Imaginary Conversations and Poems, by Walter Savage Landor

Joseph Scaliger and Montaigne

Montaigne. What could have brought you, M. de l’Escale, to visit the old man of the mountain, other than a good heart? Oh, how delighted and charmed I am to hear you speak such excellent Gascon. You rise early, I see: you must have risen with the sun, to be here at this hour; it is a stout half-hour’s walk from the brook. I have capital white wine, and the best cheese in Auvergne. You saw the goats and the two cows before the castle.

Pierre, thou hast done well: set it upon the table, and tell Master Matthew to split a couple of chickens and broil them, and to pepper but one. Do you like pepper, M. de l’Escale?

Scaliger. Not much.

Montaigne. Hold hard! let the pepper alone: I hate it. Tell him to broil plenty of ham; only two slices at a time, upon his salvation.

Scaliger. This, I perceive, is the antechamber to your library: here are your everyday books.

Montaigne. Faith! I have no other. These are plenty, methinks; is not that your opinion?

Scaliger. You have great resources within yourself, and therefore can do with fewer.

Montaigne. Why, how many now do you think here may be?

Scaliger. I did not believe at first that there could be above fourscore.

Montaigne. Well! are fourscore few? — are we talking of peas and beans?

Scaliger. I and my father (put together) have written well-nigh as many.

Montaigne. Ah! to write them is quite another thing: but one reads books without a spur, or even a pat from our Lady Vanity. How do you like my wine? — it comes from the little knoll yonder: you cannot see the vines, those chestnut-trees are between.

Scaliger. The wine is excellent; light, odoriferous, with a smartness like a sharp child’s prattle.

Montaigne. It never goes to the head, nor pulls the nerves, which many do as if they were guitar-strings. I drink a couple of bottles a day, winter and summer, and never am the worse for it. You gentlemen of the Agennois have better in your province, and indeed the very best under the sun. I do not wonder that the Parliament of Bordeaux should be jealous of their privileges, and call it Bordeaux. Now, if you prefer your own country wine, only say it: I have several bottles in my cellar, with corks as long as rapiers, and as polished. I do not know, M. de l’Escale, whether you are particular in these matters: not quite, I should imagine, so great a judge in them as in others?

Scaliger. I know three things: wine, poetry, and the world.

Montaigne. You know one too many, then. I hardly know whether I know anything about poetry; for I like Clem Marot better than Ronsard. Ronsard is so plaguily stiff and stately, where there is no occasion for it; I verily do think the man must have slept with his wife in a cuirass.

Scaliger. It pleases me greatly that you like Marot. His versions of the Psalms is lately set to music, and added to the New Testament of Geneva.

Montaigne. It is putting a slice of honeycomb into a barrel of vinegar, which will never grow the sweeter for it.

Scaliger. Surely, you do not think in this fashion of the New Testament!

Montaigne. Who supposes it? Whatever is mild and kindly is there. But Jack Calvin has thrown bird-lime and vitriol upon it, and whoever but touches the cover dirties his fingers or burns them.

Scaliger. Calvin is a very great man, I do assure you, M. de Montaigne.

Montaigne. I do not like your great men who beckon me to them, call me their begotten, their dear child, and their entrails; and, if I happen to say on any occasion, ‘I beg leave, sir, to dissent a little from you,’ stamp and cry, ‘The devil you do!’ and whistle to the executioner.

Scaliger. You exaggerate, my worthy friend!

Montaigne. Exaggerate do I, M. de l’Escale? What was it he did the other day to the poor devil there with an odd name? — Melancthon, I think it is.

Scaliger. I do not know: I have received no intelligence of late from Geneva.

Montaigne. It was but last night that our curate rode over from Lyons (he made two days of it, as you may suppose) and supped with me. He told me that Jack had got his old friend hanged and burned. I could not join him in the joke, for I find none such in the New Testament, on which he would have founded it; and, if it is one, it is not in my manner or to my taste.

Scaliger. I cannot well believe the report, my dear sir. He was rather urgent, indeed, on the combustion of the heretic Michael Servetus some years past.

Montaigne. A thousand to one, my spiritual guide mistook the name. He has heard of both, I warrant him, and thinks in his conscience that either is as good a roast as the other.

Scaliger. Theologians are proud and intolerant, and truly the farthest of all men from theology, if theology means the rational sense of religion, or indeed has anything to do with it in any way. Melancthon was the very best of the reformers; quiet, sedate, charitable, intrepid, firm in friendship, ardent in faith, acute in argument, and profound in learning.

Montaigne. Who cares about his argumentation or his learning, if he was the rest?

Scaliger. I hope you will suspend your judgment on this affair until you receive some more certain and positive information.

Montaigne. I can believe it of the Sieur Calvin.

Scaliger. I cannot. John Calvin is a grave man, orderly and reasonable.

Montaigne. In my opinion he has not the order nor the reason of my cook. Mat never took a man for a sucking-pig, cleaning and scraping and buttering and roasting him; nor ever twitched God by the sleeve and swore He should not have His own way.

Scaliger. M. de Montaigne, have you ever studied the doctrine of predestination?

Montaigne. I should not understand it, if I had; and I would not break through an old fence merely to get into a cavern. I would not give a fig or a fig-leaf to know the truth of it, as far as any man can teach it me. Would it make me honester or happier, or, in other things, wiser?

Scaliger. I do not know whether it would materially.

Montaigne. I should be an egregious fool then to care about it. Our disputes on controverted points have filled the country with missionaries and cut-throats. Both parties have shown a disposition to turn this comfortable old house of mine into a fortress. If I had inclined to either, the other would have done it. Come walk about it with me; after a ride, you can do nothing better to take off fatigue.

Scaliger. A most spacious kitchen!

Montaigne. Look up!

Scaliger. You have twenty or more flitches of bacon hanging there.

Montaigne. And if I had been a doctor or a captain, I should have had a cobweb and predestination in the place of them. Your soldiers of the religion on the one side, and of the good old faith on the other, would not have left unto me safe and sound even that good old woman there.

Scaliger. Oh, yes! they would, I hope.

Old Woman. Why dost giggle, Mat? What should he know about the business? He speaks mighty bad French, and is as spiteful as the devil. Praised be God, we have a kind master, who thinks about us, and feels for us.

Scaliger. Upon my word, M. de Montaigne, this gallery is an interesting one.

Montaigne. I can show you nothing but my house and my dairy. We have no chase in the month of May, you know — unless you would like to bait the badger in the stable. This is rare sport in rainy days.

Scaliger. Are you in earnest, M. de Montaigne?

Montaigne. No, no, no, I cannot afford to worry him outright: only a little for pastime — a morning’s merriment for the dogs and wenches.

Scaliger. You really are then of so happy a temperament that, at your time of life, you can be amused by baiting a badger!

Montaigne. Why not? Your father, a wiser and graver and older man than I am, was amused by baiting a professor or critic. I have not a dog in the kennel that would treat the badger worse than brave Julius treated Cardan and Erasmus, and some dozens more. We are all childish, old as well as young; and our very last tooth would fain stick, M. de l’Escale, in some tender place of a neighbour. Boys laugh at a person who falls in the dirt; men laugh rather when they make him fall, and most when the dirt is of their own laying.

Is not the gallery rather cold, after the kitchen? We must go through it to get into the court where I keep my tame rabbits; the stable is hard by: come along, come along.

Scaliger. Permit me to look a little at those banners. Some of them are old indeed.

Montaigne. Upon my word, I blush to think I never took notice how they are tattered. I have no fewer than three women in the house, and in a summer’s evening, only two hours long, the worst of these rags might have been darned across.

Scaliger. You would not have done it surely!

Montaigne. I am not over-thrifty; the women might have been better employed. It is as well as it is then; ay?

Scaliger. I think so.

Montaigne. So be it.

Scaliger. They remind me of my own family, we being descended from the great Cane della Scala, Prince of Verona, and from the House of Hapsburg, as you must have heard from my father.

Montaigne. What signifies it to the world whether the great Cane was tied to his grandmother or not? As for the House of Hapsburg, if you could put together as many such houses as would make up a city larger than Cairo, they would not be worth his study, or a sheet of paper on the table of it.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38