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Montaigne's Essays: Book II


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Note on th 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.



THE weaknes of our condition causeth that things in their naturall simplicitie and puritie cannot fall into our use. The elements we enjoy are altered: metals likewise, yea gold, must be empaired with some other stuffe to make it fit for our service. Nor vertue so simple which Ariston, Pyrrho, and Stoikes made the end of their life, hath been able to doe no good without composition: nor the Cirenaike sensualitie or Aristipian voluptuousness. 'Of the pleasures and goods we have, there is none exempted from some mixture of evill and incommoditie.'
              ----- medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid, quod in ipsis floribus angat. Lucr. iv. 1224.

From middle spring of sweetes some bitter springs,
Which in the very flower smartly stings.

  Our exceeding voluptuousnesse hath some aire of groning and wailing. Would you not say it dieth of anguish? Yea, when we forge its image in hir excellencie, we deck it with epithets of sickish and dolorous qualities: languor, effeminacy, weaknesse, fainting and Morbidezza, a great testimony of their consanguinity and consubtantiality. Excessive joy hath more severity then jolity: extreme and full content more settlednes then cheerfulnesse. Ipsa fælicitas, so nisi temperat, premit (Sest. quare, etc.) Felicitie it selfe, unlesse it temper it selfe, distempers us.' Ease consumeth us. It is that which an old Greek verse saith of such a sense: 'The Gods sell us all the goods they give us:' that is to say they give us not one pure and perfect, and which we buy not with the price of some evill. Travail and pleasure, most unlike in nature, are notwithstanding followed together by a kind of I wot not what natural conjunction. Socrates saith that some God attempted to huddle together and confound sorrow and voluptuousnesse: but being unable to effect it, he bethought himselfe to couple them together, at least by the taile. Metrodorus said that in sadnesse there is some aloy of pleasure. I knowe not whether he meant any thing else, but I imagine that for one to enure himselfe to melancholy, there is some kinde of purpose of consent and mutuall delight: I meane besides ambition, which may also be joyned unto it. There is some shadow of delicacy and quaintnesse which smileth and fawneth upon us even in the lap of melancholy. Are there not some complexions that of it make their nourishment?
------ est quædam flere voluptas.-- Ovid. Trist. iv. El. iii. 37.

It is some pleasure yet
With teares our cheekes to wet.

And one Attalus in Seneca saith the remembrance of our last friends is as pleasing to us as bitternesse in wine that is over old.
Minister veteris puer falerni
Ingere mi calices amariores: -- Cat. Lyr. Epi. xxiv. I.

Sir boy, my servitor of good old wine,
Bring me my cup thereof, bitter, but fine.

and as of sweetly-sower apples, nature discovereth this confusion unto us: painters are of opinion that the motions and wrinkles in the face which serve to weepe serve also to laugh. Verily before one or other be determined to expresse which, behold the pictures success, you are in doubt toward which one enclineth. And the extreamity of laughing entermingles it selfe with teares. Nullum sine auctoramento malum est (Sen. Epig. lxix.). 'There is no evill without some obligation.' When I imagine man fraught with all the commodities may be wished, let us suppose all his severall members were for ever possessed with a pleasure like unto that of generation, even in the highest point that may be: I finde him to sinke under the burden of his ease, and perceive him altogether unable to beare so pure, so constant, and so universall a sensuality. Truely he flies when he is even upon the nicke, and naturally hasteneth to escape it, as from a step whereon he cannot stay or containe himselfe, and feareth to sinke into it. When I religiously confesse my selfe unto my selfe, I finde the best good I have hath some vicious taint. And I feare that Plato in his purest vertue (I that am as sincere and loyall an esteemer thereof, and of the vertues of such a stampe, as any other can possibly be) if he had neerely listened unto it (and sure he listened very neere) he would therein have heard some harsh tune of humane mixture, but an obscure tune, and onely sensible unto himselfe. Man all in all is but a botching and party coloured worke. The very lawes of Justice can not subsist without some commixture of injustice. And Plato saith they undertake to cut off Hidræs heads that pretend to remove all incommodities and inconveniences from the lawes. Omne magnum exemplum habet aliquid ex iniquo, quod contra singulos utilitate publica rependitur: (Tacitus, Ann. xiv. Cassi.) 'Every great example hath some touch of injustice which is requited by the common good against particulars,' saith Tacitus. It is likewise true that for the use of life and service of publike society there may be excesse in the purity and perspicuity of our spirits. This piercing brightnes hath overmuch subtility and curiositie. They should be made heavy and dull io make them the more obedi ent to example and practice, and they must be thickned and obscured to proportion them to this shady and terrestriall life. Therefore are vulgar and lesse wire drawne wits found to be more fit and happy in the conduct of affaires. And the exquisite and high- raised opinions of Philosophy unapt and unfit to exercise. This sharpe vivacity of the spirit, and this supple and restlesse volubility troubleth our negotiations. Humane enterprises should be managed more grosely and superficially, and have a good and great part of them left for the rights of fortune. Affaires need not be sifted so nicely and so profoundly. A man looseth himselfe about the considerations of so many contrary lustres and diverse formes. Volutantibus res inter se pugnantes, obtorpuerant animi: (Liv. dec. iv. lib. 2). 'Their mindes were astonished while they revolved things so different.' It is that which our elders report of Simonides; because his imagination concerning the question Hieron the King had made unto him (which the better to answer he had diverse dayes allowed him to thinke of it) presented sundry subtil and sharpe considerations unto him; doubting which might be the likeliest; he altogether dispaireth of the truth. Whosoever searcheth all the circumstances and embraceth all the consequences thereof hindereth his election. A meane engine doth equally conduct and sufficeth for the executions of great and little weights. It is commonly seene that the best husbands and the thriftiest are those who cannot tell how they are so: and that these cunning arithmeticians doe seldome thrive by it. I know a notable pratler and an excellent blasoner of all sorts of husbandry and thrift who hath most pitteously let ten thousand pound sterling a yeare passe from him. I know another who saith he consulteth better than any man of his counsell, and there cannot be a properer man to see unto or of more sufficiencie; notwithstanding, when he commeth to any execution, his owne servants finde he is far otherwise: this I say without mentioning or accounting his ill lucke.

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