And, moreover, to see a wretched heap of rubbish, as pieces of tile and pottery, grow as it had ages since to a height equal to that of Mount Gurson,—[In Perigord. He Montaigne observed that it was difficult to believe considering the limited area taken up by any of her seven hills and particularly the two most favoured ones, the Capitoline and the Palatine, that so many buildings stood on the site.
He believed that an ancient Roman would not recognise the place again. It often happened that in digging down into earth the workmen came upon the crown of some lofty column, which, though thus buried, was still standing upright.
The people there have no recourse to other foundations than the vaults and arches of the old houses, upon which, as on slabs of rock, they raise their modern palaces. It is easy to see that several of the ancient streets are thirty feet below those at present in use. Sceptical as Montaigne shows himself in his books, yet during his sojourn at Rome he manifested a great regard for religion.
He saw a Jewish child circumcised, and wrote down a most minute account of the operation. The court of Muscovy had at that time such limited relations with the other powers of Europe, and it was so imperfect in its information, that it thought Venice to be a dependency of the Holy See. I begged him, on the contrary, to abide by the opinion of the person who had criticised me, confessing, among other matters, as, for example, in my use of the word fortune, in quoting historical poets, in my apology for Julian, in my animadversion on the theory that he who prayed ought to be exempt from vicious inclinations for the time being; item, in my estimate of cruelty, as something beyond simple death; item, in my view that a child ought to be brought up to do everything, and so on; that these were my opinions, which I did not think wrong; as to other things, I said that the corrector understood not my meaning.
The Master, who is a clever man, made many excuses for me, and gave me to suppose that he did not concur in the suggested improvements; and pleaded very ingeniously for me in my presence against another also an Italian who opposed my sentiments. Such is what passed between Montaigne and these two personages at that time; but when the Essayist was leaving, and went to bid them farewell, they used very different language to him. To excuse themselves for what they had said against my book, they instanced works of our time by cardinals and other divines of excellent repute which had been blamed for similar faults, which in no way affected reputation of the author, or of the publication as a whole; they requested me to lend the Church the support of my eloquence this was their fair speech , and to make longer stay in the place, where I should be free from all further intrusion on their part.
It seemed to me that we parted very good friends. Before quitting Rome, Montaigne received his diploma of citizenship, by which he was greatly flattered; and after a visit to Tivoli he set out for Loretto, stopping at Ancona, Fano, and Urbino. He arrived at the beginning of May , at Bagno della Villa, where he established himself, order to try the waters. There, we find in the Journal, of his own accord the Essayist lived in the strictest conformity with the regime, and henceforth we only hear of diet, the effect which the waters had by degrees upon system, of the manner in which he took them; in a word, he does not omit an item of the circumstances connected with his daily routine, his habit of body, his baths, and the rest.
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Walpole to Sir Horace Mann, June 8, Montaigne gives it as his reason and justification for enlarging to this extent here, that he had omitted, to his regret, to do so in his visits to other baths, which might have saved him the trouble of writing at such great length now; but it is perhaps a better reason in our eyes, that what he wrote he wrote for his own use. We find in these accounts, however, many touches which are valuable as illustrating the manners of the place.
The minute and constant watchfulness of Montaigne over his health and over himself might lead one to suspect that excessive fear of death which degenerates into cowardice.
ESSAYS OF MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE
But was it not rather the fear of the operation for the stone, at that time really formidable? For reason prescribes that we should joyfully accept what it may please God to send us. Therefore the only remedy, the only rule, and the sole doctrine for avoiding the evils by which mankind is surrounded, whatever they are, is to resolve to bear them so far as our nature permits, or to put an end to them courageously and promptly. He was still at the waters of La Villa, when, on the 7th September , he learned by letter that he had been elected Mayor of Bordeaux on the 1st August preceding.
This intelligence made him hasten his departure; and from Lucca he proceeded to Rome. He again made some stay in that city, and he there received the letter of the jurats of Bordeaux, notifying to him officially his election to the Mayoralty, and inviting him to return as speedily as possible.
He passed by Padua, Milan, Mont Cenis, and Chambery; thence he went on to Lyons, and lost no time in repairing to his chateau, after an absence of seventeen months and eight days. We have just seen that, during his absence in Italy, the author of the Essays was elected mayor of Bordeaux. I excused myself; but they gave to understand that I was wrong in so doing, it being also the command of the king that I should stand. I have had the agreeable duty of confirming the selection, and I did so the more willingly, seeing that it was made during your distant absence; wherefore it is my desire, and I require and command you expressly that you proceed without delay to enter on the duties to which you have received so legitimate a call.
And so you will act in a manner very agreeable to me, while the contrary will displease me greatly. Praying God, M. Montaigne, in his new employment, the most important in the province, obeyed the axiom, that a man may not refuse a duty, though it absorb his time and attention, and even involve the sacrifice of his blood. Placed between two extreme parties, ever on the point of getting to blows, he showed himself in practice what he is in his book, the friend of a middle and temperate policy. Affectionately attached to the repose of his country, an enemy to changes and innovations, he would have preferred to employ what means he had towards their discouragement and suppression, than in promoting their success.
He applied himself, in an especial manner, to the maintenance of peace between the two religious factions which at that time divided the town of Bordeaux; and at the end of his two first years of office, his grateful fellow-citizens conferred on him in the mayoralty for two years more, a distinction which had been enjoyed, as he tells us, only twice before.
In the midst of the cares of government, Montaigne found time to revise and enlarge his Essays, which, since their appearance in , were continually receiving augmentation in the form of additional chapters or papers. Two more editions were printed in and ; and during this time the author, while making alterations in the original text, had composed part of the Third Book. He went to Paris to make arrangements for the publication of his enlarged labours, and a fourth impression in was the result. He remained in the capital some time on this occasion, and it was now that he met for the first time Mademoiselle de Gournay.
Gifted with an active and inquiring spirit, and, above all, possessing a sound and healthy tone of mind, Mademoiselle de Gournay had been carried from her childhood with that tide which set in with sixteenth century towards controversy, learning, and knowledge. She learnt Latin without a master; and when, the age of eighteen, she accidentally became possessor of a copy of the Essays, she was transported with delight and admiration.
She quitted the chateau of Gournay, to come and see him. Montaigne, on leaving Paris, stayed a short time at Blois, to attend the meeting of the States-General. We do not know what part he took in that assembly: but it is known that he was commissioned, about this period, to negotiate between Henry of Navarre afterwards Henry IV.
His political life is almost a blank; but De Thou assures us that Montaigne enjoyed the confidence of the principal persons of his time. De Thou, who calls him a frank man without constraint, tells us that, walking with him and Pasquier in the court at the Castle of Blois, he heard him pronounce some very remarkable opinions on contemporary events, and he adds that Montaigne had foreseen that the troubles in France could not end without witnessing the death of either the King of Navarre or of the Duke of Guise.
He had made himself so completely master of the views of these two princes, that he told De Thou that the King of Navarre would have been prepared to embrace Catholicism, if he had not been afraid of being abandoned by his party, and that the Duke of Guise, on his part, had no particular repugnance to the Confession of Augsburg, for which the Cardinal of Lorraine, his uncle, had inspired him with a liking, if it had not been for the peril involved in quitting the Romish communion.
The author of the Essays was now fifty-five. The malady which tormented him grew only worse and worse with years; and yet he occupied himself continually with reading, meditating, and composition. He employed the years , , and in making fresh additions to his book; and even in the approaches of old age he might fairly anticipate many happy hours, when he was attacked by quinsy, depriving him of the power utterance. Pasquier, who has left us some details his last hours, narrates that he remained three days in full possession of his faculties, but unable to speak, so that, in order to make known his desires, he was obliged to resort to writing; and as he felt his end drawing near, he begged his wife to summon certain of the gentlemen who lived in the neighbourhood to bid them a last farewell.
When they had arrived, he caused mass to be celebrated in apartment; and just as the priest was elevating the host, Montaigne fell forward with his arms extended in front of him, on the bed, and so expired.
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He was in his sixtieth year. It was the 13th September Montaigne was buried near his own house; but a few years after his decease, his remains were removed to the church of a Commandery of St. Antoine at Bordeaux, where they still continue.
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His monument was restored in by a descendant. It was seen about by an English traveller Mr. John, , 2 vols. My God! On the other hand, Malebranche and the writers of Port Royal were against him; some reprehended the licentiousness of his writings; others their impiety, materialism, epicureanism. Even Pascal, who had carefully read the Essays, and gained no small profit by them, did not spare his reproaches. But Montaigne has outlived detraction. As time has gone on, his admirers and borrowers have increased in number, and his Jansenism, which recommended him to the eighteenth century, may not be his least recommendation in the nineteenth.
Essays of Michel de Montaigne
Here we have certainly, on the whole, a first-class man, and one proof of his masterly genius seems to be, that his merits and his beauties are sufficient to induce us to leave out of consideration blemishes and faults which would have been fatal to an inferior writer. It first appeared in a little volume of Miscellanies in See Hazlitt, ubi sup. I well foresaw that, if his illness permitted him to express himself, he would allow nothing to fall from him, in such an extremity, that was not replete with good example.
I consequently took every care in my power to treasure what was said. True it is, Monseigneur, as my memory is not only in itself very short, but in this case affected by the trouble which I have undergone, through so heavy and important a loss, that I have forgotten a number of things which I should wish to have had known; but those which I recollect shall be related to you as exactly as lies in my power.
For to represent in full measure his noble career suddenly arrested, to paint to you his indomitable courage, in a body worn out and prostrated by pain and the assaults of death, I confess, would demand a far better ability than mine: because, although, when in former years he discoursed on serious and important matters, he handled them in such a manner that it was difficult to reproduce exactly what he said, yet his ideas and his words at the last seemed to rival each other in serving him. For I am sure that I never knew him give birth to such fine conceptions, or display so much eloquence, as in the time of his sickness.
If, Monseigneur, you blame me for introducing his more ordinary observations, please to know that I do so advisedly; for since they proceeded from him at a season of such great trouble, they indicate the perfect tranquillity of his mind and thoughts to the last. On Monday, the 9th day of August , on my return from the Court, I sent an invitation to him to come and dine with me.
He returned word that he was obliged, but, being indisposed, he would thank me to do him the pleasure of spending an hour with him before he started for Medoc. Shortly after my dinner I went to him. He had laid himself down on the bed with his clothes on, and he was already, I perceived, much changed. He complained of diarrhoea, accompanied by the gripes, and said that he had it about him ever since he played with M. I advised him to go as he had proposed, but to stay for the night at Germignac, which is only about two leagues from the town.
I gave him this advice, because some houses, near to that where he was ping, were visited by the plague, about which he was nervous since his return from Perigord and the Agenois, here it had been raging; and, besides, horse exercise was, from my own experience, beneficial under similar circumstances. He set out, accordingly, with his wife and M. Bouillhonnas, his uncle. Early on the following morning, however, I had intelligence from Madame de la Boetie, that in the night he had fresh and violent attack of dysentery.
She had called in physician and apothecary, and prayed me to lose no time coming, which after dinner I did. He was delighted to see me; and when I was going away, under promise to turn the following day, he begged me more importunately and affectionately than he was wont to do, to give him as such of my company as possible. I was a little affected; yet was about to leave, when Madame de la Boetie, as if she foresaw something about to happen, implored me with tears to stay the night.
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