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Michel de Montaigne et “Au Lecture”

MontaigneAu Lecteur

C’est icy un livre de bonne foy, lecteur.  Il t’advertit dès l’entrée, que je ne m’y suis proposé aucune fin, que domestique et privée.  Je n’y ay eu nulle consideration de ton service, ny de ma gloire. Mes forces ne sont pas capables d’un tel dessein.  Je l’ay voué à la commodité particuliere de mes parens et amis: à ce que m’ayant perdu (ce qu’ils ont à faire bien tost) ils y puissent retrouver aucuns traits de mes conditions et humeurs, et que par ce moyen ils nourrissent plus entiere et plus vifve, la connoissance qu’ils ont eu de moy.  Si c’eust esté pour rechercher la faveur du monde, je me fusse mieux paré et me presanterois en une marche estudiée.  Je veus qu’on m’y voie en ma façon simple, naturelle et ordinaire, sans contention et artifice: car c’est moy que je peins.  Mes defauts s’y liront au vif, et ma forme naïfve, autant que la reverence publique me l’a permis.  Que si j’eusse esté entre ces nations qu’on dict vivre encore sous la douce liberté des premieres loix de nature, je t’asseure que je m’y fusse tres-volontiers peint tout entier, et tout nud.  Ainsi, lecteur, je suis moy-mesmes la matiere de mon livre: ce n’est pas raison que tu employes ton loisir en un subject si frivole et si vain.

A Dieu donq,
de Montaigne,
ce premier de Mars mille cinq cens quatre vingts.

Montaigne EssaiesM. A. SCREECH TRANSLATION

You have here, Reader, a book whose faith can be trusted, a book which warns you from the start that I have set myself no other end but a private family one. I have not been concerned to serve you nor my reputation: my powers are inadequate for such a design. I have dedicated this book to the private benefit of my friends and kinsmen so that, having lost me (as they must do soon) they can find here again some traits of my character and of my humours. They will thus keep their knowledge of me more full, more alive. If my design had been to seek the favour of the world I would have decked myself out better and presented myself in a studied gait. Here I want to be seen in my simple, natural, everyday fashion, without striving or artifice: for it is my own self that I am painting. Here, drawn from life, you will read of my defects and my native form so far as respect for social convention allows: for had I found myself among those peoples who are said still to live under the sweet liberty of Nature’s primal laws, I can assure you that I would most willingly have portrayed myself whole, and wholly naked. And therefore, Reader, I myself am the subject of my book: it is not reasonable that you should employ your leisure on a topic so frivolous and so vain.

Therefore, Farewell:
From Montaigne;
this first of March, One thousand, five hundred and eighty.

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