Front Page Titles (by Subject) VII: To Monsieur, Monsieur de Foix, Privy Councillor, and Ambassador of His Majesty to the Signory of Venice. - Life and Letters of Montaigne with Notes and Index, vol. 10
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VII: To Monsieur, Monsieur de Foix, Privy Councillor, and Ambassador of His Majesty to the Signory of Venice. - 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 Foix, Privy Councillor, and Ambassador of His Majesty to the Signory of Venice.
Monsieur,—Being on the point of commending to you and to posterity the memory of the late Etienne de la Boetie, as well for his extreme virtue as for the singular affection which he bore to me, it struck my fancy as an indiscretion very serious in its results, and meriting some coercion from our laws, the practice which often prevails of robbing virtue of glory, its faithful associate, in order to confer it, in accordance with our private interests and without discrimination, on the first comer. Seeing that our two principal guiding reins are reward and punishment, which only touch us nearly, and as men, through the medium of honor and dishonor, forasmuch as these go straight to the soul, and come home to our innermost feelings and those most truly ours: just where mere animals are not at all susceptible to other kinds of recompense and corporal chastisement. Moreover, it is well to notice that the custom of praising virtue, even in those who are no longer with us, is impalpable to them, while it serves as a stimulant to the living to imitate them; just as capital sentences are carried out by the law, more for the sake of example to others, than in the interest of those who suffer. Now, commendation and its opposite being analogous as regards effects, it is hard to deny that our laws prohibit us from slandering the reputation of others, and nevertheless do prevent us from bestowing nobility without merit. This pernicious license in distributing praise broadcast was formerly checked in another direction; indeed, peradventure, it contributed to involve poesy in discredit among the wiser sort. However this may be, it cannot be concealed that the vice of falsehood is one very unbecoming in a man well-born, let them give it what guise they will.
As for that personage of whom I am speaking to you, Monsieur, he sends me far away indeed from this kind of language; for the danger is not, lest I should lend him anything, but that I might take something from him; and it is his ill-fortune that, while he has supplied me, so far as a man could, with most just and most obvious opportunities for commendation, I find myself unable and unqualified to render it to him—I say, do I, to whom alone he communicated to the life, and who alone can answer for a million of graces, perfections, and virtues, latent (thanks to the ingratitude of his fortune) in so noble a soul. For the nature of things having (I know not how) permitted that truth, fair and acceptable as it may be of itself, is only embraced where there are arts of persuasion to insinuate it into our minds, I see myself so wanting, both in authority to support my simple testimony, and in the eloquence requisite for lending it value and weight, that I was on the eve of relinquishing the task, having nothing of his which would enable me to exhibit to the world a proof of his genius and knowledge.
In truth, Monsieur, having been overtaken by his fate in the flower of his age, and in the full enjoyment of the most vigorous health, he had meditated nothing less than to publish works which would have demonstrated to posterity what sort of a man he was. And peradventure he was indifferent enough to fame, having thought of the matter, to have no curiosity to proceed farther in it. But I have come to the conclusion, that it was far more excusable in him to bury with him all his rare endowments, than it would be on my part to bury also with me the knowledge of them which he had imparted to me. And, anyhow, having collected with care all that I found in a complete state here and there among his memorandum-books and papers, I have thought good to distribute them so as to recommend his memory to as many persons as possible, selecting the most suitable and worthy of my acquaintance, and those whose testimony might do him greatest honor. Such as you, Monsieur, who very possibly have yourself had some knowledge of him during his life, but assuredly too slight to discover the extent of his entire worth. Posterity will credit it, if it chooses; but I swear upon all that I own of conscience, that I knew and saw him to be such as, all things considered, I could neither desire nor imagine a genius surpassing his; and as he cannot have many associates, I beg you very humbly, Monsieur, not only to undertake the general protection of his name, but also these ten or twelve French verses, which cast themselves, as of necessity, under the shadow of your patronage. For I will not disguise from you that their publication was deferred, upon the appearance of his other writings, under the pretext that they were too crude to come to light. You will see, Monsieur, how much truth there is in this; and since it seems that this verdict touches the interest of all this part, whence it is thought that hereabout nothing can be produced in our own dialect but what is barbarous and unpolished. It falls to you, who, besides your rank as the first house in Guienne, handed down from your ancestors, possess every other sort of qualification, to establish, not merely by your example, but by your authoritative testimony, that such is not always the case: the more so that, though ’tis more natural with the Gascons to act than talk, yet sometimes they employ the tongue more than the arm, and wit in place of valor.
For my own part, Monsieur, it is not my game to judge of such matters; but I have heard persons who are supposed to understand them, say that these stanzas are not only worthy to be offered in the market, but, independently of that, as regards beauty and wealth of invention, they are as full of marrow and matter as any compositions of the kind which have appeared in our language. Naturally each workman feels himself more strong in some special part of his art, and those are to be regarded as most fortunate who lay hands on the noblest, for all the parts essential to the construction of any whole are not equally prizable. Delicacy of phrase, softness and harmony of language, are found perchance in others; but in imaginative grace, and in the store of pointed wit, I do not think he has been surpassed; and we should take into the account that he made these things neither his occupation nor his study, and that he scarcely took a pen in his hand more than once a year, witness the little that we have of his whole life. For you see here, Monsieur, green wood and dry, without any sort of selection, all that has come into my possession; insomuch that there are among the rest efforts even of his boyhood. In point of fact, he seems to have written them merely to show that he was capable of dealing with all subjects: for otherwise, thousands of times, in the course of ordinary conversation, we have seen things proceed from him infinitely more worthy of being known, infinitely more worthy of being admired.
Behold, Monsieur, what justice and affection, forming a rare conjunction, oblige me to say of this great and good man; and if I have offended by the familiarity in detaining you at such a length, you will recollect, if you please, that the principal result of greatness and eminence is to lay one open to importunate appeals on behalf of the rest of the world. Hereupon, after having presented to you my very humble devotion to your service, I beseech God to give you, Monsieur, a very happy and prolonged life. From Montaigne, this 1st of September 1570.—Your obedient servant,
MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE.