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Les Essais Livre 3 Montaigne Essays

By how much profitable thoughts are more full and solid, by so much are
they also more cumbersome and heavy: vice, death, poverty, diseases, are
grave and grievous subjects. A man should have his soul instructed in
the means to sustain and to contend with evils, and in the rules of
living and believing well: and often rouse it up, and exercise it in this
noble study; but in an ordinary soul it must be by intervals and with
moderation; it will otherwise grow besotted if continually intent upon
it. I found it necessary, when I was young, to put myself in mind and
solicit myself to keep me to my duty; gaiety and health do not, they say,
so well agree with those grave and serious meditations: I am at present
in another state: the conditions of age but too much put me in mind, urge
me to wisdom, and preach to me. From the excess of sprightliness I am
fallen into that of severity, which is much more troublesome; and for
that reason I now and then suffer myself purposely a little to run into
disorder, and occupy my mind in wanton and youthful thoughts, wherewith
it diverts itself. I am of late but too reserved, too heavy, and too
ripe; years every day read to me lectures of coldness and temperance.
This body of mine avoids disorder and dreads it; 'tis now my body's turn
to guide my mind towards reformation; it governs, in turn, and more
rudely and imperiously than the other; it lets me not an hour alone,
sleeping or waking, but is always preaching to me death, patience, and
repentance. I now defend myself from temperance, as I have formerly done
from pleasure; it draws me too much back, and even to stupidity. Now I
will be master of myself, to all intents and purposes; wisdom has its
excesses, and has no less need of moderation than folly. Therefore, lest
I should wither, dry up, and overcharge myself with prudence, in the
intervals and truces my infirmities allow me:

               "Mens intenta suis ne seit usque malis."

     ["That my mind may not eternally be intent upon my ills."
     —Ovid., Trist., iv. i, 4.]

I gently turn aside, and avert my eyes from the stormy and cloudy sky I
have before me, which, thanks be to God, I regard without fear, but not
without meditation and study, and amuse myself in the remembrance of my
better years:

                          "Animus quo perdidit, optat,
               Atque in praeterita se totus imagine versat."

     ["The mind wishes to have what it has lost, and throws itself
     wholly into memories of the past."—Petronius, c. 128.]

Let childhood look forward and age backward; was not this the
signification of Janus' double face? Let years draw me along if they
will, but it shall be backward; as long as my eyes can discern the
pleasant season expired, I shall now and then turn them that way; though
it escape from my blood and veins, I shall not, however, root the image
of it out of my memory:

                                        "Hoc est
                    Vivere bis, vita posse priore frui."

     ["'Tis to live twice to be able to enjoy one's former life again."
     —Martial, x. 23, 7.]

Plato ordains that old men should be present at the exercises, dances,
and sports of young people, that they may rejoice in others for the
activity and beauty of body which is no more in themselves, and call to
mind the grace and comeliness of that flourishing age; and wills that in
these recreations the honour of the prize should be given to that young
man who has most diverted the company. I was formerly wont to mark
cloudy and gloomy days as extraordinary; these are now my ordinary days;
the extraordinary are the clear and bright; I am ready to leap for joy,
as for an unwonted favour, when nothing happens me. Let me tickle
myself, I cannot force a poor smile from this wretched body of mine;
I am only merry in conceit and in dreaming, by artifice to divert the
melancholy of age; but, in faith, it requires another remedy than a
dream. A weak contest of art against nature. 'Tis great folly to
lengthen and anticipate human incommodities, as every one does; I had
rather be a less while old than be old before I am really so.' I seize on
even the least occasions of pleasure I can meet. I know very well, by
hearsay, several sorts of prudent pleasures, effectually so, and glorious
to boot; but opinion has not power enough over me to give me an appetite
to them. I covet not so much to have them magnanimous, magnificent, and
pompous, as I do to have them sweet, facile, and ready:

               "A natura discedimus; populo nos damus,
               nullius rei bono auctori."

     ["We depart from nature and give ourselves to the people, who
     understand nothing."—Seneca, Ep., 99.]

My philosophy is in action, in natural and present practice, very little
in fancy: what if I should take pleasure in playing at cob-nut or to whip
a top!

               "Non ponebat enim rumores ante salutem."

     ["He did not sacrifice his health even to rumours." Ennius, apud
     Cicero, De Offic., i. 24]

Pleasure is a quality of very little ambition; it thinks itself rich
enough of itself without any addition of repute; and is best pleased
where most retired. A young man should be whipped who pretends to a
taste in wine and sauces; there was nothing which, at that age, I less
valued or knew: now I begin to learn; I am very much ashamed on't; but
what should I do? I am more ashamed and vexed at the occasions that put
me upon't. 'Tis for us to dote and trifle away the time, and for young
men to stand upon their reputation and nice punctilios; they are going
towards the world and the world's opinion; we are retiring from it:

     "Sibi arma, sibi equos, sibi hastas, sibi clavam, sibi pilam,
     sibi natationes, et cursus habeant: nobis senibus, ex lusionibus
     multis, talos relinquant et tesseras;"

     ["Let them reserve to themselves arms, horses, spears, clubs,
     tennis, swimming, and races; and of all the sports leave to us old
     men cards and dice."—Cicero, De Senec., c. 16.]

the laws themselves send us home. I can do no less in favour of this
wretched condition into which my age has thrown me than furnish it with
toys to play withal, as they do children; and, in truth, we become such.
Both wisdom and folly will have enough to do to support and relieve me by
alternate services in this calamity of age:

               "Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem."

          ["Mingle with counsels a brief interval of folly."
          —Horace, Od., iv. 12, 27.]

I accordingly avoid the lightest punctures; and those that formerly would
not have rippled the skin, now pierce me through and through: my habit of
body is now so naturally declining to ill:

          "In fragili corpore odiosa omnis offensio est;"

          ["In a fragile body every shock is obnoxious."
          —Cicero, De Senec., c. 18.]

          "Mensque pati durum sustinet aegra nihil."

     ["And the infirm mind can bear no difficult exertion."
     —Ovid, De Ponto., i. 5, 18.]

I have ever been very susceptibly tender as to offences: I am much more
tender now, and open throughout.

               "Et minimae vires frangere quassa valent."

     ["And little force suffices to break what was cracked before."
     —Ovid, De Tris., iii. 11, 22.]

My judgment restrains me from kicking against and murmuring at the
inconveniences that nature orders me to endure, but it does not take away
my feeling them: I, who have no other thing in my aim but to live and be
merry, would run from one end of the world to the other to seek out one
good year of pleasant and jocund tranquillity. A melancholic and dull
tranquillity may be enough for me, but it benumbs and stupefies me; I am
not contented with it. If there be any person, any knot of good company
in country or city, in France or elsewhere, resident or in motion, who
can like my humour, and whose humours I can like, let them but whistle
and I will run and furnish them with essays in flesh and bone:

Seeing it is the privilege of the mind to rescue itself from old age, I
advise mine to it with all the power I have; let it meanwhile continue
green, and flourish if it can, like mistletoe upon a dead tree. But I
fear 'tis a traitor; it has contracted so strict a fraternity with the
body that it leaves me at every turn, to follow that in its need. I
wheedle and deal with it apart in vain; I try in vain to wean it from
this correspondence, to no effect; quote to it Seneca and Catullus, and
ladies and royal masques; if its companion have the stone, it seems to
have it too; even the faculties that are most peculiarly and properly its
own cannot then perform their functions, but manifestly appear stupefied
and asleep; there is no sprightliness in its productions, if there be not
at the same time an equal proportion in the body too.

Our masters are to blame, that in searching out the causes of the
extraordinary emotions of the soul, besides attributing it to a divine
ecstasy, love, martial fierceness, poesy, wine, they have not also
attributed a part to health: a boiling, vigorous, full, and lazy health,
such as formerly the verdure of youth and security, by fits, supplied me
withal; that fire of sprightliness and gaiety darts into the mind flashes
that are lively and bright beyond our natural light, and of all
enthusiasms the most jovial, if not the most extravagant.

It is, then, no wonder if a contrary state stupefy and clog my spirit,
and produce a contrary effect:

          "Ad nullum consurgit opus, cum corpore languet;"

     ["When the mind is languishing, the body is good for nothing."
     (Or:) "It rises to no effort; it languishes with the body."
     —Pseudo Gallus, i. 125.]

and yet would have me obliged to it for giving, as it wants to make out,
much less consent to this stupidity than is the ordinary case with men of
my age. Let us, at least, whilst we have truce, drive away incommodities
and difficulties from our commerce:

          "Dum licet, obducta solvatur fronte senectus:"

     ["Whilst we can, let us banish old age from the brow."
     —Herod., Ep., xiii. 7.]

               "Tetrica sunt amcenanda jocularibus."

     ["Sour things are to be sweetened with those that are pleasant."
     —Sidonius Apollin., Ep., i. 9.]

I love a gay and civil wisdom, and fly from all sourness and austerity of
manners, all repellent, mien being suspected by me:

               "Tristemque vultus tetrici arrogantiam:"

          ["The arrogant sadness of a crabbed face."—Auctor Incert.]

               "Et habet tristis quoque turba cinaedos."

          ["And the dull crowd also has its voluptuaries." (Or:)
          "An austere countenance sometimes covers a debauched mind."

I am very much of Plato's opinion, who says that facile or harsh humours
are great indications of the good or ill disposition of the mind.
Socrates had a constant countenance, but serene and smiling, not sourly
austere, like the elder Crassus, whom no one ever saw laugh. Virtue is a
pleasant and gay quality.

I know very well that few will quarrel with the licence of my writings,
who have not more to quarrel with in the licence of their own thoughts:
I conform myself well enough to their inclinations, but I offend their
eyes. 'Tis a fine humour to strain the writings of Plato, to wrest his
pretended intercourses with Phaedo, Dion, Stella, and Archeanassa:

               "Non pudeat dicere, quod non pudet sentire."

     ["Let us not be ashamed to speak what we are not ashamed to think."]

I hate a froward and dismal spirit, that slips over all the pleasures of
life and seizes and feeds upon misfortunes; like flies, that cannot stick
to a smooth and polished body, but fix and repose themselves upon craggy
and rough places, and like cupping-glasses, that only suck and attract
bad blood.

As to the rest, I have enjoined myself to dare to say all that I dare to
do; even thoughts that are not to be published, displease me; the worst
of my actions and qualities do not appear to me so evil as I find it evil
and base not to dare to own them. Every one is wary and discreet in
confession, but men ought to be so in action; the boldness of doing ill
is in some sort compensated and restrained by the boldness of confessing
it. Whoever will oblige himself to tell all, should oblige himself to do
nothing that he must be forced to conceal. I wish that this excessive
licence of mine may draw men to freedom, above these timorous and mincing
virtues sprung from our imperfections, and that at the expense of my
immoderation I may reduce them to reason. A man must see and study his
vice to correct it; they who conceal it from others, commonly conceal it
from themselves; and do not think it close enough, if they themselves see
it: they withdraw and disguise it from their own consciences:

     "Quare vitia sua nemo confitetur? Quia etiam nunc in
     illia est; somnium narrare vigilantis est."

     ["Why does no man confess his vices? because he is yet in them;
     'tis for a waking man to tell his dream."—Seneca, Ep., 53.]

The diseases of the body explain themselves by their increase; we find
that to be the gout which we called a rheum or a strain; the diseases of
the soul, the greater they are, keep, themselves the most obscure;
the most sick are the least sensible; therefore it is that with an
unrelenting hand they most often, in full day, be taken to task, opened,
and torn from the hollow of the heart. As in doing well, so in doing
ill, the mere confession is sometimes satisfaction. Is there any
deformity in doing amiss, that can excuse us from confessing ourselves?
It is so great a pain to me to dissemble, that I evade the trust of
another's secrets, wanting the courage to disavow my knowledge. I can
keep silent, but deny I cannot without the greatest trouble and violence
to myself imaginable to be very secret, a man must be so by nature, not
by obligation. 'Tis little worth, in the service of a prince, to be
secret, if a man be not a liar to boot. If he who asked Thales the
Milesian whether he ought solemnly to deny that he had committed
adultery, had applied himself to me, I should have told him that he ought
not to do it; for I look upon lying as a worse fault than the other.
Thales advised him quite contrary, bidding him swear to shield the
greater fault by the less;

     [Montaigne's memory here serves him ill, for the question being put
     to Thales, his answer was: "But is not perjury worse than
     adultery?"—Diogenes Laertius, in vita, i. 36.]

nevertheless, this counsel was not so much an election as a
multiplication of vice. Upon which let us say this in passing, that we
deal liberally with a man of conscience when we propose to him some
difficulty in counterpoise of vice; but when we shut him up betwixt two
vices, he is put to a hard choice as Origen was either to idolatrise or
to suffer himself to be carnally abused by a great Ethiopian slave they
brought to him. He submitted to the first condition, and wrongly, people
say. Yet those women of our times are not much out, according to their
error, who protest they had rather burden their consciences with ten men
than one mass.

If it be indiscretion so to publish one's errors, yet there is no great
danger that it pass into example and custom; for Ariston said, that the
winds men most fear are those that lay them open. We must tuck up this
ridiculous rag that hides our manners: they send their consciences to the
stews, and keep a starched countenance: even traitors and assassins
espouse the laws of ceremony, and there fix their duty. So that neither
can injustice complain of incivility, nor malice of indiscretion. 'Tis
pity but a bad man should be a fool to boot, and that outward decency
should palliate his vice: this rough-cast only appertains to a good and
sound wall, that deserves to be preserved and whited.

In favour of the Huguenots, who condemn our auricular and private
confession, I confess myself in public, religiously and purely: St.
Augustin, Origeti, and Hippocrates have published the errors of their
opinions; I, moreover, of my manners. I am greedy of making myself
known, and I care not to how many, provided it be truly; or to say
better, I hunger for nothing; but I mortally hate to be mistaken by those
who happen to learn my name. He who does all things for honour and
glory, what can he think to gain by shewing himself to the world in a
vizor, and by concealing his true being from the people? Praise a
humpback for his stature, he has reason to take it for an affront:
if you are a coward, and men commend you for your valour, is it of you
they speak? They take you for another. I should like him as well who
glorifies himself in the compliments and congees that are made him as if
he were master of the company, when he is one of the least of the train.
Archelaus, king of Macedon, walking along the street, somebody threw
water on his head, which they who were with him said he ought to punish:
"Aye, but," said he, "whoever it was, he did not throw the water upon me,
but upon him whom he took me to be." Socrates being told that people
spoke ill of him, "Not at all," said he, "there is nothing, in me of what
they say."

For my part, if any one should recommend me as a good pilot, as being
very modest or very chaste, I should owe him no thanks; and so, whoever
should call me traitor, robber, or drunkard, I should be as little
concerned. They who do not rightly know themselves, may feed themselves
with false approbations; not I, who see myself, and who examine myself
even to my very bowels, and who very well know what is my due. I am
content to be less commended, provided I am better known. I may be
reputed a wise man in such a sort of wisdom as I take to be folly.
I am vexed that my Essays only serve the ladies for a common piece of
furniture, and a piece for the hall; this chapter will make me part of
the water-closet. I love to traffic with them a little in private;
public conversation is without favour and without savour. In farewells,
we oftener than not heat our affections towards the things we take leave
of; I take my last leave of the pleasures of this world: these are our
last embraces.

But let us come to my subject: what has the act of generation, so
natural, so necessary, and so just, done to men, to be a thing not to
be spoken of without blushing, and to be excluded from all serious and
moderate discourse? We boldly pronounce kill, rob, betray, and that we
dare only to do betwixt the teeth. Is it to say, the less we expend in
words, we may pay so much the more in thinking? For it is certain that
the words least in use, most seldom written, and best kept in, are the
best and most generally known: no age, no manners, are ignorant of them,
no more than the word bread they imprint themselves in every one without
being, expressed, without voice, and without figure; and the sex that
most practises it is bound to say least of it. 'Tis an act that we have
placed in the franchise of silence, from which to take it is a crime even
to accuse and judge it; neither dare we reprehend it but by periphrasis
and picture. A great favour to a criminal to be so execrable that
justice thinks it unjust to touch and see him; free, and safe by the
benefit of the severity of his condemnation. Is it not here as in matter
of books, that sell better and become more public for being suppressed?
For my part, I will take Aristotle at his word, who says, that
"bashfulness is an ornament to youth, but a reproach to old age." These
verses are preached in the ancient school, a school that I much more
adhere to than the modern: its virtues appear to me to be greater, and
the vices less:

              "Ceux qui par trop fuyant Venus estrivent,
               Faillent autant que ceulx qui trop la suyvent."

     ["They err as much who too much forbear Venus, as they who are too
     frequent in her rites."—A translation by Amyot from Plutarch, A
     philosopher should converse with princes.]

              "Tu, dea, rerum naturam sola gubernas,
               Nec sine to quicquam dias in luminis oras
               Exoritur, neque fit laetum, nec amabile quidquam."

     ["Goddess, still thou alone governest nature, nor without thee
     anything comes into light; nothing is pleasant, nothing joyful."
     —Lucretius, i. 22.]

I know not who could set Pallas and the Muses at variance with Venus, and
make them cold towards Love; but I see no deities so well met, or that
are more indebted to one another. Who will deprive the Muses of amorous
imaginations, will rob them of the best entertainment they have, and of
the noblest matter of their work: and who will make Love lose the
communication and service of poesy, will disarm him of his best weapons:
by this means they charge the god of familiarity and good will, and the
protecting goddesses of humanity and justice, with the vice of
ingratitude and unthankfulness. I have not been so long cashiered from
the state and service of this god, that my memory is not still perfect in
his force and value:

               "Agnosco veteris vestigia flammae;"

     ["I recognise vestiges of my old flame."—AEneid., iv. 23.]

