The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter X

Chapter X. Of books. Edit

I make no doubt but that I often happen to speak of things that are much
better and more truly handled by those who are masters of the trade. You
have here purely an essay of my natural parts, and not of those acquired:
and whoever shall catch me tripping in ignorance, will not in any sort
get the better of me; for I should be very unwilling to become
responsible to another for my writings, who am not so to myself, nor
satisfied with them. Whoever goes in quest of knowledge, let him fish
for it where it is to be found; there is nothing I so little profess.
These are fancies of my own, by which I do not pretend to discover things
but to lay open myself; they may, peradventure, one day be known to me,
or have formerly been, according as fortune has been able to bring me in
place where they have been explained; but I have utterly forgotten it;
and if I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retention; so that I
can promise no certainty, more than to make known to what point the
knowledge I now have has risen. Therefore, let none lay stress upon the
matter I write, but upon my method in writing it. Let them observe, in
what I borrow, if I have known how to choose what is proper to raise or
help the invention, which is always my own. For I make others say for
me, not before but after me, what, either for want of language or want of
sense, I cannot myself so well express. I do not number my borrowings,
I weigh them; and had I designed to raise their value by number, I had
made them twice as many; they are all, or within a very few, so famed and
ancient authors, that they seem, methinks, themselves sufficiently to
tell who they are, without giving me the trouble. In reasons,
comparisons, and arguments, if I transplant any into my own soil, and
confound them amongst my own, I purposely conceal the author, to awe the
temerity of those precipitate censors who fall upon all sorts of
writings, particularly the late ones, of men yet living; and in the
vulgar tongue which puts every one into a capacity of criticising and
which seem to convict the conception and design as vulgar also. I will
have them give Plutarch a fillip on my nose, and rail against Seneca when
they think they rail at me. I must shelter my own weakness under these
great reputations. I shall love any one that can unplume me, that is,
by clearness of understanding and judgment, and by the sole distinction
of the force and beauty of the discourse. For I who, for want of memory,
am at every turn at a loss to, pick them out of their national livery, am
yet wise enough to know, by the measure of my own abilities, that my soil
is incapable of producing any of those rich flowers that I there find
growing; and that all the fruits of my own growth are not worth any one
of them. For this, indeed, I hold myself responsible; if I get in my own
way; if there be any vanity and defect in my writings which I do not of
myself perceive nor can discern, when pointed out to me by another; for
many faults escape our eye, but the infirmity of judgment consists in not
being able to discern them, when by another laid open to us. Knowledge
and truth may be in us without judgment, and judgment also without them;
but the confession of ignorance is one of the finest and surest
testimonies of judgment that I know. I have no other officer to put my
writings in rank and file, but only fortune. As things come into my
head, I heap them one upon another; sometimes they advance in whole
bodies, sometimes in single file. I would that every one should see my
natural and ordinary pace, irregular as it is; I suffer myself to jog on
at my own rate. Neither are these subjects which a man is not permitted
to be ignorant in, or casually and at a venture, to discourse of. I
could wish to have a more perfect knowledge of things, but I will not buy
it so dear as it costs. My design is to pass over easily, and not
laboriously, the remainder of my life; there is nothing that I will
cudgel my brains about; no, not even knowledge, of what value soever.

I seek, in the reading of books, only to please myself by an honest
diversion; or, if I study, 'tis for no other science than what treats of
the knowledge of myself, and instructs me how to die and how to live

               "Has meus ad metas sudet oportet equus."

               ["My horse must work according to my step."
               —Propertius, iv.]

