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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.



I  HAVE often heard it reported that Cowardize is the mother of Cruelty: And have perceived by experience that this malicious sharpnes and inhumane severitie of corage is commonly accompanied with feminine remissenesse. I have seene some of the cruelest subject to weepe easily, and for frivolous causes. Alexander the tyrant of Pheres could not endure to see tragedies acted in the theatres for feare his subjects should see him sob and weepe at the misfortunes of Hecuba and Andromache; he who without remorse or pitty caused daily so many poore people to be most cruelly massacred and barbarously murthered. May it be weaknesse of spirit makes them so pliable to all extremities? valor (whose effect is onely to exercise it selfe against resistance,
Nec nisi bellantis gaudet cervice iuvenci. -- Claud. Epist. ad Hadr. v. 30.

Nor takes he joy to domineere
But on the necke of sturdie steere)

refraines it selfe in seeing her enemy prostrate to her mercy: but pusillanimitie, to say that she also is of the feaste, since it cannot be joyned to the first part takes for her share the second, which is massacre and blood. Murthers after victories are commonly effected by the baser kinde of people and officers that waite upon the baggage and cariage. And the reason we see so many unheard-of cruelies in popular warres is that this vulgar rascalitie doth martially flesh and enure it selfe to dive in blood up to the elbowes, and mangle a body, or hacke a carcase lying and groveling at their feete, having no manner of feeling of other valor.
Et Lupus et turpes instant morientibus Ursi.
     Et quæcumque minor nobilitate fera est. -- Ovid. Trist. iii. El. v. 35.

A Wolfe or filthie Beare the dying man oppresse.
Or some such beast as in nobilitle is lesse.

As the Craven Curres, which at home or in their Kennels will tugge and bite the skins of those wilde beastes which in the fields they durst not so much as bark at. What is it that now adaies makes all our quarrels mortall? And whereas our forefathers had some degree of revenge, we now beginne by the last; and at first brunt nothing is spoken of but killing? What is it, if it be not cowardice? Every man seeth it is more bravery and disdaine for one to beat his enemie than make an end of him, and to keep him at a bay, then make him die. Moreover, that the desire of revenge is thereby allayed and better contented; for it aymeth at nothing so much as to give or shew a motion or feeling of revenge onely of her self. And thats the reason we do not challenge a beast, or fall upon a stone when it hurts us, because they are incapable to feele our revenge. And to kill a man is to shelter him from our offence. And even as Bias exclaimed upon a wicked man: 'I know that soone or late thou shalt be punished for thy lewdness but I feare me I shall not see it;' and moaned the Orchomenians, because the penance which Liciscus had for his treason committed against them, came at such a time as none of them were living whom it had concerned, and whom the pleasure of that punishment might most delight so ought revenge to be moaned when he on whom it is inflicted looseth the meanes to endure or feel it; For, even as the revenger will see the action of the revenge, that so he may feel the pleasure of it, so must he on whom he is revenged, both see and feele that he may hereby receive both repentance and griefe. He shall rew it, say we. And though he receive a stab, or a blow with a pistol on his head, shal we think he wil repent? Contrariwise, if we marke him wel, we shal perceive that in falling, he makes a moe or bob at us. He is farre from repenting when he rather seemes to be beholding us: inasmuch as we affoord him the favourablest office of life, which is to make him dye speedily and as it were insensibly. We are left to shift up and downe, runne and trot, and squat heere and there, and al to avoyd the officers or escape the magistrates that pursue us; and he is at rest. 'To kill a man is good to escape a future offence, and not revenge the wrongs past.' It is rather an action of feare than of bravery; of precaution than of an enterprise. It is apparent that by it we quit both the true end of revenge and the respect of our reputation: if he live we feare he will or may charge us with the like. It is not against him, it is for thee, thou riddest thy selfe of him. In the kingdome of Narsinga this expedient would be bootlesse. There not only souldiers, and such as professe armes, but every meane artificer, decide their quarels with the swords point. The King never refuseth any man the combate that is disposed to fight, and if they be men of qualitie he wil be by in person, and reward the victor with a chaine of gold: which, whosoever hath a mind unto, and wil obtaine it, may freely challenge him that weareth the same, and enter combate with him. And having overcome one combate, hath many following the same. If we thought by vertue to be ever superiors unto our enemy, and at our pleasure gourmandize him, it would much grieve us he should escape us, as he doth in dying. We rather endeavour to vanquish surely then honourably. And in our quarrels we rather seeke for the end then for the glory. Asinius Pollio for an honest man lesse excusable, committed a like fault; who, having written many invectives against Plancus, staid untill he were dead to publish them. It was rather to flurt at a blind man, and raile in a dead mans eare, and to offend a senselesse man, than incurre the danger of his revenge. And men answered in this behalfe, that it onely belonged to Hobgoblins to wrestle with the dead. He who stayeth till the author be dead whose writings he will combate, what saith he but that he is weake and quarrellous? It was told Aristotle, that somebody had spoken ill of him, to whom he answered, 'Let him also whippe me, so my selfe be not by.' Our forefathers were content to revenge an insult with the lie, a lie with a blowe, a blowe with bloud, and so in order. They were sufficiently valiant not to feare their adversary, though he lived and were wronged: whereas we quake for feare so long as we see him afoot. And that it is so, doth not our moderne practise pursue to death as well him who hath wronged us as him whom we have offended? It is also a kind of dastardlinesse which hath brought this fashion into our single combates, to accompany us in the fields with seconds, thirdes, and fourths. They were anciently single combates, but now they are skirmishes and battels. To be alone, feared the first that invented it. Quum in se cuique minimum fiducite esset: 'When every man had least confidence in himselfe.' For, what company soever it be, it doth naturally bring some comfort and ease in danger. In ancient time they were wont to employ third persons as sticklers, to see no treachery or disorder were used, and to beare witnes of the combates successe. But now this fashion is come up, let any man be engaged, whosoever is envited cannot well containe himselfe to be a spectator, lest it be imputed unto him it is either for want of affection or lack of courage. Besides the injustice of such an action and villany, for your honours protection, to engage other valour and force than your owne, I find it a disadvantage in an honest and worthy man, and who wholly trusts unto himselfe, to entermingle his fortune with a second man: every one runneth sufficient hazard for himselfe, and need not also runne it for another: and hath enough to do to assure himselfe of his owne vertue for the defence of his life, without committing so precious a thing into third mens hands. For, if the contrary hath not expresly beene covenanted of all foure, it is a combined party. If your fellow chance to faile, you have two upon you, and not without reason: and to say it is a Superchiery, as it is indeed: as being wel armed, to charge a man who hath but a piece of a sword, or being sound and strong, to set upon a man sore hurt. But if they be advantages you have gotten fighting, you may use them without imputation. Disparitie is not considered, and inequality is not balanced, but by the state wherein the fight is begun. As of the rest you must rely on fortune, and if alone or single you chance to have three upon you, your other two companions being slain, you have no more wrong done you than I should offer in wars in striking an enemie whom at such an advantage I should finde grappled with one of my fellow-souldiers. The nature of societie beareth where troupe is against troupe (as where our Duke of Orleans chalenged Henry King of England, one hundred against another hundred; three hundred against as many, as did the Argians against the Lacedemonians; three to three, as were the Horatij against the Curatij), the pluralitie of either side is never respected for more than a single man. Wheresoever there is company, the hazard is confused and disordered. I have a private interest in this discourse. For my brother, the Lord of Matecoulom, being desired in Rome to second and accompany a gentleman with whom he had no great acquaintance, who was defendant and challenged by another; the fight begunne, my brother by chance found himselfe confronted with one neerer and better known to him (I would faine be resolved of these lawes of honour, which so often shock and trouble those of reason), whom after he had vanquished and dispatched, seeing the two principals of the quarrell yet standing and unhurt, he went to reskew his fellow. What could he doe lesse? should he have stood still, and (if chance would so have had it) see him defeated for whose defence he was entred the quarrell? What until then he had done was nothing to the purpose, and the quarrel was still undecided. Al the courtesie you can, you ought surely use to your enemy, especially when you have brought him under, and to some great advantage; I know not how a man may use it, when anothers interest depends on it, where you are but accessory and where the quarrel is not yours. Hee could never be just nor curteous in hazard of him unto whom he had lent himselfe. So was he presently delivered out of the Italian prisons by a speedy and solemne letter of commendations from our King. Oh, indiscreet nation! We are not contented to manifest our follies and bewray our vices to the world by reputation; but we goe into forraigne nations, and there in person shew them. Place three Frenchmen in the deserts of Libya, and they will never live one moneth together without brawling, falling out, and scratching one another; you would say this peregrination is a party erected to please strangers with our tragedies; and those most commonly who rejoyce and scoffe at our evils. We travel into Italie to learne the art of fencing, and practise it at the cost of our lives, before we know it; it were requisite, according to the order of true discipline, we should preferre the theorike before the practike. We betray our apprentisage.
Primitiæ iuvenum miseræ, bellique futuri
     Dura rudimenta. -- Stat. Sylv. v.

The miserable first essayes of youth
And hard beginnings of warre that ensu'th.

I know it is an art profitable to her end (in the single combate betweene the two Princes, cosin-Germans, in Spaine, the eldest of which (saith T. Livius) by the skil of his weapons, and by craft, overcame easily the dismayed forces of the younger) and as by experience I have knowen the knowledge and skil whereof hath puffed the heart of some beyond their naturall proportion. But it is not properly a vertue, since she draweth her stay from dexteritie and takes her foundation from other than from her selfe. The honour of combates consisteth in the jealousie of the heart, not of the science. And therefore have I seene some of my friends, renowned for great Masters in this exercise, in their quarrels to make choice of weapons that might well take the meane of this advantage or oddes from them; and which wholly depend on fortune and assurance that their victorie might not rather be imputed to their fencing then ascribed to their valour. And in my infancy our nobility scorned the reputation of a fencer, though never so cunning, as injurious; and if any learnt it they would sequester themselves from company, deeming the same as a mystery of craft and subtility, derogating from true and perfect vertue.
Non scntivar, non parar, non ritirarsi
Voglion costor, ne qui destrezza ha parte;
Non danno i colpi finti hor pie ni, hor scarsi;
Togli l'ira e'l furor l'uso dell'arte,
Odi le spade horribilmente urtarsi
A mezzo il ferro, il pie d'orma non parte,
Sempre e il pie fermo, e la man sempre in moto,
Ne scende taglio in van, ne punta a voto.  -- Tasso, Gier. can. xii. stan. 55.

T' avoyde, toward retiring to give ground
They reke not, nor hath nimblenes heere part,
Nor give false blowes, nor full, nor scarce, nor sound,
Rage and revenge bereave all use of arte . T
heir Swordes at halfe Sword horribly resound
You might heare mette: No foote from steppe doth parte:
Their foote still fast, their hand still faster mooveth:
No stroke in vaine, no thrust in vaine, but prooveth.

