The Essays of Montaigne — Volume 08 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 65 pages of information about The Essays of Montaigne — Volume 08.

     ["The one always, as often as he had stepped one pace from his
     threshold, laughed, the other always wept.”—­Juvenal, Sat., x. 28.]

          [Or, as Voltaire:  “Life is a comedy to those who think;
          a tragedy to those who feel.”  D.W.]

I am clearly for the first humour; not because it is more pleasant to laugh than to weep, but because it expresses more contempt and condemnation than the other, and I think we can never be despised according to our full desert.  Compassion and bewailing seem to imply some esteem of and value for the thing bemoaned; whereas the things we laugh at are by that expressed to be of no moment.  I do not think that we are so unhappy as we are vain, or have in us so much malice as folly; we are not so full of mischief as inanity; nor so miserable as we are vile and mean.  And therefore Diogenes, who passed away his time in rolling himself in his tub, and made nothing of the great Alexander, esteeming us no better than flies or bladders puffed up with wind, was a sharper and more penetrating, and, consequently in my opinion, a juster judge than Timon, surnamed the Man-hater; for what a man hates he lays to heart.  This last was an enemy to all mankind, who passionately desired our ruin, and avoided our conversation as dangerous, proceeding from wicked and depraved natures:  the other valued us so little that we could neither trouble nor infect him by our example; and left us to herd one with another, not out of fear, but from contempt of our society:  concluding us as incapable of doing good as evil.

Of the same strain was Statilius’ answer, when Brutus courted him into the conspiracy against Caesar; he was satisfied that the enterprise was just, but he did not think mankind worthy of a wise man’s concern’; according to the doctrine of Hegesias, who said, that a wise man ought to do nothing but for himself, forasmuch as he only was worthy of it:  and to the saying of Theodorus, that it was not reasonable a wise man should hazard himself for his country, and endanger wisdom for a company of fools.  Our condition is as ridiculous as risible.



A rhetorician of times past said, that to make little things appear great was his profession.  This was a shoemaker, who can make a great shoe for a little foot.—­[A saying of Agesilaus.]—­They would in Sparta have sent such a fellow to be whipped for making profession of a tricky and deceitful act; and I fancy that Archidamus, who was king of that country, was a little surprised at the answer of Thucydides, when inquiring of him, which was the better wrestler, Pericles, or he, he replied, that it was hard to affirm; for when I have thrown him, said he, he always persuades the spectators that he had no fall and carries away the prize. —­[Quintilian, ii. 15.]—­The women who paint, pounce, and plaster up their ruins,

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