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The quotations of Montaigne from ancient and modern authors were agreeable to a fashion not yet entirely abandoned, but probably carried in his case to an unparalleled length. The practice, which we owe, after all, however, to the leisure of his later days (for in the editions of the Essays published in 1580-82-87-88 the extracts are comparatively few), has involved an enormous amount of labor in the process of verification, and has been occasionally aggravated by the difficulty of deciding whether to accept the version printed or left behind by the Essayist, or adapt the text to the standard at present recognized. For he not only resorted, of necessity, to editions current in his day, but occasionally transcribed at random, if he did not in some cases rely on his memory, or copy at second-hand.
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Of all egotists, Montaigne, if not the greatest, was the most fascinating, because, perhaps, he was the least affected and most truthful. What he did and what he had professed to do, was to dissect his mind, and show us, as best he could, how it was made, and what relation it bore to external objects. He investigated his mental structure as a schoolboy pulls his watch to pieces, to examine the mechanism of the works; and the result, accompanied by illustrations abounding with originality and force, he delivered to his fellow-men in a book—one almost more replete with quotations from other writers than any extant: in matter and thought purely personal more exuberantly full.
For what concerns indifferent things, as clothes, who is there seeking to bring them back to their true use, which is the body’s service and convenience, and upon which their original grace and fitness depend; for the most fantastic, in my opinion, that can be imagined, I will instance amongst others, our flat caps, that long tail of velvet that hangs down from our women’s heads, with its parti-colored trappings; and that vain and futile model of a member we cannot in modesty so much as name, which, nevertheless, we make show and parade of in public. These considerations, notwithstanding, will not prevail upon any understanding man to decline the common mode; but, on the contrary, methinks, all singular and particular fashions are rather marks of folly and vain affectation than of sound reason, and that a wise man ought, within, to withdraw and retire his soul from the crowd, and there keep it at liberty and in power to judge freely of things; but as to externals, absolutely to follow and conform himself to the fashion of the time. Public society has nothing to do with our thoughts, but the rest, as our actions, our labors, our fortunes, and our lives, we are to lend and abandon them to its service and to the common opinion, as did that good and great Socrates who refused to preserve his life by a disobedience to the magistrate, though a very wicked and unjust one: for it is the rule of rules, the general law of laws, that every one observe those of the place wherein he lives.