Montaigne's Essays/Book I/Chapter XX
Fortis imaginatio generat casum: 'A strong imagination begetteth chance,' say learned clearks. I am one of those that feele a very great conflict and power of imagination. All men are shockt therewith, and some overthrowne by it. One impression of it pierceth me, and for want of strength to resist her, my endevour to avoid it. I could live with the only assistance of holy and merry-hearted men. The sight of others anguishes doth sensibly drive me into anguish; and my sense hath often usurped the sense of a third man. If one cough continually, he provokes my lungs and throat. I am more unwilling to visit the sicke dutie doth engage me unto, than those to whom I am little beholding, and regard least. I apprehend the evill which I studie, and place it in me. I deeme it not strange that she brings both agues and death to such as give her scope to worke her will and applaud her. Simon Thomas was a great Physitian in his daies. I remember upon a time comming by chance to visit a rich old man that dwelt in Tholouse, and who was troubled with the cough of the lungs, who discoursing with the said Simon Thomas of the meanes of his recoverie, he told him, that one of the best was, to give me occasion to be delighted in his companie, and that fixing his eyes upon the liveliness and freshness of my face and setting his thoughts upon the jolitie and vigor, wherewith my youthful age did then flourish, and filling all his senses with my flourishing estate, his habitude might thereby be amended, and his health recovered. But he forgot to say, that mine might also be empaired and infected. Gallus Vibius did so well enure his minde to comprehend the essence and motions of folly, that he so transported his judgement from out his seat, as he could never afterwards bring it to his right place againe; and might rightly boast to have become a foole through wisdome. Some there are, that through feare anticipate the hang-mans hand; as he did, whose friends having obtained his pardon, and putting away the cloth wherewith he was hoodwinkt, that he might heare it read, was found starke dead upon the scaffold, wounded only by the stroke of imagination. Wee sweat, we shake, we grow pale, and we blush at the motions of our imaginations; and wallowing in our beds we feele our bodies agitated and turmoiled at their apprehensions, yea in such manner as sometimes we are ready to yeeld up the spirit. And burning youth (although asleepe) is often therewith so possessed and enfolded, that dreaming it doth satisfy and enjoy her amorous desires.
Ut quasi transactis sæpe omnibu' rebu' profundant Fluminis ingentes fluctus, vestemnque cruentent. -- LUCRET. 1. iv. 1027.
And if all things were done, they powre foorth streames, And bloodie their night-garment in their dreames.
And although it be not strange to see some men have hornes growing upon their head in one night, that had none when they went to bed: notwithstanding the fortune or success of Cyppus King of Italie is memorable, who because the day before he had with earnest affection assisted and beene attentive at a bul-baiting, and having all night long dreamed of hornes in his head, by the very force of imagination brought them forth the next morning in his forehead. An earnest passion gave the son of Croesus his voice, which Nature denied him. And Antiochus got an ague, by the excellent beautie of Stratonice so deeply imprinted in his minde. Plinie reporteth to have seene Lucius Cossitius upon his marriage day to have beene transformed from a woman to a man. Pontanus and others recount the like metamorphosies to have hapned in Italie these ages past: And through a vehement desire of him and his mother.
Vota puer solvit, que femina voverat Iphis. -- OVID . Met. 1. ix. 794.
Iphis a boy, the vowes then paid, Which he vow'd when he was a maid.
My selfe traveling on a time by Vitry in France, hapned to see a man, whom the Bishop of Soissons has in confirmation, named Germane, and all the inhabitants thereabout have both knowne and seene to be a woman-childe, untill she was two and twentie yeares of age, called by the name of Marie. He was, when I saw him, of good yeares, and had a long beard, and was yet unmarried. He saith, that upon a time, leaping, and straining himselfe to overleape another, he wot not how, but where before he was a woman, he suddenly felt the instrument of a man to come out of him: and to this day the maidens of that towne and countrie have a song in use, by which they warne one another, when they are leaping, not to straine themselves overmuch, or open thir legs too wide, for feare they should bee turned to boies, as Marie Germane was. It is no great wonder, that such accidents doe often happen, for if imagination have power in such things, it is so continually annexed, and so forcibly fastened to this subject, that lest she should so often fall into the relaps of the same thought, and sharpnesse of desire, it is better one time for all to incorporate this virile part unto wenches. Some will not sticke to ascribe the scarres of King Dagobert, or the cicatrices of Saint Francis unto the power of Imagination. Othersome will say, that by the force of it, bodies are sometimes removed from their places. And Celsus reports of a Priest, whose soule was ravished into such an extasie, that for a long time the body remained void of all respiration and sense. Saint Augustine speaketh of another, who if hee but heard any lamentable and wailefull cries, would suddenly fall into a swone, and bee so forcibly carried from himselfe, that did any chide and braule never so loud, pinch and thumpe him never so much, be could not be made to stirre, untill hee came to himselfe againe. Then would he say, he had heard sundry strange voyces, comming as it were from a farre, and perceiving his pinches and bruses, wondered at them. And that it was not an obstinate conceit, or wilfull humour in him, or against his f eeling sense, it plainly appeared by this, because during his extasie, he seemed to have neither pulse nor breath. It is very likely that the principall credit of visions, of enchantments, and such extraordinary effects, proceedeth from the power of imaginations, working especially in the mindes of the vulgar sort, as the weakest and seeliest, whose conceit and beleefe is so seized upon, that they imagine to see what they see not. I am yet in doubt, these pleasant bonds, wherewith our world is so fettered, and France so pestered, that nothing else is spoken of, are haply but the impressions of apprehension, and effects of feare. For I know by experience, that some one, for whom I may as well answer as for my selfe, and in whom no manner of suspition either of weaknesse or enchantment might fall, hearing a companion of his make report of an extraordinary faint sowning, wherein he was fallen, at such a time as he least looked for it and wrought him no small shame, whereupon the horrour of his report did so strongly strike his imagination, as he ranne the same fortune, and fell into a like drooping. And was thence forward subject to fall into like fits: So did the passionate remembrance of his inconvenience possesse and tyrannize him; but his fond doting was in time remedied by another kinde of raving. For himselfe avowing and publishing aforehand the infirmitie he was subject unto, the contention of his soule was solaced upon this, that bearing his evil as expected, his dutie thereby diminished, and he grieved lesse thereat. And when at his choice, he hath had law and power (his thought being cleered and unmasked, his body finding it selfe in his right due place) to make the same to be felt, seized upon, and apprehended by others knowledge: he hath fully and perfectly recovered himselfe. If a man have once beene capable, he cannot afterward be incapable, except by a just and absolute weaknesse. Such a mischief is not to be feared, but in the enterprises where our minde is beyond all measure bent with desire and respect; and chiefly where opportunitie comes unexpected, and requires a sudden dispatch. There is no meanes for a man to recover himselfe from his trouble; I know some, who have found to come unto it with their bodies as it were halfe glutted elsewhere, thereby to stupifie or allay the heat of that furie, and who through age, finde themselves lesse unable, by how much more they be lesse able: And another, w ho hath also found good, in that a friend of his assured him to bee provided with a counter-battery of forcible enchantments, to preserve him in any such conflict: It is not amisse I relate how it was. An Earle of very good place, with whom I was familiarly acquainted, being married to a very faire Lady, who had long beene solicited for love by one assisting at the wedding, did greatly