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.
FINDE by experience that there is great difference betweene the sodaine fits and fantasies of the soule, and a resolute disposition and constant habitude: and I see there is nothing but we may attaine unto, yea, as some say, to exceede Divinitie it selfe; forsomuch as it is more to become impassible of himselfe, then to be so by his originall condition: and that one may joyne a resolution and assurance of God to mens imbecillitie. But it is by fits. And in the lives of those heroes or noble worthies of former ages, are often found wonderfull parts, and which seems greatly to exceed our naturall forces: but they are prankes or parts consonant to truth: and it may hardly be believed mans soule may so be tainted and fed with those so high-raised conditions, that onto it they may become as ordinary and naturall. It hapneth unto our selves, who are but abortive broods of men, sometimes to rowse our soule farre beyond her ordinary pitch, as stirred up by the discourses or provoked by the examples of others. But it is a kinde of passion which urgeth, mooveth, agitateth, and in some sort ravisheth her from out her selfe: for, that gust overblowne and storme past, wee see it wil unawares unbend and lose it selfe, if not to the lowest pitch, at least to be no more the same she was, so that upon every slight occasion, for a bird lost or for a glasse broken, we suffer our selves to be mooved and distempered very neere as one of the vulgar sort. Except order, moderation, and constancie, I imagine all things may bee done by an indifferent and defective man. Therefore say wise men, that directly to judge of a man, his common actions must specially be controuled, and he must every day be surprised in his work-day clothes. Pyrrho, who framed so pleasant a science of ignorance, assaied (as all other true philosophers) to fashion his life answerable to his doctrine. And forasmuch as he maintained the weaknesse of mans judgement to be so extreame as it could take nor resolution nor inclination: and would perpetually suspend it, ballancing, bebolding and receiving all things as indifferent: it is reported of him that he ever kept himselfe after one fashion, looke and countenance. If he had begunne a discourse, he would end it, though the party to whom he spake were gone: and if he went any where, he would not goe an inche out of his path what let or obstacle soever came in his way; being kept from falls, from cartes, or other accidents by his friends. For, to feare or shunne any thing had beene to shocke his propositions, which remooved all election and certainty from his very senses. He sometimes suffered himselfe to be cut and cautherized with such constancy as he was never seen so much as to shrug, twitch, move, or winke with his eyes. It is something to bring the minde to these imagination, but more to joine the effects unto it, yet is it not impossible. But to joine them with such perseverance and constancy as to establish it for an ordinary course; verily in these enterprises so farre from common use, it is almost incredible to be done. The reason is this, that he was sometimes found in his house bitterly scolding with his sister for which being reproved as he that wronged his indifferencie; 'What!' said he, 'must this seely woman also serve as a witnesse to my rules?' Another time, being found to defend himselfe from a dog: 'It is,' replied he, 'very hard altogether to dispoile and shake off man;' and man must endevour and enforce himselfe to resist and confront all things, first by effects, but if the worst befall, by reason and by discourse. It is now about seven or eight yeares since, that a country man yet living not above two leagues from this place, having long before beene much vexed and troubled in minde for his wives jealousies one day comming home from his worke, and she after her accustomed manner welcomming and entertaining him with brawling and scowlding, as, one unable to endure her any longer, fell into such a moodie rage that sodainely with a sickle which he held in his hand he clean cut off those parts that were the cause of her jealousies and flung them in her face. And it is reported that a yong gentleman of France, amorous and lustie, having by his perseverance at last mollified the heart of his faire mistresse, desperate, because comming to the point of his so long sued-for businesses he found himselfe unable and unprepared, and that as-----non virilitersoone as he came home he deprived himselfe of it, and sent it as a cruel and bloudy sacrifice for the expiation of his offence. Had he done it by discourse or for religions sake, as the priestes of Cybele were wont to do, what might we not say of so haughty an enterprise? Not long since at Bragerac, five leagues distance from my house, up the river of Dordaigne, a woman, having the evening before beene grievously tormented and sore beaten by hir husband, froward and skittish by complexion, determined, though it should cost hir the price of hir life, by one meane or other to escape his rudeness, and rising the next morning, went as she was accustomed to visite her neighbours, to whom in some sort she recommended the state of hir affaires, then taking a sister of hirs by the hand, ledde hir along untill she came upon the bridge that crosseth the river, and having bid her hartily farewell, as in the way of sport, without shewing any maner of change or alteration, headlong threw hirselfe down into the river, where she perished. And which is more to be noted in hir is, that this hir determination ripened a whole night in hir head. But the Indian wives may not here be forgotten as worthy the noting: whose custome is, that husbands have many wives, and for hir that is dearest unto hir husband to kill herselfe after him: every one in the whole course of hir life endevoreth to obtaine this priviledge and advantage over all her fellow wives: and in the good offices and duties they shew their husbands, respect no other recompence than to be preferred to accompany them in death.
