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home," may burn with a clear and chaste light, there is no reason why they should not participate in all communicable know- . ledge, which may enlarge their affections or gratify their understandings, without shocking their delicacy or contaminating their taste.
The chief subject of Montaigne's reflexions and writings is the philosophy of life. How to live well and die well with him
Is the prime wisdom; what is more, is fume,
Or emptiness, or fond impertinence. To achieve this, he studied himself deeply and accurately; he dissected and anatomized his feelings, his fears, and his hopes, nay, the slightest motions of his soul, with the coolness and unconcern of an operating surgeon. He lets us into the innermost thoughts of his heart—he spreads out before us, as in a picture, every shade and gradation of feeling. Not a phantasma flitted across his mind that he did not put down, and, having contemplated its strangeness or absurdity, he placed it to the credit or debit side of his account. “He nothing extenuates nor sets down aught in malice.” He is the most warm and candid of friends—the most open of enemies, if, indeed, he ever admitted into his heart any feeling which amounted to personal hostility. The consequence is, that nobody can read his works without becoming his intimate and approved good friend—his most familiar acquaintance. We know almost the very minute he was born, and, if he could have so far anticipated time, he would, with equal precision, have informed us of the hour of his death. Nor do we think that any thing would have given him so much pleasure as afterwards to have been able to come back to earth again, and add another volume to his Essays, that the world might still know the state of his mind. He was a country gentleman, and could have little to record but the workings of his own thoughts; and yet he laments that he had not, like his predecessors, kept a journal even of the barren events of the house of Montaigne. He was born betwixt eleven and twelve o'clock in the forenoon of the last of February, 1533. His father sent him from his cradle to be brought up in a village of his in the meanest and most common way of living. He also pursued a singular mode for the introduction of his son into the vestibule of knowledge, of which we have a full account in an Essay on Education, which, like most of his discourses, contains a great deal of excellent matter, mixed with some strange opinions. To this system of education we, in all probability, are indebted for his Essays; and, as it is as sound as it is peculiar, we shall make no apology for quoting so much as relates to it.
“My father having made the inost precise enquiry, that any man could possibly make, amongst men of the greatest learning and judgment, of an exact method of education, was by them caution'd of the inconvenience then in use, and made to believe, that the tedious time we applyed to the learning of the tongues of them who had them for nothing, was the sole cause we could not arrive to that grandeur of soul, and perfection of knowledge, with the ancient Greeks and Romans: I do not however believe that to be the only cause ; but the expedient my father found out for this was, that in my infancy, and before I began to speak, he committed me to the care of a German, who since died a famous physician in France, totally ignorant of our language, but very fluent, and a great critick in Latin. This man, whom he had fetch'd out of his own country, and whom he entertained with a very great salary for this only end, had me continually in his arms : to whom there were also joyn'd two others of the same nation, but of inferiour learning, to attend me, and sometimes to relieve him; who all of them entertain'd me with no other language but Latin. As to the rest of his family, it was an inviolable rule, that neither himself, nor my mother, man, nor maid, should speak any thing in my company, but such Latin words as every one bad learnt only to gabble with me, It is not to be imagin'd how great an advantage this prov'd to the whole family ; my father and my mother, by this means, learning Latin enough to understand it perfectly well, and to speak it to such a degree, as was sufficient for any necessary use; as also those of the servants did, who were most frequently with me. To be short, we did Latin it at such a rate, that it overflowed to all the neighbouring villages, where there yet remain, that have establish'd themselves by custom, several Latin appellations of artizans, and their tools. As for what concerns myself, I was above six years of age before I understood either French or Perigordin, any more than Arabick, and without art, book, grammar, or precept, whipping, or the expence of a tear, had by that time learn’d to speak as pure Latin as my master himself. If (for example) they were to give me a theme after the college fashion, they gave it to others in French, but to me, they were of necessity to give it in the worst Latin, to turn it into that which was pure and good; and Nicholas Grouchi, who writ a book de Comitiis Romanorum; William Guirentes, who has writ a Comment upon Aristotle; George Buchanan, that great Scotch poet, and Marcus Antonius Muretus (whom both France and Italy have acknowledg’d for the best orator of his time) my domestick tutors have all of them often told me, that I had in my infancy that language so very fluent and ready, that they were afraid to enter into discourse with me; and particularly Buchanan, whom I since saw attending the late Mareschal de Brissac, then told me, that he was about to write a Treatise of Education, the example of which he intended to take from mine, for he was then tutor to that Count de Brissac, who afterwards prov'd so valiant and so brave a gentleman. As to Greek, of which I have but a very little smattering, my father also design'd to have it taught me by a trick ; but a new one, and by way of sport; tossing our declensions to and fro, after the manner of those, who by certain games, at tables and chess, learn geometry and
arithmetick: for he, amongst other rules, had been advis'd to make me relish science and duty by an unforc'd will, and of my own voluntary motion, and to educate my soul in all liberty and delight, without any severity or constraint. Which also he was an observer of to such a degree even of superstition, if I may say so, that some being of opi. nion, it did trouble and disturb the brains of children suddenly to wake them in the morning, and to snatch them violently and over hastily from sleep (wherein they are much more profoundly envolv'd than we) he only caus'd me to be wak'd by the sound of some musical instrument, and was never unprovided of a musician for that purpose; by which example you may judge of the rest, this alone being sufficient to recommend both the prudence and the affection of so good a father; who therefore is not to be blam'd if he did not reap the fruits answerable to so exquisite a culture; of which two things were the cause : first, a steril and improper soil : for tho’I was of a strong and healthful constitution, and of a disposition tolerably sweet and tractable, yet I was withal so heavy, idle, and indispos'd, that they could not rouze me from this stupidity to any exercise of recreation, nor get me out to play. What I saw, I saw clearly enough, and under this lazy complexion, nourish'd a bold imagination, and opinions above my age. I had a slothful wit, that would go no faster than it was led, a slow understanding, a languishing invention, and after all, incredible defect of memory, so that it is no wonder, if from all these nothing considerable can be extracted. Secondly, (like those, who, impatient of a long and steady cure, submit to all sorts of prescriptions and receipts) the good man being extreamly timorous of any way failing in a thing he had so wholly set his heart upon, suffer'd himself at last to be overrul'd by the common opinion, and complying with the method of the time, having no more those persons he had brought out of Italy, and who had given him the first model of education, about him, he sent me at six years of age to the college of Guienne, at that time the best and most Hourishing in France. And there it was not possible to add any thing to the care he had to provide me the most able tutors, with all other circumstances of education, reserving also several particular rules, contrary to the college practice; but so it was, that with all these precautions, it was a college still. My Latin immediately grew corrupt, of which also by discountenance I have since lost all manner of use: so that this new way of institution serv'd me to no other end, than only at my first coming to prefer me to the first forms: for at thirteen years old, that I came out of the college, I had run through my whole course, (as they call it) and in truth, without any manner of improvement, that I can honestly brag of, in all this time.”
· The language of antient Rome thus became his natural tongue, and her books his constant companions. He was acquainted with the Capitol long before the Louvre, and he knew the Tiber before the Seine. Of those books to which he was more particularly attached, he mentions Ovid as the favorite of his youth, and Plutarch and Seneca of his mature age-but that he had latterly lost all relish for the former and even for
Ariosto, which is more surprising as he bears some resemblance to him in skipping from subject to subject, in much the same way as Ariosto does from story to story. His favorites amongst the moderns, which are simply amusing, are Boccacio, Rabelais, and the Basia of Johannes Secundus. As to Amadis de Gaul and such books, they had not even the credit of engaging his infancy. Montaigne has been censured for his numerous quotations from classical authors, but, we think, without sufficient reason. It is true, that, were a writer to give us a whole chapter of them from his common-place book, they would be sufficiently dull and flat, and, like dried flowers, would lose nearly all their fragrance, although they might retain, in some measure, their form and colour. But, where quotations from the poets are made, as they generally are by Montaigne, for the sake of illustration, and are, at once, elegant and appropriate, they contribute both to the spirit and grace of composition. He sometimes, indeed, concealed his authorities in order to keep rash censurers in check, that they might, if they attacked him, through his sides wound Plutarch or Seneca.
A few of the author's opinions in this Essay may not be unacceptable to the reader.
“Truth and reason are common to every one, and are no more his who spake them first, than his who speaks them after.”
And to a similar effect.
"That which a man rightly knows and understands, he is the free disposer of at his own full liberty, without any regard to the author from whence he had it, or fumbling over the leaves of his book.”
“Such as have lean and spare bodies, stuff themselves out with cloaths; so they who are defective in matter, endeavour to make amends with words."
“Whoever shall represent to his fancy, as in a picture, that great image of our mother nature, pourtrayed in her full majesty and lustre, whoever in her face shall read so general and so constant a variety, whoever shall observe himself in that figure, and not himself but a whole kingdom, no bigger than the least touch or prick of a pencil, in comparison of the whole, that man alone is able to value things according to their true estimate and grandeur."
Our author's opinion, that a youth should be trained to suffer whatever there is a possibility of his encountering, is peculiar and extreme.
“A boy is to be inur'd to the toil and vehemency of exercise, to train him up to the pain and suffering of dislocations, cholicks, cauteries, and even imprisonment, and the rack itself, for he may come, by misfortune, to be reduc'd to the worst of these, which (as this world goes) is sometimes inflicted on the good, as well as the bad."
The following passage is written with more ardour than is usual with Montaigne. It is beautiful and persuasive, and has even some pretensions to eloquence-a quality Montaigne neither aimed at himself nor greatly admired in others.
“ The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual chearfulness; her estate is like that of things in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene. 'Tis Baraco and Baralipton that render their disciples so dirty and ill favour'd, and not she; they do not so much as know her, but by hear-say. 'Tis she that calms and appeases the storms and tempests of the soul, and who teaches famines and fevers to laugh and sing; and that, not by certain imaginary epicycles, but by natural and manifest reasons. She has vertue for her end; which is not, as the school-men say, situate upon the summit of a perpendicular rock, and an inaccessible precipice. Such as have approach'd her, find it, quite contrary, to be seated in a fair, fruitful, and flourishing plain, from whence she easily discovers all things subjected to her; to which place any one may however arrive, if he know but the easiest and the nearest way thro' shady, green, and sweetly flourishing walks and avenues, by a pleasant, easy, and smooth descent, like that of the celestial arches. 'Tis for not having frequented this supreme, this beautiful, triumphant, and amiable, this equally delicious and courageous virtue, this so profess'd and implacable enemy to anxiety, sorrow, fear, and constraint, who, having nature for her guide, has fortune and pleasure for her companions, that they have gone according to their own weak imagination, and created this ridiculous, this sorrowful, querulous, despiteful, threatning, terrible image of it to themselves and others, and plac'd it upon a solitary rock, amongst thorns and brambles, and made of it a hobgoblin to fright people from daring to approach it. But the governour that I would have, that is, such a one as knows it to be his duty to possess his pupil with as much or more affection than reverence to virtue, will be able to inform him, that the poets have evermore accommodated themselves to the publick humour, and make him sensible, that the gods have planted more toil and sweat in the avenues of the cabinets of Venus, than those of Minerva, which, when he shall once find him begin to apprehend, and shall represent to him a Bradamanta, or an Angelica, for a mistress, a natural, active, generous, and not a mankind, but a manly beauty, in comparison of a soft, delicate, artificial, simp'ring, and affected form; the one disguis'd in the habit of an heroick youth, with her beautiful face set out in a glittering helmet, the other trick'd up in curls and ribbons like a wanton minx; he will then look upon his own affection as brave and masculine, when he shall choose quite contrary to that effeminate shepherd of Phrygia. Such a tutor will make a pupil to digest this new doctrine, that the height and value of true virtue consists in the facility, utility, and pleasure of its exercise; so far from difficulty, that boys, as well as men, and the innocent, as well as the subtle, may make it their own; and it is by order and good conduct, and not by force, that it is to be acquir’d. Socrates, her first minion, is so averse to all manner of violence, as totally to throw it aside, to slip into the more na