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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 against 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'd 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, we 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, by the odd, or rather fantastical connexion
of his discourses, wherein from one matter he makes long digressions upon several others. No doubt but he thought that one might take the same liberty in his meditations, as is assumed in common conversations, in which, tho there be but two or three interlocutors, 'tis observed that there is such a variety in their discourses, that if they were set down in writing, it would appear that by digressions they are run away from their first subject, and that the last part of their conversation is very little answerable to the first. This I verily believe was his true intention, that he might present the world with a free and original work; for Chanet nor any other of his adversaries will not be able to convince the world, that this proceeded from want of judgment in a man of such parts as they are oblig'd to own in Montaigne.
He designed also sometimes to conceal his design in his titles; as for instance, when having spent almost a whole chapter against physicians, it is most likely that his intention was to conceal it by intitling the same, Of the Resemblance of Children to their parents. For this gives him an opportunity to tell us that he was afflicted with the gravel as his father was, and to discourse of the cure of several distempers, and at the same time of the uncertainty of physick, or rather of the ignorance of physicians; from whence I conclude, that in this whole chapter, and several others, there is rather a refin'd art, than ignorance. It has been also objected against him, that he was so much in love with himself, that he talks of no body else in his writings, as if he intended to propose himself as a necessary pattern to the rest of mankind, tho what he says of himself is for the most part odd and fantastical. To this I answer, that any man may be an example to others, either for doing good, or eschewing evil ; and that Montaigne does not pretend that what he says of himself should be taken for any other thing than really it is, having a sufficient knowledge of all humane frailties, and of his own in particular.
'Tis somewhat surprizing that Montaigne should be blamed for quoting ancient authors, when this quotations are made a propos, that is, for confirming or illustrating when he says, seeing Plutarch and several other excellent authors have taken the same liberty ; and if it be objected, that the quotations in Plutarch are taken from Greek authors, and consequently are in the same language as his, whereas Montaigne has stuft'd his French book with Greek, Latin and Italian verses ; I answer that this is trifling, for if Montaigne found nothing in his own language worthy of being cited, or else if he thought that ancient or foreign writers had better treated the matter he speaks of, pray by what law, is he forbidden to make use of their authority? I own, that in some places, he has translated some passages of ancient authors into French, and has so dexterously incorporated them into his work, that he has in some manner made them his own, but where is the great crime in this, especially seeing he has a world of thoughts of his own, which are more sublime and excellent, than what he has alledged from others ?
Balsac, in his XIX Entretien, reflects upon his language, tho at the same time he excuses it. “He lived,” says he,“ in the reign of the family of Valois, and was a Gascon by birth, and therefore it is impossible, but his language must have something of the vice common to his age
VINDICATION OF THE ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE.
and country. However, we must own, that his soul was eloquent, and that he expressed his thoughts in bold masculine expressions, and that his stile has some beauties, above what we could have expected from his age. I'll say no more on this head, and I know that it would be a sort of miracle, that a person could politely speak French in the Barbary of Quercy and Perigord. Should a man, beset with bad examples, and deprived of good ones, have courage and strength enough to defend himself alone against a whole nation ? against his own wife, relations and friends, who are as many enemies to the purity of the French tongue ? The court was likewise as corrupted as the country, so that it was then lawful to fail, there being then no settled rules for our language ; and those faults, which are more ancient than the laws themselves, are doubtless innocent.” I conclude," says he in another place, “ that I have a great veneration for him, and that in my opinion he is comparable to those ancients whom we call Maximos ingenio, Arte rudes, etc.”
What Balzac says in relation to the court of France in the days of Montaigne is true enough, and very much to the purpose; but observe here the vanity and malice of that hypercritick, who must reflect upon Montaigne's country, as if it were impossible that any body born in Perigord or Quercy should write French as politely as he who was not born within a days journey from Montaigne. "I know Balzac has written more politely than Montaigne, and that the French tongue is much indebted to him, but he whose excellency was chiefly in the connexion of words, must not for all that pretend to set up for a judge of the thoughts of Montaigne, as he has rashly ventur'd upon in his 18th and 19th Entretien.
'Tis true, Montaigne has some provincial expressions, but they are few in number; and it is to be observed, that several words of his which were at first excepted against, have been since adopted by the best writers, this being the privilege of great authors to introduce new words. The French word enjoue (merry) has not been always in use, tho it is now in the mouth of all the learned and polite people, and Montaigne was the first author that I know of who made use of it ; and so they are obliged to him for this word, which does not only signifie a merry man, but likewise expresses the very effects of mirth in his face, and chiefly upon his cheek, (joues).
Those who tell us that Scaliger was used to call him a “bold ignorant,” do certainly a greater injury to Scaliger than to Montaigne, for the reputation of that great man will never so far byass mankind as to make them believe that the author of a book wherein there is so much learning should be an ignorant fellow. Scaliger was a better judge, and as this is not to be found in any one of his works, I think one may venture to say, that this calumny was contrived by some of his envious enemies, who having not strength to encounter him, made use of this artifice, to run down his merit with that great name.
