Essays - by Michel de Montaigne

I personally believe --and with Socrates it is axiomatic--that anyone who has a clear and vivid idea in his mind will express it, either in rough language, or by gestures if he is dumb: Verbaque provisam rem non invita sequentur. 'When the matter is ready the words will follow freely.' And as another author said just as poetically in prose, 'When things have seized the mind, the words come of themselves.' He knows no ablative, subjunctive, substantive, or grammar; neither does his servant, or a fishwife on the Petit Pont. Yet they will give you your fill of talk if you will listen, and will very likely make no more mistakes in the linguistic rules than the best Master of Arts in France. He knows no rhetoric, nor how, by way of preface, to capture the benevolence of the candid reader; nor has he any wish to do so. In fact, all such fine tricks are easily eclipsed by the light of a simple, artless truth.

This man who stayed with me was a plain, simple fellow, and men of this sort are likely to give true testimony. Men of intelligence notice more things and view them more carefully, but they comment on them; and to establish and substantiate their interpretation, they cannot refrain from altering the facts a little. They never present things just as they are but twist and disguise them to conform to the point of view from which they have seen them; and to gain credence for their opinion and make it attractive, they do not mind adding something of their own, or extending and amplifying. We need either a very truthful man, or one so ignorant that he has no material with which to construct false theories and make them credible: a man wedded to no idea.

I centre my affection almost entirely on myself, bestowing only very little on others. All that others divide among an infinite number of friends and acquaintances, to their glory and to their grandeur, I devote entirely to my mind's repose and to my own person. What escapes from me into other channels, does not really do so with my deliberate consent, mihi nempe valere et vivere doctus. 'Trained, indeed, to consider and live for myself.' Now I find my opinions extremely bold and persistent in condemning my own insufficiency. Indeed, this is a subject which occupies my mind as much as any other. The world always looks outward, I turn my gaze inward; there I fix it, and there I keep it busy. Everyone looks before him; I look within. I have no business but with myself, I unceasingly consider, examine, and analyse myself. Others, if they will but see, are always going elsewhere; they are always going forward, nemo in sese tendat descendere. 'No man attempts to descend into himself.' But I revolve within myself.