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had much rather break the wall of a prison, and the laws themselves, than my own word.”
Even in actions free and indifferent, if he breathed a promise, even in whispers to himself, it assumed the shape of an obligation; but if he had once made it known to others, he considered himself positively enjoined to the performance of it. It was pleasant to him, because it was voluntary-it was of his own free will and bounty; for, “ if the action has not some splendour of liberty, it has neither grace nor honor.”
Of his reflections he fancied those the best which he made on horseback; and a sprightly thought never came into his head, on such an occasion, that he did not regret there was nobody to whom he could communicate it; and yet the reins of his bridle being wrong put on, or a strap flapping against his leg, was enough to keep him out of humour for a day together. Although of a studious turn of mind, he delighted more in contemplation than reading, to which he seldom applied for more than an hour together; and that, when he had nothing else to do, or it may be for the purpose of culling the flowers with which he has garnished his disquisitions ; for he tells us, over and over again, that he could retain nothing in his memory for any length of time. Indeed, the treachery of this faculty is a standing subject of complaint with him; but even from this real or imaginary defect, (for, considering his extraordinary familiarity with, and the use he makes of Roman authors, it is difficult to believe it was so imperfect as he represents it), he contrives to raise up some pleasant consolations ; as, when he says, that, from his want of memory, he less remembers the injuries he has received; and that the places he revisits, and the books he reads over again, still smile upon him with a fresh novelty. Such is the prerogative of genius- it can extract consolation from want and privation, and deck the barren wilderness with beauty.
Human nature is a wayward and variable thing, and where a man perseveres in putting down every crude and fugitive thought that occurs to him, we must expect to find that his mind has undergone changes similar to those of his body, and that what he thinks to-day he will not think to-morrow. The opinions of a mutable nature cannot be immutable. Doubts will arise, contradictions will occur, and one opinion displace another, in its turn to be deposed. Montaigne wrote without system and without classification, rambling from one subject to another, without order or connection, like the bee which now hardly settles upon one flower, and anon takes deeper draughts of another, as its taste or humour sways it. These aberrations are rather the result of design than accident; and, it is true, give a conversational ease, a reality and grace, to his Essays, which engages the interest of the reader too deeply in the feelings of the author, to allow him to think any thing, but that he is the most agreeable and original writer in the world. He is now a Stoic and now an Epicurean. He is carried away with every wind that blows—" accident can play what stop it pleases” upon him. He now argues on one side of the question, and now on the other, and at last leaves it without coming to a conclusion. He is too hard for himself.—“ He is every thing by turns, and nothing long." His book is censured in severe terms by Malebranche, not for what we should conceive its most objectionable passages, but for the vanity and Pyrrhonism of the author. Like most speculative men, Montaigne was fond of raising doubts against established propositions. He hinted opinions, which have since been expanded into systems. But, if he was an enemy to superstition, his scepticism did not terminate in irreligion. The strong, as well as the weak in intellect, are subject to fluctuations of opinion, especially on matters of faith. Montaigne was open to the reception of arguments, or rather created them on all subjects; and it is not surprising, that, in the religious contests which agitated his country, he should waver in the creed of his forefathers. A man may doubt the fallibility of human establishments, without being either wicked or irreligious. The force of arguments depends upon a thousand accidents—the education, the experience, the associations of thought or feeling, the timidity, or the fearlessness of the individual to whom they are applied. The reasons that will convince one man may undeceive another; and the advocate for a system, while he prevails over his opponent, often raises doubts in his own mind which he is unable to satisfy. A remarkable instance of which our readers will pardon us for introducing here. William Raynolds was at first a Protestant of the Church of England; and his brother, Dr. John Raynolds, was trained up in Popery beyond the seas. William, out of an honest zeal to reduce his brother to his Church, made a journey to him, when, in a conference between them, it fell out, that John, being overcome by his brother's arguments, returned into England, where he became one of the most rigid sort of the English Protestants; and William, being convinced by the reasons of his brother John, stayed beyond the seas, where he proved a very violent and virulent Papist. Of which strange accident Dr. Alabaster, who had made trial of both religions, and amongst many notable whimsies had some fine abilities, made the following epigram :-*
Bella inter geminos plusquam civilia fratres,
Traxerat ambiguus religionis apex.
Iste Reformandam denegat esse fidem.
Concurrêre pares, et cecidere pares.
Quod fuit in fatis, perdit uterque fidem,
Et victor victi transfuga castra petit.
Et tamen alteruter se superasse dolet?-
In points of faith some undetermin’d jars
Whatever doubts Montaigne might throw out, he always professed himself to be of the Roman Catholic faith, and his resolution, that, as he had lived, so he would die in it. He expired during the performance of its last ceremonies, in his chamber, on the 13th September, 1592, aged fifty-nine years, six months, and eleven days, without the assistance of physic to which he cherished all his life an hereditary and invincible dislike, his father having lived seventy-four years, his grandfather sixty-nine, and his great-grandfather almost eighty years without having tasted any sort of medicine. Thus died Montaigne with a full blossoming reputation, after leading a life (with the exception of the disorder with which he was in his latter years afflicted) the most joyous, felicitous, and philosophical of the sons of men.
We have no intention, and, if we had, we have no space to defend either his paradoxes or Pyrrhonism. We will, however, quote on this subject the opinion of an elegant writer and philosopher of the present day, who places Montaigne at the head of the French writers, who contributed, in the beginning of the 17th century, to turn the thoughts of their countrymen to sub
VOL. II. PART 11.
« in there those
jects connected with the philosophy of mind. He observes, that, “ in the mind of Montaigne, the same paradoxes may be easily traced to those deceitful appearances, which, in order to stimulate our faculties to their best exertions, nature seems purposely to have thrown in our way, as stumbling blocks in the pursuit of truth.”*
Leaving these things, however, we now come to the most serious charge against Montaigne-the great and foul blemish of his writings. We can forgive his vanity, and excuse his scepticism, but we cannot tolerate the indecencies which are profusely scattered, like “ noisome weeds,” about many of his Essays. There is one, and a long one too, under a mere colorable title, (for the titles of his Essays have, in general, little to do with the subject matter,) which is, from beginning to end, nothing else than a tissue of the grossest obscenities. He actually gloats on the subject, and dwells with ostentatious nauseousness on what the very instinct of nature teaches us to conceal. Had the Cardinal du Perron this in his mind, when he called our author's Essays “ Le Breviare des honnêtes gens?” “When he was young,” he says, “ he concealed his wanton passions; but, now that he was old, he must chase away melancholy by debauch," and tickle his mind with the remembrance of defunct desires. “Such rotten speeches are worst in withered age, when men run after that sin in their words, which flieth from them in the deed.” He says, “it is not out of judgment that I have chosen this scandalous way of speaking ; Nature has chosen it for me.” It would have been better if, instead of justifying or excusing it, he had adopted his own maxim : "he, who says all that is to be said, gluts and disgusts us.”
This is a part of the writings of Montaigne on which it is most painful to dwell, although we are not so outrageously virtuous as to despise or hate the sun “ which pours its radiance o'er a living and rejoicing world,” because there are spots upon its surface. Passing over this, his talking discourses are inexpressibly taking and agreeable. With a singular power of selfinvestigation, and an acute observation of the actions of men, which he discriminated with "a learned spirit of human dealing,” he combined great affluence of thought and excursiveness of fancy. He was, at once, profound and trifling--philosophical and inconclusive-bold in imagination and free in inquiry of an open and prepossessing demeanour, he was amiable and eminently attractive. An attempt was made in France to give the Spirit of his Works, which did not succeed. That to extract the spirit of Montaigne's Essays—to disentangle so much as is worth preserving, from that which we should be content to
* Dugald Stewart.
see perish, and, at the same time, preserve his character, would be difficult, is most true, but it is not impossible. It would require a nice hand, but we think, it might be done, and his Essays still remain a most fascinating book. “ If the prophaneness may be severed from the wit, it is like a lamprey, take out the string in the back, it will make good meat.” The style of Montaigne is bold, energetic, sententious, and abrupt; and, although provincial and unrefined, it is original, vivacious, simple, and debonair. La Harpe says of him: “ Comme écrivain, il a imprimé à la langue une sorte d'energie familière qu'elle n'avoit pas avant lui, et qui ne s'est point usée, parce qu'elle tient à celle des sentiments et des pensées.”
We have adopted, for the purposes of this article, the translation of Charles Cotton, the poet, who was peculiarly fitted for the task. He has rendered the original (so far as it could be rendered into a foreign idiom) with fidelity and success, and has imitated the quaintness, liveliness, and simplicity, of the author's style, with great felicity and effect.
ART. II. Clarastella ; together with Poems occasional, Elegies,
Epigrams, Satyrs. By Robert Heath, Esquire. London, Printed for Humph. Moseley, and are to be sold ut his shop, at the signe of the Princes Arms, in St. Paul's Church Yard, 1650.
At no period has the passion of love been celebrated so indefatigably as in the reign of Charles I. when a crowd of minor poets almost daily gave to the world the results of long and active speculation upon the infinite charms of their mistresses. Yet, at no other time has nature or genuine feeling had less to do with our poetry. The poet may ransack heaven and earth for terms, by which to express his admiration, his devotion, and his despair; but he succeeds in proving any thing rather than his love. We grant the fertility of his invention, but we deny the sincerity of his passion. In the numerous volumes devoted to the celebration of the Lucastas, the Castaras, the Clarastellas, of the polished court of Charles I. we look in vain for touching expressions of true passion, for the tender melancholy which occasionally seizes the mind of the true lover in moments of sickness, absence, hope, or joy; for evidences of that exalted love, which in dwelling on the object of its affection rises above it, and becomes mixed and identified with the eternal charms of nature, and the deep interests of man at large; in short, we look in vain for all marks, by which to know the true lover pouring forth his feelings in true poetry. In how different a strain did