Chapter 4 from Michael Seigneur de Montaigne, Essays of, 1685, translated by Charles Cotton
A Gentleman of my Country, who was
very often tormented with the Gout,
being importun’d by his Phyſicians totally
to reclaim his Appetite from all manner of
ſalt Meats, was wont preſently to reply, that
he muſt needs have ſomething to quarrel with
in the extremity of his Fits, and that he fancy’d,
that railing at, and curſing one while
the Bolognia Sawſages, and another the dry’d
Tongues and the Hamms, was ſome mitigation
to his pain.And in good earneſt, as
the Arm when it is advanc’d to ſtrike, if it
fail of meeting with that upon which it was
deſign’d to diſcharge the blow, and ſpends it
ſelf in vain, does offend the Striker himſelf;
and as alſo, that to make a pleaſant Proſpect
the Sight ſhould not be loſt and dilated in a
vaſt extent of empty Air, but have ſome
Bounds to limit and circumſcribe it at a reaſonable
Ventus ut amittit vires, niſi robore denſa
As Winds do loſe their ſtrength, unleſs with-
Occurrant Sylva, ſpatio diffuſus inani.
By ſome dark Grove of ſtrong oppoſing wood.
So it appears, that the Soul, being tranſported
and diſcompos’d, turns its violence
upon it ſelf, if not ſupply’d with ſomething
to oppoſe it, and therefore always requires
an Enemy object on which to diſcharge its
Fury and Reſentment.
Plutarch ſays very
well of thoſe who are delighted with little
Dogs and Monkeys; that the amorous part
that is in us, for want of a legitimate Object,
rather than lye idle, does after that manner
forge, and create one frivolous and falſe;
we ſee that the Soul, in the exerciſe of its
Paſſions, inclines rather to deceive it ſelf, by
creating a falſe and fantaſtical Subject, even
contrary to its own Belief, than not to have
ſomething to work upon.
And after this
manner Brute Beaſts direct their Fury to fall
upon the Stone or Weapon that has hurt
them, and with their Teeth even execute
their Revenge upon themſelves, for the Injury
they have receiv’d from another.
Pannonis haud aliter poſt ictum ſ?vior Urſa
So the fierce Bear, made fiercer by the ſmart
Cui jaculum parva Lybis amentavit habena,
Se rotat in vulnus telumque irata receptum
Impetit, & ſecum fugientem circuit Haſtam.
Of the bold Lybians mortal guided Dart,
Turns round upon the Wound, and the tough Spear
Contorted o’re her Breaſt does flying bear.
What cauſes of the miſadventures that befall
us do we not invent? what is it that we do
not lay the fault to right or wrong, that we
may have ſomething to quarrel with?
beautiful Treſſes, young Lady, you may ſo liberally
tear off, are no way guilty, nor is it
the whiteneſs of thoſe delicate Breaſts you
ſo unmercifully beat, that with an unlucky
Bullet has ſlain your beloved Brother; quarrel
with ſomething elſe.
Livy, ſpeaking of
the Roman Army in Spain, ſayes, that for the
loſs of two Brothers, who were both great
Captains, Flere omnes repente, &offenſare
capita, that they all wept, and tore their
Tis the common practice of Afflicti-
on. And the Philoſopher Bion ſaid pleaſant-
ly of the King, who by handfuls pull’d his
Hair off his Head for Sorrow, Does this man
think that Baldneſs is a Remedy for Grief?
Who has not ſeen peeviſh Gameſters worry
the Cards with their Teeth, and ſwallow.
whole Bales of Dice in revenge for the Loſs
of their Money?
Xerxes whip’d the Sea, and
writ a Challenge to Mount Athos; Cyrus employ’d
a whole Army ſeveral days at work,
to revenge himſelf of the River Gnydus, for
the Fright it had put him into in paſſing over;
and Caligula demoliſh’d a very beautiful Palace
for the Pleaſure his Mother had once enjoy’d
I remember there was a Story
currant, when I was a Boy, That one of our
Neighbouring Kings having receiv’d a Blow
from the Hand of GOD, ſwore he would be
reveng’d, and in order to it, made Proclamation,
that for ten Years to come no one
ſhould pray to him, or ſo much as mention
him throughout his Dominions:
by which we
are not ſo much to take meaſure of the Folly,
as the Vain-glory of the Nation of which
this Tale was told.
They are Vices that indeed
always go together; but ſuch Actions
as theſe have in them more of Preſumption
than want of Wit.
Auguſtus C?ſar, having
been toſt with a Tempeſt at Sea, fell to defying
Neptune, and in the Pomp of the Circenſian
Games, to be reveng’d, despos’d his
Statue from the place it had amongſt the other
Wherein he was leſs excuſable than
the former, and leſs than he was afterwards,
when having loſt a Battel under Quintilius
Varus in Germany, in Rage and Deſpair he
went running his Head againſt the Walls, and
crying out, O Varius! give me my Men again!
for theſe exceed all Folly foraſmuch as Impiety
is joyn’d with it, invading God him-
ſelf, or at leaſt Fortune, as if ſhe had Ears
that were ſubject to our Batteries;
Thracians, who when it Thunders or Lightens,
fall to Shooting againſt Heaven with a
Titanian Madneſs, as if by Flights of Arrows
they intended to reduce God Almighty to
Rea(ſ)on. Though the ancient Poet in Plutarch
Point ne ſe faut couroucer aux affaires,
We muſt not quarrel Heaven in our Affairs
Il ne leur chaut de toutes nos choleres.
That little for a mortal Anger cares.
But we can never enough decry nor ſufficiently
condemn the ſenſeleſs and ridiculous
Sallies of our unruly Paſſions.