The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter XL

The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter XL. That the relish of good and evil depends in a great measure upon the opinion we have of them.

Chapter XL. That the relish of good and evil depends in a great measure upon the opinion we have of them. Edit

Men (says an ancient Greek sentence)—[Manual of Epictetus, c. 10.]—
are tormented with the opinions they have of things and not by the things
themselves. It were a great victory obtained for the relief of our
miserable human condition, could this proposition be established for
certain and true throughout. For if evils have no admission into us but
by the judgment we ourselves make of them, it should seem that it is,
then, in our own power to despise them or to turn them to good. If
things surrender themselves to our mercy, why do we not convert and
accommodate them to our advantage? If what we call evil and torment is
neither evil nor torment of itself, but only that our fancy gives it that
quality, it is in us to change it, and it being in our own choice, if
there be no constraint upon us, we must certainly be very strange fools
to take arms for that side which is most offensive to us, and to give
sickness, want, and contempt a bitter and nauseous taste, if it be in our
power to give them a pleasant relish, and if, fortune simply providing
the matter, 'tis for us to give it the form. Now, that what we call evil
is not so of itself, or at least to that degree that we make it, and that
it depends upon us to give it another taste and complexion (for all comes
to one), let us examine how that can be maintained.

If the original being of those things we fear had power to lodge itself
in us by its own authority, it would then lodge itself alike, and in like
manner, in all; for men are all of the same kind, and saving in greater
and less proportions, are all provided with the same utensils and
instruments to conceive and to judge; but the diversity of opinions we
have of those things clearly evidences that they only enter us by
composition; one person, peradventure, admits them in their true being,
but a thousand others give them a new and contrary being in them. We
hold death, poverty, and pain for our principal enemies; now, this death,
which some repute the most dreadful of all dreadful things, who does not
know that others call it the only secure harbour from the storms and
tempests of life, the sovereign good of nature, the sole support of
liberty, and the common and prompt remedy of all evils? And as the one
expect it with fear and trembling, the others support it with greater
ease than life. That one complains of its facility:

          "Mors! utinam pavidos vitae subducere nolles.
          Sed virtus to sola daret!"

     ["O death! wouldst that thou might spare the coward, but that
     valour alone should pay thee tribute."—Lucan, iv. 580.]

Now, let us leave these boastful courages. Theodorus answered
Lysimachus, who threatened to kill him, "Thou wilt do a brave feat," said
he, "to attain the force of a cantharides." The majority of philosophers
are observed to have either purposely anticipated, or hastened and
assisted their own death. How many ordinary people do we see led to
execution, and that not to a simple death, but mixed with shame and
sometimes with grievous torments, appear with such assurance, whether
through firm courage or natural simplicity, that a man can discover no
change from their ordinary condition; settling their domestic affairs,
commending themselves to their friends, singing, preaching, and
addressing the people, nay, sometimes sallying into jests, and drinking
to their companions, quite as well as Socrates?

One that they were leading to the gallows told them they must not take
him through such a street, lest a merchant who lived there should arrest
him by the way for an old debt. Another told the hangman he must not
touch his neck for fear of making him laugh, he was so ticklish. Another
answered his confessor, who promised him he should that day sup with our
Lord, "Do you go then," said he, "in my room [place]; for I for my part
keep fast to-day." Another having called for drink, and the hangman
having drunk first, said he would not drink after him, for fear of
catching some evil disease. Everybody has heard the tale of the Picard,
to whom, being upon the ladder, they presented a common wench, telling
him (as our law does some times permit) that if he would marry her they
would save his life; he, having a while considered her and perceiving
that she halted: "Come, tie up, tie up," said he, "she limps." And they
tell another story of the same kind of a fellow in Denmark, who being
condemned to lose his head, and the like condition being proposed to him
upon the scaffold, refused it, by reason the girl they offered him had
hollow cheeks and too sharp a nose. A servant at Toulouse being accused
of heresy, for the sum of his belief referred himself to that of his
master, a young student, prisoner with him, choosing rather to die than
suffer himself to be persuaded that his master could err. We read that
of the inhabitants of Arras, when Louis XI. took that city, a great many
let themselves be hanged rather than they would say, "God save the King."
And amongst that mean-souled race of men, the buffoons, there have been
some who would not leave their fooling at the very moment of death. One
that the hang man was turning off the ladder cried: "Launch the galley,"
an ordinary saying of his. Another, whom at the point of death his
friends had laid upon a bed of straw before the fire, the physician
asking him where his pain lay: "Betwixt the bench and the fire," said he,
and the priest, to give him extreme unction, groping for his feet which
his pain had made him pull up to him: "You will find them," said he, "at
the end of my legs." To one who being present exhorted him to recommend
himself to God: "Why, who goes thither?" said he; and the other
replying: "It will presently be yourself, if it be His good pleasure."
"Shall I be sure to be there by to-morrow night?" said he. "Do, but
recommend yourself to Him," said the other, "and you will soon be there."
"I were best then," said he, "to carry my recommendations myself."

In the kingdom of Narsingah to this day the wives of their priests are
buried alive with the bodies of their husbands; all other wives are burnt
at their husbands' funerals, which they not only firmly but cheerfully
undergo. At the death of their king, his wives and concubines, his
favourites, all his officers, and domestic servants, who make up a whole
people, present themselves so gaily to the fire where his body is burnt,
that they seem to take it for a singular honour to accompany their master
in death. During our late wars of Milan, where there happened so many
takings and retakings of towns, the people, impatient of so many changes
of fortune, took such a resolution to die, that I have heard my father
say he there saw a list taken of five-and-twenty masters of families who
made themselves away in one week's time: an incident somewhat resembling
that of the Xanthians, who being besieged by Brutus, fell—men, women,
and children—into such a furious appetite of dying, that nothing can be
done to evade death which they did not to avoid life; insomuch that
Brutus had much difficulty in saving a very small number.—["Only fifty
were saved."—Plutarch, Life of Brutus, c. 8.]

Every opinion is of force enough to cause itself to be espoused at the
expense of life. The first article of that valiant oath that Greece took
and observed in the Median war, was that every one should sooner exchange
life for death, than their own laws for those of Persia. What a world of
people do we see in the wars betwixt the Turks and the Greeks, rather
embrace a cruel death than uncircumcise themselves to admit of baptism?
An example of which no sort of religion is incapable.

The kings of Castile having banished the Jews out of their dominions,
John, King of Portugal, in consideration of eight crowns a head, sold
them a retreat into his for a certain limited time, upon condition that
the time fixed coming to expire they should begone, and he to furnish
them with shipping to transport them into Africa. The day comes, which
once lapsed they were given to understand that such as were afterward
found in the kingdom should remain slaves; vessels were very slenderly
provided; and those who embarked in them were rudely and villainously
used by the passengers, who, besides other indignities, kept them
cruising upon the sea, one while forwards and another backwards, till
they had spent all their provisions, and were constrained to buy of them
at so dear a rate and so long withal, that they set them not on shore
till they were all stripped to the very shirts. The news of this inhuman
usage being brought to those who remained behind, the greater part of
them resolved upon slavery and some made a show of changing religion.
Emmanuel, the successor of John, being come to the crown, first set them
at liberty, and afterwards altering his mind, ordered them to depart his
country, assigning three ports for their passage. He hoped, says Bishop
Osorius, no contemptible Latin historian of these later times, that the
favour of the liberty he had given them having failed of converting them
to Christianity, yet the difficulty of committing themselves to the mercy
of the mariners and of abandoning a country they were now habituated to
and were grown very rich in, to go and expose themselves in strange and
unknown regions, would certainly do it. But finding himself deceived in
his expectation, and that they were all resolved upon the voyage, he cut
off two of the three ports he had promised them, to the end that the
length and incommodity of the passage might reduce some, or that he might
have opportunity, by crowding them all into one place, the more
conveniently to execute what he had designed, which was to force all the
children under fourteen years of age from the arms of their fathers and
mothers, to transport them from their sight and conversation, into a
place where they might be instructed and brought up in our religion. He
says that this produced a most horrid spectacle the natural affection
betwixt the parents and their children, and moreover their zeal to their
ancient belief, contending against this violent decree, fathers and
mothers were commonly seen making themselves away, and by a yet much more
rigorous example, precipitating out of love and compassion their young
children into wells and pits, to avoid the severity of this law. As to
the remainder of them, the time that had been prefixed being expired,
for want of means to transport them they again returned into slavery.
Some also turned Christians, upon whose faith, as also that of their
posterity, even to this day, which is a hundred years since, few
Portuguese can yet rely; though custom and length of time are much more
powerful counsellors in such changes than all other constraints whatever.
In the town of Castelnaudari, fifty heretic Albigeois at one time
suffered themselves to be burned alive in one fire rather than they would
renounce their opinions.

     "Quoties non modo ductores nostri, sed universi etiam exercitus,
     ad non dubiam mortem concurrerunt?"

     ["How often have not only our leaders, but whole armies, run to a
     certain and manifest death."—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., i. 37.]

I have seen an intimate friend of mine run headlong upon death with a
real affection, and that was rooted in his heart by divers plausible
arguments which he would never permit me to dispossess him of, and upon
the first honourable occasion that offered itself to him, precipitate
himself into it, without any manner of visible reason, with an obstinate
and ardent desire of dying. We have several examples in our own times of
persons, even young children, who for fear of some little inconvenience
have despatched themselves. And what shall we not fear, says one of the
ancients—[Seneca, Ep., 70.]—to this purpose, if we dread that which
cowardice itself has chosen for its refuge?

Should I here produce a long catalogue of those, of all sexes and
conditions and sects, even in the most happy ages, who have either with
great constancy looked death in the face, or voluntarily sought it, and
sought it not only to avoid the evils of this life, but some purely to
avoid the satiety of living, and others for the hope of a better
condition elsewhere, I should never have done. Nay, the number is so
infinite that in truth I should have a better bargain on't to reckon up
those who have feared it. This one therefore shall serve for all:
Pyrrho the philosopher being one day in a boat in a very great tempest,
shewed to those he saw the most affrighted about him, and encouraged
them, by the example of a hog that was there, nothing at all concerned at
the storm. Shall we then dare to say that this advantage of reason, of
which we so much boast, and upon the account of which we think ourselves
masters and emperors over the rest of all creation, was given us for a
torment? To what end serves the knowledge of things if it renders us
more unmanly? if we thereby lose the tranquillity and repose we should
enjoy without it? and if it put us into a worse condition than Pyrrho's
hog? Shall we employ the understanding that was conferred upon us for
our greatest good to our own ruin; setting ourselves against the design
of nature and the universal order of things, which intend that every one
should make use of the faculties, members, and means he has to his own
best advantage?

But it may, peradventure, be objected against me: Your rule is true
enough as to what concerns death; but what will you say of indigence?
What will you, moreover, say of pain, which Aristippus, Hieronimus, and
most of the sages have reputed the worst of evils; and those who have
denied it by word of mouth have, however, confessed it in effect?
Posidonius being extremely tormented with a sharp and painful disease,
Pompeius came to visit him, excusing himself that he had taken so
unseasonable a time to come to hear him discourse of philosophy.
"The gods forbid," said Posidonius to him, "that pain should ever have
the power to hinder me from talking," and thereupon fell immediately upon
a discourse of the contempt of pain: but, in the meantime, his own
infirmity was playing his part, and plagued him to purpose; to which he
cried out, "Thou mayest work thy will, pain, and torment me with all the
power thou hast, but thou shalt never make me say that thou art an evil."
This story that they make such a clutter withal, what has it to do,
I fain would know, with the contempt of pain? He only fights it with
words, and in the meantime, if the shootings and dolours he felt did not
move him, why did he interrupt his discourse? Why did he fancy he did so
great a thing in forbearing to confess it an evil? All does not here
consist in the imagination; our fancies may work upon other things: but
here is the certain science that is playing its part, of which our senses
themselves are judges:

          "Qui nisi sunt veri, ratio quoque falsa sit omnis."

     ["Which, if they be not true, all reasoning may also be false.
     —"Lucretius, iv. 486.]

Shall we persuade our skins that the jerks of a whip agreeably tickle us,
or our taste that a potion of aloes is vin de Graves? Pyrrho's hog is
here in the same predicament with us; he is not afraid of death, 'tis
true, but if you beat him he will cry out to some purpose. Shall we
force the general law of nature, which in every living creature under
heaven is seen to tremble under pain? The very trees seem to groan under
the blows they receive. Death is only felt by reason, forasmuch as it is
the motion of an instant;

         "Aut fuit, aut veniet; nihil est praesentis in illa."

     ["Death has been, or will come: there is nothing of the present in
     it."—Estienne de la Boetie, Satires.]

          "Morsque minus poenae, quam mora mortis, habet;"

     ["The delay of death is more painful than death itself."
     —Ovid, Ep. Ariadne to Theseus, v. 42.]

a thousand beasts, a thousand men, are sooner dead than threatened. That
also which we principally pretend to fear in death is pain, its ordinary
forerunner: yet, if we may believe a holy father:

          "Malam mortem non facit, nisi quod sequitur mortem."

          ["That which follows death makes death bad."
          —St. Augustin, De Civit. Dei, i. ii.]

And I should yet say, more probably, that neither that which goes before
nor that which follows after is at all of the appurtenances of death.

We excuse ourselves falsely: and I find by experience that it is rather
the impatience of the imagination of death that makes us impatient of
pain, and that we find it doubly grievous as it threatens us with death.
But reason accusing our cowardice for fearing a thing so sudden, so
inevitable, and so insensible, we take the other as the more excusable
pretence. All ills that carry no other danger along with them but simply
the evils themselves, we treat as things of no danger: the toothache or
the gout, painful as they are, yet being not reputed mortal, who reckons
them in the catalogue of diseases?

But let us presuppose that in death we principally regard the pain; as
also there is nothing to be feared in poverty but the miseries it brings
along with it of thirst, hunger, cold, heat, watching, and the other
inconveniences it makes us suffer, still we have nothing to do with
anything but pain. I will grant, and very willingly, that it is the
worst incident of our being (for I am the man upon earth who the most
hates and avoids it, considering that hitherto, I thank God, I have had
so little traffic with it), but still it is in us, if not to annihilate,
at least to lessen it by patience; and though the body and the reason
should mutiny, to maintain the soul, nevertheless, in good condition.
Were it not so, who had ever given reputation to virtue; valour, force,
magnanimity, and resolution? where were their parts to be played if
there were no pain to be defied?

               "Avida est periculi virtus."

     ["Courage is greedy of danger."—Seneca, De Providentia, c. 4]

Were there no lying upon the hard ground, no enduring, armed at all
points, the meridional heats, no feeding upon the flesh of horses and
asses, no seeing a man's self hacked and hewed to pieces, no suffering a
bullet to be pulled out from amongst the shattered bones, no sewing up,
cauterising and searching of wounds, by what means were the advantage we
covet to have over the vulgar to be acquired? 'Tis far from flying evil
and pain, what the sages say, that of actions equally good, a man should
most covet to perform that wherein there is greater labour and pain.

          "Non est enim hilaritate, nec lascivia, nec risu, aut joco
          comite levitatis, sed saepe etiam tristes firmitate et
          constantia sunt beati."

     ["For men are not only happy by mirth and wantonness, by laughter
     and jesting, the companion of levity, but ofttimes the serious sort
     reap felicity from their firmness and constancy."
     —Cicero, De Finib. ii. 10.]

And for this reason it has ever been impossible to persuade our
forefathers but that the victories obtained by dint of force and the
hazard of war were not more honourable than those performed in great
security by stratagem or practice:

          "Laetius est, quoties magno sibi constat honestum."

     ["A good deed is all the more a satisfaction by how much the more
     it has cost us"—Lucan, ix. 404.]

Besides, this ought to be our comfort, that naturally, if the pain be
violent, 'tis but short; and if long, nothing violent:

                        "Si gravis, brevis;
                         Si longus, levis."

Thou wilt not feel it long if thou feelest it too much; it will either
put an end to itself or to thee; it comes to the same thing; if thou
canst not support it, it will export thee:

     ["Remember that the greatest pains are terminated by death; that
     slighter pains have long intermissions of repose, and that we are
     masters of the more moderate sort: so that, if they be tolerable,
     we bear them; if not, we can go out of life, as from a theatre, when
     it does not please us"—Cicero, De Finib. i. 15.]

That which makes us suffer pain with so much impatience is the not being
accustomed to repose our chiefest contentment in the soul; that we do not
enough rely upon her who is the sole and sovereign mistress of our
condition. The body, saving in the greater or less proportion, has but
one and the same bent and bias; whereas the soul is variable into all
sorts of forms; and subject to herself and to her own empire, all things
whatsoever, both the senses of the body and all other accidents: and
therefore it is that we ought to study her, to inquire into her, and to
rouse up all her powerful faculties. There is neither reason, force, nor
prescription that can anything prevail against her inclination and
choice. Of so many thousands of biases that she has at her disposal, let
us give her one proper to our repose and conversation, and then we shall
not only be sheltered and secured from all manner of injury and offence,
but moreover gratified and obliged, if she will, with evils and offences.
She makes her profit indifferently of all things; error, dreams, serve
her to good use, as loyal matter to lodge us in safety and contentment.
'Tis plain enough to be seen that 'tis the sharpness of our mind that
gives the edge to our pains and pleasures: beasts that have no such
thing, leave to their bodies their own free and natural sentiments, and
consequently in every kind very near the same, as appears by the
resembling application of their motions. If we would not disturb in our
members the jurisdiction that appertains to them in this, 'tis to be
believed it would be the better for us, and that nature has given them a
just and moderate temper both to pleasure and pain; neither can it fail
of being just, being equal and common. But seeing we have enfranchised
ourselves from her rules to give ourselves up to the rambling liberty of
our own fancies, let us at least help to incline them to the most
agreeable side. Plato fears our too vehemently engaging ourselves with
pain and pleasure, forasmuch as these too much knit and ally the soul to
the body; whereas I rather, quite contrary, by reason it too much
separates and disunites them. As an enemy is made more fierce by our
flight, so pain grows proud to see us truckle under her. She will
surrender upon much better terms to them who make head against her: a man
must oppose and stoutly set himself against her. In retiring and giving
ground, we invite and pull upon ourselves the ruin that threatens us. As
the body is more firm in an encounter, the more stiffly and obstinately
it applies itself to it, so is it with the soul.

But let us come to examples, which are the proper game of folks of such
feeble force as myself; where we shall find that it is with pain as with
stones, that receive a brighter or a duller lustre according to the foil
they are set in, and that it has no more room in us than we are pleased
to allow it:

          "Tantum doluerunt, quantum doloribus se inseruerunt."

     ["They suffered so much the more, by how much more they gave way to
     suffering."—St. Augustin, De Civit. Dei, i. 10.]

We are more sensible of one little touch of a surgeon's lancet than of
twenty wounds with a sword in the heat of fight. The pains of
childbearing, said by the physicians and by God himself to be great, and
which we pass through with so many ceremonies—there are whole nations
that make nothing of them. I set aside the Lacedaemonian women, but what
else do you find in the Swiss among our foot-soldiers, if not that, as
they trot after their husbands, you see them to-day carry the child at
their necks that they carried yesterday in their bellies? The
counterfeit Egyptians we have amongst us go themselves to wash theirs,
so soon as they come into the world, and bathe in the first river they
meet. Besides so many wenches as daily drop their children by stealth,
as they conceived them, that fair and noble wife of Sabinus, a patrician
of Rome, for another's interest, endured alone, without help, without
crying out, or so much as a groan, the bearing of twins.—[Plutarch, On
Love, c. 34.]—A poor simple boy of Lacedaemon having stolen a fox (for
they more fear the shame of stupidity in stealing than we do the
punishment of the knavery), and having got it under his coat, rather
endured the tearing out of his bowels than he would discover his theft.
And another offering incense at a sacrifice, suffered himself to be
burned to the bone by a coal that fell into his sleeve, rather than
disturb the ceremony. And there have been a great number, for a sole
trial of virtue, following their institutions, who have at seven years
old endured to be whipped to death without changing their countenance.
And Cicero has seen them fight in parties, with fists, feet, and teeth,
till they have fainted and sunk down, rather than confess themselves

     ["Custom could never conquer nature; she is ever invincible; but we
     have infected the mind with shadows, delights, negligence, sloth;
     we have grown effeminate through opinions and corrupt morality."
     —Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., v. 27.]

Every one knows the story of Scaevola, that having slipped into the
enemy's camp to kill their general, and having missed his blow, to repair
his fault, by a more strange invention and to deliver his country, he
boldly confessed to Porsenna, who was the king he had a purpose to kill,
not only his design, but moreover added that there were then in the camp
a great number of Romans, his accomplices in the enterprise, as good men
as he; and to show what a one he himself was, having caused a pan of
burning coals to be brought, he saw and endured his arm to broil and
roast, till the king himself, conceiving horror at the sight, commanded
the pan to be taken away. What would you say of him that would not
vouchsafe to respite his reading in a book whilst he was under incision?
And of the other that persisted to mock and laugh in contempt of the
pains inflicted upon him; so that the provoked cruelty of the
executioners that had him in handling, and all the inventions of tortures
redoubled upon him, one after another, spent in vain, gave him the
bucklers? But he was a philosopher. But what! a gladiator of Caesar's
endured, laughing all the while, his wounds to be searched, lanced, and
laid open:

     ["What ordinary gladiator ever groaned? Which of them ever changed
     countenance? Which of them not only stood or fell indecorously?
     Which, when he had fallen and was commanded to receive the stroke of
     the sword, contracted his neck."—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 17.]

Let us bring in the women too. Who has not heard at Paris of her that
caused her face to be flayed only for the fresher complexion of a new
skin? There are who have drawn good and sound teeth to make their voices
more soft and sweet, or to place the other teeth in better order. How
many examples of the contempt of pain have we in that sex? What can they
not do, what do they fear to do, for never so little hope of an addition
to their beauty?

               "Vallere queis cura est albos a stirpe capillos,
               Et faciem, dempta pelle, referre novam."

     ["Who carefully pluck out their grey hairs by the roots, and renew
     their faces by peeling off the old skin."—Tibullus, i. 8, 45.]

I have seen some of them swallow sand, ashes, and do their utmost to
destroy their stomachs to get pale complexions. To make a fine Spanish
body, what racks will they not endure of girding and bracing, till they
have notches in their sides cut into the very quick, and sometimes to

It is an ordinary thing with several nations at this day to wound
themselves in good earnest to gain credit to what they profess; of which
our king, relates notable examples of what he has seen in Poland and done
towards himself.—[Henry III.]—But besides this, which I know to have
been imitated by some in France, when I came from that famous assembly of
the Estates at Blois, I had a little before seen a maid in Picardy, who
to manifest the ardour of her promises, as also her constancy, give
herself, with a bodkin she wore in her hair, four or five good lusty
stabs in the arm, till the blood gushed out to some purpose. The Turks
give themselves great scars in honour of their mistresses, and to the end
they may the longer remain, they presently clap fire to the wound, where
they hold it an incredible time to stop the blood and form the cicatrice;
people that have been eyewitnesses of it have both written and sworn it
to me. But for ten aspers—[A Turkish coin worth about a penny]—there
are there every day fellows to be found that will give themselves a good
deep slash in the arms or thighs. I am willing, however, to have the
testimonies nearest to us when we have most need of them; for Christendom
furnishes us with enough. After the example of our blessed Guide there
have been many who have crucified themselves. We learn by testimony very
worthy of belief, that King St. Louis wore a hair-shirt till in his old
age his confessor gave him a dispensation to leave it off; and that every
Friday he caused his shoulders to be drubbed by his priest with five
small chains of iron which were always carried about amongst his night
accoutrements for that purpose.

William, our last Duke of Guienne, the father of that Eleanor who
transmitted that duchy to the houses of France and England, continually
for the last ten or twelve years of his life wore a suit of armour under
a religious habit by way of penance. Foulke, Count of Anjou, went as far
as Jerusalem, there to cause himself to be whipped by two of his
servants, with a rope about his neck, before the sepulchre of our Lord.
But do we not, moreover, every Good Friday, in various places, see great
numbers of men and women beat and whip themselves till they lacerate and
cut the flesh to the very bones? I have often seen it, and 'tis without
any enchantment; and it was said there were some amongst them (for they
go disguised) who for money undertook by this means to save harmless the
religion of others, by a contempt of pain, so much the greater, as the
incentives of devotion are more effectual than those of avarice.
Q. Maximus buried his son when he was a consul, and M. Cato his when
praetor elect, and L. Paulus both his, within a few days one after
another, with such a countenance as expressed no manner of grief. I said
once merrily of a certain person, that he had disappointed the divine
justice; for the violent death of three grown-up children of his being
one day sent him, for a severe scourge, as it is to be supposed, he was
so far from being afflicted at the accident, that he rather took it for a
particular grace and favour of heaven. I do not follow these monstrous
humours, though I lost two or three at nurse, if not without grief, at
least without repining, and yet there is hardly any accident that pierces
nearer to the quick. I see a great many other occasions of sorrow, that
should they happen to me I should hardly feel; and have despised some,
when they have befallen me, to which the world has given so terrible a
figure that I should blush to boast of my constancy:

         "Ex quo intelligitur, non in natura, sed in opinione,
          esse aegritudinem."

     ["By which one may understand that grief is not in nature, but in
     opinion."—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., iii. 28.]

Opinion is a powerful party, bold, and without measure. Who ever so
greedily hunted after security and repose as Alexander and Caesar did
after disturbance and difficulties? Teres, the father of Sitalces, was
wont to say that "when he had no wars, he fancied there was no difference
betwixt him and his groom." Cato the consul, to secure some cities of
Spain from revolt, only interdicting the inhabitants from wearing arms, a
great many killed themselves:

          "Ferox gens, nullam vitam rati sine armis esse."

     ["A fierce people, who thought there was no life without war."
     —Livy, xxxiv. 17.]

How many do we know who have forsaken the calm and sweetness of a quiet
life at home amongst their acquaintance, to seek out the horror of
unhabitable deserts; and having precipitated themselves into so abject a
condition as to become the scorn and contempt of the world, have hugged
themselves with the conceit, even to affectation. Cardinal Borromeo, who
died lately at Milan, amidst all the jollity that the air of Italy, his
youth, birth, and great riches, invited him to, kept himself in so
austere a way of living, that the same robe he wore in summer served him
for winter too; he had only straw for his bed, and his hours of leisure
from affairs he continually spent in study upon his knees, having a
little bread and a glass of water set by his book, which was all the
provision of his repast, and all the time he spent in eating.

I know some who consentingly have acquired both profit and advancement
from cuckoldom, of which the bare name only affrights so many people.

If the sight be not the most necessary of all our senses, 'tis at least
the most pleasant; but the most pleasant and most useful of all our
members seem to be those of generation; and yet a great many have
conceived a mortal hatred against them only for this, that they were too
pleasant, and have deprived themselves of them only for their value:
as much thought he of his eyes that put them out. The generality and
more solid sort of men look upon abundance of children as a great
blessing; I, and some others, think it as great a benefit to be without
them. And when you ask Thales why he does not marry, he tells you,
because he has no mind to leave any posterity behind him.

That our opinion gives the value to things is very manifest in the great
number of those which we do, not so much prizing them, as ourselves, and
never considering either their virtues or their use, but only how dear
they cost us, as though that were a part of their substance; and we only
repute for value in them, not what they bring to us, but what we add to
them. By which I understand that we are great economisers of our
expense: as it weighs, it serves for so much as it weighs. Our opinion
will never suffer it to want of its value: the price gives value to the
diamond; difficulty to virtue; suffering to devotion; and griping to
physic. A certain person, to be poor, threw his crowns into the same sea
to which so many come, in all parts of the world, to fish for riches.
Epicurus says that to be rich is no relief, but only an alteration, of
affairs. In truth, it is not want, but rather abundance, that creates
avarice. I will deliver my own experience concerning this affair.

I have since my emergence from childhood lived in three sorts of
conditions. The first, which continued for some twenty years, I passed
over without any other means but what were casual and depending upon the
allowance and assistance of others, without stint, but without certain
revenue. I then spent my money so much the more cheerfully, and with so
much the less care how it went, as it wholly depended upon my
overconfidence of fortune. I never lived more at my ease; I never had
the repulse of finding the purse of any of my friends shut against me,
having enjoined myself this necessity above all other necessities
whatever, by no means to fail of payment at the appointed time, which
also they have a thousand times respited, seeing how careful I was to
satisfy them; so that I practised at once a thrifty, and withal a kind of
alluring, honesty. I naturally feel a kind of pleasure in paying, as if
I eased my shoulders of a troublesome weight and freed myself from an
image of slavery; as also that I find a ravishing kind of satisfaction in
pleasing another and doing a just action. I except payments where the
trouble of bargaining and reckoning is required; and in such cases; where
I can meet with nobody to ease me of that charge, I delay them, how
scandalously and injuriously soever, all I possibly can, for fear of the
wranglings for which both my humour and way of speaking are so totally
improper and unfit. There is nothing I hate so much as driving a
bargain; 'tis a mere traffic of cozenage and impudence, where, after an
hour's cheapening and hesitating, both parties abandon their word and
oath for five sols' abatement. Yet I always borrowed at great
disadvantage; for, wanting the confidence to speak to the person myself,
I committed my request to the persuasion of a letter, which usually is no
very successful advocate, and is of very great advantage to him who has a
mind to deny. I, in those days, more jocundly and freely referred the
conduct of my affairs to the stars, than I have since done to my own
providence and judgment. Most good managers look upon it as a horrible
thing to live always thus in uncertainty, and do not consider, in the
first place, that the greatest part of the world live so: how many worthy
men have wholly abandoned their own certainties, and yet daily do it, to
the winds, to trust to the inconstant favour of princes and of fortune?
Caesar ran above a million of gold, more than he was worth, in debt to
become Caesar; and how many merchants have begun their traffic by the
sale of their farms, which they sent into the Indies,

                    "Tot per impotentia freta."

     ["Through so many ungovernable seas."—Catullus, iv. 18.]

In so great a siccity of devotion as we see in these days, we have a
thousand and a thousand colleges that pass it over commodiously enough,
expecting every day their dinner from the liberality of Heaven.
Secondly, they do not take notice that this certitude upon which they so
much rely is not much less uncertain and hazardous than hazard itself.
I see misery as near beyond two thousand crowns a year as if it stood
close by me; for besides that it is in the power of chance to make a
hundred breaches to poverty through the greatest strength of our riches
—there being very often no mean betwixt the highest and the lowest

          "Fortuna vitrea est: turn, quum splendet, frangitur,"

     ["Fortune is glass: in its greatest brightness it breaks."
     —Ex Mim. P. Syrus.]

and to turn all our barricadoes and bulwarks topsy-turvy, I find that, by
divers causes, indigence is as frequently seen to inhabit with those who
have estates as with those that have none; and that, peradventure, it is
then far less grievous when alone than when accompanied with riches.
These flow more from good management than from revenue;

               "Faber est suae quisque fortunae"

          ["Every one is the maker of his own fortune."
          —Sallust, De Repub. Ord., i. I.]

and an uneasy, necessitous, busy, rich man seems to me more miserable
than he that is simply poor.

     "In divitiis mopes, quod genus egestatis gravissimum est."

     ["Poor in the midst of riches, which is the sorest kind of poverty."
     —Seneca, Ep., 74.]

The greatest and most wealthy princes are by poverty and want driven to
the most extreme necessity; for can there be any more extreme than to
become tyrants and unjust usurpers of their subjects' goods and estates?

My second condition of life was to have money of my own, wherein I so
ordered the matter that I had soon laid up a very notable sum out of a
mean fortune, considering with myself that that only was to be reputed
having which a man reserves from his ordinary expense, and that a man
cannot absolutely rely upon revenue he hopes to receive, how clear soever
the hope may be. For what, said I, if I should be surprised by such or
such an accident? And after such-like vain and vicious imaginations,
would very learnedly, by this hoarding of money, provide against all
inconveniences; and could, moreover, answer such as objected to me that
the number of these was too infinite, that if I could not lay up for all,
I could, however, do it at least for some and for many. Yet was not this
done without a great deal of solicitude and anxiety of mind; I kept it
very close, and though I dare talk so boldly of myself, never spoke of my
money, but falsely, as others do, who being rich, pretend to be poor, and
being poor, pretend to be rich, dispensing their consciences from ever
telling sincerely what they have: a ridiculous and shameful prudence.
Was I going a journey? Methought I was never enough provided: and the
more I loaded myself with money, the more also was I loaded with fear,
one while of the danger of the roads, another of the fidelity of him who
had the charge of my baggage, of whom, as some others that I know, I was
never sufficiently secure if I had him not always in my eye. If I
chanced to leave my cash-box behind me, O, what strange suspicions and
anxiety of mind did I enter into, and, which was worse, without daring to
acquaint anybody with it. My mind was eternally taken up with such
things as these, so that, all things considered, there is more trouble in
keeping money than in getting it. And if I did not altogether so much as
I say, or was not really so scandalously solicitous of my money as I have
made myself out to be, yet it cost me something at least to restrain
myself from being so. I reaped little or no advantage by what I had, and
my expenses seemed nothing less to me for having the more to spend; for,
as Bion said, the hairy men are as angry as the bald to be pulled; and
after you are once accustomed to it and have once set your heart upon
your heap, it is no more at your service; you cannot find in your heart
to break it: 'tis a building that you will fancy must of necessity all
tumble down to ruin if you stir but the least pebble; necessity must
first take you by the throat before you can prevail upon yourself to
touch it; and I would sooner have pawned anything I had, or sold a horse,
and with much less constraint upon myself, than have made the least
breach in that beloved purse I had so carefully laid by. But the danger
was that a man cannot easily prescribe certain limits to this desire
(they are hard to find in things that a man conceives to be good), and to
stint this good husbandry so that it may not degenerate into avarice: men
still are intent upon adding to the heap and increasing the stock from
sum to sum, till at last they vilely deprive themselves of the enjoyment
of their own proper goods, and throw all into reserve, without making any
use of them at all. According to this rule, they are the richest people
in the world who are set to guard the walls and gates of a wealthy city.
All moneyed men I conclude to be covetous. Plato places corporal or
human goods in this order: health, beauty, strength, riches; and riches,
says he, are not blind, but very clear-sighted, when illuminated by
prudence. Dionysius the son did a very handsome act upon this subject;
he was informed that one of the Syracusans had hid a treasure in the
earth, and thereupon sent to the man to bring it to him, which he
accordingly did, privately reserving a small part of it only to himself,
with which he went to another city, where being cured of his appetite of
hoarding, he began to live at a more liberal rate; which Dionysius
hearing, caused the rest of his treasure to be restored to him, saying,
that since he had learned to use it, he very willingly returned it back
to him.

I continued some years in this hoarding humour, when I know not what good
demon fortunately put me out of it, as he did the Syracusan, and made me
throw abroad all my reserve at random, the pleasure of a certain journey
I took at very great expense having made me spurn this fond love of money
underfoot; by which means I am now fallen into a third way of living (I
speak what I think of it), doubtless much more pleasant and regular,
which is, that I live at the height of my revenue; sometimes the one,
sometimes the other may perhaps exceed, but 'tis very little and but
rarely that they differ. I live from hand to mouth, and content myself
in having sufficient for my present and ordinary expense; for as to
extraordinary occasions, all the laying up in the world would never
suffice. And 'tis the greatest folly imaginable to expect that fortune
should ever sufficiently arm us against herself; 'tis with our own arms
that we are to fight her; accidental ones will betray us in the pinch of
the business. If I lay up, 'tis for some near and contemplated purpose;
not to purchase lands, of which I have no need, but to purchase pleasure:

     "Non esse cupidum, pecunia est; non esse emacem, vertigal est."

     ["Not to be covetous, is money; not to be acquisitive, is revenue."
     —Cicero, Paradox., vi. 3.]

I neither am in any great apprehension of wanting, nor in desire of any

     "Divinarum fructus est in copia; copiam declarat satietas."

     ["The fruit of riches is in abundance; satiety declares abundance."
     —Idem, ibid., vi. 2.]

And I am very well pleased that this reformation in me has fallen out in
an age naturally inclined to avarice, and that I see myself cleared of a
folly so common to old men, and the most ridiculous of all human follies.

Feraulez, a man that had run through both fortunes, and found that the
increase of substance was no increase of appetite either to eating or
drinking, sleeping or the enjoyment of his wife, and who on the other
side felt the care of his economics lie heavy upon his shoulders, as it
does on mine, was resolved to please a poor young man, his faithful
friend, who panted after riches, and made him a gift of all his, which
were excessively great, and, moreover, of all he was in the daily way of
getting by the liberality of Cyrus, his good master, and by the war;
conditionally that he should take care handsomely to maintain and
plentifully to entertain him as his guest and friend; which being
accordingly done, they afterwards lived very happily together, both of
them equally content with the change of their condition. 'Tis an example
that I could imitate with all my heart; and I very much approve the
fortune of the aged prelate whom I see to have so absolutely stripped
himself of his purse, his revenue, and care of his expense, committing
them one while to one trusty servant, and another while to another, that
he has spun out a long succession of years, as ignorant, by this means,
of his domestic affairs as a mere stranger.

The confidence in another man's virtue is no light evidence of a man's
own, and God willingly favours such a confidence. As to what concerns
him of whom I am speaking, I see nowhere a better governed house, more
nobly and constantly maintained than his. Happy to have regulated his
affairs to so just a proportion that his estate is sufficient to do it
without his care or trouble, and without any hindrance, either in the
spending or laying it up, to his other more quiet employments, and more
suitable both to his place and liking.

Plenty, then, and indigence depend upon the opinion every one has of
them; and riches no more than glory or health have other beauty or
pleasure than he lends them by whom they are possessed.

Every one is well or ill at ease, according as he so finds himself; not
he whom the world believes, but he who believes himself to be so, is
content; and in this alone belief gives itself being and reality.
Fortune does us neither good nor hurt; she only presents us the matter
and the seed, which our soul, more powerful than she, turns and applies
as she best pleases; the sole cause and sovereign mistress of her own
happy or unhappy condition. All external accessions receive taste and
colour from the internal constitution, as clothes warm us, not with their
heat, but our own, which they are fit to cover and nourish; he who would
shield therewith a cold body, would do the same service for the cold, for
so snow and ice are preserved. And, certes, after the same manner that
study is a torment to an idle man, abstinence from wine to a drunkard,
frugality to the spendthrift, and exercise to a lazy, tender-bred fellow,
so it is of all the rest. The things are not so painful and difficult of
themselves, but our weakness or cowardice makes them so. To judge of
great, and high matters requires a suitable soul; otherwise we attribute
the vice to them which is really our own. A straight oar seems crooked
in the water it does not only import that we see the thing, but how and
after what manner we see it.

After all this, why, amongst so many discourses that by so many arguments
persuade men to despise death and to endure pain, can we not find out one
that helps us? And of so many sorts of imaginations as have so prevailed
upon others as to persuade them to do so, why does not every one apply
some one to himself, the most suitable to his own humour? If he cannot
digest a strong-working decoction to eradicate the evil, let him at least
take a lenitive to ease it:

     ["It is an effeminate and flimsy opinion, nor more so in pain than
     in pleasure, in which, while we are at our ease, we cannot bear
     without a cry the sting of a bee. The whole business is to commend
     thyself."—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 22.]

As to the rest, a man does not transgress philosophy by permitting the
acrimony of pains and human frailty to prevail so much above measure; for
they constrain her to go back to her unanswerable replies: "If it be ill
to live in necessity, at least there is no necessity upon a man to live
in necessity": "No man continues ill long but by his own fault." He who
has neither the courage to die nor the heart to live, who will neither
resist nor fly, what can we do with him?