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Montaigne's Essays: Book III.


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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  WAS once employed in comforting of a truely-afflicted Ladie: the greatest part of their discourses are artificial and ceremonious.
Uberibus semper lachrimis, semperque paratis,
In statione sua, atque expectantibus illam
Quo jubeat manare modo.  -- Juven. Sat. vi. 273.

With plenteous teares; still readie in their stand,
Expecting still their Mistresses commaund,
How they must flow, when they must goe.

   Men do but ill in opposing themselves against this passion; for opposition doth but incense and engage them more to sorrow and quietnesse: The disease is exasperated by the jealousie of debate. In matters of common discourse we see that what I have spoken without heede or care, if one come to contest with me about it, I stifly maintaine and make good mine owne, much more if it be a thing wherein I am interessed. Besides, in so dooing you enter but rudely into your matter, whereas a Physitions first entertainment of his patient should be gracious, cheereful, and pleasing. An uglie and froward Physition wrought never any good effect. On the contrary then, we must at first assist and smoothe their laments, and witnesse some approbation and excuse thereof. By which meanes you get credit to go on, and by an easie and insensible inclination you fall into more firme and serious discourses and fit for their amendment. But I, who desired chiefly to gull the assistants, that had their eyes cast on me, meant to salve their mischiefe: I verily finde by experience that I have but an ill and unfruitfull vaine to perswade. I present my reasons either too sharpe, or too drie, or too stirringly, or too carelesly. After I had for a while applyed myself to hir torment, I attempted not to cure it by strong and lively reasons: either because I want them, or because I suppose I might otherwise effect my purpose the better. Nor did I cull out the severall fashions of comfort prescribed by philosophy: That the thing lamented is not ill, as Cleanthes: or but a little ill, as the Peripatetikes: that to lament is neither just nor commendable, as Chrysippus: Nor this Epicurus, most agreeing with my manner, to translate the conceit of yrkesome into delightsome things: Nor to make a loade of all this masse, dispensing the same, as one hath occasion, as Cicero. But faire and softly declining our discourses, and by degrees bending them unto subjects more neare, then a little more remote, even as shee more or lesse enclined to mee. I unperceivably remooved those dolefull humours from hir: so that as long as I was with her, so long I kept her in cheerefull countenance and untroubled fashion, wherein I used diversion. Those which in the same service succeeded mee, found her no whit amended; the reason was, I had not yet driven my wedge to the roote. I have peradventure else where glaunced at some kindes of publike diversions. And the militairie customes used by Pericles in the Peloponesian warre, and a thousand others else where, to divert or withdrawe the armie of an enemie from their owne country, is too frequent in histories. It was an ingenious diverting wherewith the Lord of Himbercourt saved both himself and others in the towne of Liege, into which the Duke of Burgondie, who beleagred the same, had caused him to enter, to performe the covenante of their accorded yeelding. The inhabitants thereof, to provide for it, assembled by night, and began to mutinie against their former agreement, determining upon this advantage to set upon the Negotiators, now in their power. Hee perceiving their intent, and noise of this shoure readie to fall upon him, and the danger his lodging was in, forth-with rushed out upon them two cittizens (whereof he had divers with him furnished with most plausible and new offers to be propounded to their counsell but indeed forged at that instant to serve his turne withall, and to ammuse them. These two stayes the first approaching storme, and carryed this incensed Hydra-headed-monster multitude backe to the townehouse, to heare their charge, and accordingly to determine of it. The conclusion was short, when loe a second tempest came rushing on, more furiously inraged then the former; to whom he immediately dispatched foure new and semblable intercessors, with protestations that now they were in earnest to propose and declare new and farre more ample conditions unto them, wholly to their content and satisfaction; whereby this disordered rout was againe drawne to their Conclave and senate-house. In summe, he by such a dispensation of amusements, diverting their headlong fury, and dissipating the same with vaine and frivolous consultations, at length lulled them into so secure a sleep, that he gained the day, which was his chiefest drift and only aymed scope. This other storie is also of the same predicament. Atalanta, a maid of rare surpassing beautie and of a wondrous strange disposition, to ridde herselfe from the importunate pursuit of a thousand amorous sutors, who sollicited her for mariage prescribed this law unto them, that she would accept of him that should equall her in running; on condition those she shold overcome might lose their lives. Some there were found who deemed this prize worthie the hazard, and who incurred the penaltie of so cruell a match. Hippomenes comming to make his assay after the rest, addressed himself to the divine protectress of all amorous delights, earnestly invoking her assistance, who gently listening to his hearty prayers, furnished him with three golden Apples, and taught him how to use them. The scope of the race being plaine, according as Hippomenes perceived his swift-footed mistresse to approch his heeles, he let fall (as at unawares) one of his Apples: the heedlesse maiden gazing and wondring at the alluring beautie of it, failed not to turne and take it up.
Obstupuit virgo, nitidique cupidine pomi,
Dectinat cursus, aurumque volubile tollit.  -- Ovid. Met. x. 666.

The maid amaz'd, desiring that faire gold,
Turnes by her course, takes it up as it rold.

   The like he did (at his need) with the second and third, untill by this disgressing and diverting, the goale and advantage of the course was judged his. When Physitians cannot purge the rheume, they divert and remoove the same unto some lesse dangerous part. I also perceive it to be the most ordinary receit for the mindes diseases. Ab ducendus etiam nonnunquam animus est ad aliena studia, sollicitudines, curas negotia: Loci denique mutatione, tanquam ægroti non convalescentes, sæpe curandus est: 'Our minde also is sometimes to be diverted to other studies, cogitations, cares, and businesses: and lastly to be cured by chance of place, as sicke folkes use that otherwise cannot get health.' We make it seldome to shocke mischiefes with direct resistance; we make it neither to beare nor to break, but to shun or divert the blow. This other lesson is too high and over-hard. It is for him of the first ranke meerely to staye upon the thing it selfe, to examine and judge it. It belongth to one onely Socrates, to accost and entertaine death with an undaunted ordinary visage, to become familiar and play with it. He seeketh for no comfort out of this thing it selfe. To die seemeth unto him a naturall and indifferent accident: thereon be wishly fixeth his right, and thereon he resolveth without looking else where. Hegesias his disciples, who with hunger starv'd themselves to death, incensed thereunto with the perswading discourses of his lessons; and that so thicke as King Ptolomey forbad him any longer to entertaine his schoole with such murtherous precepts. Those considered not death in it selfe they judged it not: This was not the limit of their thoughts, they run on, and ayme at another being. Those poore creatures we see on scaffolds, fraught with an ardent devotion, therein to the uttermost of their power, employing al their sences; their eares attentive to such instructions as Preachers give them, their hands and eyes lift up towards heaven; their voice uttering loud and earnest praiers: all with an eager and continuall ruth-mooving motion; doe verily what in such an unavoydable exigent is commendable and convenient. One may well commend their religion, but not properly their constancy. They shunne the brunt, they divert their consideration from death; as we use to dandle and busie children, when we would lance them or let them bloud. I have seen some, who if by fortune they chanced to cast their eyes towards the dreadful preparations of death which were round about them, fal into trances, and with fury cast their cogitations else where. Wee teech those that are to passe over some steep downefall or dreadfull abisse, to shut or turne aside their eies. Subrius Flavius, being by the appointment of Nero to be put to death by the hands of Niger, both chiefe commanders in war: when he was brought unto the place where the execution should be performed, seeing the pit Niger had caused to be digged for him uneven and unhandsomely made: "Nor is this pit (quoth he to the souldiers that stood about him) according to the true discipline of war': and to Niger, who willed him to hold his head steddy, 'I wish thou wouldest stricke as steddily.' He guessed right; for Nigers arme trembling, he had divers blowes at him before be could strike it off. This man seemed to have fixed his thoughts surely and directly on the matter. He that dies in the fury of a battle, with weapons in band, thinkes not then on death, and neither feeleth nor considereth the same: the heate of the fight transports him. An honest man of my acquaintance, falling downe in a single combate, and feeling himselfe stab'd nine or ten times by his enemy, was called unto by the by standers to call on God and remember his conscience: but he told me after, that albeit those voices came unto his eares, they had no whit mooved him, and that he thought on nothing but how to discharge and revenge himselfe. In which combat he vanquished and slew his adversary. He who brought L. Syllanus his condemnation, did much for him, in that when he heard him answer he was prepared to die, but not by the hands of base villaines, ran upon him with his souldiers to force him; against whom obstinately defending himself, though unarmed, with fists and feet, he was slaine in the conflict; dispercing with a ready and rebellious choller the painefull sence of a long and fore-prepared death to which he was assigned. We ever thinke on somewhat else: either the hope of a better life doth settle and support us, or the confidence of our childrens worth, or the future glory of our name, or the avoyding of this lives mischieves, or the revenge banging over their heads that have caused and procured our death:
Spero equidem mediis, si quid pia numina possunt,
Supplcia hausurum scopulis, et nomine Dido
Sæpe vocaturum.                                                   -- Virg. Æn. iv. 382.
Audiam, et hæc manes veniet mihi fama sub imos.  --387.

