``What distinguished Montaigne and made a phenomenon of him was that in such an age [the strife-torn 16th century] he should have possessed moderation, caution, and order.'' So said the great French critic Saint-Beuve three centuries after Michel Eyquem de Montaigne became the acknowledged inventor of the personal essay. ``Reader, loe here a well-meaning Booke,'' said Montaigne, introducing his essays in 1580. The passage below is from ``Of the Institution and Education of Children'' in the English of John Florio, the translation known to Shakespeare.
Qui disciplinam suam non ostentationem scientiae sed legem vitae putet: quique obtemperet ipse sibi, et decretis pareat. ``Who thinks his learning not an ostentation of knowledge, but a law of life, and himselfe obayes himselfe, and doth what is decreed.''
The true mirror of our discourses is the course of our lives. Zeuxidamus answered one that demanded of him, why the Lacedemonians did not draw into a booke, the ordinances of prowesse, that so their yong men might read them; ``it is,'' saith he, ``because they would rather accustome them to deeds and actions, than to bookes and writings.'' Compare at the end of fifteene or sixteene yeares one of these collegiall Latinizers, who hath imployed all that while onely in learning how to speake, to such a one as I meane. The world is nothing but babling and words, and I never saw man that doth not rather speake more than he ought, than lesse. Notwithstanding halfe our age is consumed that way. We are kept foure or five yeares learning to understand bare words, and to joine them into clauses, then as long in proportioning a great bodie extended into foure or five parts; and five more at least ere we can succinctly know how to mingle, joine, and interlace them handsomly into a subtil fashion, and into one coherent orbe. Let us leave it to those whose profession is to doe nothing else.
Being once on my journey to Orleans, it was my chance to meet upon that plaine that lieth on this side Clery, with two Masters of Arts, traveling toward Burdeaux, about fiftie paces one from another; far off behind them, I descride a troupe of horsemen, their Master riding formost, who was the Earle of Rochefocault; one of my servants enquiring of the first of those Masters of Arts, what Gentleman he was that followed him; supposing my servant had meant his fellow-scholler, for he had not yet seen the Earles traine, answered pleasantly, ``He is no gentleman, Sir, but a Gramarian, and I am a Logitian.'' Now, we that contrariwise seek not to frame a Gramarian, nor a Logitian, but a compleat gentleman, let us give them leave to mispend their time; we have else-where, and somewhat else of more import to doe.