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Renascence Editions

Montaigne's Essays


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Note on the e-text: this Renascence Editions text was provided by Ben R. Schneider, Lawrence University, Wisconsin. It is in the public domain. "Florio's Translation of Montaigne's Essays was first published in 1603. In 'The World's Classics' the first volume was published in 1904, and reprinted in 1910 and 1924." Content unique to this presentation is copyright © 1998 The University of Oregon. For nonprofit and educational uses only.


IT is even as that verse saith,
'Επεων δε πολυς υοηος ευθα και ευθα.

Of words on either side,
A large doale they divide.

There is law sufficient to speake every where, both pro and contra. As for example:
Vince Hannibal, et non seppe usar' poi
Ben la vittor iosa sua ventura. --Pet. Par. 1. son. lxxxvi. 1.

Hanniball conquer'd, but he knew not after
To use well his victorious good fortune.

  He that shall take this part, and with our men go about, to make that over-sight prevaile, that we did not lately pursue our fortune at Montcontour: Or he that shall accuse the King of Spaine, who could not use the advantage he had against us at Saint Quintin, may say this fault to have proceeded from a minde drunken with his good fortune, and from a courage ful-gorged with the beginning of good lucke; loseth the taste how to encrease it, being already hindred from digesting what he hath conceived of it: He hath his hands full, and cannot take hold any more: Unworthy that ever fortune should cast so great a good into his lap: For, what profit hath he of it, if, notwithstanding, he give his enemie leasure and meanes to recover himselfe? What hope may one have, that he will once more adventure to charge these re-enforced und re-united forces, and new armed wit h despite and vengeance, that durst not, or knew not how to pursue them, being dismaied and put to rout?
Dum fortuna calet, dum conficit omnia terror. Lucan. vii. 734.

While fortune is at height in heat.
And terror worketh all by great.

  But to conclude, what can he expect better than what he hath lately lost? It is not, as at Fence, where the number of venies given gets the victorie: So long as the enemie is on foot, a man is newly to begin. It is no victorie, except it end the warre. In that conflict where Cæsar had the worse, neere the Citie of Oricum, he reprochfully said unto Pompeis souldiers, That he had utterly beene overthrowne, had their Captaine knowne how to conquer, and paid him home after another fashion when it came to his turne. But why may not a man also hold the contrarie? That it is the effect of an insatiate and rash-headlong mind, not to know how to limit or period his covetousnesse: That it is an abusing of Gods favours to goe about to make them lose the measure he hath prescribed them, and that anew to cast himselfe into danger after the victorie, is once more to remit the same unto the mercie of fortune: That one of the chiefest policies in militarie profession is not to drive his enemie unto despaire. Silla and Marius in the sociall warre, leaving discomfited the Marsians, seeing one squadron of them yet on foot, which through despaire, like furious beasts were desperately comming upon them, could not be induced to stay or make head against them. If the fervor of Monsieur de Foix had not drewne him over rashly and moodily to pursue the straglers of the victorie at Ravenna, he had not blemished the same with his untimely death; yet did the fresh-bleeding memorie of his example serve to preserve the Lord of Anguien from the like inconvenience at Serisoles. It is dangerous to assaile a man whom you have bereaved of all other meanes to escape or shift for himselfe but by his weapons; for necessitie is a violent school mistris, and which teacheth strange lessons: Gravissimi stint morsus irritatæ necessitatis. 'No biting so grievous as that of necessitie provoked and enraged.
Vincitur haud gratis jugulo qui provocat hostem. -- Lucan. iv. 278.

For nought you over-come him not,
Who bids his foe come cut his throat

  And this is the reason why Pharax empeached the King of Lacedemon, who came from gaining of a victorie against the Mantinæans, from going to charge a thousand Argians, that were escaped whole from the discomfiture; but rather to let them passe with all libertie, lest he should come to make triall of provoked and despited vertue, through and by ill fortune. Clodomire King of Aquitaine, after his victorie, pursuing Gondemar King of Burgundie, vanquished and running away, forced him to make a stand, and make head again: but his unadvised wilfulnesse deprived him of the fruit of the victorie, for he dyed in the action. Likewise he that should chuse, whether it were best to keepe his souldiers richly and sumptuously armed, or only for necessitie, should seeme to yeeld in favour of the first, whereof was Sertorius, Philopoemen, Brutus, Cæsar, and others. urging that it is ever a spur to honour and glorie for a souldier to see himselfe gorgeously attired and richly armed, and an occasion to yeeld himselfe more obstinate to fight, having the care to save his armes, as his goods and inheritince. A reason (saith Xenophon) why the Asiatikes carried with them, when they went to warres, their wives and concubines; with all their jewels and chiefest wealth. And might also encline to the other side, which is, that a man should rather remove from his shoulder all care to preserve himselfe, than to increase it unto him: for by that meanes he shall doubly feare to hazard or engage himselfe, seeing these rich spoiles doe rather increase an earnest desire of victorie in the enemie: and it hath beene observed that the said respect hath sometimes wonderfully encouraged the Romans against the Samnites. Antiochus shewing the armie he prepared against them, gorgeously accoutred with all pompe and statelinesse, unto Hanniball, and demanding of him whether the Romanes would be contented with it: Yyea, verily, answered the other, they will be very well pleased with it: They must needs be so, were they never so covetous. Licurgus forbad his Souldiers, not onely all manner of sumptuousnesse in their equipage, but also to unease or strip their enemies when they overcame them, willing, as he said, that frugalitie and povertie should shine with the rest of the battell. Both at sieges and elsewhere, where occasion brings us neere the enemie, we freely give our souldiers libertie to brave, to disdaine, and injure him with all manner of reproaches: And not without apparence of reason; for it is no small matter to take from them all hope of grace and composition, in presenting unto them that there is no way left to accept it from him whom they have so egregiously outraged, and that there is no remedie left but from victorie. Yet had Vitellius but had successe in that; for, having to deale with Otho, weaker in his souldiers valor, and of long disaccustomed from warre, and effeminated through the delights and pleasures of the Citie, himselfe in the end set them so on fire with his reproachfull and injurious words, upbrayding them with their pusilanimitie and faint-heartednesse, and with the regret of their ladies, banquettings and sensualities, which they had left at Rome, that he put them into heart againe, which no perswasions or other meanes could doe before; and thereby drew them, whom nought could have driven, to fight and fall upon him. And verily, when they are injuries that touch a man to the quicke, they shall easily urge him, who was very backward to fight for his Kings quarrel, to be very forward in his owne cause or interest. If a man but consider of what consequence the preservation and importance the safetie of a generall is in an Armie, and how the enemies chiefest ayme is at the fairest marke, which is the head, from which all other depend, it seemeth that that counsell cannot be doubted of, which by sundrie great Chieftaines we have seene put in practice, which is, in the beginning of the fight, or in the fury of the battell, to disguise themselves. Notwithstanding the inconvenience a man may by this meanes incurre, is no lesse than that mischiefe which a man seeketh to avoid: For the Captaine being unseene and unknowne of his souldiers, the courage they take by his example, and the heart they keep by his presence, is therewithall impaired and diminished; and losing the knowne ensignes and accustomed markes of their Leader, they either deem him dead, or, dispairing of any good success, to be fled. And touching experience, we sometimes see it to favor the one and sometimes the other partie. The accident of Pirrhus in the battell he had against the Consull Levinus in Italie serveth us for both uses: For, by concealing himselfe under the armes of Demagacles, and arming him with his owne indeed he saved his life, but was in great danger to fall into the other mischiefe, and lose the day. Alexander, Cæsar, Lucullus, loved (at what time they were to enter fight) to arme and attire themselves with the richest armes, and garish clothes they had, and of particular bright-shining colours. Agis, Agesilaus, and that great Gilippus, contrairie, would ever goe to warres meanely accoutred, and without any imperiall ornament. Among other reproaches that great Pompey is charged withall in the battell of Pharsalia, this is one speciall, that he idlely lingred with his Armie, expecting what his enemie would attempt; forasmuch as that (I will here borrow the very words of Plutarke, which are of more consequence than mine) weakneth the violence that running giveth the first bIowes, and therewithall removeth the charging of the Combatants one against another, which more than any other thing is wont to fill them with fury and impetuosity, when with vehemence they come to enter-shocke one another, augmenting their courage by the crie and running; and in a manner alayeth and quaileth the heat of Souldiers: Loe-here what he saith concerning this. But had Cæsar lost, who might not also have said, that contrariwise the strongest and firmest situation is that wherein a man keeps his stand without budginge and that who is settled in his march, closing, and against any time of need, sparing his strength in himselfe, hath a great advantage against him that is in motion and disordered; and that running hath already consumed part of his breath? Moreover, that an armie being a body composed of so many several parts, it is impossible it should in such furie advance it selfe with so just a match, and proportioned a motion, and not breake and dis-ranke, or at least alter her ordinance, and that the nimblest be not grapling before his fellowes may helpe him. In that drearie battell of the two Persian brethren, Clearchus the Lacedemonian, who commanded the Græcians that followed, Cyrus his faction, let them faine and gently without any halt-making to their charges, but when he came within fifty paces of his enemies he had them with all speed to run unto it; hoping by the shortnesse of the distance to manage their order and direct their breath; in the meane time giving them the advantage of the impetuositie, both for their bodies and for their shooting-armes. Others have ordered this doubt in their army after this manner: If your enemies headlong run upon you, stay for them and bouge not: If they without stirring stay for you, run with furie upon them.
