ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE
blow; but we have still to move the fingers). (a) We learn to say: “Cicero so says; such is Plato’s character; these are Aristotle’s very words.” But what do we ourselves say? what is our judgement? A parrot could speak as wisely. This sort of thing reminds me of that wealthy Roman who had taken pains to find, at very great expense, men competent in all branches of knowledge, whom he kept constantly about him, so that when, among his friends, the occasion should arise to talk of one thing or another, they should come to his assistance, and should be quite ready to furnish him, this one with a speech, that one with a line of Homer — each according to his studies; and he believed this learning to be his own, because it was in the heads of his attendants; and as those also do, whose learning resides in their costly libraries. (c) I am acquainted with a man who, when I ask him what he knows, asks me for a book, that he may show me; and he would not venture to tell me that he had the itch on his rump, without first going to the lexicon, to study about the itch and about the rump.
(a) We take into our keeping the opinions and knowledge of others, and that is all; we should make them ours. We much resemble the man who, having need of fire, should go to his neighbour in search of it, and, having found a fine big blaze there, should stay to warm himself, quite forgetting to carry any home. What does it avail us to have a stomach full of food, if it does not digest, if it does not become transformed within us, if it does not increase our size and strength? Do we think that Lucullus, whom letters made and fashioned into so great a captain, without experience,
- This is Montaigne’s own translation: M. Villey suggests that the meaning is: “To blow is easy enough, but we have to move the fingers to play on the bag-pipe.” — It is difficult to see the connection between this whole interpolated passage and the subject under discussion.
- See Seneca, Epistle 33.7.
- Calvisius Sabinus. See Seneca, Epistle 27.5.
- Selon son gibier.
- That is, as those also remind me.
- Lexicon. This word had not been used before Montaigne except by Ronsard; it is in no French dictionary.
- See Plutarch, On Hearing.
- See Cicero, Academic Questions, II, 1. In 1580-1588, this passage read: si grand capitaine et si advisé, sans l’essay et sans experience.