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Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne by Thomas de Leu.
Full name Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
Born February 28, 1533
Died September 13, 1592
Era Renaissance philosophy
Region Western Philosophers
School Renaissance Humanism
Notable ideas The Essay

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (French pronunciation: [miʃɛl ekɛm də mɔ̃tɛɲ]) (February 28, 1533–September 13, 1592) was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance. Montaigne is known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes[1] and autobiography — and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as "Attempts") contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a direct influence on writers the world over, including Blaise Pascal, René Descartes[2], Ralph Waldo Emerson, Stefan Zweig, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Isaac Asimov, Eric Hoffer[3], and perhaps William Shakespeare (see section "Related Writers and Influence" below).

In his own time, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that, 'I am myself the matter of my book', was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne would be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt which began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, 'Que sais-je?' ('What do I know?'). Remarkably modern even to readers today, Montaigne's attempt to examine the world through the lens of the only thing he can depend on implicitly — his own judgment — makes him more accessible to modern readers than any other author of the Renaissance.[citation needed] Much of modern literary non-fiction has found inspiration in Montaigne and writers of all kinds continue to read him for his masterful balance of intellectual knowledge and personal story-telling.



Montaigne was born in the Aquitaine region of France, on the family estate Château de Montaigne, in a town now called Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne, not far from Bordeaux. The family was very rich; his grandfather, Ramon Eyquem, had made a fortune as a herring merchant and had bought the estate in 1477. His father, Pierre Eyquem, was a French Roman Catholic soldier in Italy for a time, and developed some very progressive views on education there; he had also been the mayor of Bordeaux. His mother, Antoinette López de Villanueva, was a descendant of a Spanish Jewish convert to Catholicism [4]. Although she lived a great part of Montaigne's life near him, and even survived him, she is only mentioned twice in his work. Montaigne's relationship with his father, however, played a prominent role in his life and works.

From the moment of his birth, Montaigne's education followed a pedagogical plan sketched out by his father and refined by the advice of the latter's humanist friends. Soon after his birth, Montaigne was brought to a small cottage, where he lived the first three years of life in the sole company of a peasant family, 'in order to', according to the elder Montaigne, 'draw the boy close to the people, and to the life conditions of the people, who need our help.' After these first spartan years spent amongst the lowest social class, Montaigne was brought back to the Château. The objective was for Latin to become his first language. The intellectual education of Montaigne was assigned to a German tutor (a doctor named Horstanus who couldn't speak French). His father hired only servants who could speak Latin and they also were given strict orders to always speak to the boy in Latin or when he was in their presence. The same rule applied to his mother, father, and servants, who were obliged to use only Latin words he himself employed, and thus acquired a knowledge of the very language his tutor taught him. Montaigne's Latin education was accompanied by constant intellectual and spiritual stimulation. He was familiarized with Greek by a pedagogical method that employed games, conversation, and exercises of solitary meditation, rather than books. Music was played from the moment of Montaigne's awakening. An épinettier (playing a zither original to the French region of Vosges) constantly accompanied Montaigne and his tutor, playing a tune any time the boy became bored or tired. When he wasn't in the mood for music, he could do whatever he wished: play games, sleep, be alone - most important of all was that the boy wouldn't be obliged to anything, but that, at the same time, he would have everything in order to take advantage of his freedom.

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Around the year 1539, he was sent to study at a prestigious boarding school in Bordeaux, the Collège de Guyenne, then under the direction of the greatest Latin scholar of the era, George Buchanan, where he mastered the whole curriculum by his thirteenth year. Afterwards he studied law in Toulouse and entered a career in the legal system. He was a counselor of the Court des Aides of Périgueux and, in 1557, he was appointed counselor of the Parlement in Bordeaux (a high court). From 1561 to 1563 he was courtier at the court of Charles IX; he was present with the king at the siege of Rouen (1562). He was awarded the highest honour of the French nobility, the collar of the order of St. Michael, something to which he aspired from his youth. While serving at the Bordeaux Parliament, he became very close friends with the humanist poet Étienne de la Boétie, whose death in 1563 deeply affected Montaigne. It has been argued that because of Montaigne's "imperious need to communicate," that, after losing Étienne, he began the Essais as his "means of communication;" and that "the reader takes the place of the dead friend." [5]

At the age of 33, Montaigne married Françoise de la Cassaigne, in 1565, not quite of his own free will, and his wife bore him six daughters, but only the second-born survived childhood.

