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to excite his own ingenious and fearless understanding. His extent of learning was by no means great for that age, but the whole of it was brought to bear on his object; and it is a proof of Montaigne's independence of mind that, while a vast mass of erudition was the only regular passport to fame, he read no authors but such as were most fitted to his own habits of thinking. Hence he displays an unity, a self-existence, which we seldom find so complete in other writers. His quotations, though they perhaps make more than one half of his Essays, seem parts of himself, and are like limbs of his own mind, which could not be separated without laceration. But over all is spread a charm of a fascinating simplicity, and an apparent abandonment of the whole man to the easy inspiration of genius, combined with a good-nature, though rather too epicurean and destitute of moral energy, which, for that very reason, made him a favourite with men of similar dispositions, for whom courts, and camps, and country mansions were the proper soil.
8. Montaigne is superior to any of the ancients in liveliness, in that careless and rapid style where one thought springs naturally, but not consecutively, from another, by analogical rather than deductive connexion; so that, while the reader seems to be following a train of arguments, he is imperceptibly hurried to a distance by some contingent association. This may be observed in half his Essays, the titles of which often give us little insight into their general scope. Thus the apology for Raymond de Sebonde is soon forgotten in the long defence of moral Pyrrhonism, which occupies the twelfth chapter of the second book. He sometimes makes a show of coming back from his excursions; but he has generally exhausted himself before he does so. This is what men love to practise (not advantageously for their severer studies) in their own thoughts; they love to follow the casual associations that lead them through pleasant labyrinths-as one riding along the high road is glad to deviate a little into the woods, though it may sometimes happen that he will lose his way, and find himself far remote from his inn. And such is the conversational style of lively and eloquent old men. We converse with Montaigne, or rather hear him talk; it is
almost impossible to read his Essays without thinking that he speaks to us; we see his cheerful brow, his sparkling eye, his negligent but gentlemanly demeanour; we picture him in his arm-chair, with his few books round the room, and Plutarch on the table.
9. The independence of his mind produces great part of the charm of his writing; it redeems his vanity, without which it could not have been so fully displayed, or, perhaps, so powerfully felt. In an age of literary servitude, when every province into which reflection could wander was occupied by some despot; when, to say nothing of theology, men found Aristotle, or Ulpian, or Hippocrates, at every turning to dictate their road, it was gratifying to fall in company with a simple gentleman who, with much more reading than generally belonged to his class, had the spirit to ask a reason for every rule.
10. Montaigne has borrowed much, besides his quotations, from the few ancient authors whom he loved to study. In one passage he even says that his book is wholly compiled from Plutarch and Seneca; but this is evidently intended to throw the critics off their scent. "I purposely conceal the authors from whom I borrow," he says in another place, "to check the presumption of those who are apt to censure what they find in a modern. I am content that they should lash Seneca and Plutarch through my sides." These were his two favourite authors; and in order to judge of the originality of Montaigne in any passage, it may often be necessary to have a considerable acquaintance with their works. "When I write," he says, "I care not to have books about me; but I can hardly be without a Plutarch.f" He knew little Greek, but most editions at that time had a Latin translation: he needed not for Plutarch to go beyond his own language. Cicero he did not much admire, except the epistles to Atticus. He esteemed the moderns very slightly in comparison with antiquity, though praising Guicciardini and Philip de Comines. Dugald Stewart observes, that Montaigne cannot be suspected of affectation, and therefore must himself have believed what he says of the badness of his memory, forgetting, as he tells us, the names of the com
e L. ii. c. 32.
f L. ii. c. 10.
monest things, and even of those he constantly saw. But his vanity led him to talk perpetually of himself; and, as often happens to vain men, he would rather talk of his own failings than of any foreign subject. He could not have had a very defective memory so far as it had been exercised, though he might fall into the common mistake of confounding his inattention to ordinary objects with weakness of the faculty.
11. Montaigne seldom defines or discriminates; his mind had great quickness, but little subtilty; his carelessness and impatience of labour rendered his views practically one-sided; for though he was sufficiently free from prejudice to place the objects of consideration in different lights, he wanted the power, or did not use the diligence, to make that comparative appreciation of facts which is necessary to distinguish the truth. He appears to most advantage in matters requiring good sense and calm observation, as in the education of children. The twentyfourth and twenty-eighth chapters of the first book, which relate to this subject, are among the best in the collection. His excellent temper made him an enemy to the harshness and tyranny so frequent at that time in the management of children, as his clear understanding did to the pedantic methods of overloading and misdirecting their faculties. It required some courage to argue against the grammarians who had almost monopolised the admiration of the world. Of these men Montaigne observes that, though they have strong memories, their judgment is usually very shallow; making only an exception for Turnebus, who, though in his opinion the greatest scholar that had existed for a thousand years, had nothing of the pedant about him but his dress. In all the remarks of Montaigue on human character and manners, we find a liveliness, simplicity, and truth. They are such as his ordinary opportunities of observation or his reading suggested; and though several writers have given proofs of deeper reflection or more watchful discernment, few are so well calculated to fall in with the apprehension of the general reader.
