4121542The Essays of Montaigne, Volume 1George Burnham IvesMichel de Montaigne

CHAPTER VI

THE HOUR OF PARLEYS IS A DANGEROUS TIME

Again we have consideration of the principles of warfare; the first paragraph more interesting than before because concerned with conditions that occurred in 1569, the siege of the little village of Mussidan in Montaigne’s immediate neighbourhood. Montaigne, it has been observed, disclaims with covert irony the accusation of treason brought against the besieging royalists. In another century, he admits, there might have been some colour in the accusation, but in the present one, “Our ways are entirely unlike former rules of conduct, and we should not expect to place confidence in one another until the last pledge of engagement has been given.”

Later paragraphs narrate other sixteenth-century incidents. Originally the Essay consisted chiefly of these; the classical illustrations were added in 1595.

There are two little personal touches, both expressive of moral feeling. “I am surprised,” he says, “at the extension Xenophon gives these privileges [of war] … and I do not accede to the measure of his dispensation in all things and everywhere” (1595).

On a later page he quotes, in 1580, Ariosto’s lines,

Fu il vincer sempre mai laudabil cosa,
Vincast o per fortuna o per ingegno, —

remarking: “But the philosopher Chrysippus would not have been of that opinion”; in 1588 he added, “and I as little.”


TO continue, I saw lately in my neighbourhood, at Mussidan, that those whom our army expelled thence by force, and also others of their party, cried out on treachery because, during the negotiations and while the parleying was still going on, they had been surprised and cut to pieces[1] — a point of view which might perchance have been reasonable in another age. But, as I Just said, our ways are entirely unlike former rules of conduct, and we should not expect to place confidence in one another until the last pledge of engagement has been given; even then there is enough to look after.

(c) It has always been a dangerous decision to entrust to the unbridled liberty of a victorious army the observance of the faith pledged to a city which has surrendered on mild

and favourable terms, and to allow the troops free entry in hot blood. Lucius Æmilius Regillus, the Roman prætor, having wasted much time trying to take the city of Phocæa by force, because of the extraordinary prowess of the people in defending themselves, made an agreement with them to receive them as friends of the Roman people, and to make his entry as into an allied city, relieving them from all fear of hostile action. But having taken his army into the city, in order to present himself with greater pomp, it was not in his power, whatever effort he might make, to bridle his soldiers; and he saw a large part of the city sacked before his eyes, the claims of avarice and vengeance overriding those of his authority and of military discipline.[2]

(a) Cleomenes said that, whatever injury one can inflict on the enemy in war is above the realm of justice and not subject to it, whether before gods or men; and having made a truce with the Argives for seven days, the third night after, he fell upon them when they were all asleep, and killed them declaring that in the truce no mention was made of nights;[3] but the gods avenged this treacherous sophistry.

(c) During the parley, and while they were deliberating upon their guaranties, they of Casilinum were taken by surprise;[4] and that nevertheless in the age of the most honourable captains and of the most perfect military discipline among the Romans; for there is no rule that according to time and place we may not take advantage of our enemies’ folly as we do of their cowardice. And certainly war has many reasonable privileges not consonant with reason; and in this case the rule fails: Neminem id agere ut ex alterius prædetur inscitia.[5] But I am surprised at the extension which Xenophon gives these privileges,[6] both by his words and by divers deeds of his perfect Emperor — he being a writer of wonderful weight in such matters, as a great captain and as a philosopher among the first disciples of Socrates; and I do not accede to the measure of his dispensation in all things and everywhere.

(a) When Monsieur d’Aubigny was besieging Capua,[7] and after he had made a fierce assault, Signor Fabricio Colonna, commander of the city, having begun to discuss terms of surrender from the top of a bastion, and his soldiers having relaxed their watchfulness, ours took possession of the city, killing right and left. And in still more recent times, at Yvoy,[8] Signor Jullian Rommero, having adopted the blundering course[9] of going out to parley with the Constable, on his return found the place taken. But, that we might not go unpunished, when the Marquis of Pescara was besieging Genoa, where Duke Octaviano Fregoso commanded, under our protection, and when the accord between them had been carried so far that it was regarded as settled and on the point of being concluded, the Spaniards, having crept into the town, treated it as if they had won a complete victory.[10] And later, at Ligny en Barrois, where the Count of Brienne commanded, the Emperor in person having laid siege to the town, and Bertheville, the said count’s lieutenant, having come out to parley, during the parley the place was taken.[11]

Fu il vincer sempre mai laudabil cosa,
Vincasì o per fortuna o per ingegno,[12]

they say. But the philosopher Chrysippus would not have been of that opinion, (b) and I as little; (a) for he said that they who run races ought to put forth all their powers of swiftness, but that it was in no wise allowable for them to put their hand on their opponent to stop him, or to thrust out their leg to trip him.[13] (b) And even more magnanimously that great Alexander replied to Polypercon, who was urging him to make use of the advantage that the darkness of the night gave him to attack Darius: “No, far be it from me to seek victories by stealth; malo me fortunæ pæniteat quam victoriæ pudeat.”[14]

Atque idem fugientem haud est dignatus Orodem
Sternere nec jacta cæcum dare cuspide vulnus:
Obvius adversoque occurrit, seque viro vir
Contulit, haud furto melior, sed fortibus armis.[15]

  1. Mussidan was besieged in April, 1569. See de Thou, History, V.
  2. See Livy, XXXVII, 32.
  3. See Plutarch, Apothegms of the Lacedæmonians.
  4. In the first instance, Montaigne wrote in the Latin text of this passage: Casilinum inter colloquia, cunctationemque petentium fidem, per occasionem captum est (Livy, XXIV, 19), for which he afterwards substituted the translation.
  5. No one should so act as to profit by another's ignorance. — Cicero, De Off., III, 17.
  6. In the Cyropædeia.
  7. See Guicciardini, V, 2.
  8. Montaigne is here in error. The incident he narrates occurred at the siege of Dinan (in the neighbourhood of Liège) in 1554. He very likely knew of it by oral report. See de Thou, and G. Paradin, Continuation de l’histoire de notre temps.
  9. Ce pas de clerc.
  10. See Guicciardini, XIV, 5; also, du Bellay, II, 43.
  11. See du Bellay, IX, 328.
  12. It is always glorious to conquer, whether the victory be due to chance or to skill. — Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, Canto XV, 1.
  13. See Cicero, De Off., III, 10.
  14. I would rather have a misfortune to regret than a victory that should cause me shame. — Quintus Curtius, IV, 13; Plutarch, Life of Alexander.
  15. And he did not deign to attack Orodes as he fled, nor to wound him from behind with a throw of his lance; he ran in front of him, meeting him face to face, and fought man against man, conquering, not by stealth, but by force of arms. — Virgil, Æneid, X, 732.