From Essays. Michel de Montaigne. Trans. John Florio (1603).
Cicero saith, that to 'Philosophie is no other thing, than for a man to prepare himselfe to death': which is the reason, that studie and contemplation doth in some sort withdraw our soule from us, and severally employ it from the body, which is a kind of apprentisage and resemblance of death; or else it is, that all the wisdome and discourse of the world, doth in the end resolve upon this point, to teach us, not to feare to die. Truly either reason mockes us, or it only aimeth at our contentment, and in fine, bends all her travell to make us live well, and as the holy Scripture saith, at our ease.
All the opinions of the world conclude, that pleasure is our end, howbeit they take divers meanes unto, and for it, else would men reject them at their first comming. For, who would give eare unto him, that for its end would establish our paine and disturbance? The dissentions of philosophicall
sects in this case, are verball: Transcurramus solertissimas nugas: Let us run over such over-fine fooleries, and subtill 'trifles.' There is more wilfulnesse and wrangling among
them, than pertaines to a sacred profession. But what person a man undertakes to act, he doth ever therewithall
personate his owne. Allthough they say, that in vertue it selfe, the last scope of our aime is voluptuousnes. It
pleaseth me to importune their eares still with this word, which so much offends their hearing: And if it imply any
chiefe pleasure or exceeding contentments, it is rather due to the assistance of vertue, than to any other supply, voluptuousnes being more strong, sinnowie, sturdie, and manly, is
but more seriously voluptuous.
And we should give it the
name of pleasure, more favorable, sweeter, and more naturall; and not terme it vigor, from which it hath his denomination. Should this baser sensuality deserve this faire name, it should be by competencie, and not by privilege. I finde it lesse void of incommodities and crosses, than vertue. And besides that, her taste is more fleeting, momentarie, and fading, she hath her fasts, her eves, and her travels, and both sweat and
bloud. Furthermore she hath particularly so many wounding passions, and of so severall sorts, and so filthie and loathsome a societie waiting upon her, that shee is equivalent to penitencie. Wee are in the wrong, to thinke her incommodities
serve her as a provocation, and seasoning to her sweetnes, as
in nature one contrarie is vivified by another contrarie: and to say, when we come to vertue, that like successes and difficulties over-whelme it, and yeeld it austere and inaccessible. Whereas much more properly then unto voluptuousnes, they ennobled, sharpen, animate, and raise that divine and perfect pleasure, which it meditates and procureth us.
Truly he is
verie unworthie her acquaintance, that counter-ballanceth
her cost to his fruit, and knowes neither the graces nor use
of it. Those who go about to instruct us, how her pursuit
is very hard and laborious, and her jovisance well pleasing
and delightfull: what else tell they us, but that shee is ever
unpleasant and irksome? For, what humane meane did ever
attaine unto an absolute enjoying of it? The perfectest have
beene content but to aspire and approach her, without ever
possessing her. But they are deceived; seeing that of all
the pleasures we know, the pursute of them is pleasant. The
enterprise is perceived by the qualitie of the thing, which it
hath regard unto : for it is a good portion of the effect, and
consubstantiall. That happines and felicitie, which shineth
in vertue, replenisheth her approaches and appurtenances,
even unto the first entrance and utmost barre.
Now of all
the benefits of vertue, the contempt of death is the chiefest,
a meane that furnisheth our life with an ease-full tranquillitie,
and gives us a pure and amiable taste of it: without which
every other voluptuousnes is extinguished. Loe, here the
reasons why all rules encounter and agree with this article.
And albeit they all leade us with a common accord to despise
griefe, povertie, and other accidentall crosses, to which mans
life is subject, it is not with an equall care: as well because
accidents are not of such a necessitie, for most men passe
their whole life without feeling any want or povertie, and
other-some without feeling any griefe or sicknes, as
Xenophilus the Musitian, who lived an hundred and six
yeares in perfect and continuall health: as also if the worst happen, death may at all times, and whensoever it shall please us, cut off all other inconveniences and crosses. But
as for death, it is inevitable.
Omnes eodem cogimur, omnium
Versatur urna, serins, ocyus
Sors exitura, et nos in ceternum
Exilium impositura cyrriba. (Hor. ii. Od. iii. 25)
All to one place are driv'n, of all
Shak't is the lot-pot, where-hence shall
Sooner or later drawne lots fall,
And to deaths boat for aye enthrall.
And by consequence, if she make us affeard, it is a continual subject of torment, and which can no way be eased.
There is no starting-hole will hide us from her, she will finde us wheresoever we are, we may as in a suspected countrie start and turne here and there: quae quasi saxum Tantalo semper impendet (CIC. De Fin. i.): 'Which evermore hangs like the stone over the head of Tantalus': Our lawes doe often condemne and
send malefactors to be executed in the same place where the crime was committed: to which whilest they are going, leade them along the fairest houses, or entertaine them with the best cheere you can,
non Siculae dapes
Dulcem elaborabunt saporem:
Non avium, citharaque cantus
Somnum reducent. (HOR. iii. Od. i. 18)
Not all King Denys daintie fare,
Can pleasing taste for them prepare:
No song of birds, no musikes sound
Can lullabie to sleepe profound.
Doe you thinke they can take any pleasure in it? or be any thing delighted? and that the finall intent of their
voiage being still before their eies, hath not altered and altogether distracted their taste from all these commodities and allurements?
Audit iter, numeratque dies, spatioque viarum
Metitur vitam, torquetur peste futura. (CLAUD. in Ruff. ii. 137)
He heares his journey, counts his daies, so measures he
His life by his waies length, vext with the ill shall be.
The end of our cariere is death, it is the necessarie object of our aime: if it affright us, how is it possible we should step one foot further without an ague? The remedie of the vulgar sort is, not to thinke on it. But from what brutall stupiditie may so grosse a blindnesse come upon him? he must be made to bridle his Asse by the taile,
Qui capite ipse suo instituit vestigia retro. (LUCRET. iv. 474)
Who doth a course contrarie runne
With his head to his course begunne.
It is no marvell if he be so often taken tripping; some doe no sooner heare the name of death spoken of, but they are afraid, yea the most part will crosse themselves, as if they heard the Devill named. And because mention is made of it in mens wils and testaments, I warrant you there is none will set his hand to them, til the Physitian have given his last doome, and utterly forsaken him. And God knowes, being then betweene such paine and feare, with what sound judgement they endure him. For so much as this syllable sounded so unpleasantly in their eares, and this voice seemed so ill-boding and unluckie, the Romans had learned to allay and dilate the same by a Periphrasis. In liew of saying, he is dead, or he hath ended his daies, they would say, he hath lived. So it be life, be it past or no, they are comforted: from whom we have borowed our phrases quondam, alias, or 'late such a one.' It may haply be, as the common saying is, the time we live, is worth the mony we pay for it.
I was borne betweene eleven of the clocke and noone, the last of Februarie 1533, according to our computation, the yeare beginning the first of Januarie. It is but a fortnight since I was 39 yeares old. I want at least as much more. If in the meane time I should trouble my thoughts with a matter so farre from me, it were but folly. But what? we see both young and old to leave their life after one selfe-same condition. No man departs otherwise from it, than if he but now came to it, seeing there is no man so crazed, bedrell, or decrepit, so long as he remembers Methusalem, but thinkes he may yet live twentie yeares. Moreover, seely creature as thou art, who hath limited the end of thy daies? Happily thou presumest upon Physitians reports. Rather consider the effect and experience. By the common course of things, long since thou livest by extraordinarie favour. Thou hast alreadie over-past the ordinarie tearmes of common life: And to prove it, remember but thy acquaintances and tell me how many more of them have died before they came to thy age, than have either attained or outgone the same: yea and of those that through renoune have ennobled their life, if thou but register them, I will lay a wager, I will finde more that have died before they came to five and thirty yeares, than after.
It is consonant with reason and pietie,
to take example by the humanity of lesus Christ, who ended
his humane life at three and thirtie yeares. The greatest
man that ever was being no more than a man, I meane
Alexander the great, ended his dayes, and died also of that
age. How many severall meanes and waies hath death to
Quid quisque vitet, nunquam homini satis
Cautum est in horas. (HOR. ii. Od. xiii. 13.)
A man can never take good heed,
Hourely what he may shun and speed.
I omit to speake of agues and pleurisies; who would ever have imagined, that a Duke of Brittanie should have beene
stifled to death in a throng of people, as whilome was a neighbour of mine at Lyons, when Pope Clement made his
entrance there? Hast thou not scene one of our late Kings learne how slaine in the middest of his sports? and one of his ancestors to die die miserably by the chocke of an hog? Eschilus fore-threatned by the fall of an house, when he stood most upon his guard, strucken dead by the fall of a Tortoise shell, which fell out of the tallants of an Eagle flying in the aire? and another choaked with the kernell of a grape? And an Emperour die by the scratch of a combe, whilest he was combing his head: And Aemylius Lepidus with hitting his foot against a doore-seele? And Aufidius with stumbling against the Consull-Chamber doore as he was going in thereat?
And Cornelius Gallus the Praetor, Tigillinus
Captaine of the Romane watch, Lodowike sonne of Guido Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, end their daies betweene
womens thighs? And of a farre worse example Speusippus
the Plantonian Philosopher and one of our Popes? Poore Bebius a Judge whilest he demurreth the sute of a plaintife
but for eight daies, behold his last expired; And Caius lulius a Physitian, whilest he was annointing the eies of one of his patients, to have his owne sight closed for ever by death. And if amongst these examples, I may adde one of a brother of mine, called Captaine Saint Martin, a man of three and twentie yeares of age, who had alreadie given good testimonie of his worth and forward valour, playing at tennis, received a blow with a ball, that hit him a little above the right eare, without apparance of any contusion, bruse, or
hurt, and never sitting or resting upon it, died within six
houres after of an Apoplexie, which the blow of the ball
caused in him.
These so frequent and ordinary examples, hapning, and being still before our eies, how is it possible
for man to forgo or forget the remembrance of death? and why should it not continually seeme unto us, that shee is
still ready at hand to take us by the throat? What matter is it, will you say unto me, how and in what manner it is, so long as a man doe not trouble and vex himselfe therewith? I am of this opinion, that howsoever a man may shrowd or hide himselfe from her dart, yea were it under an oxe-hide, I am not the man would shrinke backe: it sufficeth me to live at my ease; and the best recreation I can have, that doe I ever take; in other matters, as little vainglorious, and exemplare as you list.
-- praetulerim delirus inersque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant,
Quam sapere et ringi. (HOR. ii. Epi. ii. 126)
A dotard I had rather seeme, and dull,
Sooner my faults may please make me a gull,
Than to be wise, and beat my vexed scull.
But it is folly to thinke that way to come unto it. They
come, they goe, they trot, they daunce: but no speech of death. All that is good sport. But if she be once come,
and on a sudden and openly surprise, either them, their wives, their children, or their friends, what torments, what
out-cries, what rage, and what despaire doth then overwhelme them? saw you ever any thing so drooping, so changed, and so distracted? A man must looke to it, and in better times fore-see it. And might that brutish carelessenesse lodge in the minde of a man of understanding (which I find altogether impossible) she sels us her ware at an over-deere rate: were she an enemie by mans wit to be avoided, I would advise men to borrow the weapons of cowardlinesse: but since it may not be, and that be you either a coward or a runaway, an honest or valiant man, she overtakes you,
Nempe et fugacem persequitur virum,
Nee parcit imbellis juventce
Poplitibus, timidoque tergo. (ID. iii. Od. ii. 14)
Shee persecutes the man that flies,
Shee spares not weake youth to surprise,
But on their hammes and backe turn'd plies.
And that no temper of cuirace may shield or defend you,
Ille licet ferro cautus se condat et cere,
Mors tamen inclusum protrahet inde caput. (PROPERT. iii. El. xviii. 25)
Though he with yron and brasse his head empale,
Yet death his head enclosed thence will hale.
Let us learne to stand, and combat her with a resolute
minde. And being to take the greatest advantage she hath
upon us from her, let us take a cleane contrary way from the
common, let us remove her strangenesse from her, let us converse, frequent, and acquaint our selves with her, let us
have nothing so much in minde as death, let us at all times and seasons, and in the ugliest manner that may be, yea
with all faces shapen and represent the same unto our imagination.
At the stumbling of a horse, at the fall of
a stone, at the least prick with a pinne, let us presently
ruminate and say with our selves, what if it were death
it selfe? and thereupon let us take heart of grace, and call our wits together to confront her. Amiddest our bankets, feasts, and pleasures, let us ever have this restraint or object before us, that is, the remembrance of our condition, and let not pleasure so much mislead or transport us, that we altogether neglect or forget, how many waies, our joyes, or our feastings, be subject unto death, and by how many hold fasts shee threatens us and them. So did the Egyptians, who in the middest of their banquetings, and in the full of their greatest cheere, caused the anatomie of a dead man to be brought before them, as a memorandum and warning to their guests.
Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum,
Grata superveniet, quae non sperabitur hora. (HOR. i. Epi. iv. 13)
Thinke every day shines on thee as thy last,
Welcome it will come, whereof hope was past.
It is uncertaine where death looks for us; let us expect her everie where: the premeditation of death, is a fore-
thinking of libertie. He who hath learned to die, hath unlearned to serve. There is no evill in life, for him that
hath well conceived, how the privation of life is no evill. To know how to die, doth free us from all subjection and
constraint. Paulus Aemilius answered one, whom that miserable king of Macedon his prisoner sent to entreat him, he
would not lead him in triumph, let him make that request unto him selfe. Verily, if Nature afford not some helpe, in
all things, it is very hard that art and Industrie should goe farre before. Of my selfe, I am not much given to melancholy, but rather to dreaming and sluggishnes. There is nothing wherewith I have ever more entertained my selfe, than with the imaginations of death, yea in the most licentious times of my age.
Iucundum, cum aetas florida ver ageret. (CATUL. Eleg.)
When my age flourishing
Did spend its pleasant spring.
Being amongst faire Ladies, and in earnest play, some learne how have thought me busied, or musing with my selfe, how to digest some jealousie, or meditating on the uncertaintie of some conceived hope, when God he knowes, I was entertaining my selfe with the remembrance of some one or other, that but few daies before was taken with a burning fever, and of his sodaine end, comming from such a feast or meeting where I was my selfe, and with his head full of idle conceits, of love, and merry glee; supposing the same, either sicknes or end, to be as neere me as him.
Iam fuerit, nee post,
unquam revocare licebit. (LUCR. iii. 947).
Now time would be, no more
You can this time restore.
I did no more trouble my selfe or frowne at such a conceit, than at any other. It is impossible, we should not appre
hend or feele some motions or starlings at such imaginations at the first, and comming sodainely upon us: but doubtlesse, he that shall manage and meditate upon them with an impartiall eye, they will assuredly, in tract of time, become familiar to him: Otherwise for my part, I should be in continuall feare and agonie; for no man did ever more distrust his life, nor make lesse account of his continuance: Neither can health, which hitherto I have so long enjoied, and which so seldome hath beene crazed, lengthen my hopes, nor any sicknesse shorten them of it. At every minute me thinkes I make an escape.
And I uncessantly record unto my selfe, that whatsoever may be done another day, may be effected this day. Truly hazards and dangers doe little or nothing approach us at our end: And if we consider, how many more there remaine, besides this accident, which in number more than millions seeme to threaten us, and hang over us; we shall find, that be we sound or sicke, lustie or weake, at sea or at land, abroad or at home, fighting or at rest, in the middest of a battell or in our beds, she is ever alike neere unto us. Nemo altero fragilior est, nemo in crastinum sui certior. No man is weaker then other; none surer of him 'selfe (to live) till tomorrow.' Whatsoever I have to doe before death, all leasure to end the same, seemeth short unto
me, yea were but one houre.
Some body, not long since turning over my writing tables, found by chance a memoriall of something I would have done after my death: I told him (as indeed it was true,) that being but a mile from my house, and in perfect health and lustie, I had made haste to write it, because I could not assure my self I should ever come home in safety; As one that am ever hatching of mine owne thoughts, and place them in my selfe: I am ever prepared about that which I may be: nor can death (come when she please) put me in mind of any new thing. A man should ever, as much as in him lieth, be ready booted to take his journey, and above all things, looke he have then nothing to doe but with himselfe.
Quid brevi fortes jaculamur cevo
Multa? (HOR. ii. Od. xvi)
To aime why are we ever bold,
At many things in so short hold?
For then we shall have worke sufficient, without any more accrease. Some man complaineth more that death doth
hinder him from the assured course of an hoped for victorie, than of death it selfe; another cries out, he should give place to her, before he have married his daughter, or directed the course of his childrens bringing up; another bewaileth he must forgoe his wives company: another moaneth the losse of his children the chiefest commodities of his being. I am now by meanes of the mercy of God in such a taking, that without regret or grieving at any worldly matter, I am prepared to dislodge, whensoever he shall please to call me: I am every where free: my farewell is soone taken of all my friends, except of my selfe. No man did ever prepare him selfe to quit the world more simply and fully, or more generally spake of all thoughts of it, than I am fully assured I shall doe. The deadest deaths are the best.
Miser, o miser (aiunt) omnia ademit.
Vna dies infesta mihi tot praemia vitte: (LUCR. iii. 942.)
O wretch, O wretch, (friends cry) one day,
All joyes of life hath tane away.
And the builder,
-- manent (saith he) opera interrupta, minceque,
Murorum ingentes. (VIRG. Aen. iv. 88)
The workes unfinisht lie,
And walls that threatned hie.
A man should designe nothing so long afore-hand, or at
least with such an intent, as to passionate himselfe to see the
end of it; we are all borne to be doing.
Cum mortar, medium solvar et inter opus. (OVID. Am ii. El. x. 36).
When dying I my selfe shall spend,
Ere halfe my businesse come to end.
I would have a man to be doing, and to prolong his lives offices, as much as lieth in him, and let death seize upon me, whilest I am setting my cabiges, carelesse of her dart, but more of my unperfect garden. I saw one die, who being at his last gaspe, uncessantly complained against his destinie, and that death should so unkindly cut him off in the middest of an historic which he had in hand, and was now come to the fifteenth or sixteenth of our Kings.
Illud in his rebus non addunt, nec tibi earum,
lam desiderium rerum super insidet una. ( LUCR. iii. 944. )
Friends adde not that in this case, now no more
Shalt thou desire, or want things wisht before.
A man should rid himselfe of these vulgar and hurtfull humours. Even as Church-yards were first placed adjoyning
unto churches, and in the most frequented places of the City, to enure (as Lycurgus said) the common people, women and children, not to be skared at the sight of a dead man, and to the end that continuall spectacle of bones, sculs, tombes, graves and burials, should forewarne us of our condition, and fatall end.
Quin etiam exhilarare viris convivia caede
Mos olim, et miscere epulis spectacula dira.
Certantum ferro , scepe et super ipsa cadentum
Pocula, respersis non parco sanguine mensis. (SYL. Ital. xi. 51)
Nay more, the manner was to welcome guests,
And with dire shewes of slaughter to mix feasts.
Of them that fought at sharpe, and with bords tainted
Of them with much bloud, who o'er full cups fainted.
And even as the Egyptians after their feastings and carousings, caused a great image of death to be brought in
and shewed to the guests and by-standers, by one that cried
aloud, Drinke and be mery, for such shalt thou be when
to die thou art dead: So have I learned this custome or lesson, to
have alwaies death, not only in my imagination, but continually in my mouth. And there is nothing I desire more
to be informed of, than of the death of men: that is to say, what words, what countenance, and what face they shew at their death; and in reading of histories, which I so attentively observe. It appeareth by the shuffling and hudling up of my examples, I affect no subject so particularly as this.
Were I a composer of books, I would keepe a register, commented of the divers deaths, which in teaching men to die,
should after teach them to live. Dicearcus made one of that
title, but of another and lesse profitable end. Some man
will say to mee, the effect exceeds the thought so farre, that
there is no fence so sure, or cunning so certaine, but a man
shall either lose or forget, if he come once to that point;
let them say what they list: to premeditate on it, giveth no
doubt a great advantage: and it is nothing, at the least to
goe so farre without dismay or alteration, or without an ague?
There belongs more to it: Nature her selfe lends
her hand, and gives us courage. If it be a short and violent
death, wee have no leisure to feare it; if otherwise, I perceive that according as I engage my selfe in sicknesse, I doe naturally fall into some disdaine and contempt of life. I finde that I have more adoe to digest this resolution, that
I shall die when I am in health, than I have when I am
troubled with a fever: forsomuch as I have no more such fast
hold on the commodities of life, whereof I begin to lose the
use and pleasure, and view death in the face with a lesse
undanted looke, which makes me hope, that the further I
goe from that, and the nearer I approch to this, so much
more easily doe I enter in composition for their exchange.
Even as I have tried in many other occurrences, which Caesar
affirmed, that often somethings seeme greater, being farre
from us, than if they bee neere at hand.
I have found that
being in perfect health, I have much more beene frighted
with sicknesse, than when I have felt it. The jollitie wherein I live, the pleasure and the strength make the other seeme so disproportionate from that, that by imagination I amplifie these commodities by one moitie, and apprehended them much more heavie and burthensome, than I feele them when I have them upon my shoulders. The same I hope will happen to me of death. Consider we by the ordinary mutations, and daily declinations which we suffer, how
Nature deprives us of the night of our losse and empairing: what hath an aged man left him of his youths vigor, and of his forepast life?
Heu senibus vita portio quanta manet. (COR. Gal. 16)
Alas to men in yeares how small
A part of life is left in all?
Caesar to a tired and crazed Souldier of his guard, who in
the open street came to him, to beg leave, he might cause
himselfe to be put to death; viewing his decrepit behaviour,
answerd plesantly: 'Doest thou thinke to be alive then?'
Were man all at once to fall into it, I doe not thinke we should be able to beare such a change, but being faire and
gently led on by her hand, in a slow, and as it were unperceived descent, by little and little, and step by step, she roules us into that miserable state, and day by day seekes to acquaint us with it. So that when youth failes in us, we feele, nay we perceive no shaking or transchange at all in ourselves: which in essence and veritie is a harder death, than that of a languishing and irkesome life, or that of age. Forsomuch as the leape from an ill being, unto a not being, is not so dangerous or steepie; as it is from a delightfull and flourishing being, unto a painfull and sorrowfull condition.
A weake bending, and faint stopping bodie hath
lesse strength to beare and undergoe a heavie burden: So
hath our soule. She must bee rouzed and raised against the
violence and force of this adversarie. For as it is impossible,
she should take any rest whilest she feareth: whereof if she
be assured (which is a thing exceeding humane condition)
she may boast that it is impossible, unquietnesse, torment,
and feare, mucn lesse the least displeasure should lodge in
Non vultus instantis tyranni
Mente quatit solida, neque Auster,
Dux inquieti turbidus A dries,
Nee fulminantis magna Jovis manus. (HOR. iii. Od. iii.)
No urging tyrants threatning face,
Where minde is sound can it displace,
No troublous wind the rough seas Master,
Nor loves great hand the thunder-caster.
She is made Mistris of her passions and concupiscence, Lady of indulgence, of shame of povertie, and of all fortunes
injuries. Let him that can, attaine to this advantage: Herein consists the true and soveraigne liberty, that affords
us meanes wherewith to jeast and make a scorne of force and injustice, and to deride imprisonment, gives, or fetters.
-- in manicis
Compedibus, seevo te sub custode tenebo.
Ipse Deus simul atque volam, me solvet: opinor,
Hoc sentit moriar, mors ultima linea rerum est. (HOR. i. Epi. xvi. 76)
In gyves and fetters I will hamper thee,
Under a Jayler that shall cruell be:
Yet, when I will, God me deliver shall,
He thinkes, I shall die: death is end of all.
Our religion hath had no surer humane foundation, than the contempt of life. Discourse of reason doth not only call and summon us unto it. For why should we feare to lose a thing, which being lost, cannot be moaned? but also, since we are threatned by so many kinds of death, there is no more inconvenience to feare them all, than to endure one: what matter is it when it commeth, since it is unavoidable? Socrates answered one that told him, The thirty Tyrants have condemned thee to death; 'And Nature them,' said he. What fondnesse is it to carke and care so much, at that instant and passage from all exemption of paine and care? As our birth brought us the birth of all things, so shall our death the end of all things.
Therefore is it as great follie to weepe, we shall not live a hundred yeeres hence, as to waile we lived not a hundred yeeres agoe. Death is the beginning of another life. So wept we, and so much did it cost us to enter into this life; and so did we spoile us of our ancient vaile in entring into it. Nothing can be grievous that is but once. Is it reason so long to feare a thing of so short time? Long life or short life is made all one by death. For long or short is not in things that are no more. Aristotle saith, there are certaine litle beasts alongst the river Hyspanis, that live but one day; she which dies at 8 a clocke in the morning, dies, at in her youth, and she that dies at 5 in the afternoon, dies in her decrepitude, who of us doth not laugh, when we shall to die
see this short moment of continuance to be had in consideration of good or ill fortune? The most and the least in ours, if we compare it with eternitie, or equall it to the lasting of mountaines, rivers, stars, and trees, or any other living creature, is no lesse ridiculous. But nature compels us to it.
'Depart (saith she,) out of this world, even as you came into it. The same way you came from death to life, returne
without passion or amazement, from life to death: your death is but a peece of the worlds order, and but a parcell
of the worlds life.'
inter se mortales mutua vivunt,
Et quasi cursores vital lampada tradunt. (LUCR. ii. 74)
Mortall men live by mutuall entercourse:
And yeeld their life-torch, as men in a course.
Shal I not change this goodly contexture of things for you? It is the condition of your creation: death is a part of your selves: you flie from your selves. The being you enjoy, is equally shared betweene life and death. The first day of your birth doth as wel addresse you to die, as to live.
Prima qua vitam dedit, hora, carpsit. (SEN. Her. Sur chor. iii.)
The first houre, that to men
Gave life, strait, cropt it then.
