The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter XIII

The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne
Chapter XIII. The ceremony of the interview of princes.

Chapter XIII. The ceremony of the interview of princes. Edit

There is no subject so frivolous that does not merit a place in this
rhapsody. According to our common rule of civility, it would be a
notable affront to an equal, and much more to a superior, to fail being
at home when he has given you notice he will come to visit you. Nay,
Queen Margaret of Navarre--[Marguerite de Valois, authoress of the
'Heptameron']--further adds, that it would be a rudeness in a gentleman
to go out, as we so often do, to meet any that is coming to see him, let
him be of what high condition soever; and that it is more respectful and
more civil to stay at home to receive him, if only upon the account of
missing him by the way, and that it is enough to receive him at the door,
and to wait upon him. For my part, who as much as I can endeavour to
reduce the ceremonies of my house, I very often forget both the one and
the other of these vain offices. If, peradventure, some one may take
offence at this, I can't help it; it is much better to offend him once
than myself every day, for it would be a perpetual slavery. To what end
do we avoid the servile attendance of courts, if we bring the same
trouble home to our own private houses? It is also a common rule in all
assemblies, that those of less quality are to be first upon the place, by
reason that it is more due to the better sort to make others wait and
expect them.

Nevertheless, at the interview betwixt Pope Clement and King Francis at
Marseilles,--[in 1533.]--the King, after he had taken order for the
necessary preparations for his reception and entertainment, withdrew out
of the town, and gave the Pope two or three days' respite for his entry,
and to repose and refresh himself, before he came to him. And in like
manner, at the assignation of the Pope and the Emperor,--[Charles V. in
1532.] at Bologna, the Emperor gave the Pope opportunity to come thither
first, and came himself after; for which the reason given was this, that
at all the interviews of such princes, the greater ought to be first at
the appointed place, especially before the other in whose territories the
interview is appointed to be, intimating thereby a kind of deference to
the other, it appearing proper for the less to seek out and to apply
themselves to the greater, and not the greater to them.

Not every country only, but every city and every society has its
particular forms of civility. There was care enough to this taken in my
education, and I have lived in good company enough to know the
formalities of our own nation, and am able to give lessons in it. I love
to follow them, but not to be so servilely tied to their observation that
my whole life should be enslaved to ceremonies, of which there are some
so troublesome that, provided a man omits them out of discretion, and not
for want of breeding, it will be every whit as handsome. I have seen
some people rude, by being overcivil and troublesome in their courtesy.

Still, these excesses excepted, the knowledge of courtesy and good
manners is a very necessary study. It is, like grace and beauty, that
which begets liking and an inclination to love one another at the first
sight, and in the very beginning of acquaintance; and, consequently, that
which first opens the door and intromits us to instruct ourselves by the
example of others, and to give examples ourselves, if we have any worth
taking notice of and communicating.