Shooting at Buts, Tilting, Torneyes, Barriers, the true images of martiall combats, were the exercises of our forefathers. This other exercise is so much the lesse noble, by how much it respecteth but a private end: which against the lawes of justice teacheth us to destroy one another, and every way produceth ever mischievous effects. It is much more worthy and better beseeming for a man to exercise himselfe in things that assure and offend not our Commonwealth and which respect publike securitie and generall glory. Publius Rutilius was the first that ever instituted the Souldier to manage his armes by dexteritie and skil, and joyned art onto vertue, not for the use of private contentions, but for the wars and Roman peoples quarrels; a popular and civill manner of fencing; and besides the example of Cæsar, who appointed his Souldier, above all things, to aime and strike at the face of Pompeyes men in the battell of Pharsalia: a thousand other Chieftaines and Generals have devised new fashions of weapons and new kindes of striking, and covering of themselves, according as the present affaires require. But even as Philopoemen condemned wrestling, wherein hee excelled others, forsomuch as the preparations appertaining to this exercise differed from those that belong to military discipline, to which he supposed men of honour should amuse and addict themselves, me thinkes also that this nimblenesse or agilitie to which men fashion and enure themselves, their Iimbes, their turnings, windings, and nimble-quicke motions wherein youth is instructed and trained in this new schoole, are not only unprofitable but rather contrary and domageable for the use of militarie combat: And wee see our men do commonly employ particular weapons in their fence schools, and peculiarly appointed for that purpose. And I have seene it dis-allowed that a gentleman chalenged to fight with rapier and dagger should present himselfe in the equipage of a man at armes; or that another should offer to come with his cloake instead of a dagger. It is worthy the noting that Lachez in Plato, speaking of an apprentisage how to manage armes conformable to ours, saith he could never see any notable warrior come of a school of fence, and especially from among the maisters. As for them our owne experience confirmes as much. And for the rest we may at least say they are sufficiencies of no relation or correspondency. And in the institution of the children of this Commonwealth, Plato interdicts the artes of striking or playing with fists devised by Amycus and Epeius, and to wrestle invented by Antoeus and Cecyo: because they aime at another end then to adapt youth to warlike service, and have no afflilition with it. But I digresse much from my theame. The Emperour Mauricius being forwarned by dreames and sundry prognostications that one Phocas a souldier at that time yet unknowne, should kill him, demanded of Philip his sonne in law who that Phocas was, his nature, his conditions and customes, and how amongst other things Philip told him he was a faint, cowardly, and timorous fellow. The Emperour thereby presently concluded that he was both cruel and a murtherer. What makes tyrants so bloud-thirstie? it is the care of their securities and that their faint-hart yeelds them no other meanes to assure themselves then by rooting out those which may in any sort offend them; yea, silly women, for feare that they should or bite or scratch them:
Cuncta ferit dum cuncta timet. -- Claud. in Eutrop. i. 182.

Of all things he afraide,
At all things fiercely laide.

