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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.


IT IS reported of divers chiefe Generals in warre, that they have particularly affected some peculiar book or other, as Alexander the Great highly esteemed Homer; Scipio, Africanus, Xenophon; Marcus Brutus, Polybius; Charles the Fifth, Philip de Comines: and it is lately averred that in some places, and with some men, Machiavell is much accompted of: But our late Marshall Strozzi, who had made especiall choice to love Cæsar, without doubt I thinke of all other chose best, for truely he ought to be the breviary of all true souldiers, as being the absolute and perfect chiefe patterne of military profession. And God hee knowes with what grace and with what decorum he hath embellished this rich subject, with so pure a kinde of speech, so pleasing and so absolutely perfect, that to my taste there are no writings in the world which in this subiect may be compared to his. I will heere register certaine particular and rare parts concerning his maner of war, which yet remaine in my memory. His armie beeing somewhat afrighted upon the report that ranne of the great forces which K. Iuba brought against him, instead of abating the opinion his souldiers had conceived of it, and to diminish the meanes or forces of his enemie, having caused them to be assembled altogether, thereby to assure and encourage them, he tooke a cleane contrary course to that which in like cases we are accustomed to do, for he had them trouble themselves no more to finde out the number of the forces which his enemies brought against him, for himselfe had already true knowledge and certaine intelligence of them, and told them a number farre exceeding both the truth and report of them: following what Cyrus commandeth in Xenophon. Forasmuch as the deceit is not of like interest, for a man to finde his enemies in effect weaker than he hoped, then stronger indeed having once conceived an opinion of their weaknesse. He enured all his souldiers simply to obey, without controling, gaine-saying, or speaking of their captaines desseignes, which he never communicated unto them, but upon the last point of execution; and was pleased, if by chance they had any inkling of them, so to deceive them. Presently to change his opinion: and having prefixed a place to quarter in at night, he hath often beene seene to march further, and lengthen his journey, namely if the weather were foule, or if it rained. The Swizzers in the beginning of his warres in Gaule, having sent toward him to give them free passage through the Romane countries, and he being resolved by force to empeach them, did notwithstanding shew them very good lookes, and tooke certaine dayes respit to give them an answer. During which time he might have leisure to assemble his armie together. These poore people knew not how wel he could husband time: for he often repeated that the skill to embrace occasions in the nick is the chiefest part of an absolute captaine: and truly the diligence he used in his exploit is incredible, and the like was never heard of. If he were not over-consciencious in that under colour of some treatie, parle or accord, to take any advantage of his enemies, he was as little scrupulous in that he required no other vertue in his souldiers but valour; and except mutinie and disobedience he punished not greatly other vices. After his victories he often gave them the reines to all licenciousness, for a while dispencing them from all rules of military discipline; saying, moreover, his souldiers were so well instructed that though they were in their gayest clothes, pranked up, muskt and perfumed, they would, notwithstanding, runne furiously to any combate. And in truth he loved to see them richly armed, and made them weare gilt, graven and silvered armours, that their care to keepe them cleane and bright might make them more fierce and readie to defend themselves. Speaking to them, he ever called them by the name of fellow soldiers, a name used at this day by some captaines; which his successor Augustus afterward reformed, esteeming he had done it for the necessitie of his affaires, and to flatter the hearts of those which followed him but voluntarily;
        -----Rheni mihi Cæsar in undis,
Dux erat, hic socius facinus quos inquinat, æquat.  -- Lucan. v. 289.

When Caasar past the Rheine he was my generall,
My fellow heere; sinne whom it staines makes fellowes-all;

but this custome was over-lowlie for the dignitie of an emperor and chiefe generall of an armie, and he brought up the fashion againe to cal them only souldiers. To this curtesie, Cæsar did, notwithstanding intermixe a great severity to suppresse and keep them humble. His ninth legion having mutinied neere unto Placentia, he presently cassiered the same with great ignominie unto it, notwithstanding that Pompey were yet on foot and strong; and would not receive it into favour but with humble petition and entreaties. Hee did more appease them by authoritie and audacitie than by mildnesse and affabilitie. Where he speaketh of his passage over the river of Rheine, towards Germanie, he saith that, deeming it unworthy the honour of the Romane people his army should pass over in shippes, he caused a bridge to be built, that so it might passe over drie-foot. There he erected that admirable bridge whereof he so particularly describeth the same: for he never more willingly dilates himselfe in describing any of his exploites then where he endevoreth to represent unto us the subtilitie of his inventions in such kindes of manuall workes. I have also noted this his booke, that he much accompteth of his exhortations he made his souldiers before any fight, for where he would shew to have beene either surprised or urged, he ever alledgeth this, that he had not so much leisure as to make an oration to his souldiers or armie: before that great battle against those of Tournay, Cæser (saith he) having disposed of the rest, ranne sodainely whither fortune carried him, to exhort his men, and meeting with the tenth legion, he had not leisure to say any thing else unto them but that they should remember their former wonted vertue, they should nothing be danted, they should stoutly resist the encounter of their adversaries; and forsomuch as the enemie was come within an arrow-shot unto him, he gave the signal of the battel; and sodainely going elsewere to encourage others, he found them already together by the eares: see here what himself saith of it in that place. Verely his tongue hath in diverse places much bestead, and done him notable service, and even whilst he lived his military eloquence was so highly regarded that many of his armie were seene to copie and keepe his orations; by which meanes diverse volumes were filled with them, and continued many ages after his death, his speech and particular graces, so that his familiar friends, and namely Augustus, hearing that rehearsed which had beene collected of his, knew by the phrases and words what was his or not. The first time that with any publike charge he issued out of Rome, he came in eight dayes to the river of Rhone, having ever one or two secretaries before him, who continually writ what he endited, and one behinde him that carried his sword. And surely if one did nothing but runne up and downe, he could very hardly attaine to that promptitude wherewith ever being victorious, having left Gaule, and following Pompey to Brundusium, in eighteene dayes he subdued all Italie; returned from Brundusium to Rome, and thence went even to the heart of Spaine, where he passed many extreme difficulties in the warres betweene Afranius and Petreius, and at the long siege of Marseille; from whence he returned into Macedon, overthrew the Romane armie at Pharsalia; thence pursuing Pompey he passed into Egypt, which he subdued; from Egypt he came into Syria, and into the countrie of Pontus; where hee fought with Pharnaces; thence into Affrica, where he defeated Scipio and Iuba; and thence through Italie he returned into Spaine, where he overthrew Pompeyes children.
Ocior et cæli flammis et tigride fæta,
Ac veluti montis saxum de vertice præceps
Cum ruit avulsum vento, seu turbidus imber
Proluit, aut annis solvit sublapsa vetustas,
Fertur in abruptum magno mons improbus actu,
Exultatque solo, silvas, armenta, virosque, I
nvolvens secum.  -- Virg. Æn. xii. 684.

Swifter then breed -yong tiger, or heav'ns flash,
And as from mountaines top a headlong stone,
Rent-off by winds, or by stormes troublous dash
Washt-off, or loos'd by age of yeares are gone,
Crosse-carried with great force that hill-like masse
Bounds on the earth, and rowles with it in one
Woods, herds, and men, and all that neere it was

   Speaking of the siege of Avaricum, he saith that it was his custome, both day and night, ever to be neere and about such workemen as he had set a worke. In all enterprises of consequence he was ever the first skout-man or surveyer of any place; and his armie never approched place which he had not viewed or survayed himselfe. And if wee may believe Suetonius, at what time he attempted to passe over into England he was the first man that sounded the passage. He was wont to say that he esteemed that victory much more which was conducted by advise and managed by counsell, then by maine strength and force. In the warre against Petreius and Afranius, fortune presenting an apparent occasion of advantage unto him, he saith that he refused it, hoping, with a little more time, but with lesse hazard, to see the overthrow of his enemie. Where he also plaid a notable part, to command all his armie to swimme over a river without any necessitie.
     ------ rapuitque ruens in prælia miles,
Quod fugiens timuisset iter, mox uda receptis
Membra fovent armis, gelisque a gurgite cursu
Restituunt artus,  -- Lucan. iv. 151.

The Souldier rides that way in hast to fight
Which yet he would have feared in haste of flight
His limbs with water wet and cold before,
With armes he covers, running doth restore.

   I finde him somewhat more warie and considerate in his enterprises then Alexander; for the latter seemeth to seeke out, and by maine force to runne into dangers, as an impetuous or raging torrent, which without heede, discretion, or choise, shockes and checkinates whate'er it meeteth withall.
Sic tauriformis volvitur Aufidus,
Qui Regna Dauni perfluit Appuli,
Dum sævit, horrendamque cultis
Diluviem meditator agris. -- Hor. Car. iv. Od. xiv. 25.

So Bull-fac'd Aufidas still rowling growes,
Which through Apulias ancient kingdome flowes,
When he doth rage in threatning meditation
To bring on fair fields fearefull inundation.

