Page images

literature of the salons of Paris and Versailles. In contrast with this, the few great pieces of literature of the previous age, from Rabelais down to Pascal, were the offspring of the cloister, the chateau or the wayside. They are the Vox clamantis in deserto.' Their superior force and originality derive directly from the rude independence of character, which was generated by that free and unformal life. In Montaigne especially, it is the force of individual character, coming out on us in every page of his book that charms. He stands in awe of no Café Procope, has heard of no rules of writing, he is not composing. He has the hardy and fearless spirit of a man who has no one to please but himself. “J'ay une ame libre et tout sienne, accoustumée a se conduire a sa mode' (ii. 17). He complains somewhere that his times had not produced any great men. Greatness, to be manifested to the world, depends on the conjunction of natural endowment with opportunity, and must needs be But we may surely say that the average stamp of the men of that day was great. Compared with the feminine uniformity of the shaved and tailor-made man of later court-dress days, how grand are the bearded seigneurs of the 16th century! Intrepid not lawless ; disciplined in the school of action and suffering; and conscious of all the restraints that limit human will, these men had made their acquaintance with law in its grandest form, not in that degenerate artificial shape in which the victim of good society alone knows it.

Montaigne was born in 1533 and died in 1592. His father's name was Pierre Eyquem. M. Gence, the writer of the life in the Biographie Universelle, says that the family was originally from England. That a French biographer should be willing to make over one of the greatest of his countrymen to England might surprise us. It may well do so in this instance, as the self-denial is wholly uncalled for. We cannot in honesty accept the offer. “Eyquem,' or rather · Eyckem,' according to the old spelling, is a compound of the common termination ‘ham’orheim,' and the name of that tree, which in the English vocalization is oak.' The German 'eiche,' or the Flemish “ecke, come much nearer to the form in `Eyquem. Accordingly, some of the biographers have thought of looking to Flanders for the original stock of the family. It is still an open question in ‘Montaignologie, and M, Grün produces no evidence for his positive assertion that the name is "essentially of Gascon origin. In the course of the 16th century the personal was superseded by the territorial appellation. This was derived from a domain which they possessed five leagues from Bergerac, in the department of the Dordogne. The chateau is situated on a height—'une


montagne '--'jonchée sur une tertre,' he says: in this tower Montaigne was born, lived, and died. The possession of this domain was an acquisition, it should appear, which the Eyquem had only recently made; their nobility, therefore, was of very modern date. Joseph Scaliger said in an off-hand way that the father of Montaigne était vendeur de harenc.' (Scalig"., 24. p. 457.) M. Grün, with the bitterness habitual to French writers when they have to speak of Scaliger, repels this as a false and malevolent insinuation. The main fact implied, however, that the ancestors of Montaigne were marchand,' and, therefore, bourgeois,' is indisputable. We must not omit, as he has recorded it himself, that he was an eleven months child. As he was a third son of a family, now noble and not rich, his father, an excellent person, took particular pains about his education. He was put out to nurse at a poor village on the estate. Here he was kept all his infancy, with the view both of accustoming his taste to rude diet, and of inducing him to form attachments amongst the poor. His sympathy with peasant life he preserved to the last. The poor fellows,'thus he writes in a season of more than usual suffering in the country, those poor fellows whom we see all about, their heads bowed over their tasks, who never heard of Aristotle, or Cato, from them nature obtains heroic efforts of patient endurance, which


shame us who have studied in the schools. That man who is digging my garden, he has this morning buried a son, or a father perhaps. They never take to their beds but to die.'

The most curious experiment made in his education was that of teaching him Latin before French. A German preceptor who could speak no French was found for him. None of the rest of the household, mother, maid, or man, were allowed to speak anything but Latin to him.

It is not to be imagined how great an advantage this proved to the whole family. My father and mother by this means learning Latin enough to understand it perfectly well, as did also those of the servants who were most with me. In short we Latined it at such a rate that it overflowed to all the neighbouring villages, where there yet remain, that have established themselves by custom, several Latin appellations of artizans and their tools. Thus I was above six years of age before I understood either French or Perigordin any more than Arabic, and without art, book, grammar, or precept, whipping or the expense of a tear, had by that time learned to speak as pure Latin as my master himself.'-(i. 25.)

The same attention was extended to all the minutiæ of his training. To save him from the shock of sudden awakening, some musical instrument was played by his bedside in the morning. Our readers will recollect the same usage in the early education of Bishop Horne, as described by his biographer Jones of Nayland.

2 D 2

morning. uncle, * Note in Hamilton's excellent edition of ‘Dugald Stewart,' vol. i. p. 100.

When he quitted this careful paternal roof, it was to go to the college of Guienne at Bordeaux. At this school, quite recently established, some of the best scholars then to be found in France were masters. But as he left it at the age of thirteen, he could not have profited much by the higher scholarship which Muretus and George Buchanan were capable of communicating. As the sword belonged by birth to the eldest son, Michel, as the third, had to choose between the church and the robe. He chose, or rather his father chose for him, the latter. At thirteen he must have been incapable of choice, and he always looked to his excellent parent with a mixture of respect and affection, which disposed him to acquiesce in his least wishes. What school of jurisprudence he attended is not known. M. Grün makes it Toulouse, for he naturally wishes · Montaigne Magistrat to have been a pupil of the celebrated Cujas. It may have been so. There is not a particle of evidence to show that it was. The solitary text is Montaigne's own declaration : 'while a child, I was plunged up to the ears in law, and it succeeded.'

