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.
HE familiarity I have with these two men, and the aid they affoord me in my old age, and my booke meerely framed of their spoiles, bindeth me to wed and maintaine their honour. As for Seneca, amongest a thousand petty pamphlets those of the pretended reformed religion have published, for the defence of their cause, which now and then proceede from a good hand, and which, pity it is, it should not be employed in more serious and better subjects, I have heretofore seene one who, to prolong and fill up the similitude he would finde betweene the government of our unfortunate late King Charles the Ninth and that of Nero, compareth the whilom Lord Cardinall of Lorraine, unto Seneca; their fortunes to have been both chiefe men in the government of their Princes, and therewithall their manners, their conditions, and their demeanours. Wherein (in mine opinion) he doth the said Lord Cardinall great honour: for although I be one of those that highly respect his spiri,t his worth, his eloquence, his zeale towards his religion, and the service of his King; and his good fortune to have beene borne in an age wherein he was so new, so rare, and therewithall so necessary for the commonwealth, to have a clergie man of such dignitie and nobility, sufficient and capable of so weighty a charge; yet to confesse the truth, I esteeme not his capacitie such, nor his vertue so exquisitely unspotted, nor so entire or constante as that of Seneca. Now this booke whereof I speak, to come to his intention, maketh a most injurious description of Seneca, having borrowed his reproaches from Dion the historian, to whose testimony I give no credit at all: for besides he is inconstant, as one who after he hath called Seneca exceeding wise, and shortly after termed him a mortall enemy to Neroes vices, in other places makes him covetous, given to usurie, ambitious, base-minded, voluptuous, and under false pretences and fained shewes, a counterfet philosopher; his vertue appeareth so lively, and wisedome so vigorous in his writings, and the defence of these imputations is so manifest, as wel of his riches as of his excessive expences, that I beleeve no witnesse to the contrary . Moreover, there is great reason we should rather give credit to Romane historians in such things then to Græcians and strangers, whereas Tacitus and others speake very honourably of his life and death, and in other circumstance declare him to have beene a most excellent and rarely vertuous man, I wil alleadge no other reproach against Dions judgement then this, which is unavoydable; that is, his understanding of the Roman affaires is so weake and il advised as he dareth defend and maintaine Juli us Cæsars cause against Pompey, and blusheth not to justifie Antonius against Cicero. But let us come to Plutarke. John Bodin is a good moderne author, and endowed with much more judgement then the common rabble of scriblers and blur-papers which now adayes stuffe stationers shops, and who deserveth to be judged, considered, and had in more then ordinary esteeme. Neverthelesse I finde him somewhat malapert and bolde in that passage of his 'Methode of Historie,' when he accuseth Plutarke, not onl y of ignorance (wherein I would have let him say his pleasure, for that is not within my element, but also that he often writeth things altogether incredible and meerely fabulous (these are his very words). If he had simply said things otherwise then they are, it had been no great reprehension; for what we have not seene we receive from others and upon trust; and I see him sometime, wittingly and in good earnest, report one and same story diversly; as the judgements of three best captaines that ever were, spoken by Hanibal, is otherwise in Flaminius his life, and otherwise in Pyrrhus. But to taxe him to have taken incredible and impossible things for ready payment is to accuse the most judicious author of the world of want of judgement. And see here his example: As, saith he, when he reports that a childe of Lacedemon suffered all his belly and gutts to be torne out by a cubbe or young foxe, which he had stolne and kept close under his garment, rather then he would discover his theft. First, I finde this example ill chosen; forasmuch as it is hard to limit the powers of the soules faculties, whereas of corporall forces, we have more law to limite and know them; and therefore had I been to write of such a subject, I would rather have made choyce of an example of this second kinde. And some there be lesse credible. As amongst others that which he reported of Pyrrhus, who being sore wounded, gave so great a blow with a sword unto one of his enemies, armed at all assayes and with all pieces, as he cleft him from the crowns of the head downe to the groine, so that the body fell in two pieces. In which example I finde no great wonder, nor do I admit of his excuse wherewith he cloaketh Plutarke: to have added this word (as it is said) to forewarne us and restraine our beliefe. For if it be not in things received by authoritie and reverence of antiquity or religion, neither would himselfe have received nor proposed to us to beli eve things in themselves incredible: and that (as it is said) hee doth not here sette downe this phrase to that purpose, may easily be perceived by what himselfe in other places telleth us upon the subject of the Lacedemonian childrens patience, of examples happened in his time much harder to be perswaded: as that which Cicero hath also witnessed before him, because (as he saith) he had been there himselfe: that even in their times there were children found prepared to endure all manner of patience, whereof they made trial before Dianas altar, and which suffered themselves to be whipped till the blood trilled downe all parts of their body, not onely without crying, but also without sobbing; and some who voluntarily suffered themselves to be scourged to death. And what Plutarke also reporteth, and a hundred other witnesses averre, that assisting at a sacrifice, a burning coale happened to fall into the sleeve of a Lacedemonian childe, as he was busie at incensing, suffered his arme to burne so long untill the smel of his burnt flesh came to all the by standers. There was nothing, according to their custome, so much called their reputation in question, and for which they endured more blame and shame, than to be surprised stealing. I am so well instructed of those mens greatnes of courage, that this report doth not only seeme incredible to me as to Bodin, but I do not so much as deeme it rare, or suppose it strange. The Spartane story is full of thousands of much more rare and cruell examples; then according to this rate, it containeth nothing but miracle. Concerning this point of stealing, Marcellinus reporteth that whilst hee lived there could never be found any kinde of torment that might in any sort compell the Egyptians surprised filching (which was much used amongst them) to confesse and tell but their names. A Spanish peasant being laide upon the racke about the complices of the murther of the, Pretor Lucius Piso, in the midst of his torments cried out his friends should not stir, but with all security assist him, and that it was not in the power of any griefe or paine to wrest one word of confession from him: and the first day nothing else could possibly be drawn from him. The next morrow, as he was led towarde the racke to be tormented anew, he by strong violence freed himselfe from out his keepers bands, and so furiously ranne with his bead against a wall, that he burst his braines out, and presently fell down dead. Epicharis having glutted and wearied the moody cruelty of Neroes satellites or officers, and stoutly endured their fire, their beatings, and their engines a whole day long without any one voyce or word of revealing hir conspiracy, and the next day after, being againe brought to the torture with her limbs bruised and broken, convayed the lace or string of her gowne over one of the pillars of the chair wherein she sate, with a sliding knot in it, into which sodainly thrusting her head she strangled her selfe with the weight of her body. Having the courage to dye so, and steale from the first torments, seemeth she not purposely to have lent her life to the trial of her patience of the precedent day only to mocke that tyrant and encourage others to attempt the like enterprise against him? And he that shall enquire of our argolettiers or freebooters what experiences they have had in these our late civil wars, shall no doubt find effects and examples of patience, of obstinacy and stif-necknednes in these our miserable dayes, and amidst the effeminate and puling wordlings far beyond the Egyptians, and well worthie to be compared to those alreadie reported of Spartan vertue. I know there have been found seely hoores who have rather endure to have their feet broild upon a gridyron, their finger ends crusht and wrung with the locke of a pistoll, their eyes all bloody to be thrust out of their heads with wringing and wresting of a cord about their foreheads, before they would so much as be ransomed. I have seene and spoken with one who had beene left all naked in a ditch for dead, his necke all bruised and swolne, with a halter about it, wherewith he had beene dragged a whole night at a horses taile through thick and thin, with a hundred thrusts in his body given him with daggers, not to kill him outright, but to grieve and terrifie him, and who had patiently endured all that, and lost both speech and sense, fully resolved (as himselfe told me) rather to die a thousand deaths (as verily, if you apprehend what he suffered, he past more than one full death) then promise any ransome; yet was he one of the wealthiest husbandman in all his country. How many have beene seene who have patiently endured to be burnt and roasted for unknown and wilful opinions which they had borrowed of others; my selfe have knowne a hundred and a hundred women (for the saying is, Gaskoine heads have some prerogative in that) whom you might sooner have made to bite a red-hot piece of iron than recant an opinion they had conceived in anger. They will be exasperated and grow more fell against blowes and compulsion, and he who first invented the tale of that woman which by no threats or stripes would leave to call her husband pricke-lowse, and being cast into a pond and duckt under water, lifted up her hands and joyning her two thumb-nails in act to kill lice above her head, seemed to call him lousie still, devised a fable whereof in truth we dayly see the expres image in divers womens obstinacie and wilfulnesse. And yet obstinacy is the sister of constancy, at least in vigor and stedfastnesse.
A man must not judge that which is possible and that which is not according to that which is credible and incredible to our sense and understanding, as I have already said elsewhere. And it is a great fault, wherein the greater number of men doe dayly fall (I speake not this of Bodin) to make a difficulty in believing that of others which themselves neither can nor would doe. Every man perswades himselfe that the chiefe forme of humane nature is in himselfe; according to her must all others be directed. The proceedings that have no reference to hers are false and fained. Is any thing proposed unto him of another mans faculties or actions? The first thing he calls to the judgement of his consultation is his owne examples; according as it goeth in him, so goeth the worlds order. Oh dangerous sottishnesse and intollerable foppery! I consider some men a farre-off, beyond and above my selfe, namely amongst those ancient ones: and although I manifestly acknowledge mine owne insufficiency to follow or come neere them by a thousand paces, I cease not to keepe them still in view, and to judge of those wardes and springs that raise them so high the seedes whereof I somewhat perceive in my selfe as likewise I doe of the mindes extreame basenes which amazeth me nothing at all, and I misbelieve no more. I see the turne those give to wind up themselves, and I admire their greatnesse, and those starts which I perceive to be so wondrous faire, I embrace them: and if with my strength I reach not unto them, at least my judgement doth most willingly apply it selfe unto them. The other example he alledgeth of things incredible by Plutarke, is that reported by Plutarke, that Agesilaus was fined by the Ephories because he had drawne the he arts and good wills of all his fellow-citizens unto himselfe alone. I know not what marke of falsehood or shew of impossibility he findes in it; but so it is that Plutarke speaks there of things which in all likelyhood were better knowne to him then to us: and as it was not strange in Greece, to see men punished and exiled onely because they were too popular and pleased the common people over much. Witnesse the Ostracisme amongst the Athenians, and the Petalisme amongst the Siracusans. There is an other accusation in the same place which for Plutarkes sake doth somewhat touch me, where he saith that he hath very well and in good truth sorted the Romanes with the Romanes, and the Græcians amongst themselves, but not the Romanes with the Greacians, witnesse (saith he) Demosthenes and Cicero, Cato and Aristides, Sylla and Lysander, Marcellus and Pelopidas, Pompey and Agesilaus, deeming thereby that he hath favoured the Græcians by giving them so unequall companions. It is a just reproving of that which is most excellent and commendable in Plutarke: for in his comparisons (which is the most admirable part of his worke, and wherein in mine opinion he so much pleased himselfe) the faithfulnesse and sinceritie of his judgement equalleth their depth and weight. He is a Philosopher that teacheth us vertue. But let us see whether we can warrant him from this reproch of prevarication and falsehood. That which I imagine hath given occasion or ground to this judgement is that great and farre- spreading lustre of the Romane names, which still are tingling in our ears and never out of our mindes. Wee doe not thinke Demosthenes may equall the glory of a consull, a proconsul and a questor, of this great commonwealth of Rome. But he that shall impartially consider the truth of the matter, and men in themselves, which Plutarke did cheiefly aime at, and more, to balance their custome, their natural dispositions and their sufficiencie, then their for tune: I am of a cleane opposite opinion to Bodin, and thinke that Cicero and old Cato are much behind or short of their parallels. For this purpose I would rather have chosen the example of yong Cato compared to Pbocion: for in that paire might well be found a more likely disparitie for the Romanes advantage. As for Marcellus, Sylla, and Pompey, I see very well how their exploits of warre be more swolne, glorious and pompous then the Græcians, whom Plutarke compareth unto them; but the most vertuous and fairest actions, no more in warre then elsewhere, are not alwaies the most famous. I often see the names of some captaines smothered under the brightnesse of other names of lesser desert, witnesse Labienus, Ventidius, Telesinus, and divers others. And to take him in that sense, were I to complaine for the Græcians, might not I say that Camillus is much lesse comparable unto Themistocles, the Gracchi to Agis and Cleomenes, and Numa to Lycurgus? But it is follie at one glance to judge of things with so many and divers faces. When Plutarke compares them, he doth not for all that equall them. Who could more eloquently and with more conscience note their differences? Doth he compare the victories, the exploites of armes, the power of the armies conducted by Pompey and his triumphs unto those of Agesilaus? I do not believe (saith he) that Xenophon himself (were he living) though it were granted him to write his pleasure of Agesilaus durst ever dare to admit any comparison betweene them: seemeth he to equall Lysander to Sylla? There is no comparison (saith he) neither in number of victories nor hazard of battel betweene them: for Lysander onely obtained two sea-battels, &c. This is no derogation from the Romanes. If hee have but simply presented them unto the Græcians, what ever disparity may be between them, he hath not in any sort wronged them. And Plutarke doth not directly counterpoise them. In some there is none preferred before others; he compareth the parts and the circumstances one after another, and severally judgeth of them. If therefore any would goe about to convince him of favour, he should narrowly sift out some particular judgement; or in generall and plaine termes say, hee hath missed in sorting such a Græcian to such a Romane, forasmuch as there are other more sortable and correspondent, and might better be compared, as having more reference one unto another.