Following the petition of his father, Montaigne started to work on the first translation of the Catalan monk Raymond Sebond's Theologia naturalis, which he published a year after his father's death in 1568 (In 1595, Sebond's Prologue was put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum for its declaration that the Bible is not the only source of revealed truth). After this he inherited his estate, the Château de Montaigne, to which he moved back in 1570. Another literary accomplishment was Montaigne's posthumous edition of his friend Boétie's works.

In 1571, he retired from public life to the Tower of the Château, his so-called "citadel", where he almost totally isolated himself from every social and family affair. Locked up in his library, which boasted a collection of some 1,500 works, he began work on his Essais ("Essays"), first published in 1580. On the day of his 38th birthday, as he entered this almost ten-year period of self-imposed reclusion, he had the following inscription crown the bookshelves of his working chamber:

'In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, his birthday, Michael de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned virgins, where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life, now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquillity, and leisure.’[6]

Michel de Montaigne

During this time of the Wars of Religion in France, Montaigne, himself a Roman Catholic, acted as a moderating force, respected both by the Catholic King Henry III and the Protestant Henry of Navarre.

In 1578, Montaigne, whose health had always been excellent, started suffering from painful kidney stones, a sickness he had inherited from his father's family. From 1580 to 1581, Montaigne traveled in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, partly in search of a cure. He kept a detailed journal recording various episodes and regional differences. It was published much later, in 1774, under the title Travel Journal.

While in Rome in 1581, he learned that he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux; he returned and served until 1585, again moderating between Catholics and Protestants. The plague broke out in Bordeaux toward the end of his term.

Montaigne continued to extend, revise, and oversee the publication of Essais. In 1588 he wrote its third book and also met the writer Marie de Gournay, who admired his work and later edited and published it. King Henry III was assassinated in 1589, and Montaigne then helped to keep Bordeaux loyal to Henry of Navarre, who would go on to become King Henry IV.

Montaigne died, at the age of 59, in 1592 at the Château de Montaigne and was buried nearby. Later his remains were moved to the church of Saint Antoine at Bordeaux. The church no longer exists: it became the Convent des Feuillants, which has also disappeared. The Bordeaux Tourist Office says that Montaigne is buried at the Musée Aquitaine, Faculté des Lettres, Université Bordeaux 3 Michel de Montaigne, Pessac. His heart is preserved in the parish church of Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne.

The humanities branch of the University of Bordeaux is named after him: Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3.

Michel de Montaigne


His fame rests on the Essais, a collection of a large number of short subjective treatments of various topics published in 1580, inspired by his studies in the classics, especially Plutarch. Montaigne's stated goal is to describe man, and especially himself, with utter frankness.

Inspired by his consideration of the lives and ideals of the leading figures of his age, he finds the great variety and volatility of human nature to be its most basic features. He describes his own poor memory, his ability to solve problems and mediate conflicts without truly getting emotionally involved, his disdain for man's pursuit of lasting fame, and his attempts to detach himself from worldly things to prepare for his timely death. He writes about his disgust with the religious conflicts of his time, reflecting a spirit of scepticism (believing that humans are not able to attain true certainty). The longest of his essays, Apology for Raymond Sebond, contains his famous motto, "What do I know?"

Montaigne considered marriage necessary for the raising of children, but disliked strong feelings of passionate love because he saw them as detrimental to freedom. In education, he favored concrete examples and experience over the teaching of abstract knowledge that has to be accepted uncritically. His essay "On the Education of Children" is dedicated to Diana of Foix.

The Essais exercised important influence on both French and English literature, in thought and style.

Related writers and influence

Thinkers exploring similar ideas include Erasmus, Thomas More, and Guillaume Budé, who all worked about fifty years before Montaigne. His influence on Shakespeare, through John Florio's translation, was especially evident in "Hamlet" and "King Lear," both in language and in the scepticism present in both plays.

Since Edward Capell first made the suggestion in 1780, some scholars believe that Shakespeare was familiar with Montaigne's essays.[7] John Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essais became available for Shakespeare in English in 1603.[8]

Much of Blaise Pascal's scepticism in his Pensées was a result of reading Montaigne, whose influence is also seen in the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In"Schopenhauer as Educator", Friedrich Nietzsche was moved to judge of Montaigne: "That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on this Earth".

The American philosopher Eric Hoffer employed Montaigne both stylistically and in thought. In Hoffer's memoir, Truth Imagined, he said of Montaigne, "He was writing about me. He knew my innermost thoughts." The Welsh novelist John Cowper Powys expressed his admiration for Montaigne's philosophy in his books Suspended Judgements (1916) and The Pleasures of Literature (1938). Judith N. Shklar introduces her book Ordinary Vices (1984), "It is only if we step outside the divinely ruled moral universe that we can really put our minds to the common ills we inflict upon one another each day. That is what Montaigne did and that is why he is the hero of this book. In spirit he is on every one of its pages..."


  • To forbid us anything is to make us have a mind for it.
  • Obsession is the wellspring of genius and madness.
  • Everyone calls barbarity what he is not accustomed to.[9]
  • If you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.
  • When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?[10]
  • Life in itself is neither good nor evil, it is the place of good and evil, according to what you make it.
  • The continuous work of our life is to build death.
  • If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was I, and I was he.
  • Kings and philosophers defecate, and so do ladies.
  • I enter into discussion and argument with great freedom and ease, inasmuch as opinion finds me in a bad soil to penetrate and take deep root in. No propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, whatever contrast it offers to my own. There is no fancy so frivolous and so extravagant that it does not seem to me quite suitable to the production of the human mind.
  • Our religion is made to eradicate vices, instead it encourages them, covers them, and nurtures them.
  • Human understanding is marvellously enlightened by daily conversation with men, for we are, otherwise, compressed and heaped up in ourselves, and have our sight limited to the length of our own noses.
  • Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.
  • The clatter of arms drowns the voice of law.
  • No matter that we may mount on stilts, we still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.
  • Montaigne's axiom: "Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known."
  • Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
  • I have gathered a garland of other men’s flowers, and nothing is mine but the cord that binds them.
  • No man is a hero to his own valet.
  • The only thing certain is nothing is certain.
  • The greater part of the world's troubles are due to questions of grammar


  1. ^ His anecdotes however are 'casual' only in appearance. Montaigne writes that: 'Neither my anecdotes nor my quotations are always employed simply as examples, for authority, or for ornament . .They often carry, off the subject under discussion, the seed of a richer and more daring matter, and they resonate obliquely with a more delicate tone,' Michel de Montagne, Essais Pléiade, Paris (ed.A.Thibaudet) 1937, Bk.1,ch.40 p.252 (tr.Charles Rosen)
  2. ^ Buckley, Michael J., At the Origins of Modern Atheism, Yale UP, 1990, p. 69.
  3. ^ from Truth Imagined, memoir by Eric Hoffer.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Frame, Donald (translator). The Complete Essays of Montaigne. 1943. p.v.
  6. ^ As cited by Richard L. Regosin, ‘Montaigne and His Readers', in Denis Hollier (ed.)A New History of French Literature, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London 1995, pp.248-252, p.249. The Latin original runs: 'An. Christi 1571 aet. 38, pridie cal. mart., die suo natali, Mich. Montanus, servitii aulici et munerum publicorum jamdudum pertaesus, dum se integer in doctarum virginum recessit sinus, ubi quietus et omnium securus (quan)tillum in tandem superabit decursi multa jam plus parte spatii: si modo fata sinunt exigat istas sedes et dulces latebras, avitasque, libertati suae, tranquillitatique, et otio consecravit.'as cited in Helmut Pfeiffer, 'Das Ich als Haushalt:Montaignes ökonomische Politik’, in Rudolf Behrens,Roland Galle (eds.) Historische Anthropologie und Literatur:Romanistische Beträge zu einem neuen Paradigma der Literaturwissenschaft, Königshausen und Neumann, Würzburg, 1995 pp.69-90 p.75
  7. ^ Olivier, T. Shakespeare and Montaigne: A Tendency of Thought. Theoria 54. May 1980, 43-59.
  8. ^ Collington, Philip D. "Self-Discovery in Montaigne's "Of Solitarinesse" and King Lear. Comparative Drama Volume 35 Nos. 3,4. Fall/Winter 2001-2.
  9. ^ Essais, I, 31. In French: "Chacun appelle barbarie ce qui n'est pas de son usage.".
  10. ^ "An Apology for Raymond Sebond."

Secondary Literature: Criticism

  • The Cambridge companion to Montaigne / Ullrich Langer., 2005
  • Montaigne and ethics / Patrick Henry., 2002
  • Reading Montaigne / Dikka Berven., 1995
  • Montaigne : a collection of essays : a five volume anthology of scholarly articles / Dikka Berven., 1995
  • Approaches to teaching Montaigne's Essays / Patrick Henry., 1994
  • Michel de Montaigne's essays (Modern Critical Interpretations) / Harold Bloom., 1987
  • Michel de Montaigne (Modern Critical Views) / Harold Bloom., 1987
  • Montaigne : essays in memory of Richard Sayce / I.D. McFarlane., 1982
  • Montaigne and his age / Keith Cameron., 1981
  • Montaigne in Motion / Jean Starobinski, 2009, University of Chicago Press.
  • Columbia Montaigne Conference papers / Donald Frame., 1981
  • Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity/Stephen Toulmin ., 1990
  • Screech M. A. , The Complete Essays 1987, 1991, 2003
  • Bakewell, Sarah, How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Answers, London, Chatto, 2009. ISBN 9780701178925

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I speak the truth, not my fill of it, but as much as I dare speak; and I dare to do so a little more as I grow old.
I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (28 February 153313 September 1592) was an influential French Renaissance writer, generally considered to be the inventor of the personal essay.


