The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter III

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The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter III. A custom of the Isle of Cea.

Chapter III. A custom of the Isle of Cea.[edit]


[Cos. Cea is the form of the name given by Pliny]

If to philosophise be, as 'tis defined, to doubt, much more to write at
random and play the fool, as I do, ought to be reputed doubting, for it
is for novices and freshmen to inquire and to dispute, and for the
chairman to moderate and determine.

My moderator is the authority of the divine will, that governs us without
contradiction, and that is seated above these human and vain
contestations.

Philip having forcibly entered into Peloponnesus, and some one saying to
Damidas that the Lacedaemonians were likely very much to suffer if they
did not in time reconcile themselves to his favour: "Why, you pitiful
fellow," replied he, "what can they suffer who do not fear to die?" It
being also asked of Agis, which way a man might live free? "Why," said
he, "by despising death." These, and a thousand other sayings to the
same purpose, distinctly sound of something more than the patient
attending the stroke of death when it shall come; for there are several
accidents in life far worse to suffer than death itself. Witness the
Lacedaemonian boy taken by Antigonus, and sold for a slave, who being by
his master commanded to some base employment: "Thou shalt see," says the
boy, "whom thou hast bought; it would be a shame for me to serve, being
so near the reach of liberty," and having so said, threw himself from the
top of the house. Antipater severely threatening the Lacedaemonians,
that he might the better incline them to acquiesce in a certain demand of
his: "If thou threatenest us with more than death," replied they, "we
shall the more willingly die"; and to Philip, having written them word
that he would frustrate all their enterprises: "What, wilt thou also
hinder us from dying?" This is the meaning of the sentence, "That the
wise man lives as long as he ought, not so long as he can; and that the
most obliging present Nature has made us, and which takes from us all
colour of complaint of our condition, is to have delivered into our own
custody the keys of life; she has only ordered, one door into life, but a
hundred thousand ways out. We may be straitened for earth to live upon,
but earth sufficient to die upon can never be wanting, as Boiocalus
answered the Romans."—[Tacitus, Annal., xiii. 56.]—Why dost thou
complain of this world? it detains thee not; thy own cowardice is the
cause, if thou livest in pain. There needs no more to die but to will to
die:

               "Ubique mors est; optime hoc cavit deus.
               Eripere vitam nemo non homini potest;
               At nemo mortem; mille ad hanc aditus patent."

     ["Death is everywhere: heaven has well provided for that. Any one
     may deprive us of life; no one can deprive us of death. To death
     there are a thousand avenues."—Seneca, Theb:, i, I, 151.]

Neither is it a recipe for one disease only; death is the infallible cure
of all; 'tis a most assured port that is never to be feared, and very
often to be sought. It comes all to one, whether a man give himself his
end, or stays to receive it by some other means; whether he pays before
his day, or stay till his day of payment come; from whencesoever it
comes, it is still his; in what part soever the thread breaks, there's
the end of the clue. The most voluntary death is the finest. Life
depends upon the pleasure of others; death upon our own. We ought not to
accommodate ourselves to our own humour in anything so much as in this.
Reputation is not concerned in such an enterprise; 'tis folly to be
concerned by any such apprehension. Living is slavery if the liberty of
dying be wanting. The ordinary method of cure is carried on at the
expense of life; they torment us with caustics, incisions, and
amputations of limbs; they interdict aliment and exhaust our blood; one
step farther and we are cured indeed and effectually. Why is not the
jugular vein as much at our disposal as the median vein? For a desperate
disease a desperate cure. Servius the grammarian, being tormented with
the gout, could think of no better remedy than to apply poison to his
legs, to deprive them of their sense; let them be gouty at their will, so
they were insensible of pain. God gives us leave enough to go when He is
pleased to reduce us to such a condition that to live is far worse than
to die. 'Tis weakness to truckle under infirmities, but it's madness to
nourish them. The Stoics say, that it is living according to nature in a
wise man to, take his leave of life, even in the height of prosperity,
if he do it opportunely; and in a fool to prolong it, though he be
miserable, provided he be not indigent of those things which they repute
to be according to nature. As I do not offend the law against thieves
when I embezzle my own money and cut my own purse; nor that against
incendiaries when I burn my own wood; so am I not under the lash of those
made against murderers for having deprived myself of my own life.
Hegesias said, that as the condition of life did, so the condition of
death ought to depend upon our own choice. And Diogenes meeting the
philosopher Speusippus, so blown up with an inveterate dropsy that he was
fain to be carried in a litter, and by him saluted with the compliment,
"I wish you good health." "No health to thee," replied the other,
"who art content to live in such a condition."

