04 Jan “It is not by the value of possessions, but by our daily subsistence and tillage, that our riches are truly estimated.” (Cicero)
Amongst human conditions this is common enough: to be better pleased with foreign things than with our own, and to love innovation and change:
“Ipsa dies ideo nos grato perluit haustu, Quod permutatis hora recurrit equis:”
[“The light of day itself shines more pleasantly upon us because it changes its horses every hour.”
I have my share. Those who follow the other extreme, of being quite satisfied and pleased with and in themselves, of valuing what they have above all the rest, and of concluding no beauty can be greater than what they see, if they are not wiser than we, are really more happy; I do not envy their wisdom, but their good fortune.
This greedy humour of new and unknown things helps to nourish in me the desire of travel; but a great many more circumstances contribute to it; I am very willing to quit the government of my house.
There is, I confess, a kind of convenience in commanding, though it were but in a barn, and in being obeyed by one’s people; but ’tis too uniform and languid a pleasure, and is, moreover, of necessity mixed with a thousand vexatious thoughts: one while the poverty and the oppression of your tenants: another, quarrels amongst neighbours: another, the trespasses they make upon you afflict you;
“Aut verberatae grandine vineae, Fundusque mendax, arbore nunc aquas Culpante, nunc torrentia agros Sidera, nunc hyemes iniquas.”
[“Or hail-smitten vines and the deceptive farm; now trees damaged by the rains, or years of dearth, now summer’s heat burning up the petals, now destructive winters.”]
and that God scarce in six months sends a season wherein your bailiff can do his business as he should; but that if it serves the vines, it spoils the meadows:
“Aut nimiis torret fervoribus aetherius sol, Aut subiti perimunt imbres, gelidoeque pruinae, Flabraque ventorum violento turbine vexant;”
[“Either the scorching sun burns up your fields, or sudden rains or frosts destroy your harvests, or a violent wind carries away all before it.”]
to which may be added the new and neat-made shoe of the man of old, that hurts your foot, and that a stranger does not understand how much it costs you, and what you contribute to maintain that show of order that is seen in your family, and that peradventure you buy too dear.
I came late to the government of a house: they whom nature sent into the world before me long eased me of that trouble; so that I had already taken another bent more suitable to my humour. Yet, for so much as I have seen, ’tis an employment more troublesome than hard; whoever is capable of anything else, will easily do this.
Had I a mind to be rich, that way would seem too long; I had served my kings, a more profitable traffic than any other. Since I pretend to nothing but the reputation of having got nothing or dissipated nothing, conformably to the rest of my life, improper either to do good or ill of any moment, and that I only desire to pass on, I can do it, thanks be to God, without any great endeavour.
At the worst, evermore prevent poverty by lessening your expense; ’tis that which I make my great concern, and doubt not but to do it before I shall be compelled. As to the rest, I have sufficiently settled my thoughts to live upon less than I have, and live contentedly:
“Non aestimatione census, verum victu atque cultu, terminantur pecunix modus.”
[“It is not by the value of possessions, but by our daily subsistence and tillage, that our riches are truly estimated.”]
My real need does not so wholly take up all I have, that Fortune has not whereon to fasten her teeth without biting to the quick.
Fortune has assisted me in this, that since my principal profession in this life was to live at ease, and rather idly than busily, she has deprived me of the necessity of growing rich to provide for the multitude of my heirs.
If there be not enough for one, of that whereof I had so plentifully enough, at his peril be it: his imprudence will not deserve that I should wish him any more. And every one, according to the example of Phocion, provides sufficiently for his children who so provides for them as to leave them as much as was left him..
The Essays of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne