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Michel de Montaigne (1533—1592)
Print of the Shakespeare memorial in Westminster Abbey, Map of Ireland and engraving of wild Irishman and woman. Book promoting the colonisation of Ireland, View all related collection items. William Shakespeare. Laurence Sterne. This pernicious licence in respect to the distribution of praise, has formerly been confined in its area of operations; and it may be the reason why poetry once lost favour with the more judicious.
However this may be, it cannot be concealed that the vice of falsehood is one very unbecoming in gentleman, let it assume what guise it will. As for that personage of whom I am speaking to you, sir he leads me far away indeed from this kind of language; for the danger in his case is not, lest I should lend him anything, but that I might take something from him; and it is his ill-fortune that, while he has supplied me, so far as ever a man could, with just and obvious opportunities for commendation, I find myself unable and unqualified to render it to him —I, who am his debtor for so many vivid communications, and who alone have it in my power to answer for a million of accomplishments, perfections, and virtues, latent thanks to his unkind stars in so noble a soul.
For the nature of things having I know not how permitted that truth, fair and acceptable—as it may be of itself, is only embraced where there are arts of persuasion, to insinuate it into our minds, I see myself so wanting, both in authority to support my simple testimony, and in the eloquence requisite for lending it value and weight, that I was on the eve of relinquishing the task, having nothing of his which would enable me to exhibit to the world a proof of his genius and knowledge.
In truth, sir, having been overtaken by his fate in the flower of his age, and in the full enjoyment of the most vigorous health, it had been his design to publish some day works which would have demonstrated to posterity what sort of a man he was; and, peradventure, he was indifferent enough to fame, having formed such a plan in his head, to proceed no further in it. But I have come to the conclusion, that it was far more excusable in him to bury with him all his rare endowments, than it would be on my part to bury also with me the knowledge of them which I had acquired from him; and, therefore, having collected with care all the remains which I found scattered here and there among his papers, I intend to distribute them so as to recommend his memory to as many persons as possible, selecting the most suitable and worthy of my acquaintance, and those whose testimony might do him greatest honour: such as you, sir, who may very possibly have had some knowledge of him during his life, but assuredly too slight to discover the perfect extent of his worth.
Posterity may credit me, if it chooses, when I swear upon my conscience, that I knew and saw him to be such as, all things considered, I could neither desire nor imagine a genius surpassing his. I beg you very humbly, sir, not only to take his name under your general protection, but also these ten or twelve French stanzas, which lay themselves, as of necessity, under shadow of your patronage.
For I will not disguise from you, that their publication was deferred, upon the appearance of his other writings, under the pretext as it was alleged yonder at Paris that they were too crude to come to light. For my own part; sir, it is not in my way to judge of such matters; but I have heard persons who are supposed to understand them, say that these stanzas are not only worthy to be presented in the market-place, but, independently of that, as regards beauty and wealth of invention, they are full of marrow and matter as any compositions of the kind, which have appeared in our language.
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- Essays of Michel de Montaigne.
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Naturally each workman feels himself more strong in some special part his art, and those are to be regarded as most fortunate, who lay hands on the noblest, for all the parts essential to the construction of any whole are not equally precious. We find elsewhere, perhaps, greater delicacy phrase, greater softness and harmony of language; but imaginative grace, and in the store of pointed wit, I do not think he has been surpassed; and we should take the account that he made these things neither his occupation nor his study, and that he scarcely took a pen in his hand more than once a year, as is shown by the very slender quantity of his remains.
For you see here, sir, green wood and dry, without any sort of selection, all that has come into my possession; insomuch that there are among the rest efforts even of his boyhood. In point of fact, he seems to have written them merely to show that he was capable of dealing with all subjects: for otherwise, thousands of times, in the course of ordinary conversation, I have heard things drop from him infinitely more worthy of being admired, infinitely more worthy of being preserved.
Such, sir, is what justice and affection, forming in this instance a rare conjunction, oblige me to say of this great and good man; and if I have at all offended by the freedom which I have taken in addressing myself to you on such a subject at such a length, be pleased to recollect that the principal result of greatness and eminence is to lay one open to importunate appeals on behalf of the rest of the world. Herewith, after desiring you to accept my affectionate devotion to your service, I beseech God to vouchsafe you, sir, a fortunate and prolonged life.
From Montaigne, this 1st of September MY WIFE,—You understand well that it is not proper for a man of the world, according to the rules of this our time, to continue to court and caress you; for they say that a sensible person may take a wife indeed, but that to espouse her is to act like a fool. Let them talk; I adhere for my part the custom of the good old days; I also wear my hair as it used to be then; and, in truth, novelty costs this poor country up to the present moment so dear and I do not know whether we have reached the highest pitch yet , that everywhere and in everything I renounce the fashion.
Let us live, my wife, you and I, in the old French method. Now, you may recollect that the late M. I do not wish to keep them niggardly to myself alone, nor do I deserve to have the exclusive use of them; so that I have resolved to communicate them to my friends; and because I have none, I believe, more particularly intimate you, I send you the Consolatory Letter written by Plutarch to his Wife, translated by him into French; regretting much that fortune has made it so suitable a present you, and that, having had but one child, and that a daughter, long looked for, after four years of your married life it was your lot to lose her in the second year of her age.
But I leave to Plutarch the duty of comforting you, acquainting you with your duty herein, begging you to put your faith in him for my sake; for he will reveal to you my own ideas, and will express the matter far better than I should myself. Hereupon, my wife, I commend myself very heartily to your good will, and pray God to have you in His keeping.
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From Paris, this 10th September It was perhaps under these circumstances that Montaigne addressed to him the present letter. MONSIEUR,—The business of the Sieur de Verres, a prisoner, who is extremely well known to me, deserves, in the arrival at a decision, the exercise of the clemency natural to you, if, in the public interest, you can fairly call it into play.
He has done a thing not only excusable, according to the military laws of this age, but necessary and as we are of opinion commendable. He committed the act, without doubt, unwillingly and under pressure; there is no other passage of his life which is open to reproach. I beseech you, sir, to lend the matter your attentive consideration; you will find the character of it as I represent it to you. He is persecuted on this crime, in a way which is far worse than the offence itself.
If it is likely to be of use to him, I desire to inform you that he is a man brought up in my house, related to several respectable families, and a person who, having led an honourable life, is my particular friend. By saving him you lay me under an extreme obligation. I beg you very humbly to regard him as recommended by me, and, after kissing your hands, I pray God, sir, to grant you a long and happy life.
From Castera, this 23d of April Gustave Brunet in the Bulletin du Bibliophile, July Having in hand a case so just and so favourable, you did all in your power to put the business in good trim; and matters being so well situated, I beg you to excuse my absence for some little time longer, and I will abridge my stay so far as the pressure of my affairs permits.
I hope that the delay will be short; however, you will keep me, if you please, in your good grace, and will command me, if the occasion shall arise, in employing me in the public service and in yours. Monsieur de Cursol has also written to me and apprised me of his journey. I humbly commend myself to you, and pray God, gentlemen, to grant you long and happy life. From Montaigne, this 21st of May GENTLEMEN,—I have taken my fair share of the satisfaction which you announce to me as feeling at the good despatch of your business, as reported to you by your deputies, and I regard it as a favourable sign that you have made such an auspicious commencement of the year.
I hope to join you at the earliest convenient opportunity. I recommend myself very humbly to your gracious consideration, and pray God to grant you, gentlemen, a happy and long life. From Montaigne, this 8th February I will not spare either my life or anything else for your service, and will leave it to your judgment whether the assistance I might be able to render by my presence at the forthcoming election, would be worth the risk I should run by going into the town, seeing the bad state it is in, —[This refers to the plague then raging, and which carried off 14, persons at Bordeaux.
I will draw as near to you on Wednesday as I can, that is, to Feuillas, if the malady has not reached that place, where, as I write to M. At Libourne, this 30th of July Payen, this letter belongs to Its authenticity has been called in question; but wrongly, in our opinion. Paris, , iv. It does not appear to whom the letter was addressed.
We dared not, however, proceed on our way, from an uncertainty as to the safety of our persons, which should have been clearly expressed on our passports. The League has done this, M. I have recovered none of it, and most of my papers and cash—[The French word is hardes, which St. John renders things. I have not seen the Prince. Fifty were lost. He diverged from his route to pay a visit to the mourning ladies at Montresor, where are the remains of his two brothers and his grandmother, and came to us again in this town, whence we shall resume our journey shortly.
The journey to Normandy is postponed. The King has despatched MM. De Bellieure and de la Guiche to M. From Orleans, this 16th of February, in the morning [?
Montaigne, Les Essais - The Montaigne Project
See vol. The courtesy of M. Paulmier would deprive me of the pleasure of giving it to you now, for he has obliged me since a great deal beyond the worth of my book. You will accept it then, if you please, as having been yours before I owed it to you, and will confer on me the favour of loving it, whether for its own sake or for mine; and I will keep my debt to M. Paulmier undischarged, that I may requite him, if I have at some other time the means of serving him. It was first discovered by M. Achille Jubinal, who printed it with a facsimile of the entire autograph, in John gives the date wrongly as the 1st January SIRE, It is to be above the weight and crowd of your great and important affairs, to know, as you do, how to lend yourself, and attend to small matters in their turn, according to the duty of your royal dignity, which exposes you at all times to every description and degree of person and employment.
Yet, that your Majesty should have deigned to consider my letter, and direct a reply to be made to it, I prefer to owe, less to your strong understanding, than to your kindness of heart. I have always looked forward to your enjoyment of your present fortune, and you may recollect that, even when I had to make confession of itto my cure, I viewed your successes with satisfaction: now, with the greater propriety and freedom, I embrace them affectionately. They serve you where you are as positive matters of fact; but they serve us here no less by the fame which they diffuse: the echo carries as much weight as the blow.
We should not be able to derive from the justice of your cause such powerful arguments for the maintenance and reduction of your subjects, as we do from the reports of the success of your undertaking; and then I have to assure your Majesty, that the recent changes to your advantage, which you observe hereabouts, the prosperous issue of your proceedings at Dieppe, have opportunely seconded the honest zeal and marvellous prudence of M.
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I look to the next summer, not only for fruits which we may eat, but for those to grow out of our common tranquillity, and that it will pass over our heads with the same even tenor of happiness, dissipating, like its predecessors, all the fine promises with which your adversaries sustain the spirits of their followers.
The popular inclinations resemble a tidal wave; if the current once commences in your favour, it will go on of its own force to the end. I could have desired much that the private gain of the soldiers of your army, and the necessity for satisfying them, had not deprived you, especially in this principal town, of the glorious credit of treating your mutinous subjects, in the midst of victory, with greater clemency than their own protectors, and that, as distinguished from a passing and usurped repute, you could have shown them to be really your own, by the exercise of a protection truly paternal and royal.
In the conduct of such affairs as you have in hand, men are obliged to have recourse to unusual expedients. It is always seen that they are surmounted by their magnitude and difficulty; it not being found easy to complete the conquest by arms and force, the end has been accomplished by clemency and generosity, excellent lures to draw men particularly towards the just and legitimate side. If there is to be severity and punishment, let it be deferred till success has been assured.
A great conqueror of past times boasts that he gave his enemies as great an inducement to love him, as his friends. And here we feel already some effect of the favourable impression produced upon our rebellious towns by the contrast between their rude treatment, and that of those which are loyal to you. Desiring your Majesty a happiness more tangible and less hazardous, and that you may be beloved rather than feared by your people, and believing that your welfare and theirs are of necessity knit together, I rejoice to think that the progress which you make is one towards more practicable conditions of peace, as well as towards victory!
Sire, your letter of the last of November came to my hand only just now, when the time which it pleased you to name for meeting you at Tours had already passed. I take it as a singular favour that you should have deigned to desire a visit from so useless a person, but one who is wholly yours, and more so even by affection than from duty. You have acted very commendably in adapting yourself, in the matter of external forms, to your new fortunes; but the preservation of your old affability and frankness in private intercourse is entitled to an equal share of praise.
You have condescended to take thought for my age, no less than for the desire which I have to see you, where you may be at rest from these laborious agitations. Will not that be soon at Paris, Sire? SIRE,—The letter which it pleased your majesty to write to me on the 20th of July, was not delivered to me till this morning, and found me laid up with a very violent tertian ague, a complaint very common in this part of the country during the last month. Sire, I consider myself greatly honoured by the receipt of your commands, and I have not omitted to communicate to M. Having received no answer, I consider that he has weighed the difficulty and risk of the journey to me.
Sire, your Majesty dill do me the favour to believe, if you please, that I shall never complain of the expense on occasions where I should not hesitate to devote my life. I have never derived any substantial benefit whatever from the bounty of kings, which I have neither sought nor merited; nor have I had any recompense for the services which I have performed for them: whereof your majesty is in part aware. What I have done for your predecessors I shall do still more readily for you.
I am as rich, Sire, as I desire to be.