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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.


PLUTARKE is everywhere admirable, but especially where he judgeth of humane actions. The notable things he reporteth may be perceived in the comparison of Lycurgus and Numa, speaking of the great simplicity we commit in leaving long children under the government and charge of their fathers and parents. Most of our policies or commonwealths, saith Aristotle (as the Cyclopes were wont) commit the conduct of their wives and charge of their children to all men, according to their foolish humour or indiscreete fantasies. And well-nigh none but the Lacedemonian and Cretensian have resigned the discipline of children to the lawes. Who seeth not that in an estate all things depend of nurture and education? And all the while, without discretion, it is wholly left to the parents mercy how foolish and wicked soever they be. Amongst other things, how often (walking through our streets) have I desired to have a play or comedie made in revenge of young boyes, which I saw thumpt, misused, and well-nigh murthered by some harebrained, moodie, and through choler-raging fathers and mothers, from out whose eyes a man might see sparkles of rage to startle.
          ------ rabie jecur incendente feruntur
Præcipites, ut saxa jugis abrupta, quibus mons
Subtrahitur, clivoque latus pendente recedit:  --  JUV. Sat. vi. 548.

They headlong runne with rage, which doth enflame their livers
Like stones that broken fall from mountaine tops in shivers,
The hill withdrawes, and they are rould
From hanging cliffe which leaves their hold

(And according to Hypocrates, the most dangerous infirmities are those which disfigure the face), and with a loud thundring voice often to follow children that came but lately from nurse, which after prove lame, maimed, blockish and dul-pated with blowes; and yet our lawes makes no accompt of it, as if these spraines and unjoyntings of limbes, or these maimes were no members of our commonwealth.
Gratum est quod patrim civem populoque dedisti,
Si facis ut patriæ sit idoneus, utilis aqris,
Vtilis et bellorum et pacis rebus agendis.  -- Juv. Sat. xiv. 70.

That you to th'countrie give a man, 'tis acceptable,
If for the countrie fit you make him, for fields able,
Of peace and warre for all achievements profitable.

    There is no passion so much transports the sinceritie of judgement as doth anger. No man would make conscience to punish that judge by death who in rage or choler had condemned an offender. And why should fathers be allowed to beate or schoolmasters be suffered to whip children, or to punish them, being angry? It is no longer correction, but revenge. Punishment is unto children as physicke, and would any man endure a physician that were angrie and wroth against his patient? Our selves (did we well), during the time of our anger, should never lay hands on our servants. So long as our pulse panted, and we feele any concitation, so long remit we the partie: and things will seeme far otherwise unto us if we once come to our senses again, and shall better bethinke us. Then is it passion that commandes. It is passion that speaketh, and not we. Athwart it, faults seeme much greater unto us, as bodies doe athwart a foggy mist. Whoso is hungry useth meat, but whoso will use chastisement should never hunger nor thirst after it. Moreover, corrections given with discretion and moderation are more gently received, and with more good to him that receiveth them. Otherwise hee shall never thinke to have beene justly condemned by a man who is transported by rage and choler, and for his justification alleadgeth the extraordinary motions of his maister, the inflammation of his face, his unwonted oaths, his chafing, his unquietnesse, and his rash precipitation.
Ora tument ira, nigrescunt sanguine venæ:
Lumina Gorgoneo sævius igne micant.  --   OVID. Art. Am. 1. iii. 53.

The face with anger swelles, the veines grow blacke with blood,
The eyes more fiercely shine than Gorgons fierie moode.

Suetonius writeth that Caius Rabirius, having by Cæsar been condemned, nothing did him so much good towards the people (to whom he appealed) to make him obtain his suit, as the sharpnes and over-boldnes which Cæsar had declared in that judgement. Saying is one thing, and doing another. A man must consider the sermon apart and the preacher severall. Those have made themselves good sport who in our dayes have gone about to checke the veritie of our Church by the ministers vice: she fetcheth her testimony from elsewhere. It is a foolish manner of arguing, and which would soone reduce all things to a confusion. An honest man may sometimes have false opinions, and a wicked man may preach truth: yea such a one as beleeves it not. Verily it is a pleasing harmonie when doing and saying goe together. And I will not deny but saying when deeds follow is of more efficacie and authority: as said Eudamidas when he heard a philosopher discourse of warre: these speeches are good, but he that speakes them is not to be beleeved, for his eares were never accustomed to heare the clang of trumpets nor rattling of drums. And Cleomenes, hearing a rhetoritian speake of valour, burst out into an extreame laughter; whereat the other being offended, he said unto him: 'I would doe as much if it were a swallow should speake of it, but were be an eagle I should gladly heare him.' Me seemeth I perceive in ancient mens writings that he who speaks what he thinketh toucheth nearer the quick than he who counterfeits. Heare Cicero speak of the love of libertie, then listen to Brutus: their wordes will tell you and sound in your eare, the latter was a man readie to purchase it with the price of his life. Let Cicero, that father of eloquence, treate of the contempt of death, and let Seneca discourse of the same; the first drawes it on languishing, and would faine resolve you of a thing whereof he has not yet resolved himselfe. He giveth you no heart, for himselfe hath none: whereas the other doth rowze, animate, and inflame you. I never looke upon an author, be they such as write of vertue and of actions, but I curiously endevour to finde out what he was himselfe. For the Ephori of Sparta, hearing a dissolute liver propose a very beneficial advise unto the people, commanded him to hold his peace, and desired an honest man to assume the invention of it unto himselfe, and to propound it. Plutarkes compositions, if they be well savored, doe plainely manifest the same unto us: and I am perswaded I know him inwardly: yet would I be glad we had some memories of his owne life: and by the way I am falne into this discourse, by reason of the thanks I owe unto Aulus Gellius, in that he hath left us written this story of his manners, which fitteth my story of anger. A slave of his, who was a lewd and vicious man, but yet whose eares were somewhat fedde with philosophicall documents, having for some faults by him committed, by the commandement of Plutarke his master been stripped naked, whilst another servant of his whipped him, grumbled in the beginning that he was whipped without reason and had done nothing: but in the end mainly crying out, he fell to railing and wronging his master, upbraiding him that he was not a true Philosopher, as he vanted himself to be, and how he had often heard him say that it was an unseemely thing in a man to be angry. And that he had made a booke of it: and now, all plunged in rage and engulf'ed in choler, to cause him so cruelly to be beaten was cleane contrarie to his owne writing. To whom Plutarke, with an unaltered and milde-setled countenance, said thus unto him: 'What, thou raskall, whereby doest thou judge I am now angrie? Doth my countenance, doth my voice, doth my colour, or doth my speech give thee any testimony that I am either moved or cholericke? Mee seemeth mine eyes are not staringly wilde, nor my face troubled, nor voice frightful or distempered. Doe I waxe red? Do I foame at the mouth? Doth any word escape me I may repent hereafter? Doe I startle and quake? Doe I rage and ruffle with anger? For to tell thee true, these are the right signes of choler and tokens of anger.' Then turning to the party that whipped him: 'Continue still thy work,' quoth he, whilst this fellow and I dispute of the matter.' This is the report of Gellius. Architas Tarentinus returning from a warre where he had beene captaine generall, found his house all out of order, husbandrie all spoiled, and by the ill government of his bailiffe, his ground all waste and unmanured; and having called for him, said thus: 'Away, bad man, for if I were not angrie I would have thee whipt for this.' Plato likewise being vexed and angrie with one of his slaves, commanded Speusippus to punish him, excusing himselfe that now being angrie he would not lay hands upon him. Charilus the Lacedemonian, to an Helot who behaved himselfe over insolently and audaciously towards him, by the Gods (saith he) if I were not now angrie I would presently make thee die. It is a passion which pleaseth and flattereth it selfe. How many times being moved by any false suggestion, if at that instant we be presented with any lawfull defence or true excuse, doe we fall into rage against truth and innocencie it selfe? Touching this purpose, I have retained a wonderfull example of antiquitie. Piso, in divers other respects a man of notable vertue, being angrie, and chafing with one of his souldiers, who returning from forage or boothbaling, could not give him an accompt where he had left a fellow-souldier of his, and thereupon concluding he had killed or made him away, forthwith condemned him to be hanged. And being upon the gallowes and ready to dye behold his companion who had stragled abroade, comming home, whereat all the army rejoyced very much, and after many embracings and signes of joy between the two souldiers, the hangman brought both unto Piso, all the company hoping it would be a great pleasure unto him; but it fell out cleane contrary, for through shame and spite, his wrath, still burning, was redoubled, and with a slie devise his passion instantly presented to his minde, he made three guiltie, forsomuch as one of them was found innocent, and caused them all three to bee dispatched: the first souldier because he was alreadie condemned; the second, which had stragled abroade, by reason he was the cause of his fellowes death; and the hangman for that he had not fulfilled his generalls commandement. Those who have to deale with froward and skittish women have no doubt seene what rage they will fall into, if when they are most angrie and chafing a man be silent and patient, and disdains to foster their anger and wrath. Celius the orator was by nature exceedingly fretfull and cholerike. To one who was with him at supper, a man of a milde and gentle conversation, and who because he would not move him, seemed to approve whatever he said, and yeeld to him in every thing, as unable to endure his peevishness should so passe without some nourishment, burst out into a rage and said unto him: 'For the love of God, deny me something, that we may be two.' So women are never angrie but to the end a man should againe be angrie with them, therein imitating the lawes of love. Phocion to a man who troubled his discourse with brawling and scolding at him in most injurious manner, did nothing else but hold his peace, and give him what leisure he would to vent his choler, which done, without taking any notice of it, began his discourse againe where he had left it off. There is no reply so sharpe as such silent contempt. Of the most cholerlike and testie man of France (which is ever an imperfection, but more excusable in a military man, for it must needes be granted there are in that profession some men who cannot well avoyde it) I ever say he is the patientest man I knowe to bridle his choler; it mooveth and transporteth him with such furie and violence --
          ------ magno veluti cum flamma sonore
Virgea suggeritur costis undantis aheni,
Exultantque æstu latices, furit intus aquai
Fumidus atque alte spumis exuberat amnis,
Nec jam se capit unda, volat vapor ater ad auras -- VIRG. Æn. 1. vii. 462.

As when a fagot flame with hurring sounds
Under the ribbes of boyling cauldron lies,
The water swelles with heat beyond the bounds,
Whence streaming streames raging and foaming rise,
Water out-runs it selfe, blacke vapours flye to skies --

that he must cruelly enforce himselfe to moderate the same. And for my part I know noe passion I were able to smother with such temper and abide with such resolution. I would not set wisdome at so high a rate. I respect not so much what he doth as how much it cost him not to doe worse. Another boasted in my presence of his behaviours order and mildnesse, which in truth is singular. I tolde him that indeed it was much, namely, in men of so eminent a quality as himselfe was, on whom all eyes are fixed, alwaies to shew himselfe in a good temper; but that the chiefest point consisted in providing inwardly and for himselfe; and that in mine opinion it was no discreet part inwardly to fret: which, to maintaine that marke and formall outward appearance, I feared hee did. Choler is incorporated by concealing and smothering the same, as Diogenes said to Demosthenes, who fearing to be seene in a taverne withdrew himselfe into the same. The more thou recoylest backe, the further thou goest into it. I would rather perswade a man, though somewhat out of season, to give his boy a wherrat on the eare, then to dissemble this wise, sterile or severe countenance, to vex and fret his minde. And I would rather make shew of my passions then smother them to my cost, which being vented and exprest, become more languishing and weake: better it is to let its pointe worke outwardly, then bend it against our selves. Omnia vitia in aperto leviora aunt: et tunc perniciosissima, quum simulata sanitate subsidunt; (SEN. Epist. lvi.) 'All vices are then lesse perilous when they lie open to bee seene, but then most pernitious when they lurke under counterfeited soundenesse.' I ever warne those of my household who by their offices-authoritie may sometimes have occasion to be angry, first to husband their anger, then not employ it upon every slight cause; for that impeacheth the effect and worth of it. Rash and ordinary brawling is converted to a custome, and thats the reason each man contemnes it. That which you employ against a servant for any theeving is not perceived, because it is the same he hath sundry times seene you use against him if he have not washt a glasse well or misplaced a stoole. Secondly, that they be not angry in vaine, but ever have regard their chiding come to his eares with whom they are offended; for commonly some will brawle before he come in their presence, and chide a good while after he is gone --
Et secure petulans amentia certat, -- CLAUD. in Eu. 1. i. 48.

Madnesse makes with it selfe a fray,
Which fondly doth the wanton play --

and wreake their anger against his shadow, and make the storme fall where no man is either chastised or interested, but with the rumour of their voice, and sometimes with such as cannot doe withall. I likewise blame those who being angry will brave and mutinie when the partie with whom they are offended is not by. These Rodomontados must be employed on such as feare them.
Mugitus veluti cum prima in prælia taurus
Terrificos ciet, atqui irasci in cornua tentat,
Arboris obnixus trunco, ventosque lacessit
Ictibus, et sparsa ad pugnam proludit arena.  -- VIRG. Æn. 1. xii. 103.

As when a furious bull to his first combats mooves
His terror-breeding lowes, his horne to anger prooves,
Striving against a trees trunke, and the wind with strokes,
His preface made to fight with scattered sand, provokes.

When I chance to be angrie it is in the earnestest manner that may be, but yet as briefly and as secretly as is possible. I lose my selfe in hastiness and violence, but not in trouble. So that let me spend all manner of injurious words at randome and without all heed, and never respect, to place my points pertinently, and where they may doe most hurt: for commonly I employ nothing but my tongue. My boyes scape better cheape in great matters then in small trifles. Slight occasions surprise me, and the mischiefe is that after you are once falne into the pits it is no matter who thrusts in, you never cease till you come to the bottome. The fall presseth, hasteneth, mooveth, and furthereth it selfe. In great occasions I am pleased that they are so just, that every body expects a reasonable anger to insue. I glorify my selfe to deceive their expectation. Against these I bandy and prepare my selfe; they make me summon up my wits and threaten to carry me very farre if I would follow them. I easily keepe my selfe from falling into them, and if I stay for them I am strong enough to reject the impulsion of this passion, what violent cause soever it hath. But if it seize upon and once preoccupate me, what vaine cause soever it hath, it doth cleane transport me: I condition thus with those that may contest with me, when you perceive me to be first angry, be it right or wrong, let me hold on my course, I will do the like to you whenever it shall come to my lot. There is not engendred but by the concurrence of cholers, which are easily produced one of another, and are not borne at one instant. Let us allow every man his course, so shall we ever be in peace. Oh profitable prescription, but of an hard execution! I shall sometime seeme to be angry for the order and direction of my house, without any just emotion. According as my age yeeldeth my humours more sharp and peevish, so do I endevour to oppose my selfe against them and if I can I will hereafter enforce my selfe to be lesse froward and not so testy, as I shall have more excuse and inclinations to be so; although I have heretofore beene in their number that are least. A word more to conclude this chapter: Aristotle saith choler doth sometimes serve as armes unto Vertue and Valor. It is very likely: notwithstanding such as gainsay him, answer pleasantly, it is a weapon of a new fashion and strange use. For we moove other weapons but this mooveth us; our hand doth not guide it, but it directeth our hand; it holdeth us, and we hold not it.

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