ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE
him. Such a man resembles “those whose learning resides in their costly libraries.”
Montaigne continues in the same vein, insisting that all learning is useless to us that we do not make our own, that we do not digest.
The “teachers” of his day, like the sophists in Plato’s time, were in Montaigne’s eyes “of all men those who promise to be most useful to mankind, and alone of all men they not only do not improve what is entrusted to them … but they injure it.”
On another page he tells an amusing story of one of these senseless beings whom he had seen at his own house; which leads on to a passage of beautiful, noble praise of his friend Adrianus Turnebus.
Later Montaigne gives an interesting sketch of his views of a proper Civil Service Examination — the passage beginning: “There are some of our Parliaments …”
Returning to his former train of thought, Montaigne speaks of learning as “a dangerous weapon” for those who do not know how to use it — and therefore women had better not be trusted with it.
A passage about “this purpose of enriching ourselves” sounds as if it had been written yesterday.
“The reason that I was seeking just now,” I think refers to the beginning of the Essay and to his quest for the causes of the low esteem in which men of learning were held.
Then he gets among the ancients, and dwells on the point that the Persians “taught virtue to their children as other nations do letters,” in which the Lacedæmonians resembled them; and he speaks of the difference between the education given to the children of Sparta and those of Athens, and in this connection brings Socrates forward.
The last paragraph of the Essay is on the thesis that learning lessens warlike impulses, and it is interesting from the examples taken from Montaigne’s own times.
In view of the inferences that may be drawn from the additions made to this Essay in 1595, M. Villey remarks as follows:
“It is worth observing that in 1595 the point of view of Montaigne in this Essay seems somewhat different from what it was in the text of 1580. In 1580 Montaigne was especially inspired by Seneca and by Plutarch, who both criticise only pretended knowledge; and in like manner Montaigne’s aim was to combat, as the title indicates, the pedantry of his age; and he expresses strongly his admiration for the men of true learning, for the great philosophers of antiquity. In 1595 he weakens these praises, undoubtedly with reserve, it not being his purpose to correct himself, but, none the less, in a significant manner, he borrows from Plato numerous sarcasms against the philosophers, who seem to him to lack completely practical sense; especially in the additions which close the chapter, he strongly affirms the idea that knowledge is profitable only to a small number of estimable minds, and when spread abroad among the masses, it is injurious to the moral character and to the military spirit.”