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Renascence Editions

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.


MY BROTHER the Lord of Brouze and myself, during the time of our civill warres, travelling one day together, we fortuned to meet upon the way with a Gentleman in outward semblance, of good demeanour: He was of our contrary faction, but forasmuch as he counterfeited himselfe otherwise, I knew it not. And the worst of these tumultuous intestine broyles is, that the cards are so shuffled (your enemie being neither by language nor by fashion, nor by any other apparent marke distinguished from you; nay, which is more, brought up under the same lawes and customes, and breathing the same ayre) that it is a very hard matter to avoid confusion and shun disorder. Which consideration made me not a little fearefull to meet with our troopes, especially where I was not known, lest I should be urged to tell my name, and haply doe worse. As other times before it had befalne me; for, by such a chance, or rather mistaking, I fortuned once to lose all my men and horses and hardly escaped myself: and amongst other my losses and servants that were slaine, the thing that most grieved me was the untimely and miserable death of a young Italian Gentlemen whom I kept as my Page, and very carefully brought up, with whom dyed as forward, as budding and as hopefull a youth as ever I saw. But this man seemed fearfully dismaid, and at every encounter of horseman and passage by, or thorow any Towne that held for the King, I observed him to be so strangely distracted that in the end I perceived and guessed they were but guilty alarums that his conscience gave him. It seemed unto this seely man that all might apparently, both through his blushing selfe-accusing countenance, and by the crosses he wore upon his upper garments, read the secret intentions of his faint heart. Of such marvailous-working power is the sting of conscience: which often induceth us to bewray, to accuse, and to combat our selves; and for want of other evidences she produceth our selves against our selves.
Occultum quaetiens animo tortore flagellum. -- Juven Sat. xiii. 195.

Their minde, the tormentor of sinne,
Shaking an unseene whip within.

  The storie of Bessus the Paeonian is so common, that even children have it in their mouths, who being found, fault withal, that in mirth he had beaten downe a nest of young Sparrowes and then killed them, answered, he had great reason to doe it; forsomuch as those young birds ceased not falsly to accuse him to have murthered his father, which parricide was never suspected to have beene committed by him, and until that day had layen secret; but the revengefull furies of the conscience made the same partie to reveale it, that by all right was to do penance for so hatefull and unnaturall a murther. Hesiodus correcteth the saying of Plato, that punishment doth commonly succeed the guilt, and follow sinne at hand: for, he affirmeth, that it rather is borne at the instant and together with sinne it selfe, and they are as twinnes borne at one birth together. 'Whosoever expects punishment suffe reth the same, and whosoever deserveth it, he doth expect it. Impietie doth invent, and iniquitie doth frame torments against itselfe,' 
Malum constilium consultori pessimum. -- Eras. Chil. i. cent. ii. ad. 14.

Bad counsell is worst for the counsellor that gives the counsell.

  Even as the Waspe stingeth and offendeth others, but herselfe much more; for, in hurting others, she loseth her force and sting for ever.
-----itasque in vulnere ponunt. -- Virg. Georg. iv. 238.

They, while they others sting,
Death to themselves do bring.

  The Cantharides have some part in them, which by a contrarietie of nature serveth as an antidot or counter-poison against their poison: so likewise, as one taketh pleasure in vice, there is a certaine contrarie displeasure engendred in the conscience, which by sundry irksome and painfull imaginations, perplexeth and tormenteth us, both waking and asleep.
Quippe ubi se multi per somnia saepe loquentes,
Aut morbo delirantes protraxe ferantur,
Et celata diu in medium peccata delisse. --Lucr. v. 1168.

Many in dreames oft speaking, or unhealed,
In sicknesse raving have themselves revealed,
And brought to light their sinnes long time concealed.

  Apollodorus dreamed he saw himselfe first flead by the Scythians, and then boyled in a pot, and that his owne heart murmured, saying: 'I only have caused this mischiefe to light upon thee.' Epicurus was wont to say, that no lurking hole can shroud the wicked, for they can never assure themselves to be sufficiently hidden, sithence conscience is ever ready to disclose them to themselves.
 -------- prima est haec ultio, quod se
Judice nemo nocens absolvitur. -- Juven. Sat. xiii. 2.

This is the first revenge, no guilty mind
Is quitted, though it selfe be judge assign'd.

  Which as it doth fill us with feare and doubt, so doth it store us with assurance and trust. And I may boldly say that I have waded thorow many dangerous hazards with a more untired pace, only in consideration of the secret knowledge I had of mine owne will, and innocencie of my desseignes. 
Conscia mens ut cuique sua est, ita concipit intra
  Pectora pro facto spemque metumque suo. --Ovid. Fast. i. 485.

As each mans minde is guiltie, so doth he
Inlie breed hope and feare, as his deeds be.

  Of examples there are thousands: It shall suffice us to alleage three only, and all of one man. Scipio being one day accused before the Romane people of an urgent and capitall accusation, in stead of excusing himselfe, or flattering the Judges; turning to them, he said: 'It will well beseeme you to undertake to judge of his head, by whose meanes you have authoritie to judge of all the world.' The same man, another time, being vehemently urged by a Tribune of the people, who charged him with sundry imputations, in lieu of pleading or excusing his cause, gave him this sudden and short answer: 'Let us goe (quoth he), my good Citizens; let us forthwith goe (I say) to give hartie thanks unto the Gods for the victorie, which even upon such a day as this is they gave me against the Carthaginians.' And therewith advancing himselfe to march before the people, all the assembly, and even his accuser himselfe did undelayedly follow him towards the Temple. After that, Petilius having beene animated and stirred up by Cato to solicite and demand a strict accompt of him, of the money he had managed, and which was committed to his trust whilest he was in the Province of Antioch, Scipio, being come into the Senate-house of purpose to answer for himselfe, pulling out the booke of his accompts from under his gowne, told them all that that booke contained truly both the receipt and laying out thereof; and being required to deliver the same unto a Clarke to register it, he refused to doe it, saying he would not doe himselfe that wrong or indignitie; and thereupon with his owne hands, in presence of all the Senate, tore the booke in peeces. I cannot apprehend or beleeve that a guiltie-cauterized conscience could possibly dissemble or counterfet such an undismayed assurance: His heart was naturally too great, and enured to overhigh fortune (saith Titus Livius) to know how to be a criminall offender, and stoopingly to yeeld himself to the baseness to defend his innocencie. Torture and racking are dangerous inventions, and seeme rather to be trials of patience than Essayes of truth. And both he that can, and he that cannot endure them, conceale the truth. For wherefore shall paine or smart rather compell me to confesse that which is so indeed than force me to tell that which is not? And contrariwise, if he who hath not done that whereof he is accused, is sufficiently patient to endure those torments, why shall not he be able to tolerate them who hath done it, and is guilty indeed; so deare and worthy a reward as life being proposed unto him? I am of opinion that the ground of this invention proceedeth from the consideration of the power and facultie of the conscience. For, to the guilty, it seemeth to give a kinde of furtherance to the torture, to make him confesse his fault, and weakneth and dismayeth him: and on the other part, it encourageth and strengthneth the innocent against torture. To say truth, it is a meane full of uncertainty and danger. What would not a man say, nay, what not doe, to avoid so grievous paines and shun such torments?
Etiam innocentes cogit mentiri dolor. -- Sen. Prover.

Torment to lye sometimes will drive,
Ev'n the most innocent alive.

Whence it followeth that he whom the Judge hath tortured, because he shall not dye an innocent, he shall bring him to his death, both innocent and tortured. Many thousands have thereby charged their heads with false confessions. Amongst which I may well place Phylotas, considering the circumstances of the endictment that Alexander framed against him, and the progresse of his torture. But so it is, that (as men say) it is the least evill humane weaknesse could invent; though, in my conceit, very inhumanely, and there withall most unprofitably. Many Nations lesse barbarous in that than the Grecian or the Romane, who terme them so, judge it a horrible and cruell thing to racke and torment a man for a fault whereof you are yet in doubt. Is your ignorance long of him? What can he doe withall? Are not you unjust who because you will not put him to death without some cause, you doe worse than kill him? And that it is so, consi der but how often he rather chuseth to dye guiltlesse than passe by this informat1on, much more painfull than the punishment or torment; and who many times, by reason of the sharpnesse of it, preventeth, furthereth, yea, and executeth the punishment. I wot not whence I heard this story, but it exactly hath reference unto the conscience of our Justice. A countrie woman accused a souldier before his Generall, being a most severe Justicer, that he, with violence, had snatched from out her poore childrens hands, the small remainder of some pap or water-gruell, which she had onely left to sustaine them, forsomuch as the Army had ravaged and wasted all. The poore woman had neither witnesse nor proofe of it: it was but her yea and his no; which the Generall perceiving, after he had summoned her to be well advised what she spake, and that shee should not accuse him wrongfully; for, if shee spake an untruth, shee should then be culpable of his accusation: But shee constantly persisting to charge him, he forthwith, to discover the truth, and to be thoroughly resolved, caused the accused Souldiers belly to be ripped, who was found faulty, and the poore woman to have said true; whereupon shee was discharged. A condemnation instructive to others.

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