius:

"Nequidquam sapere sapientem, qui ipse sibi prodesse non quiret."

["That wise man knows nothing, who cannot profit himself by his
wisdom."--Cicero, De Offic., iii. 15.]

"Si cupidus, si
Vanus, et Euganea quantumvis mollior agna."

["If he be grasping, or a boaster, and something softer than an
Euganean lamb."--Juvenal, Sat., viii. 14.]

"Non enim paranda nobis solum, sed fruenda sapientia est."

[" For wisdom is not only to be acquired, but to be utilised."
--Cicero, De Finib., i. I.]

Dionysius--[It was not Dionysius, but Diogenes the cynic. Diogenes
Laertius, vi. 27.]--laughed at the grammarians, who set themselves to
inquire into the miseries of Ulysses, and were ignorant of their own;
at musicians, who were so exact in tuning their instruments, and never
tuned their manners; at orators, who made it a study to declare what is
justice, but never took care to do it. If the mind be not better
disposed, if the judgment be no better settled, I had much rather my
scholar had spent his time at tennis, for, at least, his body would by
that means be in better exercise and breath. Do but observe him when he
comes back from school, after fifteen or sixteen years that he has been
there; there is nothing so unfit for employment; all you shall find he
has got, is, that his Latin and Greek have only made him a greater
coxcomb than when he went from home. He should bring back his soul
replete with good literature, and he brings it only swelled and puffed up
with vain and empty shreds and patches of learning; and has really
nothing more in him than he had before.--[Plato's Dialogues: Protagoras.]

These pedants of ours, as Plato says of the Sophists, their cousin-
germans, are, of all men, they who most pretend to be useful to mankind,
and who alone, of all men, not only do not better and improve that which
is committed to them, as a carpenter or a mason would do, but make them
much worse, and make us pay them for making them worse, to boot. If the
rule which Protagoras proposed to his pupils were followed--either that
they should give him his own demand, or make affidavit upon oath in the
temple how much they valued the profit they had received under his
tuition, and satisfy him accordingly--my pedagogues would find themselves
sorely gravelled, if they were to be judged by the affidavits of my
experience. My Perigordin patois very pleasantly calls these pretenders
to learning, 'lettre-ferits', as a man should say, letter-marked--men on
whom letters have been stamped by the blow of a mallet. And, in truth,
for the most part, they appear to be deprived even of common sense; for
you see the husbandman and the cobbler go simply and fairly about their
business, speaking only of what they know and understand; whereas these
fellows, to make parade and to get opinion, mustering this ridiculous
knowledge of theirs, that floats on the superficies of the brain, are
perpetually perplexing, and entangling themselves in their own nonsense.
They speak fine words sometimes, 'tis true, but let somebody that is
wiser apply them. They are wonderfully well acquainted with Galen, but
not at all with the disease of the patient; they have already deafened
you with a long ribble-row of laws, but understand nothing of the case in
hand; they have the theory of all things, let who will put it in

I have sat by, when a friend of mine, in my own house, for sport-sake,
has with one of these fellows counterfeited a jargon of Galimatias,
patched up of phrases without head or tail, saving that he interlarded
here and there some terms that had relation to their dispute, and held
the coxcomb in play a whole afternoon together, who all the while thought
he had answered pertinently and learnedly to all his objections; and yet
this was a man of letters, and reputation, and a fine gentleman of the
long robe:

"Vos, O patricius sanguis, quos vivere par est
Occipiti caeco, posticae occurrite sannae."

["O you, of patrician blood, to whom it is permitted to live
with(out) eyes in the back of your head, beware of grimaces at you
from behind."--Persius, Sat., i. 61.]

Whosoever shall narrowly pry into and thoroughly sift this sort of
people, wherewith the world is so pestered, will, as I have done, find,
that for the most part, they neither understand others, nor themselves;
and that their memories are full enough, but the judgment totally void
and empty; some excepted, whose own nature has of itself formed them into
better fashion. As I have observed, for example, in Adrian Turnebus, who
having never made other profession than that of mere learning only, and
in that, in my opinion, he was the greatest man that has been these
thousand years, had nothing at all in him of the pedant, but the wearing
of his gown, and a little exterior fashion, that could not be civilised
to courtier ways, which in themselves are nothing. I hate our people,
who can worse endure an ill-contrived robe than an ill-contrived mind,
and take their measure by the leg a man makes, by his behaviour, and so
much as the very fashion of his boots, what kind of man he is. For
within there was not a more polished soul upon earth. I have often
purposely put him upon arguments quite wide of his profession, wherein I
found he had so clear an insight, so quick an apprehension, so solid a
judgment, that a man would have thought he had never practised any other
thing but arms, and been all his life employed in affairs of State.
These are great and vigorous natures,

"Queis arte benigna
Et meliore luto finxit praecordia Titan."

["Whom benign Titan (Prometheus) has framed of better clay."
--Juvenal, xiv. 34.]

that can keep themselves upright in despite of a pedantic education. But
it is not enough that our education does not spoil us; it must, moreover,
alter us for the better.

Some of our Parliaments, when they are to admit officers, examine only
their learning; to which some of the others also add the trial of
understanding, by asking their judgment of some case in law; of these the
latter, methinks, proceed with the better method; for although both are
necessary, and that it is very requisite they should be defective in
neither, yet, in truth, knowledge is not so absolutely necessary as
judgment; the last may make shift without the other, but the other never
without this. For as the Greek verse says--

["To what use serves learning, if understanding be away."
--Apud Stobaeus, tit. iii., p. 37 (1609).]

Would to God that, for the good of our judicature, these societies were
as well furnished with understanding and conscience as they are with

"Non vita, sed scolae discimus."

["We do not study for life, but only for the school."
--Seneca, Ep., 106.]

We are not to tie learning to the soul, but to work and incorporate them
together: not to tincture it only, but to give it a thorough and perfect
dye; which, if it will not take colour, and meliorate its imperfect
state, it were without question better to let it alone. 'Tis a dangerous
weapon, that will hinder and wound its master, if put into an awkward and
unskilful hand:

"Ut fuerit melius non didicisse."

["So that it were better not to have learned."
--Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 4.]

And this, peradventure, is the reason why neither we nor theology require
much learning in women; and that Francis, Duke of Brittany, son of John V.,
one talking with him about his marriage with Isabella the daughter of
Scotland, and adding that she was homely bred, and without any manner of
learning, made answer, that he liked her the better, and that a woman was
wise enough, if she could distinguish her husband's shirt from his
doublet. So that it is no so great wonder, as they make of it, that our
ancestors had letters in no greater esteem, and that even to this day
they are but rarely met with in the principal councils of princes; and if
the end and design of acquiring riches, which is the only thing we
propose to ourselves, by the means of law, physic, pedantry, and even
divinity itself, did not uphold and keep them in credit, you would, with
doubt, see them in as pitiful a condition as ever. And what loss would
this be, if they neither instruct us to think well nor to do well?

"Postquam docti prodierunt, boni desunt."

[Seneca, Ep., 95. "Since the 'savans' have made their appearance
among us, the good people have become eclipsed."
--Rousseau, Discours sur les Lettres.]

All other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of

But the reason I glanced upon but now, may it not also hence proceed,
that, our studies in France having almost no other aim but profit, except
as to those who, by nature born to offices and employments rather of
glory than gain, addict themselves to letters, if at all, only for so
short a time (being taken from their studies before they can come to have
any taste of them, to a profession that has nothing to do with books),
there ordinarily remain no others to apply themselves wholly to learning,
but people of mean condition, who in that only seek the means to live;
and by such people, whose souls are, both by nature and by domestic
education and example, of the basest alloy the fruits of knowledge are
immaturely gathered and ill digested, and delivered to their recipients
quite another thing. For it is not for knowledge to enlighten a soul
that is dark of itself, nor to make a blind man see. Her business is not
to find a man's eyes, but to guide, govern, and direct them, provided he
have sound feet and straight legs to go upon. Knowledge is an excellent
drug, but no drug has virtue enough to preserve itself from corruption
and decay, if the vessel be tainted and impure wherein it is put to keep.
Such a one may have a sight clear enough who looks asquint, and
consequently sees what is good, but does not follow it, and sees
knowledge, but makes no use of it. Plato's principal institution in his
Republic is to fit his citizens with employments suitable to their
nature. Nature can do all, and does all. Cripples are very unfit for
exercises of the body, and lame souls for exercises of the mind.
Degenerate and vulgar souls are unworthy of philosophy. If we see a
shoemaker with his shoes out at the toes, we say, 'tis no wonder; for,
commonly, none go worse shod than they. In like manner, experience often
presents us a physician worse physicked, a divine less reformed, and
(constantly) a scholar of less sufficiency, than other people.

Old Aristo of Chios had reason to say that philosophers did their
auditors harm, forasmuch as most of the souls of those that heard them
were not capable of deriving benefit from instruction, which, if not
applied to good, would certainly be applied to ill:

["They proceeded effeminate debauchees from the school of
Aristippus, cynics from that of Zeno."
--Cicero, De Natura Deor., iii., 31.]

In that excellent institution that Xenophon attributes to the Persians,
we find that they taught their children virtue, as other nations do
letters. Plato tells us that the eldest son in their royal succession
was thus brought up; after his birth he was delivered, not to women, but
to eunuchs of the greatest authority about their kings for their virtue,
whose charge it was to keep his body healthful and in good plight; and
after he came to seven years of age, to teach him to ride and to go
a-hunting. When he arrived at fourteen he was transferred into the hands
of four, the wisest, the most just, the most temperate, and most valiant
of the nation; of whom the first was to instruct him in religion, the
second to be always upright and sincere, the third to conquer his
appetites and desires, and the fourth to despise all danger.

It is a thing worthy of very great consideration, that in that excellent,
and, in truth, for its perfection, prodigious form of civil regimen set
down by Lycurgus, though so solicitous of the education of children,
as a thing of the greatest concern, and even in the very seat of the
Muses, he should make so little mention of learning; as if that generous
youth, disdaining all other subjection but that of virtue, ought to be
supplied, instead of tutors to read to them arts and sciences, with such
masters as should only instruct them in valour, prudence, and justice;
an example that Plato has followed in his laws. The manner of their
discipline was to propound to them questions in judgment upon men and
their actions; and if they commended or condemned this or that person or
fact, they were to give a reason for so doing; by which means they at
once sharpened their understanding, and learned what was right.
Astyages, in Xenophon, asks Cyrus to give an account of his last lesson;
and thus it was, "A great boy in our school, having a little short
cassock, by force took a longer from another that was not so tall as he,
and gave him his own in exchange: whereupon I, being appointed judge of
the controversy, gave judgment, that I thought it best each should keep
the coat he had, for that they both of them were better fitted with that
of one another than with their own: upon which my master told me, I had
done ill, in that I had only considered the fitness of the garments,
whereas I ought to have considered the justice of the thing, which
required that no one should have anything forcibly taken from him that is
his own." And Cyrus adds that he was whipped for his pains, as we are in
our villages for forgetting the first aorist of------.

[Cotton's version of this story commences differently, and includes
a passage which is not in any of the editions of the original before

"Mandane, in Xenophon, asking Cyrus how he would do to learn
justice, and the other virtues amongst the Medes, having left all
his masters behind him in Persia? He made answer, that he had
learned those things long since; that his master had often made him
a judge of the differences amongst his schoolfellows, and had one
day whipped him for giving a wrong sentence."--W.C.H.]

My pedant must make me a very learned oration, 'in genere demonstrativo',
before he can persuade me that his school is like unto that. They knew
how to go the readiest way to work; and seeing that science, when most
rightly applied and best understood, can do no more but teach us
prudence, moral honesty, and resolution, they thought fit, at first hand,
to initiate their children with the knowledge of effects, and to instruct
them, not by hearsay and rote, but by the experiment of action, in lively
forming and moulding them; not only by words and precepts, but chiefly by
works and examples; to the end it might not be a knowledge in the mind
only, but its complexion and habit: not an acquisition, but a natural
possession. One asking to this purpose, Agesilaus, what he thought most
proper for boys to learn? "What they ought to do when they come to be
men," said he.--[Plutarch, Apothegms of the Lacedamonians. Rousseau
adopts the expression in his Diswuys sur tes Lettres.]--It is no wonder,
if such an institution produced so admirable effects.