Nascentes morimur, finisque ab origine pendet. (MANIL. Ast. iv.)
As we are borne we die the end
Doth of th' originall depend.
All the time you live, you steale it from death: it is at her charge. The continuall worke of your life, is to contrive death; you are in death, during the time you continue in life: for, you are after death, when you are no longer living. Or if you had rather have it so, you are dead after life: but during life, you are still dying: and death doth more rudely touch the dying, than the dead, and more lively and essentially. If you have profited by life, you have also beene fed thereby, depart then satisfied.
Cur non ut plenus vitas conviva recedis? (LUCR. iii. 982)
Why like a full-fed guest,
Part you not to rest?
If you have not knowne how to make use of it: if it were to die unprofitable to you, what need you care to have lost it? to what end would you enjoy it longer?
--cur amplius addere quaeris
Rursum quod pereat male, et ingratum occidat omne? (985)
Why seeke you more to gaine, what must againe
All perish ill, and passe with griefe or paine?
Life in it selfe is neither good nor evill: it is the place of good or evill, according as you prepare it for them. And if you have lived one day, you have scene all: one day is equal to all other daies: There is no other light, there is no other night. This Sunne, this Moone, these Starres, and this disposition, is the very same, which your forefathers enjoyed, and which shall also entertaine your posteritie.
Non alium videre patres, aliumve nepotes
No other saw our Sires of old,
No other shall their sonnes behold.
And if the worst happen, the distribution and varietie of all the acts of my comedie, is performed in one yeare. If you have observed the course of my foure seasons; they containe the infancie, the youth, the virilitie, and the old age of the world. He hath plaied his part: he knowes no other wilinesse belonging to it, but to begin againe, it will ever be the same, and no other.
--Versamur ibidem, atque insumus usque.. (123)
We still in one place turne about,
Still there we are, now in, now out.
Atque in se sua per vestigia volvitur annus.
The yeare into it selfe is cast
By those same steps, that it hath past.
I am not purposed to devise you other new sports.
Nam tibi prceterea quod machiner, inveniamque
Quod placeat, nihil est, eadem sunt omnia semper. (VIRG. Georg. ii. 403)
Else nothing, that I can devise or frame,
Can please thee, for all things are still the same.
Make roome for others, as others have done for you. 'Equalitie is the chiefe ground-worke of equitie, who can
complaine to be comprehended where all are contained? So may you live long enough, you shall never diminish any
thing from the time you have to die: it is bootlesse; so long shall you continue in that state, which you feare, as if you had died being in your swathing-clothes, and when you were sucking.
-- licet, quot vis, vivendo vincere secla,
Mors aterna tamen, nihilominus ilia manebit. (LUCR. ii. 1126. )
Though yeares you live, as many as you will,
Death is eternall, death remaineth still.
And I will so please you, that you shall have no discontent.
In vera nescis nullumfore morte alium te,
Qui possit vivus tibi te lugere peremptum,
Stansque jacentem. (ID. iii. 9)
Thou know'st not there shall be not other thou,
When thou art dead indeed, that can tell how
Alive to waile thee dying,
Standing to waile thee lying.
Nor shall you wish for life, which you so much desire.
Nee sibi enim quisquam turn se vitamque requirit,
Nee desiderium nostri nos afficit ullum. (963)
For then none for himselfe himselfe or life requires:
Nor are we of our selves affected with desires.
Death is lesse to be feared than nothing, if there were any
thing lesse than nothing.
--multo mortem minus ad nos esse putandum,
Si minus esse potest quam quod nihil esse videmus. (970)
Death is much lesse to us, we ought esteeme,
If lesse may be, than what doth nothing seeme.
Nor alive, nor dead, it doth concerne you nothing. Alive, because you are: Dead, because you are no more. Moreover,
no man dies before his houre. The time you leave behinde was no more yours, than that which was before your birth,
and concerneth you no more.
Respice enim quam nil ad nos anteacta vetustas
Temporis aeterni fuerit. (LUCR. iii. 1016)
For marke, how all antiquitie fore-gone
Of all time ere we were, to us was none.
Wheresoever your life endeth, there is it all. The profit of life consists not in the space, but rather in the use. Some man hath lived long, that hath had a short life. Follow it whilest you have time. It consists not in number of yeeres, but in your will, that you have lived long enough. Did you thinke you should never come to the place, where you were still going?
There is no way but hath an end. And if company may
solace you, doth not the whole world walke the same path?
Omnia te vita perfuncta sequentur. (1012)
Life past, all things at last
Shall follow thee as thou hast past.
Doe not all things move as you doe, or keepe your course? Is there any thing grows not old together with your selfe?
A thousand men, a thousand beasts, and a thousand other creatures die in the very instant that you die.
Nam nox nulla diem, neque noctem aurora sequuta est,
Quce non audierit mistos vagitibus cegris
Ploratus mortis comites et funeris atri. (587)
No night ensued day light: no morning followed night,
Which heard not moaning mixt with sick-mens groaning,
With deaths and funerals joyned was that moaning.
To what end recoile you from it, if you cannot goe backe? You have scene many who have found good in death, ending
thereby many many miseries. But have you seene any that hath received hurt thereby? Therefore is it meere simplicitie to condemne a thing you never proved, neither by your selfe nor any other. Why doest thou complaine of me and of destinie? Doe we offer thee any wrong? is it for thee to direct us, or for us to governe thee? Although thy age be not come to her period, thy life is. A little man is a whole man as well as a great man. Neither men nor their lives are measured by the Ell. Chiron refused immortalitie, being
informed of the conditions thereof, even by the God of time and of continuance, Saturne his father. Imagine truly how much an ever-during life would be lesse tolerable and more painfull to a man, than is the life which I have given him: Had you not death, you would then uncessantly curse, and cry out against me, that I had deprived you of it. I have of purpose and wittingly blended some bitternesse amongst it, that so seeing the commoditie of its use, I might hinder to die you from over-greedily embracing, or indiscreetly calling for it.
To continue in this moderation, that is, neither to flie
from life, nor to run to death (which I require of you) I have
tempered both the one and other betweene sweetnes and
sowrenes. I first taught Thales the chiefest of your Sages
and Wisemen, that to live and die, were indifferent, which
made him answer one very wisely, who asked him, wherfore
he died not; 'Because,' said he, 'it is indifferent. The
water, the earth, the aire, the fire, and other members of this my universe, are no more the instruments of thy life, than of thy death. Why fearest thou thy last day? He is no more guiltie, and conferreth no more to thy death,
than any of the others. It is not the last step that causeth wearinesse: it only declares it. All daies march towards death, only the last comes to it.'
Behold heere the good precepts of our universall mother Nature. I have often
times bethought my selfe whence it proceedeth, that in times
of warre, the visage of death (whether wee see it in us or in
others) seemeth without all comparison much lesse dreadful
and terrible unto us, than in our houses, or in our beds,
otherwise it should be an armie of Physitians and whiners,
and she ever being one, there must needs bee much more
assurance amongst countrie-people and of base condition,
than in others. I verily beleeve, these fearefull lookes, and
astonishing countenances wherewith we encompasse it, are
those that more amaze and terrific us than death: a new forme of life; the out-cries of mothers; the wailing of
women and children; the visitation of dismaid and swouning friends: the assistance of a number of pale-looking, dis
tracted, and whining servants; a darke chamber: tapers burning round about; our couch beset round with Physitians
and Preachers; and to conclude, nothing but horror and astonishment on every side of us: are wee not alreadie dead
and buried? The very children are afraid of their friends, when they see them masked; and so are we: The maske
must as well be taken from things, as from men, which being removed, we shall finde nothing hid under it, but the very same death, that a seely varlet, or a simple maidservant, did lately suffer without amazement or feare.
Happie is that death, which takes all leasure from the preparations of such an equipage.
How to cite this article:
Montagine, Michel de. Essays. Trans. John Florio, 1603. Shakespeare Online. 2 Aug. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/philosophizemontaigne.html >.
"Needless to say, the influence is from the very start of that high sort in which he that takes becomes co-thinker with him that gives, Shakespeare's absorption of Montaigne being as vital as Montaigne's own assimilation of the thought of his classics. The process is one not of surface reflection, but of kindling by contact; and we seem to see even the vibration of the style passing from one intelligence to the other; the nervous and copious speech of Montaigne awakening Shakespeare to a new sense of power over rhythm and poignant phrase, at the same time that the stimulus of the thought gives him a new confidence in the validity of his own reflection." (J. M. Robertson) Read on...
Did You Know? ... Modern editors reference three texts of Hamlet: the Bad Quarto (Q1), the Good Quarto (Q2) and the First Folio. The Good Quarto is probably closest to Shakespeare's own manuscript. The editors of the First Folio removed hundreds of lines from Q2, while actually making some additions. The text of modern editions of the play is based on Q2. For more please click here.