The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter VIII

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The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter VIII. Of the affection of fathers to their children.

Chapter VIII. Of the affection of fathers to their children.[edit]

To Madame D'Estissac.

MADAM, if the strangeness and novelty of my subject, which are wont to
give value to things, do not save me, I shall never come off with honour
from this foolish attempt: but 'tis so fantastic, and carries a face so
unlike the common use, that this, peradventure, may make it pass. 'Tis a
melancholic humour, and consequently a humour very much an enemy to my
natural complexion, engendered by the pensiveness of the solitude into
which for some years past I have retired myself, that first put into
my head this idle fancy of writing. Wherein, finding myself totally
unprovided and empty of other matter, I presented myself to myself for
argument and subject. 'Tis the only book in the world of its kind, and
of a wild and extravagant design. There is nothing worth remark in this
affair but that extravagancy: for in a subject so vain and frivolous, the
best workman in the world could not have given it a form fit to recommend
it to any manner of esteem.

Now, madam, having to draw my own picture to the life, I had omitted one
important feature, had I not therein represented the honour I have ever
had for you and your merits; which I have purposely chosen to say in the
beginning of this chapter, by reason that amongst the many other
excellent qualities you are mistress of, that of the tender love you have
manifested to your children, is seated in one of the highest places.
Whoever knows at what age Monsieur D'Estissac, your husband, left you a
widow, the great and honourable matches that have since been offered to
you, as many as to any lady of your condition in France, the constancy
and steadiness wherewith, for so many years, you have sustained so many
sharp difficulties, the burden and conduct of affairs, which have
persecuted you in every corner of the kingdom, and are not yet weary of
tormenting you, and the happy direction you have given to all these, by
your sole prudence or good fortune, will easily conclude with me that we
have not so vivid an example as yours of maternal affection in our times.
I praise God, madam, that it has been so well employed; for the great
hopes Monsieur D'Estissac, your son, gives of himself, render sufficient
assurance that when he comes of age you will reap from him all the
obedience and gratitude of a very good man. But, forasmuch as by reason
of his tender years, he has not been capable of taking notice of those
offices of extremest value he has in so great number received from you,
I will, if these papers shall one day happen to fall into his hands, when
I shall neither have mouth nor speech left to deliver it to him, that he
shall receive from me a true account of those things, which shall be more
effectually manifested to him by their own effects, by which he will
understand that there is not a gentleman in France who stands more
indebted to a mother's care; and that he cannot, in the future, give a
better nor more certain testimony of his own worth and virtue than by
acknowledging you for that excellent mother you are.

If there be any law truly natural, that is to say, any instinct that is
seen universally and perpetually imprinted in both beasts and men (which
is not without controversy), I can say, that in my opinion, next to the
care every animal has of its own preservation, and to avoid that which
may hurt him, the affection that the begetter bears to his offspring
holds the second place in this rank. And seeing that nature appears to
have recommended it to us, having regard to the extension and progression
of the successive pieces of this machine of hers, 'tis no wonder if, on
the contrary, that of children towards their parents is not so great.
To which we may add this other Aristotelian consideration, that he who
confers a benefit on any one, loves him better than he is beloved by him
again: that he to whom is owing, loves better than he who owes; and that
every artificer is fonder of his work, than, if that work had sense, it
would be of him; by reason that it is dear to us to be, and to be
consists in movement and action; therefore every one has in some sort a
being in his work. He who confers a benefit exercises a fine and honest
action; he who receives it exercises the useful only. Now the useful is
much less lovable than the honest; the honest is stable and permanent,
supplying him who has done it with a continual gratification. The useful
loses itself, easily slides away, and the memory of it is neither so
fresh nor so pleasing. Those things are dearest to us that have cost us
most, and giving is more chargeable than receiving.

Since it has pleased God to endue us with some capacity of reason, to the
end we may not, like brutes, be servilely subject and enslaved to the
laws common to both, but that we should by judgment and a voluntary
liberty apply ourselves to them, we ought, indeed, something to yield to
the simple authority of nature, but not suffer ourselves to be
tyrannically hurried away and transported by her; reason alone should
have the conduct of our inclinations. I, for my part, have a strange
disgust for those propensions that are started in us without the
mediation and direction of the judgment, as, upon the subject I am
speaking of, I cannot entertain that passion of dandling and caressing
infants scarcely born, having as yet neither motion of soul nor shape of
body distinguishable, by which they can render themselves amiable, and
have not willingly suffered them to be nursed near me. A true and
regular affection ought to spring and increase with the knowledge they
give us of themselves, and then, if they are worthy of it, the natural
propension walking hand in hand with reason, to cherish them with a truly
paternal love; and so to judge, also, if they be otherwise, still
rendering ourselves to reason, notwithstanding the inclination of nature.
'Tis oft-times quite otherwise; and, most commonly, we find ourselves
more taken with the running up and down, the games, and puerile
simplicities of our children, than we do, afterwards, with their most
complete actions; as if we had loved them for our sport, like monkeys,
and not as men; and some there are, who are very liberal in buying them
balls to play withal, who are very close-handed for the least necessary
expense when they come to age. Nay, it looks as if the jealousy of
seeing them appear in and enjoy the world when we are about to leave it,
rendered us more niggardly and stingy towards them; it vexes us that they
tread upon our heels, as if to solicit us to go out; if this were to be
feared, since the order of things will have it so that they cannot, to
speak the truth, be nor live, but at the expense of our being and life,
we should never meddle with being fathers at all.

For my part, I think it cruelty and injustice not to receive them into
the share and society of our goods, and not to make them partakers in the
intelligence of our domestic affairs when they are capable, and not to
lessen and contract our own expenses to make the more room for theirs,
seeing we beget them to that effect. 'Tis unjust that an old fellow,
broken and half dead, should alone, in a corner of the chimney, enjoy the
money that would suffice for the maintenance and advancement of many
children, and suffer them, in the meantime, to lose their' best years for
want of means to advance themselves in the public service and the
knowledge of men. A man by this course drives them to despair, and to
seek out by any means, how unjust or dishonourable soever, to provide for
their own support: as I have, in my time, seen several young men of good
extraction so addicted to stealing, that no correction could cure them of
it. I know one of a very good family, to whom, at the request of a
brother of his, a very honest and brave gentleman, I once spoke on this
account, who made answer, and confessed to me roundly, that he had been
put upon this paltry practice by the severity and avarice of his father;
but that he was now so accustomed to it he could not leave it off. And,
at that very time, he was trapped stealing a lady's rings, having come
into her chamber, as she was dressing with several others. He put me in
mind of a story I had heard of another gentleman, so perfect and
accomplished in this fine trade in his youth, that, after he came to his
estate and resolved to give it over, he could not hold his hands,
nevertheless, if he passed by a shop where he saw anything he liked, from
catching it up, though it put him to the shame of sending afterwards to
pay for it. And I have myself seen several so habituated to this quality
that even amongst their comrades they could not forbear filching, though
with intent to restore what they had taken. I am a Gascon, and yet there
is no vice I so little understand as that; I hate it something more by
disposition than I condemn it by reason; I do not so much as desire
anything of another man's. This province of ours is, in plain truth, a
little more decried than the other parts of the kingdom; and yet we have
several times seen, in our times, men of good families of other
provinces, in the hands of justice, convicted of abominable thefts. I
fear this vice is, in some sort, to be attributed to the fore-mentioned
vice of the fathers.

And if a man should tell me, as a lord of very good understanding once
did, that "he hoarded up wealth, not to extract any other fruit and use
from his parsimony, but to make himself honoured and sought after by his
relations; and that age having deprived him of all other power, it was
the only remaining remedy to maintain his authority in his family, and to
keep him from being neglected and despised by all around," in truth, not
only old age, but all other imbecility, according to Aristotle, is the
promoter of avarice; that is something, but it is physic for a disease
that a man should prevent the birth of. A father is very miserable who
has no other hold on his children's affection than the need they have of
his assistance, if that can be called affection; he must render himself
worthy to be respected by his virtue and wisdom, and beloved by his
kindness and the sweetness of his manners; even the very ashes of a rich
matter have their value; and we are wont to have the bones and relics of
worthy men in regard and reverence. No old age can be so decrepid in a
man who has passed his life in honour, but it must be venerable,
especially to his children, whose soul he must have trained up to their
duty by reason, not by necessity and the need they have of him, nor by
harshness and compulsion:

         "Et errat longe mea quidem sententia
          Qui imperium credat esse gravius, aut stabilius,
          Vi quod fit, quam illud, quod amicitia adjungitur."

     ["He wanders far from the truth, in my opinion, who thinks that
     government more absolute and durable which is acquired by force than
     that which is attached to friendship."—Terence, Adelph., i. I, 40.]

I condemn all violence in the education of a tender soul that is designed
for honour and liberty. There is I know not what of servile in rigour
and constraint; and I am of opinion that what is not to be done by
reason, prudence, and address, is never to be affected by force. I
myself was brought up after that manner; and they tell me that in all my
first age I never felt the rod but twice, and then very slightly. I
practised the same method with my children, who all of them died at
nurse, except Leonora, my only daughter, and who arrived to the age of
five years and upward without other correction for her childish faults
(her mother's indulgence easily concurring) than words only, and those
very gentle; in which kind of proceeding, though my end and expectation
should be both frustrated, there are other causes enough to lay the fault
on without blaming my discipline, which I know to be natural and just,
and I should, in this, have yet been more religious towards the males, as
less born to subjection and more free; and I should have made it my
business to fill their hearts with ingenuousness and freedom. I have
never observed other effects of whipping than to render boys more
cowardly, or more wilfully obstinate.

Do we desire to be beloved of our children? Will we remove from them all
occasion of wishing our death though no occasion of so horrid a wish can
either be just or excusable?

                    "Nullum scelus rationem habet."

               ["No wickedness has reason."—Livy, xxviii. 28]

Let us reasonably accommodate their lives with what is in our power. In
order to this, we should not marry so young that our age shall in a
manner be confounded with theirs; for this inconvenience plunges us into
many very great difficulties, and especially the gentry of the nation,
who are of a condition wherein they have little to do, and who live upon
their rents only: for elsewhere, with people who live by their labour,
the plurality and company of children is an increase to the common stock;
they are so many new tools and instruments wherewith to grow rich.

I married at three-and-thirty years of age, and concur in the opinion of
thirty-five, which is said to be that of Aristotle. Plato will have
nobody marry before thirty; but he has reason to laugh at those who
undertook the work of marriage after five-and-fifty, and condemns their
offspring as unworthy of aliment and life. Thales gave the truest
limits, who, young and being importuned by his mother to marry, answered,
"That it was too soon," and, being grown into years and urged again,
"That it was too late." A man must deny opportunity to every inopportune
action. The ancient Gauls' looked upon it as a very horrid thing for a
man to have society with a woman before he was twenty years of age, and
strictly recommended to the men who designed themselves for war the
keeping their virginity till well grown in years, forasmuch as courage is
abated and diverted by intercourse with women:

              "Ma, or congiunto a giovinetta sposa,
               E lieto omai de' figli, era invilito
               Negli affetti di padre et di marito."

     ["Now, married to a young wife and happy in children, he was
     demoralised by his love as father and husband."
     —Tasso, Gierus., x. 39.]

Muley Hassam, king of Tunis, he whom the Emperor Charles V. restored to
his kingdom, reproached the memory of his father Mahomet with the
frequentation of women, styling him loose, effeminate, and a getter of
children.—[Of whom he had thirty-four.]—The Greek history observes of
Iccus the Tarentine, of Chryso, Astyllus, Diopompos, and others, that to
keep their bodies in order for the Olympic games and such like exercises,
they denied themselves during that preparation all commerce with Venus.
In a certain country of the Spanish Indies men were not permitted to
marry till after forty age, and yet the girls were allowed at ten.
'Tis not time for a gentleman of thirty years old to give place to his
son who is twenty; he is himself in a condition to serve both in the
expeditions of war and in the court of his prince; has need of all his
appurtenances; and yet, doubtless, he ought to surrender a share, but not
so great an one as to forget himself for others; and for such an one the
answer that fathers have ordinarily in their mouths, "I will not put off
my clothes, before I go to bed," serves well.

But a father worn out with age and infirmities, and deprived by weakness
and want of health of the common society of men, wrongs himself and his
to amass a great heap of treasure. He has lived long enough, if he be
wise, to have a mind to strip himself to go to bed, not to his very
shirt, I confess, but to that and a good, warm dressing-gown; the
remaining pomps, of which he has no further use, he ought voluntarily to
surrender to those, to whom by the order of nature they belong. 'Tis
reason he should refer the use of those things to them, seeing that
nature has reduced him to such a state that he cannot enjoy them himself;
otherwise there is doubtless malice and envy in the case. The greatest
act of the Emperor Charles V. was that when, in imitation of some of the
ancients of his own quality, confessing it but reason to strip ourselves
when our clothes encumber and grow too heavy for us, and to lie down when
our legs begin to fail us, he resigned his possessions, grandeur, and
power to his son, when he found himself failing in vigour, and steadiness
for the conduct of his affairs suitable with the glory he had therein

          "Solve senescentem mature sanus equum, ne
          Peccet ad extremum ridendus, et ilia ducat."

     ["Dismiss the old horse in good time, lest, failing in the lists,
     the spectators laugh."—Horace, Epist., i., I, 8.]

This fault of not perceiving betimes and of not being sensible of the
feebleness and extreme alteration that age naturally brings both upon
body and mind, which, in my opinion, is equal, if indeed the soul has not
more than half, has lost the reputation of most of the great men in the
world. I have known in my time, and been intimately acquainted with
persons of great authority, whom one might easily discern marvellously
lapsed from the sufficiency I knew they were once endued with, by the
reputation they had acquired in their former years, whom I could
heartily, for their own sakes, have wished at home at their ease,
discharged of their public or military employments, which were now grown
too heavy for their shoulders. I have formerly been very familiar in a
gentleman's house, a widower and very old, though healthy and cheerful
enough: this gentleman had several daughters to marry and a son already
of ripe age, which brought upon him many visitors, and a great expense,
neither of which well pleased him, not only out of consideration of
frugality, but yet more for having, by reason of his age, entered into a
course of life far differing from ours. I told him one day a little
boldly, as I used to do, that he would do better to give us younger folk
room, and to leave his principal house (for he had but that well placed
and furnished) to his son, and himself retire to an estate he had hard
by, where nobody would trouble his repose, seeing he could not otherwise
avoid being importuned by us, the condition of his children considered.
He took my advice afterwards, and found an advantage in so doing.