Monsieur de Plassac, a great admirer of Montaigne, corrected his chapter of the vanity of words into modern French, but as he owns it himself, it was no more Montaigne's, whose similes and proverbial expressions, have a greater strength, than the nice politeness of the modern French language, and besides Montaigne's discourse is every where full of sentences and solid reason, which do not always admit that smooth but empty way of writing, so much in vogue in France.
I do not however design to defend Montaigne in every thing ; far from it, I blame his freedom in several places. There is hardly any human book extant, so fit as this to teach men what they are, and lead them insensibly to a reasonable observation of the most secret springs of their actions; and therefore it ought to be the manuale of all gentlemen, his uncommon way of teaching, winning people to the practice of virtue, as much as other books fright them away from it, by the dogmatical and imperious way which they assume.
Thus we have answered all the material objections made against Montaigne ; for I think the other trifles, which are objected against him, do not deserve to be taken notice of. Balzac and some others affirm, that Montaigne's vanity and pride, are not suitable to an author and philosopher, that it was ridiculous and useless to keep a page, having hardly 6000 livres a year, and more ridiculous still to have so often mentioned it in his writings : but I may answer, that it was very common in his time, for gentlemen of noble extraction to keep a page, to shew their quality, tho their estate could hardly afford them to keep a footman, and that the 6000 livres a year, were then more than 20000 now adays. It was likewise very much unbecoming the gravity of our famous Searcher after Truth, to rail at Montaigne because he does not mention in his essays, that he kept a clerk, when he was councellor in the Parliament of Bourdeaux, for Montaigne having exercised that noble employment but for a short time, in his youth he had no occasion to mention it, and who shall believe, that he has concealed it out of vanity, he who, in the opinion of Malbranche himself, talks of his imperfections and vices, with too great a freedom? It is likewise very ungenerous and ungentleman like to take notice, that he did not very well succeed in his mayoralty of Bourdeaux ; the times he lived in were very troublesome, and supposing he committed some error, which they say without any proof, what is that to the merit of his book ? Balzac introduces a gentleman, speaking thus to an admirer of Montaigne.
You may praise your author if you will more than our Cicero, but I cannot fancy that a man, who governed all the world, was not at least equal to a person, who did not know how to govern Bourdeaux." This may very well pass for a jest ; but is it a rational way for confuting an author, to have recourse unto personal reflections, or some incidents relating to his private person or quality.
Notwithstanding these objections, Montaigne always had, and is like to have admirers, as long as sense and reason have any credit in the world. Justus Lipsius calls him the French Thales, and Mezeray the Christian Seneca, and the incomparable Thuanus has made an eulogy of him, which being very short, I shall transcribe here.
“ Michael de Montaigne, Chevalier, was born in Perigord, in a castle, which had the name of his family. He was made councellor in the parliament of Bourdeaux, with Stephen de la Boetie, with whom he contracted so great a friendship, that that dear friend was even after his death the object of his respect and veneration. Montaigne was extraordinary free and sincere, as posterity will see by his essays, for so he has intitled that immortal monument of his genius.”
VINDICATION OF THE ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE.
" While he was at Venice, he was elected mayor of Bourdeaux, which place was only bestowed upon persons of the first quality, and even the governors of the province thought it was an honour for them. The Mareschal de Matignon, who commanded the kings forces in that province, during the troubles of the state, had such an esteem for him, that he communicated unto him the most important affairs, and admitted him into his council
. As I had a correspondence with him while I was in his country, and since at court, the conformity of our studies and inclinations united us most intimately. He died at Montaigne in the both year of his age.”
The testimony of Thuanus is sufficient to justify the memory of our author, for no body will believe that a man of that integrity, would have been so great a friend, with so vicious a man as Malbranche has represented Montaigne. I shall therefore conclude this discourse with a very remarkable circumstance mentioned by Thuanus in his own life, lib. 3. which shews that Montaigne was beloved by the greatest princes in his time and honored with their confidence. While the states of the kingdom, says he, were sitting at Blois, Montaigne and I were discoursing of the division between the king of Navarre and the Duke of Guise, whereupon he told me, that he knew the most secret thoughts of those princes, as having been employed to compose their differences, and that he was perswaded, that neither of them was of the religion he professed. That the king of Navarre would have willingly embrac'd the religion of his predecessors, if he had not feared that his party had abandoned him, and that the duke of Guise would have declared himself for the confession of Augsburg, which the Cardinal of Lorrain his unkle had inspired him with, if he could have done it, without any prejudice to his interests.
I thought this circumstance was not unworthy of being placed here ; but I must beg the readers pardon for having been so long, which must be attributed to the respect I have for the memory of that excellent author. I designed to shew the reason why Montaigne meets with a more favourable entertainment in England than in his native country, but having been already too long, I shall content my self to observe that an author who talks freely of every thing, is not suitable to the temper of a servile nation, who has lost all sence of liberty.
Monsieur la Bruyere in his celebrated book of the characters or manners of the age, gives another reason why some people condemn Montaigne. “Two writers," says he, (meaning La Mothe Le Vayer and Malbranche) “have condemned Montaigne : I know that author may be justly blamed in some things, but neither of 'em will allow him to have any thing valuable. One of 'em thinks too little to taste such an author, who thinks a great deal ; and the other thinks too subtilely to be pleased with what is natural.” This, I believe, is the general character of Montaigne's enemies.