Montaigne's Essays/Book I/Chapter XVII

Essays by Michel de Montaigne, translated by John Florio
The Seventeenth Chapter: Of Feare
   Obstupui, steteruntque comæ, et vox faucibus hæsit. -- 1 VIRG. æn. 1. ii. 774.
   I stood agast, my haire on end,
   My jaw-tide tongue no speech would lend.

I am no good Naturalist (as they say and I know not well by what springs feare doth worke in us: but well I wot it is a strange passion: and as Physitian s say, there is none doth sooner transport our judgement out of his due seat. Verily I have seene divers become mad and senselesse for feare: yea and in him, who is most settled and best resolved, it is certaine that whilest his fit continueth, it begetteth many strange dazelings, and terrible amazements in him. I omit to speake of the vulgar sort, to whom it sometimes representeth strange apparitions, as their fathers and grandfathers ghosts, risen out of their graves, and in their winding sheets: and to others it sometimes sheweth Larves, Hobgoblins, Robbin-good-fellowes, and such other Bugbeares and Chimeræs. But even amongst Souldiers, with whom it ought to have no credit at all, how often hath she changed a flocke of sheep into a troupe of armed men? Bushes and shrubs into men at- armes and officiers? our friends into our enemies? and a red crosse into a white? At what time the Duke of Bourbon tooke Rome, an Ancient that kept sentinell in the borough Saint Peter, was at the first alarum surprised with such terror, that with his colours in his hand he suddenly threw himselfe thorow the hole of a breach out of the Citie, and just in the midst of hisenemies, supposing the way to goe straight in the heart of the Citie: but in the end he no sooner perceived the Duke of Bourbons troupes advancing to withstand him, imagining it to bee some sallie the Citizens made that way, hee better bethinking himselfe, turned head, and the very same way he came out, he went into the towne againe, which was more than three hundred paces distance towards the fields. The like happened, but not so successfully, unto Captaine Iulle his ensigne-bearer at what time Saint Paul was taken from us by the Earle of Bures, and the Lord of Reu, who was so frighted with feare, that going about to cast himselfe over the towne wals, with his Ancient in his hand, or to creepe thorow a spike-hole, he was cut in peeces by the assailants. At which siege likewise, that horror and feare is very memorable, which so did cboake, seize upon, and freeze the heart of a gentleman, that having received no hurt at all, he fell downe starke dead upon the ground before the breach. The like passion rage doth sometimes possesse a whole multitude. In one of the encounters that Germanicus had with the Germanes, two mightie troupes were at one instant so frighted with feare, that both betooke themselves to their heeles, and ran awa y two contrary wayes, the one right to that place whence the other fled. It sometimes addeth wings unto our heeles, as unto the first named, and other times it takes the use of feet from us: as we may reade of Theophilus the Emperor, who in a battell hee lost against the Agarens, was so amazed and agonied, that he could not resolve to scape away by flight: adeo pavor etiam auxilia formidat; 'Feare is so afraid even of that should help;' Untill such time as Manuel, one of the chiefe leaders in his armie, having rouzed and shaken him, as it were out of a dead sleepe, said unto him, 'Sir, if you will not presently follow me, I will surely kill you, for better were it you should lose your life, than being taken prisoner, lose your Empire and all.' Then doth she shew the utmost of her power, when for her owne service, she calls us off unto valour, which it hath exacted from our duty and honor. In t he first set battell, the Romans lost against Hanibal, under the Consul Sempronius, a troupe of wel-nigh ten thousand footmen was so surprised with feare, that seeing no other way to take, nor by what other course to give their basenes free passage, they headlong bent their flight toward the thickest and strongest squadron of their enemies, which with such furie it rowted and slew a great number of the Carthaginians: purchasing a reproachfull and disgraceful flight, at the same rate it might have gained a most glorious victorie. It is feare I stand most in feare of. For, in sharpnesse it surmounteth all other accidents. What affecfion can be more violent and just than that of Pompeyes friends, who in his owne ship were spectators of that horrible massacre? yet is it, that the feare of the ægyptian sailes, which began to approach them, did in such sort daunt and skare them, that some have noted, they only busied themselves to hasten the marriners to make what speed they could and by maine strength of oares to save themselves, untill such time, as being arrived at Tyre, and that they were free from feare, they had leasure to bethinke themselves of their late losse, and give their plaints and teares free passage, which this other stronger passion had suspended and hindred.

   Tum pavor sapientiam omnem mihi ex animo expectorat.-- CIC. Tusc. Qu. 1. iv. ex Enn.; De Orat. 1. iii.
   Feare then unbreasts all wit,
   That in my minde did sit.

Those who in any skirmish or sudden bickering of warr e have been throughly skared, fore-hurt, wounded, and gored as they be, are many times the next day after brought to charge againe. But such as have conceived a true feare of their enemies, it is hard for you to make them looke them in the face againe. Such as are in continuall feare to lose their goods, to be banished, or to be subdued, live in uncessant agonie and languor; and thereby often lo se both their drinking, their eating, and their rest. Whereas the poore, the banished, and seely servants, live often as carelesly and as pleasantly as the other. And so many men, who by the impatience and urging of feare, have hanged, drowned, and headlong tumbled downe from some rocke, have plainly taught us, that feare is more importunate and intolerable than death. The Græcians acknowledge another kinde of it, which is beyond the error of our discourse: proceeding, as they say without any ap parent cause, and from an heavenly impulsion. Whole Nations and Armies are often seene surprised with it. Such was that which brought so wonderfull a desolation to Carthage, where nothing was heard but lamentable out-cries and frightfull exclamations: the inhabitants were seene desperately to runne out of their houses, as to a sudden alarum, and furiously to charge, hurt, and enter-kill one another, as if they had beene enemies come to usurpe and possesse their Citie. All things were there in a disordered confusion, and in a confused furie, until such time as by praiers and sacrifices they had appeased the wrath of their Gods. They call it to this day, the Panike terror.