31 Dec Of Glory (Michel de Montaigne) | Part C’
A dozen men must be called out of a whole nation to judge about an acre of land; and the judgment of our inclinations and actions, the most difficult and most important matter that is, we refer to the voice and determination of the rabble, the mother of ignorance, injustice, and inconstancy. Is it reasonable that the life of a wise man should depend upon the judgment of fools?
“An quidquam stultius, quam, quos singulos contemnas,
eos aliquid putare esse universes?”
[“Can anything be more foolish than to think that those you despise
singly, can be anything else in general.”
—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., v. 36.]
He that makes it his business to please them, will have enough to do and never have done; ‘tis a mark that can never be aimed at or hit:
“Nil tam inaestimabile est, quam animi multitudinis.”
[“Nothing is to be so little understood as the minds of the
multitude.”—Livy, xxxi. 34.]
He [Cicero] says more:
“Ego hoc judico, si quando turpe non sit, tamen non
esse non turpe, quum id a multitudine laudatur.”
[“I am of opinion, that though a thing be not foul in itself,
yet it cannot but become so when commended by the multitude.”
—Cicero, De Finib., ii. 15.]
No art, no activity of wit, could conduct our steps so as to follow so wandering and so irregular a guide; in this windy confusion of the noise of vulgar reports and opinions that drive us on, no way worth anything can be chosen. Let us not propose to ourselves so floating and wavering an end; let us follow constantly after reason; let the public approbation follow us there, if it will; and as it wholly depends upon fortune, we have no reason sooner to expect it by any other way than that. Even though I would not follow the right way because it is right, I should, however, follow it as having experimentally found that, at the end of the reckoning, ‘tis commonly the most happy and of greatest utility.
“Dedit hoc providentia hominibus munus,
ut honesta magis juvarent.”
[“This gift Providence has given to men, that honest things should
be the most agreeable.”—Quintilian, Inst. Orat., i. 12.]
The mariner of old said thus to Neptune, in a great tempest: “O God, thou wilt save me if thou wilt, and if thou choosest, thou wilt destroy me; but, however, I will hold my rudder straight.”—[Seneca, Ep., 85.]— I have seen in my time a thousand men supple, halfbred, ambiguous, whom no one doubted to be more worldly-wise than I, lose themselves, where I have saved myself:
“Risi successus posse carere dolos.”
[“I have laughed to see cunning fail of success.”
—Ovid, Heroid, i. 18.]
There is I know not what natural sweetness in hearing one’s self commended; but we are a great deal too fond of it:
“Laudari metuam, neque enim mihi cornea fibra est
Sed recti finemque extremumque esse recuso
Euge tuum, et belle.”
[“I should fear to be praised, for my heart is not made of horn;
but I deny that ‘excellent—admirably done,’ are the terms and
final aim of virtue.”—Persius, i. 47.]
I care not so much what I am in the opinions of others, as what I am in my own; I would be rich of myself, and not by borrowing. Strangers see nothing but events and outward appearances; everybody can set a good face on the matter, when they have trembling and terror within: they do not see my heart, they see but my countenance.
One is right in decrying the hypocrisy that is in war; for what is more easy to an old soldier than to shift in a time of danger, and to counterfeit the brave when he has no more heart than a chicken? There are so many ways to avoid hazarding a man’s own person, that we have deceived the world a thousand times before we come to be engaged in a real danger: and even then, finding ourselves in an inevitable necessity of doing something, we can make shift for that time to conceal our apprehensions by setting a good face on the business, though the heart beats within; and whoever had the use of the Platonic ring, which renders those invisible that wear it, if turned inward towards the palm of the hand, a great many would very often hide themselves when they ought most to appear, and would repent being placed in so honourable a post, where necessity must make them bold.
“Falsus honor juvat, et mendax infamia terret
Quem nisi mendosum et mendacem?”
[“False honour pleases, and calumny affrights, the guilty
and the sick.”—Horace, Ep., i. 16, 89.]
Thus we see how all the judgments that are founded upon external appearances, are marvellously uncertain and doubtful; and that there is no so certain testimony as every one is to himself. In these, how many soldiers’ boys are companions of our glory? he who stands firm in an open trench, what does he in that more than fifty poor pioneers who open to him the way and cover it with their own bodies for fivepence a day pay, do before him?
“Non quicquid turbida Roma
Elevet, accedas; examenque improbum in illa
Castiges trutina: nec to quaesiveris extra.”
[“Do not, if turbulent Rome disparage anything, accede; nor correct
a false balance by that scale; nor seek anything beyond thyself.”
—Persius, Sat., i. 5.]
The dispersing and scattering our names into many mouths, we call making them more great; we will have them there well received, and that this increase turn to their advantage, which is all that can be excusable in this design. But the excess of this disease proceeds so far that many covet to have a name, be it what it will. Trogus Pompeius says of Herostratus, and Titus Livius of Manlius Capitolinus, that they were more ambitious of a great reputation than of a good one.
This is very common; we are more solicitous that men speak of us, than how they speak; and it is enough for us that our names are often mentioned, be it after what manner it will.
It should seem that to be known, is in some sort to have a man’s life and its duration in others’ keeping.
I, for my part, hold that I am not, but in myself
The Essays of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne