30 Dec Of Glory (Michel de Montaigne) | Part B’
Virtue is a very vain and frivolous thing if it derive its recommendation from glory; and ‘tis to no purpose that we endeavour to give it a station by itself, and separate it from fortune; for what is more accidental than reputation?
“Profecto fortuna in omni re dominatur: ea res cunctas ex
libidine magis, quhm ex vero, celebrat, obscuratque.”
[“Fortune rules in all things; it advances and depresses things more out of its own will than of right and justice.” —Sallust, Catilina, c. 8.]
So to order it that actions may be known and seen is purely the work of fortune; ‘tis chance that helps us to glory, according to its own temerity. I have often seen her go before merit, and often very much outstrip it. He who first likened glory to a shadow did better than he was aware of; they are both of them things pre-eminently vain glory also, like a shadow, goes sometimes before the body, and sometimes in length infinitely exceeds it.
“Vera et sapiens animi magnitudo, honestum illud,
quod maxime naturam sequitur, in factis positum,
non in gloria, judicat.”
[“The true and wise magnanimity judges that the bravery which most follows nature more consists in act than glory.” —Cicero, De Offic. i. 19.]
All the glory that I pretend to derive from my life is that I have lived it in quiet; in quiet, not according to Metrodorus, or Arcesilaus, or Aristippus, but according to myself.
For seeing philosophy has not been able to find out any way to tranquillity that is good in common, let every one seek it in particular.
To what do Caesar and Alexander owe the infinite grandeur of their renown but to fortune?
How many men has she extinguished in the beginning of their progress, of whom we have no knowledge, who brought as much courage to the work as they, if their adverse hap had not cut them off in the first sally of their arms?
Amongst so many and so great dangers I do not remember I have anywhere read that Caesar was ever wounded; a thousand have fallen in less dangers than the least of those he went through.
An infinite number of brave actions must be performed without witness and lost, before one turns to account.
A man is not always on the top of a breach, or at the head of an army, in the sight of his general, as upon a scaffold; a man is often surprised betwixt the hedge and the ditch; he must run the hazard of his life against a henroost; he must dislodge four rascally musketeers out of a barn; he must prick out single from his party, and alone make some attempts, according as necessity will have it. And whoever will observe will, I believe, find it experimentally true, that occasions of the least lustre are ever the most dangerous; and that in the wars of our own times there have more brave men been lost in occasions of little moment, and in the dispute about some little paltry fort, than in places of greatest importance, and where their valour might have been more honourably employed.
Who thinks his death achieved to ill purpose if he do not fall on some signal occasion, instead of illustrating his death, wilfully obscures his life, suffering in the meantime many very just occasions of hazarding himself to slip out of his hands; and every just one is illustrious enough, every man’s conscience being a sufficient trumpet to him.
He who is only a good man that men may know it, and that he may be the better esteemed when ‘tis known; who will not do well but upon condition that his virtue may be known to men: is one from whom much service is not to be expected:
“Credo ch ‘el reste di quel verno, cose
Facesse degne di tener ne conto;
Ma fur fin’ a quel tempo si nascose,
Che non a colpa mia s’ hor ‘non le conto
Perche Orlando a far l’opre virtuose
Piu ch’a narrar le poi sempre era pronto;
Ne mai fu alcun’ de’suoi fatti espresso,
Se non quando ebbe i testimonii appresso.”
[“The rest of the winter, I believe, was spent in actions worthy of
narration, but they were done so secretly that if I do not tell them
I am not to blame, for Orlando was more bent to do great acts than
to boast of them, so that no deeds of his were ever known but those
that had witnesses.”—Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, xi. 81.]
Part C’ follows
The Essays of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne