Chapter 4 from Michael de Montaigne, The Works of, 1850, translated by William Hazlitt

A GENTLEMAN of my country, who was very
subject to the gout, being importuned by his
physicians totally to abstain from all manner
of salt meats, was wont pleasantly to reply,
that he must needs have something to quarrel
with in the extremity of his pain, and that he
fancied that railing at and cursing, one while
the Bologna sausages, and at another the dried
tongues and the hams, was some mitigation to
his torments.And, in good earnest, as one’s
arm when it is advanced to strike, if it fail of
meeting with that upon which it was designed
to discharge the blow, and spends itself in vain,
does offend the striker himself; and as, also,
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 distance--

Ventus ut amittit vires, nisi robore densæ
Occurrunt Silvæ, spatio diffusus inani;
“As winds exhaust their strength, unless withstood
By some thick grove of strong opposing wood.”

so it appears that the soul, being transported
and discomposed, turns its violence upon itself,
if not supplied with something to oppose it, and
therefore always requires an object at which to
aim, and to keep it in action.Plutarch says
of those who are delighted with monkeys and
lap dogs, that the amorous part which is in
us, for want of a legitimate object, rather than
be idle, does after that manner forge and create
one frivolous and false:and we see that the
soul, in the exercise of its passions, inclines
rather to deceive itself, by creating a false and
fantastical subject, even contrary to its own
belief, that 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 received from another.
Pannonis haud aliter post ictum sævior ursa,
Quum jaculum parva Lybis amentavit habena,
Se rotat in vulnus, telumque irata receptum
Impetit, et secum fugientem circuit hastam.

So the fierce bear, made fiercer by the smart
Of the bold Lybian’s mortal wounding dart,
Turns round upon the wound, and the tough spear
Contorted o’er her breast doth, 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? ’Tis not
those beautiful tresses, young lady, you so
liberally tear off, nor is it the whiteness of that
delicate bosom you so unmercifully beat, that,
with an unlucky bullet, have slain your beloved
brother; quarrel with something else.Livy,
speaking of the Roman army in Spain, says,
that for the loss of the two brothers, their
great captains, Flere omnes repente, et offensare
“They all wept and tore their
hair.” ’Tis the common practice of affliction.
And the philosopher Bion said pleasantly
of the king, who by handfuls pulled his hair
off his head for sorrow, “Does this man think
that baldness is a remedy for grief?” Who
has not seen peevish gamesters tear the cards
with their teeth, and swallow the dice in revenge
for the loss of their money? Xerxes whipped
the sea, and wrote a challenge to Mount Athos.
Cyrus employed a whole army several days at
work to revenge himself of the river Gnidus, for
that fright it had put him into in passing over
it; and Caligula demolished a very beautiful
palace for the discomfort his mother had once
had there.

There was a story current, when I was a boy,
that one of our neighbouring kings, having
received a blow from the hand of God, swore
he would be revenged, and, in order to it, made
proclamation that, for ten years to come, no
one thoughout his dominions should pray to
him, nor mention him, nor believe in him; by
which we are not so much to take measure of
the folly, as of the vain-glory of the nation of
which this tale was told. These are vices that
indeed always go together; but such actions as
these have in them more of presumption than
want of sense Augustus Cæsar, having been
tost with a tempest at sea, fell to defying Neptune,
and in the pomp of the Circensian games,
to be revenged of him, deposed his statue from
the place it had amongst the other deities
Wherein he was less excusable than the former,
and less than he was afterwards, when, having
lost a battle under Quintilius Varus in Germany,
in rage and despair, he went running his head
against the walls, and crying out, “O Varus! give
me my men again!” for those exceed all folly,
forasmuch as impiety is joined with it, who invade

God himself, or at least Fortune, as if she
had ears that were subject to our batteries:
like the Thracians, who, when it thunders or
lightens, fall to shooting against heaven with
Titanian fury, as if by flights of arrows they
intended to reduce God to reason. The ancient
poet in Plutarch tells us,

We must not quarrel heaven in our affairs,
That nothing for a mortal’s anger cares.

But we can never enough condemn the senseless
and ridiculous sallies of our passions.