The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter XXXVII

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The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton
Chapter XXXVII. Of the resemblance of children to their fathers.

Chapter XXXVII. Of the resemblance of children to their fathers.[edit]


This faggoting up of so many divers pieces is so done that I never set
pen to paper but when I have too much idle time, and never anywhere but
at home; so that it is compiled after divers interruptions and intervals,
occasions keeping me sometimes many months elsewhere. As to the rest,
I never correct my first by any second conceptions; I, peradventure, may
alter a word or so, but 'tis only to vary the phrase, and not to destroy
my former meaning. I have a mind to represent the progress of my
humours, and that every one may see each piece as it came from the forge.
I could wish I had begun sooner, and had taken more notice of the course
of my mutations. A servant of mine whom I employed to transcribe for me,
thought he had got a prize by stealing several pieces from me, wherewith
he was best pleased; but it is my comfort that he will be no greater a
gainer than I shall be a loser by the theft. I am grown older by seven
or eight years since I began; nor has it been without same new
acquisition: I have, in that time, by the liberality of years, been
acquainted with the stone: their commerce and long converse do not well
pass away without some such inconvenience. I could have been glad that
of other infirmities age has to present long-lived men withal, it had
chosen some one that would have been more welcome to me, for it could not
possibly have laid upon me a disease for which, even from my infancy, I
have had so great a horror; and it is, in truth, of all the accidents of
old age, that of which I have ever been most afraid. I have often
thought with myself that I went on too far, and that in so long a voyage
I should at last run myself into some disadvantage; I perceived, and have
often enough declared, that it was time to depart, and that life should
be cut off in the sound and living part, according to the surgeon's rule
in amputations; and that nature made him pay very strict usury who did
not in due time pay the principal. And yet I was so far from being
ready, that in the eighteen months' time or thereabout that I have been
in this uneasy condition, I have so inured myself to it as to be content
to live on in it; and have found wherein to comfort myself, and to hope:
so much are men enslaved to their miserable being, that there is no
condition so wretched they will not accept, provided they may live! Hear
Maecenas:

                        "Debilem facito manu,
                         Debilem pede, coxa,
                         Lubricos quate dentes;
                         Vita dum superest, bene est."

     ["Cripple my hand, foot, hip; shake out my loose teeth: while
     there's life, 'tis well."—Apud Seneca, Ep., 101.]

And Tamerlane, with a foolish humanity, palliated the fantastic cruelty
he exercised upon lepers, when he put all he could hear of to death, to
deliver them, as he pretended, from the painful life they lived. For
there was not one of them who would not rather have been thrice a leper
than be not. And Antisthenes the Stoic, being very sick, and crying out,
"Who will deliver me from these evils?" Diogenes, who had come to visit
him, "This," said he, presenting him a knife, "soon enough, if thou
wilt."—"I do not mean from my life," he replied, "but from my
sufferings." The sufferings that only attack the mind, I am not so
sensible of as most other men; and this partly out of judgment, for the
world looks upon several things as dreadful or to be avoided at the
expense of life, that are almost indifferent to me: partly, through a
dull and insensible complexion I have in accidents which do not
point-blank hit me; and that insensibility I look upon as one of the best
parts of my natural condition; but essential and corporeal pains I am
very sensible of. And yet, having long since foreseen them, though with
a sight weak and delicate and softened with the long and happy health and
quiet that God has been pleased to give me the greatest part of my time,
I had in my imagination fancied them so insupportable, that, in truth, I
was more afraid than I have since found I had cause: by which I am still
more fortified in this belief, that most of the faculties of the soul, as
we employ them, more trouble the repose of life than they are any way
useful to it.

I am in conflict with the worst, the most sudden, the most painful, the
most mortal, and the most irremediable of all diseases; I have already
had the trial of five or six very long and very painful fits; and yet I
either flatter myself, or there is even in this state what is very well
to be endured by a man who has his soul free from the fear of death, and
of the menaces, conclusions, and consequences which physic is ever
thundering in our ears; but the effect even of pain itself is not so
sharp and intolerable as to put a man of understanding into rage and
despair. I have at least this advantage by my stone, that what I could
not hitherto prevail upon myself to resolve upon, as to reconciling and
acquainting myself with death, it will perfect; for the more it presses
upon and importunes me, I shall be so much the less afraid to die. I had
already gone so far as only to love life for life's sake, but my pain
will dissolve this intelligence; and God grant that in the end, should
the sharpness of it be once greater than I shall be able to bear, it does
not throw me into the other no less vicious extreme to desire and wish to
die!

               "Summum nec metuas diem, nec optes:"

          ["Neither to wish, nor fear to die." (Or:)
          "Thou shouldest neither fear nor desire the last day."
          —Martial, x. 7.]

they are two passions to be feared; but the one has its remedy much
nearer at hand than the other.

As to the rest, I have always found the precept that so rigorously
enjoins a resolute countenance and disdainful and indifferent comportment
in the toleration of infirmities to be ceremonial. Why should
philosophy, which only has respect to life and effects, trouble itself
about these external appearances? Let us leave that care to actors and
masters of rhetoric, who set so great a value upon our gestures. Let her
allow this vocal frailty to disease, if it be neither cordial nor
stomachic, and permit the ordinary ways of expressing grief by sighs,
sobs, palpitations, and turning pale, that nature has put out of our
power; provided the courage be undaunted, and the tones not expressive
of despair, let her be satisfied. What matter the wringing of our hands,
if we do not wring our thoughts? She forms us for ourselves, not for
others; to be, not to seem; let her be satisfied with governing our
understanding, which she has taken upon her the care of instructing;
that, in the fury of the colic, she maintain the soul in a condition to
know itself, and to follow its accustomed way, contending with, and
enduring, not meanly truckling under pain; moved and heated, not subdued
and conquered, in the contention; capable of discourse and other things,
to a certain degree. In such extreme accidents, 'tis cruelty to require
so exact a composedness. 'Tis no great matter that we make a wry face,
if the mind plays its part well: if the body find itself relieved by
complaining let it complain: if agitation ease it, let it tumble and toss
at pleasure; if it seem to find the disease evaporate (as some physicians
hold that it helps women in delivery) in making loud outcries, or if this
do but divert its torments, let it roar as it will. Let us not command
this voice to sally, but stop it not. Epicurus, not only forgives his
sage for crying out in torments, but advises him to it:

          "Pugiles etiam, quum feriunt, in jactandis caestibus
          ingemiscunt, quia profundenda voce omne corpus intenditur,
          venitque plaga vehementior."

     ["Boxers also, when they strike, groan in the act, because with the
     strength of voice the whole body is carried, and the blow comes with
     the greater vehemence."—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 23.]

We have enough to do to deal with the disease, without troubling
ourselves with these superfluous rules.

Which I say in excuse of those whom we ordinarily see impatient in the
assaults of this malady; for as to what concerns myself, I have passed it
over hitherto with a little better countenance, and contented myself with
groaning without roaring out; not, nevertheless, that I put any great
constraint upon myself to maintain this exterior decorum, for I make
little account of such an advantage: I allow herein as much as the pain
requires; but either my pains are not so excessive, or I have more than
ordinary patience. I complain, I confess, and am a little impatient in a
very sharp fit, but I do not arrive to such a degree of despair as he who
with:

               "Ejulatu, questu, gemitu, fremitibus
               Resonando, multum flebiles voces refert:"

     ["Howling, roaring, groaning with a thousand noises, expressing his
     torment in a dismal voice." (Or:) "Wailing, complaining, groaning,
     murmuring much avail lugubrious sounds."—Verses of Attius, in his
     Phaloctetes, quoted by Cicero, De Finib., ii. 29; Tusc. Quaes.,
     ii. 14.]