trouble his friends; but most of all an old Lady his kins-woman, who was chiefe at the marriage, and in whose hous e it was solemnized, as she that much feared such sorceries and witchcrafts: which shee gave mee to understand, I comforted her as well as I could, and desired her to relie upon me. I had by chance a peece of golden plate in my trunke, wherein were ingraven certaine celestiall figures good against the Sunne-beames, and for the head-ach, being fitly laid upon the suture of the head: and that it might the better he kept there, it was sewed to a riband, to be fasteded under the chin. A fond doting c onceit, and cosin-germane to that we now speake of. James Peletier had whilest he lived in my house bestowed that singular gift upon mee; I advised my selfe to put it to some use, and told the Earle, he might haply be in danger, and come to some misfortune as others had done, the rather because some were present, that would not sticke to procure him some ill lucke, and which was worse, some spitefull shame; but neverthelesse I willed him boldly to go to be d: For I would shew him the part of a true friend, and in his need, spare not for his good to employ a miracle, which was in my power; alwaies provided, that on his honour he would promise me faithfully to keepe it very secret; which was only, that when about mid-night he should have his candle brought hime if he had had no good successe in his businesse, he should make such and such a signe to me. It fel out his mind was so quailed, and his eares so dulled, that by reason of the bond wherewith the trouble of his imagination had tied him, hee could not run on poste: and at the houre appointed, made the signe agreed upon betweene us, I came and whispered him in the eare, that under pretence to put us all out of his chaluber, he should rise out of his bed, and in jesting manner take my night-gowne which I had on, and put it upon himselfe (which he might well doe, because wee were much of one stature) and keepe it on till he had performed my Appointment, which was, that when we should he gone o ut of the chamber, he should withdraw himselfe to make water, and using certaine jestures I had shewed him, speake such words thrice over. And every time hee spake them he should girt the ribband, which I put into his hands, and very carefully place the plate thereto fastened, just upon his kidneyes, and the whole figure, in such a posture. All which when he had accordingly done, and the last time so fastened the ribband, that it might neither be untide nor stirred from his place, he should then bo ldly and confidently returne to his charge, and not forget to spread my night-gowne upon his bed, but so as it might cover them both. These fopperies are the chiefe of the effect. Our thought being unable so to free it selfe, but some strange meanes will proceed from some abstruse learning: There inanitie gives them weight and credit. To conclude, it is most certaine, my Characters proved more venerian than solare, more in action than in prohibition. It was a ready and curious humour drew me to this effect, farre from my nature. I am an enemie to craftie and fained actions, and hate all suttletie in my hands, not only recreative, but also profitable. If the action be not vicious, the course to it is faultie. Amasis King of Egypt tooke to wife Laodice, a very beauteous young virgin of Greece, and he that before had in every other place found and showed himselfe a lustie gallant, found himselfe so short, when he came to grapple with her , that he threatned to kill her, supposing it had beene some charme or sorcerie. As in all things that consist in the fantasia, she addrest him to devotion. And having made his vowes and promises to Venus, he found himselfe divinely freed, even from the first night, of his oblations and sacrifices. Now they wrong us to receive and admit us with their wanton, squeamish, quarellous countenances, which setting us afire, extinguish us. Pythagoras his neece was wont to say, that a woman which lies with a man ought, together with her petiecoate, leave off all bashfulnesse, and with her petiecoate, take the same againe. The minde of the assailant molested with sundry different alarums, is easily dismaid. And he whom imagination hath once made to suffer this shame (and she hath caused the same to be felt but in the first acquaintances; because they are then burning and violent, and in the first acquaintance and comming together, or triall a man gives of himselfe, he is much more afraid and qu aint to misse the marke he shoots at) having begun ill he fals into an ague or spite of this accident, which afterward continueth in succeeding occasions. Married men because time is at their command, and they may go to it when they list, ought never to presse or importune their enterprise, unlesse they be readie. And it is better undecently to faile in hanseling the nuptiall bed, full of agitation and fits, by waiting for some or other fitter occasion, and more private opportunitie, less sudden an d alarmed, than to fall into a perpetual miserie, by apprehending an astonishment and desperation of the first refusall. Before possession taken, a patient ought by sallies, and divers times, lightly assay and offer himselfe without vexing or opiniating himselfe, definitively to convince himselfe. Such as know their members docile and tractable by nature, let them only endevour to countercosin their fantasia. Men have reason to checke the indocile libe rtie of this member, for so importunately insinuating himselfe when we have no need of him, and so importunately, or as I may say impertinently failing, at what time we have most need of him; and so imperiously contesting by his authority with our will, refusing with such fiercenes and obstinacie our solicitations both mentall and manuall. Neverthelesse if a man inasmuch as he doth gormandize and devour his rebellion, and drawes a triall by his condemnation, would pay me for to plead his cause, I w ould peradventure make other of our members to be suspected to have (in envy of his importance, and sweetnesse of his use) devised this imposture, and framed this set quarrell against him. and by some malicious complot armed the world against him, enviously charging him alone with a fault common to them all. For I referre to your thought, whether there be any one particular part of our body that doth not sometimes refuse her particular operation to our will and wish, and that doth not often exercise and practise against our will. All of them have their proper passions, which without any leave of ours doe either awaken or lull them asleepe. How often doe the forced motions and changes of our faces witnesse the secretest and most lurking thoughts we have, and bewray them to by-standers? The same cause that doth animate this member, doth also, unwitting to us, embolden our heart, our lungs, and our pulses. The sight of a pleasing object, reflecting imperceptibly on us, the flame of a contagiou s or aguish emotion. Is there nought besides these muscles and veines, that rise and fall without the consent, not only of our will, but also of our thought? We cannot command our haire to stand on end, nor our skinne to startle for desire or feare. Our hands are often carried where we direct them not. Our tongue and voice are sometimes to seeke of their faculties, the one loseth her speech, the other her nimblenesse. Even when we have nothin g to feed upon, we would willingly forbid it: the appetites to eat, or list to drinke, doe not leave to move the parts subject to them, even as this other appetite, and so, though it be out of season, forsaketh us, when he thinks good. Those instruments that serve to discharge the belly, have their proper compressions and dilatations, besides our intent, and against our meaning, as those are destined to discharge the kidneys. And that which, the better to authorize our wills power, Saint Augustin alleageth, to have seene one, who could at all times command his posterior, to let as many scapes as he would, and which Vives endeareth by the example of an other in his daies, who could let tunable and organized ones, following the tune of any voice propounded into his eares, inferreth the pure obedience of that member: than which none is commonly more indiscreet anid tumultuous. Seeing my selfe know one so skittish and mutinous, that these fortie yeares keepes his master in such awe, that, will he or nill be, he will with a continuall breath, constant and unintermitted custome breake winde at his pleasure, and so brings him to his grave. And would to God I knew it but by histories how that many times our belly being restrained thereof, bring us even to the gates of a pining and languishijig heath: And that the Emperour, who gave us free leave to vent at all times, and every where, had also given us the power to doe it. But our will, by whose privilege we advance this reproch, how much more likely, and consonant to trueth may we tax it of rebellion, and accuse it of sedition, by reason of its unrulinesse and disobedience. Will shee at all times doe that which we would have her willingly to doe? Is shee not often willing to effect that which we forbid her to desire? and that to our manifest prejudice and dammage? Doth she suffer herselfe to be directed by the conclusions of our reason? To conclude, I would urge in defence of my client, that it would please the judges to consider , that concerning this matter, his cause being inseparably conjoyned to a comfort, and indistinctly; yet will not a man addresse himselfe but to him, both by the arguments and charges, which call no way appertaine to his said consort. For, his effect is indeed sometime importunately to invite, but to refuse never: and also to invite silently and quietly. Therefore is the sawcinesse and illegalitie of the accusers seene. Howsoever it be, protesting that advocates and judges may wrangle, contend, and give sentence, what and how they please, Nature will in the meane time follow her course; who, had she endued this member with any particular privilege, yet had she done but right, and shewed but reason. Author of the only immortall worke of mortall man. Divine worke according to Socrates; and love, desire of immortalitie, and immortall Damon himselfe. Some man peradventure, by the effects of imagination leaveth the pox or kings evill heere, which hi s companion carrieth into Spaine againe: loe heere why in such cases men are accustomed to require a prepared minde, wherefore doe physitians labour and practise before hand the conceit and credence of their patients, with so many false promises of their recovery and health, unlesse it be that the effect of imagination may supple and prepare the imposture of one of their decoction? They knew that one of their trades-masters hath left written, how some men have been found, in whom the only sight of a potion hath wrought his due operation: all which humour or caprice is now come into my minde, upon the report which an apothecarie, whilome a servant in my fathers house, was wont to tell me, a man by knowledge simple, and by birth a Switzer; a nation little vaine-glorious, and not much given to lying, which was, that for a long time he had knowne a merchant in Tholouse, sickish, and much troubled with the stone, and who often had need of glisters, who according to the fits and occurrences of his evill, caused them diversly to be prescribed by physitians. Which being brought him, no accustomed forme to them belonging was omitted, and would often taste whether they were too hot, and view them well. and lying along upon his bed, on his bellie, and all complements performed, only injection excepted, which ceremony ended, the apothecarie gone, and the patient lying in his bed, even as if he had received a glister indeed, he found and felt the very same effect which they doe that have effectually taken them. And if the physitian saw it had not wrought sufficiently, he would accordingly give him two or three more in the same manner. My witnesse protesteth, that the sicke mans wife, to save charges (for he paid for them as if he had received them) having sometimes assaid to make them onely with luke warme water, the effect discovered the craft, and being found not to worke at all, they were forced to returne to the former, and use the apothecarie. A woman supposing to have swallowed a pinne with her bread, cried and vexed her-selfe, even as if she had felt an intolerable paine in her throat, where she imagined the same to sticke; but because there appeared neither swelling or alteration, a skilfull man deeming it to be but a fantasie conceived, or opinion, apprehended by eating of some gretty peece of bread, which haply might pricke her in the swallow, made her to vomit, and unknonne to her, cast a pin in that which she had vomi ted. Which the woman perceiving and imagining she had cast the same, was presently eased of her paine. I have knowne a gentleman, who having feasted a company of very honest gentlemen and gentlewomen, in his owne house, by way of sport, and in jest, boasted two or three daies after (for there was no such thing) that he had made them eat of a baked cat; where the gentlewoman of the companie apprehended such horror, that falling into a violent ague and distemper of her stomacke, she could by no meane s he recovered. Even brute beasts, as well as we, are seene to be subject to the power of imagination; witnesse some dogs, who for sorrow of their masters death are seene to die, and whom we ordinarily see to startle and harke in their sleep, and horses to neigh and struggle. But all this may be referred to the narrow future of the spirit and the body, entercommunicating their fortunes one unto another. It is another thing that imagination doth sometime s worke, not only against her own body, but also against that of others. And even as one body ejecteth a disease to his neighhour, as doth evidently appeare by the plague, pox, or sore eies, that goe from one to another:
Dum spectant oculi læsos, læduntur et ipsi: Multaque corporibus transitione nocent.-- OVID. Am. 1. ii. 219.
Eies become sore, while they looke on sore eies: By passage many ills our limmes surprise.
Likewise the imagination moved and tossed by some vehemence, doth cast some darts, that may offend a strange object. Antiquitie hath held, that certaine women of Scithia, being provoked and vexed against some men, had the power to kill them only with their looke. The tortoises and the estriges hatch their egges with their looks only, a signe that they have some ejaculative vertue. And concerning witches they are said to have offensive and harme-working eies.
Nescia quis teneros oculus mihi fascinat agnos. -- VIRG. Buc. Ecl. iii. 103.
My tender Lambs I cannot see, By what bad eie, bewitched be.
Magitians are but ill respondents for me. So it is, that by experience wee see women to transferre divers markes of their fantasies, unto children they beare in their wombes: witnes she that brought forth a blacke-a-more. There was also presented unto Charles, King of Bohemia, an Emperor, a young girle, borne about Pisa, all shagd and hairy over and over, which her mother said, to have beene conceived so, by reason of an image of Saint John Baptist, that was so painted, and hung over her bed. That the like is in beasts, is witnessed by Jacob's sheep, and also by partridges and hares, that grow white by the snow upon mountaines. There was lately seene a cat about my owne house, so earnestly eyeing a bird, sitting upon a tree, that heseeing the cat, they both so wistly fixed th eir looks one upon another, so long, that at last the bird fell downe as dead in the cat's pawes, either drunken by his owne strong imagination, or drawne by some attractive power of the cat. Those that love hawking, have haply heard the Falkner tale, who earnestly fixing his sight upon a kite in the aire, laid a wager that with the only force of his looke, he would make it come stooping downe to the ground, and as some report did it many times. The histories I borrow, I referre to the consciences of those I take them from. The discourses are mine, and hold together by the proofe of reason, not of experiences: each man may adde his example to them: and who hath none, considering the number and varietie of accidentes let him not leave to think, there are store of them. If I come not well for my selfe, let another come for me. So in the studie wherein I treat of our manners and motions, the fabulous testimonies, alwaies provided they be likely and possible, may serve to the purpose, as well as the true, whether it hapned or no, be it at Rome or at Paris, to John or Peter, it is alwaies a tricke of humane capacitie, of which I am profitably advised by this report. I see it and reape profit by it, as well in shadow as in bodie. And in divers lessons that often histories afford, I commonly make use of that which is most rare and memorable. Some writers there are whose end is but to relate the events. Mine, if I could attaine to it, should be to declare what may come to passe, tou ching the same. It is justly allowed in schooles, to suppose similitudes, when they have none. Yet doe not I so, and concerning that point, in superstitious religion, I exceed all historicall credit. To the examples I here set down, of what I have read, heard done, or seene, I have forbid my selfe so much as to dare to change the least, or alter the idlest circumstances. My conscience doth not falsifie the least jot. I wot not whether my insight doth. Concerning this subject I doe sometimes ent er into conceit, that it may well become a divine, a philosopher, or rather men of exquisite conscience, and exact wisdome, to write histories. How can they otherwise engage their credit on a popular reputation? How can they answer for the thoughts of unknowne persons? And make their bare conjectures passe for current paiment? Of the actions of divers members, acted in their presence, they would refuse to beare witness of them, if by a judge they were put to their corporall oath. And there is no man so familiarly knowne to them, of whose inward intention they would undertake to answer at full. I hold it lesse hazardous to write of things past than present; forasmuch as the writer is not bound to give account but of a borrowed trueth. Some perswade mee to write the affaires of my time, imagining I can see them with a sight lesse blinded with passion, than other men, and perhaps neerer, by reason of the accesse which fortune hath given me to the chiefest of divers factions. But they will not say, how for the glory of Salust, I would not take the paines; as one that am a vowed enemy of observance, to assiduitie, and to constancie, and that there is nothing so contrarie to my style as a continued narration. I doe so often for want of breath breake off and interrupt my selfe. I have neither composition nor explication of any worth. I am as ignorant as a childe of the phrases and vowels belonging to common things. And therefore have I atte mpted to say what I can, accommodating the matter to my power. Should I take any man for a guide, measure might differ from his. For, my libertie being so farre, I might haply publish judgements, agreeing with me, and consonant to reason, yet unlawfull and punishable. Plutarke would peradventure tell us of that which he had written, that it is the workes of others, that his examples are in all and everie where true, that they are profitable to posteritie, and presented with a lustre, that lights and directs us unto vertue, and that is his worke. It is not dangerous, as in a medicinable drug, whether an old tale or report, be it thus or thus, so or so.