The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXVIII. All things have their season.
Such as compare Cato the Censor with the younger Cato, who killed
himself, compare two beautiful natures, much resembling one another.
The first acquired his reputation several ways, and excels in military
exploits and the utility of his public employments; but the virtue of the
younger, besides that it were blasphemy to compare any to it in vigour,
was much more pure and unblemished. For who could absolve that of the
Censor from envy and ambition, having dared to attack the honour of
Scipio, a man in goodness and all other excellent qualities infinitely
beyond him or any other of his time?
That which they, report of him, amongst other things, that in his extreme
old age he put himself upon learning the Greek tongue with so greedy an
appetite, as if to quench a long thirst, does not seem to me to make much
for his honour; it being properly what we call falling into second
childhood. All things have their seasons, even good ones, and I may say
my Paternoster out of time; as they accused T. Quintus Flaminius, that
being general of an army, he was seen praying apart in the time of a
battle that he won.
"Imponit finem sapiens et rebus honestis."
["The wise man limits even honest things."—Juvenal, vi. 444]
Eudemonidas, seeing Xenocrates when very old, still very intent upon his
school lectures: "When will this man be wise," said he, "if he is yet
learning?" And Philopaemen, to those who extolled King Ptolemy for every
day inuring his person to the exercise of arms: "It is not," said he,
"commendable in a king of his age to exercise himself in these things; he
ought now really to employ them." The young are to make their
preparations, the old to enjoy them, say the sages: and the greatest vice
they observe in us is that our desires incessantly grow young again; we
are always re-beginning to live.
Our studies and desires should sometime be sensible of age; yet we have
one foot in the grave and still our appetites and pursuits spring every
day anew within us:
"Tu secanda marmora
Locas sub ipsum funus, et, sepulcri
Immemor, struis domos."
["You against the time of death have marble cut for use, and,
forgetful of the tomb, build houses."—Horace, Od., ii. 18, 17.]
The longest of my designs is not of above a year's extent; I think of
nothing now but ending; rid myself of all new hopes and enterprises; take
my last leave of every place I depart from, and every day dispossess
myself of what I have.
"Olim jam nec perit quicquam mihi, nec acquiritur....
plus superest viatici quam viae."
["Henceforward I will neither lose, nor expect to get: I have more
wherewith to defray my journey, than I have way to go." (Or):
"Hitherto nothing of me has been lost or gained; more remains to pay
the way than there is way."—Seneca, Ep., 77. (The sense seems to
be that so far he had met his expenses, but that for the future he
was likely to have more than he required.)]
"Vixi, et, quem dederat cursum fortuna, peregi."
["I have lived and finished the career Fortune placed before me."
—AEneid, iv. 653.]
'Tis indeed the only comfort I find in my old age, that it mortifies in
me several cares and desires wherewith my life has been disturbed; the
care how the world goes, the care of riches, of grandeur, of knowledge,
of health, of myself. There are men who are learning to speak at a time
when they should learn to be silent for ever. A man may always study,
but he must not always go to school what a contemptible thing is an old
Abecedarian!—[Seneca, Ep. 36]
"Diversos diversa juvant; non omnibus annis
["Various things delight various men; all things are not
for all ages."—Gall., Eleg., i. 104.]
If we must study, let us study what is suitable to our present condition,
that we may answer as he did, who being asked to what end he studied in
his decrepit age, "that I may go out better," said he, "and at greater
ease." Such a study was that of the younger Cato, feeling his end
approach, and which he met with in Plato's Discourse of the Eternity of
the Soul: not, as we are to believe, that he was not long before
furnished with all sorts of provision for such a departure; for of
assurance, an established will and instruction, he had more than Plato
had in all his writings; his knowledge and courage were in this respect
above philosophy; he applied himself to this study, not for the service
of his death; but, as a man whose sleeps were never disturbed in the
importance of such a deliberation, he also, without choice or change,
continued his studies with the other accustomary actions of his life.
The night that he was denied the praetorship he spent in play; that
wherein he was to die he spent in reading. The loss either of life
or of office was all one to him.