Iners senile penis extulerat caput, --Tib. ad Priap. v. 4.Ubi mortifero jacta est fax ultima lecto,A late Writer affirrneth that himselfe hath seene this custome highly reputed in the new discovered East Indiaes, where not only the wives are buried with their husbands, but also such slaves as he hath enjoyed, which is done after this manner. The husband being deceased, the widdow may, if she will (but few do it, request two or three monthes space to dispose of hir busines. The day come, adorned as a sumptuous bride, she mounteth on horsebacke, and with a cheereful countenance telleth everybody she is going to lie with her bridegroome, holding in her left hand a looking-glasse, and an arrow in the right. Thus having a while rid up and downe in great pomp and magnificence, accompanied with her friends and kinsmen, and much concourse of people, in feast and jollitie, she is brought into a publike place, purposely appointed for such spectacles; which is a large open place, in the middest whereof is a pit or grave full of wood, and neere unto it an upraised scaffold, with foure or five steppes to ascend, upon which she is brought, and served with a stately and sumptuous banket, which ended, she beginneth to dance and sing, and when she thinks good, commandeth the fire to be kindled. That done, she commeth down againe, and taking the nearest of hir husbands kindred by the hand, they goe together to the next river, where she strippes hir selfe all naked and distributeth hir jewels and cloathes among hir friends, then plungeth herselfe in the water, as if she meant to wash away hir sins; then comming out she enwrappeth her selfe in a yellow piece of linnen cloth, about the length of fourteene yards; and giving her band againe unto hir husbands kinsmen, they returne unto the mount, where she speakes unto the people, to whom (if she have any) she recommendeth hir children. Betweene the pitte and mount there is commonly a curtaine drawne, lest the sight of that burning furnace might dismay them: which many, to shew the greater courage, wil not have it drawne. Her speech ended, a woman presenteth her with a vessell ful of oyl, therewith to annoint her head and body, which done, she casteth the rest into the fire, and therewithall sodainly flings herselfe into it: which is no sooner done but the people cast great stors of faggots and billets upon hir, lest she should languish over-long: and all their joy is converted into griefe and sorrow. If they be persons of meane quality, the dead mans body is carried to the place where they intend to bury him, and there he is placed sitting; his widdow kneeling before him with her armes close about his middle, and so keepeth hirself whilst a wall is erected up about them both, which raised to the height of her shoulders, some of her kindred taking her by the head behind, wrings hir neck about, and having given the last gaspe, the wall is immediately made up close over their heads, wherein they remain buried. In the same country there was something like to this in their Gymnosophists, or wise men, who not by menaces or compulsions of others, nor by the violence of a sodaine humour, but by the expresse and voluntary profession of their rule, their maner was according as they attained unto a certaine age, or saw themselves threatned by some sicknesse, to cause a pile of wood to be erected and upon it a rich bedde; and having cheerefully feasted their friends and acquaintance, with such a resol ution laid themselves downe in that bed, that fire set unto it, they were never seene to stirre nor hand nor foot; and thus died one of them named Calanus in the presence of all the army of Alexander the Great. And who had not so made himselfe away was neither esteemed holy nor absolutely happy among them; sending his soul purged and purified by fire after it had consumed whatsoever was mortal and terrestrial in it. This constant premeditation of al the life is that which makes the wonder. Amongst our other disputation, that of Fatum hath much entermedled it selfe: and to joyne future things and our wil itselfe unto a certaine unavoydable necessitie, we yet stand upon that argument of former times: since God forseeth al things must thus happen, as undoubtedly he doeth: they must then necessarily happen so. To which our clarks and maisters answere, that to see any thing come to passe as wee doe, and likewise God (for he being present in ful essence rather seeth than foreseeth), is not to force the same to happen: yea we see because things come to passe, but things happen not because we see. The hapning makes the science or knowledge, and not knowledge the happening. What we see come to passe, happeneth; but it might come to passe otherwise. And God in the eternall register of the causes of happenings, which he hath in his prescience, hath also those which are called casual; and the voluntary, which depend of the liberty he hath given unto our free will, and knoweth we shall faile, because our will shall have beene to faile. I have seene divers encourage their troupes with this fatall necessitie; for, if our hour be tied unto a certaine point neither the musket-shottes of our enemie, nor our courage, nor our flight and cowardice can either advance or recoyle the same.
------Uxorem fusis, stat pia turba comis:
Et certamen habent Læthi, quæ viva sequator
------Coniugium, pudor est non licuisse mori:
Ardent victrices, et flammæ pectora præbent,
-----Imponuntque suis ora perusta viris -- Propert. iii. El. xii. 17.
When for his death-bed last flame is appli'd
With loose haires many kind wives stand beside,
And strive for death, which alive may be next
Hir wedlocke, who may not, is sham'd and vex't:
They that orecome, are burn'd, to flames give way,
Their bodies burnt on their burnt husbands lay.
