Michel de Montaigne

Biography

(1533-1592)

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne is the Father of the Essay.

Essays by Michel de Montaigne

Against idleness

’Tis a generous desire to wish to die usefully and like a man, but the effect lies not so much in our resolution as in our good fortune.

All things have their season

Our studies and desires should sometime be sensible of age; yet we have one foot in the grave and still our appetites and pursuits spring every day anew within us.

Of anger

There is no passion that so much transports men from their right judgment as anger.

Of the battle of Dreux

The aim and design, not of a captain only, but of every private soldier, ought to regard the victory in general, and that no particular occurrences, how nearly soever they may concern his own interest, should divert him from that pursuit.

Of cannibals

I am afraid our eyes are bigger than our bellies, and that we have more curiosity than capacity; for we grasp at all, but catch nothing but wind.

The ceremony of the interview of princes

There is no subject so frivolous that does not merit a place in this rhapsody.

Of coaches

Fear springs sometimes as much from want of judgment as from want of courage.

Of constancy

The business of constancy chiefly is, bravely to stand to, and stoutly to suffer those inconveniences which are not possibly to be avoided.

Cowardice, the mother of cruelty

Every one is sensible that there is more bravery and disdain in subduing an enemy than in cutting his throat.

Of the custom of wearing clothes

It is not to be imagined that we only are brought into the world in a defective and indigent condition, and in such a state as cannot subsist without external aid.

Of the education of children

We often take very great pains, and consume a good part of our time in training up children to things, for which, by their natural constitution, they are totally unfit

Of experience

There is no desire more natural than that of knowledge. We try all ways that can lead us to it; where reason is wanting, we therein employ experience, more weak and cheap; but truth is so great a thing that we ought not to disdain any mediation that will guide us to it.

Of the force of imagination

My conscience does not falsify one tittle; what my ignorance may do, I cannot say.

That the hour of parley is dangerous

Those who run a race ought to employ all the force they have in what they are about, and run as fast as they can; but it is by no means fair in them to lay any hand upon their adversary to stop him, nor to set a leg before him to throw him down.

Of idleness

I fancied I could not more oblige my mind than to suffer it at full leisure to entertain and divert itself.

Of the inconstancy of our actions

Considering the natural instability of our manners and opinions, I have often thought even the best authors a little out in so obstinately endeavouring to make of us any constant and solid contexture.

Of liars

Experience daily shows us that a strong memory is commonly coupled with infirm judgment.

Of a monstrous child

Whatever falls out contrary to custom we say is contrary to nature, but nothing, whatever it be, is contrary to her. Let, therefore, this universal and natural reason expel the error and astonishment that novelty brings along with it.

Of not communicating one’s honour

We lend our goods and stake our lives for the necessity and service of our friends; but to communicate a man's honour, and to robe another with a man's own glory, is very rarely seen.

Not to counterfeit being sick

Fortune, I know not how, sometimes seems to delight in taking us at our word; and I have heard several examples related of people who have become really sick, by only feigning to be so.

Of one defect in our government

[Keeping a journal is] an ancient custom, which I think it would not be amiss for every one to revive in his own house; and I find I did very foolishly in neglecting it.

Of the parsimony of the ancients

'Tis said that Homer had never more than one [servant], Plato three, and Zeno, founder of the sect of Stoics, none at all.

Of pedantry

These pedants of ours... are, of all men, they who most pretend to be useful to mankind, and who alone, of all men, not only do not better and improve that which is committed to them, as a carpenter or a mason would do, but make them much worse, and make us pay them for making them worse, to boot.

Of posting

I have been none of the least able in this exercise, which is proper for men of my pitch, well-knit and short; but I give it over; it shakes us too much to continue it long.

Of prayers

But though [God] is pleased to honour us with this sweet paternal alliance, He is, notwithstanding, as just as He is good and mighty; and more often exercises His justice than His power, and favours us according to that, and not according to our petitions.

Of the punishment of cowardice

'Tis reason that a man should make a great difference betwixt faults that merely proceed from infirmity, and those that are visibly the effects of treachery and malice.

Of quick or slow speech

He who remains totally silent, for want of leisure to prepare himself to speak well, and he also whom leisure does noways benefit to better speaking, are equally unhappy.

Of repentance

If the world find fault that I speak too much of myself, I find fault that they do not so much as think of themselves.

Of the Roman grandeur

Marcus Antonius said that the greatness of the people of Rome was not so much seen in what they took, as in what they gave.

Of a saying of Caesar

In examining our own abilities we should soon perceive of how infirm and decaying material this fabric of ours is composed.

Of sleep

Could virtue itself put on flesh and blood, I believe the pulse would beat faster going on to assault than in going to dinner.

Of smells

To smell, though well, is to stink.

Of sumptuary laws

In all things, saving only in those that are evil, a change is to be feared; even the change of seasons, winds, viands, and humours.

That a man is soberly to judge of the divine ordinances

We are to content ourselves with the light it pleases the sun to communicate to us, by virtue of his rays; and who will lift up his eyes to take in a greater, let him not think it strange, if for the reward of his presumption, he there lose his sight.

That men are justly punished for being obstinate in the defence of a fort that is not in reason to be defended

Valour has its bounds as well as other virtues, which, once transgressed, the next step is into the territories of vice.

That men by various ways arrive at the same end

Man (in good earnest) is a marvellous vain, fickle, and unstable subject, and on whom it is very hard to form any certain and uniform judgment.

That men should not judge of our happiness till after our death

The very felicity of life itself, which depends upon the tranquillity and contentment of a well-descended spirit, and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul, ought never to be attributed to any man till he has first been seen to play the last, and, doubtless, the hardest act of his part.

That our mind hinders itself

Nothing presents itself to us wherein there is not some difference, how little soever; and that, either by the sight or touch, there is always some choice that, though it be imperceptibly, tempts and attracts us.

That the intention is judge of our actions

I shall take care, if I can, that my death discover nothing that my life has not first and openly declared.

That the profit of one man is the damage of another

Let every one but dive into his own bosom, and he will find his private wishes spring and his secret hopes grow up at another's expense.

That the soul expends its passions upon false objects, where the true are wanting

So it seems that the soul, being transported and discomposed, turns its violence upon itself, if not supplied with something to oppose it, and therefore always requires an object at which to aim, and whereon to act.

That to study philosophy is to learn to die

Let us disarm him of his novelty and strangeness, let us converse and be familiar with him, and have nothing so frequent in our thoughts as death.

That we are to avoid pleasures, even at the expense of life

I had long ago observed most of the opinions of the ancients to concur in this, that it is high time to die when there is more ill than good in living.

That we laugh and cry for the same thing

If we would make one continued thing of all this succession of passions, we deceive ourselves

Of thumbs

Some one, I have forgotten who, having won a naval battle, cut off the thumbs of all his vanquished enemies, to render them incapable of fighting and of handling the oar.

To the reader

I have had no consideration at all either to thy service or to my glory.

Tomorrow’s a new day

The vice opposite to curiosity is negligence.

Use makes perfect

A man may by custom fortify himself against pain, shame, necessity, and such-like accidents, but as to death, we can experiment it but once, and are all apprentices when we come to it.

Of the vanity of words

To hear men talk of metonomies, metaphors, and allegories, and other grammar words, would not one think they signified some rare and exotic form of speaking? And yet they are phrases that come near to the babble of my chambermaid.

That we taste nothing pure

When I religiously confess myself to myself, I find that the best virtue I have has in it some tincture of vice.
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