I hope, if powers of heaven have any power,
On rockes he shall be punisht, at that houre
He oft on Didoes name shall pittilesse exclaime,
This shall I heare, and this report, shall to me in my grave resort.

   Xenophon sacrificed with a crowne on his head, when one came to tell him the death of his sonne Gryllus in the battell of Mantinea. At the first hearing whereof he cast his crowne to the ground, but finding upon better relation how valiantly he died, he tooke it up and put it on his head againe. Epicurus also at his death comforted himselfe in the eternitie and worth of his writings. Omnes clari et nobilitati labores fiunt tolerabiles: (Cic. Tusc. iii.) 'All glorious and honourable labours are made tolerable.' And the same wound and the same toile (saith Xenophon) toucheth not a Generall of an armie as it doth a private souldier. Epaminondas tooke his death much the more cheerefully, being informed that the victorie remained on his side. Hæc sunt solatia, hæc fomenta summorum dolorum: (Ibid.) 'These are the comforts, these the eases of most grievous paines.' And such other like circumstances ammuse, divert and remoove us from the consideration of the thing in it selfe. Even the arguments of Philosophie, at each clappe wrest and turne the matter aside, and scarcely wipe away the scabbe thereof. The first man of the first Philosophicall Schoole and Superintendent of the rest, that great Zeno, against death cried out: 'No evill is honourable; death is: therefore is death no evill.' Against drunkennesse: 'No man entrusts his secrets to a drunkard; every one to the wise: therefore the wise will not be drunke.' Is this to hit the white? I love to see that these principall wits cannot rid themselves of our company. As perfect and absolute as they would be, they are still but grosse and simple men. Revenge is a sweet-pleasing passion, of a great and naturall impression: I perceive it well, albeit I have made no trial of it. To divert of late a young prince from it, I told him not, he was to offer the one side of his cheeke to him who had strooke him on the other, in regard of charity; nor displaid I unto him the tragicall events Poesie bestoweth upon that passion. There I left him, and strove to make him taste the beautie of a contrary image; the honour, the favour and the good-will he should acquire by gentlenesse and goodnesse: I diverted him to ambition. Behold how they deale in such cases. If your affection in love be over-powerfull, disperse or dissipate the same, say they; and they say true, for I have often, with profit, made triall of it: Breake it by the vertue of severall desires, of which one may be Regent or chiefe Master, if you please; but for fear it should misuse or tyrannize you, weaken it with dividing, and protract it with diverting the same.
Cum morosa vago singultiet inguine vena,
Conjicito humorem collectum in corpora quæque. -- Pers. Sat. vi. 73. Lucr. iv. 1056.

When raging lust excites a panting tumor,
To divers parts send that collected humor.

And looke to it in time, lest it vex you, if it have once seized on you.
Si non prima novis conturbes vulnera plagis,
Volgivagaque vagus Venere ante recentia cures.  -- Lucr. iv. 1061.

Unlesse the first wounds with new wounds you mix,
And ranging cure the fresh with common tricks.

