Life is a tender thing, and easily molested (Michel de Montaigne)

Life is a tender thing, and easily molested (Michel de Montaigne)

Vain vexations; vain sometimes, but always vexations. The smallest and slightest impediments are the most piercing: and as little letters most tire the eyes, so do little affairs most disturb us. The rout of little ills more offend than one, how great soever. By how much domestic thorns are numerous and slight, by so much they prick deeper and without warning, easily surprising us when least we suspect them.

I am no philosopher; evils oppress me according to their weight, and they weigh as much according to the form as the matter, and very often more. If I have therein more perspicacity than the vulgar, I have also more patience; in short, they weigh with me, if they do not hurt me.

Life is a tender thing, and easily molested. Since my age has made me grow more pensive and morose, “Nemo enim resistit sibi, cum caeperit impelli”, [“For no man resists himself when he has begun to be driven forward.”—Seneca, Ep., 13.] for the most trivial cause imaginable, I irritate that humour, which afterwards nourishes and exasperates itself of its own motion; attracting and heaping up matter upon matter whereon to feed: “Stillicidi casus lapidem cavat”: [“The ever falling drop hollows out a stone.”—Lucretius, i. 314.] these continual tricklings consume and ulcerate me.

Ordinary inconveniences are never light; they are continual and inseparable, especially when they spring from the members of a family, continual and inseparable.

When I consider my affairs at distance and in gross, I find, because perhaps my memory is none of the best, that they have gone on hitherto improving beyond my reason or expectation; my revenue seems greater than it is; its prosperity betrays me: but when I pry more narrowly into the business, and see how all things go: “Tum vero in curas animum diducimus omnes;” [“Indeed we lead the mind into all sorts of cares.” —AEneid, v. 720.] I have a thousand things to desire and to fear. To give them quite over, is very easy for me to do: but to look after them without trouble, is very hard.

’Tis a miserable thing to be in a place where everything you see employs and concerns you; and I fancy that I more cheerfully enjoy the pleasures of another man’s house, and with greater and a purer relish, than those of my own. Diogenes answered according to my humour him who asked him what sort of wine he liked the best: “That of another,” said he.—- [Diogenes Laertius, vi. 54.]

For, as to my own particular application, neither the pleasure of building, which they say is so bewitching, nor hunting, nor gardens, nor the other pleasures of a retired life, can much amuse me. And ’tis what I am angry at myself for, as I am for all other opinions that are incommodious to me; which I would not so much care to have vigorous and learned, as I would have them easy and convenient for life, they are true and sound enough, if they are useful and pleasing.

Such as hear me declare my ignorance in husbandry, whisper in my ear that it is disdain, and that I neglect to know its instruments, its seasons, its order, how they dress my vines, how they graft, and to know the names and forms of herbs and fruits, and the preparing the meat on which I live, the names and prices of the stuffs I wear, because, say they; I have set my heart upon some higher knowledge; they kill me in saying so. It is not disdain; it is folly, and rather stupidity than glory; I had rather be a good horseman than a good logician: “Quin to aliquid saltem potius, quorum indiget usus, Viminibus mollique paras detexere junco.” [“’Dost thou not rather do something which is required, and make osier and reed basket.”—Virgil, Eclog., ii. 71.]

We occupy our thoughts about the general, and about universal causes and conducts, which will very well carry on themselves without our care; and leave our own business at random, and Michael much more our concern than man.

Now I am, indeed, for the most part at home; but I would be there better pleased than anywhere else: “Sit meae sedes utinam senectae, Sit modus lasso maris, et viarum, Militiaeque.” [“Let my old age have a fixed seat; let there be a limit to fatigues from the sea, journeys, warfare.”—Horace, Od., ii. 6, 6.]

I know not whether or no I shall bring it about.

I could wish that, instead of some other member of his succession, my father had resigned to me the passionate affection he had in his old age to his household affairs; he was happy in that he could accommodate his desires to his fortune, and satisfy himself with what he had; political philosophy may to much purpose condemn the meanness and sterility of my employment, if I can once come to relish it, as he did.

I am of opinion that the most honourable calling is to serve the public, and to be useful to many, “Fructus enim ingenii et virtutis, omnisque praestantiae, tum maximus capitur, quum in proximum quemque confertur:” [“For the greatest enjoyment of evil and virtue, and of all excellence, is experienced when they are conferred on some one nearest.”—Cicero, De Amicil., c.] for myself, I disclaim it; partly out of conscience (for where I see the weight that lies upon such employments, I perceive also the little means I have to supply it; and Plato, a master in all political government himself, nevertheless took care to abstain from it), and partly out of cowardice.

I content myself with enjoying the world without bustle; only-to live an excusable life, and such as may neither be a burden to myself nor to any other.




The Essays of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne





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