There are yet some remains of heat and emotion after the fever:

          "Nec mihi deficiat calor hic, hiemantibus annis!"

     ["Nor let this heat of youth fail me in my winter years."]

Withered and drooping as I am, I feel yet some remains of the past

              "Qual l'alto Egeo, per the Aquilone o Noto
               Cessi, the tutto prima il volse et scosse,
               Non 's accheta ei pero; ma'l suono e'l moto
               Ritien del l'onde anco agitate e grosse:"

          ["As Aegean seas, when storms be calmed again,
          That rolled their tumbling waves with troublous blasts,
          Do yet of tempests passed some show retain,
          And here and there their swelling billows cast."—Fairfax.]

but from what I understand of it, the force and power of this god are
more lively and animated in the picture of poesy than in their own

                    "Et versus digitos habet:"

          ["Verse has fingers."—Altered from Juvenal, iv. 196.]

it has I know not what kind of air, more amorous than love itself. Venus
is not so beautiful, naked, alive, and panting, as she is here in Virgil:

         "Dixerat; et niveis hinc atque hinc Diva lacertis
          Cunctantem amplexu molli fovet. Ille repente
          Accepit solitam flammam; notusque medullas
          Intravit calor, et labefacta per ossa cucurrit
          Non secus atque olim tonitru, cum rupta corusco
          Ignea rima micans percurrit lumine nimbos.
          . . . . . . Ea verba loquutus,
          Optatos dedit amplexus; placidumque petivit
          Conjugis infusus gremio per membra soporem."

     ["The goddess spoke, and throwing round him her snowy arms in soft
     embraces, caresses him hesitating. Suddenly he caught the wonted
     flame, and the well-known warmth pierced his marrow, and ran
     thrilling through his shaken bones: just as when at times, with
     thunder, a stream of fire in lightning flashes shoots across the
     skies. Having spoken these words, he gave her the wished embrace,
     and in the bosom of his spouse sought placid sleep."
     —AEneid, viii. 387 and 392.]

All that I find fault with in considering it is, that he has represented
her a little too passionate for a married Venus; in this discreet kind of
coupling, the appetite is not usually so wanton, but more grave and dull.
Love hates that people should hold of any but itself, and goes but
faintly to work in familiarities derived from any other title, as
marriage is: alliance, dowry, therein sway by reason, as much or more
than grace and beauty. Men do not marry for themselves, let them say
what they will; they marry as much or more for their posterity and
family; the custom and interest of marriage concern our race much more
than us; and therefore it is, that I like to have a match carried on by a
third hand rather than a man's own, and by another man's liking than that
of the party himself; and how much is all this opposite to the
conventions of love? And also it is a kind of incest to employ in this
venerable and sacred alliance the heat and extravagance of amorous
licence, as I think I have said elsewhere. A man, says Aristotle, must
approach his wife with prudence and temperance, lest in dealing too
lasciviously with her, the extreme pleasure make her exceed the bounds of
reason. What he says upon the account of conscience, the physicians say
upon the account of health: "that a pleasure excessively lascivious,
voluptuous, and frequent, makes the seed too hot, and hinders
conception": 'tis said, elsewhere, that to a languishing intercourse, as
this naturally is, to supply it with a due and fruitful heat, a man must
do it but seldom and at appreciable intervals:

          "Quo rapiat sitiens Venerem, interiusque recondat."

     ["But let him thirstily snatch the joys of love and enclose them in
     his bosom."—Virg., Georg., iii. 137.]

I see no marriages where the conjugal compatibility sooner fails than
those that we contract upon the account of beauty and amorous desires;
there should be more solid and constant foundation, and they should
proceed with greater circumspection; this furious ardour is worth

They who think they honour marriage by joining love to it, do, methinks,
like those who, to favour virtue, hold that nobility is nothing else but
virtue. They are indeed things that have some relation to one another,
but there is a great deal of difference; we should not so mix their names
and titles; 'tis a wrong to them both so to confound them. Nobility is a
brave quality, and with good reason introduced; but forasmuch as 'tis a
quality depending upon others, and may happen in a vicious person, in
himself nothing, 'tis in estimate infinitely below virtue';

     ["If nobility be virtue, it loses its quality in all things wherein
     not virtuous: and if it be not virtue, 'tis a small matter."
     —La Byuyere.]

'tis a virtue, if it be one, that is artificial and apparent, depending
upon time and fortune: various in form, according to the country; living
and mortal; without birth, as the river Nile; genealogical and common;
of succession and similitude; drawn by consequence, and a very weak one.
Knowledge, strength, goodness, beauty, riches, and all other qualities,
fall into communication and commerce, but this is consummated in itself,
and of no use to the service of others. There was proposed to one of our
kings the choice of two candidates for the same command, of whom one was
a gentleman, the other not; he ordered that, without respect to quality,
they should choose him who had the most merit; but where the worth of the
competitors should appear to be entirely equal, they should have respect
to birth: this was justly to give it its rank. A young man unknown,
coming to Antigonus to make suit for his father's command, a valiant man
lately dead: "Friend," said he, "in such preferments as these, I have not
so much regard to the nobility of my soldiers as to their prowess."
And, indeed, it ought not to go as it did with the officers of the kings
of Sparta, trumpeters, fiddlers, cooks, the children of whom always
succeeded to their places, how ignorant soever, and were preferred before
the most experienced in the trade. They of Calicut make of nobles a sort
of superhuman persons: they are interdicted marriage and all but warlike
employments: they may have of concubines their fill, and the women as
many lovers, without being jealous of one another; but 'tis a capital and
irremissible crime to couple with a person of meaner conditions than
themselves; and they think themselves polluted, if they have but touched
one in walking along; and supposing their nobility to be marvellously
interested and injured in it, kill such as only approach a little too
near them: insomuch that the ignoble are obliged to cry out as they walk,
like the gondoliers of Venice, at the turnings of streets for fear of
jostling; and the nobles command them to step aside to what part they
please: by that means these avoid what they repute a perpetual ignominy,
those certain death. No time, no favour of the prince, no office, or
virtue, or riches, can ever prevail to make a plebeian become noble: to
which this custom contributes, that marriages are interdicted betwixt
different trades; the daughter of one of the cordwainers' gild is not
permitted to marry a carpenter; and parents are obliged to train up their
children precisely in their own callings, and not put them to any other
trade; by which means the distinction and continuance of their fortunes
are maintained.

A good marriage, if there be any such, rejects the company and conditions
of love, and tries to represent those of friendship. 'Tis a sweet
society of life, full of constancy, trust, and an infinite number of
useful and solid services and mutual obligations; which any woman who has
a right taste:

                    "Optato quam junxit lumine taeda"—

     ["Whom the marriage torch has joined with the desired light."
     —Catullus, lxiv. 79.]

would be loth to serve her husband in quality of a mistress. If she be
lodged in his affection as a wife, she is more honourably and securely
placed. When he purports to be in love with another, and works all he
can to obtain his desire, let any one but ask him, on which he had rather
a disgrace should fall, his wife or his mistress, which of their
misfortunes would most afflict him, and to which of them he wishes the
most grandeur, the answer to these questions is out of dispute in a sound

And that so few are observed to be happy, is a token of its price and
value. If well formed and rightly taken, 'tis the best of all human
societies; we cannot live without it, and yet we do nothing but decry it.
It happens, as with cages, the birds without despair to get in, and those
within despair of getting out. Socrates being asked, whether it was more
commodious to take a wife or not, "Let a man take which course he will,"
said he; "he will repent." 'Tis a contract to which the common

                    "Homo homini aut deus aut lupus,"

          ["Man to man is either a god or a wolf."—Erasmus, Adag.]

may very fitly be applied; there must be a concurrence of many qualities
in the construction. It is found nowadays more convenient for simple and
plebeian souls, where delights, curiosity, and idleness do not so much
disturb it; but extravagant humours, such as mine, that hate all sorts of
obligation and restraint, are not so proper for it:

               "Et mihi dulce magis resoluto vivere collo."

          ["And it is sweet to me to live with a loosened neck."
          —Pseudo Gallus, i. 61.]

Might I have had my own will, I would not have married Wisdom herself, if
she would have had me. But 'tis to much purpose to evade it; the common
custom and usance of life will have it so. The most of my actions are
guided by example, not by choice, and yet I did not go to it of my own
voluntary motion; I was led and drawn to it by extrinsic occasions; for
not only things that are incommodious in themselves, but also things
however ugly, vicious, and to be avoided, may be rendered acceptable by
some condition or accident; so unsteady and vain is all human resolution!
and I was persuaded to it, when worse prepared and less tractable than I
am at present, that I have tried what it is: and as great a libertine as
I am taken to be, I have in truth more strictly observed the laws of
marriage, than I either promised or expected. 'Tis in vain to kick, when
a man has once put on his fetters: a man must prudently manage his
liberty; but having once submitted to obligation, he must confine himself
within the laws of common duty, at least, do what he can towards it.
They who engage in this contract, with a design to carry themselves in it
with hatred and contempt, do an unjust and inconvenient thing; and the
fine rule that I hear pass from hand to hand amongst the women, as a
sacred oracle:

     ["Serve thy husband as thy master, but guard thyself against him as
     from a traitor."]

which is to say, comport thyself towards him with a dissembled, inimical,
and distrustful reverence (a cry of war and defiance), is equally
injurious and hard. I am too mild for such rugged designs: to say the
truth, I am not arrived to that perfection of ability and refinement of
wit, to confound reason with injustice, and to laugh at all rule and
order that does not please my palate; because I hate superstition, I do
not presently run into the contrary extreme of irreligion.

     (If a man hate superstition he cannot love religion. D.W.)

If a man does not always perform his duty, he ought at least to love and
acknowledge it; 'tis treachery to marry without espousing.

Let us proceed.

Our poet represents a marriage happy in a good accord wherein
nevertheless there is not much loyalty. Does he mean, that it is not
impossible but a woman may give the reins to her own passion, and yield
to the importunities of love, and yet reserve some duty toward marriage,
and that it may be hurt, without being totally broken? A serving man may
cheat his master, whom nevertheless he does not hate. Beauty,
opportunity, and destiny (for destiny has also a hand in't),

                         "Fatum est in partibus illis
          Quas sinus abscondit; nam, si tibi sidera cessent,
          Nil faciet longi mensura incognita nervi;"

     ["There is a fatality about the hidden parts: let nature have
     endowed you however liberally, 'tis of no use, if your good star
     fails you in the nick of time."—Juvenal, ix. 32.]

have attached her to a stranger; though not so wholly, peradventure, but
that she may have some remains of kindness for her husband. They are two
designs, that have several paths leading to them, without being
confounded with one another; a woman may yield to a man she would by no
means have married, not only for the condition of his fortune, but for
those also of his person. Few men have made a wife of a mistress, who
have not repented it. And even in the other world, what an unhappy life
does Jupiter lead with his, whom he had first enjoyed as a mistress!
'Tis, as the proverb runs, to befoul a basket and then put it upon one's
head. I have in my time, in a good family, seen love shamefully and
dishonestly cured by marriage: the considerations are widely different.
We love at once, without any tie, two things contrary in themselves.

Socrates was wont to say, that the city of Athens pleased, as ladies do
whom men court for love; every one loved to come thither to take a turn,
and pass away his time; but no one liked it so well as to espouse it,
that is, to inhabit there, and to make it his constant residence. I have
been vexed to see husbands hate their wives only because they themselves
do them wrong; we should not, at all events, methinks, love them the less
for our own faults; they should at least, upon the account of repentance
and compassion, be dearer to us.

They are different ends, he says, and yet in some sort compatible;
marriage has utility, justice, honour, and constancy for its share;
a flat, but more universal pleasure: love founds itself wholly upon
pleasure, and, indeed, has it more full, lively, and sharp; a pleasure
inflamed by difficulty; there must be in it sting and smart: 'tis no
longer love, if without darts and fire. The bounty of ladies is too
profuse in marriage, and dulls the point of affection and desire: to
evade which inconvenience, do but observe what pains Lycurgus and Plato
take in their laws.

Women are not to blame at all, when they refuse the rules of life that
are introduced into the world, forasmuch as the men make them without
their help. There is naturally contention and brawling betwixt them and
us; and the strictest friendship we have with them is yet mixed with
tumult and tempest. In the opinion of our author, we deal
inconsiderately with them in this: after we have discovered that they
are, without comparison, more able and ardent in the practice of love
than we, and that the old priest testified as much, who had been one
while a man, and then a woman:

                    "Venus huic erat utraque nota:"

               ["Both aspects of love were known to him,"
               —Tiresias. Ovid. Metam., iii. 323.]

and moreover, that we have learned from their own mouths the proof that,
in several ages, was made by an Emperor and Empress of Rome,—[Proclus.]
—both famous for ability in that affair! for he in one night deflowered
ten Sarmatian virgins who were his captives: but she had five-and-twenty
bouts in one night, changing her man according to her need and liking;

                    "Adhuc ardens rigidae tentigine vulvae
               Et lassata viris, nondum satiata, recessit:"

          ["Ardent still, she retired, fatigued, but not satisfied."
          —Juvenal, vi. 128.]

and that upon the dispute which happened in Cataluna, wherein a wife
complaining of her husband's too frequent addresses to her, not so much,
as I conceive, that she was incommodated by it (for I believe no miracles
out of religion) as under this pretence, to curtail and curb in this,
which is the fundamental act of marriage, the authority of husbands over
their wives, and to shew that their frowardness and malignity go beyond
the nuptial bed, and spurn under foot even the graces and sweets of
Venus; the husband, a man truly brutish and unnatural, replied, that even
on fasting days he could not subsist with less than ten courses:
whereupon came out that notable sentence of the Queen of Arragon, by
which, after mature deliberation of her council, this good queen, to give
a rule and example to all succeeding ages of the moderation required in
a just marriage, set down six times a day as a legitimate and necessary
stint; surrendering and quitting a great deal of the needs and desires of
her sex, that she might, she said, establish an easy, and consequently, a
permanent and immutable rule. Hereupon the doctors cry out: what must
the female appetite and concupiscence be, when their reason, their
reformation and virtue, are taxed at such a rate, considering the divers
judgments of our appetites? for Solon, master of the law school, taxes
us but at three a month,—that men may not fail in point of conjugal
frequentation: after having, I say, believed and preached all this, we go
and enjoin them continency for their particular share, and upon the last
and extreme penalties.

There is no passion so hard to contend with as this, which we would have
them only resist, not simply as an ordinary vice, but as an execrable
abomination, worse than irreligion and parricide; whilst we, at the same
time, go to't without offence or reproach. Even those amongst us who
have tried the experiment have sufficiently confessed what difficulty, or
rather impossibility, they have found by material remedies to subdue,
weaken, and cool the body. We, on the contrary, would have them at once
sound, vigorous plump, high-fed, and chaste; that is to say, both hot and
cold; for the marriage, which we tell them is to keep them from burning,
is but small refreshment to them, as we order the matter. If they take
one whose vigorous age is yet boiling, he will be proud to make it known

                   "Sit tandem pudor; aut eamus in jus;
                    Multis mentula millibus redempta,
                    Non est haec tua, Basse; vendidisti;"

     ["Let there be some shame, or we shall go to law: your vigour,
     bought by your wife with many thousands, is no longer yours: thou
     hast sold it.—"Martial, xii. 90.]

Polemon the philosopher was justly by his wife brought before the judge
for sowing in a barren field the seed that was due to one that was
fruitful: if, on the other hand, they take a decayed fellow, they are in
a worse condition in marriage than either maids or widows. We think them
well provided for, because they have a man to lie with, as the Romans
concluded Clodia Laeta, a vestal nun, violated, because Caligula had
approached her, though it was declared he did no more but approach her:
but, on the contrary, we by that increase their necessity, forasmuch as
the touch and company of any man whatever rouses their desires, that in
solitude would be more quiet. And to the end, 'tis likely, that they
might render their chastity more meritorious by this circumstance and
consideration, Boleslas and Kinge his wife, kings of Poland, vowed it by
mutual consent, being in bed together, on their very wedding day, and
kept their vow in spite of all matrimonial conveniences.

We train them up from their infancy to the traffic of love; their grace,
dressing, knowledge, language, and whole instruction tend that way: their
governesses imprint nothing in them but the idea of love, if for nothing
else but by continually representing it to them, to give them a distaste
for it. My daughter, the only child I have, is now of an age that
forward young women are allowed to be married at; she is of a slow, thin,
and tender complexion, and has accordingly been brought up by her mother
after a retired and particular manner, so that she but now begins to be
weaned from her childish simplicity. She was reading before me in a
French book where the word 'fouteau', the name of a tree very well known,
occurred;—[The beech-tree; the name resembles in sound an obscene
French word.]—the woman, to whose conduct she is committed, stopped her
short a little roughly, and made her skip over that dangerous step. I
let her alone, not to trouble their rules, for I never concern myself in
that sort of government; feminine polity has a mysterious procedure; we
must leave it to them; but if I am not mistaken the commerce of twenty
lacquies could not, in six months' time, have so imprinted in her memory
the meaning, usage, and all the consequence of the sound of these wicked
syllables, as this good old woman did by reprimand and interdiction.

                   "Motus doceri gaudet Ionicos
                    Matura virgo, et frangitur artibus;
                    Jam nunc et incestos amores
                    De tenero, meditatur ungui."

     ["The maid ripe for marriage delights to learn Ionic dances, and to
     imitate those lascivious movements. Nay, already from her infancy
     she meditates criminal amours."—Horace, Od., iii. 6, 21., the text
     has 'fingitur'.]

Let them but give themselves the rein a little, let them but enter into
liberty of discourse, we are but children to them in this science. Hear
them but describe our pursuits and conversation, they will very well make
you understand that we bring them nothing they have not known before, and
digested without our help.

     [This sentence refers to a conversation between some young women in
     his immediate neighbourhood, which the Essayist just below informs
     us that he overheard, and which was too shocking for him to repeat.
     It must have been tolerably bad.—Remark by the editor of a later

Is it, perhaps, as Plato says, that they have formerly been debauched
young fellows? I happened one day to be in a place where I could hear
some of their talk without suspicion; I am sorry I cannot repeat it.
By'rlady, said I, we had need go study the phrases of Amadis, and the
tales of Boccaccio and Aretin, to be able to discourse with them: we
employ our time to much purpose indeed. There is neither word, example,
nor step they are not more perfect in than our books; 'tis a discipline
that springs with their blood,

                    "Et mentem ipsa Venus dedit,"

               ["Venus herself made them what they are,"
               —Virg., Georg., iii. 267.]

which these good instructors, nature, youth, and health, are continually
inspiring them with; they need not learn, they breed it:

              "Nec tantum niveo gavisa est ulla columbo,
               Compar, vel si quid dicitur improbius,
               Oscula mordenti semper decerpere rostro,
               Quantum praecipue multivola est mulier."

     ["No milk-white dove, or if there be a thing more lascivious,
     takes so much delight in kissing as woman, wishful for every man
     she sees."—Catullus, lxvi. 125.]

So that if the natural violence of their desire were not a little
restrained by fear and honour, which were wisely contrived for them, we
should be all shamed. All the motions in the world resolve into and tend
to this conjunction; 'tis a matter infused throughout: 'tis a centre to
which all things are directed. We yet see the edicts of the old and wise
Rome made for the service of love, and the precepts of Socrates for the
instruction of courtezans:

                   "Noncon libelli Stoici inter sericos
                    Jacere pulvillos amant:"

          ["There are writings of the Stoics which we find lying upon
          silken cushions."—Horace, Epod., viii. 15.]

Zeno, amongst his laws, also regulated the motions to be observed in
getting a maidenhead. What was the philosopher Strato's book Of Carnal
Conjunction?—[ Diogenes Laertius, v. 59.]—And what did Theophrastus
treat of in those he intituled, the one 'The Lover', and the other 'Of
Love?' Of what Aristippus in his 'Of Former Delights'? What do the so
long and lively descriptions in Plato of the loves of his time pretend
to? and the book called 'The Lover', of Demetrius Phalereus? and
'Clinias', or the 'Ravished Lover', of Heraclides; and that of
Antisthenes, 'Of Getting Children', or, 'Of Weddings', and the other,
'Of the Master or the Lover'? And that of Aristo: 'Of Amorous Exercises'
What those of Cleanthes: one, 'Of Love', the other, 'Of the Art of
Loving'? The amorous dialogues of Sphaereus? and the fable of Jupiter
and Juno, of Chrysippus, impudent beyond all toleration? And his fifty
so lascivious epistles? I will let alone the writings of the
philosophers of the Epicurean sect, protectress of voluptuousness. Fifty
deities were, in time past, assigned to this office; and there have been
nations where, to assuage the lust of those who came to their devotion,
they kept men and women in their temples for the worshippers to lie with;
and it was an act of ceremony to do this before they went to prayers:

     "Nimirum propter continentiam incontinentia necessaria est;
     incendium ignibus extinguitur."

     ["Forsooth incontinency is necessary for continency's sake; a
     conflagration is extinguished by fire."]

In the greatest part of the world, that member of our body was deified;
in the same province, some flayed off the skin to offer and consecrate a
piece; others offered and consecrated their seed. In another, the young
men publicly cut through betwixt the skin and the flesh of that part in
several places, and thrust pieces of wood into the openings as long and
thick as they would receive, and of these pieces of wood afterwards made
a fire as an offering to their gods; and were reputed neither vigorous
nor chaste, if by the force of that cruel pain they seemed to be at all
dismayed. Elsewhere the most sacred magistrate was reverenced and
acknowledged by that member and in several ceremonies the effigy of it
was carried in pomp to the honour of various divinities. The Egyptian
ladies, in their Bacchanalia, each carried one finely-carved of wood
about their necks, as large and heavy as she could so carry it; besides
which, the statue of their god presented one, which in greatness
surpassed all the rest of his body.—[Herodotus, ii. 48, says "nearly
as large as the body itself."]—The married women, near the place where
I live, make of their kerchiefs the figure of one upon their foreheads,
to glorify themselves in the enjoyment they have of it; and coming to be
widows, they throw it behind, and cover it with their headcloths. The
most modest matrons of Rome thought it an honour to offer flowers and
garlands to the god Priapus; and they made the virgins, at the time of
their espousals, sit upon his shameful parts. And I know not whether I
have not in my time seen some air of like devotion. What was the meaning
of that ridiculous piece of the chaussuye of our forefathers, and that is
still worn by our Swiss? ["Cod-pieces worn"—Cotton]—To what end do we
make a show of our implements in figure under our breeches, and often,
which is worse, above their natural size, by falsehood and imposture?
I have half a mind to believe that this sort of vestment was invented in
the better and more conscientious ages, that the world might not be
deceived, and that every one should give a public account of his
proportions: the simple nations wear them yet, and near about the real
size. In those days, the tailor took measure of it, as the shoemaker
does now of a man's foot. That good man, who, when I was young, gelded
so many noble and ancient statues in his great city, that they might not
corrupt the sight of the ladies, according to the advice of this other
ancient worthy:

          "Flagitii principium est, nudare inter gives corpora,"

     ["'Tis the beginning of wickedness to expose their persons among the
     citizens"—Ennius, ap. Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., iv. 33.]

should have called to mind, that, as in the mysteries of the Bona Dea,
all masculine appearance was excluded, he did nothing, if he did not geld
horses and asses, in short, all nature:

         "Omne adeo genus in terris, hominumque, ferarumque,
          Et genus aequoreum, pecudes, pictaeque volucres,
          In furias ignemque ruunt."

          ["So that all living things, men and animals, wild or tame,
          and fish and gaudy fowl, rush to this flame of love."
          —Virgil, Georg., iii. 244.]

The gods, says Plato, have given us one disobedient and unruly member
that, like a furious animal, attempts, by the violence of its appetite,
to subject all things to it; and so they have given to women one like a
greedy and ravenous animal, which, if it be refused food in season, grows
wild, impatient of delay, and infusing its rage into their bodies, stops
the passages, and hinders respiration, causing a thousand ills, till,
having imbibed the fruit of the common thirst, it has plentifully bedewed
the bottom of their matrix. Now my legislator—[The Pope who, as
Montaigne has told us, took it into his head to geld the statues.]—
should also have considered that, peradventure, it were a chaster and
more fruitful usage to let them know the fact as it is betimes, than
permit them to guess according to the liberty and heat of their own
fancy; instead of the real parts they substitute, through hope and
desire, others that are three times more extravagant; and a certain
friend of mine lost himself by producing his in place and time when the
opportunity was not present to put them to their more serious use. What
mischief do not those pictures of prodigious dimension do that the boys
make upon the staircases and galleries of the royal houses? they give the
ladies a cruel contempt of our natural furniture. And what do we know
but that Plato, after other well-instituted republics, ordered that the
men and women, old and young, should expose themselves naked to the view
of one another, in his gymnastic exercises, upon that very account? The
Indian women who see the men in their natural state, have at least cooled
the sense of seeing. And let the women of the kingdom of Pegu say what
they will, who below the waist have nothing to cover them but a cloth
slit before, and so strait, that what decency and modesty soever they
pretend by it, at every step all is to be seen, that it is an invention
to allure the men to them, and to divert them from boys, to whom that
nation is generally inclined; yet, peradventure they lose more by it than
they get, and one may venture to say, that an entire appetite is more
sharp than one already half-glutted by the eyes. Livia was wont to say,
that to a virtuous woman a naked man was but a statue. The Lacedaemonian
women, more virgins when wives than our daughters are, saw every day the
young men of their city stripped naked in their exercises, themselves
little heeding to cover their thighs in walking, believing themselves,
says Plato, sufficiently covered by their virtue without any other robe.
But those, of whom St. Augustin speaks, have given nudity a wonderful
power of temptation, who have made it a doubt, whether women at the day
of judgment shall rise again in their own sex, and not rather in ours,
for fear of tempting us again in that holy state. In brief, we allure
and flesh them by all sorts of ways: we incessantly heat and stir up
their imagination, and then we find fault. Let us confess the truth;
there is scarce one of us who does not more apprehend the shame that
accrues to him by the vices of his wife than by his own, and that is not
more solicitous (a wonderful charity) of the conscience of his virtuous
wife than of his own; who had not rather commit theft and sacrilege, and
that his wife was a murderess and a heretic, than that she should not be
more chaste than her husband: an unjust estimate of vices. Both we and
they are capable of a thousand corruptions more prejudicial and unnatural
than lust: but we weigh vices, not according to nature, but according to
our interest; by which means they take so many unequal forms.

The austerity of our decrees renders the application of women to this
vice more violent and vicious than its own condition needs, and engages
it in consequences worse than their cause: they will readily offer to go
to the law courts to seek for gain, and to the wars to get reputation,
rather than in the midst of ease and delights, to have to keep so
difficult a guard. Do not they very well see that there is neither
merchant nor soldier who will not leave his business to run after this
sport, or the porter or cobbler, toiled and tired out as they are with
labour and hunger?

                   "Num tu, qux tenuit dives Achaemenes,
                    Aut pinguis Phrygiae Mygdonias opes,
                    Permutare velis crine Licymnim?
                    Plenas aut Arabum domos,
                    Dum fragrantia detorquet ad oscula
                    Cervicem, aut facili sxvitia negat,
                    Quae poscente magis gaudeat eripi,
                    Interdum rapere occupet?"

     ["Wouldst thou not exchange all that the wealthy Arhaemenes had,
     or the Mygdonian riches of fertile Phrygia, for one ringlet of
     Licymnia's hair? or the treasures of the Arabians, when she turns
     her head to you for fragrant kisses, or with easily assuaged anger
     denies them, which she would rather by far you took by force, and
     sometimes herself snatches one!"—Horace, Od., ii. 12, 21.]

I do not know whether the exploits of Alexander and Caesar really surpass
the resolution of a beautiful young woman, bred up after our fashion, in
the light and commerce of the world, assailed by so many contrary
examples, and yet keeping herself entire in the midst of a thousand
continual and powerful solicitations. There is no doing more difficult
than that not doing, nor more active:

I hold it more easy to carry a suit of armour all the days of one's life
than a maidenhead; and the vow of virginity of all others is the most
noble, as being the hardest to keep:

               "Diaboli virtus in lumbis est,"

says St. Jerome. We have, doubtless, resigned to the ladies the most
difficult and most vigorous of all human endeavours, and let us resign to
them the glory too. This ought to encourage them to be obstinate in it;
'tis a brave thing for them to defy us, and to spurn under foot that vain
pre-eminence of valour and virtue that we pretend to have over them; they
will find if they do but observe it, that they will not only be much more
esteemed for it, but also much more beloved. A gallant man does not give
over his pursuit for being refused, provided it be a refusal of chastity,
and not of choice; we may swear, threaten, and complain to much purpose;
we therein do but lie, for we love them all the better: there is no
allurement like modesty, if it be not rude and crabbed. 'Tis stupidity
and meanness to be obstinate against hatred and disdain; but against a
virtuous and constant resolution, mixed with goodwill, 'tis the exercise
of a noble and generous soul. They may acknowledge our service to a
certain degree, and give us civilly to understand that they disdain us
not; for the law that enjoins them to abominate us because we adore them,
and to hate us because we love them, is certainly very cruel, if but for
the difficulty of it. Why should they not give ear to our offers and
requests, so long as they are kept within the bounds of modesty?
wherefore should we fancy them to have other thoughts within, and to be
worse than they seem? A queen of our time said with spirit, "that to
refuse these courtesies is a testimony of weakness in women and a
self-accusation of facility, and that a lady could not boast of her
chastity who was never tempted."

The limits of honour are not cut so short; they may give themselves a
little rein, and relax a little without being faulty: there lies on the
frontier some space free, indifferent, and neuter. He that has beaten
and pursued her into her fort is a strange fellow if he be not satisfied
with his fortune: the price of the conquest is considered by the
difficulty. Would you know what impression your service and merit have
made in her heart? Judge of it by her behaviour. Such an one may grant
more, who does not grant so much. The obligation of a benefit wholly
relates to the good will of those who confer it: the other coincident
circumstances are dumb, dead, and casual; it costs her dearer to grant
you that little, than it would do her companion to grant all. If in
anything rarity give estimation, it ought especially in this: do not
consider how little it is that is given, but how few have it to give;
the value of money alters according to the coinage and stamp of the
place. Whatever the spite and indiscretion of some may make them say in
the excess of their discontent, virtue and truth will in time recover all
the advantage. I have known some whose reputation has for a great while
suffered under slander, who have afterwards been restored to the world's
universal approbation by their mere constancy without care or artifice;
every one repents, and gives himself the lie for what he has believed and
said; and from girls a little suspected they have been afterward advanced
to the first rank amongst the ladies of honour. Somebody told Plato that
all the world spoke ill of him. "Let them talk," said he; "I will live
so as to make them change their note." Besides the fear of God, and the
value of so rare a glory, which ought to make them look to themselves,
the corruption of the age we live in compels them to it; and if I were
they, there is nothing I would not rather do than intrust my reputation
in so dangerous hands. In my time the pleasure of telling (a pleasure
little inferior to that of doing) was not permitted but to those who had
some faithful and only friend; but now the ordinary discourse and common
table-talk is nothing but boasts of favours received and the secret
liberality of ladies. In earnest, 'tis too abject, too much meanness of
spirit, in men to suffer such ungrateful, indiscreet, and giddy-headed
people so to persecute, forage, and rifle those tender and charming

This our immoderate and illegitimate exasperation against this vice
springs from the most vain and turbulent disease that afflicts human
minds, which is jealousy:

              "Quis vetat apposito lumen de lumine sumi?
               Dent licet assidue, nil tamen inde perit;"

     ["Who says that one light should not be lighted from another light?
     Let them give ever so much, as much ever remains to lose."—Ovid, De
     Arte Amandi, iii. 93. The measure of the last line is not good;
     but the words are taken from the epigram in the Catalecta entitled

she, and envy, her sister, seem to me to be the most foolish of the whole
troop. As to the last, I can say little about it; 'tis a passion that,
though said to be so mighty and powerful, had never to do with me. As to
the other, I know it by sight, and that's all. Beasts feel it; the
shepherd Cratis, having fallen in love with a she-goat, the he-goat, out
of jealousy, came, as he lay asleep, to butt the head of the female, and
crushed it. We have raised this fever to a greater excess by the
examples of some barbarous nations; the best disciplined have been
touched with it, and 'tis reason, but not transported:

              "Ense maritali nemo confossus adulter
               Purpureo Stygias sanguine tinxit aquas."

               ["Never did adulterer slain by a husband
               stain with purple blood the Stygian waters."]

Lucullus, Caesar, Pompey, Antony, Cato, and other brave men were
cuckolds, and knew it, without making any bustle about it; there was in
those days but one coxcomb, Lepidus, that died for grief that his wife
had used him so.

              "Ah! tum te miserum malique fati,
               Quem attractis pedibus, patente porta,
               Percurrent raphanique mugilesque:"

     ["Wretched man! when, taken in the fact, thou wilt be
     dragged out of doors by the heels, and suffer the punishment
     of thy adultery."—Catullus, xv. 17.]

and the god of our poet, when he surprised one of his companions with his
wife, satisfied himself by putting them to shame only,

               "Atque aliquis de dis non tristibus optat
               Sic fieri turpis:"

          ["And one of the merry gods wishes that he should himself
          like to be so disgraced."—Ovid, Metam., iv. 187.]

and nevertheless took anger at the lukewarm embraces she gave him;
complaining that upon that account she was grown jealous of his

               "Quid causas petis ex alto? fiducia cessit
               Quo tibi, diva, mei?"

     ["Dost thou seek causes from above? Why, goddess, has your
     confidence in me ceased?"—Virgil, AEneid, viii. 395.]

nay, she entreats arms for a bastard of hers,

                    "Arena rogo genitrix nato."

          ["I, a mother, ask armour for a son."—Idem, ibid., 383.]

which are freely granted; and Vulcan speaks honourably of AEneas,

                    "Arma acri facienda viro,"

     ["Arms are to be made for a valiant hero."—AEneid, viii. 441.]

with, in truth, a more than human humanity. And I am willing to leave
this excess of kindness to the gods:

               "Nec divis homines componier aequum est."

          ["Nor is it fit to compare men with gods."
          —Catullus, lxviii. 141.]

As to the confusion of children, besides that the gravest legislators
ordain and affect it in their republics, it touches not the women, where
this passion is, I know not how, much better seated:

               "Saepe etiam Juno, maxima coelicolam,
               Conjugis in culpa flagravit quotidiana."

     ["Often was Juno, greatest of the heaven-dwellers, enraged by her
     husband's daily infidelities."—Idem, ibid.]

When jealousy seizes these poor souls, weak and incapable of resistance,
'tis pity to see how miserably it torments and tyrannises over them; it
insinuates itself into them under the title of friendship, but after it
has once possessed them, the same causes that served for a foundation of
good-will serve them for a foundation of mortal hatred. 'Tis, of all the
diseases of the mind, that which the most things serve for aliment and
the fewest for remedy: the virtue, health, merit, reputation of the
husband are incendiaries of their fury and ill-will:

          "Nullae sunt inimicitiae, nisi amoris, acerbae."

          ["No enmities are bitter, save that of love."
          (Or:) "No hate is implacable except the hatred of love"
          —Propertius, ii. 8, 3.]

This fever defaces and corrupts all they have of beautiful and good
besides; and there is no action of a jealous woman, let her be how chaste
and how good a housewife soever, that does not relish of anger and
wrangling; 'tis a furious agitation, that rebounds them to an extremity
quite contrary to its cause. This held good with one Octavius at Rome.
Having lain with Pontia Posthumia, he augmented love with fruition, and
solicited with all importunity to marry her: unable to persuade her, this
excessive affection precipitated him to the effects of the most cruel and
mortal hatred: he killed her. In like manner, the ordinary symptoms of
this other amorous disease are intestine hatreds, private conspiracies,
and cabals:

               "Notumque furens quid faemina possit,"

     ["And it is known what an angry woman is capable of doing."
     —AEneid, V. 21.]

and a rage which so much the more frets itself, as it is compelled to
excuse itself by a pretence of good-will.

Now, the duty of chastity is of a vast extent; is it the will that we
would have them restrain? This is a very supple and active thing; a
thing very nimble, to be stayed. How? if dreams sometimes engage them so
far that they cannot deny them: it is not in them, nor, peradventure, in
chastity itself, seeing that is a female, to defend itself from lust and
desire. If we are only to trust to their will, what a case are we in,
then? Do but imagine what crowding there would be amongst men in
pursuance of the privilege to run full speed, without tongue or eyes,
into every woman's arms who would accept them. The Scythian women put
out the eyes of all their slaves and prisoners of war, that they might
have their pleasure of them, and they never the wiser. O, the furious
advantage of opportunity! Should any one ask me, what was the first
thing to be considered in love matters, I should answer that it was how
to take a fitting time; and so the second; and so the third—'tis a point
that can do everything. I have sometimes wanted fortune, but I have also
sometimes been wanting to myself in matters of attempt. God help him,
who yet makes light of this! There is greater temerity required in this
age of ours, which our young men excuse under the name of heat; but
should women examine it more strictly, they would find that it rather
proceeds from contempt. I was always superstitiously afraid of giving
offence, and have ever had a great respect for her I loved: besides, he
who in this traffic takes away the reverence, defaces at the same time
the lustre. I would in this affair have a man a little play the child,
the timorous, and the servant. If not this, I have in other bashfulness
whereof altogether in things some air of the foolish Plutarch makes
mention; and the course of my life has been divers ways hurt and
blemished with it; a quality very ill suiting my universal form: and,
indeed, what are we but sedition and discrepancy? I am as much out of
countenance to be denied as I am to deny; and it so much troubles me to
be troublesome to others that on occasion when duty compels me to try the
good-will of any one in a thing that is doubtful and that will be
chargeable to him, I do it very faintly, and very much against my will:
but if it be for my own particular (whatever Homer truly says, that
modesty is a foolish virtue in an indigent person), I commonly commit it
to a third person to blush for me, and deny those who employ me with the
same difficulty: so that it has sometimes befallen me to have had a mind
to deny, when I had not the power to do it.

'Tis folly, then, to attempt to bridle in women a desire that is so
powerful in them, and so natural to them. And when I hear them brag of
having so maidenly and so temperate a will, I laugh at them: they retire
too far back. If it be an old toothless trot, or a young dry consumptive
thing, though it be not altogether to be believed, at least they say it
with more similitude of truth. But they who still move and breathe, talk
at that ridiculous rate to their own prejudice, by reason that
inconsiderate excuses are a kind of self-accusation; like a gentleman, a
neighbour of mine, suspected to be insufficient:

              "Languidior tenera cui pendens sicula beta,
               Numquam se mediam sustulit ad tunicam,"

          [Catullus, lxvii. 2, i.—The sense is in the context.]

who three or four days after he was married, to justify himself, went
about boldly swearing that he had ridden twenty stages the night before:
an oath that was afterwards made use of to convict him of his ignorance
in that affair, and to divorce him from his wife. Besides, it signifies
nothing, for there is neither continency nor virtue where there are no
opposing desires. It is true, they may say, but we will not yield;
saints themselves speak after that manner. I mean those who boast in
good gravity of their coldness and insensibility, and who expect to be
believed with a serious countenance; for when 'tis spoken with an
affected look, when their eyes give the lie to their tongue, and when
they talk in the cant of their profession, which always goes against the
hair, 'tis good sport. I am a great servant of liberty and plainness;
but there is no remedy; if it be not wholly simple or childish, 'tis
silly, and unbecoming ladies in this commerce, and presently runs into
impudence. Their disguises and figures only serve to cosen fools; lying
is there in its seat of honour; 'tis a by-way, that by a back-door leads
us to truth. If we cannot curb their imagination, what would we have
from them. Effects? There are enough of them that evade all foreign
communication, by which chastity may be corrupted:

               "Illud saepe facit, quod sine teste facit;"

          ["He often does that which he does without a witness."
          —Martial, vii. 62, 6.]

and those which we fear the least are, peradventure, most to be feared;
their sins that make the least noise are the worst:

               "Offendor maecha simpliciore minus."

          ["I am less offended with a more professed strumpet."
          —Idem, vi. 7,6.]

There are ways by which they may lose their virginity without
prostitution, and, which is more, without their knowledge:

     "Obsterix, virginis cujusdam integritatem manu velut explorans, sive
     malevolentia, sive inscitia, sive casu, dum inspicit, perdidit."

     ["By malevolence, or unskilfulness, or accident, the midwife,
     seeking with the hand to test some maiden's virginity, has sometimes
     destroyed it."—St. Augustine, De Civit. Dei, i. 18.]

Such a one, by seeking her maidenhead, has lost it; another by playing
with it has destroyed it. We cannot precisely circumscribe the actions,
we interdict them; they must guess at our meaning under general and
doubtful terms; the very idea we invent for their chastity is ridiculous:
for, amongst the greatest patterns that I have is Fatua, the wife of
Faunus: who never, after her marriage, suffered herself to be seen by any
man whatever; and the wife of Hiero, who never perceived her husband's
stinking breath, imagining that it was common to all men. They must
become insensible and invisible to satisfy us.

Now let us confess that the knot of this judgment of duty principally
lies in the will; there have been husbands who have suffered cuckoldom,
not only without reproach or taking offence at their wives, but with
singular obligation to them and great commendation of their virtue.
Such a woman has been, who prized her honour above her life, and yet has
prostituted it to the furious lust of a mortal enemy, to save her
husband's life, and who, in so doing, did that for him she would not have
done for herself! This is not the place wherein we are to multiply these
examples; they are too high and rich to be set off with so poor a foil as
I can give them here; let us reserve them for a nobler place; but for
examples of ordinary lustre, do we not every day see women amongst us who
surrender themselves for their husbands sole benefit, and by their
express order and mediation? and, of old, Phaulius the Argian, who
offered his to King Philip out of ambition; as Galba did it out of
civility, who, having entertained Maecenas at supper, and observing that
his wife and he began to cast glances at one another and to make eyes and
signs, let himself sink down upon his cushion, like one in a profound
sleep, to give opportunity to their desires: which he handsomely
confessed, for thereupon a servant having made bold to lay hands on the
plate upon the table, he frankly cried, "What, you rogue? do you not see
that I only sleep for Maecenas?" Such there may be, whose manners may be
lewd enough, whose will may be more reformed than another, who outwardly
carries herself after a more regular manner. As we see some who complain
of having vowed chastity before they knew what they did; and I have also
known others really, complain of having been given up to debauchery
before they were of the years of discretion. The vice of the parents or
the impulse of nature, which is a rough counsellor, may be the cause.

In the East Indies, though chastity is of singular reputation, yet custom
permitted a married woman to prostitute herself to any one who presented
her with an elephant, and that with glory, to have been valued at so high
a rate. Phaedo the philosopher, a man of birth, after the taking of his
country Elis, made it his trade to prostitute the beauty of his youth, so
long as it lasted, to any one that would, for money thereby to gain his
living: and Solon was the first in Greece, 'tis said, who by his laws
gave liberty to women, at the expense of their chastity, to provide for
the necessities of life; a custom that Herodotus says had been received
in many governments before his time. And besides, what fruit is there of
this painful solicitude? For what justice soever there is in this
passion, we are yet to consider whether it turns to account or no: does
any one think to curb them, with all his industry?

         "Pone seram; cohibe: sed quis custodiet ipsos
          Custodes? cauta est, et ab illis incipit uxor."

     ["Put on a lock; shut them up under a guard; but who shall guard
     the guard? she knows what she is about, and begins with them."
     —Juvenal, vi. 346.]

What commodity will not serve their turn, in so knowing an age?

Curiosity is vicious throughout; but 'tis pernicious here. 'Tis folly to
examine into a disease for which there is no physic that does not inflame
and make it worse; of which the shame grows still greater and more public
by jealousy, and of which the revenge more wounds our children than it
heals us. You wither and die in the search of so obscure a proof. How
miserably have they of my time arrived at that knowledge who have been so
unhappy as to have found it out? If the informer does not at the same
time apply a remedy and bring relief, 'tis an injurious information, and
that better deserves a stab than the lie. We no less laugh at him who
takes pains to prevent it, than at him who is a cuckold and knows it not.
The character of cuckold is indelible: who once has it carries it to his
grave; the punishment proclaims it more than the fault. It is to much
purpose to drag out of obscurity and doubt our private misfortunes,
thence to expose them on tragic scaffolds; and misfortunes that only hurt
us by being known; for we say a good wife or a happy marriage, not that
they are really so, but because no one says to the contrary. Men should
be so discreet as to evade this tormenting and unprofitable knowledge:
and the Romans had a custom, when returning from any expedition, to send
home before to acquaint their wives with their coming, that they might
not surprise them; and to this purpose it is that a certain nation has
introduced a custom, that the priest shall on the wedding-day open the
way to the bride, to free the husband from the doubt and curiosity of
examining in the first assault, whether she comes a virgin to his bed, or
has been at the trade before.

But the world will be talking. I know, a hundred honest men cuckolds,
honestly and not unbeseemingly; a worthy man is pitied, not disesteemed
for it. Order it so that your virtue may conquer your misfortune; that
good men may curse the occasion, and that he who wrongs you may tremble
but to think on't. And, moreover, who escapes being talked of at the
same rate, from the least even to the greatest?

                    "Tot qui legionibus imperitivit
          Et melior quam to multis fuit, improbe, rebus."

     ["Many who have commanded legions, many a man much better far than
     you, you rascal."—Lucretius, iii. 1039, 1041.]

The Essays (French: Essais, pronounced [esɛ]) of Michel de Montaigne are contained in three books and 107 chapters of varying length. Montaigne's stated design in writing, publishing and revising the Essays over the period from approximately 1570 to 1592 was to record "some traits of my character and of my humours." The Essays were first published in 1580 and cover a wide range of topics.[1]


Montaigne wrote in a rather crafted rhetoric designed to intrigue and involve the reader, sometimes appearing to move in a stream-of-thought from topic to topic and at other times employing a structured style that gives more emphasis to the didactic nature of his work. His arguments are often supported with quotations from Ancient Greek, Latin and Italian texts such as De rerum natura by Lucretius[2] and the works of Plutarch.


Montaigne's stated goal in his book is to describe himself with utter frankness and honesty ("bonne foi"). The insight into human nature provided by his essays, for which they are so widely read, is merely a bi-product of his introspection.Though the implications of his essays were profound and far-reaching, he did not intend, nor suspect his work to garner much attention outside of his inner circle[3], prefacing his essays with, "I am myself the matter of this book; you would be unreasonable to suspend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject [4]."

Montaigne's essay topics spanned the entire spectrum of the profound to the trivial, with titles ranging from "Of Sadness and Sorrow" and "Of Conscience" to "Of Smells" and "Of Posting" (referring to posting letters). Montaigne wrote at a time preceded by Catholic and Protestant ideological tension. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, protestant authors consistently attempted to subvert Church doctrine with their own reason and scholarship. Consequently, Catholic scholars embraced skepticism as a means to discredit all reason and scholarship and accept Church doctrine through faith alone[5]. Montaigne never found certainty in any of his inquiries into the nature of man and things, despite his best efforts and many attempts[5]. He mistrusted the certainty of both human reason and experience. He reasoned that while man is finite, truth is infinite; thus, human capacity is naturally inhibited in grasping reality in its fullness or with certainty[5]. Though he did believe in the existence of absolute truth, an attribute which distinguishes him from a pure skeptic, he believed that such truth could only be arrived at by man through divine revelation, leaving us in the dark on most matters[5]. He finds the great variety and volatility of human nature to be its most basic features, which resonates to the Renaissance thought about the fragility of humans. According to the scholar Paul Oskar Kristeller, "the writers of the period were keenly aware of the miseries and ills of our earthly existence". A representative quote is "I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself."

He opposed European colonization of the Americas, deploring the suffering it brought upon the natives.

Citing the case of Martin Guerre as an example, he believes that humans cannot attain certainty. His skepticism is best expressed in the long essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" (Book 2, Chapter 12) which has frequently been published separately. We cannot trust our reasoning because thoughts just occur to us: we don't truly control them. We do not have good reasons to consider ourselves superior to the animals. He is highly skeptical of confessions obtained under torture, pointing out that such confessions can be made up by the suspect just to escape the torture he is subjected to. In the middle of the section normally entitled "Man's Knowledge Cannot Make Him Good," he wrote that his motto was "What do I know?". The essay on Sebond defended Christianity. Montaigne also eloquently employed many references and quotes from classical Greek and Roman, i.e. non-Christian authors, especially the atomistLucretius.

Montaigne considered marriage necessary for the raising of children, but disliked the strong feelings of romantic love as being detrimental to freedom. One of his quotations is "Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside desperate to get out."

In education, he favored concrete examples and experience over the teaching of abstract knowledge that is expected to be accepted uncritically. Montaigne's essay "On the Education of Children" is dedicated to Diana of Foix.

English journalist and politician J. M. Robertson argued that Montaigne's essays had a profound influence on the plays of William Shakespeare, citing their similarities in language, themes and structures[6].

The remarkable modernity of thought apparent in Montaigne's essays, coupled with their sustained popularity, made them arguably the most prominent work in French philosophy until the Enlightenment. Their influence over French education and culture is still strong. The official portrait of former French president François Mitterrand pictured him facing the camera, holding an open copy of the Essays in his hands.[7]


Montaigne heavily edited Essays at various points in his life. Sometimes he would insert just one word, while at other times he would insert whole passages. Many editions mark this with letters as follows:

  • A: passages written 1571–1580, published 1580
  • B: passages written 1580–1588, published 1588
  • C: passages written 1588–1592, published 1595 (posthumously)[8][9]

A copy of the fifth edition of the Essais with Montaigne's own "C" additions in his own hand exists, preserved at the Municipal Library of Bordeaux (known to editors as the "Bordeaux Copy").[10] This edition gives modern editors a text dramatically indicative of Montaigne's final intentions (as opposed to the multitude of Renaissance works for which no autograph exists). Analyzing the differences and additions between editions show how Montaigne's thoughts evolved over time. Remarkably, he does not seem to remove previous writings, even when they conflict with his newer views.

The Essays[edit]

English translations[edit]

  • John Florio (1603)
  • Charles Cotton (1685–6)
    • Later edited by William Carew Hazlitt (1877)
  • George B. Ives (1925)
  • E.J. Trechmann (1927)
  • Jacob Zeitlin (1934–6)
  • Donald M. Frame (1957–8)
  • J.M. Cohen (1958)
  • M.A. Screech (1991)

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  1. ^Montaigne, Michel de (1580). Essais de messire Michel de Montaigne,... livre premier et second (I ed.). impr. de S. Millanges (Bourdeaus). Retrieved 1 June 2017 – via Gallica. 
  2. ^"Titi Lucretii Cari De rerum natura libri sex (Montaigne.1.4.4)". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  3. ^"Guide to the Classics: Michel de Montaigne's Essay". Observer. 2016-11-15. Retrieved 2018-02-17. 
  4. ^Kritzman, Lawrence. The Fabulous Imagination: On Montaigne's Essays. Columbia University Press. 
  5. ^ abcdScreech, Michael (1983). Montaigne & Melancholy: The Wisdom of the Essays. Penguin Books. pp. 1–5. 
  6. ^Robertson, John (1909). Montaigne and Shakespeare: And Other Essays on Cognate Questions. University of California. pp. 65–79. 
  7. ^Mitterrand.org
  8. ^Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Essays. Trans. M. A. Screech. London: Penguin, 2003 (1987), p. 1284
  9. ^Les Essais (1595 text), Jean Céard, Denis Bjaï, Bénédicte Boudou, Isabelle Pantin, Hachette, Pochothèque, 2001, Livre de Poche, 2002.
  10. ^Montaigne, Michel de (1588). Essais de Michel seigneur de Montaigne. Cinquiesme edition, augmentée d'un troisiesme livre et de six cens additions aux deux premiers (5 ed.). A Paris, Chez Abel L'Angelier, au premier pillier de la grand Salle du Palais. Avec privilege du Roy. Retrieved 1 June 2017 – via Gallica. 

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