ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE
done it. (c) Nor is there any art of which I can sketch so much as the first outlines. And there is no child of the middle forms who may not think he knows more than I, who have not the ability to examine him on his easiest lesson, at least, after its manner. And if I must do this, I am forced, ineptly enough, to draw from it some matter of common talk, with regard to which I examine his native judgement — a lesson that is as unfamiliar to him as his is to me. I have not been familiar with any solid book, except Plutarch and Seneca, from whom I draw like the Danaïdes, filling and emptying incessantly. So doing, something of theirs clings to this paper; to myself, so little that it is nothing.
(a) History is my chief pursuit in the way of books; or poetry, which I love with a special inclination. For, as Cleanthes said, just as the voice, when confined within the narrow channel of a trumpet, comes forth more penetratingly and more strongly, so it seems to me that the thought, being compressed within the various forms of verse, darts forth more briskly and strikes me with a livelier impact. As for the native faculties that are in me, whereof here is the trial flight, I feel them bend beneath the burden; my ideas and my judgement grope their way, staggering and stumbling and tripping; and when I have gone as far as I can, still I am in no wise content; I see, but with a disturbed and clouded vision, other regions beyond, which I can not clearly distinguish. And venturing to treat heedlessly of whatever comes into my head, and in this using only my own native resources, if it happens, as it often does, that I meet, in good authors, with the same topics that I have undertaken to discuss, — as I have but now done in Plutarch, in his discourse on the power of the imagination, — on realising how weak and insignificant, how dull and lifeless I am, compared with those writers, I feel compassion or contempt for myself. But I solace myself with the fact that my opinions have the honour of often meeting with theirs, (c) and that I follow after, although a long way behind them, saying that they are right. (a) Also I have this [quality], which not every one
- The editions of 1580-1588 add: ce n’est pas mon occupation.
- See Seneca, Epistle 108.10.
- See Plutarch, Table-Talk.
- Disant que voire.