Page images
PDF
EPUB

To the Right Honourable

GEORGE

Marquess, Earl, and Viscount Hallifax, Baron of Eland, Lord Privy Seal, and one of His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council.

MY LORD,

If I have set down, the only opportunity I ever had of kissing your Lordship's hands, amongst the happy encounters of my life, and take this occasion, so many years after, to tell you so, your Lordship will not, I hope, think your self injur'd by such a declaration from a man that honours you; nor condemn my ambition, when I publish to the world, that I am not altogether unknown to you. Your Lordship, peradventure, may have forgot a conversation so little worthy your remembrance: but the memory of your Lordship's obliging fashion to me all that time, can never die with me and though my acknowledgment arrives thus late at you, I have never left it at home when I went abroad into the best company. My Lord, I cannot, I would not flatter you, I do not think your Lordship capable of being flatter'd, neither am I inclin'd to do it to those that are: but I cannot forbear to say, that I then receiv'd such an impression of your vertue, and noble nature, as will stay with me for ever. This will either excuse the liberty I presume to take in this dedication, or, at least, make it no wonder; and I am so confident in your Lordship's generosity, that I assure my self you will not deny your protection to a man whose greatest publick crime is that of an ill writer. A better book (if there be a better of the kind in the original I mean) had been a present more fitly suited to your Lordship's quality and merit, and to my devotion. I could heartily wish it such: but as it is, I lay it at your Lordship's feet, together with

My Lord,

Your Lordships most Humble,

And most Obedient Servant,

CHARLES COTTON

Advertisement.—Since the death of the ingenious translator of these Essays, an imperfect transcript of the following letter was intended for the press, but having the good fortune to meet with a more correct copy, I thought myself under a necessity of publishing it with this third edition, not only to do justice to his memory, but to the great person he chose for his patron. M. G.

This for Charles Cotton Esq.; at his house at Berisford.

To be left at Ashburne in Darby-shire.

SIR,

I HAVE too long delay'd my thanks to you for giving me such an obliging evidence of your remembrance: that alone would have been a welcome present, but when join'd with the book in the world I am the best entertain❜d with, it raiseth a strong desire in me to be better known, where I am sure to be so much pleased. I have till now thought wit could not be translated, and do still retain so much of that opinion, that I believe it impossible, except by one whose genius cometh up to that of the author. You have so kept the original strength of his thought, that it almost tempts a man to believe the transmigration of souls, and that his being us'd to hills, is come into the moor-lands to reward us here in England, for doing him more right than his country will afford him. He hath by your means mended his first edition: to transplant and make him ours, is not only a valuable acquisition to us, but a just censure of the critical impertinence of those French scribblers who have taken pains to make little cavils and exceptions, to lessen the reputation of this great man, whom nature hath made too big to confine himself to the exactness of a studied stile. He let his mind have its full flight, and sheweth by a generous kind of negligence that he did not write for praise, but to give to the world a true picture of himself and of mankind. He scorned affected periods, or to please the mistaken reader with an empty chime of words. He hath no affectation to set himself out, and dependeth wholly upon the natural force of what is his own, and the excellent application of what he borroweth.

You see, sir, I have kindness enough for Monsieur de Montaigne to be your rival, but no body can now pretend to be in equal competition with you I do willingly yield, which is no small matter for a man to do to a more prosperous lover; and if you will repay this piece of justice with another, pray believe, that he who can translate such an author without doing him wrong, must not only make me glad but proud of being his

Very humble Servant,

Hallifax.

THE LIFE OF

MICHAEL SEIgneur de mONTAIGNE,

Almost entirely taken out of his own works.

THE race of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne, in Perigord, was noble, out 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 two 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 de Commitiis Romanorum, 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 cur'd, 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 custom, 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 reserv'd 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

8

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 noblesse, and very rare. But of all her favours, there was none with which he was so well pleas'd, as an 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 aving 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 liv'd 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, and philosophical death, being aged fifty nine years, six months, and

« PreviousContinue »