We should not always say everything: that would be stupid; but what we do say must be what we think: to do otherwise is wicked. (MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE)

We should not always say everything: that would be stupid; but what we do say must be what we think: to do otherwise is wicked. (MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE)

The very qualities that I do have which do not deserve reproach are useless, I find, in this century. The affability of my manners would be called slackness and weakness; my faith and my conscience would be thought over-scrupulous and superstitious; my frankness and freedom, inconsiderate and audacious. Evil fortune does have some use: it is a good thing to be born in a century which is deeply depraved, for by comparison with others you are reckoned virtuous on the cheap. Nowadays if you have merely murdered your father and committed sacrilege you are an honest honourable man:

If a friend nowadays does not deny that you entrusted money to him and returns your old purse full of rusty coins, he is a prodigy of trustworthiness, meriting a place on the Etruscan Kalendar and the sprinkled blood of a sacrificial lamb.

Nothing is more pleasing to the people than affability

By such comparisons I would have found myself a giant and unusual, just as I find myself a pygmy and quite commonplace in comparison with some former times in which it was indeed considered commonplace (if other stronger qualities did not accompany it) to find a man [A] moderate in revenge, slow to take offence, punctilious in keeping his word, neither treacherous nor pliant, nor accommodating his trust to the will of others and to circumstances. I would rather let affairs go hang than to warp my trustworthiness in their service. As for that novel virtue of deceit and dissimulation that is now much honoured I hate it unto death, and among all the vices I can find none which bears better testimony to cowardice and to baseness of mind. It is an abject and a slave-like humour to go disguising and hiding yourself behind a mask and not to dare to let yourself be seen as you are. That way, men of our time are trained for perfidy: being used to utter words of falsehood, to break their word they do not scruple. A noble mind must not belie its thoughts: it wants its inward parts to be seen: everything there is good – or at least humane.
Truth is the first and basic part of virtue.
It must be loved for its own sake. A man who tells the truth because he is otherwise bound to do so or because it serves him to do so, yet who is not afraid to tell lies when it does not matter to anyone, is not truthful enough. My soul’s complexion is such that it flees from lying and hates even to think of it.
I have an inward sense of shame and a stabbing remorse if a lie escapes me – as it does sometimes, when occasions take me by surprise and disturb me unawares.
We should not always say everything: that would be stupid; but what we do say must be what we think: to do otherwise is wicked. I do not know what princes expect to get out of constantly pretending and lying, except not to be believed even when they do tell the truth.
It may deceive people once or twice; but to profess your dissimulation and to boast as some of our princes have done that they would toss their very shirt on to the fire if it knew of their real intentions (which is a saying of an Ancient, Metellus of Macedon); to declare that a man who knows not how to feign knows not how to reign is to forewarn those who have to deal with them that what they say is all cheating and lies.
The more crafty and artful a man is, the more he is loathed and mistrusted, once he has lost his reputation for probity. (Cicero)
A man would be very simple to let himself be deceived by the looks or words of a man who, as Tiberius did, thought it important to appear outside always different from what he was inside.
Those writers nowadays who, when drawing up the duties of a prince, have considered only what is good for the affairs of State, placing that before his fidelity and conscience, might have something to say to a prince whose fortune had so arranged his affairs that he could for ever secure them by one single act of deception, one failure to keep his word. But things do not happen that way.
Princes stumble again into similar bargains: they make more than one peace, more than one treaty in their lifetime.
The profit tempts them when they first prove untrustworthy – and virtually always some profit is on offer, as in every act of wickedness (sacrilege, murder, rebellion and treachery are done for some kind of gain).
But that first profit entails infinite subsequent losses, putting that prince, by his first breach of trust, beyond all negotiations, beyond any mode of agreement.

 

 

 

 

The Essays of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne

 

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