   I was once neerely touched with a heavy displeasure, according to my complexion, and yet more just then heavie: I had peradventure lost my selfe in it, had I only relied upon mine owne strength. Needing a vehement diversion to with-draw me from it. I did by Arte and studie make my selfe a Lover, whereto my age assisted me; love discharged and diverted me from the inconvenience which good-wil and amitie had caused in me. So is it in all things else. A sharpe conceit possesseth, and a violent imagination holdeth me; I finde it a shorter course to alter and divert, then to tame and vanquish the same: if I cannot substitute a contrary unto it, at least I present another unto it. Change ever easeth, Varietie dissolveth, and shifting dissipateth. If I cannot buckle with it, I flie from it: and in shunning it, I stray and double from it. Shifting of place, exercise and company, I save my selfe amid the throng of other studies and ammusements, where it loseth my tracke, and so I slip away. Nature proceedeth thus, by the benefit of inconstancy: for the time it hath bestowed on us, as a sovereigns physition of our passions chiefly obtaines his purpose that way, when fraughting our conceits with other and different affaires, it dissolveth and corrupteth that first apprehension, how forcible soever it be. A wise man seeth little lesse his friend dying at the end of five and twenty yeeres, then at the beginning of the first yeere; and according to Epicurus, nothing lesse: for he asscribed no qualification of perplexities, either to the foresight or antiquitie of them. But so many other cogitations crosse this that it languisheth, and in the end groweth weary. To divert the inclination of vulgar reports, Alcibiades cut off his faire dogs eares, and so drove him into the market place; that giving this subject of prattle to the people, they might not meddle with his other actions. I have also seen some women, who to divert the opinions and conjectures of the babling people, and to divert the fond tatling of some, did by counterfet and dissembled affections overshadow and cloak true affections. Amongst which I have noted some, who in dissembling and counterfeiting have suffered themselves to be intrapped wittingly and in good earnest; quitting their true and originall humour for the fained: of whom I learne that such as finde themselves well seated are very fooles to yeelde unto that maske. The common greetings, and publike entertainements being reserved unto that set or appointed servant, beleeve there is little sufficiency in him, if in the end he usurpe not your roome and send you unto his. This is properly to cut out and stitch up a shoe for another to put on. A little thing doth divert and turne us; for a small thing holds us. We do not much respect subjects in grosse and alone: they are circumstances, or small and superficiall images that moove and touch us; and vaine rindes which rebound from subjects.
Folliculos ut nunc teretes æstate cicadas
Linquunt. -- Lucr. v. 812.

As grasse-hoppers in summer now forsake
The round-grown sheafes, which they in time should take.

Plutarke himselfe bewailes his daughter by the fopperies of his childehood. The remembrance of a farewell, of an action, of a particular grace, or of a last commendation, afflict us. Cæsars gowne disquieted all Rome, which his death had not done: The very sound of names, which gingleth in our eares, as, 'Oh, my poore master; or 'Alas, my deare friend;' 'Oh, my daughter.' When such like repetitions pinch me, and that I looke more nearely to them, I finde them but grammaticall laments, the word and the tune wound me. Even as Preachers exclamations do often move their auditory more then their reasons: and as the pittifull groane of a beast yerneth us though it be killed for our use: poising or entring there-whilest into the true and massie essence of my subject.
His se stimulis dolor ipse lacessit. -- Lucan. ii. 42.

Griefe by these provocations,
Puts it selfe in more passions.

   They are the foundations of our mourning. The conceipt of the stone, namely in the yard, hath sometime for three or foure dayes together so stopped my urine, and brought me so neare deaths-doore, that it had beene meere folly in me to hope, nay to desire, to avoyd the same, considering what cruell pangs that painefull plight did seaze me with. Oh how cunning a master in the murthering arte or hangmans trade was that good Emperour who caused malefactors yards to bee fast-tide, that so hee might make them dye for want of pissing. In which ill plight finding my selfe, I considered by how slight causes and frivolous objects, imagination nourished in me the griefe to lose my life: with what atomes the consequence and difficulty of my dislodging was contrived in my minde: to what idle conceits and frivolous cogitations we give place in so waighty a case or important affaire. A Dogge, a Horse, a Hare, a Glasse, and what not, were corrupted in my losse. To others, their ambitious hopes, their purse, their learning: In my minde as sottishly. I view death carelessely when I behould it universally as the end of life. I overwhelme and contemne it thus in great, by retayle it spoiles and proules me. The teares of a Lacquey, the distributing of my cast sutes, the touch of a knowne hand, an ordinary consolation, doth disconsolate and intender me. So do the plaints and fables of trouble vex our mindes: and the wailing laments of Dydo and Ariadne passionate even those that beleeve them not in Virgill nor in Catullus: It is an argument of an obstinate nature and indurate hart, not to be moved therewith: as for a wonder, they report of Polemon: who was not so much as appaled at the biting of a Dog, who tooke away the braun or calfe of his leg. And no wisedome goeth so far, as by the due judgement to conceive aright the evident cause of a Sorrow and griefe, so lively and wholly, that it suffer or admit no accession by presence, when eies and eares have their share therein: parts that cannot be agitated but by vaine accidents. Is it reason that even arts should serve their purposes, and make their profit of our imbecillity and naturall blockishnes? An Orator (saith Rhetorick) in the play of his pleading, shall be moved at the sound of his owne voice, and by his fained agitations: and suffer himself to be cozoned by the passion he representeth: imprinting a lively and essentiall sorrow, by the jugling he acteth, to transferre it into the judges, whom of the two it concerneth lesse: As the persons hired at our funerals who to aide the ceremony of mourning make sale of their teares by measure, and of their sorrow by waight. For although they strive to act it in a borrowed forme, yet by habituating and ordering their countenance, it is certaine they are often wholly transported into it, and entertaine the impression of a true and untamed melancholly. I assisted, amongst divers others of his friends, to convay the dead corpse of the Lord of Grammont from the siege of Laffere, where he was untimely slaine, to Soissons. I noted that every where as we passed along we filled with lamentation and teares all the people we met, by the onely shew of our convoies mourning attire; for the deceased mans name was not so much as known or heard of about those quarters. Quintilian reporteth to have seene Comedians so farre ingaged in a sorrowfull part, that they wept after being come to their lodgings: and of himselfe, that having undertaken to move a certaine passion in another, he had found himselfe surprised not only with shedding of tears, but with a palenesse of countenance, and behaviour of a man truly dejected with griefe. In a country neare our Mountaines the women say and unsay, weepe and laugh with one breath, as Martin the Priest; for, as for their lost husbands, they encrease their waymentings by repeti tion of the good and gracefull parts they were endowed with, there withall under one they make publike relation of those imperfections, to work, as it were, some recompence unto themselves and transchange their pitty unto disdaine; with a much better grace then we, who when we loose a late acquaintance, strive to loade him with new and forged prayses, and to make him farre other, now that we are deprived of his sight, then hee seemed to be when we enjoied and beheld him; as if mourning were an instructing party, or teares cleared our understanding by washing the same. I renounce from this time forward all the favourable testimonies any man shall affoord me, not because I shall deserve them, but because I shall be dead. If one demand that fellow, what interest he hath in such a siege; The interest of example (will he say) and common obedience of the Prince; I nor looke nor pretend any benefit thereby, and of glory I know how small a portion commeth to the share of a private man such as I am. I have neither passion nor quarrell in the matter. Yet the next day shall you see him all changed, and chafing, boiling, and blushing with rage in his ranke of battaile, ready for the assault. It is the glaring reflecting of so much steele, the flashing thundering of the Canon, the clang of trumpets, and the ratling of Drummes, that have infused this new fury, and rankor in his swelling vaines. A frivolous cause, will you say. How a cause? There needeth none to excite our minde. A doating humour without body, without substance, overswayeth and tosseth it up and downe. Let me thinke of building Castles in Spayne, my imagination will forge me commodities and afford me meanes and delights wherewith my minde is really tickled and essentially gladded. How often do we pester our spirits with anger or sadnesse by such shaddowes, and entangle our selves into fantasticall passions which alter both our mind and body? What astonished, flearing, and confused mumpes and mowes doth this dotage stirre up in our visages? what skippings and agitations of members and voice, seemes it not by this man alone, that he hath false visions of a multitude of other men with whom he doth negotiate; or some inwarde Goblin that torments him? Enquire of your selfe where is the object of this alteration? Is there any thing but us in nature, except subsisting nullity, over whom it hath any power? Because Cambyses dreamed that his brother should be King of Persia, he put him to death: a brother whom be loved and ever trusted. Aristodemus, King of the Messenians, killed himselfe upon a conceite he tooke of some ill presage, by I know not what howling of his Dogs. And King Midas did as much, being troubled and vexed by a certaine unpleasing dreame of his owne. It is the right way to prize ones life at the right worth of it to forgo it for a dreame. Here notwithstanding our mindes triumph over the bodies weakenesses and misery: in that it is the prey and marke of all wrongs and alterations to feede on and aime at. It hath surely much reason to speak of it.

O prima infoelix fingenti terra Prometheo:
Ille parum cauti pectoris egit opus.
Corpora disponens, mentem non vidit in arte:
Recta animi primum debuit esse via.  -- Prop. iii. El. iv. 7.

Unhappy earth first by Prometheus formed,
Who of small providence a worke performed.
He framing bodies saw in arte no minde:
The mindes way first should rightly be assign'd.

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