BOOK I, CHAPTER XIV
sovereign benefaction of nature, the sole stay of our liberty, and the universal and speedy remedy for all ills. And as some await it in fear and trembling, others endure it more easily than life. (b) This man laments its easy attainment; —
Mors utinam pavidos vita subducere nolles,
Sed virtus te sola daret.
(c) Now let us have done with this vainglorious valour. Theodorus replied to Lysimachus who threatened to kill him: “You will perform a great feat to attain the strength of a fly.” Most philosophers are found either to have purposely anticipated, or to have hastened and aided, their deaths. (a) How often we see common people, when led forth to death, — and not to a simple death, but to one accompanied by disgrace and sometimes by grievous suffering, — face it with such confidence, some from stubbornness and some from natural shallowness, that we can detect no change from their ordinary frame of mind: arranging their domestic affairs, commending themselves to their friends, singing, haranguing, and talking with the populace, nay, sometimes even cracking jokes, and drinking to their acquaintances, as if they were Socrates. One man, who was being taken to the scaffold, told them not to go through a certain street, for there was danger that a tradesman would lay hands on him because of an old debt. Another told the hangman not to touch his throat, for fear of making him squirm with laughter, he was so ticklish. Another replied to his confessor, who promised him that he would sup that day with our Lord, “Go thither yourself; for my part, I am fasting.” Another, having asked for a drink, and the hangman having drunk first, declared that he would not drink after him for fear of catching small-pox. Every one has heard the story of the
- Montaigne repeats the same thought in almost the same words in the Essay, “A Custom of the Isle of Cea,” Book II, chap. 3: Et ce n'est pas la recepte à une seule maladie: la mort est la recepte à tous maux.
- O death, would that thou wert not willing to take life from the craven, and that valour alone could obtain thee! — Lucan, IV, 580.
- See Cicero, Tusc. Disp., V, 40.
- This whole passage follows closely Seneca’s thought in Epistle 70.