Montaigne on Physiognomy

Michel de Montaigne, Essays (1571-92; p. 1580-95; trans. John Florio, 1603):

We attribute sauage shapes and ougly formes vnto diuels. As who doeth not ascribe high-raised eye-browes, open nostrils, a sterne frightfull visage, and a huge body vnto Tamburlane, as is the forme or shape of the imagination we haue fore-conceiued by the bruite of his name? (“Of Repenting,” 454)

Meet we sometimes with crooked, deformed, and in body mishapen men, without falling into rage and discontent (“Of the Arte of Conferring,” 523)

Socrates hath been a perfect patterne in all great qualities. I am vexed, that ever he met with so vnhansome and crabbed a body, as they say he had, and so dissonant from the beauty of his minde. Himselfe so amorous and so besotted on beauty. Nature did him wrong. There is nothing more truly semblable, as the conformity or relation betweene the body and the minde. (“Of Phisiognomy,” 595-96)

This superficiall ill-favourdnesse, which is notwithstanding to the most imperious, is of lesse prejudice vnto the state of the minde: and hath small certainty in mens opinion. The other, by a more proper name called a more substantiall   deformity, beareth commonly a deeper inward stroke….As Socrates said of his, that it justly accused so much in his mind had he not corrected the same by institution. But in so saying, I suppose, that according to his wonted vse, he did but jest: and so excellent a mind, did never frame it selfe. (“Of Phisiognomy,” 596)

Yet me thinkes, that the same feature and manner of the face and those lineaments, by which some argue certaine inward complexions, and our future fortunes, is a thing that doth not directly nor simply lodge vnder the Chapter of beauty and ill favourdnesse; no more than all good favours, or cleerenesse of aire, doe not alwayes promise health; nor all fogges and stinkes, infection, in times of the plague. (“Of Phisiognomy,” 596)

If my countenance had not answered for me, if the ingenuity of mine inward intent might not plainely have beene disciphered in mine eyes and voice, surely I could never have continued so long, without quarrells or offences: with this indiscreete liberty, to speake freely (be it right or wrong) what ever commeth to my minde, and rashly to judge of things. (“Of Phisiognomy,” 599)

There are some fauourable Physiognomies. (“Of Phisiognomy,” 596)

A mans loòke or aire of his face, is but a weake warrant; notwithstanding it is of some consideration. (“Of Phisiognomy,” 596)

To prognosticate future successes of them, be matters I leave vndecided. (“Of Phisiognomy,” 597)

Those which we call monsters are not so with God, who in the immensitie of his worke seeth the infinitie of forme therein contained. (“Of a Monstrous Child,” 399)

Wee call that against nature, which commeth against custome: There is nothing, whatsoever it be, that is not according to hir. Let therefore this vniversall and naturall reason, chase from vs the error, and expell the astonishment, which noveltie breedeth, and strangenes causeth in vs. (“Of a Monstrous Child,” 399)

If we terme those things monsters or miracles to which our reason cannot attaine, how many such doe daily present themselves vnto our sight? (“It is Follie to Referre Truth or Falsehood to our Sufficiencie,” 87-88)

Whilst a man endevoureth to finde out causes, forcible and weighty ends, and worthy so great a name, hee looseth the true and essentiall. They are so little, that they escape our sight. (“Of the Lame or Cripple,” 580)

All these miracles and strange events, are vntill this day hidden from me: I have seene no such monster, or more expresse wonder in this world, then my selfe. With time and custome a man doth acquaint and enure him selfe to all strangenesse: But the more I frequent and know my selfe, the more my deformity astonieth me: and the lesse I vnderstand my selfe. (“Of the Lame or Cripple,” 580)

The croked man doeth it best….I would have saide, that the loose or disjoynted motion of alimping or crooke-backt Woman, might addesome new kinde of pleasure vnto that businesse or sweet sinne, and some vn-assaid sensuall sweetnesse, to such as make triall of it: but I have lately learnt, that even ancient Philosophy hath decided the matter: Who saith, that the legs and thighs of the crooked-backt or  halting- lame, by reason of their imperfection, not receiving the nourishment, due vnto them, it followeth that the Genitall partes, that are above them, are more full, better nourished and more vigorous. Or else, that such a defect hindring other exercise, such as are therewith possessed, do lesse waste their strength and consume their vertue, and so much the stronger and fuller, they come to Uenus sportes. (“Of the Lame or Cripple,” 582-83)

In few, there is no constant existence, neither of our being, nor of the obiects. And we, and our judgement, and al mortal things els do vncessantly rowle turne and passe away. Thus can nothing be certainely established, nor of the one, nor of the other; both the judging and the judged being in continuall alteration and motion. Wee have no communication with being; for every humane nature is ever in the middle betweene being borne and dying; giving nothing of it selfe but an obscure apparance and shaddow, and an vncertaine and weake opinion. (“An Apologie of Raymond Sebond,” 340)