Written between 1571 and 1592, these were published in various editions between 1580 and 1595
  • Que sais-je?
    • Translation: "What know I?" or "What do I know?"
    • The notion of skepticism is most clearly understood by asking this question.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • Je veux qu'on me voit en ma façon simple, naturelle, et ordinaire, sans étude et artifice; car c'est moi que je peins...Je suis moi-même la matière de mon livre.
    • Translation: I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice; for it is myself that I portray...I am myself the matter of my book.
    • Book I (1580), To the Reader
  • Certes, c'est un subject merveilleusement vain, divers, et ondoyant, que l'homme. Il est malaisé d'y fonder jugement constant et uniforme.
    • Translation: Truly man is a marvellously vain, diverse, and undulating object. It is hard to found any constant and uniform judgement on him.
    • Book I, ch. 1
  • As for extraordinary things, all the provision in the world would not suffice.
    • Book I, ch. 14
  • In my opinion, every rich man is a miser.
    • Book I, ch. 14
  • Things are not bad in themselves, but our cowardice makes them so.
    • Book I, ch. 14
  • C'est de quoi j'ai le plus de peur que la peur.
    • Translation: The thing I fear most is fear.
    • Book I, ch, 18
  • Je veux que la mort me trouve plantant mes choux.
    • Translation: I want death to find me planting my cabbages.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • All the opinions in the world point out that pleasure is our aim.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • He who would teach men to die would teach them to live.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • The day of your birth leads you to death as well as to life.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • Live as long as you please, you will strike nothing off the time you will have to spend dead.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in the number of years, for you to have lived enough.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • All of the days go toward death and the last one arrives there.
    • Book I, ch. 20
  • We must not attach knowledge to the mind, we have to incorporate it there.
    • Book I, ch. 25
  • Every other knowledge is harmful to him who does not have knowledge of goodness.
    • Book I, ch. 25
  • Un peu de chaque chose, et rien du tout, a la française.
    • Translation: A little of all things, but nothing of everything, after the French manner.
    • On the education of children; Book I, Chapter 26
  • I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better.
    • Variant: I quote others only in order the better to express myself.
    • Book I, ch. 26
  • Since I would rather make of him an able man than a learned man, I would also urge that care be taken to choose a guide with a well-made rather than a well-filled head.
    • Book I, ch. 26
  • Combien de choses nous servoyent hier d’articles de foy, qui nous sont fables aujourd’huy?
    • Translation: How many things served us yesterday for articles of faith, which today are fables for us?
    • Book I, ch. 27
  • Parce que c'était lui; parce que c'était moi.
    • Translation: If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because he was he, and I was I.
    • Variants: If a man urge me to tell wherefore I loved him, I feel it cannot be expressed but by answering: Because it was he, because it was myself.
      If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I.
    • Book I, ch. 28
  • Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.
    • Variant: Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known.
    • Book I, ch. 32
  • L'homme d'entendement n'a rien perdu, s'il a soimême.
    • Translation: A man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himself.
    • Book I, ch. 39
  • La plus grande chose du monde, c'est de savoir être à soi.
    • Translation: The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.
    • Book I, ch. 39
  • There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.
    • Book II (1580), ch. 1
  • C'est une épineuse entreprise, et plus qu'il ne semble, de suivre une allure si vagabonde que celle de nôtre esprit; de pénétrer les profondeurs opaques de ses replis internes; de choisir et arrêter tant de menus de ses agitations.
    • Translation: It is a thorny undertaking, and more so than it seems, to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds, to pick out and immobilize the innumerable flutterings that agitate it.
    • Book II, ch. 6
  • Mon métier et mon art, c'est vivre.
    • Translation: My trade and my art is living.
    • Book II, ch. 6
  • The easy, gentle, and sloping path… is not the path of true virtue. It demands a rough and thorny road.
    • Book II, ch. 11
  • Quand je me joue à ma chatte, qui sçait si elle passe son temps de moy plus que je ne fay d'elle?
    • Translation: When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • The sage says that all that is under heaven incurs the same law and the same fate.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • As far as fidelity is concerned, there is no animal in the world as treacherous as man.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mold...The same reason that makes us wrangle with a neighbor creates a war betwixt princes.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • The plague of man is boasting of his knowledge.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • Man is forming thousands of ridiculous relations between himself and God.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • L'homme est bien insensé. Il ne saurait forger un ciron, et forge des Dieux à douzaines.
    • Translation: Man is certainly crazy. He could not make a mite, and he makes gods by the dozen.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • Quelle vérité que ces montagnes bornent, qui est mensonge qui se tient au delà?
    • Translation: What of a truth that is bounded by these mountains and is falsehood to the world that lives beyond?
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • Ceux qui ont apparié notre vie à un songe ont eu de la raison...Nous veillons dormants et veillants dormons.
    • Translation: Those who have compared our life to a dream were right... We are sleeping awake, and waking asleep.
    • Book II, ch. 12
  • How many valiant men we have seen to survive their own reputation!
    • Book II, ch. 16
  • A man may be humble through vainglory.
    • Book II, ch. 17
  • I find that the best goodness I have has some tincture of vice.
    • Book II, ch. 20
  • Saying is one thing and doing is another.
    • Book II, ch. 31
  • There were never in the world two opinions alike, any more than two hairs or two grains. Their most universal quality is diversity.
    • Book II, ch. 37
  • I will follow the good side right to the fire, but not into it if I can help it.
    • Book III (1595), ch. 1
  • I speak the truth, not my fill of it, but as much as I dare speak; and I dare to do so a little more as I grow old.
    • Book III, ch. 2
  • Few men have been admired by their own households.
    • Book III, ch. 2
  • Chaque homme porte la forme, entière de l'humaîne condition.
    • Translation: Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition.
    • Book III, ch. 2
  • It (marriage) happens as with cages: the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out.
    • Book III, ch. 5
  • Not because Socrates said so, but because it is in truth my own disposition — and perchance to some excess — I look upon all men as my compatriots, and embrace a Pole as a Frenchman, making less account of the national than of the universal and common bond.
    • Book III, ch. 9
  • There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thoughts under the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.
    • Book III, ch. 9
  • A man must be a little mad if he does not want to be even more stupid.
    • Book III, ch. 9
  • I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself.
    • Book III, ch. 11
  • It is more of a job to interpret the interpretations than to interpret the things, and there are more books about books than about any other subject: we do nothing but write glosses about each other.
    • Book III, ch. 13
  • For truth itself does not have the privilege to be employed at any time and in every way; its use, noble as it is, has its circumscriptions and limits.
    • Book III, ch. 13
  • Si, avons nous beau monter sur des échasses, car sur des échasses encore faut-il marcher de nos jambes. Et au plus élevé trône du monde, si ne sommes assis que sur notre cul.
    • Translation: No matter that we may mount on stilts, we still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.
    • Book III, ch. 13
  • Let us give Nature a chance; she knows her business better than we do.
    • Book III, ch. 13