As soon as he was qualified, his father provided him with a place in the Court of Aids of Périgueux. The law was entered there, as the army is with us now, by purchase. We cannot stay to debate with the antiquaries the knotty point whether Montaigne's father resigned in his son's favour, or purchased him the place of some other counsellor. In 1557 the Court of Aids of Périgueux was consolidated with the Parlement of Bordeaux. And thus, at the early age of twenty-four, Montaigne was seated on the bench of a Supreme Court of Justice without either of the troublesome ceremonies of purchase or examination.

Honourable it was for a younger son; but when by the death of his father and both his brothers, Michel became himself the Seigneur de Montaigne, the long robe no longer befitted him. By these events he became a gentleman,' and carried arms, as the phrase was. Ill natured people said in asterdays that Montaigne was ashamed of having been counsellor cleric, and did not like to allude to that period of his life. M. Grün is able to repel peremptorily this imputation. It proceeded indeed from later days, when Parlements were fallen, and the magistracy, especially the provincial magistrature, was looked down upon by the courtier. The sneers of Balzac and the PortRoyalists are in the spirit of their own time, and are quite miscalculated for the age of L'Hospital, Pasquier, and De Thou. All Montaigne's friends, relations, and connexions—his father, uncle, brother-in-law-were all parliament men.

He himself married Françoise de la Chassaigne, daughter of one of the Bordelais counsellors and descendant of a parliamentary family. His most cherished friend La Boétie had been his colleague in the magistracy; and all the friendships he retained through life had been cemented during his own parliamentary career. So much, however, is true, that Montaigne did not relish his judicial functions. This distaste had two causes : dislike of law, and dislike of the religious fanaticism which animated the magistracy of Bordeaux.

He was never really a lawyer. The plunge up to his ears had succeeded in qualifying him for a charge, but had not given him the professional dye. The biographers have exaggerated this distaste into disgust. They make Montaigne into a law reformer; they ascribe to him an enlightened jurist's view of the contradic

ons of the customary law, and predilection for the luminous simplicity of the civil. This, again, is to read the sixteenth century by the reflected light of '89. Montaigne imbibed the views and aims of the more enlightened jurists of his own time, but he did not project the Code Napoléon. The opinions he has left on record on this subject are very general, but they are those of a wise and humane moralist, not of a jurist. They show how how much of a philosopher and how little of “a magistrate ' he was. He has first an abhorrence of litigation, not less for others than himself; he declares against the multiplication of enactments, the contradictory judgments, the glosses of the commentators; but all this is in the spirit of a man of taste; revolted at the bad Latin of the Digest, and wishing to be reading his Cicero.' It is a declaration against the language of law altogether rather than against its abuse in chicane. He condemns torture and the horrible mutilations which were practised on the bodies of the unhappy criminals. But in this he only echoed the opinion of all the moralists of all time, and had with him all the great and wise of his own day. Against him, however, were the churchmen and Rome. Those passages in his Essays in which he pleads that all beyond simple death is pure cruelty, presented one of the chief obstacles to its passing the censure; the other, we may mention, was his assigning a high rank among Latin poets to Theodore Beza. He eloquently denounces the practice of selling the places in the courts of justice; and, to complete the list, he ridicules entails, or, as he calls them, “masculine substitutions. Sir W. Hamilton wishes to trace this opinion of Montaigne to the tuition of Buchanan.* Buchanan having


quitted the college at Bordeaux in 1544, his pupil was only eleven years old an age at which we may doubt if he understood what masculine substitution' was.

In truth we believe Montaigne, when he says of himself (i. 24) that he knew there was such a science as jurisprudence, and that that was all he did know. His amusing pleading against the lawyers (iii. 13) is nothing more than one of the many popular diatribes on that traditional butt. If it proves anything, it proves that he was no lawyer; as his vituperation in the same Essay of the medical practitioners does, that he was no physician. He is, in fact, merely using the contradictions of judges and the uncertainties of medicine, to enforce his favourite topic of the feebleness of human judgment. It is as great a fallacy to class him with the enlightened publicists, who saw and laboured to remedy the monstrous evils of the French judicial system, as it would be to class him among the revolutionists of the practice of physic. The Montaigne adorers exaggerate their idol in every direction. He is great enough: he is a man of universal sympathies, but they want to make him a man of profound acquirement, which he was not—not even in his own profession. We suspect that his professional history was the common one where strong literary tastes are early imbibed. Buchanan may have had something to do with this-may have laid the groundwork of classic predilections which made steady application to law impossible. He followed it as a career; he got a place, discharged its duties; he never had a vocation for it, and gave it up as soon as he wanted it no longer.

The second cause of distaste for his Parliamentary functions, to which allusion has been already made, was the violence of religious faction which disturbed it. In no quarter of France had Protestantism made more progress than in Guienne and Gascony. Everywhere the Parlements showed themselves the strenuous supporters of the Church. None was more untiring in the zeal for persecution than that of Bordeaux. Their registers for some years are one series of edicts, each more cruel than the last, against the professors of the new opinions. Montaigne was attached throughout to the Catholic and Royalist party. In this adhesion he never wavered, and it belonged to his characteristic frankness never to conceal it. But he was of too moderate a temper to be carried away by the passionate fanaticism of his party; too good hearted not to execrate their cruelty ; and too wise not to see that the violence of the Catholics only provoked the more obstinate resistance of the Huguenots. But wisdom and moderation are no titles to the respect of religious faction. We shall not wonder then that Montaigne, whose spirit of toler


« PreviousContinue »