ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE
marvellous desolation upon Carthage. Only shrieks and terrified voices were heard; the inhabitants were seen rushing from their houses as at an alarm, and attacking, wounding, and killing one another, as if they were enemies who had come to take possession of their city. Every thing was in confusion and tumult until they had appeased the anger of the gods by prayers and sacrifices. Such conditions were called “panic terrors.”
THAT OUR FORTUNE MUST NOT BE JUDGED OF UNTIL AFTER DEATH
This Essay is entirely described by its title. Its interest is at once increased and diminished by the fact that many of the opinions Montaigne here sets forth he disavowed in later years.
It was written (except the last two paragraphs) in 1572, when he was not quite forty years old, and when he had not passed beyond the ideas about death that were familiar to his generation. In after years he was far from considering the day of death as “the master day”; and the wish expressed in the last sentence, it is matter for rejoicing that he was able to accomplish — “one of my chief endeavours regarding my own end is that it may carry itself well, that is to say, quietly and insensibly.” The last words in the original are quietement et sourdement, and the passage is undoubtedly one that Pascal stigmatizes when he says: “Il ne pense qu’à mourir lâchement et mollement par tout son livre.” The word sourdement is to be noted. Montaigne substituted it (in the posthumous edition) for seurement, and it is open to question whether he did not thereby modify the conception. Cotgrave defines sourdement as “privately ... in huggermugger, without any din or noise.”
From what Montaigne says elsewhere of his preference for dying away from home, and of the common confusion and distresses of a death-bed (see Book III, chapter 12, a few pages from the beginning, and Book I, chapter 20, last sentence), it is possible to believe that he was thinking of external quietness as well as of that of the soul.
It may be that in the last paragraph, he refers to La Boëtie’s death; but the phrase “a glorious end,” — une fin pompeuse, — unless the word may be understood as descriptive simply of moral stateliness, sounds oddly in regard to his friend’s peaceful and domestic passing from life; as also does the statement about this death leading to “the power and
- See Diodorus Siculus, XV, 7.15-17.
- See Plutarch, Of Isis and Osiris.