   The first cruelties are exercised by themselves, thence proceedeth the feare of a just revenge, which afterward produces that swarme of new cruelties; by the one to stifle the other. Philip, the King of Macedon, who had so many crowes to pul with the Romanes, agitated by the horror of so many murthers committed by his appointment, and unable to make his partie good, or to take any safe resolution against so many families, by him at severall times injured, resolved at last to seize upon al their children whom he had caused to be murthered, that so he might day by day one after another rid the world, of them, and so establish his safety. Matters of worth are not impertinent wheresoever they be placed. I, who rather respect the weight and benefite of discourses then their order and placing, need not feare to place here at randome a notable storie. When they are so rich of their owne beautie, and may very well uphold themselves alone, I am content with a haires end, to fitte or joyne them to my purpose. Amongst others who had been condemned by Philip was one Herodicus, Prince of the Thessalians: after whom he caused his two sonnes in lawe to be put to deathe, each of them leaving a young sonne behind. Theoxena and Arco were the two widdowes. Theoxena, although she were instantly urged thereunto, could never be induced to marry againe. Arco tooke to husband Poris, a chiefe man amongst the Æneans, and by him had divers children, all which she left very young. Theoxena, moved by a motherly charitie toward her young nephews, and so to have them in her protection and bringing up, wedded Poris. Vpon this came out the proclamation of the Kings edict. This noble-minded mother, distrusting the Kings crueltie and fearing the mercilesness of his satelities or officers towards these noble, hopefull and tender youths, feared not to say that shee would rather kil them with her own hands then deliver them. Poris, amazed at her protestations, promiseth her secretly to convey them to Athens, there by some of his faithful friends to be kept safely. They take occasion of a yearly feast which to the honour of Æneas was solemnized at Ænea, and thither they goe, where having all day long assisted at the ceremonies and publike banket, night being come, they convay themselves into a shippe appointed for that purpose in hope to save themselves by sea. But the winde fell out so contrarie that the next morning they found themselves in view of the towne whence the night before they had hoisted sailes, where they were pursued by the garders and souldiers of the port. Which Poris perceiving, laboured to hasten and encourage the mariners to shift away: but Tbeoxena, engaged through love and revenge, remembring her first resolution, prepared both weapons and poisons, and presenting them to their sight, thus she bespake them: 'Oh my dear children, take a good heart; death is now the onely meane of your defence and libertie, and shall be a just cause unto the Gods for their holy justice. These bright keen blades, these full cuppes shall free you the passage unto it. Courage therefore, and thou my eldest childe take this sword to die the strongest death.' Who on the one side having so undaunted a perswader, and on the other their enemies ready to cut their throats in furious manner, ranne all to that which came next to his hand; and so all goared and panting were throwne into the sea. Theoxena, proud she had so gloriously provided for her children's safety, lovingly embraced her husband, said thus unto him: 'Oh my dear heart, let us follow these boyes, and together with them enjoy one self-same grave;' and so close-claspe together they flung themselves into the maine: so that the ship was brought to shore againe, but emptie of her maisters. Tyrants, to act two things together, that is, to kill and cause their rage to be felt, have employed the utmost of their skill to devise lingering deaths. They will have their enemies die, yet not so soone but that they may have leisure to feele their vengeance. Wherin they are in great perplexity; for if the torments be over-violent, they are short; if lingring, not grevious enough. In this they imploy their wits and devices, many examples whereof we see in antiquitie; and I wot not whether we retain some spice of that barbarisme. Whatsoever is beyond a simple death seemeth to me meere crueltie. Our justice cannot hope that he whom the terror of death cannot dismay, be he to be hanged or beheaded, can in any sort be troubled with the imagination of a languishing fire, of a wheele, or of burning pincers. And I wot not whether in that meane time we bring him to despair; for what plight can the soule of man be in that is broken up on a wheele, or, after the old fashion, nailed to a crosse, and 24 howres together expects his death! Josephus reporteth that whilst the Roman warres continued in Jewrie, passing by a place where certain Jewes had been crucified three dayes before, he knew three of his friends amongst them, and having gotten leave to remove them, two of them died, but the third lived long after. Chalcondylas, a man of credite, in the memories he left of matters happened in his time and thereabouts, maketh report of an extreame torment the Emperor Mechmed was often wont to put in practice, which was by one onely blow of a cimitary, or broad Persian sword, to have men cut in two parts, by the waste of the body, about the diapbragma, which is a membrane lying overthwart the lower part of the breast, separating the heart and lights from the stomacke, which caused them to die two deaths at once: and affirmeth that both parts were seen full of life, to move and stirre long time after, as if they had been in lingering torment. I do not thinke they felt any great torture in that moving. The gastliest torments to looke upon are not alwaies the greatest to be endured: and I finde that much more fiercely-horrible, which other historians write, and which he used against certain Lords of Epirus, whom faire and leasurely he caused to be flead all over, disposed by so malicious a dispensation that their lives continued fifteene daies in that languor and anguish. And these two others: Croesus having caused a gentleman to be apprehended, greatly favoured by Pantaleon his brother, led him in a fullers or clothworkers shoppe, where with cardes and teazles belonging to that trade, he made him to be carded, scraped, and teazled so long until he died of it. George Sechel, ring-leader of the countrymen of Polina, who under the title of a Croysada, wrought so many mischiefs, having beene defeated in a battell by the Vayvoda of Transilvania and taken prisoner, was for three dayes together tyed naked to a wooden horse, exposed to all manner of tortures any man might devise against him; during which time divers other prisoners were kept fasting. At last, he yet living, saw Lucat his deare brother, and for whose safety he sued and entreated, forced to drinke his blood, drawing all the envie and hatred of his misdeeds upon himselfe. And twenty of his most favoured captaines were compelled to feed upon his flesh, which with their teeth they must teare off and swallow their morsels. The rest of his body and entrailes, he being dead, were boiled in a pan, and given for food to other of his followers.

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