This may well be said, but seeke you who shall effect it: and if it be so that a strong and lively faith doth likewise draw action after it: truely this faith (wherewith we so much fil our mouthes) is marvelous light in our times, except the contempt it hath of works, make her disdaine their company. So it is that to the same purpose the Lord of Joinville, as credible a witnesse as any other, tells us of the Bedoins, a nation intermingled with the Saracine, with whom our King Saint Lewis had to deale in the holy land who so confidently believed in their religion the dayes of every one to be prefixed and numbred from all eternity by an inevitable preordinance, that they went al bare and naked to the warres except a Turkish glaive in their hand, and their body covered but with a white linnen cloth: and for the bitterest curse, if they chanced to fall out one with another, they had ever in their mouth: 'Cursed be then as he that armeth himselfe for feare of death.' Here is another maner of triall or a belief or faith then ours. In this rank may likewise be placed that which those two religious men of Florence not long since gave unto their countrymen. Being in some controversie betweene themselves about certaine points of learning, they accorded to go both into the fire in the presence of al the people and in the open market place, each one for the verifying of his opinion; and all preparations were ready made and execution to be performed, but that by an unexpected accident it was interrupted. A yong Turkish Lord, having achieved a notable piece of service in armes and with his own person in ful view of the two battels between Ammurath and Huniades ready to be joyned together, being demanded by Ammurath his prince, who being so yong and inexperienced (for it was the first warre or service he had seen before) had replenished him with so generous and undanted vigor of courage, answered that a hare had beene his soveraigue maister and onely teacher of valour; and thus began his speech: Being one day a hunting, I found a hare sitting in her forme, and although I had a brace of excellent good greyhounds with me in a slip or leash, I thought it good, because I would be sure of my same to use my bow; for she was a very fair marke. I begaune to shoot my arrowes at her, which I did to the number of fortie (for in my quiver were just so many), yet could I never hurt her, no not so much as start her. After all this I let slip my grayhounds, who could do no more than I had done: by which I learnt that she had been sheltred and defended by her destinie; and that no glaives nor arrowes never hit but by the permission of our fatalitie, which it lieth not in us to avoide or to advance. This storie may serve to make us perceive by the way how flexible our reason is to all sorts of objects. A notable man, great in yeares, in name, in dignity, and in learning, vaunted himselfe unto me, that he was induced to a certaine most important change of his religion by a strange and fantastical incitation: and in al things so il concluding that I deemed the same stronger and more forcible being taken contrary. He termed it a miracle, and so did I, but in a different sense. Their historians say that perswasion having popularly beene scattered amongst the Turkes of the fatal and inflexible prescription of their dayes, doth apparently aide to warrant and embolden them in dangers. And I know a great Prince who happily thrives by it, be it he believe it or take it for an excuse to hazard himselfe extraordinarily; provided fortune be not soone wearie to favour and backe him. There hath not happened in our memorie a more admirable effect of resolution than of those two villaines that conspired the death of the Prince of Orange: it is strange how the last who performed the same could be induced or encouraged to undergo such an enterprize, wherein his fellow (though he had resolutely attempted it and had all might be required for such an action) had so ill success and miscarried. And in those steps and with the same weapons to go and undertake a Lord, armed with so late an instruction of distrust; mighty in friends and followers, puissant of bodily strength, in his owne hall, amiddest his servants and guarde, and in a city wholly at his devotion. It must of force be said that in performing it he employed a well-directed and resolute band and a dreadlesse courage, mooved by a vigorous passion. A poynard is more sure to wound a man, which forsomuch as it requireth more motion and vigour of the arme than a pistol, its stroke is more subject to be hindred or avoyded. That the first ranne not to an assured death I make no great doubt, for the hopes wherewith he might be entertained could not harbour in a well-setled and resolute midde, and the conduct of his exploit sheweth he wanted no more that then courage. The motions of so forcible a perswasion may be diverse, for our fantasia disposeth of her self and of us as she pleaseth. The execution committed neere Orleans had no coherence with this wherein was more hazard than vigor; the blow was not mortall had not fortune made it so, and the enterprise to shoote on horsebacke and far-off, and to one who mooved still according to the motion of his horse, was the attempt of a man that rather loved to misse of his effect then faile to save himselfe. What followed did manifestly shew it; for he was so amazed and drunken with the thought of so haughty an execution, as he lost all his senses, both to worke his escape and direct his tongue in his answers. What needed he have done more then recover his friends by crossing of a river? It is a meane wherein I have cast my selfe in farre lesse dangers; and which I thinke of small hazard, how broad soever, alwayes provided your horse find an easie entrance, and on the further side you forsee an easie and shallow landing, according to the course of the streame of the water. The second, when the horrible sentence was pronounced against him, answered stoutly: I was prepared for it, and I shall amaze you with my patience. The Assassines, a nation depending of Phoenicia, are esteemed among the Mahometists of a soveraigne devotion and puritie of maners: they hold that the readiest and shortest way to gaine Paradise is to kill some one of a contrary religion; therefore hath it often beene seene that one or two in their bare doublets have undertaken to assault mighty enemies with the price of an assured death and without any care of their own danger. And thus was our Earle Raymond of Tripoli murthered or assassinated (this word is borrowed from their name) in the middest of his citie, daring the time of our warres in the holy land; and likewise Conrade Marquis of Montferrat his murtherers being brought to their torture, were seene to swell with pride that they had performed so worthy an exploit.