01 Jan The gods play at ball with us and bandy us every way (Plauto)
The world is unapt to be cured; and so impatient of anything that presses it, that it thinks of nothing but disengaging itself at what price soever.
We see by a thousand examples, that it ordinarily cures itself to its cost. The discharge of a present evil is no cure, if there be not a general amendment of condition.
The surgeon’s end is not only to cut away the dead flesh; that is but the progress of his cure; he has a care, over and above, to fill up the wound with better and more natural flesh, and to restore the member to its due state.
Whoever only proposes to himself to remove that which offends him, falls short: for good does not necessarily succeed evil; another evil may succeed, and a worse, as it happened to Caesar’s murderers, who brought the republic to such a pass, that they had reason to repent the meddling with the matter.
The same has since happened to several others, even down to our own times: the French, my contemporaries, know it well enough.
All great mutations shake and disorder a state.
Whoever would look direct at a cure, and well consider of it before he began, would be very willing to withdraw his hands from meddling in it.
Pacuvius Calavius corrected the vice of this proceeding by a notable example.
His fellow-citizens were in mutiny against their magistrates; he being a man of great authority in the city of Capua, found means one day to shut up the Senators in the palace; and calling the people together in the market-place, there told them that the day was now come wherein at full liberty they might revenge themselves on the tyrants by whom they had been so long oppressed, and whom he had now, all alone and unarmed, at his mercy. He then advised that they should call these out, one by one, by lot, and should individually determine as to each, causing whatever should be decreed to be immediately executed; with this proviso, that they should, at the same time, depute some honest man in the place of him who was condemned, to the end there might be no vacancy in the Senate.
They had no sooner heard the name of one senator but a great cry of universal dislike was raised up against him.
“I see,” says Pacuvius, “that we must put him out; he is a wicked fellow; let us look out a good one in his room.”
Immediately there was a profound silence, every one being at a stand whom to choose.
But one, more impudent than the rest, having named his man, there arose yet a greater consent of voices against him, an hundred imperfections being laid to his charge, and as many just reasons why he should not stand.
These contradictory humours growing hot, it fared worse with the second senator and the third, there being as much disagreement in the election of the new, as consent in the putting out of the old.
In the end, growing weary of this bustle to no purpose, they began, some one way and some another, to steal out of the assembly: every one carrying back this resolution in his mind, that the oldest and best known evil was ever more supportable than one that was, new and untried.
I do not presently conclude, we are not, peradventure, at our last gasp. The conservation of states is a thing that, in all likelihood, surpasses our understanding;—a civil government is, as Plato says, a mighty and puissant thing, and hard to be dissolved; it often continues against mortal and intestine diseases, against the injury of unjust laws, against tyranny, the corruption and ignorance of magistrates, the licence and sedition of the people.
In all our fortunes, we compare ourselves to what is above us, and still look towards those who are better: but let us measure ourselves with what is below us: there is no condition so miserable wherein a man may not find a thousand examples that will administer consolation.
’Tis our vice that we more unwillingly look upon what is above, than willingly upon what is below; and Solon was used to say, that “whoever would make a heap of all the ills together, there is no one who would not rather choose to bear away the ills he has than to come to an equal division with all other men from that heap, and take his share.”
Our government is, indeed, very sick, but there have been others more sick without dying.
The gods play at ball with us and bandy us every way:
“Enimvero Dii nos homines quasi pilas habent.” (Plauto)
The Essays of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne