The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter LIII

The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter LIII. Of a saying of Caesar.

Chapter LIII. Of a saying of Caesar. Edit


If we would sometimes bestow a little consideration upon ourselves, and
employ the time we spend in prying into other men's actions, and
discovering things without us, in examining our own abilities we should
soon perceive of how infirm and decaying material this fabric of ours is
composed. Is it not a singular testimony of imperfection that we cannot
establish our satisfaction in any one thing, and that even our own fancy
and desire should deprive us of the power to choose what is most proper
and useful for us? A very good proof of this is the great dispute that
has ever been amongst the philosophers, of finding out man's sovereign
good, that continues yet, and will eternally continue, without solution
or accord:

              "Dum abest quod avemus, id exsuperare videtur
               Caetera; post aliud, quum contigit illud, avemus,
               Et sitis aequa tenet."

     ["While that which we desire is wanting, it seems to surpass all the
     rest; then, when we have got it, we want something else; 'tis ever
     the same thirst"—Lucretius, iii. 1095.]

Whatever it is that falls into our knowledge and possession, we find that
it satisfies not, and we still pant after things to come and unknown,
inasmuch as those present do not suffice for us; not that, in my
judgment, they have not in them wherewith to do it, but because we seize
them with an unruly and immoderate haste:

         "Nam quum vidit hic, ad victum qux flagitat usus,
          Et per quae possent vitam consistere tutam,
          Omnia jam ferme mortalibus esse parata;
          Divitiis homines, et honore, et laude potentes
          Aflluere, atque bona natorum excellere fama;
          Nec minus esse domi cuiquam tamen anxia corda,
          Atque animi ingratis vitam vexare querelis
          Causam, quae infestis cogit saevire querelis,
          Intellegit ibi; vitium vas efficere ipsum,
          Omniaque, illius vitio, corrumpier intus,
          Qux collata foris et commoda quomque venirent."

     ["For when he saw that almost all things necessarily required for
     subsistence, and which may render life comfortable, are already
     prepared to their hand, that men may abundantly attain wealth,
     honour, praise, may rejoice in the reputation of their children, yet
     that, notwithstanding, every one has none the less in his heart and
     home anxieties and a mind enslaved by wearing complaints, he saw
     that the vessel itself was in fault, and that all good things which
     were brought into it from without were spoilt by its own
     imperfections."—Lucretius, vi. 9.]

Our appetite is irresolute and fickle; it can neither keep nor enjoy
anything with a good grace: and man concluding it to be the fault of the
things he is possessed of, fills himself with and feeds upon the idea of
things he neither knows nor understands, to which he devotes his hopes
and his desires, paying them all reverence and honour, according to the
saying of Caesar:

          "Communi fit vitio naturae, ut invisis, latitantibus
          atque incognitis rebus magis confidamas,
          vehementiusque exterreamur."

     ["'Tis the common vice of nature, that we at once repose most
     confidence, and receive the greatest apprehensions, from things
     unseen, concealed, and unknown."—De Bello Civil, xi. 4.]