The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter XXXVII

The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter XXXVII. That we laugh and cry for the same thing.

Chapter XXXVII. That we laugh and cry for the same thing. Edit

When we read in history that Antigonus was very much displeased with his
son for presenting him the head of King Pyrrhus his enemy, but newly
slain fighting against him, and that seeing it, he wept; and that Rene,
Duke of Lorraine, also lamented the death of Charles, Duke of Burgundy,
whom he had himself defeated, and appeared in mourning at his funeral;
and that in the battle of D'Auray (which Count Montfort obtained over
Charles de Blois, his competitor for the duchy of Brittany), the
conqueror meeting the dead body of his enemy, was very much afflicted at
his death, we must not presently cry out:

              "E cosi avven, the l'animo ciascuna
               Sua passion sotto 'l contrario manto,
               Ricopre, con la vista or'chiara, or'bruna."

     ["And thus it happens that the mind of each veils its passion under
     a different appearance, and beneath a smiling visage, gay beneath a
     sombre air."—Petrarch.]

When Pompey's head was presented to Caesar, the histories tell us that he
turned away his face, as from a sad and unpleasing object. There had
been so long an intelligence and society betwixt them in the management
of the public affairs, so great a community of fortunes, so many mutual
offices, and so near an alliance, that this countenance of his ought not
to suffer under any misinterpretation, or to be suspected for either
false or counterfeit, as this other seems to believe:

                             "Tutumque putavit
          Jam bonus esse socer; lacrymae non sponte cadentes,
          Effudit, gemitusque expressit pectore laeto;"

     ["And now he thought it safe to play the kind father-in-law,
     shedding forced tears, and from a joyful breast discharging sighs
     and groans."—Lucan, ix. 1037.]

for though it be true that the greatest part of our actions are no other
than visor and disguise, and that it may sometimes be true that

               "Haeredis fletus sub persona rises est,"

          ["The heir's tears behind the mask are smiles."
          —Publius Syrus, apud Gellium, xvii. 14.]

yet, in judging of these accidents, we are to consider how much our souls
are oftentimes agitated with divers passions. And as they say that in
our bodies there is a congregation of divers humours, of which that is
the sovereign which, according to the complexion we are of, is commonly
most predominant in us: so, though the soul have in it divers motions to
give it agitation, yet must there of necessity be one to overrule all the
rest, though not with so necessary and absolute a dominion but that
through the flexibility and inconstancy of the soul, those of less
authority may upon occasion reassume their place and make a little sally
in turn. Thence it is, that we see not only children, who innocently
obey and follow nature, often laugh and cry at the same thing, but not
one of us can boast, what journey soever he may have in hand that he has
the most set his heart upon, but when he comes to part with his family
and friends, he will find something that troubles him within; and though
he refrain his tears yet he puts foot in the stirrup with a sad and
cloudy countenance. And what gentle flame soever may warm the heart of
modest and wellborn virgins, yet are they fain to be forced from about
their mothers' necks to be put to bed to their husbands, whatever this
boon companion is pleased to say:

         "Estne novis nuptis odio Venus? anne parentum
          Frustrantur falsis gaudia lachrymulis,
          Ubertim thalami quasi intra limina fundunt?
          Non, ita me divi, vera gemunt, juverint."

     ["Is Venus really so alarming to the new-made bride, or does she
     honestly oppose her parent's rejoicing the tears she so abundantly
     sheds on entering the nuptial chamber? No, by the Gods, these are
     no true tears."—Catullus, lxvi. 15.]

     ["Is Venus really so repugnant to newly-married maids? Do they meet
     the smiles of parents with feigned tears? They weep copiously
     within the very threshold of the nuptial chamber. No, so the gods
     help me, they do not truly grieve."—Catullus, lxvi. 15.]—
     [A more literal translation. D.W.]

Neither is it strange to lament a person dead whom a man would by no
means should be alive. When I rattle my man, I do it with all the mettle
I have, and load him with no feigned, but downright real curses; but the
heat being over, if he should stand in need of me, I should be very ready
to do him good: for I instantly turn the leaf. When I call him calf and
coxcomb, I do not pretend to entail those titles upon him for ever;
neither do I think I give myself the lie in calling him an honest fellow
presently after. No one quality engrosses us purely and universally.
Were it not the sign of a fool to talk to one's self, there would hardly
be a day or hour wherein I might not be heard to grumble and mutter to
myself and against myself, "Confound the fool!" and yet I do not think
that to be my definition. Who for seeing me one while cold and presently
very fond towards my wife, believes the one or the other to be
counterfeited, is an ass. Nero, taking leave of his mother whom he was
sending to be drowned, was nevertheless sensible of some emotion at this
farewell, and was struck with horror and pity. 'Tis said, that the light
of the sun is not one continuous thing, but that he darts new rays so
thick one upon another that we cannot perceive the intermission:

         "Largus enim liquidi fons luminis, aetherius sol,
          Irrigat assidue coelum candore recenti,
          Suppeditatque novo confestim lumine lumen."

     ["So the wide fountain of liquid light, the ethereal sun, steadily
     fertilises the heavens with new heat, and supplies a continuous
     store of fresh light."—Lucretius, v. 282.]

Just so the soul variously and imperceptibly darts out her passions.

Artabanus coming by surprise once upon his nephew Xerxes, chid him for
the sudden alteration of his countenance. He was considering the
immeasurable greatness of his forces passing over the Hellespont for the
Grecian expedition: he was first seized with a palpitation of joy, to see
so many millions of men under his command, and this appeared in the
gaiety of his looks: but his thoughts at the same instant suggesting to
him that of so many lives, within a century at most, there would not be
one left, he presently knit his brows and grew sad, even to tears.

We have resolutely pursued the revenge of an injury received, and been
sensible of a singular contentment for the victory; but we shall weep
notwithstanding. 'Tis not for the victory, though, that we shall weep:
there is nothing altered in that but the soul looks upon things with
another eye and represents them to itself with another kind of face; for
everything has many faces and several aspects.

Relations, old acquaintances, and friendships, possess our imaginations
and make them tender for the time, according to their condition; but the
turn is so quick, that 'tis gone in a moment:

              "Nil adeo fieri celeri ratione videtur,
               Quam si mens fieri proponit, et inchoat ipsa,
               Ocius ergo animus, quam res se perciet ulla,
               Ante oculos quorum in promptu natura videtur;"

     ["Nothing therefore seems to be done in so swift a manner than if
     the mind proposes it to be done, and itself begins. It is more
     active than anything which we see in nature."—Lucretius, iii. 183.]

and therefore, if we would make one continued thing of all this
succession of passions, we deceive ourselves. When Timoleon laments the
murder he had committed upon so mature and generous deliberation, he does
not lament the liberty restored to his country, he does not lament the
tyrant; but he laments his brother: one part of his duty is performed;
let us give him leave to perform the other.