The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter XLI

The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter XLI. Not to communicate a man's honour.

Chapter XLI. Not to communicate a man's honour. Edit

Of all the follies of the world, that which is most universally received
is the solicitude of reputation and glory; which we are fond of to that
degree as to abandon riches, peace, life, and health, which are effectual
and substantial goods, to pursue this vain phantom and empty word, that
has neither body nor hold to be taken of it:

               La fama, ch'invaghisce a un dolce suono
               Gli superbi mortali, et par si bella,
               E un eco, un sogno, anzi d'un sogno un'ombra,
               Ch'ad ogni vento si dilegua a sgombra."

     ["Fame, which with alluring sound charms proud mortals, and appears
     so fair, is but an echo, a dream, nay, the shadow of a dream, which
     at every breath vanishes and dissolves."
     —Tasso, Gerus., xiv. 63.]

And of all the irrational humours of men, it should seem that the
philosophers themselves are among the last and the most reluctant to
disengage themselves from this: 'tis the most restive and obstinate of

         "Quia etiam bene proficientes animos tentare non cessat."

     ["Because it ceases not to assail even well-directed minds"
     —St. Augustin, De Civit. Dei, v. 14.]

There is not any one of which reason so clearly accuses the vanity; but
it is so deeply rooted in us that I dare not determine whether any one
ever clearly discharged himself from it or no. After you have said all
and believed all has been said to its prejudice, it produces so intestine
an inclination in opposition to your best arguments that you have little
power to resist it; for, as Cicero says, even those who most controvert
it, would yet that the books they write about it should visit the light
under their own names, and seek to derive glory from seeming to despise
it. All other things are communicable and fall into commerce: we lend
our goods and stake our lives for the necessity and service of our
friends; but to communicate a man's honour, and to robe another with a
man's own glory, is very rarely seen.

And yet we have some examples of that kind. Catulus Luctatius in the
Cimbrian war, having done all that in him lay to make his flying soldiers
face about upon the enemy, ran himself at last away with the rest, and
counterfeited the coward, to the end his men might rather seem to follow
their captain than to fly from the enemy; which was to abandon his own
reputation in order to cover the shame of others. When Charles V. came
into Provence in the year 1537, 'tis said that Antonio de Leva, seeing
the emperor positively resolved upon this expedition, and believing it
would redound very much to his honour, did, nevertheless, very stiffly
oppose it in the council, to the end that the entire glory of that
resolution should be attributed to his master, and that it might be said
his own wisdom and foresight had been such as that, contrary to the
opinion of all, he had brought about so great an enterprise; which was to
do him honour at his own expense. The Thracian ambassadors coming to
comfort Archileonida, the mother of Brasidas, upon the death of her son,
and commending him to that height as to say he had not left his like
behind him, she rejected this private and particular commendation to
attribute it to the public: "Tell me not that," said she; "I know the
city of Sparta has many citizens both greater and of greater worth than
he." In the battle of Crecy, the Prince of Wales, being then very
young, had the vanguard committed to him: the main stress of the battle
happened to be in that place, which made the lords who were with him,
finding themselves overmatched, send to King Edward to advance to their
relief. He inquired of the condition his son was in, and being answered
that he was alive and on horseback: "I should, then, do him wrong," said
the king, "now to go and deprive him of the honour of winning this battle
he has so long and so bravely sustained; what hazard soever he runs, that
shall be entirely his own"; and, accordingly, would neither go nor send,
knowing that if he went, it would be said all had been lost without his
succour, and that the honour of the victory would be wholly attributed to

              "Semper enim quod postremum adjectum est,
               id rem totam videtur traxisse."

     ["For always that which is last added, seems to have accomplished
     the whole affair."—Livy, xxvii. 45.]

Many at Rome thought, and would usually say, that the greatest of
Scipio's acts were in part due to Laelius, whose constant practice it was
still to advance and support Scipio's grandeur and renown, without any
care of his own. And Theopompus, king of Sparta, to him who told him the
republic could not miscarry since he knew so well how to command, "Tis
rather," answered he, "because the people know so well how to obey."
As women succeeding to peerages had, notwithstanding their sex, the
privilege to attend and give their votes in the trials that appertained
to the jurisdiction of peers; so the ecclesiastical peers,
notwithstanding their profession, were obliged to attend our kings in
their wars, not only with their friends and servants, but in their own
persons. As the Bishop of Beauvais did, who being with Philip Augustus
at the battle of Bouvines, had a notable share in that action; but he did
not think it fit for him to participate in the fruit and glory of that
violent and bloody trade. He with his own hand reduced several of the
enemy that day to his mercy, whom he delivered to the first gentleman he
met either to kill or receive them to quarter, referring the whole
execution to this other hand; and he did this with regard to William,
Earl of Salisbury, whom he gave up to Messire Jehan de Nesle. With a
like subtlety of conscience to that I have just named, he would kill but
not wound, and for that reason ever fought with a mace. And a certain
person of my time, being reproached by the king that he had laid hands on
a priest, stiffly and positively denied he had done any such thing: the
meaning of which was, he had cudgelled and kicked him.