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THE LIFE OF
MICHAEL SEIGNEUR DE MONTAIGNE,
Almost entirely taken out of his own works.
Che race of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne, in Perigord, was noble, put noble without any great lustre till his time : as to estate, he was seiz'd of above two thousand crowns of yearly revenue. He was born to his father the third in order of birth of his children, and by him delivered to gossips of the meanest condition to be baptized, with a design rather to oblige, and link him to those who were likely to stand in need of him, than to such as he might stand in need of.
He moreover sent him from his cradle to be brought up in a poor village of his, and there continued him all the while he was at nurse, and longer, forming him to the lowest, and most common manner of living : wherein he certainly so well inur'd himself to frugality and austerity, that they had much ado, during all the time of his infancy especially, to correct the refusals he made of things that children of his age are commonly greedy of; as sugars, sweet-meats, and the like.
No doubt the Greek and Latin tongues are a very fair, and a very great advance ; but, as he himself observes, they are now adays too dear bought. His father having made all diligent inquiry that possibly could be amongst the learned men for an exquisite method of education, was caution'd of the inconvenience then in use, and told, that the tedious time that is employ'd in the languages of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which cost them nothing, is the only reason, that we cannot arrive to that grandeur of soul, and perfection of knowledge that was in them. The expedient that he found out for this was, that whilst he was at nurse, and before he began to speak, he delivered him to the care of a German, who since died a famous physician in France, totally ignorant of our language, and very well vers'd in the Latin tongue. This man, that he had brought out of his own country, and entertain'd with a very great salary for this purpose, had the child continually in his arms, to whom there were added iwo others more moderately learned, to attend him, and to relieve the first, which three entertain'd him with no other language but Latin. As to the rest of the family, it was an inviolable rule, that neither his father, nor so much as his mother, man or maid, spoke any word in his hearing, but such as every one had learn’d only to prattle with him. And 'tis not to be believ'd how all of them profitted by this method ; his father and mother learn'd by this means Latin enough to understand, and to serve themselves withal at need, as also those servants did, who were most about his person. To be short, they did Latin it at such a rate, that it overflowed to the neighbouring villages, where, by use, several Latin appellations of artizans and their tools, have got footing, and there remain to this day. For his part, he was above six years old before he understood any more of French, or Perigordin, than of Arabick, and without art, books, grammar, or precepts, without whipping, and without tears, he had learn'd to speak as pure Latin as his master, for he could neither alter it nor mix it. If, for example, they gave him a theme, after the college mode they gave it to others in French, but they were fain to give it him in ill Latin to put it into good : and Nicholas Gronchi, who has writ a book do Commitiis Romanoruin, Guiliaume Guerente, who has writ a commentary upon Aristotle, George Buchanan, that great Scotch poet, and Mark Anthony de Mureta, whom both France and Italy acknowledge for the best orator of his time, his domestick tutors, have oft since told him, that he had that language in his childhood so ready, and at hand, they were afraid to accost him.
As to the Greek, his father design'd to have it taught him by art, but by a new method, and that by way of sport and recreation, they tost their declensions to and fro, after the manner of those, who by certain tricks upon the chess board, learn Arithmetick, and Geometry: so, amongst other things, he had been advis'd to make him relish learning and duty, by an unforc'd will, and his own device, and to educate his soul with all sweetness and liberty, without austerity or compulsion. Which he also did to such a degree of superstition, that seeing some are of opinion, that it troubles the brains of children to be suddenly rous'd in a morning, and to be snatch'd away from sleep, wherein they are much deeper plung'd than men, with haste and violence; he caused him to be waked by the sound of some musical instrument, and was never unprovided of a musician for that purpose.
But as they who are impatient to be curd, submit to all sorts of remedies and every ones advice; the good man, being extreamly imorous of failing in a thing he had so much set his heart upon, suffered himself at last to be carried away by the common opinion, which like cranes always follow that which went before, and submitted to custon, having now no more those persons about him, who had given him the first instructions, that he had brought out of Italy. And about the sixth year of his age sent him to the college of Guyenne, at that time very flourishing, and the best in France. And there it was not possible to add any thing to the care he had in choosing for him the best chamber-tutors, and in all other circumstances of education, wherein he reservd several particular forms, contrary to the college usance ; but so it was, that it was a college still, and this unusual method of education, was here of no greater advantage to him, than at his first coming to preferr him to one of the higher classes, for at thirteen years of age, he had run through his whole course.
At the age of three and thirty he married a wife, though, might he have been left free to his own choice, he would have avoided marrying, even Wisdom herself, had she been willing. But 'tis to much purpose, says he, to resist custom, and the common usance of life will have it so. Nevertheless, this marriage of his was not spontaneous, he was put upon it, and led to it by odd accidents. And as great a libertine
BIOGRAPHIC NOTICE OF M. DE MONTAIGNE,
as he confesses himself to be, he more strictly observ'd his matrimonial vow, than he expected from, or had propos'd to himself
. His father left him Montaigne in partage as the eldest of his sons, prophesying that he would ruine it, considering his humour ; so little dispos'd to live at home : but he was deceiv'd for he liv'd upon it as he entred into it, excepting, that it was something better, and yet without office, or any other foreign helps. As to the rest, if fortune never did him any violent or extraordinary offence, so she never shewed him any signal favour : whatever he had in his house that proceeded from her liberality, was there before he came to it, and above a hundred years before his time : he never in his own particular had any solid and essential advantages, for which he stood indebted to her bounty. She shew'd him airy, honorary, and titular favours, without substance ; she procur'd for him the collar of the order of St. Michael, which, when young, he coveted above all other things, it being at that time the utmost mark of honour of the French aoblesse, and very rare. But of all her favours, there was none with which he was so well pleas’d, as a authentick bull of a Roman burgess, that was granted to him with great civility and bounty, in a journey he made to Rome, which is transcrib'd in form in this volume of his Essays.
Messieurs de Bourdeaux, elected him Mayor of their city, being then out of the kingdom, and at Rome, and yet more remote from any such expectation, which made him excuse himself; but that would not serve his turn, and moreover the king interpos’d his command. 'Tis an office that ought to be look'd upon with the greatest esteem, as it has no other perquisits and benefits belonging to it, than the meer honour of its execution. It lasts but two years, but may, by a second election, be continued longer, though that rarely happens. It was to him, and had been so twice before, once some years since to Monsieur de Lausac, and more lately to Monsieur de Byron, Mareschal of France, in whose place he succeeded, and left his to Monsieur de Matiguon, also Mareschal of France, proud of so noble a fraternity. His father, a man of great honour and equity, had formerly also had the same dignity. All the children his wife brought died at nurse saving Leonor whom he dispos'd in marriage some two years before his death.
The first printing of his essaies was in the year 1580, at which time the publick applause gave him, as he says, a little more assurance than he expected. He has since added, but corrected nothing : his book saving been always the same, saving that upon every new impression, he took the privilege to add something, that the buyer might not go away with his hands quite empty. His person was strong, and well knit ; his face not fat, but full, his complexion betwixt jovial and melancholick, moderately sanguine and hot ; his constitution healthful and spritely, rarely troubled with diseases, till he grew into years, that he begun to be afflicted with the cholick and stone. As to the rest, very obstinate in his hatred, and contempt of physicians prescriptions; an hereditary antipathy; his father having livá threescore and fourteen years, his grandfather threescore and nine ; and his great grandfather almost fourscore years, without having ever tasted medicine.
He died in the year 1592, the 13th of September, a very constant, cnd philosophical death, being aged fifty nine years, six months, and
eleven days; and was buried at Bourdeaux, in the church of a commendary of St. Anthony, now given to the religious Feuillantines : where his wife Francoise de la Cassaigne, and his daughter, have erected for him an honourable monument, having, like his ancestors: past over his life and death in the catholick religion.
A VINDICATION OF MONTAIGNE'S ESSAYS. The Essays of Michel de Montaigne are justly ranked amongst miscellaneous books : for they are on various subjects, without order and connexion ; and the very body of the discourses has still a greater variety. This sort of confusion does not however hinder people of all qualities to extol these essays above all the books that ever they read, and they make them them their chief study. They think that other miscellanies of ancient and modern books are nothing but an unnecessary heap of quotations, whereas we find in this authorities to the purpose, intermixed with the authors own thoughts; which being bold and extraordinary, are very effectual to cure men of their weakness and vanity, and induce them to seek virtue and felicity by lawful means. But because every body is not of this opinion, we must take notice here of what is said against, and in favour of these essays, to know what we should believe of 'em ; and this is the more necessary,
because one meets with frequent opportunities to talk of this author, his book being almost in the hands of all people.
The enemies of Montaigne tell us, that his book is so far from inspiring his readers with the love of virtue, that on the contrary, they teach them some vices of which they were ignorant, or else are the occasion that they take a pleasure in speaking thereof, and at last induce them to fall into the same. That his discourses upon several effects of nature are rather fit to divert their thoughts from true religion, than to convince them of the truth of it, and are altogether unbecoming a Christian philosopher. That notwithstanding his propositions and assertions are for the most part weak and false, yet they are very dangerous for several persons, who either want learning, or have too great a byass for libertinism. That besides an indifferent knowledge of practical morals and history, which Montaigne had acquir'd in reading Seneca and Plutarch, having conversed with few other books, as he owns himself, he had hardly a tincture of other sciences and arts, even not of the theory of moral philosophy. That he was as ignorant in other parts of philosophy, as physick, metaphysick and logick; which does sufficiently appear by his wrong inferences on several things. That he understood very little what we call humanity, or Belles Lettres, as one may see by his unpolite stile, and the confusion of his dis courses ; which show him a very ill grammarian, and a bad rhetorician; and as he talks as positively and boldly as the most learned men, Scaliger was used to stile him a bold Ignorant. These angry gentle. men do likewise pretend, that what is most admir'd in Montaigne is stole from some ancient authors and that if those quctations and the
VINDICATION OF THE ESSAYS Uí MONTAIGNE.
little stories he tells us about his temper and inclinations were taken out of his book, the rest would be very little or nothing at all.
This is the substance of the most material objections made agains: Montaigne ; not to mention here several authors, who have purposely written against his opinions, as Mr. de Silhon in his book of the immortality of the soul, wherein he confutes what Montaigne has alledg' to prove that brutes are capable of thinking. Chanet in his treatise of the operations of the understanding, quotes Montaigne's essays, as a work wherein judgment had no share, because, says he, every judicious man loves order, and there is nothing but confusion in that whole book:
Having thus impartially related what is urged against Montaigne, wo proceed now to mention what is said in his vindication. And we might here, in the first place, make use of the long preface Mademoiselle de Gournay has prefixed to the French folio edition of his essays, 1652, wherein she does not only give a full answer to all the objections made, or that can be made against Montaigne, but also talks of him as of a man whose works have revived truth in his age, and which therefore she calls the “quintessence of philosophy, the hellebore of mans folly, the setter at liberty of understanding, and the judicial throne of reason.” But we do not think fit to insist upon her evidence, for notwithstanding the solid arguments her opinion is grounded upon, she may be suspected to be blindfolded with the passionate love she had for her excellent father : and besides, we have so many great men to produce in favour of Montaigne, that we may without any prejudice to his cause, wave the evidence of Mademoiselle de Gournay. These will tell you, that if he has handled any matters with an uncommon freedom, this is an effect of his generous temper, which was free from any base or servile compliance; and as to his love for virtue, and his religion, they appeal to his very book itself, whereby that truth will appear, if the passages alledged to prove the contrary are examined without partiality, and not by themselves, but according to the connexion they have with what precedes or follows.
Stephen Pasquier, that sincere writer, deals more fairly with Mon. taigne than Silhon, Balzac, or any other of his opposers, for he does not conceal his faults, nor pass by what may be said to attenuate or excuse them.“ Montaigne," says he in one of his letters, “ has several chapters, whereof the body is no ways answerable to the head, witness these following, The History of Spurina ; Of the Resemblance of Children to their Parents, Of the Verses of Virgil, Of Coaches, Of Lame People, Of Vanity, and Physiognomy. These are incoherent things, wherein the author runs from one subject to another, without any order or connexion. But after all, we must take of Montaigne what is good, and not look upon his titles, but into his discourses, for possibly he designed to laugh at himself, others, and humane capacity, slighting thus the rules and servile laws of authors."
I shall add on this point, that notwithstanding several of his discourses do contain quite different things from what is promised in the titles, as Pasquier has observed it, yet it does not always happen so . and when he has done it, methinks it is rather through affectation than inadvertency, to shew that he did not intend to make a regular work. This does likewise appear, hy the odd, or rather fantastical connexion