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Renascence Editions

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 a wonderfull relation and correspondencie found in this universall policie of Natures workes, which manifestly sheweth it is neither casual nor directed by diverse masters. The infirmities and conditions of our bodies are likewise seene in states and governments: Kingdomes and Commonwealths as well as we, are borne, florish, and fade through age. We are subject unto a repleatnesse of humours, hurtfull and unprofitable, yea be it of good humours (for even physitians feare that, and because there is nothing constant in us; they say, that perfection of health, over joyful and strong, must by art be abated and diminished, lest our nature, unable to settle it selfe in any certaine place, and for hir amendment to ascend higher, should over-violently recoile backe into disorder; and therefore they prescribe unto wrestlers purging and phlebotomies to subtract that superabundance of health from them or of bad, [sic] which is the ordinary cause of sicknesse. Of such like repletion are states often seene to be sicke, and divers purgations are wont to be used to purge them. As wee have seene some to dismisse a great number of families (chiefly to disburthen the country) which elsewhere goe to seeke where they may at others charge seat themselves. In this sorte our ancient French, leaving the high countries of Germanie, came to possesse Gaule, whence they displaced the first inhabitants. Thence grew that infinite confluence of people which afterward, under Brenus and others, overranne Italie. Thus the Gothes and Vandalls, as also the nations which possesse Greece, left their naturall countries to go where they might have more elbow-roome: and hardly shall we see two or three corners in the world that have not felt the effect of such a remooving alteration. The Romanes, by such meanes, erected their Colonies; for, perceiving their citie to growe over-populous, they were wont to discharge it of unnecessary people, which they sent to inbabite and manure the countries they had subdued. They have also sometimes maintained warre with some of their enemies, not onely thereby to keepe their men in breath, lest idleness, the mother of corruption, should cause them some inconvenience.
Et patimur longæ pacis mala, sævior armis
Luxuria incumbit. --Juven, Sat. vi. 292.

We suffer of long peace the soking harmes,
On us lies luxury more fierce then armes.

  But also to let the Common-wealth bloud and somewhat to allay the over vehement heat of their youth, to lop the sprigs and thin the branches of this over-spreading tree, too much abounding in ranknesse and gaillardise. To this purpose they maintained a good while war with the Carthaginians. In the treaty of Bretigny, Edward the 3. King of England, would by no meanes comprehend in that general peace the controversie of the Dutchie of Britany, to the end he might have some way to disburthen himselfe of his men of war, and that the multitude of English-men, which he had emploied about the warres of France should not returne into England. It was one of the reasons induced Philip our king to consent that his sonne John should be sent to warre beyond the seas, that so he might carry with him a great number of yong hot-blouds which were amongst his trained military men. There are divers now adaies, which will speake thus, wishing this violent and burning emotion we see and feele amongst us might be derived to some neighbor warre, fearing lest those offending humours, which at this instant are predominant in our bodie, if they be not diverted elsewhere, will still maintaine our fever in force, and in the end cause our utter destruction: And in truth a forraine warre is nothing so dangerous a disease as a civill: But I will not beleeve that God would favour so unjust an enterprise, to offend and quarrell with others for our commodity.
Nil mihi tam valde placeat Rhamnusia virgo,
Quod temere invitis suscipiatur heris. -- Cat. Epig. Eleg. iv. 77.

That fortune likes me not which is constrained
By Lords unwilling rashly entertained.

  Notwithstanding the weaknesse of our condition, doth often urge us to this necessity, to use bad meanes to a good end. Lycurgus the most vertuous and perfect law-giver that ever was, devised this most unjust fashion, to instruct his people unto temperance, by force to make the Helotes, which were their servants, to be drunken that seeing them so lost and buried in wine, the Spartanes might abhor the excesse of that vice. Those were also more to be blamed, who anciently allowed that criminall offenders what death soever they were condemned unto, should by physitians all alive be torne in pieces, that so they might naturally see our inward parts, and thereby establish a more assured certainty in their art: for if a man must needes erre or debauch himselfe, it is more excusable if he doe it for his soules health then for his bodies good. As the Romans trained up and instructed their people to valour, and contempt of dangers and death, by the outragious spectacles of gladiators and deadly fighting fencers, who in presence of them all combated, mangled, sliced, and killed one another.
Quid vesani aliud sibi vult a rs impia ludi,
Quid mortes iuvenum, quid sanguine pasta voluptas?

What else meanes that mad art of impious sense,
Those yong-mens deaths, that bloud-fed pleasing sense?

which custome continued even untill the time of Theodosius the Emperour.
Arripe delatam tua dux in tempora famam,
Quodque patris superest successor laudis habeto:
Nullus in vrbe cadat, cujus sit poena voluptas,
Jam solis contenta feris infamis arena,
Nulla cruentatis homicidia ludat in armis. Prud. cont. Sym. ii. f.

The fame defer'd to your times entertaine,
Enherite praise which doth from Sire remaine
Let none die to give pleasure by his paine:
Be shamefull Theaters with beasts content
Not in goar'd armes manslaughter represent.

  Surely it was a wonderfull example, and of exceeding benefit for the peoples institution, to see dayly one or two hundred, yea sometimes a thousand brace of men, armed one against another, in their presence to cut and hacke one another in pieces with so great constancy of courage, that they were never seene to utter one word of faintnes or commiseration, never to turne their backe, nor so much as to shew a motion of demissenesse, to avoide their adversaries blowes: but rather to extend their necks to their swords, and present themselves unto their strokes. It hath hapned to diverse of them, who through many hurts being wounded to death, have sent to ask the people whether they were satisfied with their duty, before they would lie down in the place. They must not only fight and die constantly, but jocondly: in such sort as they were cursed and bitterly scolded at, if in receiving their death they were any way seene to strive, yea madnesse encited them to it.
                       -----consurgit ad ictus,
Et quoties victor ferrum iugulo inserit, illa
Delicias ait esse suas, pectusque jacentis
Virgo modesta ubet converso pollice rumpi. -- Prud. cont Sym. ii.

The modest maide, when wounds are given, upriseth;
When victors sword the vanquisht throate surpriseth,
She saith, it is hir sport, and doth command
T'embrue the conquer'd breast, by signs of hand.

  The first Romans disposed thus of their criminals: but afterward they did so with their innocent servants; yea, of their free men, which were sold to that purpose: yea of Senators, and Roman Knights and women also.
Nunc caput in mortem vendant, et funus arenæ,
Atque hostem sibi quisqe parat cum bella quiescunt.

They sell mens lives to death and stages sight,
When wars do cease, they finde with whom to fight.

Hos inter fremitus novosque lusus,
Stat sexus rudis insciusque ferri.
Et pugnas capit improbus viriles:

Amidst these tumults, these strange sporting sights,
That sex doth sit which knowes not how sword bites,
And entertaines unmov'd those manly fights.

  Which I should deem very strange and incredible; if we were not dayly accustomed to see in our wars many thousands of foreigne nations, for a very small sum of mony, to engage both their blood and life in quarrels wherein they are nothing interessed.

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