I do not mean that a man should so instal them as not to reserve to
himself a liberty to retract; I, who am now arrived to the age wherein
such things are fit to be done, would resign to them the enjoyment of my
house and goods, but with a power of revocation if they should give me
cause to alter my mind; I would leave to them the use, that being no
longer convenient for me; and, of the general authority and power over
all, would reserve as much as—I thought good to myself; having always
held that it must needs be a great satisfaction to an aged father himself
to put his children into the way of governing his affairs, and to have
power during his own life to control their behaviour, supplying them with
instruction and advice from his own experience, and himself to transfer
the ancient honour and order of his house into the hands of those who are
to succeed him, and by that means to satisfy himself as to the hopes he
may conceive of their future conduct. And in order to this I would not
avoid their company; I would observe them near at hand, and partake,
according to the condition of my age, of their feasts and jollities.
If I did not live absolutely amongst them, which I could not do without
annoying them and their friends, by reason of the morosity of my age and
the restlessness of my infirmities, and without violating also the rules
and order of living I should then have set down to myself, I would, at
least, live near them in some retired part of my house, not the best in
show, but the most commodious. Nor as I saw some years ago, a dean of
St. Hilary of Poitiers given up to such a solitude, that at the time I
came into his chamber it had been two and twenty years that he had not
stepped one foot out of it, and yet had all his motions free and easy,
and was in good health, saving a cold that fell upon his lungs; he would,
hardly once in a week, suffer any one to come in to see him; he always
kept himself shut up in his chamber alone, except that a servant brought
him, once a day, something to eat, and did then but just come in and go
out again. His employment was to walk up and down, and read some book,
for he was a bit of a scholar; but, as to the rest, obstinately bent to
die in this retirement, as he soon after did. I would endeavour by
pleasant conversation to create in my children a warm and unfeigned
friendship and good-will towards me, which in well-descended natures is
not hard to do; for if they be furious brutes, of which this age of ours
produces thousands, we are then to hate and avoid them as such.

I am angry at the custom of forbidding children to call their father by
the name of father, and to enjoin them another, as more full of respect
and reverence, as if nature had not sufficiently provided for our
authority. We call Almighty God Father, and disdain to have our children
call us so; I have reformed this error in my family.—[As did Henry IV.
of France]—And 'tis also folly and injustice to deprive children, when
grown up, of familiarity with their father, and to carry a scornful and
austere countenance toward them, thinking by that to keep them in awe and
obedience; for it is a very idle farce that, instead of producing the
effect designed, renders fathers distasteful, and, which is worse,
ridiculous to their own children. They have youth and vigour in
possession, and consequently the breath and favour of the world; and
therefore receive these fierce and tyrannical looks—mere scarecrows—
of a man without blood, either in his heart or veins, with mockery and
contempt. Though I could make myself feared, I had yet much rather make
myself beloved: there are so many sorts of defects in old age, so much
imbecility, and it is so liable to contempt, that the best acquisition a
man can make is the kindness and affection of his own family; command and
fear are no longer his weapons. Such an one I have known who, having
been very imperious in his youth, when he came to be old, though he might
have lived at his full ease, would ever strike, rant, swear, and curse:
the most violent householder in France: fretting himself with unnecessary
suspicion and vigilance. And all this rumble and clutter but to make his
family cheat him the more; of his barn, his kitchen, cellar, nay, and his
very purse too, others had the greatest use and share, whilst he keeps
his keys in his pocket much more carefully than his eyes. Whilst he hugs
himself with the pitiful frugality of a niggard table, everything goes to
rack and ruin in every corner of his house, in play, drink, all sorts of
profusion, making sport in their junkets with his vain anger and
fruitless parsimony. Every one is a sentinel against him, and if, by
accident, any wretched fellow that serves him is of another humour, and
will not join with the rest, he is presently rendered suspected to him,
a bait that old age very easily bites at of itself. How often has this
gentleman boasted to me in how great awe he kept his family, and how
exact an obedience and reverence they paid him! How clearly he saw into
his own affairs!

                    "Ille solos nescit omnia."

          ["He alone is ignorant of all that is passing."
          —Terence, Adelph., iv. 2, 9.]

I do not know any one that can muster more parts, both natural and
acquired, proper to maintain dominion, than he; yet he is fallen from it
like a child. For this reason it is that I have picked out him, amongst
several others that I know of the same humour, for the greatest example.
It were matter for a question in the schools, whether he is better thus
or otherwise. In his presence, all submit to and bow to him, and give so
much way to his vanity that nobody ever resists him; he has his fill of
assents, of seeming fear, submission, and respect. Does he turn away a
servant? he packs up his bundle, and is gone; but 'tis no further than
just out of his sight: the steps of old age are so slow, the senses so
troubled, that he will live and do his old office in the same house a
year together without being perceived.

And after a fit interval of time, letters are pretended to come from a
great way off; very humble, suppliant; and full of promises of amendment,
by virtue of which he is again received into favour. Does Monsieur make
any bargain, or prepare any despatch that does not please? 'tis
suppressed, and causes afterwards forged to excuse the want of execution
in the one or answer in the other. No letters being first brought to
him, he never sees any but those that shall seem fit for his knowledge.
If by accident they fall first into his own hand, being used to trust
somebody to read them to him; he reads extempore what he thinks fit, and
often makes such a one ask him pardon who abuses and rails at him in his
letter. In short, he sees nothing, but by an image prepared and designed
beforehand and the most satisfactory they can invent, not to rouse and
awaken his ill humour and choler. I have seen, under various aspects,
enough of these modes of domestic government, long-enduring, constant, to
the like effect.

Women are evermore addicted to cross their husbands: they lay hold with
both hands on all occasions to contradict and oppose them; the first
excuse serves for a plenary justification. I have seen one who robbed
her husband wholesale, that, as she told her confessor, she might
distribute the more liberal alms. Let who will trust to that religious
dispensation. No management of affairs seems to them of sufficient
dignity, if proceeding from the husband's assent; they must usurp it
either by insolence or cunning, and always injuriously, or else it has
not the grace and authority they desire. When, as in the case I am
speaking of, 'tis against a poor old man and for the children, then they
make use of this title to serve their passion with glory; and, as for a
common service, easily cabal, and combine against his government and
dominion. If they be males grown up in full and flourishing health, they
presently corrupt, either by force or favour, steward, receivers, and all
the rout. Such as have neither wife nor son do not so easily fall into
this misfortune; but withal more cruelly and unworthily. Cato the elder
in his time said: So many servants, so many enemies; consider, then,
whether according to the vast difference between the purity of the age he
lived in and the corruption of this of ours, he does not seem to shew us
that wife, son, and servant, are so many enemies to us? 'Tis well for
old age that it is always accompanied by want of observation, ignorance,
and a proneness to being deceived. For should we see how we are used and
would not acquiesce, what would become of us? especially in such an age
as this, where the very judges who are to determine our controversies are
usually partisans to the young, and interested in the cause. In case the
discovery of this cheating escape me, I cannot at least fail to discern
that I am very fit to be cheated. And can a man ever enough exalt the
value of a friend, in comparison with these civil ties? The very image
of it which I see in beasts, so pure and uncorrupted, how religiously do
I respect it! If others deceive me, yet do I not, at least, deceive
myself in thinking I am able to defend myself from them, or in cudgelling
my brains to make myself so. I protect myself from such treasons in my
own bosom, not by an unquiet and tumultuous curiosity, but rather by
diversion and resolution. When I hear talk of any one's condition, I
never trouble myself to think of him; I presently turn my eyes upon
myself to see in what condition I am; whatever concerns another relates
to me; the accident that has befallen him gives me caution, and rouses me
to turn my defence that way. We every day and every hour say things of
another that we might properly say of ourselves, could we but apply our
observation to our own concerns, as well as extend it to others. And
several authors have in this manner prejudiced their own cause by running
headlong upon those they attack, and darting those shafts against their
enemies, that are more properly, and with greater advantage, to be turned
upon themselves.

The late Mareschal de Montluc having lost his son, who died in the island
of Madeira, in truth a very worthy gentleman and of great expectation,
did to me, amongst his other regrets, very much insist upon what a sorrow
and heart-breaking it was that he had never made himself familiar with
him; and by that humour of paternal gravity and grimace to have lost the
opportunity of having an insight into and of well knowing, his son, as
also of letting him know the extreme affection he had for him, and the
worthy opinion he had of his virtue. "That poor boy," said he, "never
saw in me other than a stern and disdainful countenance, and is gone in a
belief that I neither knew how to love him nor esteem him according to
his desert. For whom did I reserve the discovery of that singular
affection I had for him in my soul? Was it not he himself, who ought to
have had all the pleasure of it, and all the obligation? I constrained
and racked myself to put on, and maintain this vain disguise, and have by
that means deprived myself of the pleasure of his conversation, and, I
doubt, in some measure, his affection, which could not but be very cold
to me, having never other from me than austerity, nor felt other than a
tyrannical manner of proceeding."

     [Madame de Sevigne tells us that she never read this passage without
     tears in her eyes. "My God!" she exclaims, "how full is this book
     of good sense!" Ed.]

I find this complaint to be rational and rightly apprehended: for, as I
myself know by too certain experience, there is no so sweet consolation
in the loss of friends as the conscience of having had no reserve or
secret for them, and to have had with them a perfect and entire
communication. Oh my friend,—[La Boetie.] am I the better for being
sensible of this; or am I the worse? I am, doubtless, much the better.
I am consoled and honoured, in the sorrow for his death. Is it not a
pious and a pleasing office of my life to be always upon my friend's
obsequies? Can there be any joy equal to this privation?

I open myself to my family, as much as I can, and very willingly let them
know the state of my opinion and good will towards them, as I do to
everybody else: I make haste to bring out and present myself to them; for
I will not have them mistaken in me, in anything. Amongst other
particular customs of our ancient Gauls, this, as Caesar reports,—[De
Bello Gall., vi. r8.]—was one, that the sons never presented
themselves before their fathers, nor durst ever appear in their company
in public, till they began to bear arms; as if they would intimate by
this, that it was also time for their fathers to receive them into their
familiarity and acquaintance.

I have observed yet another sort of indiscretion in fathers of my time,
that, not contented with having deprived their children, during their own
long lives, of the share they naturally ought to have had in their
fortunes, they afterwards leave to their wives the same authority over
their estates, and liberty to dispose of them according to their own
fancy. And I have known a certain lord, one of the principal officers of
the crown, who, having in reversion above fifty thousand crowns yearly
revenue, died necessitous and overwhelmed with debt at above fifty years
of age; his mother in her extremest decrepitude being yet in possession
of all his property by the will of his father, who had, for his part,
lived till near fourscore years old. This appears to me by no means
reasonable. And therefore I think it of very little advantage to a man,
whose affairs are well enough, to seek a wife who encumbers his estate
with a very great fortune; there is no sort of foreign debt that brings
more ruin to families than this: my predecessors have ever been aware of
that danger and provided against it, and so have I. But those who
dissuade us from rich wives, for fear they should be less tractable and
kind, are out in their advice to make a man lose a real commodity for so
frivolous a conjecture. It costs an unreasonable woman no more to pass
over one reason than another; they cherish themselves most where they are
most wrong. Injustice allures them, as the honour of their virtuous
actions does the good; and the more riches they bring with them, they are
so much the more good-natured, as women, who are handsome, are all the
more inclined and proud to be chaste.

'Tis reasonable to leave the administration of affairs to the mothers,
till the children are old enough, according to law, to manage them; but
the father has brought them, up very ill, if he cannot hope that, when
they come to maturity, they will have more wisdom and ability in the
management of affairs than his wife, considering the ordinary weakness of
the sex. It were, notwithstanding, to say the truth, more against nature
to make the mothers depend upon the discretion of their children; they
ought to be plentifully provided for, to maintain themselves according to
their quality and age, by reason that necessity and indigence are much
more unbecoming and insupportable to them than to men; the son should
rather be cut short than the mother.

In general, the most judicious distribution of our goods, when we come to
die, is, in my opinion, to let them be distributed according to the
custom of the country; the laws have considered the matter better than we
know how to do, and 'tis wiser to let them fail in their appointment,
than rashly to run the hazard of miscarrying in ours. Nor are the goods
properly ours, since, by civil prescription and without us, they are all
destined to certain successors. And although we have some liberty beyond
that, yet I think we ought not, without great and manifest cause, to take
away that from one which his fortune has allotted him, and to which the
public equity gives him title; and that it is against reason to abuse
this liberty, in making it serve our own frivolous and private fancies.
My destiny has been kind to me in not presenting me with occasions to
tempt me and divert my affection from the common and legitimate
institution. I see many with whom 'tis time lost to employ a long
exercise of good offices: a word ill taken obliterates ten years' merit;
he is happy who is in a position to oil their goodwill at this last
passage. The last action carries it, not the best and most frequent
offices, but the most recent and present do the work. These are people
that play with their wills as with apples or rods, to gratify or chastise
every action of those who pretend to an interest in their care. 'Tis a
thing of too great weight and consequence to be so tumbled and tossed and
altered every moment, and wherein the wise determine once for all, having
above all things regard to reason and the public observance. We lay
these masculine substitutions too much to heart, proposing a ridiculous
eternity to our names. We are, moreover, too superstitious in vain
conjectures as to the future, that we derive from the words and actions
of children. Peradventure they might have done me an injustice, in
dispossessing me of my right, for having been the most dull and heavy,
the most slow and unwilling at my book, not of all my brothers only, but
of all the boys in the whole province: whether about learning my lesson,
or about any bodily exercise. 'Tis a folly to make an election out of
the ordinary course upon the credit of these divinations wherein we are
so often deceived. If the ordinary rule of descent were to be violated,
and the destinies corrected in the choice they have made of our heirs,
one might more plausibly do it upon the account of some remarkable and
enormous personal deformity, a permanent and incorrigible defect, and in
the opinion of us French, who are great admirers of beauty, an important

