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Montaigne's Essays: Book II


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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.


THERE is no reason but hath another contrary unto it, saith the wisest party of Philosophers. I did erewhile ruminate upon this notable saying, which an ancient writer alleageth for the contempt of life. No good can bring us any pleasure, except that against whole losse we are prepared: In æquo est, dolor amissæ rei, et timor amittendæ:'(Sen. Epist. xcviii.) 'Sorrow for a thing lost, and feare of losing it, are on an even ground.' Meaning to gain thereby, that the fruition of life cannot perfectly be pleasing unto us, if we stand in any feare to lose it. A man might nevertheless say on the contrary part, that we embrace and claspe this good so much the harder, and with more affection, as we perceive it to be less sure, and feare it should be taken from us. For, it is manifestly found, that as fire is rouzed up by the assistance of cold, even so our will is whetted on by that which doth resist it.
Si nunquam Danæn habuisset ahenea turis,
Non esset Danæ de Iove facta parens --Ovid. Am ii. El. xix. 27.

If Danæ had not beene clos'd in brazen Tower,
Jove had not closed with Danæ in golden shower,

   And that there is nothing so naturally opposite to our taste as satiety, which comes from ease and facility, nor nothing that so much sharpneth it as rarenesse and difficulty. Omnium rerum voluptas ipso quo debet fugare periculo crescit: 'The delight of all things encreaseth by the danger, whereby it rather should terrify them that affect it.'
Galla nega; satiatur amor, nisi gaudia torquent. -- Mart. iv. Epig. xxxviii. i.

Good wench, deny, my love is cloied,
Unlesse joyes grieve, before enjoyed.

  To keepe love in breath and longing, Lycurgus ordained that the maried men of Lacedemonia might never converse with their wives but by stealth, and that it should be as great an imputation and shame to finde them laide together, as if they were found living with others. The difficulty of assignations or matches appointed, the danger of being surprised, and the shame of ensuing to-morrow,
------- et languor, et silentium, Et latere petitus imo spiritus. --Hor. Epo. xi. 13.

And whispering voice, and languishment,
And breath in sighes from deepe sides sent.

are the things that give relish and tartnesse to the sawce. How many most lasciviously-pleasant sports proceed from modest and shamefast manner of speech, of the daliances and workes of love? Even voluptuousnesse seekes to provoke and stirre it selfe up by smarting. It is much sweeter when it itcheth, and endeared when it gauleth. The curtezan Flora was wont to say that she never lay with Pompey but she made him carry away the markes of her teeth.
Quod petiere premunt arcte, faciuntque dolorem
Corpore, et dentes inlidant sæpe labellis:
Et stimuli subsunt, qui instigant lædere id ipsum
Quodcumgue est, rabies unde illi germina surgunt,  --Lucr. iv. 1070.
So goes it every where: rarenesse and difficulty giveth esteeme unto things. Those of Marca d'Ancona, in Italy, make their vowes, and goe on pilgrimage rather unto Iames in Galicia, and those of Galicia rather unto our Lady of Loreto. In the country of Liege they make more account of the Bathes of Luca; and they of Tuscany esteeme the Baths of Spawe more than their owne. In Rome the Fence-schooles are ever full of Frenchmen, when few Romans come unto them. Great Cato, as well as any else, was even cloied and distasted with his wife so long as she was his owne, but when another mans, then wished he for her, and would faine have lickt his fingers at her. I have heretofore put forth an old stalion to soile, who before did no sooner see or smell a mare but was so lusty that no man could rule him, nor no ground hold him; ease and facilitie to come to his owne when he list, hath presently quailed his stomacke, and so cloyed him that he is weary of them. But toward strange mares, and the first that passeth by his pasture, there is no hoe with him, but suddenly he returnes to his old wonted neighings and furious heate. Our appetite doth contemne and passe over what he hath in his free choice and owne possession, to runne after and pursue what he hath not.
Transvolat in medio posita, et fugientia captat.  -- Hor. Ser. i. Sat. ii. 107
It over flies what open lies,
Pursuing onely that which flies.
To forbid us anything is the ready way to make us long for it.
          -----nisi tu servare puellam
Incipis, incipiet desinere ese mea.  -- Ovid. Am. ii. El. xix. 47.

