The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter XXV

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The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter XXV. Not to counterfeit being sick.

Chapter XXV. Not to counterfeit being sick.[edit]

There is an epigram in Martial, and one of the very good ones—for he has
of all sorts—where he pleasantly tells the story of Caelius, who, to
avoid making his court to some great men of Rome, to wait their rising,
and to attend them abroad, pretended to have the gout; and the better to
colour this anointed his legs, and had them lapped up in a great many
swathings, and perfectly counterfeited both the gesture and countenance
of a gouty person; till in the end, Fortune did him the kindness to make
him one indeed:

              "Quantum curs potest et ars doloris
               Desiit fingere Caelius podagram."

     ["How great is the power of counterfeiting pain: Caelius has ceased
     to feign the gout; he has got it."—Martial, Ep., vii. 39, 8.]

I think I have read somewhere in Appian a story like this, of one who to
escape the proscriptions of the triumvirs of Rome, and the better to be
concealed from the discovery of those who pursued him, having hidden
himself in a disguise, would yet add this invention, to counterfeit
having but one eye; but when he came to have a little more liberty, and
went to take off the plaster he had a great while worn over his eye, he
found he had totally lost the sight of it indeed, and that it was
absolutely gone. 'Tis possible that the action of sight was dulled from
having been so long without exercise, and that the optic power was wholly
retired into the other eye: for we evidently perceive that the eye we
keep shut sends some part of its virtue to its fellow, so that it will
swell and grow bigger; and so inaction, with the heat of ligatures and,
plasters, might very well have brought some gouty humour upon the
counterfeiter in Martial.

Reading in Froissart the vow of a troop of young English gentlemen, to
keep their left eyes bound up till they had arrived in France and
performed some notable exploit upon us, I have often been tickled with
this thought, that it might have befallen them as it did those others,
and they might have returned with but an eye a-piece to their mistresses,
for whose sakes they had made this ridiculous vow.

Mothers have reason to rebuke their children when they counterfeit having
but one eye, squinting, lameness, or any other personal defect; for,
besides that their bodies being then so tender, may be subject to take an
ill bent, fortune, I know not how, sometimes seems to delight in taking
us at our word; and I have heard several examples related of people who
have become really sick, by only feigning to be so. I have always used,
whether on horseback or on foot, to carry a stick in my hand, and even to
affect doing it with an elegant air; many have threatened that this fancy
would one day be turned into necessity: if so, I should be the first of
my family to have the gout.

But let us a little lengthen this chapter, and add another anecdote
concerning blindness. Pliny reports of one who, dreaming he was blind,
found himself so indeed in the morning without any preceding infirmity in
his eyes. The force of imagination might assist in this case, as I have
said elsewhere, and Pliny seems to be of the same opinion; but it is more
likely that the motions which the body felt within, of which physicians,
if they please, may find out the cause, taking away his sight, were the
occasion of his dream.

Let us add another story, not very improper for this subject, which
Seneca relates in one of his epistles: "You know," says he, writing to
Lucilius, "that Harpaste, my wife's fool, is thrown upon me as an
hereditary charge, for I have naturally an aversion to those monsters;
and if I have a mind to laugh at a fool, I need not seek him far; I can
laugh at myself. This fool has suddenly lost her sight: I tell you a
strange, but a very true thing she is not sensible that she is blind, but
eternally importunes her keeper to take her abroad, because she says the
house is dark. That what we laugh at in her, I pray you to believe,
happens to every one of us: no one knows himself to be avaricious or
grasping; and, again, the blind call for a guide, while we stray of our
own accord. I am not ambitious, we say; but a man cannot live otherwise
at Rome; I am not wasteful, but the city requires a great outlay; 'tis
not my fault if I am choleric—if I have not yet established any certain
course of life: 'tis the fault of youth. Let us not seek our disease out
of ourselves; 'tis in us, and planted in our bowels; and the mere fact
that we do not perceive ourselves to be sick, renders us more hard to be
cured. If we do not betimes begin to see to ourselves, when shall we
have provided for so many wounds and evils wherewith we abound? And yet
we have a most sweet and charming medicine in philosophy; for of all the
rest we are sensible of no pleasure till after the cure: this pleases and
heals at once." This is what Seneca says, that has carried me from my
subject, but there is advantage in the change.