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LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS
HARVARD CLASSICS V32
THAT WE SHOULD NOT JUDGE OF OUR HAPPINESS UNTIL AFTER OUR DEATH THAT TO PHILOSOPHISE IS TO LEARNE How TO DIE OF THE INSTITUTION AND EDUCATION OF CHILDREN OF FRIENDSHIP OF BOOKES BY MONTAIGNE
WHAT IS A CLASSIC? BY CHASLES-AUGUSTIN SAINTE-BEUVE
THE POETRY OF THE CELTIC RACES BY ERNEST RENAN
THE EDUCATION OF THE HUMAN RACE BY GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM LESSING
LETTERS UPON THE AESTHETIC EDUCATION OF MAN BY J. C. FRIEDRICH VON SCHILLER
FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE METAPHYSIC OF MORALS
TRANSITION FROM POPULAR MORAL PHILOSOPHY TO THE METAPHYSIC OF MORALS
BYRON AND GOETHE BY GIUSEPPE MAZZINI
Michel Eyquem De Montaigne, the founder of the modern Essay, was born February 28, 1533, at the chateau of Montaigne in Pirigord. He came of a family of wealthy merchants of Bordeaux, and was educated at the College de Guyenne, where he had among his teachers the great Scottish Latinist, George Buchanan. Later he studied law, and held various public offices; but at the age of thirty-eight he retired to his estates, where he lived apart from the civil wars of the time, and devoted himself to study and thought. While he was traveling in Germany and Italy, in 1580-81, he was elected mayor of Bordeaux, and this office he filled for four years. He married in 1565, and had six daughters, only one of whom grew up. The first two books of his "Essays" appeared in 1580; the third in 1588; and four years later he died.
These are the main external facts of Montaigne's life: of the man himself the portrait is to be found in his book. "It is myself I portray," he declares; and there is nowhere in literature a volume of self-revelation surpassing his in charm and candor. He is frankly egotistical, yet modest and unpretentious; profoundly wise, yet constantly protesting his ignorance; learned, yet careless, forgetful, and inconsistent. His themes are as wide and varied as his observation of human life, and he has written the finest eulogy of friendship the world has known. Bacon, who knew his book and borrowed from it, wrote on the same subject; and the contrast of the essays is the true reflection of the contrast between the personalities of their authors.
Shortly after Montaigne's death the "Essays" were translated into English by John Florio, with less than exact accuracy, but in a style so full of the flavor of the age that we still read Montaigne in the version which Shakespeare knew. The group of examples here printed exhibits the author in a variety of moods, easy, serious, and, in the essay on "Friendship," as nearly impassioned as his philosophy ever allowed him to become.
Reader, be here a well-meaning Booke. It doth at the firth entrance forewarne thee, that in contriving the same I have proposed unto my selfe no other than a familiar and private end: I have no respect or consideration at all, either to thy service, or to my glory: my forces are not capable of any such desseigne. I have vowed the same to the particular commodity of my kinsfolks and friends: to the end, that losing me (which they are likely to doe ere long), they may therein find some lineaments of my conditions and humours, and by that meanes reserve more whole, and more lively foster the knowledge and acquaintance they have had of me. Had my intention beene to forestal and purchase the world's opinion and favour, I would surely have adorned myselfe more quaintly, or kept a more grave and solemne march. I desire therein to be delineated in mine owne genuine, simple and ordinarie fashion, without contention, art or study; for it is myself e I pourtray. My imperfections shall therein be read to the life, and my naturall forme discerned, so farre-forth as publike reverence hath permitted me. For if my fortune had beene to have lived among those nations which yet are said to live under the sweet liberty of Nature's first and uncorrupted lawes, I assure thee, I would most willingly have pourtrayed my selfe fully and naked. Thus, gentle Reader, myself I am the groundworke of my booke: it is then no reason thou shouldest employ thy time about so frivolous and vaine a subject.
From MONTAIGNE, The First of March, 1580.
THAT WE SHOULD NOT JUDGE OF OUR HAPPINESSE UNTILL AFTER OUR DEATH
scilicet ultima semper Expectanda dies homini est, dicique beatus Ante obitum nemo, supremaque funera debat. [Footnote: Ovid. Met. 1, iii. 135.]
We must expect of man the latest day, Nor ere he die, he's happie, can we say.
The very children are acquainted with the storie of Croesus to this purpose: who being taken by Cyrus, and by him condemned to die, upon the point of his execution, cried out aloud: "Oh Solon, Solon!" which words of his, being reported to Cyrus, who inquiring what he meant by them, told him, hee now at his owne cost verified the advertisement Solon had before times given him; which was, that no man, what cheerefull and blandishing countenance soever fortune shewed them, may rightly deeme himselfe happie, till such time as he have passed the last day of his life, by reason of the uncertaintie and vicissitude of humane things, which by a very light motive, and slight occasion, are often changed from one to another cleane contrary state and degree. And therefore Agesilaus answered one that counted the King of Persia happy, because being very young, he had gotten the garland of so mightie and great a dominion: "yea but said he, Priam at the same age was not unhappy." Of the Kings of Macedon that succeeded Alexander the Great, some were afterward seene to become Joyners and Scriveners at Rome: and of Tyrants of Sicilie, Schoolemasters at Corinth. One that had conquered halfe the world, and been Emperour over so many, Armies, became an humble and miserable suter to the raskally officers of a king of AEgypte: At so high a rate did that great Pompey purchase the irkesome prolonging of his life but for five or six moneths. And in our fathers daies, Lodowicke Sforze, tenth Duke of Millane, under whom the State of Italic had so long beene turmoiled and shaken, was seene to die a wretched prisoner at Loches in France, but not till he had lived and lingered ten yeares in thraldom, which was the worst of his bargaine. The fairest Queene, wife to the greatest King of Christendome, was she not lately scene to die by the hands of an executioner? Oh unworthie and barbarous cruelties And a thousand such examples. For, it seemeth that as the sea-billowes and surging waves, rage and storme against the surly pride and stubborne height of our buildings, so are there above, certaine spirits that envie the rising prosperities and greatnesse heere below.
Vsque adeb res humanas vis abdita quadam Obterit, et pulchros fasces sav&sque secures Proculcare, ac ludibrio sibi habere videtur. [Footnote: LUCRET. I. v. 1243.]
A hidden power so mens states hath out-worne Faire swords, fierce scepters, signes of honours borne, It seemes to trample and deride in scorne.
And it seemeth Fortune doth sometimes narrowly watch the last day of our life, thereby to shew her power, and in one moment to overthrow what for many yeares together she had been erecting, and makes us cry after Laberius, Nimirum hoc die una plus vixi, mihi quam vivendum fuit. [Footnote: MACHOB, 1, ii. 7.] Thus it is, "I have lived longer by this one day than I should." So may that good advice of Solon be taken with reason. But forsomuch as he is a Philosopher, with whom the favours or disfavours of fortune, and good or ill lucke have no place, and are not regarded by him; and puissances and greatnesses, and accidents of qualitie, are well-nigh indifferent: I deeme it very likely he had a further reach, and meant that the same good fortune of our life, which dependeth of the tranquillitie and contentment of a welborne minde, and of the resolution and assurance of a well ordered soule, should never be ascribed unto man, untill he have beene scene play the last act of his comedie, and without doubt the hardest. In all the rest there may be some maske: either these sophisticall discourses of Philosophie are not in us but by countenance, or accidents that never touch us to the quick, give us alwaies leasure to keep our countenance setled. But when that last part of death, and of our selves comes to be acted, then no dissembling will availe, then is it high time to speake plaine English, and put off all vizards: then whatsoever the pot containeth must be shewne, be it good or bad, foule or cleane, wine or water.
Nam vera voces tum demum pectore ab imo Ejiciuntur, et eripitur persona, manet res. [Footnote: LUCEET. 1. iii. 57.]
For then are sent true speeches from the heart, We are ourselves, we leave to play a part.
Loe heere, why at this last cast, all our lives other actions must be tride and touched. It is the master-day, the day that judgeth all others: it is the day, saith an auncient Writer, that must judge of all my forepassed yeares. To death doe I referre the essay [Footnote: Assay, exact weighing.] of my studies fruit. There shall wee see whether my discourse proceed from my heart, or from my mouth. I have scene divers, by their death, either in good or evill, give reputation to all their forepassed life. Scipio, father-in-law to Pompey, in well dying, repaired the ill opinion which untill that houre men had ever held of him. Epaminondas being demanded which of the three he esteemed most, either Chabrias, or Iphicrates, or himselfe: "It is necessary," said he, "that we be scene to die,
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