  And to say truth, his hap was to be most employed in the spring time and first heate of his age: whereas Cæsar was well strucken in yeares when he beganne to follow armes. Alexander was of a more cholerike, sanguine and violent constitution, while humour hee stirred up with wine, whereof Cæsar was very abstinent. But where occasions of necessitie were offered, and where the subject required it, there was never man that so little regarded his person. As for me, me seemeth I reade in diverse of his exploits a certaine resolution rather to lose himselfe then to abide the brunt or shame to be overthrowne. In that great battel which he fought against those of Turnay, seeing the vanguard of his army somewhat enclining to route, even as be was, without shield or target, he ranne headlong to the front of his enemies; which many other times happened unto him. Hearing once how his men were besieged, he past disguised through the midst and thickest of his enemies campe, so to encourage and awe them with his presence. Having crossed the way to Dyrrhachium, with very few forces, and perceiving the rest of his army (the conduct whereof hee had left unto Antonius, to be somewhat slow in comming, he undertooke all alone to repasse the sea, notwithstanding a violent and raging tempest; and secretly stole himselfe away to fetch the rest of his forces: all the havens on that side, yea and all the sea, being possessed by Pompey. And concerning the enterprises he underwent with armed hand, there are divers of them, which in respect of the hazard, exceede all discourse of military reason: for, with how weake meanes undertooke he to subdue the kingdom of Egypt, and afterward to front the forces of Scipio and Iuba, which were tenne parts greater than his? Mee thinkes such men have had a kinde of more than humane confidence of their fortune: and himselfe was wont to say that haughty enterprises were to be executed and not consuIted upon. After the battell of Pharsalia, having sent his armie before into Asia and himselfe with onely one ship passing through the strait of Hellespont, he met on the seas with Lucius Cassius, attended on with ten tall shippes of warre; he was so farre from shunning him, that he durst not only stay for him, but with all haste make toward and summon him to yeeld himselfe to his mercie, which he did. Having undertaken that furious siege of Alesia, wherein were fourescore thousand men of defence, and all France up in armes, with a resolution to runne upon him and raise the siege, and having an armie on foote of one hundred and nine thousand horse, and two hundred fortie thousand foote; what a fond hardy and outrageous confidence was it in him that he would never give over his attempt and resolve in two so great difficulties together? Which he notwithstanding underwent; and after he had obtained so notable a battell of those which were without, be soone reduced those that were besieged in the towne to his mercy. The very like happened to Lucullus at the siege of Tigranocerta, against King Tigrane, but with an unlike condition, seeing his enemies demissenesse, with whom Lucullus was to deale. I will heere note two rare and extraordinary events touching the siege of Alesia; the one, that the French men being all assembled together with a purpose to meet with Cæsar, having diligently survaied and exactly numbered all their forces, resolved in their counsell to cutte off a great part of this huge multitude for feare they might breed a confusion. This example is new, to feare to be over-many; yet if it be well taken, it is very likely that the bodie of an armie ought to have a well-proportioned greatnesse, and ordered to indifferent bounds. Whether it he for the difficulty to feed the same or to lead it in order and keepe it in awe, and we may easily verifle by examples that these numerous and infinite armies have seldome brought any notable thing to passe: according to Cyrus his saying in Xenophon. It is not the multitude of men, but the number of good men, that causeth an advantage: the rest rather breeding confusion and trouble than helpe or availe. And Bajazeth tooke the chiefest foundation of his resolution, against the advice of all his captaines, to joyne fight with Tamburlane, onely because the innumerable number of men which his enemie brought into the field gave him an assured hope of rout and confusion. Scanderbeg, a sufficient and most expert judge in such a case, was wont to say that tenne or twelve thousand trusty and resolute fighting men ought to suffice any sufficient chieftaine of warre to warrant his reputation in any kinde of military exploite. The other point, which seemeth to be repugnant both unto custome and reason of warre, is, that Vercingentorix, who was appointed chiefe generall of all the forces of the revolted Gaules, undertooke to immure and shutte himselfe into, Alesia. For he that hath the commandement of a whole countrie ought never to engage himselfe, except in cases of extremities and where all his rest and last refuge goeth on it, and hath no other hope left him but the defence of such a place. Otherwise he ought to keepe himselfe free, that so he may have meanes to provide in all parts of his government. But to returne to Cæsar: he became in time somewhat more slow, heedy, and considerate, as witnesseth his familiar friend Oppius; deeming he should not so easily hazard the honour of so many victories, which one onely disaster or misencounter might make him lose. It is that the Italians are wont to say, when they will or blame or reproach any man with this overdaring or rash fond-hardinesse, which is often seene in yong men, calling them bisognosi d'onore, as much to say as needy of honour: and that being yet hungrie r greedy, and voyd of reputation, they have reason to seeke after it, whatsoever it may cost them; which they should never doe that have already acquired the same. There may be some just moderation