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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.


WHEN we reade in Histories (Plut. Vit. Pyrrh. f.), that Antigonus was highly displeased with his sonne, at what time he presented unto him the head of King Pirrhus his enemie, slaine but a little before in fight against him which he no sooner saw but he burst foorth a weeping: And that Renate Duke of Loraine wept for the death of Charles Duke of Burgundie, whom hee had eftsoones discomfited, and was as an assistant mourner at his funeralls: And that in the battel of Anroy (which the Earl of Montfort had gained against the faction of Charles de Blois, for the Dutchy of Britanie) the victorious conqueror met with the bodie of his enemie deceased, mourned very grievously for him; a man must not suddenly exclaime.
E cosi avven che l'animo ciascuna
Sua passion sotto 'l contrario manto
Ricopre, con la vista hor' chiara, hor' bruna.

So happens it, the minde covers each passion
Under a cloake of colours opposite,
To sight now cleare, now darke, in divers fashion.

  When Cæsar was presented with Pompeis head, Histories report that he turned his looks aside, as from a ghastly and unpleasing spectacle. There hath beene so long a correspondence in societie in the managing of public affairs, mutually betweene them, such a community of fortunes, so many reciprocall offices and bonds of alliance, that a man cannot thinke his countenance to have beene forced, false, and wily, as this other supposeth.
      -----tutumque putavit
Jam bonus esse socer, lacrymas non sponte cadentes
Effudit gemitusque expressit pectore læto. Lucan. ix.1040.

Now to be kinde indeed he did not doubt
Father in law, teares, which came hardly out
He shed, and grones exprest
From inward pleased brest.

  For certainly, howbeit the greatest number of our actions bee but masked and painted over with dissimulation, and that it may sometimes be true,
Hæredis fletus sub persona risus est. -- Aul. Gell. Noct. Att. xvii. c. 14.

The weeping of an heire is laughing under a visard or disguise.

  Yet must a man consider, by judging of his accidents, how our mindes are often agitated by divers passions; For (as they say) there is a certaine assembly of divers humours in our bodies, whereof she is soveraigne mistris, who most ordinarily, according to our complexions, doth command us: so in our minde, although it containe severall motions that agitate the same, yet must one chiefly be predominant. But it is not with so full an advantage, but for the volubilitie and supplenesse of our minde, the weakest may by occasion reobtaine the place againe, and when their turne cometh, make a new charge; whence we see not only children, who simply and naturally follow nature, often to weepe and laugh at one selfe-same thing, but none of us all can vaunt himselfe, what wished for or pleasant voyage soever he undertake, but that taking leave of his family and friends, he shall feele a chilling and panting of the heart, and if he shed not teares, at least he puts his foot in the stirrup with a sad and heavie cheere. And what gentle flame soever doth warme the heart of young virgins, yet are they hardly drawne to leave and forgoe their mothers, to betake them to their husbands: whatsoever this good fellow say:
Est ne novis nuptis odio Venus, anne parentum
   Frustrantur falsis gaudia lacrymulis,
Ubertum thalami quas intra limina fundunt?
   Non, ita me Divi, vera gemunt, juverint. -- Catul. Eleg. ii.15.

Doe young birds hate indeed fresh Venus toyes,
   Or with false teares delude their parents joyes,
Which in their chambers they powre out amaine?
   So helpe me God they doe not true complain.

  So is it not strange to mourne for him dead, whom a man by no meanes would have alive againe. When I chide my boy, I doe it with the best heart I have: They are true and not fained imprecations: but that fit past over, let him have need of me, I will gladly, doe him all the good I can and by and by I turne over another leafe. If I chance to call one knave or asse, my purpose is not for ever to enfeoffe him with those nick-names; nor doe I think to say, tong thou liest, if immediately after I call him an honest man. No qualitie doth embrace us purely and universally. If it were not the countenance of a foole to speake alone or to him selfe, there would scarce be day or houre wherein some body should not heare me mutter and grumble to my selfe, and against my selfe, A (    ) in the fooles teeth! yet doe not I thinke it to be my definition. He that seeth me sometimes to cast a frowning looke upon my wife, or sometimes a loving countenance, and thinkes that either of them is but fained, he is a foole. Nero taking leave of his mother, whom hee sent to be drowned, felt notwithstanding the emotion of that motherly farewell, and at one instant was strucken with horror and pitie. It is said that the Sunnes-light is not of one continued piece, but that it so uncessantly and without intermission doth cast so thicke new raies, one in the necke of another, upon us, that wee cannot perceive the space betweene them.
Largus enim liquidi-fons luminis æthereus sol,
Irrigat assidue cælum candore recenti,
Suppeditaque novo confestim lumine lumen. -- Lucr. v. 281.

Heav'ns Sunne the plenteous spring of liquid light
Still heav'n bedewes with splendor fresh and bright,
Still light supplies with light of fresher sight.

  So doth our minde cast her points diversly and impercepubly. Artabanus surprised Xerxes his nephew, and chid him for the sudden changing of his countenance. He was to consider the unmeasurable greatnesse of his forces at the passage of Hellespont, for the enterprise of Greece. First he was suddenly assailed by an excessive joy, to see so many thousands of men at his service, and witnessed the same by the alacritie and cheerefulnes of his countenance: And immediately at that verie moment, his thoughts suggesting how so many lives were to be consumed, and should come to nothing (at the furthest, within one age), he gan to frowne his browes, and grew so pensive that he wept. We have with a resolute and inexorable minde pursued the revenge of an injurie, and felt a singular content for the victorie; yet upon better advice doe we weepe: it is not that we weepe for: the thing is as it was, there is nothing changed: But that our minde beholds the thing with another eie, and under another shape, it presents it self unto us. For every thing hath divers faces, sundry byases, and severall lustres. Aliance, kinred, old acquaintances, and long friendship seize on our imagination, and at that instant passionate the same according to their qualitie, but the turne or change of it is so violent that it escapes us.
Nil adeo fieri celeri ratione videtur,
Quam si mens fieri proponit et inchoat ipsa.
Ocius ergo animus quam res se perciet ulla,
Ante quarum in promptu natura videtur. -- Lucr. iii. 183.

Nothing in so quicke sort seemes to be done,
As minde set on a thing, and once begun,
The minde that swifter stirres before our eies,
Than any thing, whose forme we soone comprize.

  And therefore, intending to continue one body of all this pursuit, we deceive our selves. When Timoleon weepeth the murther he hath perpetrated with so mature and generous a determmation, he weepeth not for the libertie restored to his countrie, nor the tyrant, but he weepeth for his brother. One part of his dutie is acted, let us permit him to play the other.

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