Literary and Philosophical Essays. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
CONSIDERING the proceeding of a Painters worke I have, a desire hath possessed mee to imitate him: He maketh choice of the most convenient place and middle of everie wall, there to place a picture, laboured with all his skill and sufficiencie; and all void places about it he filleth up with antike Boscage1 or Crotesko2 works; which are fantasticall pictures, having no grace, but in the variety and strangenesse of them. And what are these my compositions in truth, other than antike workes, and monstrous bodies, patched and hudled up together of divers members, without any certaine or well ordered figure, having neither order, dependencie, or proportion, but casuall and framed by chance?
Touching this second point I goe as farre as my Painter, but for the other and better part I am farre behinde: for my sufficiency reacheth not so farre as that I dare undertake a rich, a polished, and, according to true skill, an art-like table. I have advised myselfe to borrow one of Steven de la Boëtie, who with this kinde of worke shall honour all the world. It is a discourse he entitled Voluntary Servitude, but those who have not knowne him, have since very properly rebaptized the same, The Against-one. In his first youth he writ, by way of Essaie, in honour of libertie against Tyrants. It hath long since beene dispersed amongst men of understanding, not without great and well deserved commendations: for it is full of wit, and containeth as much learning as may be: yet doth it differ much from the best he can do. And if in the age I knew him in, he would have undergone my dessigne to set his fantasies downe in writing, we should doubtlesse see many rare things, and which would very neerely approch the honour of antiquity: for especially touching that part of natures gifts, I know none may be compared to him. But it was not long of him, that this Treatise came to mans view, and I beleeve he never saw it since it first escaped his hands: with certaine other notes concerning the edict of Januarie, famous by reason of our intestine warre, which haply may in other places finde their deserved praise. It is all I could ever recover of his reliques (whom when death seized, he by his last will and testament, left with so kinde remembrance, heire and executor of his librarie and writings) besides the little booke, I since caused to be published: To which his pamphlet I am particularly most bounden, for so much as it was the instrumentall meane of our first acquaintance. For it was shewed me long time before I saw him; and gave me the first knowledge of his name, addressing, and thus nourishing that unspotted friendship which we (so long as it pleased God) have so sincerely, so entire and inviolably maintained betweene us, that truly a man shall not commonly heare of the like; and amongst our moderne men no signe of any such is seene. So many parts are required to the erecting of such a one, that it may be counted a wonder if fortune once in three ages contract the like. There is nothing to which Nature hath more addressed us than to societie. And Aristotle saith that perfect Law-givers have had more regardfull care of friendship than of justice. And the utmost drift of its perfection is this. For generally, all those amities which are forged and nourished by voluptuousnesse or profit, publike or private need, are thereby so much the lesse faireand generous, and so much the lesse true amities, in that they intermeddle other causes, scope, and fruit with friendship, than it selfe alone: Nor doe those foure ancient kindes of friendships, Naturall, sociall, hospitable, and venerian,4 either particularly or conjointly beseeme the same. That from children to parents may rather be termed respect: Friendship is nourished by communication, which by reason of the over-great disparitie cannot bee found in them, and would happly offend the duties of nature: for neither all the secret thoughts of parents can be communicated unto children, lest it might engender an unbeseeming familiaritie betweene them, nor the admonitions and corrections (which are the chiefest offices of friendship) could be exercised from children to parents. There have nations beene found, where, by custome, children killed their parents, and others where parents slew their children, thereby to avoid the hindrance of enterbearing5 one another in after-times: for naturally one dependeth from the ruine of another. There have Philosophers beene found disdaining this naturall conjunction: witnesse Aristippus, who being urged with the affection he ought6 his children, as proceeding from his loyns, began to spit, saying, That also that excrement proceeded from him, and that also we engendred wormes and lice. And that other man, whom Plutarke would have perswaded to agree with his brother, answered, I care not a straw the more for him, though he came out of the same wombe I did. Verily the name of Brother is a glorious name, and full of loving kindnesse, and therefore did he and I terme one another sworne brother: but this commixture, dividence, and sharing of goods, this joyning wealth to wealth, and that the riches of one shall be the povertie of another, doth exceedingly distemper and distract all brotherly alliance, and lovely conjunction: If brothers should conduct the progresse of their advancement and thrift in one same path and course, they must necessarily oftentimes hinder and crosse one another. Moreover, the correspondencie and relation that begetteth these true and mutually perfect amities, why shall it be found in these? The father and the sonne may very well be of a farre differing complexion, and so many brothers: He is my sonne, he is my kinsman; but he may be a foole, a bad, or a peevish-minded man. And then according as they are friendships which the law and dutie of nature doth command us, so much the lesse of our owne voluntarie choice and libertie is there required unto it: And our genuine libertie hath no production more properly her owne, than that of affection and amitie. Sure I am, that concerning the same I have assaied all that might be, having had the best and most indulgent father that ever was, even to his extremest age, and who from father to sonne was descended of a famous house, and touching this rare-seene vertue of brotherly concord very exemplare:
active, more fervent, and more sharpe. But it is a rash and wavering fire, waving and divers: the fire of an ague subject to fits and stints, and that hath but slender hold-fast of us. In true friendship, it is a generall and universall heat, and equally tempered, a constant and setled heat, all pleasure and smoothnes, that hath no pricking or stinging in it, which the more it is in lustfull love, the more is it but a raging and mad desire in following that which flies us,
As soone as it creepeth into the termes of friendship, that is to say, in the agreement of wits, it languisheth and vanisheth away: enjoying doth lose it, as having a corporall end, and subject to satietie. On the other side, friendship is enjoyed according as it is desired, it is neither bred, nor nourished, nor increaseth but in jovissance, as being spirituall, and the minde being refined by use custome. Under this chiefe amitie, these fading affections have sometimes found place in me, lest I should speake of him, who in his verses speakes but too much of it. So are these two passions entered into me in knowledge one of another, but in comparison never: the first flying a high, and keeping a proud pitch, disdainfully beholding the other to passe her points farre under it. Concerning marriage, besides that it is a covenant which hath nothing free but the entrance, the continuance being forced and constrained, depending else-where than from our will, and a match ordinarily concluded to other ends: A thousand strange knots are therein commonly to be unknit, able to break the web, and trouble the whole course of a lively affection; whereas in friendship there is no commerce or busines depending on the same, but it selfe. Seeing (to speake truly) that the ordinary sufficiency of women cannot answer this conference and communication, the nurse of this sacred bond: nor seeme their mindes strong enough to endure the pulling of a knot so hard, so fast, and durable. And truly, if without that, such a genuine and voluntarie acquaintance might be contracted, where not only mindes had this entire jovissance,10 but also bodies, a share of the alliance, and where a man might wholly be engaged: It is certaine, that friendship would thereby be more compleat and full: But this sex could never yet by any example attaine unto it, and is by ancient schooles rejected thence. And this other Greeke licence is justly abhorred by our customes, which notwithstanding, because according to use it had so necessarie a disparitie of ages, and difference of offices betweene lovers, did no more sufficiently answer the perfect union and agreement, which here we require: Quis est enim iste amor amicitiæ? cur neque deformem adolescentem quisquam amat, neque formosum senem?11 For, what love is this of friendship? why doth no man love either a deformed young man, or a beautifull old man? For even the picture the Academie makes of it, will not (as I suppose) disavowe mee, to say thus in her behalfe: That the first furie, enspired by the son of Venus in the lovers hart, upon the object of tender youths-flower, to which they allow all insolent and passionate violences, an immoderate heat may produce, was simply grounded upon an externall beauty; a false image of corporall generation: for in the spirit it had no power, the sight whereof was yet concealed, which was but in his infancie, and before the age of budding. For, if this furie did seize upon a base minded courage, the meanes of its pursuit were riches, gifts, favour to the advancement of dignities, and such like vile merchandice, which they reprove. If it fell into a more generous minde, the interpositions12 were likewise generous: Philosophicall instructions, documents13 to reverence religion, to obey the lawes, to die for the good of his countrie: examples of valor, wisdome and justice; the lover endevoring and studying to make himselfe acceptable by the good grace and beauty of his minde (that of his body being long since decayed) hoping by this mentall society to establish a more firme and permanent bargaine. When this pursuit attained the effect in due season (for by not requiring in a lover, he should bring leasure and discretion in his enterprise, they require it exactly in the beloved; forasmuch as he was to judge of an internall beauty, of difficile knowledge, and abstruse discovery) then by the interposition of a spiritual beauty was the desire of a spiritual conception engendred in the beloved. The latter was here chiefest; the corporall, accidentall and second, altogether contrarie to the lover. And therefore doe they preferre the beloved, and verifie that the gods likewise preferre the same: and greatly blame the Poet Æschylus, who in the love betweene Achilles and Patroclus ascribeth the lovers part unto Achilles, who was in the first and beardlesse youth of his adolescency, and the fairest of the Græcians. After this general communitie, the mistris and worthiest part of it, predominant and exercising her offices (they say the most availefull commodity did thereby redound both to the private and publike). That it was the force of countries received the use of it, and the principall defence of equitie and libertie: witnesse the comfortable loves of Hermodius and Aristogiton. Therefore name they it sacred and divine, and it concerns not them whether the violence of tyrants, or the demisnesse of the people be against them: To conclude, all that can be alleged in favour of the Academy, is to say, that it was a love ending in friendship, a thing which hath no bad reference unto the Stoical definition of love: Amorem conatum