  In the passage which the Emperor Charles the fifth made into Provence, our King Francis the first stood a good while upon this choice; whether it was best, by way of prevention, to go and meet with him in Italie, or to stay his comming into France. And albeit he considered what an advantage it is for one to preserve his house from the troubles and mischiefes that warre brings with it, to the end that, possessing her whole strength, it may continually in all times of need store him with money, and supplie him with all other helps; and considering how the necessity of direfull warre doth daily enforce a Generall to make spoile of goods, and waste the Countrie, which cannot well be done in our owne goods and countrie: and that the countriman doth not as patiently indure this ravage at his friends hands as at his enemies, so as seditions may ensue amongst our onlie factions, and troubles amongst our friends: That license to rob and spoile, which in his countrie may not be to erated, is a great furtherance in a Souldier, and makes him the more willing to endure the miseries and toylings that follow warre: And what a hard matter it is to keep the Souldier in office and heart, who hath no other hope of profit but his bare pay, and is so neere his wife, his children, his friends, and his home: That he who layeth the cloth is ever put to the greatest charges: That there is more pleasure in assailing than in defending: And that the apprehension of a battell lost in our ow ne home and entrailes is so violent, that it may easily shake the whole frame and distemper the whole body, seeing there is no passion so contagious as that of fear nor so easie apprehended and taken a-trust, or doth more furiously possesse all parts of man: And that the Cities or Townes, which have either heard the hustling noise of the tempest or seene the sparkles of this all-consuming fire at their gates, or have perhaps received their Captaines wounded, their Citizens pursued, and their souldiers spoiled, and all out of breath, if they be not more than obstinately constant, it is a thousand to one if in that brunt of furie they doe not headlong cast themselves into some desperate resolution. Yet did he conclude and chuse this resolve for the best: First to revoke his forces he had beyond the Mountaines in Italie, and so stay his enemies approaches. For he might, on the contrairie part, imagine that being in his owne countrie, and amidst good freinds, he had the better leisure io re-enforce his decayed forces, and more opportunitie to strengthen Townes, to munite Castles, to store Rivers with all necessaries they wanted, and to keepe all passages at his devotion, which done, all the wayes should be open for him, and might by them have all manner of victuals, money, and other habilements of warre brought him in safety, and without convoy: that he should have his subjects so much the more affectionate unto him, by how much nearer they should see the danger: That having so many Cities, Townes, Holds, Castles, and Barres for his securitie, he might at all times, according to opportunitie and advantage, appoint and give Law unto the fight: And if he were pleased to temporize, whilest he took his ease, kept his forces whole, and maintained himself in safetie, he might see his enemie consume and waste himselfe by the difficulties which daily must necessarily assault, environ, and combat him, as he who should be engaged in an enemie-countrie and foe-land, where he should have nothing, nor meet with any thing, either before or behind him, or of any side, that did not offer him continuall warre: no way nor meanes to refresh, to ease or give his armie elbow-roome, if any sicknesse or contagion should come amongst his men; nor shelter to lodge his hurt and maymed Souldiers: where neither monie, munition, nor victuals might come unto him, but at the swords point; where he should never have leasure to take any rest or breath; where he should have no knowledge of places, passages, woods, foords, rivers, or countrie, that might defend him from ambuscados or surprises: And if he should unfortunately chance to lose a battell, no hope to save, or meanes to reunite the reliques of his forces. And there want not examples to strengthen both sides. Scipio found it better for him to invade his enemies countrie of Affrica, than to defend his owne, and fight with him in Italie, where he was, wherein he had good successe. But contrariwise, Hanniball in the same warre wrought his owne overthrow, by leaving the conquest of a forraine countrie for to goe and defend his owne. The Athenians having left the enemie in their owne land for to passe into Sicilie, had very ill successe, and were much contraried by fortune: whereas Agathocles, King of Siracusa, prospered and was favoured by her, what time he passed into Affrica, and left the warre on foot in his owne countrie. And we are accustomed to say with some show of reason, that especially in matters of warre the events depend (for the greatest part) on fortune: which seldome will yeeld, or never subject her selfe unto our discourse or wisdome, as say these ensuing verses:
Et male consultis pretium est, prudentia fallax,
Nec fortuna probat causas sequiturque merentes:
Sed vaga per cunctos nullo discrimine fertur:
Scilicet est aliud quod nos cogatque regatque
Majus, et in proprias ducat mortalia leges.  --Manil. Astr. iv. 95.

'Tis best for ill advis'd, wisdome may faile,
Fortune proves not the cause that should prevaile,
But here and there without respect doth saile,
A higher power forsooth us over-drawes,
And mortall states guides with immortall lawes.

  But if it be well taken, it seemeth that our counsels and deliberations doe as much depend of her; and that fortune doth also engage our discourses and consultations in her trouble and uncertaintie. We reason rashly, and discourse at random, saith Timeus in Plato: for even as we, so have our discourses great participation with the temeritie of hazard.

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