If you begin not your wench to enshrine,
She will begin to leave off to be mine.

And to leave it altogether to our will is but to breede dislike and contempt in us. So that to want and to have store breedeth one selfe same inconvenience.
Tibi quod super est, mihi quod desit, dolet. -- Ter. Phor. act. i.sc. 3.

You grieve because you have too much
It griev's me that I have none such.
   Wishing and enjoying trouble us both alike. The rigor of a mistris is yrkesome, but ease and facility (to say true) much more; forasmuch as discontent and vexation proceed of the estimation we have of the thing desired, which sharpen love and set it afire. Whereas satiety begets distaste: it is a dull, blunt, weary, and drouzy passion.

Si qua volet regnare diu, contemnat amantem. --Ovid. Am. ii. El. xix. 33.

If any list long to beare sway,
Scorne she her lover, ere she play.

        -----contemnite amantes,
Sic hodie veniet, si qua negavit heri. -- Prop. ii. El. xiv. 19.

Lovers your lovers scorne, contemne, delude, deride
So will shee come to-day, that yesterday denied.

   Why did Poppea devise to maske the beauties of her face, but to endear them to her lovers? Why are those beauties vailed downe to the heeles, which all desire to shew, which all wish to see? Why doe they cover with so many lets, one over another, those parts where chiefly consisteth our pleasure and theirs? And to what purpose serve those baricadoes and verdugalles wherewith our women arme their flankes, but to allure our appetite, and enveagle us to them by putting us off?
Et fugit ad salices, et se cupit ante videri. -- Virg. Buco. Ecl. iii. 65.

She to the willows runs to hide,
Yet gladly would she first be spide,

Interdum tunica duxit operta moram. -- Pro. ibid. Eleg. xv. 6.

She cover'd with her cote in play,
Did sometime make a short delay.

Whereto serves this mayden-like bashfulnesse, this willfull quaintnesse, this severe countenance, this seeming ignorance of those things which they know better than our selves, that goe about to instruct them, but to increase a desire and endeare a longing in us to vanquish, to gourmandize, and at our pleasure to dispose all this squeamish ceremonie, and all these peevish obstacles? For, it is not only a delight but a glory to besot and debauch this dainty and nice sweetnesse, and this infantine bashfullnesse, and to subject a marble and sterne gravity to the mercy of our flame. It is a glory (say they) to triumph over modesty, chastity and temperance: and who disswadeth ladies from these parts, betraieth both them and himselfe. It is to be supposed that their heart yerneth for feare, that the sound of our wordes woundeth the purity of their eares, for which they hate us, and with a forced constraint agree to withstand our importunitie. Beauty with all her might hath not wherewith to give a taste of her selfe without these interpositions. See in Italie, where most, and of the finest beauty is to be sold, how it is forced to seek other strange meanes, and suttle devices, arts and tricks, to yeeld her selfe pleasing and acceptable: and yet in good sooth, doe what it can, being venal and common, it remaineth feeble, and even languishing. Even as in vertue of two equall effects, we hold that the fairest and worthiest, wherein are proposed more lets, and which affordeth greater hazards. It is an effect of Gods providence, to suffer his holy Church to be vexed and turmoyled as we see with so many troubles and stormes, to rouze and awaken by this opposition and strife the godly and religious soules, and raise them from out a lethall security and stupified slumber, wherein so long tranquility had plunged them. If we shall counterpoize the losse we have had by the number of those that have strayed out of the right way, and the profit that acrueth unto us, by having taken hart of grace, and by reason of combate raised our zeale and forces; I wot not whether the profit doth surmount the losse. We thought to tie the bond of our marriages the faster by removing all meanes to dissolve them, but by how much faster that of constraint hath bin tried, so much more hath that of our will and affection bin slacked and loosed: Whereas, on the contrary side, that which so long time held mariages in honour and safety in Rome, was the liberty to break them who list. They kept their wives the better, forsomuch as they might leave them; and when divorces might freely be had, there past five hundred years and more before any would ever make use of them.
Quod licet, ingratum est, quod non licet, acrius urit. -- Ovid. Am. ii. El.xix. 3.

