BOOK I, CHAPTER XIX
grandeur, wealth, and power are almost indifferent chances of condition, I think it very possible that he looked deeper, and meant to say that this same good luck of our lives, which depends on the tranquillity of a lofty spirit, and on the resolution and confidence of a well-ordered mind, should never be accredited to a man until we have seen him play the last and, doubtless, the most difficult act of his drama. In all the rest there may be disguise, whether it be that those fine reasonings of philosophy are in us only conventionally, or that the things that happen, not proving us to the quick, permit us to keep always a serene demeanour. But in this last scene between Death and ourselves, there is no more feigning, we must talk plainly, we must show what there is good and unspotted in the bottom of the pot;
Nam veræ voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Ejiciuntur, et eripitur persona, manet res.
It is thus that all the other acts of our lives must be put to the touch and tested by this last stroke. It is the master-day, it is the day that is the judge of all other days. It is the day, says one of the ancients, which is to pass judgement on all my past years. I postpone until death the trial of the fruit of my studies. We shall see then whether my words come from the lips or the heart. (b) I have known many men by the manner of their deaths to give to their whole life a good or evil esteem. Scipio, Pompey’s father-in-law, amended, by dying nobly, the evil opinion that men had held of him up to that time. Epaminondas, being asked which of the three he most valued, Chabrias, Iphicrates, or himself, replied: “It must first be seen how we die, before the question can be solved.” Verily, he would be robbed
- D’un esprit bien né.
- Parler françois.
- For then at last words of truth come from the depths of the breast; the mask is torn off; reality remains. — Lucretius, III, 57. The original has eliciuntur in the second line.
- See Seneca, Epistle 26, 4: Ille laturus sententiam de omnibus annis meis dies veneret.
- The Essay ended here in the editions preceding 1588.
- See Seneca, Epistle 24.
- See Plutarch, Apothegms of Kings, etc.