Most quotations of Montaigne come from the Essais but the following have not yet been given definite citation.

  • A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.
  • A wise man sees as much as he ought, not as much as he can.
  • Age imprints more wrinkles in the mind than it does on the face.
  • Book III, ch. 2
  • Ambition is not a vice of little people.
  • Book III, ch. 10
  • An untempted woman cannot boast of her chastity.
  • Confidence in another man's virtue is no light evidence of a man's own, and God willingly favors such a confidence.
    • Variant: Confidence in the goodness of another is good proof of one's own goodness.
  • Book I, ch. 14
  • Courtesy is a science of the highest importance. It is, like grace and beauty in the body, which charm at first sight, and lead on to further intimacy and friendship, opening a door that we may derive instruction from the example of others, and at the same time enabling us to benefit them by our example, if there be anything in our character worthy of imitation.
  • Covetousness is both the beginning and the end of the devil's alphabet— the first vice in corrupt nature that moves, and the last which dies.
  • Death, they say, acquits us of all obligations.
  • Book I, ch. 7
  • Don't discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.
  • Book III, ch. 8
  • Even from their infancy we frame them to the sports of love: their instruction, behavior, attire, grace, learning and all their words azimuth only at love, respects only affection. Their nurses and their keepers imprint no other thing in them.
  • Experience teaches that a strong memory is generally joined to a weak judgment.
  • Book I, ch. 9
  • Fame and tranquility can never be bedfellows.
  • Book I, ch. 39
  • Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the desire to seem rather than to be.
  • Fortune, seeing that she could not make fools wise, has made them lucky.
  • Hath God obliged himself not to exceed the bounds of our knowledge?
  • Book II, ch. 12
  • He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.
  • He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.
  • Book III, ch. 13
  • He who is not sure of his memory, should not undertake the trade of lying.
    • Variant: He who is not very strong in memory should not meddle with lying.
  • I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself. I will be rich by myself, and not by borrowing.
  • Book II, ch. 16
  • I do myself a greater injury in lying than I do him of whom I tell a lie.
  • Book II, ch. 17
  • I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.
  • Book III, ch. 9
  • I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.
  • If you don't know how to die, don't worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don't bother your head about it.
  • In plain truth, lying is an accursed vice. We are not men, nor have any other tie upon another, but by our word.
  • In true education, anything that comes to our hand is as good as a book: the prank of a page-boy, the blunder of a servant, a bit of table talk— they are all part of the curriculum.
  • It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.
  • Book I, ch. 26
  • It is not death, it is dying that alarms me.
  • Book II, ch. 13
  • It is the mind that maketh good or ill, That maketh wretch or happy, rich or poor.
  • It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity.
    • Variants: It should be noted that the games of children are not games, and must be considered as their most serious actions.
      For truly it is to be noted, that children's plays are not sports, and should be deemed as their most serious actions.
  • Book I, ch. 23
  • Labour not after riches first, and think thou afterwards wilt enjoy them. He who neglecteth the present moment, throweth away all that he hath. As the arrow passeth through the heart, while the warrior knew not that it was coming; so shall his life be taken away before he knoweth that he hath it.
  • Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.
  • Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think.
  • Book III, ch. 5
  • Love to his soul gave eyes; he knew things are not as they seem. The dream is his real life; the world around him is the dream.
  • Make your educational laws strict and your criminal ones can be gentle; but if you leave youth its liberty you will have to dig dungeons for ages.
  • Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out.
  • Book III, ch. 5
  • Marriage, a market which has nothing free but the entrance.
  • My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.
  • No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately.
  • Book III, ch. 1
  • No wind serves him who addresses his voyage to no certain port.
  • Book II, ch. 1
  • Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.
  • Book II, ch. 17
  • Nothing prints more lively in our minds than something we wish to forget.
  • Book II, ch. 12
  • Of all our infirmities, the most savage is to despise our being.
    • Variant: Of all the infirmities we have, 'tis the most savage to despise our being." (Charles Cotton translation)
  • Book III, ch. 13
  • Once conform, once do what others do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul.
  • Rejoice in the things that are present; all else is beyond thee.
  • So it is with minds. Unless you keep them busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, they throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination. ..And there is no mad or idle fancy that they do no bring forth in the agitation.
  • Book I, ch. 8
  • The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure not a slight pleasure.
  • The ceaseless labour of your life is to build the house of death.
  • Book I, ch. 20
  • The entire lower world was created in the likeness of the higher world. All that exists in the higher world appears like an image in this lower world; yet all this is but One.
  • The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness; her state is like that in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene.
    • Variant: The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.
  • Book I, ch. 26
  • The most profound joy has more of gravity than of gaiety in it.
  • The strangest, most generous, and proudest of all virtues is true courage.
  • The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them... Whether you find satisfaction in life depends not on your tale of years, but on your will.
  • Book I, ch. 20
  • The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom.
  • The world is all a carcass and vanity, The shadow of a shadow, a play And in one word, just nothing.
  • The world is but a perpetual see-saw.
  • The worst of my actions or conditions seem not so ugly unto me as I find it both ugly and base not to dare to avouch for them.
  • There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.
  • There is a plague on Man, the opinion that he knows something.
  • There is a sort of gratification in doing good which makes us rejoice in ourselves.
  • book III, ch. 2
  • There is little less trouble in governing a private family than a whole kingdom.
    • Variant: There is not much less vexation in the government of a private family than in the managing of an entire state.
  • Book I, ch. 39
  • There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.
  • There is no passion so contagious as that of fear.
  • There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to.
  • There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.
  • Book III, ch. 13
  • Those that will combat use and custom by the strict rules of grammar do but jest.
  • 'Tis the sharpness of our mind that gives the edge to our pains and pleasures.
  • Book I, ch. 14
  • Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.
  • We can be knowledgeable with other men's knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men's wisdom.
  • Book I, ch. 25
  • We only labor to stuff the memory, and leave the conscience and the understanding unfurnished and void.
  • Book I, ch. 25
  • When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.
  • Who does not in some sort live to others, does not live much to himself.
  • Book III, ch. 10
  • Wonder is the foundation of all philosophy, research is the means of all learning, and ignorance is the end.
  • Writing does not cause misery. It is born of misery.

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