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Renascence Editions

Montaigne's Essays


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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.



I   HAVE noted the greatest part of ancient opinions to agree in this: That when our life affords more evill than good, it is then time to die: and to preserve our life to our torment and incommoditie, is to spurre and shocke the very rules of nature: as say the old rules.
 Ν ζην η θαηνειν ευδαιμοως  -- Gnom. Græc.

Or live without distresse,
Or die with happinesse.

Καλον το θνησκειν οις υβριν το ζην φερει  --Ibid.

Tis good for them to die,
Whom life brings infamie.

Κρεισσν το μη ζην εοτινη ζην αθλιως  -- Soph. Stob. Ser. 118.

'Tis better not to live,
Than wretchedly not thrive.
  But to drive off the contempt of death to such a degree as to imploy it to distract and remove himselfe from honours, riches, greatnesse, and other goods and favours, which wee call the goods of fortune: as if reason had not enough to doe to perswade us to forgoe and leave them, without adding this new surcharge unto it, I had neither seene the same commanded nor practised untill such time as one place of Seneca came to my hands, wherein counselling Lucilius (a man mightie and in great authoritie about the Emperour) to change this voluptuous and pompous life, and to withdraw himselfe from this ambition of the world, to some solitarie, quiet, and philosophicall life: about which Lucilius alleaged some difficulties: 'My advice is' (saith he) 'that either thou leave and quit that life, or thy life altogether: But I perswade thee to follow the gentler way, and rather to-untie than breake what thou hast so ill knit: alwaies provided thou breake it, if thou canst not otherwise untie the same.' Ihere is no man so base minded that loveth not rather to fall once than ever to remaine in feare of falling. I should have deemed this counsell agreeing with the Stoickes rudenes; But it is more strange it should be borrowed of Epicurus, who to that purpose writeth consonant to this unto Idomeneus. Yet thinke I to have noted some such like thing amongst our owne people, but with Christian moderation. Saint Hilarie, Bishop of Poitiers, a famous enemie of the Arrian heresie, being in Syria, was advertised that Abra, his only daughter, whom hee had left at home with her mother, was by the greatest Lords of the countrie solicited and sued unto for marriage, as a damosell very well brought up, faire, rich, and in the prime of her age: he writ unto her (as we see) that she should remove her affections from all the pleasures and advantages might be presented her; for in his voyage he had found a greater and worthier match or husband of far higher power and magnificence, who should present and endow her with roabes and jewels of unvaluable price. His purpose was to make her lose the appetite and use of daily pleasures, and wholly to wed her unto God. Also which, deeming his daughters death, the shortest and most assured way, he never ceased by vowes, prayers and orisons, humbly to beseech God to take her out of this world, and to call her to his mercie, as it came to passe; for shee deceased soone after his returne, whereof he shewed manifest tokens of singular gladnesse. This man seemeth to endeere himselfe above others, in that at first sight he addresseth himselfe to this meane, which they never embrace but subsidiarily, and sithence it is towards his only daughter. But I will not omit the successe of this storie, although it be not to my purpose. Saint Hilaries wife, having understood by him how her daughters death succeeded with his intent and will, and how much more happy it was for her to be dislodged from out this world than still to abide therein, conceived so lively an apprehension of the eternall and heavenly blessednesse, that with importunate instancie she solicited her husband to doe as much for her. And God, at their earnest entreatie and joynt-common prayers, having soone after taken her unto himselfe, it was a death embraced with singular and mutuall contentment to both.

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