Front Page Titles (by Subject) VI: To Monsieur, Monsieur de L'Hospital, Chancellor of France. - Life and Letters of Montaigne with Notes and Index, vol. 10
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VI: To Monsieur, Monsieur de L’Hospital, Chancellor of France. - Michel de Montaigne, Life and Letters of Montaigne with Notes and Index, vol. 10 
Life and Letters of Montaigne with Notes and Index, vol. 10, trans. Charles Cotton, revised by William Carew Hazlett (New York: Edwin C. Hill, 1910).
Part of: Essays of Montaigne, in 10 vols.
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To Monsieur, Monsieur de L’Hospital, Chancellor of France.
Monseigneur,—I hold the opinion that you others, to whose hands fortune and reason have committed the government of public affairs, are not more inquisitive in any point than in arriving at a knowledge of those in office under you; for no community is so poorly furnished, that it has not persons sufficient for the discharge of all official duties, provided that there is a just distribution of functions. And that point gained, there should be nothing wanting to make a State perfect in its constitution. Now, in proportion as this is more to be desired, so it is the more difficult, since your eyes can neither stretch so far as to select from a multitude so large and so widely spread, nor to penetrate hearts, to discover intentions and conscience, matter principally to be considered; so that there has never been any commonwealth so well established, in which we may not detect often enough a deficiency in this distributory selection. And in those, where ignorance and malice, favoritism, intrigue, and violence govern, if any choice is seen to be made on the ground of merit and regularity, we owe it without doubt to chance, which, in its inconstant movements, has for once found the path of reason.
Monsieur, this consideration has often consoled me, knowing M. Etienne de la Boetie, one of the fittest and most necessary men for high office in France, to have passed his whole life in obscurity, by his domestic hearth, to the great detriment of our common weal; for, so far as he was concerned, I tell you, Monseigneur, that he was so abundantly endowed with those treasures which defy fortune, that never was man more satisfied or content. I know well that he was raised to the local dignities, which are accounted considerable; and I know also, that no one ever brought to their discharge a better capacity; and that when he died at the age of thirty-two, he had acquired a reputation in that way beyond all who had preceded him.
But all that is no reason that a man should be left a common soldier who deserves to become a captain; nor that mean functions should be assigned to those who are perfectly equal to the highest. In truth, his powers were badly economized and too sparingly employed; insomuch that, over and above his work, there was abundant capacity lying idle, from which the public service might have drawn profit and himself glory.
Therefore, Monsieur, since he was so apathetic in pushing forward to the front (as virtue and ambition unfortunately seldom lodge together), and since he lived in an age so dull and so jealous, that he could be little succored by witnesses to his character, I have it marvellously at heart that his memory, at all events, to which I owe the good offices of a friend, should enjoy the recompense of his brave life, and that it should survive in the good report of persons of honor and virtue. On this account, I have been desirous to publish and present to you, Monsieur, such few Latin verses as he left behind. Different from the mason, who places the most attractive portion of his house toward the street, and from the shopkeeper, who displays in his window the richest sample of his merchandise, that which was most recommendable in him, the juice and marrow of his genius, departed with him, and there have remained to us but the bark and the leaves.
Whoever could make visible the exactly regulated movements of his mind, his piety, his virtue, his justice, the vivacity of his spirit, the solidity and the sanity of his judgment, the loftiness of his conceptions, raised so far above the common level, his learning, the grace which accompanied his ordinary actions, the tender affection which he bore for his miserable country, and his capital and sworn detestation of all vice, but principally of that villainous traffic which disguises itself under the honorable title of Justice, would certainly impress all well-disposed persons with a singular affection toward him and a marvellous regret for his loss. But, Monsieur, I am the more unable to do justice to him, since of the fruit of his own studies he had never thought of leaving any proof to posterity; and there has remained to us only what he occasionally wrote by way of pastime.
However this may be, I beg you, Monsieur, to receive it with a good countenance, and as our judgment argues many times from lesser things to greater ones, and as even the recreations of illustrious men carry with them to the clear-sighted some honorable traits of their origin, I would have you ascend hence to some knowledge of himself, and love and cherish his name and his memory. In this, Monsieur, you will only reciprocate the high opinion which he had of your virtue, and realize what he infinitely desired in his lifetime; for there was no one in the world in whose acquaintance and friendship he would have so willingly seen himself established as in your own. But if any man is offended by the freedom which I use with the belongings of another, I apprise him that nothing was ever more precisely spoken in the schools of the philosophers respecting the law and duties of sacred friendship, than what this personage and myself have practiced together.
For the rest, Monsieur, this slender gift, to strike two blows with one stone, may likewise serve, if you please, to testify the honor and reverence which I entertain for your ability and singular qualities; for as to those gifts which are foreign and accidental, it is not to my taste to take them into account.
Monsieur, I pray God to grant you a very happy and long life. From Montaigne, this 30th of April 1570.—Your humble and obedient servant,
MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE.