Custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress.
73 Top Michel de Montaigne Quotes That Are Life Changing
She, by little and little, slyly and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes. The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear, and with good reason; that passion alone in the trouble of it exceeding all other accidents.
Fortune, to show us her power in all things, and to abate our presumption, seeing she could not make fools wise, she has made them fortunate. Many persons after once they become learned cease to be good: all other knowledge is hurtful to him who has not the science of honesty and good-nature. The estimate and valour of a man consists in the heart and in the will; there his true honour lies. Valour is stability, not of arms and of legs, but of courage and the soul; it does not lie in the valour of our horse, nor of our arms, but in ourselves.
He that falls obstinately in his courage, if his legs fail him, fights upon his knees. There are some physiognomies that are favourable, so that in a crowd of victorious enemies you shall presently chuse, amongst men you never saw before, one rather than another to whom to surrender, and with whom to intrust your life, and yet not properly upon the consideration of beauty.
I should with great severity punish malice in a mild and gentle aspect. It seems as if there were some happy and some unhappy faces; and I believe there is some art in distinguishing affable from simple faces, severe from rude, malicious from pensive, scornful from melancholick, and such other bordering qualities.
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There are beauties which are not only fair but sour; and others that are not only sweet, but more than that, faint. To prognosticate future adventures is a thing that I shall leave undecided. Whoever shall call to memory how many and how many times he has been mistaken in his own judgment, is he not a great fool if he does not ever after suspect it? In all my other errors I do the same, and find from this rule great utility to life. I regard not the species and individual, as a stone that I have stumbled at; I learn to suspect my steps throughout, and am careful to place them right.
To learn that a man has said or done a foolish thing, is a thing of nothing.
Montaigne “On Cruelty”: A Close Reading of a Classic Essay
We must learn to suffer what we cannot evade. He must know how to make use of them all, and to mix them; and we, likewise, the goods and evils which are consubstantial with life: our being cannot subsist without this mixture, and the one are no less necessary to it than the other. To attempt to kick against natural necessity is to represent the folly of Ctesiphon, who undertook to kick with his mule.
Our contest is verbal. I demand what nature is, what pleasure, circle, and substition are? A stone is a body, but if a man should further urge, and what is body? Substance; and what is substance? We exchange one word for another, and oft times for one less understood. I better know what man is, than I know what animal is, or mortal, or rational. We find this great precept often repeated in Plato, do thine own work, and know thyself.
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In plain truth, lying is a hateful and accursed vice. We are not men, nor have other tye upon one another, but our word. If we did but discover the horror and ill consequences of it, we should pursue it with fire and sword, and more justly than other crimes. But above all, old men, who yet retain the memory of things past, and forget how often they have told them, are the most dangerous company for this fault; and I have known stories from the mouth of a man of very great quality, otherwise very pleasant in themselves, becoming very troublesome by being a hundred times repeated over and over again.
Aristo did wisely define Rhetorick to be a science to perswade the people; Socrates and Plato, an art to flatter and deceive. And those who deny it in the general description, verifie it throughout in their precepts. Is it not a singular testimony of imperfection that we cannot establish our satisfaction in any one thing, and that even our own fancy and desire should deprive us of the power to choose what is most proper and useful for us?
Now, amongst the rest, drunkenness seems to me to be a gross and brutish vice. The soul has the greatest interest in all the rest, and there are some vices that have something, if a man may so say, of generous in them. There are vices wherein there is a mixture of knowledge, diligence, valour, prudence, dexterity, and cunning: this is totally corporal and earthly, and the thickest-skulled nation this day in Europe is that where it is the most in fashion; other vices discompose the understanding, this totally overthrows it, and renders the body stupid.
To what vanity does the good opinion we have of ourselves push us? The most regular and most perfect soul in the world has but too much to do to keep itself upright from being overthrown by its own weakness. There is not one of a thousand that is right, and settled so much as one minute in a whole life, and that may not very well doubt whether according to her natural condition she can ever be. But to join constancy to it is her utmost perfection: I mean though nothing should jostle and discompose her, which a thousand accidents may do.
Make Wisdom Your Greatest Strength!
We are not to pray that all things may go on as we would have them, but as most conducing to the good of the world; and we are not in our prayers to obey our wills, but prudence. We seem, in truth, to make use of our prayers as of a kind of gibberish, and as those do who employ holy words about sorceries and magical operations: and as if we made account the benefit we are to reap from them depended upon the contexture, sound and gingle of words, or upon the composing of the countenance.
