One of our gentlemen who was extremely subject to the gout, being
urged by his physicians totally to abandon the use of salt meats, was
wont humorously to reply that in the violent torments of his disease he
must needs have something to quarrel with, and that by railing and cursing,
now at the sausages and again at the ox-tongues and the hams, he
was to a certain extent relieved.But, in good earnest, just as the arm
when it is raised to strike, it if misses the blow and encounters only the
wind, it pains us; and just as the sight also, to make a pleasant prospect,
should not be lost and dissipated in vague air, but have some bound to
sustain it at a reasonable distance,
Ventus ut amittit vires, nisi robore dens?
Occurrant silvæ spatio diffusus inani;
As winds exhaust their strength, unless withstood
By some thick grove of strong opposing wood;
so it seems that the mind, when it is agitated and set in motion, is lost within itself if not supplied with something to take hold of, and therefore always requires an object at which to aim and whereon to act. Plutarch says of those who develop a fondness for little dogs and monkeys, that the amorous part that is in us, rather than lie idle, for want of a legitimate object, does in that manner forge one that is false and frivolous. And we see that the mind in its passions rather deceives itself by creating a false and fantastical object, even contrary to its own belief, than not have something to work upon It is thus that their fury incites animals to fall upon the stone or weapon that has hurt them, and with their teeth to execute revenge upon themselves for the pain that they feel.
Pannonis haud aliter post ictum sævior ursa
Cum jaculum parva Lybis amentavit habena,
Se rotat in vulnus, telumque irata receptum
Impetit, et secum fugientem circuit hastam.
So the fierce boar, 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 for the misfortunes 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? It is not those beautiful tresses you tear, nor is it the white bosom that in your anger 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 brothers, their great captains: “flere omnes repente et offensare capita.” “All suddenly burst into tears and began to beat their heads.” It is a common practice. And did not the philosopher Bion say wittily of the king who tore his hair for sorrow, “Does this man think that baldness is a remedy for grief?” Who has not seen men chew and swallow the cards and choke themselves with the dice in revenge for the loss of their money? Xerxes whipped the Hellespont, put it in irons and caused a thousand insults to be hurled at it, and he wrote a challenge to Mount Athos; Cyrus wasted the time of a whole army for many days to revenge himself on the river Gyndus for the fright he had in passing over it; and Caligula demolished a very beautiful palace for the pleasure 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 beating from the hand of God, swore he would be revenged, and made proclamation that for ten years no one should pray to him, or speak of him, or, as long as he was in authority, believe in him. By this they meant to paint not so much the folly as the vainglory natural to the people of which this tale was told. They are vices that always go together, but in truth such actions as these have in them still more of presumption than stupidity.
Augustus Cæsar, having been tossed with a tempest at sea, fell to defying Neptune, and in the celebration of the games in the circus deposed his statue from the place it had among the other deities in order to be revenged. In this he was still less excusable than the others, and less than he afterwards was when, having lost a battle under Quintilius Varus in Germany, in rage and despair he ran about, beating his head against the wall, crying out, “O Varus! give me back my soldiers!” For the former exceed all folly, inasmuch as impiety is joined therewith, by hurling themselves against God himself, or against Fortune, as if she had ears that were subject to our assaults; like the Thracians who, when it thunders or lightens, fall to shooting against heaven with Titanian vengeance, in order to bring God to reason by flights of arrows. Now, as the ancient poet in Plutarch tells us,
Point ne se faut courroucer aux affaires.
Il ne leur chaut de toutes nos choleres.
In anger against things we waste our breath;But we shall never have done with heaping up taunts against the disorderly sallies of our minds.
They do not care a straw for all our wrath.