The pleasant dialogue betwixt Plato's legislator and his citizens will be
an ornament to this place, "What," said they, feeling themselves about to
die, "may we not dispose of our own to whom we please? God! what
cruelty that it shall not be lawful for us, according as we have been
served and attended in our sickness, in our old age, in our affairs, to
give more or less to those whom we have found most diligent about us, at
our own fancy and discretion!" To which the legislator answers thus:

"My friends, who are now, without question, very soon to die, it is hard
for you in the condition you are, either to know yourselves, or what is
yours, according to the delphic inscription. I, who make the laws, am of
opinion, that you neither are yourselves your own, nor is that yours of
which you are possessed. Both your goods and you belong to your
families, as well those past as those to come; but, further, both your
family and goods much more appertain to the public. Wherefore, lest any
flatterer in your old age or in your sickness, or any passion of your
own, should unseasonably prevail with you to make an unjust will, I shall
take care to prevent that inconvenience; but, having respect both to the
universal interests of the city and that of your particular family, I
shall establish laws, and make it by good reasons appear, that private
convenience ought to give place to the common benefit. Go then
cheerfully where human necessity calls you. It is for me, who regard no
more the one thing than the other, and who, as much as in me lies, am
provident of the public interest, to have a care as to what you leave
behind you."

To return to my subject: it appears to me that women are very rarely
born, to whom the prerogative over men, the maternal and natural
excepted, is in any sort due, unless it be for the punishment of such,
as in some amorous fever have voluntarily submitted themselves to them:
but that in no way concerns the old ones, of whom we are now speaking.
This consideration it is which has made us so willingly to enact and give
force to that law, which was never yet seen by any one, by which women
are excluded the succession to our crown: and there is hardly a
government in the world where it is not pleaded, as it is here, by the
probability of reason that authorises it, though fortune has given it
more credit in some places than in others. 'Tis dangerous to leave the
disposal of our succession to their judgment, according to the choice
they shall make of children, which is often fantastic and unjust; for the
irregular appetites and depraved tastes they have during the time of
their being with child, they have at all other times in the mind. We
commonly see them fond of the most weak, ricketty, and deformed children;
or of those, if they have such, as are still hanging at the breast. For,
not having sufficient force of reason to choose and embrace that which is
most worthy, they the more willingly suffer themselves to be carried
away, where the impressions of nature are most alone; like animals that
know their young no longer than they give them suck. As to the rest, it
is easy by experience to be discerned that this natural affection to
which we give so great authority has but very weak roots. For a very
little profit, we every day tear their own children out of the mothers'
arms, and make them take ours in their room: we make them abandon their
own to some pitiful nurse, to whom we disdain to commit ours, or to some
she-goat, forbidding them, not only to give them suck, what danger soever
they run thereby, but, moreover, to take any manner of care of them, that
they may wholly be occupied with the care of and attendance upon ours;
and we see in most of them an adulterate affection, more vehement than
the natural, begotten by custom toward the foster children, and a greater
solicitude for the preservation of those they have taken charge of, than
of their own. And that which I was saying of goats was upon this
account; that it is ordinary all about where I live, to see the
countrywomen, when they want milk of their own for their children, to
call goats to their assistance; and I have at this hour two men-servants
that never sucked women's milk more than eight days after they were born.
These goats are immediately taught to come to suckle the little children,
know their voices when they cry, and come running to them. If any other
than this foster-child be presented to them, they refuse to let it suck;
and the child in like manner will refuse to suck another goat. I saw one
the other day from whom they had taken away the goat that used to nourish
it, by reason the father had only borrowed it of a neighbour; the child
would not touch any other they could bring, and died, doubtless of
hunger. Beasts as easily alter and corrupt their natural affection as
we: I believe that in what Herodotus relates of a certain district of
Lybia, there are many mistakes; he says that the women are there in
common; but that the child, so soon as it can go, finds him out in the
crowd for his father, to whom he is first led by his natural inclination.