May I not confidently instance in those of Hannibal and his great concurrent Scipio? I fancy vertue to be something else, and something more noble, than good nature, and the meer propension to goodness, that we are born into the world withal. Nothing can be added to the nicety of the death of the wife of Fulvius, a familiar favourite of Augustus.
Many are of opinion that we cannot quit this garrison of the world without the express command of him who has placed us in it: and that it appertains to God, who has placed us here not for ourselves only, but for his glory, and the service of others, to dismiss us when it shall best please him, and not for us to depart without his license: that we are not born for ourselves only, but for our country also, the laws of which require an account from us, upon the score of their own interest, and have an action of manslaughter good against us.
Or if these fail to take cognizance of the fact, we are punished in the other world, as deserters of our duty. There is more constancy in suffering the chain we are tied in, than in breaking it, and more pregnant evidence of fortitude in Regulus than in Cato. No accidents can make true virtue turn her back; she seeks and requires evils, pains, and grief, as the things by which she is nourished and supported.
The menaces of tyrants, racks, and tortures serve only to animate and rouse her.
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It is not without reason that we are taught to consider sleep as a resemblance of death. With how great facility do we pass from waking to sleeping, and with how little concern do we lose the knowledge of light, and of ourselves! Peradventure the faculty of sleeping would seem useless and contrary to nature, being it deprives us of attraction and sense, were it not that by it nature instructs us that she has equally made us to die, as to live, and from life presents us the eternal estate she reserves for us after it, to accustom us to it, and to take from us the fear of it.
My soul naturally abominates lying, and hates the thought of it. Whoever has had occasion for oracles and predictions has there found sufficient to serve his turn. And what he has found out in favour of ours, very many anciently have found out in favour of theirs. Of what is the most subtile folly made, but of the most subtile wisdom? In the actions of mad men we see how infinitely madness resembles the most vigorous operations of the soul.
Who does not know how indiscernible the difference is betwixt folly and the elevations of a spritely soul, and the effects of a supream and extraordinary vertue? Plato says that melancholick persons are the most capable of discipline, and the most excellent, nor indeed is there any so great a propension to madness. I have known in my time a hundred artizans, and a hundred labourers, wiser and more happy than the rectors of the university, and whom I had much rather have resembled. Learning, methinks, has its place amongst the necessary things of life, as glory, nobility, dignity, or, at the most, as riches, and such other qualities, which indeed are useful to it; but remotely, and more by opinion than by nature.
We stand very little more in need of offices, rules and laws of living in our society than cranes and emmets do in theirs. And yet we see that they carry themselves very regularly, and without erudition. If man was wise, he would take the true value of every thing according as it was more useful and proper to his life.
Whoever will number us by our actions and deportments will find many more excellent men amongst the ignorant than the learned: I say, in all son of vertue. Do but consult the ancient considerations that gave the first motion to this famous torrent so full of dignity and reverence: you will find them so light and weak, that it is no wonder if these people, who weigh and reduce every thing to reason, and who admit nothing by authority, or upon trust, have their judgments very remote and differing from those of the publick.
It is no wonder if people who take their pattern from the first image of nature should in most of their opinions swerve from the common path. Learning is, in truth, a very great and a very considerable quality; and such as despise it sufficiently discover their own want of understanding: but yet I do not prize it at the excessive rate some others do; as Herillus the philosopher for one, who therein places the sovereign good, and maintained that it was only in her to render us wise and contented, which I do not believe: no more than I do what others have said, that learning is the mother of all vertue, and that all vice proceeds from ignorance, which, if it be true, is subject to a very long interpretation.
Let us see what certainty he has in his fine equipage. Let him make me understand by the force of his reason upon what foundation he has built those great advantages he thinks he has over creatures: who has made him believe that this admirable motion of the celestial arch, the eternal light of those tapers that roll over his head, the wonderful motions of that infinite ocean, should be established, and continue so many ages, for his service and convenience? Can anything be imagined so ridiculous, that this miserable and wretched creature, who is not so much as master of himself, but subject to the injuries of all things, should call himself master and emperor of the world, of which he has not power to know the least part, much less to command the whole?
Let us see his commission for this great employment. Was it granted in favour of the wise only? Few people will be concerned in it.
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