I try myself in the depth of my suffering, and have always found that I
was in a capacity to speak, think, and give a rational answer as well as
at any other time, but not so firmly, being troubled and interrupted by
the pain. When I am looked upon by my visitors to be in the greatest
torment, and that they therefore forbear to trouble me, I often essay my
own strength, and myself set some discourse on foot, the most remote I
can contrive from my present condition. I can do anything upon a sudden
endeavour, but it must not continue long. Oh, what pity 'tis I have not
the faculty of that dreamer in Cicero, who dreaming he was lying with a
wench, found he had discharged his stone in the sheets. My pains
strangely deaden my appetite that way. In the intervals from this
excessive torment, when my ureters only languish without any great dolor,
I presently feel myself in my wonted state, forasmuch as my soul takes no
other alarm but what is sensible and corporal, which I certainly owe to
the care I have had of preparing myself by meditation against such
accidents:

                                   "Laborum,
               Nulla mihi nova nunc facies inopinave surgit;
               Omnia praecepi, atque animo mecum ante peregi."

     ["No new shape of suffering can arise new or unexpected; I have
     anticipated all, and acted them over beforehand in my mind."
     —AEneid, vi. 103.]

I am, however, a little roughly handled for an apprentice, and with a
sudden and sharp alteration, being fallen in an instant from a very easy
and happy condition of life into the most uneasy and painful that can be
imagined. For besides that it is a disease very much to be feared in
itself, it begins with me after a more sharp and severe manner than it is
used to do with other men. My fits come so thick upon me that I am
scarcely ever at ease; yet I have hitherto kept my mind so upright that,
provided I can still continue it, I find myself in a much better
condition of life than a thousand others, who have no fewer nor other
disease but what they create to themselves for want of meditation.

There is a certain sort of crafty humility that springs from presumption,
as this, for example, that we confess our ignorance in many things, and
are so courteous as to acknowledge that there are in the works of nature
some qualities and conditions that are imperceptible to us, and of which
our understanding cannot discover the means and causes; by this so honest
and conscientious declaration we hope to obtain that people shall also
believe us as to those that we say we do understand. We need not trouble
ourselves to seek out foreign miracles and difficulties; methinks,
amongst the things that we ordinarily see, there are such
incomprehensible wonders as surpass all difficulties of miracles. What a
wonderful thing it is that the drop of seed from which we are produced
should carry in itself the impression not only of the bodily form, but
even of the thoughts and inclinations of our fathers! Where can that
drop of fluid matter contain that infinite number of forms? and how can
they carry on these resemblances with so precarious and irregular a
process that the son shall be like his great-grandfather, the nephew like
his uncle? In the family of Lepidus at Rome there were three, not
successively but by intervals, who were born with the same eye covered
with a cartilage. At Thebes there was a race that carried from their
mother's womb the form of the head of a lance, and he who was not born so
was looked upon as illegitimate. And Aristotle says that in a certain
nation, where the women were in common, they assigned the children to
their fathers by their resemblance.

'Tis to be believed that I derive this infirmity from my father, for he
died wonderfully tormented with a great stone in his bladder; he was
never sensible of his disease till the sixty-seventh year of his age; and
before that had never felt any menace or symptoms of it, either in his
reins, sides, or any other part, and had lived, till then, in a happy,
vigorous state of health, little subject to infirmities, and he continued
seven years after in this disease, dragging on a very painful end of
life. I was born about five-and-twenty years before his disease seized
him, and in the time of his most flourishing and healthful state of body,
his third child in order of birth: where could his propension to this
malady lie lurking all that while? And he being then so far from the
infirmity, how could that small part of his substance wherewith he made
me, carry away so great an impression for its share? and how so
concealed, that till five-and-forty years after, I did not begin to be
sensible of it? being the only one to this hour, amongst so many
brothers and sisters, and all by one mother, that was ever troubled with
it. He that can satisfy me in this point, I will believe him in as many
other miracles as he pleases; always provided that, as their manner is,
he do not give me a doctrine much more intricate and fantastic than the
thing itself for current pay.

Let the physicians a little excuse the liberty I take, for by this same
infusion and fatal insinuation it is that I have received a hatred and
contempt of their doctrine; the antipathy I have against their art is
hereditary. My father lived three-score and fourteen years, my
grandfather sixty-nine, my great-grandfather almost fourscore years,
without ever tasting any sort of physic; and, with them, whatever was not
ordinary diet, was instead of a drug. Physic is grounded upon experience
and examples: so is my opinion. And is not this an express and very
advantageous experience. I do not know that they can find me in all
their records three that were born, bred, and died under the same roof,
who have lived so long by their conduct. They must here of necessity
confess, that if reason be not, fortune at least is on my side, and with
physicians fortune goes a great deal further than reason. Let them not
take me now at a disadvantage; let them not threaten me in the subdued
condition wherein I now am; that were treachery. In truth, I have enough
the better of them by these domestic examples, that they should rest
satisfied. Human things are not usually so constant; it has been two
hundred years, save eighteen, that this trial has lasted, for the first
of them was born in the year 1402: 'tis now, indeed, very good reason
that this experience should begin to fail us. Let them not, therefore,
reproach me with the infirmities under which I now suffer; is it not
enough that I for my part have lived seven-and-forty years in good
health? though it should be the end of my career; 'tis of the longer
sort.

My ancestors had an aversion to physic by some occult and natural
instinct; for the very sight of drugs was loathsome to my father. The
Seigneur de Gaviac, my uncle by the father's side, a churchman, and a
valetudinary from his birth, and yet who made that crazy life hold out to
sixty-seven years, being once fallen into a furious fever, it was ordered
by the physicians he should be plainly told that if he would not make use
of help (for so they call that which is very often an obstacle), he would
infallibly be a dead man. That good man, though terrified with this
dreadful sentence, yet replied, "I am then a dead man." But God soon
after made the prognostic false. The last of the brothers—there were
four of them—and by many years the last, the Sieur de Bussaguet, was the
only one of the family who made use of medicine, by reason, I suppose, of
the concern he had with the other arts, for he was a councillor in the
court of Parliament, and it succeeded so ill with him, that being in
outward appearance of the strongest constitution, he yet died long before
any of the rest, save the Sieur de Saint Michel.

'Tis possible I may have derived this natural antipathy to physic from
them; but had there been no other consideration in the case, I would have
endeavoured to have overcome it; for all these conditions that spring in
us without reason, are vicious; 'tis a kind of disease that we should
wrestle with. It may be I had naturally this propension; but I have
supported and fortified it by arguments and reasons which have
established in me the opinion I am of. For I also hate the consideration
of refusing physic for the nauseous taste.

I should hardly be of that humour who hold health to be worth purchasing
by all the most painful cauteries and incisions that can be applied.
And, with Epicurus, I conceive that pleasures are to be avoided, if
greater pains be the consequence, and pains to be coveted, that will
terminate in greater pleasures. Health is a precious thing, and the only
one, in truth, meriting that a man should lay out, not only his time,
sweat, labour, and goods, but also his life itself to obtain it;
forasmuch as, without it, life is wearisome and injurious to us:
pleasure, wisdom, learning, and virtue, without it, wither away and
vanish; and to the most laboured and solid discourses that philosophy
would imprint in us to the contrary, we need no more but oppose the image
of Plato being struck with an epilepsy or apoplexy; and, in this
presupposition, to defy him to call the rich faculties of his soul to his
assistance. All means that conduce to health can neither be too painful
nor too dear to me. But I have some other appearances that make me
strangely suspect all this merchandise. I do not deny but that there may
be some art in it, that there are not amongst so many works of Nature,
things proper for the conservation of health: that is most certain: I
very well know there are some simples that moisten, and others that dry;
I experimentally know that radishes are windy, and senna-leaves purging;
and several other such experiences I have, as that mutton nourishes me,
and wine warms me: and Solon said "that eating was physic against the
malady hunger." I do not disapprove the use we make of things the earth
produces, nor doubt, in the least, of the power and fertility of Nature,
and of its application to our necessities: I very well see that pikes and
swallows live by her laws; but I mistrust the inventions of our mind, our
knowledge and art, to countenance which, we have abandoned Nature and her
rules, and wherein we keep no bounds nor moderation. As we call the
piling up of the first laws that fall into our hands justice, and their
practice and dispensation very often foolish and very unjust; and as
those who scoff at and accuse it, do not, nevertheless, blame that noble
virtue itself, but only condemn the abuse and profanation of that sacred
title; so in physic I very much honour that glorious name, its
propositions, its promises, so useful for the service of mankind; but the
ordinances it foists upon us, betwixt ourselves, I neither honour nor
esteem.

In the first place, experience makes me dread it; for amongst all my
acquaintance, I see no people so soon sick, and so long before they are
well, as those who take much physic; their very health is altered and
corrupted by their frequent prescriptions. Physicians are not content to
deal only with the sick, but they will moreover corrupt health itself,
for fear men should at any time escape their authority. Do they not,
from a continual and perfect health, draw the argument of some great
sickness to ensue? I have been sick often enough, and have always found
my sicknesses easy enough to be supported (though I have made trial of
almost all sorts), and as short as those of any other, without their
help, or without swallowing their ill-tasting doses. The health I have
is full and free, without other rule or discipline than my own custom and
pleasure. Every place serves me well enough to stay in, for I need no
other conveniences, when I am sick, than what I must have when I am well.
I never disturb myself that I have no physician, no apothecary, nor any
other assistance, which I see most other sick men more afflicted at than
they are with their disease. What! Do the doctors themselves show us
more felicity and duration in their own lives, that may manifest to us
some apparent effect of their skill?

There is not a nation in the world that has not been many ages without
physic; and these the first ages, that is to say, the best and most
happy; and the tenth part of the world knows nothing of it yet; many
nations are ignorant of it to this day, where men live more healthful and
longer than we do here, and even amongst us the common people live well
enough without it. The Romans were six hundred years before they
received it; and after having made trial of it, banished it from the city
at the instance of Cato the Censor, who made it appear how easy it was to
live without it, having himself lived fourscore and five years, and kept
his wife alive to an extreme old age, not without physic, but without a
physician: for everything that we find to be healthful to life may be
called physic. He kept his family in health, as Plutarch says if I
mistake not, with hare's milk; as Pliny reports, that the Arcadians
cured all manner of diseases with that of a cow; and Herodotus says, the
Lybians generally enjoy rare health, by a custom they have, after their
children are arrived to four years of age, to burn and cauterise the
veins of their head and temples, by which means they cut off all
defluxions of rheum for their whole lives. And the country people of our
province make use of nothing, in all sorts of distempers, but the
strongest wine they can get, mixed with a great deal of saffron and
spice, and always with the same success.

And to say the truth, of all this diversity and confusion of
prescriptions, what other end and effect is there after all, but to purge
the belly? which a thousand ordinary simples will do as well; and I do
not know whether such evacuations be so much to our advantage as they
pretend, and whether nature does not require a residence of her
excrements to a certain proportion, as wine does of its lees to keep it
alive: you often see healthful men fall into vomitings and fluxes of the
belly by some extrinsic accident, and make a great evacuation of
excrements, without any preceding need, or any following benefit, but
rather with hurt to their constitution. 'Tis from the great Plato, that
I lately learned, that of three sorts of motions which are natural to us,
purging is the worst, and that no man, unless he be a fool, ought to take
anything to that purpose but in the extremest necessity. Men disturb and
irritate the disease by contrary oppositions; it must be the way of
living that must gently dissolve, and bring it to its end. The violent
gripings and contest betwixt the drug and the disease are ever to our
loss, since the combat is fought within ourselves, and that the drug is
an assistant not to be trusted, being in its own nature an enemy to our
health, and by trouble having only access into our condition. Let it
alone a little; the general order of things that takes care of fleas and
moles, also takes care of men, if they will have the same patience that
fleas and moles have, to leave it to itself. 'Tis to much purpose we cry
out "Bihore,"—[A term used by the Languedoc waggoners to hasten their
horses]—'tis a way to make us hoarse, but not to hasten the matter.
'Tis a proud and uncompassionate order: our fears, our despair displease
and stop it from, instead of inviting it to, our relief; it owes its
course to the disease, as well as to health; and will not suffer itself
to be corrupted in favour of the one to the prejudice of the other's
right, for it would then fall into disorder. Let us, in God's name,
follow it; it leads those that follow, and those who will not follow, it
drags along, both their fury and physic together. Order a purge for your
brain, it will there be much better employed than upon your stomach.

One asking a Lacedaemonian what had made him live so long, he made
answer, "the ignorance of physic"; and the Emperor Adrian continually
exclaimed as he was dying, that the crowd of physicians had killed him.
A bad wrestler turned physician: "Courage," says Diogenes to him; "thou
hast done well, for now thou will throw those who have formerly thrown
thee." But they have this advantage, according to Nicocles, that the sun
gives light to their success and the earth covers their failures. And,
besides, they have a very advantageous way of making use of all sorts of
events: for what fortune, nature, or any other cause (of which the number
is infinite), products of good and healthful in us, it is the privilege
of physic to attribute to itself; all the happy successes that happen to
the patient, must be thence derived; the accidents that have cured me,
and a thousand others, who do not employ physicians, physicians usurp to
themselves: and as to ill accidents, they either absolutely disown them,
in laying the fault upon the patient, by such frivolous reasons as they
are never at a loss for; as "he lay with his arms out of bed," or "he was
disturbed with the rattling of a coach:"

                        "Rhedarum transitus arcto
                         Vicorum inflexu:"

               ["The passage of the wheels in the narrow
               turning of the street"—Juvenal, iii. 236.]

or "somebody had set open the casement," or "he had lain upon his left
side," or "he had some disagreeable fancies in his head": in sum, a word,
a dream, or a look, seems to them excuse sufficient wherewith to palliate
their own errors: or, if they so please, they even make use of our
growing worse, and do their business in this way which can never fail
them: which is by buzzing us in the ear, when the disease is more
inflamed by their medicaments, that it had been much worse but for those
remedies; he, whom from an ordinary cold they have thrown into a double
tertian-ague, had but for them been in a continued fever. They do not
much care what mischief they do, since it turns to their own profit.
In earnest, they have reason to require a very favourable belief from
their patients; and, indeed, it ought to be a very easy one, to swallow
things so hard to be believed. Plato said very well, that physicians
were the only men who might lie at pleasure, since our health depends
upon the vanity and falsity of their promises.

AEsop, a most excellent author, and of whom few men discover all the
graces, pleasantly represents to us the tyrannical authority physicians
usurp over poor creatures, weakened and subdued by sickness and fear,
when he tells us, that a sick person, being asked by his physician what
operation he found of the potion he had given him: "I have sweated very
much," says the sick man. "That's good," says the physician. Another
time, having asked how he felt himself after his physic: "I have been
very cold, and have had a great shivering upon me," said he. "That is
good," replied the physician. After the third potion, he asked him again
how he did: "Why, I find myself swollen and puffed up," said he, "as if
I had a dropsy."—"That is very well," said the physician. One of his
servants coming presently after to inquire how he felt himself, "Truly,
friend," said he, "with being too well I am about to die."

There was a more just law in Egypt, by which the physician, for the three
first days, was to take charge of his patient at the patient's own risk
and cost; but, those three days being past, it was to be at his own. For
what reason is it that their patron, AEsculapius, should be struck with
thunder for restoring Hippolitus from death to life:

         "Nam Pater omnipotens, aliquem indignatus ab umbris
          Mortalem infernis ad lumina surgere vitae,
          Ipse repertorem medicinae talis, et artis
          Fulmine Phoebigenam Stygias detrusit ad undas;"

     ["Then the Almighty Father, offended that any mortal should rise to
     the light of life from the infernal shades, struck the son of
     Phoebus with his forked lightning to the Stygian lake."
     —AEneid, vii. 770.]

and his followers be pardoned, who send so many souls from life to death?
A physician, boasting to Nicocles that his art was of great authority:
"It is so, indeed," said Nicocles, "that can with impunity kill so many
people."

As to what remains, had I been of their counsel, I would have rendered my
discipline more sacred and mysterious; they begun well, but they have not
ended so. It was a good beginning to make gods and demons the authors of
their science, and to have used a peculiar way of speaking and writing,
notwithstanding that philosophy concludes it folly to persuade a man to
his own good by an unintelligible way: "Ut si quis medicus imperet, ut
sumat:"


     "Terrigenam, herbigradam, domiportam, sanguine cassam."

     ["Describing it by the epithets of an animal trailing with its slime
     over the herbage, without blood or bones, and carrying its house
     upon its back, meaning simply a snail."—Coste]

It was a good rule in their art, and that accompanies all other vain,
fantastic, and supernatural arts, that the patient's belief should
prepossess them with good hope and assurance of their effects and
operation: a rule they hold to that degree, as to maintain that the most
inexpert and ignorant physician is more proper for a patient who has
confidence in him, than the most learned and experienced whom he is not
so acquainted with. Nay, even the very choice of most of their drugs is
in some sort mysterious and divine; the left foot of a tortoise, the
urine of a lizard, the dung of an elephant, the liver of a mole, blood
drawn from under the right wing of a white pigeon; and for us who have
the stone (so scornfully they use us in our miseries) the excrement of
rats beaten to powder, and such like trash and fooleries which rather
carry a face of magical enchantment than of any solid science. I omit
the odd number of their pills, the destination of certain days and feasts
of the year, the superstition of gathering their simples at certain
hours, and that so austere and very wise countenance and carriage which
Pliny himself so much derides. But they have, as I said, failed in that
they have not added to this fine beginning the making their meetings and
consultations more religious and secret, where no profane person should
have admission, no more than in the secret ceremonies of AEsculapius; for
by the reason of this it falls out that their irresolution, the weakness
of their arguments, divinations and foundations, the sharpness of their
disputes, full of hatred, jealousy, and self-consideration, coming to be
discovered by every one, a man must be marvellously blind not to see that
he runs a very great hazard in their hands. Who ever saw one physician
approve of another's prescription, without taking something away, or
adding something to it? by which they sufficiently betray their tricks,
and make it manifest to us that they therein more consider their own
reputation, and consequently their profit, than their patient's interest.
He was a much wiser man of their tribe, who of old gave it as a rule,
that only one physician should undertake a sick person; for if he do
nothing to purpose, one single man's default can bring no great scandal
upon the art of medicine; and, on the contrary, the glory will be great
if he happen to have success; whereas, when there are many, they at every
turn bring a disrepute upon their calling, forasmuch as they oftener do
hurt than good. They ought to be satisfied with the perpetual
disagreement which is found in the opinions of the principal masters and
ancient authors of this science, which is only known to men well read,
without discovering to the vulgar the controversies and various judgments
which they still nourish and continue amongst themselves.

Will you have one example of the ancient controversy in physic?
Herophilus lodges the original cause of all diseases in the humours;
Erasistratus, in the blood of the arteries; Asclepiades, in the invisible
atoms of the pores; Alcmaeon, in the exuberance or defect of our bodily
strength; Diocles, in the inequality of the elements of which the body is
composed, and in the quality of the air we breathe; Strato, in the
abundance, crudity, and corruption of the nourishment we take; and
Hippocrates lodges it in the spirits. There is a certain friend of
theirs,—[Celsus, Preface to the First Book.]—whom they know better
than I, who declares upon this subject, "that the most important science
in practice amongst us, as that which is intrusted with our health and
conservation, is, by ill luck, the most uncertain, the most perplexed,
and agitated with the greatest mutations." There is no great danger in
our mistaking the height of the sun, or the fraction of some astronomical
supputation; but here, where our whole being is concerned, 'tis not
wisdom to abandon ourselves to the mercy of the agitation of so many
contrary winds.

Before the Peloponnesian war there was no great talk of this science.
Hippocrates brought it into repute; whatever he established, Chrysippus
overthrew; after that, Erasistratus, Aristotle's grandson, overthrew what
Chrysippus had written; after these, the Empirics started up, who took a
quite contrary way to the ancients in the management of this art; when
the credit of these began a little to decay, Herophilus set another sort
of practice on foot, which Asclepiades in turn stood up against, and
overthrew; then, in their turn, the opinions first of Themiso, and then
of Musa, and after that those of Vectius Valens, a physician famous
through the intelligence he had with Messalina, came in vogue; the empire
of physic in Nero's time was established in Thessalus, who abolished and
condemned all that had been held till his time; this man's doctrine was
refuted by Crinas of Marseilles, who first brought all medicinal
operations under the Ephemerides and motions of the stars, and reduced
eating, sleeping, and drinking to hours that were most pleasing to
Mercury and the moon; his authority was soon after supplanted by
Charinus, a physician of the same city of Marseilles, a man who not only
controverted all the ancient methods of physic, but moreover the usage of
hot baths, that had been generally and for so many ages in common use; he
made men bathe in cold water, even in winter, and plunged his sick
patients in the natural waters of streams. No Roman till Pliny's time
had ever vouchsafed to practise physic; that office was only performed
by Greeks and foreigners, as 'tis now amongst us French, by those who
sputter Latin; for, as a very great physician says, we do not easily
accept the medicine we understand, no more than we do the drugs we
ourselves gather. If the nations whence we fetch our guaiacum,
sarsaparilla, and China wood, have physicians, how great a value must we
imagine, by the same recommendation of strangeness, rarity, and dear
purchase, do they set upon our cabbage and parsley? for who would dare
to contemn things so far fetched, and sought out at the hazard of so long
and dangerous a voyage?

Since these ancient mutations in physic, there have been infinite others
down to our own times, and, for the most part, mutations entire and
universal, as those, for example, produced by Paracelsus, Fioravanti, and
Argentier; for they, as I am told, not only alter one recipe, but the
whole contexture and rules of the body of physic, accusing all others of
ignorance and imposition who have practised before them. At this rate,
in what a condition the poor patient must be, I leave you to judge.

If we were even assured that, when they make a mistake, that mistake of
theirs would do us no harm, though it did us no good, it were a
reasonable bargain to venture the making ourselves better without any
danger of being made worse. AEsop tells a story, that one who had bought
a Morisco slave, believing that his black complexion had arrived by
accident and the ill usage of his former master, caused him to enter with
great care into a course of baths and potions: it happened that the Moor
was nothing amended in his tawny complexion, but he wholly lost his
former health. How often do we see physicians impute the death of their
patients to one another? I remember that some years ago there was an
epidemical disease, very dangerous and for the most part mortal, that
raged in the towns about us: the storm being over which had swept away an
infinite number of men, one of the most famous physicians of all the
country, presently after published a book upon that subject, wherein,
upon better thoughts, he confesses that the letting blood in that disease
was the principal cause of so many mishaps. Moreover, their authors hold
that there is no physic that has not something hurtful in it. And if
even those of the best operation in some measure offend us, what must
those do that are totally misapplied? For my own part, though there were
nothing else in the case, I am of opinion, that to those who loathe the
taste of physic, it must needs be a dangerous and prejudicial endeavour
to force it down at so incommodious a time, and with so much aversion,
and believe that it marvellously distempers a sick person at a time when
he has so much need of repose. And more over, if we but consider the
occasions upon which they usually ground the cause of our diseases, they
are so light and nice, that I thence conclude a very little error in the
dispensation of their drugs may do a great deal of mischief. Now, if the
mistake of a physician be so dangerous, we are in but a scurvy condition;
for it is almost impossible but he must often fall into those mistakes:
he had need of too many parts, considerations, and circumstances, rightly
to level his design: he must know the sick person's complexion, his
temperament, his humours, inclinations, actions, nay, his very thoughts
and imaginations; he must be assured of the external circumstances, of
the nature of the place, the quality of the air and season, the situation
of the planets, and their influences: he must know in the disease, the
causes, prognostics, affections, and critical days; in the drugs, the
weight, the power of working, the country, figure, age, and dispensation,
and he must know how rightly to proportion and mix them together, to
beget a just and perfect symmetry; wherein if there be the least error,
if amongst so many springs there be but any one out of order, 'tis enough
to destroy us. God knows with how great difficulty most of these things
are to be understood: for (for example) how shall the physician find out
the true sign of the disease, every disease being capable of an infinite
number of indications? How many doubts and controversies have they
amongst themselves upon the interpretation of urines? otherwise, whence
should the continual debates we see amongst them about the knowledge of
the disease proceed? how could we excuse the error they so oft fall into,
of taking fox for marten? In the diseases I have had, though there were
ever so little difficulty in the case, I never found three of one
opinion: which I instance, because I love to introduce examples wherein I
am myself concerned.

A gentleman at Paris was lately cut for the stone by order of the
physicians, in whose bladder, being accordingly so cut, there was found
no more stone than in the palm of his hand; and in the same place a
bishop, who was my particular friend, having been earnestly pressed by
the majority of the physicians whom he consulted, to suffer himself to be
cut, to which also, upon their word, I used my interest to persuade him,
when he was dead and opened, it appeared that he had no malady but in the
kidneys. They are least excusable for any error in this disease, by
reason that it is in some sort palpable; and 'tis thence that I conclude
surgery to be much more certain, by reason that it sees and feels what it
does, and so goes less upon conjecture; whereas the physicians have no
'speculum matricis', by which to examine our brains, lungs, and liver.

Even the very promises of physic are incredible in themselves; for,
having to provide against divers and contrary accidents that often
afflict us at one and the same time, and that have almost a necessary
relation, as the heat of the liver and the coldness of the stomach, they
will needs persuade us, that of their ingredients one will heat the
stomach and the other will cool the liver: one has its commission to go
directly to the kidneys, nay, even to the bladder, without scattering its
operations by the way, and is to retain its power and virtue through all
those turns and meanders, even to the place to the service of which it is
designed, by its own occult property this will dry-the brain; that will
moisten the lungs. Of all this bundle of things having mixed up a
potion, is it not a kind of madness to imagine or to hope that these
differing virtues should separate themselves from one another in this
mixture and confusion, to perform so many various errands? I should very
much fear that they would either lose or change their tickets, and
disturb one another's quarters. And who can imagine but that, in this
liquid confusion, these faculties must corrupt, confound, and spoil one
another? And is not the danger still more when the making up of this
medicine is entrusted to the skill and fidelity of still another, to
whose mercy we again abandon our lives?

As we have doublet and breeches-makers, distinct trades, to clothe us,
and are so much the better fitted, seeing that each of them meddles only
with his own business, and has less to trouble his head with than the
tailor who undertakes all; and as in matter of diet, great persons, for
their better convenience, and to the end they may be better served, have
cooks for the different offices, this for soups and potages, that for
roasting, instead of which if one cook should undertake the whole
service, he could not so well perform it; so also as to the cure of our
maladies. The Egyptians had reason to reject this general trade of
physician, and to divide the profession: to each disease, to each part of
the body, its particular workman; for that part was more properly and
with less confusion cared for, seeing the person looked to nothing else.
Ours are not aware that he who provides for all, provides for nothing;
and that the entire government of this microcosm is more than they are
able to undertake. Whilst they were afraid of stopping a dysentery, lest
they should put the patient into a fever, they killed me a friend,
—[Estienne de la Boetie.]—who was worth more than the whole of them.
They counterpoise their own divinations with the present evils; and
because they will not cure the brain to the prejudice of the stomach,
they injure both with their dissentient and tumultuary drugs.

As to the variety and weakness of the rationale of this art, they are
more manifest in it than in any other art; aperitive medicines are proper
for a man subject to the stone, by reason that opening and dilating the
passages they help forward the slimy matter whereof gravel and stone are
engendered, and convey that downward which begins to harden and gather in
the reins; aperitive things are dangerous for a man subject to the stone,
by reason that, opening and dilating the passages, they help forward the
matter proper to create the gravel toward the reins, which by their own
propension being apt to seize it, 'tis not to be imagined but that a
great deal of what has been conveyed thither must remain behind;
moreover, if the medicine happen to meet with anything too large to be
carried through all the narrow passages it must pass to be expelled, that
obstruction, whatever it is, being stirred by these aperitive things and
thrown into those narrow passages, coming to stop them, will occasion a
certain and most painful death. They have the like uniformity in the
counsels they give us for the regimen of life: it is good to make water
often; for we experimentally see that, in letting it lie long in the
bladder, we give it time to settle the sediment, which will concrete into
a stone; it is good not to make water often, for the heavy excrements it
carries along with it will not be voided without violence, as we see by
experience that a torrent that runs with force washes the ground it rolls
over much cleaner than the course of a slow and tardy stream; so, it is
good to have often to do with women, for that opens the passages and
helps to evacuate gravel; it is also very ill to have often to do with
women, because it heats, tires, and weakens the reins. It is good to
bathe frequently in hot water, forasmuch as that relaxes and mollifies
the places where the gravel and stone lie; it is also ill by reason that
this application of external heat helps the reins to bake, harden, and
petrify the matter so disposed. For those who are taking baths it is
most healthful. To eat little at night, to the end that the waters they
are to drink the next morning may have a better operation upon an empty
stomach; on the other hand, it is better to eat little at dinner, that it
hinder not the operation of the waters, while it is not yet perfect, and
not to oppress the stomach so soon after the other labour, but leave the
office of digestion to the night, which will much better perform it than
the day, when the body and soul are in perpetual moving and action. Thus
do they juggle and trifle in all their discourses at our expense; and
they could not give me one proposition against which I should not know
how to raise a contrary of equal force. Let them, then, no longer
exclaim against those who in this trouble of sickness suffer themselves
to be gently guided by their own appetite and the advice of nature, and
commit themselves to the common fortune.

I have seen in my travels almost all the famous baths of Christendom, and
for some years past have begun to make use of them myself: for I look
upon bathing as generally wholesome, and believe that we suffer no little
inconveniences in our health by having left off the custom that was
generally observed, in former times, almost by all nations, and is yet in
many, of bathing every day; and I cannot imagine but that we are much the
worse by, having our limbs crusted and our pores stopped with dirt. And
as to the drinking of them, fortune has in the first place rendered them
not at all unacceptable to my taste; and secondly, they are natural and
simple, which at least carry no danger with them, though they may do us
no good, of which the infinite crowd of people of all sorts and
complexions who repair thither I take to be a sufficient warranty; and
although I have not there observed any extraordinary and miraculous
effects, but that on the contrary, having more narrowly than ordinary
inquired into it, I have found all the reports of such operations that
have been spread abroad in those places ill-grounded and false, and those
that believe them (as people are willing to be gulled in what they
desire) deceived in them, yet I have seldom known any who have been made
worse by those waters, and a man cannot honestly deny but that they beget
a better appetite, help digestion, and do in some sort revive us, if we
do not go too late and in too weak a condition, which I would dissuade
every one from doing. They have not the virtue to raise men from
desperate and inveterate diseases, but they may help some light
indisposition, or prevent some threatening alteration. He who does not
bring along with him so much cheerfulness as to enjoy the pleasure of the
company he will there meet, and of the walks and exercises to which the
amenity of those places invite us, will doubtless lose the best and
surest part of their effect. For this reason I have hitherto chosen to
go to those of the most pleasant situation, where there was the best
conveniency of lodging, provision, and company, as the baths of Bagneres
in France, those of Plombieres on the frontiers of Germany and Lorraine,
those of Baden in Switzerland, those of Lucca in Tuscany, and especially
those of Della Villa, which I have the most and at various seasons
frequented.

Every nation has particular opinions touching their use, and particular
rules and methods in using them; and all of them, according to what I
have seen, almost with like effect. Drinking them is not at all received
in Germany; the Germans bathe for all diseases, and will lie dabbling in
the water almost from sun to sun; in Italy, where they drink nine days,
they bathe at least thirty, and commonly drink the water mixed with some
other drugs to make it work the better. Here we are ordered to walk to
digest it; there we are kept in bed after taking it till it be wrought
off, our stomachs and feet having continually hot cloths applied to them
all the while; and as the Germans have a particular practice generally to
use cupping and scarification in the bath, so the Italians have their
'doccie', which are certain little streams of this hot water brought
through pipes, and with these bathe an hour in the morning, and as much
in the afternoon, for a month together, either the head, stomach, or any
other part where the evil lies. There are infinite other varieties of
customs in every country, or rather there is no manner of resemblance to
one another. By this you may see that this little part of physic to
which I have only submitted, though the least depending upon art of all
others, has yet a great share of the confusion and uncertainty everywhere
else manifest in the profession.

The poets put what they would say with greater emphasis and grace;
witness these two epigrams:

              "Alcon hesterno signum Jovis attigit: ille,
               Quamvis marmoreus, vim patitur medici.
               Ecce hodie, jussus transferri ex aeede vetusta,
               Effertur, quamvis sit Deus atque lapis."

     ["Alcon yesterday touched Jove's statue; he, although marble,
     suffers the force of the physician: to-day ordered to be transferred
     from the old temple, where it stood, it is carried out, although it
     be a god and a stone."—Ausonius, Ep., 74.]


and the other:

              "Lotus nobiscum est, hilaris coenavit; et idem
               Inventus mane est mortuus Andragoras.
               Tam subitae mortis causam, Faustine, requiris?
               In somnis medicum viderat Hermocratem:"

     ["Andragoras bathed with us, supped gaily, and in the morning the
     same was found dead. Dost thou ask, Faustinus, the cause of this so
     sudden death? In his dreams he had seen the physician Hermocrates."
     —Martial, vi. 53.]

upon which I will relate two stories.

The Baron de Caupene in Chalosse and I have betwixt us the advowson of a
benefice of great extent, at the foot of our mountains, called Lahontan.
It is with the inhabitants of this angle, as 'tis said of those of the
Val d'Angrougne; they lived a peculiar sort of life, their fashions,
clothes, and manners distinct from other people; ruled and governed by
certain particular laws and usages, received from father to son, to which
they submitted, without other constraint than the reverence to custom.
This little state had continued from all antiquity in so happy a
condition, that no neighbouring judge was ever put to the trouble of
inquiring into their doings; no advocate was ever retained to give them
counsel, no stranger ever called in to compose their differences; nor was
ever any of them seen to go a-begging. They avoided all alliances and
traffic with the outer world, that they might not corrupt the purity of
their own government; till, as they say, one of them, in the memory of
man, having a mind spurred on with a noble ambition, took it into his
head, to bring his name into credit and reputation, to make one of his
sons something more than ordinary, and having put him to learn to write
in a neighbouring town, made him at last a brave village notary. This
fellow, having acquired such dignity, began to disdain their ancient
customs, and to buzz into the people's ears the pomp of the other parts
of the nation; the first prank he played was to advise a friend of his,
whom somebody had offended by sawing off the horns of one of his goats,
to make his complaint to the royal judges thereabout, and so he went on
from one to another, till he had spoiled and confounded all. In the tail
of this corruption, they say, there happened another, and of worse
consequence, by means of a physician, who, falling in love with one of
their daughters, had a mind to marry her and to live amongst them. This
man first of all began to teach them the names of fevers, colds, and
imposthumes; the seat of the heart, liver, and intestines, a science till
then utterly unknown to them; and instead of garlic, with which they were
wont to cure all manner of diseases, how painful or extreme soever, he
taught them, though it were but for a cough or any little cold, to take
strange mixtures, and began to make a trade not only of their health, but
of their lives. They swear till then they never perceived the evening
air to be offensive to the head; that to drink when they were hot was
hurtful, and that the winds of autumn were more unwholesome than those of
spring; that, since this use of physic, they find themselves oppressed
with a legion of unaccustomed diseases, and that they perceive a general
decay in their ancient vigour, and their lives are cut shorter by the
half. This is the first of my stories.

The other is, that before I was afflicted with the stone, hearing that
the blood of a he-goat was with many in very great esteem, and looked
upon as a celestial manna rained down upon these latter ages for the good
and preservation of the lives of men, and having heard it spoken of by
men of understanding for an admirable drug, and of infallible operation;
I, who have ever thought myself subject to all the accidents that can
befall other men, had a mind, in my perfect health, to furnish myself
with this miracle, and therefore gave order to have a goat fed at home
according to the recipe: for he must be taken in the hottest month of all
summer, and must only have aperitive herbs given him to eat, and white
wine to drink. I came home by chance the very day he was to be killed;
and some one came and told me that the cook had found two or three great
balls in his paunch, that rattled against one another amongst what he had
eaten. I was curious to have all his entrails brought before me, where,
having caused the skin that enclosed them to be cut, there tumbled out
three great lumps, as light as sponges, so that they appeared to be
hollow, but as to the rest, hard and firm without, and spotted and mixed
all over with various dead colours; one was perfectly round, and of the
bigness of an ordinary ball; the other two something less, of an
imperfect roundness, as seeming not to be arrived at their, full growth.
I find, by inquiry of people accustomed to open these animals, that it is
a rare and unusual accident. 'Tis likely these are stones of the same
nature with ours and if so, it must needs be a very vain hope in
those who have the stone, to extract their cure from the blood of a beast
that was himself about to die of the same disease. For to say that the
blood does not participate of this contagion, and does not thence alter
its wonted virtue, it is rather to be believed that nothing is engendered
in a body but by the conspiracy and communication of all the parts: the
whole mass works together, though one part contributes more to the work
than another, according to the diversity of operations; wherefore it is
very likely that there was some petrifying quality in all the parts of
this goat. It was not so much for fear of the future, and for myself,
that I was curious in this experiment, but because it falls out in mine,
as it does in many other families, that the women store up such little
trumperies for the service of the people, using the same recipe in fifty
several diseases, and such a recipe as they will not take themselves, and
yet triumph when they happen to be successful.

As to what remains, I honour physicians, not according to the precept
for their necessity (for to this passage may be opposed another of the
prophet reproving King Asa for having recourse to a physician), but for
themselves, having known many very good men of that profession, and most
worthy to be beloved. I do not attack them; 'tis their art I inveigh
against, and do not much blame them for making their advantage of our
folly, for most men do the same. Many callings, both of greater and of
less dignity than theirs, have no other foundation or support than public
abuse. When I am sick I send for them if they be near, only to have
their company, and pay them as others do. I give them leave to command
me to keep myself warm, because I naturally love to do it, and to appoint
leeks or lettuce for my broth; to order me white wine or claret; and so
as to all other things, which are indifferent to my palate and custom.
I know very well that I do nothing for them in so doing, because
sharpness and strangeness are incidents of the very essence of physic.
Lycurgus ordered wine for the sick Spartans. Why? because they
abominated the drinking it when they were well; as a gentleman, a
neighbour of mine, takes it as an excellent medicine in his fever,
because naturally he mortally hates the taste of it. How many do we see
amongst them of my humour, who despise taking physic themselves, are men
of a liberal diet, and live a quite contrary sort of life to what they
prescribe others? What is this but flatly to abuse our simplicity? for
their own lives and health are no less dear to them than ours are to us,
and consequently they would accommodate their practice to their rules, if
they did not themselves know how false these are.

'Tis the fear of death and of pain, impatience of disease, and a violent
and indiscreet desire of a present cure, that so blind us: 'tis pure
cowardice that makes our belief so pliable and easy to be imposed upon:
and yet most men do not so much believe as they acquiesce and permit; for
I hear them find fault and complain as well as we; but they resolve at
last, "What should I do then?" As if impatience were of itself a better
remedy than patience. Is there any one of those who have suffered
themselves to be persuaded into this miserable subjection, who does not
equally surrender himself to all sorts of impostures? who does not give
up himself to the mercy of whoever has the impudence to promise him a
cure? The Babylonians carried their sick into the public square; the
physician was the people: every one who passed by being in humanity and
civility obliged to inquire of their condition, gave some advice
according to his own experience. We do little better; there is not so
simple a woman, whose gossips and drenches we do not make use of: and
according to my humour, if I were to take physic, I would sooner choose
to take theirs than any other, because at least, if they do no good, they
will do no harm. What Homer and Plato said of the Egyptians, that they
were all physicians, may be said of all nations; there is not a man
amongst any of them who does not boast of some rare recipe, and who will
not venture it upon his neighbour, if he will let him. I was the other
day in a company where one, I know not who, of my fraternity brought us
intelligence of a new sort of pills made up of a hundred and odd
ingredients: it made us very merry, and was a singular consolation, for
what rock could withstand so great a battery? And yet I hear from those
who have made trial of it, that the least atom of gravel deigned not to
stir fort.

I cannot take my hand from the paper before I have added a word
concerning the assurance they give us of the certainty of their drugs,
from the experiments they have made.

The greatest part, I should say above two-thirds of the medicinal
virtues, consist in the quintessence or occult property of simples,
of which we can have no other instruction than use and custom; for
quintessence is no other than a quality of which we cannot by our reason
find out the cause. In such proofs, those they pretend to have acquired
by the inspiration of some daemon, I am content to receive (for I meddle
not with miracles); and also the proofs which are drawn from things that,
upon some other account, often fall into use amongst us; as if in the
wool, wherewith we are wont to clothe ourselves, there has accidentally
some occult desiccative property been found out of curing kibed heels, or
as if in the radish we eat for food there has been found out some
aperitive operation. Galen reports, that a man happened to be cured of a
leprosy by drinking wine out of a vessel into which a viper had crept by
chance. In this example we find the means and a very likely guide and
conduct to this experience, as we also do in those that physicians
pretend to have been directed to by the example of some beasts. But in
most of their other experiments wherein they affirm they have been
conducted by fortune, and to have had no other guide than chance, I find
the progress of this information incredible. Suppose man looking round
about him upon the infinite number of things, plants, animals, metals;
I do not know where he would begin his trial; and though his first fancy
should fix him upon an elk's horn, wherein there must be a very pliant
and easy belief, he will yet find himself as perplexed in his second
operation. There are so many maladies and so many circumstances
presented to him, that before he can attain the certainty of the point to
which the perfection of his experience should arrive, human sense will be
at the end of its lesson: and before he can, amongst this infinity of
things, find out what this horn is; amongst so many diseases, what is
epilepsy; the many complexions in a melancholy person; the many seasons
in winter; the many nations in the French; the many ages in age; the many
celestial mutations in the conjunction of Venus and Saturn; the many
parts in man's body, nay, in a finger; and being, in all this, directed
neither by argument, conjecture, example, nor divine inspirations, but
merely by the sole motion of fortune, it must be by a perfectly
artificial, regular and methodical fortune. And after the cure is
performed, how can he assure himself that it was not because the disease
had arrived at its period or an effect of chance? or the operation of
something else that he had eaten, drunk, or touched that day? or by
virtue of his grandmother's prayers? And, moreover, had this experiment
been perfect, how many times was it repeated, and this long bead-roll of
haps, and concurrences strung anew by chance to conclude a certain rule?
And when the rule is concluded, by whom, I pray you? Of so many
millions, there are but three men who take upon them to record their
experiments: must fortune needs just hit one of these? What if another,
and a hundred others, have made contrary experiments? We might,
peradventure, have some light in this, were all the judgments and
arguments of men known to us; but that three witnesses, three doctors,
should lord it over all mankind, is against reason: it were necessary
that human nature should have deputed and chosen them out, and that they
were declared our comptrollers by express procuration:


"TO MADAME DE DURAS.

     —[Marguerite de Grammont, widow of Jean de Durfort, Seigneur de
     Duras, who was killed near Leghorn, leaving no posterity. Montaigne
     seems to have been on terms of considerable intimacy with her, and
     to have tendered her some very wholesome and frank advice in regard
     to her relations with Henry IV.]—

"MADAME,—The last time you honoured me with a visit, you found me at work
upon this chapter, and as these trifles may one day fall into your hands,
I would also that they testify in how great honour the author will take
any favour you shall please to show them. You will there find the same
air and mien you have observed in his conversation; and though I could
have borrowed some better or more favourable garb than my own, I would
not have done it: for I require nothing more of these writings, but to
present me to your memory such as I naturally am. The same conditions
and faculties you have been pleased to frequent and receive with much
more honour and courtesy than they deserve, I would put together (but
without alteration or change) in one solid body, that may peradventure
continue some years, or some days, after I am gone; where you may find
them again when you shall please to refresh your memory, without putting
you to any greater trouble; neither are they worth it. I desire you
should continue the favour of your friendship to me, by the same
qualities by which it was acquired.

"I am not at all ambitious that any one should love and esteem me more
dead than living. The humour of Tiberius is ridiculous, but yet common,
who was more solicitous to extend his renown to posterity than to render
himself acceptable to men of his own time. If I were one of those to
whom the world could owe commendation, I would give out of it one-half to
have the other in hand; let their praises come quick and crowding about
me, more thick than long, more full than durable; and let them cease, in
God's name, with my own knowledge of them, and when the sweet sound can
no longer pierce my ears. It were an idle humour to essay, now that I am
about to forsake the commerce of men, to offer myself to them by a new
recommendation. I make no account of the goods I could not employ in the
service of my life. Such as I am, I will be elsewhere than in paper: my
art and industry have been ever directed to render myself good for
something; my studies, to teach me to do, and not to write. I have made
it my whole business to frame my life: this has been my trade and my
work; I am less a writer of books than anything else. I have coveted
understanding for the service of my present and real conveniences, and
not to lay up a stock for my posterity. He who has anything of value in
him, let him make it appear in his conduct, in his ordinary discourses,
in his courtships, and his quarrels: in play, in bed, at table, in the
management of his affairs, in his economics. Those whom I see make good
books in ill breeches, should first have mended their breeches, if they
would have been ruled by me. Ask a Spartan whether he had rather be a
good orator or a good soldier: and if I was asked the same question, I
would rather choose to be a good cook, had I not one already to serve me.
My God! Madame, how should I hate such a recommendation of being a
clever fellow at writing, and an ass and an inanity in everything else!
Yet I had rather be a fool both here and there than to have made so ill a
choice wherein to employ my talent. And I am so far from expecting to
gain any new reputation by these follies, that I shall think I come off
pretty well if I lose nothing by them of that little I had before. For
besides that this dead and mute painting will take from my natural being,
it has no resemblance to my better condition, but is much lapsed from my
former vigour and cheerfulness, growing faded and withered: I am towards
the bottom of the barrel, which begins to taste of the lees.

"As to the rest, Madame, I should not have dared to make so bold with the
mysteries of physic, considering the esteem that you and so many others
have of it, had I not had encouragement from their own authors. I think
there are of these among the old Latin writers but two, Pliny and Celsus
if these ever fall into your hands, you will find that they speak much
more rudely of their art than I do; I but pinch it, they cut its throat.
Pliny, amongst other things, twits them with this, that when they are at
the end of their rope, they have a pretty device to save themselves, by
recommending their patients, whom they have teased and tormented with
their drugs and diets to no purpose, some to vows and miracles, others to
the hot baths. (Be not angry, Madame; he speaks not of those in our
parts, which are under the protection of your house, and all Gramontins.)
They have a third way of saving their own credit, of ridding their hands
of us and securing themselves from the reproaches we might cast in their
teeth of our little amendment, when they have had us so long in their
hands that they have not one more invention left wherewith to amuse us,
which is to send us to the better air of some other country. This,
Madame, is enough; I hope you will give me leave to return to my
discourse, from which I have so far digressed, the better to divert you."

It was, I think, Pericles, who being asked how he did: "You may judge,"
says he, "by these," showing some little scrolls of parchment he had tied
about his neck and arms. By which he would infer that he must needs be
very sick when he was reduced to a necessity of having recourse to such
idle and vain fopperies, and of suffering himself to be so equipped.
I dare not promise but that I may one day be so much a fool as to commit
my life and death to the mercy and government of physicians; I may fall
into such a frenzy; I dare not be responsible for my future constancy:
but then, if any one ask me how I do, I may also answer, as Pericles did,
"You may judge by this," shewing my hand clutching six drachms of opium.
It will be a very evident sign of a violent sickness: my judgment will be
very much out of order; if once fear and impatience get such an advantage
over me, it may very well be concluded that there is a dreadful fever in
my mind.

I have taken the pains to plead this cause, which I understand
indifferently, a little to back and support the natural aversion to drugs
and the practice of physic I have derived from my ancestors, to the end
it may not be a mere stupid and inconsiderate aversion, but have a little
more form; and also, that they who shall see me so obstinate in my
resolution against all exhortations and menaces that shall be given me,
when my infirmity shall press hardest upon me, may not think 'tis mere
obstinacy in me; or any one so ill-natured as to judge it to be any
motive of glory: for it would be a strange ambition to seek to gain
honour by an action my gardener or my groom can perform as well as I.
Certainly, I have not a heart so tumorous and windy, that I should
exchange so solid a pleasure as health for an airy and imaginary
pleasure: glory, even that of the Four Sons of Aymon, is too dear bought
by a man of my humour, if it cost him three swinging fits of the stone.
Give me health, in God's name! Such as love physic, may also have good,
great, and convincing considerations; I do not hate opinions contrary to
my own: I am so, far from being angry to see a discrepancy betwixt mine
and other men's judgments, and from rendering myself unfit for the
society of men, from being of another sense and party than mine, that on
the contrary (the most general way that nature has followed being
variety, and more in souls than bodies, forasmuch as they are of a more
supple substance, and more susceptible of forms) I find it much more rare
to see our humours and designs jump and agree. And there never were, in
the world, two opinions alike, no more than two hairs, or two grains:
their most universal quality is diversity.