I do not bite my nails about the difficulties I meet with in my reading;
after a charge or two, I give them over. Should I insist upon them, I
should both lose myself and time; for I have an impatient understanding,
that must be satisfied at first: what I do not discern at once is by
persistence rendered more obscure. I do nothing without gaiety;
continuation and a too obstinate endeavour, darkens, stupefies, and tires
my judgment. My sight is confounded and dissipated with poring; I must
withdraw it, and refer my discovery to new attempts; just as, to judge
rightly of the lustre of scarlet, we are taught to pass the eye lightly
over it, and again to run it over at several sudden and reiterated
glances. If one book do not please me, I take another; and I never
meddle with any, but at such times as I am weary of doing nothing.
I care not much for new ones, because the old seem fuller and stronger;
neither do I converse much with Greek authors, because my judgment cannot
do its work with imperfect intelligence of the material.

Amongst books that are simply pleasant, of the moderns, Boccaccio's
Decameron, Rabelais, and the Basia of Johannes Secundus (if those may be
ranged under the title) are worth reading for amusement. As to the
Amadis, and such kind of stuff, they had not the credit of arresting even
my childhood. And I will, moreover, say, whether boldly or rashly, that
this old, heavy soul of mine is now no longer tickled with Ariosto, no,
nor with the worthy Ovid; his facility and inventions, with which I was
formerly so ravished, are now of no more relish, and I can hardly have
the patience to read them. I speak my opinion freely of all things, even
of those that, perhaps, exceed my capacity, and that I do not conceive to
be, in any wise, under my jurisdiction. And, accordingly, the judgment I
deliver, is to show the measure of my own sight, and not of the things I
make so bold to criticise. When I find myself disgusted with Plato's
'Axiochus', as with a work, with due respect to such an author be it
spoken, without force, my judgment does not believe itself: it is not so
arrogant as to oppose the authority of so many other famous judgments of
antiquity, which it considers as its tutors and masters, and with whom it
is rather content to err; in such a case, it condemns itself either to
stop at the outward bark, not being able to penetrate to the heart, or to
consider it by sortie false light. It is content with only securing
itself from trouble and disorder; as to its own weakness, it frankly
acknowledges and confesses it. It thinks it gives a just interpretation
to the appearances by its conceptions presented to it; but they are weak
and imperfect. Most of the fables of AEsop have diverse senses and
meanings, of which the mythologists chose some one that quadrates well to
the fable; but, for the most part, 'tis but the first face that presents
itself and is superficial only; there yet remain others more vivid,
essential, and profound, into which they have not been able to penetrate;
and just so 'tis with me.

But, to pursue the business of this essay, I have always thought that, in
poesy, Virgil, Lucretius, Catullus, and Horace by many degrees excel the
rest; and signally, Virgil in his Georgics, which I look upon as the most
accomplished piece in poetry; and in comparison of which a man may easily
discern that there are some places in his AEneids, to which the author
would have given a little more of the file, had he had leisure: and the
fifth book of his AEneids seems to me the most perfect. I also love
Lucan, and willingly read him, not so much for his style, as for his own
worth, and the truth and solidity of his opinions and judgments. As for
good Terence, the refined elegance and grace of the Latin tongue, I find
him admirable in his vivid representation of our manners and the
movements of the soul; our actions throw me at every turn upon him; and
I cannot read him so often that I do not still discover some new grace
and beauty. Such as lived near Virgil's time complained that some should
compare Lucretius to him. I am of opinion that the comparison is, in
truth, very unequal: a belief that, nevertheless, I have much ado to
assure myself in, when I come upon some excellent passage in Lucretius.
But if they were so angry at this comparison, what would they say to the
brutish and barbarous stupidity of those who, nowadays, compare him with
Ariosto? Would not Ariosto himself say?

               "O seclum insipiens et inficetum!"

          ["O stupid and tasteless age."—Catullus, xliii. 8.]

I think the ancients had more reason to be angry with those who compared
Plautus with Terence, though much nearer the mark, than Lucretius with
Virgil. It makes much for the estimation and preference of Terence, that
the father of Roman eloquence has him so often, and alone of his class,
in his mouth; and the opinion that the best judge of Roman poets
—[Horace, De Art. Poetica, 279.]—has passed upon his companion. I
have often observed that those of our times, who take upon them to write
comedies (in imitation of the Italians, who are happy enough in that way
of writing), take three or four plots of those of Plautus or Terence to
make one of their own, and , crowd five or six of Boccaccio's novels into
one single comedy. That which makes them so load themselves with matter
is the diffidence they have of being able to support themselves with
their own strength. They must find out something to lean to; and not
having of their own stuff wherewith to entertain us, they bring in the
story to supply the defect of language. It is quite otherwise with my
author; the elegance and perfection of his way of speaking makes us lose
the appetite of his plot; his refined grace and elegance of diction
everywhere occupy us: he is so pleasant throughout,

               "Liquidus, puroque simillimus amni,"

               ["Liquid, and likest the pure river."
               —Horace, Ep., ii. s, 120.]

and so possesses the soul with his graces that we forget those of his
fable. This same consideration carries me further: I observe that the
best of the ancient poets have avoided affectation and the hunting after,
not only fantastic Spanish and Petrarchic elevations, but even the softer
and more gentle touches, which are the ornament of all succeeding poesy.
And yet there is no good judgment that will condemn this in the ancients,
and that does not incomparably more admire the equal polish, and that
perpetual sweetness and flourishing beauty of Catullus's epigrams, than
all the stings with which Martial arms the tails of his. This is by the
same reason that I gave before, and as Martial says of himself:

               "Minus illi ingenio laborandum fuit,
               in cujus locum materia successerat:"

     ["He had the less for his wit to do that the subject itself
     supplied what was necessary."—Martial, praef. ad lib. viii.]

The first, without being moved, or without getting angry, make themselves
sufficiently felt; they have matter enough of laughter throughout, they
need not tickle themselves; the others have need of foreign assistance;
as they have the less wit they must have the more body; they mount on
horseback, because they are not able to stand on their own legs. As in
our balls, those mean fellows who teach to dance, not being able to
represent the presence and dignity of our noblesse, are fain to put
themselves forward with dangerous jumping, and other strange motions and
tumblers tricks; and the ladies are less put to it in dance; where there
are various coupees, changes, and quick motions of body, than in some
other of a more sedate kind, where they are only to move a natural pace,
and to represent their ordinary grace and presence. And so I have seen
good drolls, when in their own everyday clothes, and with the same face
they always wear, give us all the pleasure of their art, when their
apprentices, not yet arrived at such a pitch of perfection, are fain to
meal their faces, put themselves into ridiculous disguises, and make a
hundred grotesque faces to give us whereat to laugh. This conception of
mine is nowhere more demonstrable than in comparing the AEneid with
Orlando Furioso; of which we see the first, by dint of wing, flying in a
brave and lofty place, and always following his point: the latter,
fluttering and hopping from tale to tale, as from branch to branch, not
daring to trust his wings but in very short flights, and perching at
every turn, lest his breath and strength should fail.

                    "Excursusque breves tentat."

               ["And he attempts short excursions."
               —Virgil, Georgics, iv. 194.]

These, then, as to this sort of subjects, are the authors that best
please me.

As to what concerns my other reading, that mixes a little more profit
with the pleasure, and whence I learn how to marshal my opinions and
conditions, the books that serve me to this purpose are Plutarch, since
he has been translated into French, and Seneca. Both of these have this
notable convenience suited to my humour, that the knowledge I there seek
is discoursed in loose pieces, that do not require from me any trouble of
reading long, of which I am incapable. Such are the minor works of the
first and the epistles of the latter, which are the best and most
profiting of all their writings. 'Tis no great attempt to take one of
them in hand, and I give over at pleasure; for they have no sequence or
dependence upon one another. These authors, for the most part, concur in
useful and true opinions; and there is this parallel betwixt them, that
fortune brought them into the world about the same century: they were
both tutors to two Roman emperors: both sought out from foreign
countries: both rich and both great men. Their instruction is the cream
of philosophy, and delivered after a plain and pertinent manner.
Plutarch is more uniform and constant; Seneca more various and waving:
the last toiled and bent his whole strength to fortify virtue against
weakness, fear, and vicious appetites; the other seems more to slight
their power, and to disdain to alter his pace and to stand upon his
guard. Plutarch's opinions are Platonic, gentle, and accommodated to
civil society; those of the other are Stoical and Epicurean, more remote
from the common use, but, in my opinion, more individually commodious and
more firm. Seneca seems to lean a little to the tyranny of the emperors
of his time, and only seems; for I take it for certain that he speaks
against his judgment when he condemns the action of the generous
murderers of Caesar. Plutarch is frank throughout: Seneca abounds with
brisk touches and sallies; Plutarch with things that warm and move you
more; this contents and pays you better: he guides us, the other pushes
us on.

As to Cicero, his works that are most useful to my design are they that
treat of manners and rules of our life. But boldly to confess the truth
(for since one has passed the barriers of impudence, there is no bridle),
his way of writing appears to me negligent and uninviting: for his
prefaces, definitions, divisions, and etymologies take up the greatest
part of his work: whatever there is of life and marrow is smothered and
lost in the long preparation. When I have spent an hour in reading him,
which is a great deal for me, and try to recollect what I have thence
extracted of juice and substance, for the most part I find nothing but
wind; for he is not yet come to the arguments that serve to his purpose,
and to the reasons that properly help to form the knot I seek. For me,
who only desire to become more wise, not more learned or eloquent, these
logical and Aristotelian dispositions of parts are of no use. I would
have a man begin with the main proposition. I know well enough what
death and pleasure are; let no man give himself the trouble to anatomise
them to me. I look for good and solid reasons, at the first dash, to
instruct me how to stand their shock, for which purpose neither
grammatical subtleties nor the quaint contexture of words and
argumentations are of any use at all. I am for discourses that give the
first charge into the heart of the redoubt; his languish about the
subject; they are proper for the schools, for the bar, and for the
pulpit, where we have leisure to nod, and may awake, a quarter of an hour
after, time enough to find again the thread of the discourse. It is
necessary to speak after this manner to judges, whom a man has a design
to gain over, right or wrong, to children and common people, to whom a
man must say all, and see what will come of it. I would not have an
author make it his business to render me attentive: or that he should cry
out fifty times Oyez! as the heralds do. The Romans, in their religious
exercises, began with 'Hoc age' as we in ours do with 'Sursum corda';
these are so many words lost to me: I come already fully prepared from my
chamber. I need no allurement, no invitation, no sauce; I eat the meat
raw, so that, instead of whetting my appetite by these preparatives, they
tire and pall it. Will the licence of the time excuse my sacrilegious
boldness if I censure the dialogism of Plato himself as also dull and
heavy, too much stifling the matter, and lament so much time lost by a
man, who had so many better things to say, in so many long and needless
preliminary interlocutions? My ignorance will better excuse me in that
I understand not Greek so well as to discern the beauty of his language.
I generally choose books that use sciences, not such as only lead to
them. The two first, and Pliny, and their like, have nothing of this Hoc
age; they will have to do with men already instructed; or if they have,
'tis a substantial Hoc age; and that has a body by itself. I also
delight in reading the Epistles to Atticus, not only because they contain
a great deal of the history and affairs of his time, but much more
because I therein discover much of his own private humours; for I have a
singular curiosity, as I have said elsewhere, to pry into the souls and
the natural and true opinions of the authors, with whom I converse. A
man may indeed judge of their parts, but not of their manners nor of
themselves, by the writings they exhibit upon the theatre of the world.
I have a thousand times lamented the loss of the treatise Brutus wrote
upon Virtue, for it is well to learn the theory from those who best know
the practice.

But seeing the matter preached and the preacher are different things,
I would as willingly see Brutus in Plutarch, as in a book of his own.
I would rather choose to be certainly informed of the conference he had
in his tent with some particular friends of his the night before a
battle, than of the harangue he made the next day to his army; and of
what he did in his closet and his chamber, than what he did in the public
square and in the senate. As to Cicero, I am of the common opinion that,
learning excepted, he had no great natural excellence. He was a good
citizen, of an affable nature, as all fat, heavy men, such as he was,
usually are; but given to ease, and had, in truth, a mighty share of
vanity and ambition. Neither do I know how to excuse him for thinking
his poetry fit to be published; 'tis no great imperfection to make ill
verses, but it is an imperfection not to be able to judge how unworthy
his verses were of the glory of his name. For what concerns his
eloquence, that is totally out of all comparison, and I believe it will
never be equalled. The younger Cicero, who resembled his father in
nothing but in name, whilst commanding in Asia, had several strangers one
day at his table, and, amongst the rest, Cestius seated at the lower end,
as men often intrude to the open tables of the great. Cicero asked one
of his people who that man was, who presently told him his name; but he,
as one who had his thoughts taken up with something else, and who had
forgotten the answer made him, asking three or four times, over and over
again; the same question, the fellow, to deliver himself from so many
answers and to make him know him by some particular circumstance; "'tis
that Cestius," said he, "of whom it was told you, that he makes no great
account of your father's eloquence in comparison of his own." At which
Cicero, being suddenly nettled, commanded poor Cestius presently to be
seized, and caused him to be very well whipped in his own presence; a
very discourteous entertainer! Yet even amongst those, who, all things
considered, have reputed his, eloquence incomparable, there have been
some, who have not stuck to observe some faults in it: as that great
Brutus his friend, for example, who said 'twas a broken and feeble
eloquence, 'fyactam et elumbem'. The orators also, nearest to the age
wherein he lived, reprehended in him the care he had of a certain long
cadence in his periods, and particularly took notice of these words,
'esse videatur', which he there so often makes use of. For my part, I
more approve of a shorter style, and that comes more roundly off. He
does, though, sometimes shuffle his parts more briskly together, but 'tis
very seldom. I have myself taken notice of this one passage:

              "Ego vero me minus diu senem mallem,
               quam esse senem, antequam essem."

     ["I had rather be old a brief time, than be old before old age.
     —"Cicero, De Senect., c. 10.]

The historians are my right ball, for they are pleasant and easy, and
where man, in general, the knowledge of whom I hunt after, appears more
vividly and entire than anywhere else:

     [The easiest of my amusements, the right ball at tennis being that
     which coming to the player from the right hand, is much easier
     played with.—Coste.]

the variety and truth of his internal qualities, in gross and piecemeal,
the diversity of means by which he is united and knit, and the accidents
that threaten him. Now those that write lives, by reason they insist
more upon counsels than events, more upon what sallies from within, than
upon what happens without, are the most proper for my reading; and,
therefore, above all others, Plutarch is the man for me. I am very sorry
we have not a dozen Laertii,—[Diogenes Laertius, who wrote the Lives of
the Philosophers]—or that he was not further extended; for I am equally
curious to know the lives and fortunes of these great instructors of the
world, as to know the diversities of their doctrines and opinions. In
this kind of study of histories, a man must tumble over, without
distinction, all sorts of authors, old and new, French or foreign, there
to know the things of which they variously treat. But Caesar, in my
opinion, particularly deserves to be studied, not for the knowledge of
the history only, but for himself, so great an excellence and perfection
he has above all the rest, though Sallust be one of the number. In
earnest, I read this author with more reverence and respect than is
usually allowed to human writings; one while considering him in his
person, by his actions and miraculous greatness, and another in the
purity and inimitable polish of his language, wherein he not only excels
all other historians, as Cicero confesses, but, peradventure, even
Cicero himself; speaking of his enemies with so much sincerity in his
judgment, that, the false colours with which he strives to palliate his
evil cause, and the ordure of his pestilent ambition excepted, I think
there is no fault to be objected against him, saving this, that he speaks
too sparingly of himself, seeing so many great things could not have been
performed under his conduct, but that his own personal acts must
necessarily have had a greater share in them than he attributes to them.

I love historians, whether of the simple sort, or of the higher order.
The simple, who have nothing of their own to mix with it, and who only
make it their business to collect all that comes to their knowledge, and
faithfully to record all things, without choice or discrimination, leave
to us the entire judgment of discerning the truth. Such, for example,
amongst others, is honest Froissart, who has proceeded in his undertaking
with so frank a plainness that, having committed an error, he is not
ashamed to confess and correct it in the place where the finger has been
laid, and who represents to us even the variety of rumours that were then
spread abroad, and the different reports that were made to him; 'tis the
naked and inform matter of history, and of which every one may make his
profit, according to his understanding. The more excellent sort of
historians have judgment to pick out what is most worthy to be known;
and, of two reports, to examine which is the most likely to be true: from
the condition of princes and their humours, they conclude their counsels,
and attribute to them words proper for the occasion; such have title to
assume the authority of regulating our belief to what they themselves
believe; but certainly, this privilege belongs to very few. For the
middle sort of historians, of which the most part are, they spoil all;
they will chew our meat for us; they take upon them to judge of, and
consequently, to incline the history to their own fancy; for if the
judgment lean to one side, a man cannot avoid wresting and writhing his
narrative to that bias; they undertake to select things worthy to be
known, and yet often conceal from us such a word, such a private action,
as would much better instruct us; omit, as incredible, such things as
they do not understand, and peradventure some, because they cannot
express good French or Latin. Let them display their eloquence and
intelligence, and judge according to their own fancy: but let them,
withal, leave us something to judge of after them, and neither alter nor
disguise, by their abridgments and at their own choice, anything of the
substance of the matter, but deliver it to us pure and entire in all its

For the most part, and especially in these latter ages, persons are
culled out for this work from amongst the common people, upon the sole
consideration of well-speaking, as if we were to learn grammar from them;
and the men so chosen have fair reason, being hired for no other end and
pretending to nothing but babble, not to be very solicitous of any part
but that, and so, with a fine jingle of words, prepare us a pretty
contexture of reports they pick up in the streets. The only good
histories are those that have been written themselves who held command in
the affairs whereof they write, or who participated in the conduct of
them, or, at least, who have had the conduct of others of the same
nature. Such are almost all the Greek and Roman histories: for, several
eye-witnesses having written of the same subject, in the time when
grandeur and learning commonly met in the same person, if there happen to
be an error, it must of necessity be a very slight one, and upon a very
doubtful incident. What can a man expect from a physician who writes of
war, or from a mere scholar, treating of the designs of princes? If we
could take notice how scrupulous the Romans were in this, there would
need but this example: Asinius Pollio found in the histories of Caesar
himself something misreported, a mistake occasioned; either by reason he
could not have his eye in all parts of his army at once and had given
credit to some individual persons who had not delivered him a very true
account; or else, for not having had too perfect notice given him by his
lieutenants of what they had done in his absence.—[Suetonius, Life of
Caesar, c. 56.]—By which we may see, whether the inquisition after
truth be not very delicate, when a man cannot believe the report of a
battle from the knowledge of him who there commanded, nor from the
soldiers who were engaged in it, unless, after the method of a judicial
inquiry, the witnesses be confronted and objections considered upon the
proof of the least detail of every incident. In good earnest the
knowledge we have of our own affairs, is much more obscure: but that has
been sufficiently handled by Bodin, and according to my own sentiment
—[In the work by jean Bodin, entitled "Methodus ad facilem historiarum
cognitionem." 1566.]—A little to aid the weakness of my memory (so
extreme that it has happened to me more than once, to take books again
into my hand as new and unseen, that I had carefully read over a few
years before, and scribbled with my notes) I have adopted a custom of
late, to note at the end of every book (that is, of those I never intend
to read again) the time when I made an end on't, and the judgment I had
made of it, to the end that this might, at least, represent to me the
character and general idea I had conceived of the author in reading it;
and I will here transcribe some of those annotations.

I wrote this, some ten years ago, in my Guicciardini (of what language
soever my books speak to me in, I always speak to them in my own): "He is
a diligent historiographer, from whom, in my opinion, a man may learn the
truth of the affairs of his time, as exactly as from any other; in the
most of which he was himself also a personal actor, and in honourable
command. There is no appearance that he disguised anything, either upon
the account of hatred, favour, or vanity; of which the free censures he
passes upon the great ones, and particularly those by whom he was
advanced and employed in commands of great trust and honour, as Pope
Clement VII., give ample testimony. As to that part which he thinks
himself the best at, namely, his digressions and discourses, he has
indeed some very good, and enriched with fine features; but he is too
fond of them: for, to leave nothing unsaid, having a subject so full,
ample, almost infinite, he degenerates into pedantry and smacks a little
of scholastic prattle. I have also observed this in him, that of so many
souls and so many effects, so many motives and so many counsels as he
judges, he never attributes any one to virtue, religion, or conscience,
as if all these were utterly extinct in the world: and of all the
actions, how brave soever in outward show they appear in themselves, he
always refers the cause and motive to some vicious occasion or some
prospect of profit. It is impossible to imagine but that, amongst such
an infinite number of actions as he makes mention of, there must be some
one produced by the way of honest reason. No corruption could so
universally have infected men that some one would not escape the
contagion which makes me suspect that his own taste was vicious, whence
it might happen that he judged other men by himself."

In my Philip de Commines there is this written: "You will here find the
language sweet and delightful, of a natural simplicity, the narration
pure, with the good faith of the author conspicuous therein; free from
vanity, when speaking of himself, and from affection or envy, when
speaking of others: his discourses and exhortations rather accompanied
with zeal and truth, than with any exquisite sufficiency; and,
throughout, authority and gravity, which bespeak him a man of good
extraction, and brought up in great affairs."

Upon the Memoirs of Monsieur du Bellay I find this: "'Tis always pleasant
to read things written by those that have experienced how they ought to
be carried on; but withal, it cannot be denied but there is a manifest
decadence in these two lords—[Martin du Bellay and Guillaume de Langey,
brothers, who jointly wrote the Memoirs.]—from the freedom and liberty
of writing that shine in the elder historians, such as the Sire de
Joinville, the familiar companion of St. Louis; Eginhard, chancellor to
Charlemagne; and of later date, Philip de Commines. What we have here is
rather an apology for King Francis, against the Emperor Charles V., than
history. I will not believe that they have falsified anything, as to
matter of fact; but they make a common practice of twisting the judgment
of events, very often contrary to reason, to our advantage, and of
omitting whatsoever is ticklish to be handled in the life of their
master; witness the proceedings of Messieurs de Montmorency and de Biron,
which are here omitted: nay, so much as the very name of Madame
d'Estampes is not here to be found. Secret actions an historian may
conceal; but to pass over in silence what all the world knows and things
that have drawn after them public and such high consequences, is an
inexcusable defect. In fine, whoever has a mind to have a perfect
knowledge of King Francis and the events of his reign, let him seek it
elsewhere, if my advice may prevail. The only profit a man can reap from
these Memoirs is in the special narrative of battles and other exploits
of war wherein these gentlemen were personally engaged; in some words and
private actions of the princes of their time, and in the treaties and
negotiations carried on by the Seigneur de Langey, where there are
everywhere things worthy to be known, and discourses above the vulgar