L’Estrange’s Witty Preface to Tully’s Offices

Sir Roger L'Estrange

Sir Roger L’Estrange, by John Michael Wright. From Wikimedia.

As I’m doing research for my book on Enlightenment British rhetorical culture, I often come across some interesting gems of wit. One of them is Sir Roger L’Estrange’s preface to his English translation of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s De Oratore (titled Tully’s Offices), first edition, 1680.

See how he jokes about prefatory letters requiring their own excusing prefaces!  And how does he make prostitutes relevant to this topic? Interesting.  I love the phrase “one Mass of Put[r]id and Elaborate Folly” — who curses nowadays with such elegance and high vocabulary?

(The numbers in [ ] are page images, since the preface’s pages are not numbered).


Cicero's Offices, 1680, preface p1‘TIS hard, me thinks, that a Man cannot Publish a Book, but he must presently give the World a Reason for’t; when yet there’s not One Book of Twenty that will bear a Reason; not One Man of a Hundred, perhaps, that is able to Give One; nor One Reason of a Thousand [2] (when they are given) that was the True Reason of Doing it. The True Reason (I say) For there’s a great Difference, many times, betwixt a Good Reason, for the doing of a thing, and the True Reason why the thing was done.

The Service of God is a very Good Reason for a Man’s going to Church; and yet the meeting of a Mistriss There, may, perchance, be the True Reason of his Going.

And so likewise in Other Cases, where we cover our Passions and our Interests under the Semblances of Virtue, and Duty.

But however, since [3] Custom; (the Plague of Wise Men, and the Idol of Fools) since Custom (I say) will have it so, that a Man had as good go to Court without his Cravat, as shew himself in Print without a Preface; I shall e’en Content my Self to play the Fool too, in so Much, and in so Good Company. (General Dedications being no Other, then Fashionable Fopperies.)

For what can be more Ridiculous, than for a Man to Treat Princes, and Tinkers; Coxcombs, and Philosophers; Men of Honour, and Rascals, promiscuously, all in a Stile?

[4] Now as it is no Easie Matter to give a Good Reason for Writing at all; so it is yet more Difficult to give That Reason in an Epistle; which, at best, stands in need of another very good Reason, for its own support.

But Prefaces, at the Ordinary rate of Prefaces, are wholly Inexcusable; Only an Idle Deal of Fiddle-Faddle betwixt the Writer and the Reader, made worse, by Care, and Peins; and Digested, out of Vulgar, and Pedantique Common-Places, into one Mass of Putid and Elaborate Folly.

This Liberty of Prefacing against [4] Prefaces, may seem a little Unreasonable; but Common Scriblers are allow’d the Privileges of Common Strumpets.

Cicero's Offices, 1680, title pageOne of the Frankest Prostitutes that ever I knew since I was born, had These Words the oftenest in her Mouth: Lord! (says she) to see the Impudence of some Women!

To come now to the Reasons that induc’d me to the Translating of This Little Book; I shall Begin with the Excellency of the Work it Self; which has ever been Esteemed, both for the Method, and Matter [5] of it, as one of the most Exact Pieces of the Kind that ever was written, and the most Instructive of Human Life.

In so much that Cicero himself valu’d himself upon This Tract of Morals, as his Master-Piece; and accordingly recommended the Study of it to his Beloved Son, under That Illustrious Character.

Secondly, as it was Composed in a Loose, and Troublesome Age, so was it accommodated also to the Circumstances of Those Times; for the assert-of the Force, and Efficacy of Virtue against the utmost Rigour, and Iniquity of Fortune. [5] Upon which Consideration likewise, I have now turn’d it into English, with a regard to a Place, and Season, that extreamly needs it.

I do not speak This, as if at any time it would have been Superfluous; but that Desperate Diseases require the most Powerful Remedies.

To give you the Sum of it in a few Words; It is a Manual of Precepts for the Government of our Selves, in all the Offices, Actions, and Conditions of Human Life; and tending, not only to the Comfort of Men in Society, but to the Conducting of Particulars [6] also, into a State of Felicity, and Virtue.

It is a Lesson that serves us from the very Cradle, to the Grave. It teaches us what we Ow to Mankind; to our Country; to our Parents; to our Friends; to our Selves; what we are to do as Children; what, as Men; what, as Citizens: It sets, and it keeps us Right in all the Duties of Prudence, Moderation, Resolution, and Justice. It Forms our Manners; Purges our Affections; enlightens our Understandings; and leads us, through the Knowledge, and the Love of Virtue, to the Practice, and Habit of it.

[6] This Treatise of Offices, I find to be one of the Commonest School-Books that we have; and as it is the Best of Books; so it is apply’d to the Best of Purposes; that is to say, to the Training up of Youth, in the Study and Exercise of Virtue.

The Foundations of an Honorable, and a Blessed Life, are laid in the very Cradle; and we suck in the Tincture of Generous, or Perverse Inclinations, even with our Mothers Milk: Insomuch that we may date the greater part of our greatest Miscarriages, from the Errors, and Infelicities of our First Institution, and Education.

[7] But tho’, upon the whole matter, I do Highly approve of the Usage of This Book in Schools, I must confess yet, with Submission, that I am not at all satisfy’d in the ordinary Way of using it. For the cutting of it out into Particles, here and there a Chop, makes it a Lesson, to the Boys, rather of Syntax, then Morality; beside the prejudice that it suffers under the Trivial name of a School-Book; and the disgust which naturally continues with us, even when we are Men, for that which we were whipt for, when we were Boyes.

[7] Now the Matter of this Book being so Excellent; and truly the Latin of it hardly Ciceronian; it should be our bus’ness rather to inculcate the Doctrine then the Stile; and yet in such manner too, that the One may be Attended, without Neglecting the Other.

And This may be effected to the Common Benefit of the Schollar, in Both Kinds; by, First, Reading, and Expounding These Offices, Whole to him, in English, before he be put to Hack, and Puzzle upon them by Snaps in the Original; the One Facilitating, and Preparing him for the Other.

Let him [8] be, First, and in his Mother-Tongue, instructed in the Principles of Moral Duties; and he shall then with the more Ease, Profit, and Delight, take the same Notions down in Latin, and Digest them.

Whereas in beginning with the Latin, the Pupil has little more to do, then to bring together the Nominative Case and the Verb, without either Understanding, or Heeding the main Scope, and Intent of the Book.

Cicero-TullysOffices-LEstrange-1680-pref-endI might here entertain the Reader with Twenty Stories of the Interruptions I have met with, in the Course of This Translation; how it has been [8] only the Work of Broken Hours; and I might plead These Distractions in excuse of all its Inequalities, and Defects.

But such as it is, Plain, and Simple, I do here present it to the Publique, without either Vanity, or Complement: and, I hope, without giving unto any sort of Reader any Just Cause of Compleint. For He that does not like it, may let it alone, and there’s no Hurt done.”Tully'sOffices-1680-flourish-border


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