Montaigne: Of Bookes

A Few Vintage Editions

 I MAKE no doubt but it shall often befall me to speake of things which are better, and with more truth, handled by such as are their crafts-masters. Here is simply an essay of my natural faculties, and no whit of those I have acquired. And he that shall tax me with ignorance shall have no great victory at my hands; for hardly could I give others reasons for my discourses that give none unto my selfe, and am not well satisfied with them. He that shall make sear after knowledge, let him seek it where it is: there is nothing I professe lesse. These are but my fantasies by which I endevour not to make things known, but my selfe. They may haply one day be knowne unto me, or have bin at other times, according as fortune hath brought me where they were declared or manifested. But I remember them no more. And if I be a man of some reading, yet I am a man of no remembering, I conceive no certainty, except it bee to give notice how farre the knowledge I have of it doth now reach. Let no man busie himselfe about the matters, but on the fashion I give them. Let that which I borrow be survaied, and then tell me whether I have made good choice of ornaments to beautifie and set foorth the invention which ever comes from mee. For I make others to relate (not after mine owne fantasie but as it best falleth out) what I cannot so well expresse, either through unskill of language or want of judgement. I number not my borrowings, but I weigh them. And if I would have made their number to prevail, I would have had twice as many. They are all, or almost all, of so famous and ancient names, that me thinks they sufficiently name themselves without mee. If in reasons, comparisons, and arguments, I transplant any into my soile, or confound them with mine owne, I purposely conceale the author, thereby to bridle the rashnesse of these hastie censures that are so headlong cast upon all manner of compositions, namely young writings of men yet living; and in vulgare that admit all the world to talke of them, and which seemeth to convince the conception and publike designe alike. I will have them to give Plutarch a bob 1 upon mine own lips, and vex themselves in wronging Seneca in mee. My weaknesse must be hidden under such great credits. I will love him that shall trace or unfeather me; I meane through clearenesse of judgement, and by the only distinction of the force and beautie of my discourses. For my selfe, who for want of memorie am ever to seeke how to trie and refine them by the knowledge of their country, knowe perfectly, by measuring mine owne strength, that my soyle is no way capable of some over-pretious flowers that therein I find set, and that all the fruits of my increase could not make it amends. This am I bound to answer for if I hinder my selfe, if there be either vanitie or fault in my discourses that I perceive not or am not able to discerne if they be showed me. For many faults do often escape our eyes; but the infirmitie of judgement consisteth in not being able to perceive them when another discovereth them unto us. Knowledge and truth may be in us without judgement, and we may have judgement without them: yea, the acknowledgment of ignorance is one of the best and surest testimonies of judgement that I can finde. I have no other sergeant of band to marshall my rapsodies than fortune. And looke how my humours or conceites present themselves, so I shuffle them up. Sometimes they prease out thicke and three fold, and other times they come out languishing one by one. I will have my naturall and ordinarie pace seene as loose and as shuffling as it is. As I am, so I goe on plodding. And besides, these are matters that a man may not be ignorant of, and rashly and casually to speake of them. I would wish to have a more perfect understanding of things, but I will not purchase it so deare as it cost. My intention is to passe the remainder of my life quietly and not laboriously, in rest and not in care. There is nothing I will trouble or vex myselfe about, no not for science it selfe, what esteeme soever it be of. I doe not search and tosse over books but for an honester recreation to please, and pastime to delight my selfe: or if I studie, I only endevour to find out the knowledge that teacheth or handleth the knowledge of my selfe, and which may instruct me how to die well and how to live well.
Has meus ad metas sudet oportet equus. 2
My horse must sweating runne,
That this goale may be wonne.

If in reading I fortune to meet with any difficult points, I fret not my selfe about them, but after I have given them a charge or two, I leave them as I found them. Should I earnestly plod upon them, I should loose both time and my selfe, for I have a skipping wit. What I see not at the first view, I shall lesse see it if I opinionate my selfe upon it. I doe nothing without blithnesse; and an over obstinate continuation and plodding contention doth dazle, dul, and wearie the same: my sight is thereby confounded and diminished. I must therefore withdraw it, and at fittes goe to it againe. Even as to judge well of the lustre of scarlet we are taught to cast our eyes over it, in running over by divers glances, sodaine glimpses and reiterated reprisings. 3 If one booke seeme tedious unto me I take another, which I follow not with any earnestnesse, except it be at such houres as I am idle, or that I am weary with doing nothing. I am not greatly affected to new books, because ancient Authors are, in my judgement, more full and pithy: nor am I much addicted to Greeke books, forasmuch as my understanding cannot well rid 4 his worke with a childish and apprentise intelligence. Amongst moderne bookes meerly pleasant, I esteeme Bocace his Decameron, Rabelais, and the kisses of John the second (if they may be placed under this title), worth the paines-taking to reade them. As for Amadis and such like trash of writings, they had never the credit so much as to allure my youth to delight in them. ...

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