esse amicitæ faciendæ ex pulchritudinis specie:14 That love is an endevour of making friendship, by the shew of beautie. I returne to my description in a more equitable and equall manner. Omnino amicitiæ, corroboratis jam confirmatisque ingeniis et ætatibus, judicandæ sunt:15 Clearely friendships are to be judged by wits, and ages already strengthened and confirmed. As for the rest, those we ordinarily call friendes and amities, are but acquaintances and familiarities, tied together by some occasions, or commodities, by meanes whereof our mindes are entertained. In the amitie I speake of, they entermixe and confound themselves one in the other, with so universall a commixture, that they weare out and can no more finde the seame that hath conjoined them together. If a man urge me to tell wherefore I loved him, I feele it cannot be expressed, but by answering; Because it was he, because it was my selfe. There is beyond all my discourse, and besides what I can particularly report of it, I know not what inexplicable and fatall power, a meane and Mediatrix of this indissoluble union. We sought one another before we had seene one another, and by the reports we heard one of another; which wrought a greater violence in us, than the reason of reports may well beare; I thinke by some secret ordinance of the heavens, we embraced one another by our names. And at our first meeting, which was by chance at a great feast, and solemne meeting of a whole towneship, we found our selves so surprized, so knowne, so acquainted, and so combinedly bound together, that from thence forward, nothing was so neer unto us as one unto anothers. He writ an excellent Latyne Satyre since published; by which he excuseth and expoundeth the precipitation of our acquaintance, so suddenly come to her perfection; Sithence it must continue so short a time, and begun so late (for we were both growne men, and he some yeares older than my selfe) there was no time to be lost. And it was not to bee modelled or directed by the paterne of regular and remisse16 friendship, wherein so many precautions of a long and preallable conversation17 are required. This hath no other Idea than of it selfe, and can have no reference but to itselfe. It is not one especiall consideration, nor two, nor three, nor foure, nor a thousand: It is I wot not what kinde of quintessence, of all this commixture, which having seized all my will, induced the same to plunge and lose it selfe in his, which likewise having seized all his will, brought it to lose and plunge it selfe in mine, with a mutuall greedinesse, and with a semblable concurrance. I may truly say, lose, reserving nothing unto us, that might properly be called our owne, nor that was either his or mine. When Lelius in the presence of the Romane Consuls, who after the condemnation of Tiberius Gracchus, pursued all those that had beene of his acquaintance, came to enquire of Caius Blosius (who was one of his chiefest friends) what he would have done for him, and that he answered, All things. What, all things? replied he. And what if he had willed thee to burne our Temples? Blosius answered, He would never have commanded such a thing. But what if he had done it? replied Lelius. The other answered, I would have obeyed him. If hee were so perfect a friend to Gracchus as Histories report, he needed not offend the Consuls with this last and bold confession, and should not have departed from the assurance hee had of Gracchus his minde. But yet those who accuse this answer as seditious, understand not well this mysterie: and doe not presuppose in what termes he stood, and that he held Gracchus his will in his sleeve, both by power and knowledge. They were rather friends than Citizens, rather friends than enemies of their countrey, or friends of ambition and trouble. Having absolutely committed themselves one to another, they perfectly held the reines of one anothers inclination: and let this yoke be guided by vertue and conduct of reason (because without them it is altogether impossible to combine and proportion the same). The answer of Blosius was such as it should be. If their affections miscarried, according to my meaning, they were neither friends one to other, nor friends to themselves. As for the rest, this answer sounds no more than mine would doe, to him that would in such sort enquire of me; if your will should command you to kill your daughter, would you doe it? and that I should consent unto it: for, that beareth no witnesse of consent to doe it; because I am not in doubt of my will, and as little of such a friends will. It is not in the power of the worlds discourse to remove me from the certaintie I have of his intentions and judgments of mine: no one of its actions might be presented unto me, under what shape soever, but I would presently finde the spring and motion of it. Our mindes have jumped18 so unitedly together, they have with so fervent an affection considered of each other, and with like affection so discovered and sounded, even to the very bottome of each others heart and entrails, that I did not only know his, as well as mine owne, but I would (verily) rather have trusted him concerning any matter of mine, than my selfe. Let no man compare any of the other common friendships to this. I have as much knowledge of them as another, yea of the perfectest of their kinde: yet wil I not perswade any man to confound their rules, for so a man might be deceived. In these other strict friendships a man must march with the bridle of wisdome and precaution in his hand: the bond is not so strictly tied but a man may in some sort distrust the same. Love him (said Chilon) as if you should one day hate him againe. Hate him as if you should love him againe. This precept, so abhominable in this soveraigne and mistris Amitie, is necessarie and wholesome in the use of vulgar and customarie friendships: toward which a man must employ the saying Aristotle was wont so often repeat, Oh you my friends, there is no perfect friend.
In this noble commerce, offices and benefits (nurses of other amities) deserve not so much as to bee accounted of: this confusion so full of our wills is cause of it: for even as the friendship I beare unto my selfe, admits no accrease,19 by any succour I give my selfe in any time of need, whatsoever the Stoickes allege; and as I acknowledge no thanks unto my selfe for any service I doe unto myselfe, so the union of such friends, being truly perfect, makes them lose the feeling of such duties, and hate, and expell from one another these words of division, and difference: benefit, good deed, dutie, obligation, acknowledgment, prayer, thanks, and such their like. All things being by effect common betweene them; wils, thoughts, judgements, goods, wives, children, honour, and life; and their mutual agreement, being no other than one soule in two bodies, according to the fit definition of Aristotle, they can neither lend or give ought to each other. See here the reason why Lawmakers, to honour marriage with some imaginary resemblance of this divine bond, inhibite donations between husband and wife; meaning thereby to inferre, that all things should peculiarly bee proper to each of them, and that they have nothing to divide and share together. If in the friendship whereof I speake, one might give unto another, the receiver of the benefit should binde his fellow. For, each seeking more than any other thing to doe each other good, he who yields both matter and occasion, is the man sheweth himselfe liberall, giving his friend that contentment, to effect towards him what he desireth most. When the Philosopher Diogenes wanted money, he was wont to say that he redemanded the same of his friends, and not that he demanded it: And to show how that is practised by effect, I will relate an ancient singular example. Eudamidas the Corinthian had two friends: Charixenus a Sycionian, and Aretheus, a Corinthian; being upon his death-bed, and very poore, and his two friends very rich, thus made his last will and testament: To Aretheus, I bequeath the keeping of my mother, and to maintaine her when she shall be old: To Charixenus the marrying of my daughter, and to give her as great a dowry as he may: and in case one of them shall chance to die before, I appoint the survivor to substitute his charge, and supply his place. Those that first saw this testament laughed and mocked at the same; but his heires being advertised thereof, were very well pleased, and received it with singular contentment. And Charixenus, one of them, dying five daies after Eudamidas, the substitution being declared in favour of Aretheus, he carefully and very kindly kept and maintained his mother, and of five talents that he was worth he gave two and a halfe in marriage to one only daughter he had, and the other two and a halfe to the daughter of Eudamidas, whom he married both in one day. This example is very ample, if one thing were not, which is the multitude of friends: For, this perfect amity I speake of, is indivisible; each man doth so wholly give himselfe unto his friend, that he hath nothing left him to divide else-where: moreover he is grieved that he is not double, triple, or quadruple, and hath not many soules, or sundry wils, that he might conferre them all upon this subject. Common friendships may bee divided; a man may love beauty in one, facility of behaviour in another, liberality in one, and wisdome in another, paternity in this, fraternity in that man, and so forth: but this amitie which possesseth the soule, and swaies it in all soveraigntie, it is impossible it should be double. If two at one instant should require helpe, to which would you run? Should they crave contrary offices of you, what order would you follow? Should one commit a matter to your silence, which if the other knew would greatly profit him, what course would you take? Or how would you discharge your selfe? A singular and principall friendship dissolveth all other duties, and freeth all other obligations. The secret I have sworne not to reveale to another, I may without perjurie impart it unto him, who is no other but my selfe. It is a great and strange wonder for a man to double himself; and those that talke of tripling know not, nor cannot reach into the height of it. Nothing is extreme that hath his like. And he who shall presuppose that of two I love the one as well as the other, and that they enter-love20 one another, and love me as much as I love them: he multiplieth in brotherhood, a thing most singular, and a lonely one, and than which one alone is also the rarest to be found in the world. The remainder of this history agreeth very well with what I said; for, Eudamidas giveth us a grace and favor to his friends to employ them in his need: he leaveth them as his heires of his liberality, which consisteth in putting the meanes into their hands to doe him good. And doubtlesse the force of friendship is much more richly shewn in his deed than in Aretheus. To conclude, they are imaginable effects to him that hath not tasted them; and which makes me wonderfully to honor the answer of that young Souldier to Cyrus, who enquiring of him what he would take for a horse with which he had lately gained the prize of a race, and whether he would change him for a Kingdome? No surely, my Liege (said he), yet would I willingly forgoe him to gaine a true friend, could I but finde a man worthy of so precious an alliance. He said not ill, in saying could I but finde. For, a man shall easily finde men fit for a superficiall acquaintance; but in this, wherein men negotiate from the very centre of their harts, and make no spare of any thing, it is most requisite all the wards and springs be sincerely wrought and perfectly true. In confederacies, which hold but by one end, men have nothing to provide for, but for the imperfections, which particularly doe interest and concerne that end and respect. It is no great matter what religion my Physician or Lawyer is of: this consideration hath nothing common with the offices of that friendship they owe mee. So doe I in the familiar acquaintances that those who serve me contract with me. I am nothing inquisitive whether a Lackey be chaste or no, but whether he be diligent: I feare not a gaming Muletier, so much as if he be weake: nor a hot swearing Cooke, as one that is ignorant and unskillful; I never meddle with saying what a man should doe in the world; there are over many others that doe it; but what my selfe doe in the world.
Mihi sic usus est: Tibi, ut opus est facto, face.21
Concerning familiar table-talke, I rather acquaint my selfe with and follow a merry conceited22 humour, than a wise man: And in bed I rather prefer beauty than goodnesse; and in society or conversation of familiar discourse, I respect rather sufficiency, though without Preud hommie,23 and so of all things else. Even as he that was found riding upon an hobby-horse, playing with his children besought him who thus surprized him not to speake of it untill he were a father himselfe, supposing the tender fondnesse and fatherly passion which then would posesse his minde should make him an impartiall judge of such an action; so would I wish to speake to such as had tried what I speake of: but knowing how far such an amitie is from the common use, and how seld seene and rarely found, I looke not to finde a competent judge. For, even the discourses, which sterne antiquitie hath left us concerning this subject, seeme to me but faint and forcelesse in respect of the feeling I have of it: And in that point the effects exceed the very precepts of Philosophie.
Ancient Menander accounted him happy that had but met the shadow of a true friend: verily he had reason to say so, especially if he had tasted of any: for truly, if I compare all the rest of my forepassed life, which although I have, by the meere mercy of God, past at rest and ease, and except the losse of so deare a friend, free from all grievous affliction, with an ever-quietnesse of minde, as one that have taken my naturall and originall commodities in good payment, without searching any others: if, as I say, I compare it all unto the foure yeares I so happily enjoied the sweet company and deare-deare society of that worthy man, it is nought but a vapour, nought but a darke and yrkesome light. Since the time I lost him,
I doe but languish, I doe but sorrow: and even those pleasures, all things present me with, in stead of yeelding me comfort, doe but redouble the griefe of his losse. We were copartners in all things. All things were with us at halfe; me thinkes I have stolen his part from him.
Nec fas esse ulla me voluptate hic frui
Decrevi, tantisper dum ille abest meus particeps.26
There is no action can betide me, or imagination possesse me, but I heare him saying, as indeed he would have done to me: for even as he did excell me by an infinite distance in all other sufficiencies and vertues, so did he in all offices and duties of friendship.
Because I have found this worke to have since beene published (and to an ill end) by such as seeke to trouble and subvert the state of our common-wealth, nor caring whether they shall reforme it or no; which they have fondly inserted among other writings of their invention, I have revoked my intent, which was to place it here. And lest the Authors memory should any way be interested with those that could not thoroughly know his opinions and actions, they shall understand that this subject was by him treated of in his infancie, only by way of exercise, as a subject, common, bareworne, and wyer-drawne in a thousand bookes. I will never doubt but he beleeved what he writ, and writ as he thought: for hee was so conscientious that no lie did ever passe his lips, yea were it but in matters of sport or play: and I know, that had it beene in his choyce, he would rather have beene borne at Venice than at Sarlac; and good reason why: But he had another maxime deepely imprinted in his minde, which was, carefully to obey, and religiously to submit himselfe to the lawes, under which he was borne. There was never a better citizen, nor more affected to the welfare and quietnesse of his countrie, nor a sharper enemie of the changes, innovations, newfangles, and hurly-burlies of his time: He would more willingly have employed the utmost of his endevours to extinguish and suppresse, than to favour or further them: His minde was modelled to the patterne of other best ages. But yet in exchange of his serious treatise, I will here set you downe another, more pithie, material, and of more consequence, by him likewise produced at that tender age.