What we may doe, doth little please:
It woormes us more, that hath lesse ease.

   To this purpose might the opinion of an ancient writer be adjoyned, that torments do rather encourage vices than suppress them; that they beget not a care of well-doing, which is the worke of reason and discipline, but only a care not to be surprised in doing evill.
Latius excisæ pestis contagia serpunt.

Th' infection of the plague nigh spent
And rooted out, yet further went.

   I wot not whether it be true, but this I know by experience that policie was never found to be reformed that way. The order and regiment of maners dependeth of some ther meane. The Greeke stories make mention of the Agrippians neighbouring upon Scithia, who live without any rod or staffe of offence, where not onely no man undertakes to buckle with any other man but whosoever can but save himselfe, there (by reason of their vertue and sanctity of life) is as it were in a Sanctuary: And no man dares so much as to touch him. Many have recourse to them, to attone and take up quarrels and differences, which arise amongst men else where. There is a nation where the enclosure of gardens and fields they intend keepe severall, are made with a seely twine of cotton, which amongst them is found to be more safe and fast than are our ditches and hedges. Furem signata sollicitant, Aperta ffractarius præterit (Sen. Epist. lxix). 'Things sealed up solicite a thief to break them open: Whereas a common burglayer will passe by quietly things that lie open.' Amongst other meanes, ease and facility doth haply cover and fence my house from the violence of civill wares: Inclosure and fencing drawe on the enterprise, and distrust, the offence. I have abated and weakened the souldiers designe by taking hazard and all means of military glory from their exploite, which is wont to serve them, for a title, and stead them for an excuse. What is performed courageously, at what time justice lieth dead, and law hath not her due course, is ever done honourably. I yeeld them the conquest of my house dastardly and treacherous. It is never shut to any that knocketh. It hath no other guardian or Provision but a porter, as an ancient custome, and used ceremony, who serveth not so much to defend my gate as to offer it more decently and courteously to all comers. I have nor watch nor sentinell but what the starres keepe for mee. That gentleman is much to blame who makes a shew to stand upon his guards, except he be very strong indeed. Who so is open on one side is so every where. Our fore-fathers never dreamed on building of frontire townes and castles. The meanes to assaile (I meane without battery and troopes of armed men) and to surprise our houses, encrease daily beyond the meanes of garding or defending. Mens wits are generally exasperated and whetted on that way. An invasion concerneth all, the defence none but the rich. Mine was sufficiently strong, according to the times when it was made. I have since added nothing unto it that way; and I would feare the strength of it should turne against my selfe. Seeing a peaceable time will require we shall unfortifie them. It is dangerous not to be able to recover them againe, and it is hard for one to be assured of them. For concerning intestine broils, your owne servant may be of that faction you stand in feare of. And where religion serveth for a pretence, even alliances and consanguinitie become mistrustful under colour of justice. Common rents cannot entertaine our private garrisons. They should all be consumed. We have not wherewith, nor are wee able to doe it without our apparent ruine, or more incommodiously and therewithall injuriously without the common peoples destruction. The state of my losse should not be much worse. And if you chance to be a looser, your owne friends are readier to accuse your improvidence and unhedinesse than to moane you, and excuse your ignorance and careles enesse concerning the offices belonging to your profession. That so many strongly-garded houses have been lost, whereass mine continueth still, makes me suspect they were overthrowne onely because they were so diligently garded. It is that which affoordeth a desire and ministreth a pretence to the assailant. All gards beare a shew of warre, which if God be so pleased may light upon me. But so it is, I will never call for it. It is my sanctuary or retreate to rest my selfe from warres. I endeavour to free this corner from the publike storme, as I doe another corner in my soule. Our warre may change forme and multiply and diversifie how and as long as it list, but for my selfe I never stirre. Amongst so many barricaded and armed houses, none but my selfe (as farre as I know) of my qualitie hath merely trusted the protection of his unto the heavens: for I never removed neither plate, nor hangings, nor my evidences. I will neither feare nor save my selfe by halfes. If a full acknowledgement purchaseth the favour of God, it shall last me for ever unto the end: if not, I have continued long enough to make my continuance remarkeable and worthy the registring. What, is not thirtie yeares a goodly time?

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