BOOK I, CHAPTER XXII
of my own time, judging that I view them with eyes less impaired by passion than other men, and at closer quarters, because of the access which fortune has given me to the chiefs of different parties. But they do not recognise that I would not, for the fame of Sallust, take the trouble to do this, being a sworn foe to obligation, to assiduity, to perseverance; that there is nothing so contrary to my style as a long narrative, I am stopped short so often by lack of breath; I have no skill in composition or exposition; I am more ignorant than a child of the words and phrases used for the commonest things. Therefore I have undertaken to say what I know how to say, accommodating the matter to my powers; if I should take a subject to be followed up, my measure might fall short of my topic; and were my liberty so free, I might publish opinions which, even according to my own judgement and to reason, are unlawful and punishable. Plutarch would readily acknowledge, concerning what he wrote, that it is due to others if his examples are wholly and always true; if they are profitable to posterity and presented with a brilliancy that lights our way to virtue, that is due to him. It is not of importance in an ancient tale, as it is in a medicinal drug, that it should be thus or thus.
ONE MAN’S PROFIT IS ANOTHER’S LOSS
The extravagant statements here made by Montaigne show that he had not accepted that “general truth” of the Stoics that “whatever is profitable to any man is profitable also to other men” (as Marcus Aurelius phrases it) — a doctrine that in its largest sense is accepted by us today. And the sayings of this dreary page would seem to come more naturally from the cold heart of a La Rochefoucauld, or the unreasonable brain of a Rousseau, than from the genial, friendly, liberal soul of Montaigne. They do in fact come from the philosophic Seneca. This unimportant little chapter is only a reproduction of a passage in the De Beneficiis. It may be noted that the sentence about “the ministers of religion” is Montaigne’s own.
If we accept as true the statement of the last sentence that the birth of any thing causes the death of that from which it springs, it may be observed that it is precisely as true a way of stating the fact — and it sounds more cheerful! — to say that death creates life.