in this desire of glory, and some satietie in this appetite as wel as in others; diverse doe so practize it. He was farre from that religion of the ancient Romans who in their warres would never prevaile but with meere and genuine vertue: but rather joyned more conscience unto it than nowadaies we should doe; and would never allow of all meanes were he never so certaine to get the victory. In his warres against Ariovistus, whilest he was in parly with him, some tumult or insurrection happened between the two armies, which beganne by the fault or negligence of some of Ariovistus horsmen. In which hurlie-burlie Cæsar found himselfe to have a great advantage over his enemies, which notwithstanding he would not embrace, for feare he might be taxed or suspected to have proceeded falsly or consented to any trechery. At what time soever hee went to fight, he was accustomed to weare a very rich garment, and of a sheene and garish colour, that so he might the better be marked. When his souldiers were neerest unto their enemies he restrained and kept them very short. When the ancient Græcians would accuse or taxe any man of extreme insufficiencies they used this common proverbe, that he could neither reade nor swimme: and himselfe was of t his opinion, that the arte of swimming was most necessary and beneficiarie in war: and a souldier might reape diverse commodities by it, if he were in haste, and to make speed, he would ordinarily swimme over al the rivers he met withal; and loved greatly to travell on foote, as Alexander the great was wont. In Egypt, being on a time forced (to save himselfe) to leap into a little wherry or bote, and so many of his people following him that he was in danger to sink, he rather chose to fling himsel f into the sea, which he did; and swimming came into his fleete, that was more than two hundred paces from him, holding his writing tables in his left hand out of the water, and with his teeth drawing his coate of armes after him, that his enemies might not enjoy it: and this did he being well stricken in yeares. No generall of warre had ever so much credit with his souldiers. In the beginning of his civill warres, his centeniers offered him every one at their owne charges to pay and find him a man at armes, and his footemen to serve him for nothing, and those that were best able, to defray the poore and needy. Our late admirall of France, Lord Chastillon, in our late civill warres shewed such an example: for the Frenchmen of his army, at their proper cost and charges, helped to pay such strangers as followed him. Few examples of so loving and earnest affection may bee found amongst those that follow the old manner of warre, and strictly hold themselves under the ancient pollicie of their lawes. Passion hath more sway over us then reason: yet hath it chanced in the war against Hannibal, that, imitating the example of the Romane peoples liberalitie in the citie, the souldiers and captaines refused their pay, and in Marcellus his campe, those were called mercenary that tooke any pay. Having had some defeate neere unto Dyrrachium, his souldiers came voluntarily before him, and offered themselves to be punished; so that he was more troubled to comfort then to chide them. One onely of his cohortes (whereof ten went to a legion) held fight above foure howres with foure of Pompeys whole legions, until it was well-nigh all defeated with the multitude and force of arrowes: and in his trenches were afterward found one hundred and thirtie thousand shafts. A souldier of his, named Scæva, who commanded one of the entrances, did so invincibly defend and keepe himselfe, that he had one of his eyes thrust out, and one shoulder and one thigh thrust through, and his shield flawed and pearced in two hundred and thirtie severall places. It hath befallen to many of his souldiers, being, taken prisoners, to chuse rather to die then promise to follow any other faction, or receive any other entertainment. Granius Petronius, taken by Scipio in Affrike, after Scipio had caused all his fellowes to bee put to death, sent him word that gave him his life, forsomuch as he was a man of ranke and a questor: Petronius answered that Cæsars souldiers were wont to give life to others, and not accept it themselves; and therewithall with his owne hands killed himselfe. Infinite examples there are of their fidelitie. That part which they, acted who were besieged in Salona, a citie which tooke part with Cæsar against Pompey, must not be forgotten, by reason of a rare accident that there hapned. Marcus Octavius, having long time beleagred the town, they within were reduced to such extreamitie and pinching necessitie of all things, that to supply the great want they had of men, most of them being alreadie or hurt or dead; they had set all their slaves at libertie, and for the beboofe of their engines were compelled to cut off all their womens haires, to make ropes with them; besides a wonderfull lacke of victualls, resolving notwithstanding never to yeeld themselves: after they had a long time lingered the siege, and that Octavius was thereby become more carelesse, and lesse heeding or attentive to his enterprise, they one day about high noone (having first ranged their wives and children upon the walles, to set the better face upon the matter) rushed out in such a furie upon the besiegers, that having put to rout and defeated the first, the second, and third corps de garde, then the fourth and the rest, and having forced them to quit their trenches, chased them even to their shippes: and Octavius with much adoe saved himselfe in Dyrrachium, where Pompey was. I remember not at this time to have read of any other example where the beleagred doe in grosse beate the beleagrers, and get the maistry and possession of the field nor that a sallie hath drawne a meere and absolute victory of a battell into consequence.

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