12. The scepticism of Montaigne, concerning which so much has been said, is not displayed in religion, for he was a steady Catholic, though his faith seems to have been
rather that of acquiescence than conviction, nor in such subtilties of metaphysical Pyrrhonism as we find in Sanchez, which had no attraction for his careless nature. But he had read much of Sextus Empiricus, and might perhaps have derived something from his favourite Plutarch. He had also been forcibly struck by the recent narratives of travellers, which he sometimes received with a credulity as to evidence not rarely combined with theoretical scepticism, and which is too much the fault of his age to bring censure on an individual. It was then assumed that all travellers were trustworthy, and, still more, that none of the Greek and Roman authors have recorded falsehoods. Hence he was at a loss to discover a general rule of moral law, as an implanted instinet, or necessary deduction of common reason, in the varying usages and opinions of mankind. But his scepticism was less extravagant and unreasonable at that time than it would be now. Things then really doubtful have been proved, and positions, entrenched by authority which he dared not to scruple, have been overthrown; truth, in retiring from her outposts, has become more unassailable in her citadel.
13. It may be deemed a symptom of wanting a thorough love of truth when a man overrates, as much as when he overlooks, the difficulties he deals with. Montaigne is 'perhaps not exempt from this failing. Though sincere and candid in his general temper, he is sometimes more ambitious of setting forth his own ingenuity than desirous to come to the bottom of his subject. Hence he is apt to run into the fallacy common to this class of writers, and which La Mothe le Vayer employed much more-that of confounding the variations of the customs of mankind in things morally indifferent with those which affect the principles of duty; and hence the serious writers on philosophy in the next age, Pascal, Arnauld, Malebranche, animadvert with much severity on Montaigne. They considered him, not perhaps unjustly, as an enemy to the candid and honest investigation of truth, both by his sceptical bias and by the great indifference of his temperament; scarcely acknowledging so much as was due the service he had
8 Montaigne's scepticism was rightly exercised on witchcraft and other supernatural stories; and he had probably
some weight in discrediting those superstitions. See L. iii. c. 11.
done by chasing away the servile pedantry of the schools, and preparing the road for closer reasoners than himself. But the very tone of their censures is sufficient to prove the vast influence he had exerted over the world.
14. Montaigne is the earliest classical writer in the French language, the first whom a gentleman is ashamed not to have read. So long as an unaffected style and an appearance of the utmost simplicity and good nature shall charm, so long as the lovers of desultory and cheerful conversation shall be more numerous than those who prefer a lecture or a sermon, so long as reading is sought by the many as an amusement in idleness, or a resource in pain, so long will Montaigne be among the favourite authors of mankind. I know not whether the greatest blemish of his Essays has much impeded their popularity; they led the way to the indecency too characteristic of French literature, but in no writer on serious topics, except Bayle, more habitual than in Montaigne. It may be observed, that a larger portion of this quality distinguishes the third book, published after he had attained a reputation, than the two former. It is also more overspread by egotism; and it is not agreeable to perceive that the two leading faults of his disposition became more unrestrained and absorbing as he advanced in life.
15. The Italians have a few moral treatises of this period, but chiefly scarce and little read. The Writers on Instituzioni Morali of Alexander Piccolomini, the Italy. Instituzioni di Tutta la Vita dell' Uomo Nato Nobile e in città Libera, by the same author, the Latin treatise of Mazzoni de Triplici Vita, which, though we mention it here as partly ethical, seems to be rather an attempt to give a general survey of all science, are among the least obscure, though they have never been of much reputation in Europe. But a more celebrated work, relating indeed to a minor department of ethics, the rules of polite and decorous behaviour, is the Galateo of Casa, bishop of Benevento, and an elegant writer of considerable reputation. This little treatise is not only accounted superior in
For these books see Tiraboschi, Corniani, and Ginguéné. Niceron, vol. xxiii., observes of Piccolomini, that he was the first who employed the Italian language in moral philosophy. This
must, however, be taken very strictly for in a general sense of the word, we have seen earlier instances than his Instituzioni Morali in 1575.