And in fact, not long after, Speusippus, weary of so languishing a state
of life, found a means to die.

But this does not pass without admitting a dispute: for many are of
opinion that we cannot quit this garrison of the world without the
express command of Him who has placed us in it; and that it appertains to
God who has placed us here, not for ourselves only but for His Glory and
the service of others, to dismiss us when it shall best please Him, and
not for us to depart without His licence: that we are not born for
ourselves only, but for our country also, the laws of which require an
account from us upon the score of their own interest, and have an action
of manslaughter good against us; and if these fail to take cognisance of
the fact, we are punished in the other world as deserters of our duty:

         "Proxima deinde tenent maesti loca, qui sibi letum
          Insontes peperere manu, lucemque perosi
          Proiecere animas."

     ["Thence the sad ones occupy the next abodes, who, though free
     from guilt, were by their own hands slain, and, hating light,
     sought death."—AEneid, vi. 434.]

There is more constancy in suffering the chain we are tied to than in
breaking it, and more pregnant evidence of fortitude in Regulus than in
Cato; 'tis indiscretion and impatience that push us on to these
precipices: no accidents can make true virtue turn her back; she seeks
and requires evils, pains, and grief, as the things by which she is
nourished and supported; the menaces of tyrants, racks, and tortures
serve only to animate and rouse her:

              "Duris ut ilex tonsa bipennibus
               Nigrae feraci frondis in Algido,
               Per damma, percmdes, ab ipso
               Ducit opes, animumque ferro."

     ["As in Mount Algidus, the sturdy oak even from the axe itself
     derives new vigour and life."—Horace, Od., iv. 4, 57.]

And as another says:

              "Non est, ut putas, virtus, pater,
               Timere vitam; sed malis ingentibus
               Obstare, nec se vertere, ac retro dare."

     ["Father, 'tis no virtue to fear life, but to withstand great
     misfortunes, nor turn back from them."—Seneca, Theb., i. 190.]

Or as this:

          "Rebus in adversis facile est contemnere mortem
          Fortius ille facit, qui miser esse potest."

     ["It is easy in adversity to despise death; but he acts more
     bravely, who can live wretched."—Martial, xi. 56, 15.]

'Tis cowardice, not virtue, to lie squat in a furrow, under a tomb, to
evade the blows of fortune; virtue never stops nor goes out of her path,
for the greatest storm that blows:

                    "Si fractus illabatur orbis,
                    Impavidum ferient ruinae."

     ["Should the world's axis crack, the ruins will but crush
      a fearless head."—Horace, Od., iii. 3, 7.]

For the most part, the flying from other inconveniences brings us to
this; nay, endeavouring to evade death, we often run into its very mouth:

          "Hic, rogo, non furor est, ne moriare, mori?"

     ["Tell me, is it not madness, that one should die for fear
     of dying?"—Martial, ii. 80, 2.]

like those who, from fear of a precipice, throw themselves headlong into
it;

              "Multos in summa pericula misfit
               Venturi timor ipse mali: fortissimus ille est,
               Qui promptus metuenda pati, si cominus instent,
               Et differre potest."

     ["The fear of future ills often makes men run into extreme danger;
     he is truly brave who boldly dares withstand the mischiefs he
     apprehends, when they confront him and can be deferred."
     —Lucan, vii. 104.]

               "Usque adeo, mortis formidine, vitae
               Percipit humanos odium, lucisque videndae,
               Ut sibi consciscant moerenti pectore lethum
               Obliti fontem curarum hunc esse timorem."

     ["Death to that degree so frightens some men, that causing them to
     hate both life and light, they kill themselves, miserably forgetting
     that this same fear is the fountain of their cares."
     —Lucretius, iii. 79.]

Plato, in his Laws, assigns an ignominious sepulture to him who has
deprived his nearest and best friend, namely himself, of life and his
destined course, being neither compelled so to do by public judgment,
by any sad and inevitable accident of fortune, nor by any insupportable
disgrace, but merely pushed on by cowardice and the imbecility of a
timorous soul. And the opinion that makes so little of life, is
ridiculous; for it is our being, 'tis all we have. Things of a nobler
and more elevated being may, indeed, reproach ours; but it is against
nature for us to contemn and make little account of ourselves; 'tis a
disease particular to man, and not discerned in any other creatures, to
hate and despise itself. And it is a vanity of the same stamp to desire
to be something else than what we are; the effect of such a desire does
not at all touch us, forasmuch as it is contradicted and hindered in
itself. He that desires of a man to be made an angel, does nothing for
himself; he would be never the better for it; for, being no more, who
shall rejoice or be sensible of this benefit for him.

         "Debet enim, misere cui forti, aegreque futurum est,
          Ipse quoque esse in eo turn tempore, cum male possit
          Accidere."

     ["For he to whom misery and pain are to be in the future, must
     himself then exist, when these ills befall him."
     —Idem, ibid., 874.]

Security, indolence, impassability, the privation of the evils of this
life, which we pretend to purchase at the price of dying, are of no
manner of advantage to us: that man evades war to very little purpose who
can have no fruition of peace; and as little to the purpose does he avoid
trouble who cannot enjoy repose.

Amongst those of the first of these two opinions, there has been great
debate, what occasions are sufficient to justify the meditation of
self-murder, which they call "A reasonable exit."—[ Diogenes Laertius,
Life of Zeno.]—For though they say that men must often die for trivial
causes, seeing those that detain us in life are of no very great weight,
yet there is to be some limit. There are fantastic and senseless humours
that have prompted not only individual men, but whole nations to destroy
themselves, of which I have elsewhere given some examples; and we further
read of the Milesian virgins, that by a frantic compact they hanged
themselves one after another till the magistrate took order in it,
enacting that the bodies of such as should be found so hanged should be
drawn by the same halter stark naked through the city. When Therykion
tried to persuade Cleomenes to despatch himself, by reason of the ill
posture of his affairs, and, having missed a death of more honour in the
battle he had lost, to accept of this the second in honour to it, and not
to give the conquerors leisure to make him undergo either an ignominious
death or an infamous life; Cleomenes, with a courage truly Stoic and
Lacedaemonian, rejected his counsel as unmanly and mean; "that," said he,
"is a remedy that can never be wanting, but which a man is never to make
use of, whilst there is an inch of hope remaining": telling him, "that
it was sometimes constancy and valour to live; that he would that even
his death should be of use to his country, and would make of it an act of
honour and virtue." Therykion, notwithstanding, thought himself in the
right, and did his own business; and Cleomenes afterwards did the same,
but not till he had first tried the utmost malevolence of fortune. All
the inconveniences in the world are not considerable enough that a man
should die to evade them; and, besides, there being so many, so sudden
and unexpected changes in human things, it is hard rightly to judge when
we are at the end of our hope:

              "Sperat et in saeva victus gladiator arena,
               Sit licet infesto pollice turba minax."

     ["The gladiator conquered in the lists hopes on, though the
     menacing spectators, turning their thumb, order him to die."
     —Pentadius, De Spe, ap. Virgilii Catadecta.]

All things, says an old adage, are to be hoped for by a man whilst he
lives; ay, but, replies Seneca, why should this rather be always running
in a man's head that fortune can do all things for the living man, than
this, that fortune has no power over him that knows how to die?
Josephus, when engaged in so near and apparent danger, a whole people
being violently bent against him, that there was no visible means of
escape, nevertheless, being, as he himself says, in this extremity
counselled by one of his friends to despatch himself, it was well for him
that he yet maintained himself in hope, for fortune diverted the accident
beyond all human expectation, so that he saw himself delivered without
any manner of inconvenience. Whereas Brutus and Cassius, on the
contrary, threw away the remains of the Roman liberty, of which they were
the sole protectors, by the precipitation and temerity wherewith they
killed themselves before the due time and a just occasion. Monsieur
d'Anguien, at the battle of Serisolles, twice attempted to run himself
through, despairing of the fortune of the day, which went indeed very
untowardly on that side of the field where he was engaged, and by that
precipitation was very near depriving himself of the enjoyment of so
brave a victory. I have seen a hundred hares escape out of the very
teeth of the greyhounds:

               "Aliquis carnifici suo superstes fuit."

     ["Some have survived their executioners."—Seneca, Ep., 13.]

              "Multa dies, variusque labor mutabilis nevi
               Rettulit in melius; multos alterna revisens
               Lusit, et in solido rursus fortuna locavit."

     ["Length of days, and the various labour of changeful time, have
     brought things to a better state; fortune turning, shews a reverse
     face, and again restores men to prosperity."—AEneid, xi. 425.]

Piny says there are but three sorts of diseases, to escape which a man
has good title to destroy himself; the worst of which is the stone in the
bladder, when the urine is suppressed.

     ["In the quarto edition of these essays, in 1588, Pliny is said to
     mention two more, viz., a pain in the stomach and a headache, which,
     he says (lib. xxv. c. 9.), were the only three distempers almost
     for which men killed themselves."]

Seneca says those only which for a long time are discomposing the
functions of the soul. And some there have been who, to avoid a worse
death, have chosen one to their own liking. Democritus, general of the
AEtolians, being brought prisoner to Rome, found means to make his escape
by night: but close pursued by his keepers, rather than suffer himself to
be retaken, he fell upon his own sword and died. Antinous and Theodotus,
their city of Epirus being reduced by the Romans to the last extremity,
gave the people counsel universally to kill themselves; but, these
preferring to give themselves up to the enemy, the two chiefs went to
seek the death they desired, rushing furiously upon the enemy, with
intention to strike home but not to ward a blow. The Island of Gozzo
being taken some years ago by the Turks, a Sicilian, who had two
beautiful daughters marriageable, killed them both with his own hand, and
their mother, running in to save them, to boot, which having done,
sallying out of the house with a cross-bow and harquebus, with two shots
he killed two of the Turks nearest to his door, and drawing his sword,
charged furiously in amongst the rest, where he was suddenly enclosed and
cut to pieces, by that means delivering his family and himself from
slavery and dishonour. The Jewish women, after having circumcised their
children, threw them and themselves down a precipice to avoid the cruelty
of Antigonus. I have been told of a person of condition in one of our
prisons, that his friends, being informed that he would certainly be
condemned, to avoid the ignominy of such a death suborned a priest to
tell him that the only means of his deliverance was to recommend himself
to such a saint, under such and such vows, and to fast eight days
together without taking any manner of nourishment, what weakness or
faintness soever he might find in himself during the time; he followed
their advice, and by that means destroyed himself before he was aware,
not dreaming of death or any danger in the experiment. Scribonia
advising her nephew Libo to kill himself rather than await the stroke of
justice, told him that it was to do other people's business to preserve
his life to put it after into the hands of those who within three or four
days would fetch him to execution, and that it was to serve his enemies
to keep his blood to gratify their malice.

We read in the Bible that Nicanor, the persecutor of the law of God,
having sent his soldiers to seize upon the good old man Razis, surnamed
in honour of his virtue the father of the Jews: the good man, seeing no
other remedy, his gates burned down, and the enemies ready to seize him,
choosing rather to die nobly than to fall into the hands of his wicked
adversaries and suffer himself to be cruelly butchered by them, contrary
to the honour of his rank and quality, stabbed himself with his own
sword, but the blow, for haste, not having been given home, he ran and
threw himself from the top of a wall headlong among them, who separating
themselves and making room, he pitched directly upon his head;
notwithstanding which, feeling yet in himself some remains of life, he
renewed his courage, and starting up upon his feet all bloody and wounded
as he was, and making his way through the crowd to a precipitous rock,
there, through one of his wounds, drew out his bowels, which, tearing and
pulling to pieces with both his hands, he threw amongst his pursuers, all
the while attesting and invoking the Divine vengeance upon them for their
cruelty and injustice.

Of violences offered to the conscience, that against the chastity of
woman is, in my opinion, most to be avoided, forasmuch as there is a
certain pleasure naturally mixed with it, and for that reason the dissent
therein cannot be sufficiently perfect and entire, so that the violence
seems to be mixed with a little consent of the forced party. The
ecclesiastical history has several examples of devout persons who have
embraced death to secure them from the outrages prepared by tyrants
against their religion and honour. Pelagia and Sophronia, both
canonised, the first of these precipitated herself with her mother and
sisters into the river to avoid being forced by some soldiers, and the
last also killed herself to avoid being ravished by the Emperor
Maxentius.

It may, peradventure, be an honour to us in future ages, that a learned
author of this present time, and a Parisian, takes a great deal of pains
to persuade the ladies of our age rather to take any other course than to
enter into the horrid meditation of such a despair. I am sorry he had
never heard, that he might have inserted it amongst his other stories,
the saying of a woman, which was told me at Toulouse, who had passed
through the handling of some soldiers: "God be praised," said she, "that
once at least in my life I have had my fill without sin." In truth,
these cruelties are very unworthy the French good nature, and also, God
be thanked, our air is very well purged of them since this good advice:
'tis enough that they say "no" in doing it, according to the rule of the
good Marot.

              "Un doulx nenny, avec un doulx sourire
               Est tant honneste."—Marot.

History is everywhere full of those who by a thousand ways have exchanged
a painful and irksome life for death. Lucius Aruntius killed himself, to
fly, he said, both the future and the past. Granius Silvanus and Statius
Proximus, after having been pardoned by Nero, killed themselves; either
disdaining to live by the favour of so wicked a man, or that they might
not be troubled, at some other time, to obtain a second pardon,
considering the proclivity of his nature to suspect and credit
accusations against worthy men. Spargapises, son of Queen Tomyris, being
a prisoner of war to Cyrus, made use of the first favour Cyrus shewed
him, in commanding him to be unbound, to kill himself, having pretended
to no other benefit of liberty, but only to be revenged of himself for
the disgrace of being taken. Boges, governor in Eion for King Xerxes,
being besieged by the Athenian army under the conduct of Cimon, refused
the conditions offered, that he might safe return into Asia with all his
wealth, impatient to survive the loss of a place his master had given him
to keep; wherefore, having defended the city to the last extremity,
nothing being left to eat, he first threw all the gold and whatever else
the enemy could make booty of into the river Strymon, and then causing a
great pile to be set on fire, and the throats of all the women, children,
concubines, and servants to be cut, he threw their bodies into the fire,
and at last leaped into it himself.

Ninachetuen, an Indian lord, so soon as he heard the first whisper of the
Portuguese Viceroy's determination to dispossess him, without any
apparent cause, of his command in Malacca, to transfer it to the King of
Campar, he took this resolution with himself: he caused a scaffold, more
long than broad, to be erected, supported by columns royally adorned with
tapestry and strewed with flowers and abundance of perfumes; all which
being prepared, in a robe of cloth of gold, set full of jewels of great
value, he came out into the street, and mounted the steps to the
scaffold, at one corner of which he had a pile lighted of aromatic wood.
Everybody ran to see to what end these unusual preparations were made;
when Ninachetuen, with a manly but displeased countenance, set forth how
much he had obliged the Portuguese nation, and with how unspotted
fidelity he had carried himself in his charge; that having so often,
sword in hand, manifested in the behalf of others, that honour was much
more dear to him than life, he was not to abandon the concern of it for
himself: that fortune denying him all means of opposing the affront
designed to be put upon him, his courage at least enjoined him to free
himself from the sense of it, and not to serve for a fable to the people,
nor for a triumph to men less deserving than himself; which having said
he leaped into the fire.

Sextilia, wife of Scaurus, and Paxaea, wife of Labeo, to encourage their
husbands to avoid the dangers that pressed upon them, wherein they had no
other share than conjugal affection, voluntarily sacrificed their own
lives to serve them in this extreme necessity for company and example.
What they did for their husbands, Cocceius Nerva did for his country,
with less utility though with equal affection: this great lawyer,
flourishing in health, riches, reputation, and favour with the Emperor,
had no other cause to kill himself but the sole compassion of the
miserable state of the Roman Republic. Nothing can be added to the
beauty of the death of the wife of Fulvius, a familiar favourite of
Augustus: Augustus having discovered that he had vented an important
secret he had entrusted him withal, one morning that he came to make his
court, received him very coldly and looked frowningly upon him. He
returned home, full of, despair, where he sorrowfully told his wife that,
having fallen into this misfortune, he was resolved to kill himself: to
which she roundly replied, "'tis but reason you should, seeing that
having so often experienced the incontinence of my tongue, you could not
take warning: but let me kill myself first," and without any more saying
ran herself through the body with a sword. Vibius Virrius, despairing of
the safety of his city besieged by the Romans and of their mercy, in the
last deliberation of his city's senate, after many arguments conducing to
that end, concluded that the most noble means to escape fortune was by
their own hands: telling them that the enemy would have them in honour,
and Hannibal would be sensible how many faithful friends he had
abandoned; inviting those who approved of his advice to come to a good
supper he had ready at home, where after they had eaten well, they would
drink together of what he had prepared; a beverage, said he, that will
deliver our bodies from torments, our souls from insult, and our eyes and
ears from the sense of so many hateful mischiefs, as the conquered suffer
from cruel and implacable conquerors. I have, said he, taken order for
fit persons to throw our bodies into a funeral pile before my door so
soon as we are dead. Many enough approved this high resolution, but few
imitated it; seven-and-twenty senators followed him, who, after having
tried to drown the thought of this fatal determination in wine, ended the
feast with the mortal mess; and embracing one another, after they had
jointly deplored the misfortune of their country, some retired home to
their own houses, others stayed to be burned with Vibius in his funeral
pyre; and were all of them so long in dying, the vapour of the wine
having prepossessed the veins, and by that means deferred the effect of
poison, that some of them were within an hour of seeing the enemy inside
the walls of Capua, which was taken the next morning, and of undergoing
the miseries they had at so dear a rate endeavoured to avoid. Jubellius
Taurea, another citizen of the same country, the Consul Fulvius returning
from the shameful butchery he had made of two hundred and twenty-five
senators, called him back fiercely by name, and having made him stop:
"Give the word," said he, "that somebody may dispatch me after the
massacre of so many others, that thou mayest boast to have killed a much
more valiant man than thyself." Fulvius, disdaining him as a man out of
his wits, and also having received letters from Rome censuring the
inhumanity of his execution which tied his hands, Jubellius proceeded:
"Since my country has been taken, my friends dead, and having with my own
hands slain my wife and children to rescue them from the desolation of
this ruin, I am denied to die the death of my fellow-citizens, let me
borrow from virtue vengeance on this hated life," and therewithal drawing
a short sword he carried concealed about him, he ran it through his own
bosom, falling down backward, and expiring at the consul's feet.

Alexander, laying siege to a city of the Indies, those within, finding
themselves very hardly set, put on a vigorous resolution to deprive him
of the pleasure of his victory, and accordingly burned themselves in
general, together with their city, in despite of his humanity: a new kind
of war, where the enemies sought to save them, and they to destroy
themselves, doing to make themselves sure of death, all that men do to
secure life.

Astapa, a city of Spain, finding itself weak in walls and defence to
withstand the Romans, the inhabitants made a heap of all their riches and
furniture in the public place; and, having ranged upon this heap all the
women and children, and piled them round with wood and other combustible
matter to take sudden fire, and left fifty of their young men for the
execution of that whereon they had resolved, they made a desperate sally,
where for want of power to overcome, they caused themselves to be every
man slain. The fifty, after having massacred every living soul
throughout the whole city, and put fire to this pile, threw themselves
lastly into it, finishing their generous liberty, rather after an
insensible, than after a sorrowful and disgraceful manner, giving the
enemy to understand, that if fortune had been so pleased, they had as
well the courage to snatch from them victory as they had to frustrate and
render it dreadful, and even mortal to those who, allured by the
splendour of the gold melting in this flame, having approached it,
a great number were there suffocated and burned, being kept from retiring
by the crowd that followed after.

The Abydeans, being pressed by King Philip, put on the same resolution;
but, not having time, they could not put it 'in effect. The king, who
was struck with horror at the rash precipitation of this execution (the
treasure and movables that they had condemned to the flames being first
seized), drawing off his soldiers, granted them three days' time to kill
themselves in, that they might do it with more order and at greater ease:
which time they filled with blood and slaughter beyond the utmost excess
of all hostile cruelty, so that not so much as any one soul was left
alive that had power to destroy itself. There are infinite examples of
like popular resolutions which seem the more fierce and cruel in
proportion as the effect is more universal, and yet are really less so
than when singly executed; what arguments and persuasion cannot do with
individual men, they can do with all, the ardour of society ravishing
particular judgments.

The condemned who would live to be executed in the reign of Tiberius,
forfeited their goods and were denied the rites of sepulture; those who,
by killing themselves, anticipated it, were interred, and had liberty to
dispose of their estates by will.

But men sometimes covet death out of hope of a greater good. "I desire,"
says St. Paul, "to be with Christ," and "who shall rid me of these
bands?" Cleombrotus of Ambracia, having read Plato's Pheedo, entered
into so great a desire of the life to come that, without any other
occasion, he threw himself into the sea. By which it appears how
improperly we call this voluntary dissolution, despair, to which the
eagerness of hope often inclines us, and, often, a calm and temperate
desire proceeding from a mature and deliberate judgment. Jacques du
Chastel, bishop of Soissons, in St. Louis's foreign expedition, seeing
the king and whole army upon the point of returning into France, leaving
the affairs of religion imperfect, took a resolution rather to go into
Paradise; wherefore, having taken solemn leave of his friends, he charged
alone, in the sight of every one, into the enemy's army, where he was
presently cut to pieces. In a certain kingdom of the new discovered
world, upon a day of solemn procession, when the idol they adore is drawn
about in public upon a chariot of marvellous greatness; besides that many
are then seen cutting off pieces of their flesh to offer to him, there
are a number of others who prostrate themselves upon the place, causing
themselves to be crushed and broken to pieces under the weighty wheels,
to obtain the veneration of sanctity after death, which is accordingly
paid them. The death of the bishop, sword in hand, has more of
magnanimity in it, and less of sentiment, the ardour of combat taking
away part of the latter.

There are some governments who have taken upon them to regulate the
justice and opportunity of voluntary death. In former times there was
kept in our city of Marseilles a poison prepared out of hemlock, at the
public charge, for those who had a mind to hasten their end, having
first, before the six hundred, who were their senate, given account of
the reasons and motives of their design, and it was not otherwise lawful,
than by leave from the magistrate and upon just occasion to do violence
to themselves.—[Valerius Maximus, ii. 6, 7.]—The same law was also
in use in other places.

Sextus Pompeius, in his expedition into Asia, touched at the isle of Cea
in Negropont: it happened whilst he was there, as we have it from one
that was with him, that a woman of great quality, having given an account
to her citizens why she was resolved to put an end to her life, invited
Pompeius to her death, to render it the more honourable, an invitation
that he accepted; and having long tried in vain by the power of his
eloquence, which was very great, and persuasion, to divert her from that
design, he acquiesced in the end in her own will. She had passed the age
of four score and ten in a very happy state, both of body and mind; being
then laid upon her bed, better dressed than ordinary and leaning upon her
elbow, "The gods," said she, "O Sextus Pompeius, and rather those I leave
than those I go to seek, reward thee, for that thou hast not disdained to
be both the counsellor of my life and the witness of my death. For my
part, having always experienced the smiles of fortune, for fear lest the
desire of living too long may make me see a contrary face, I am going, by
a happy end, to dismiss the remains of my soul, leaving behind two
daughters of my body and a legion of nephews"; which having said, with
some exhortations to her family to live in peace, she divided amongst
them her goods, and recommending her domestic gods to her eldest
daughter, she boldly took the bowl that contained the poison, and having
made her vows and prayers to Mercury to conduct her to some happy abode
in the other world, she roundly swallowed the mortal poison. This being
done, she entertained the company with the progress of its operation, and
how the cold by degrees seized the several parts of her body one after
another, till having in the end told them it began to seize upon her
heart and bowels, she called her daughters to do the last office and
close her eyes.

Pliny tells us of a certain Hyperborean nation where, by reason of the
sweet temperature of the air, lives rarely ended but by the voluntary
surrender of the inhabitants, who, being weary of and satiated with
living, had the custom, at a very old age, after having made good cheer,
to precipitate themselves into the sea from the top of a certain rock,
assigned for that service. Pain and the fear of a worse death seem to me
the most excusable incitements.