Now, to consider this simple reason for loving our children, that we have
begot them, therefore calling them our second selves, it appears,
methinks, that there is another kind of production proceeding from us,
that is of no less recommendation: for that which we engender by the
soul, the issue of our understanding, courage, and abilities, springs
from nobler parts than those of the body, and that are much more our own:
we are both father and mother in this generation. These cost us a great
deal more and bring us more honour, if they have anything of good in
them. For the value of our other children is much more theirs than ours;
the share we have in them is very little; but of these all the beauty,
all the grace and value, are ours; and also they more vividly represent
us than the others. Plato adds, that these are immortal children that
immortalise and deify their fathers, as Lycurgus, Solon, Minos. Now,
histories being full of examples of the common affection of fathers to
their children, it seems not altogether improper to introduce some few of
this other kind. Heliodorus, that good bishop of Trikka, rather chose to
lose the dignity, profit, and devotion of so venerable a prelacy, than to
lose his daughter; a daughter that continues to this day very graceful
and comely; but, peradventure, a little too curiously and wantonly
tricked, and too amorous for an ecclesiastical and sacerdotal daughter.
There was one Labienus at Rome, a man of great worth and authority, and
amongst other qualities excellent in all sorts of literature, who was, as
I take it, the son of that great Labienus, the chief of Caesar's captains
in the wars of Gaul; and who, afterwards, siding with Pompey the great,
so valiantly maintained his cause, till he was by Caesar defeated in
Spain. This Labienus, of whom I am now speaking, had several enemies,
envious of his good qualities, and, tis likely, the courtiers and minions
of the emperors of his time who were very angry at his freedom and the
paternal humour which he yet retained against tyranny, with which it is
to be supposed he had tinctured his books and writings. His adversaries
prosecuted several pieces he had published before the magistrates at
Rome, and prevailed so far against him, as to have them condemned to the
fire. It was in him that this new example of punishment was begun, which
was afterwards continued against others at Rome, to punish even writing
and studies with death. There would not be means and matter enough of
cruelty, did we not mix with them things that nature has exempted from
all sense and suffering, as reputation and the products of the mind, and
did we not communicate corporal punishments to the teachings and
monuments of the Muses. Now, Labienus could not suffer this loss, nor
survive these his so dear issue, and therefore caused himself to be
conveyed and shut up alive in the monument of his ancestors, where he
made shift to kill and bury himself at once. 'Tis hard to shew a more
vehement paternal affection than this. Cassius Severus, a man of great
eloquence and his very intimate friend, seeing his books burned, cried
out that by the same sentence they should as well condemn him to the fire
too, seeing that he carried in his memory all that they contained. The
like accident befel Cremutius Cordus, who being accused of having in his
books commended Brutus and Cassius, that dirty, servile, and corrupt
Senate, worthy a worse master than Tiberius, condemned his writings to
the flame. He was willing to bear them company, and killed himself with
fasting. The good Lucan, being condemned by that rascal Nero, at the
last gasp of his life, when the greater part of his blood was already
spent through the veins of his arms, which he had caused his physician to
open to make him die, and when the cold had seized upon all his
extremities, and began to approach his vital parts, the last thing he had
in his memory was some of the verses of his Battle of Phaysalia, which he
recited, dying with them in his mouth. What was this, but taking a
tender and paternal leave of his children, in imitation of the
valedictions and embraces, wherewith we part from ours, when we come to
die, and an effect of that natural inclination, that suggests to our
remembrance in this extremity those things which were dearest to us
during the time of our life?

Can we believe that Epicurus who, as he says himself, dying of the
intolerable pain of the stone, had all his consolation in the beauty of
the doctrine he left behind him, could have received the same
satisfaction from many children, though never so well-conditioned and
brought up, had he had them, as he did from the production of so many
rich writings? Or that, had it been in his choice to have left behind
him a deformed and untoward child or a foolish and ridiculous book, he,
or any other man of his understanding, would not rather have chosen to
have run the first misfortune than the other? It had been, for example,
peradventure, an impiety in St. Augustin, if, on the one hand, it had
been proposed to him to bury his writings, from which religion has
received so great fruit, or on the other to bury his children, had he had
them, had he not rather chosen to bury his children. And I know not
whether I had not much rather have begot a very beautiful one, through
society with the Muses, than by lying with my wife. To this, such as it
is, what I give it I give absolutely and irrevocably, as men do to their
bodily children. That little I have done for it, is no more at my own
disposal; it may know many things that are gone from me, and from me hold
that which I have not retained; and which, as well as a stranger, I
should borrow thence, should I stand in need. If I am wiser than my
book, it is richer than I. There are few men addicted to poetry, who
would not be much prouder to be the father to the AEneid than to the
handsomest youth of Rome; and who would not much better bear the loss of
the one than of the other. For according to Aristotle, the poet, of all
artificers, is the fondest of his work. 'Tis hard to believe that
Epaminondas, who boasted that in lieu of all posterity he left two
daughters behind him that would one day do their father honour (meaning
the two victories he obtained over the Lacedaemonians), would willingly
have consented to exchange these for the most beautiful creatures of all
Greece; or that Alexander or Caesar ever wished to be deprived of the
grandeur of their glorious exploits in war, for the convenience of
children and heirs, how perfect and accomplished soever. Nay, I make a
great question, whether Phidias or any other excellent sculptor would be
so solicitous of the preservation and continuance of his natural
children, as he would be of a rare statue, which with long labour and
study he had perfected according to art. And to those furious and
irregular passions that have sometimes inflamed fathers towards their own
daughters, and mothers towards their own sons, the like is also found in
this other sort of parentage: witness what is related of Pygmalion who,
having made the statue of a woman of singular beauty, fell so
passionately in love with this work of his, that the gods in favour of
his passion inspired it with life.

              "Tentatum mollescit ebur, positoque rigore,
               Subsidit digitis."

     ["The ivory grows soft under his touch and yields to his fingers."
     —Ovid, Metam., x. 283.]