They used to go, it is said, to the other cities of Greece, to inquire
out rhetoricians, painters, and musicians; but to Lacedaemon for
legislators, magistrates, and generals of armies; at Athens they learned
to speak well: here to do well; there to disengage themselves from a
sophistical argument, and to unravel the imposture of captious
syllogisms; here to evade the baits and allurements of pleasure, and with
a noble courage and resolution to conquer the menaces of fortune and
death; those cudgelled their brains about words, these made it their
business to inquire into things; there was an eternal babble of the
tongue, here a continual exercise of the soul. And therefore it is
nothing strange if, when Antipater demanded of them fifty children for
hostages, they made answer, quite contrary to what we should do, that
they would rather give him twice as many full-grown men, so much did they
value the loss of their country's education. When Agesilaus courted
Xenophon to send his children to Sparta to be bred, "it is not," said he,
"there to learn logic or rhetoric, but to be instructed in the noblest of
all sciences, namely, the science to obey and to command."--[Plutarch,
Life of Agesilaus, c. 7.]

It is very pleasant to see Socrates, after his manner, rallying Hippias,
--[Plato's Dialogues: Hippias Major.]--who recounts to him what a world
of money he has got, especially in certain little villages of Sicily, by
teaching school, and that he made never a penny at Sparta: "What a
sottish and stupid people," said Socrates, "are they, without sense or
understanding, that make no account either of grammar or poetry, and only
busy themselves in studying the genealogies and successions of their
kings, the foundations, rises, and declensions of states, and such tales
of a tub!" After which, having made Hippias from one step to another
acknowledge the excellency of their form of public administration, and
the felicity and virtue of their private life, he leaves him to guess at
the conclusion he makes of the inutilities of his pedantic arts.

Examples have demonstrated to us that in military affairs, and all others
of the like active nature, the study of sciences more softens and
untempers the courages of men than it in any way fortifies and excites
them. The most potent empire that at this day appears to be in the whole
world is that of the Turks, a people equally inured to the estimation of
arms and the contempt of letters. I find Rome was more valiant before
she grew so learned. The most warlike nations at this time in being are
the most rude and ignorant: the Scythians, the Parthians, Tamerlane,
serve for sufficient proof of this. When the Goths overran Greece, the
only thing that preserved all the libraries from the fire was, that some
one possessed them with an opinion that they were to leave this kind of
furniture entire to the enemy, as being most proper to divert them from
the exercise of arms, and to fix them to a lazy and sedentary life.
When our King Charles VIII., almost without striking a blow, saw himself
possessed of the kingdom of Naples and a considerable part of Tuscany,
the nobles about him attributed this unexpected facility of conquest to
this, that the princes and nobles of Italy, more studied to render
themselves ingenious and learned, than vigorous and warlike.


A parrot would say as much as that
Agesilaus, what he thought most proper for boys to learn?
But it is not enough that our education does not spoil us
Conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature
Culling out of several books the sentences that best please me
"Custom," replied Plato, "is no little thing"
Examine, who is better learned, than who is more learned
Fear and distrust invite and draw on offence
Fortune will still be mistress of events
Fox, who found fault with what he could not obtain
Fruits of public commotion are seldom enjoyed
Gave them new and more plausible names for their excuse
Give me time to recover my strength and health
Great presumption to be so fond of one's own opinions
Gross impostures of religions
Hoary head and rivelled face of ancient usage
Hold a stiff rein upon suspicion
I have a great aversion from a novelty
Knowledge is not so absolutely necessary as judgment
Laws do what they can, when they cannot do what they would
Man can never be wise but by his own wisdom
Memories are full enough, but the judgment totally void
Miracles appear to be so, according to our ignorance of nature
Nothing noble can be performed without danger
Only set the humours they would purge more violently in work
Ought not to expect much either from his vigilance or power
Ought to withdraw and retire his soul from the crowd
Over-circumspect and wary prudence is a mortal enemy
Physician worse physicked
Plays of children are not performed in play
Present himself with a halter about his neck to the people
Rome was more valiant before she grew so learned
Study to declare what is justice, but never took care to do it.
Testimony of the truth from minds prepossessed by custom?
They neither instruct us to think well nor to do well
Think of physic as much good or ill as any one would have me
Use veils from us the true aspect of things
Victorious envied the conquered
We only labour to stuff the memory
We take other men's knowledge and opinions upon trust
Weakness and instability of a private and particular fancy
What they ought to do when they come to be men
Whosoever despises his own life, is always master
Worse endure an ill-contrived robe than an ill-contrived mind


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