Page:Essays Vol 1 (Ives, 1925).pdf/213

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Examples teach us, both in the case of military concerns and in all others like them, that the study of letters more softens and weakens men’s spirits than strengthens them and fits them for the fight.[1] The state which appears at the present time to be the most powerful in the world is that of the Turks, a people brought up to prize arms and to despise letters in equal measure. I find Rome to have been more valiant before she became learned.[2] In our day the most warlike nations are the most rude and ignorant: the Scythians, the Parthians, Tamburlaine, are examples that prove this. When the Goths ravaged Greece, what saved all the libraries from being burned was that one of the invaders spread abroad the idea that they had better leave that sort of article untouched to their enemies, as likely to divert them from military training and absorb them in sedentary and lazy pursuits. When our King Charles the Eighth found himself master of the kingdom of Naples and of a large part of Tuscany, almost without drawing the sword from the scabbard, the noblemen of his suite ascribed this unhoped-for facility of conquest to the fact that the princes and nobles of Italy were more occupied in making themselves sharp-witted and learned, than sturdy and warlike.



This Essay, I think, is one of the first in which Montaigne really tried the force of his own wing, when he first left the nest where he had been “brooded” by Plutarch and Seneca and the other ancient authors, and where the historians of his own day were his companions. Now, no longer merely hopping from twig to twig, he struck out into the open air and under the wide sky with bolder flight.

Several indications in its pages make it certain that it was written in 1579 or 1580, that is, seven or eight years later than most of the preceding Essays. And this circumstance gives a peculiar touch and emphasis to his summing up, in the first pages, of his own capacities and abilities.

  1. Les fermit et aguerrit.
  2. Cf. infra, Book II, chap. 12: La vieille Rome me semble avoir bien porté de plus grande valeur, et pour la paix et pour la guerre, que cette Rome sçavante qui se ruyna soy-mesme.