Front Page Titles (by Subject) II: To Monseigneur, Monseigneur de Montaigne (his Father). (1563.) - Life and Letters of Montaigne with Notes and Index, vol. 10
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II: To Monseigneur, Monseigneur de Montaigne (his Father). (1563.) - Michel de Montaigne, Life and Letters of Montaigne with Notes and Index, vol. 10 
Life and Letters of Montaigne with Notes and Index, vol. 10, trans. Charles Cotton, revised by William Carew Hazlett (New York: Edwin C. Hill, 1910).
Part of: Essays of Montaigne, in 10 vols.
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To Monseigneur, Monseigneur de Montaigne (his Father).
. . . As to his last words, doubtless, if any man can give a good account of them, it is I, both because, during the whole of his sickness he conversed as fully with me as with any one, and also because, in consequence of the singular and brotherly friendship which we had entertained for each other, I was perfectly acquainted with the intentions, opinions, and wishes which he had formed in the course of his life, as much so, certainly, as one man can possibly be with those of another man; and because I knew them to be elevated, virtuous, full of steady resolution, and (after all said) admirable. I well foresaw that, if his illness permitted him to express himself, he would allow nothing to fall from him, in such an extremity, that was not replete with good example. I consequently took every care in my power to treasure what was said. True it is, Monseigneur, as my memory is not only in itself very short, but in this case affected by the trouble which I have undergone, through so heavy and important a loss, that I have forgotten a number of things which I should wish to have had known; but those which I recollect shall be related to you as exactly as lies in my power. For to represent in full measure his noble career suddenly arrested, to paint to you his indomitable courage, in a body worn out and prostrated by pain and the assaults of death, I confess, would demand a far better ability than mine: because, although, when in former years he discoursed on serious and important matters, he handled them in such a manner that it was difficult to reproduce exactly what he said, yet his ideas and his words at the last seemed to rival each other in serving him. For I am sure that I never knew him give birth to such fine conceptions, or display so much eloquence, as in the time of his sickness. If, Monseigneur, you blame me for introducing his more ordinary observations, please to know that I do so advisedly; for since they proceeded from him at a season of such great trouble, they indicate the perfect tranquillity of his mind and thoughts to the last.
On Monday, the 9th day of August 1563, on my return from the Court, I sent an invitation to him to come and dine with me. He returned word that he was obliged, but, being indisposed, he would thank me to do him the pleasure of spending an hour with him before he started for Medoc. Shortly after my dinner I went to him. He had laid himself down on the bed with his clothes on, and he was already, I perceived, much changed. He complained of diarrhoea, accompanied by the gripes, and said that he had it about him ever since he played with M. d’Escars with nothing but his doublet on, and that with him a cold often brought on such attacks. I advised him to go as he had proposed, but to stay for the night at Germignac, which is only about two leagues from the town. I gave him this advice, because some houses, near to that where he was living, were visited by the plague, about which he was nervous since his return from Perigord and the Agenois, where it had been raging; and, besides, horse exercise was, from my own experience, beneficial under similar circumstances. He set out accordingly, with his wife and M. Bouillhonnas, his uncle.
Early on the following morning, however, I had intelligence from Madame de la Boetie, that in the night he had a fresh and violent attack of dysentery. She had called in a physician and apothecary, and prayed me to lose no time in coming, which (after dinner) I did. He was delighted to see me; and when I was going away, under promise to return the following day, he begged me more importunately and affectionately than he was wont to do, to give him as much of my company as possible. I was a little affected; yet I was about to leave, when Madame de la Boetie, as if she foresaw something about to happen, implored me with tears to stay the night. When I consented, he seemed to grow more cheerful. I returned home the next day, and on the Thursday I paid him another visit. He had become worse; and his loss of blood from the dysentery, which reduced his strength very much, was largely on the increase. I quitted his side on Friday, but on Saturday I went to him, and found him very weak. He then gave me to understand that his complaint was infectious, and, moreover, disagreeable and depressing; and that he, knowing thoroughly my constitution, desired that I should content myself with coming to see him now and then. On the contrary, after that I never left his side.
It was only on the Sunday that he began to converse with me on any subject beyond the immediate one of his illness, and what the ancient doctors thought of it: we had not touched on public affairs, for I found at the very outset that he had a dislike to them.
But, on the Sunday, he had a fainting fit; and when he came to himself, he told me that everything seemed to him confused, as if in a mist and in disorder, and that, nevertheless, this visitation was not unpleasing to him. “Death,” I replied, “has no worse sensation, my brother.” “None so bad,” was his answer. He had had no regular sleep since the beginning of his illness; and as he became worse and worse, he began to turn his attention to questions which men commonly occupy themselves with in the last extremity, despairing now of getting better, and intimating as much to me. On that day, as he appeared in tolerably good spirits, I took occasion to say to him that, in consideration of the singular love I bore him, it would become me to take care that his affairs, which he had conducted with such rare prudence in his life, should not be neglected at present; and that I should regret it if, from want of proper counsel, he should leave anything unsettled, not only on account of the loss to his family, but also to his good name.
He thanked me for my kindness; and after a little reflection, as if he was resolving certain doubts in his own mind, he desired me to summon his uncle and his wife by themselves, in order that he might acquaint them with his testamentary dispositions. I told him that this would shock them. “No, no,” he answered, “I will cheer them by making out my case to be better than it is.” And then, he inquired whether we were not all much taken by surprise at his having fainted? I replied, that it was of no importance, being incidental to the complaint from which he suffered. “True, my brother,” said he; “it would be unimportant, even though it should lead to what you most dread.” “For you,” I rejoined, “it might be a happy thing; but I should be the loser, who would thereby be deprived of so great, so wise, and so steadfast a friend, a friend whose place I should never see supplied.” “It is very likely you may not,” was his answer; “and be sure that one thing which makes me somewhat anxious to recover, and to delay my journey to that place, whither I am already halfway gone, is the thought of the loss both you and that poor man and woman there (referring to his uncle and wife) must sustain; for I love them with my whole heart, and I feel certain that they will find it very hard to lose me. I should also regret it on account of such as have, in my lifetime, valued me, and whose conversation I should like to have enjoyed a little longer; and I beseech you, my brother, if I leave the world, to carry to them for me an assurance of the esteem I entertained for them to the last moment of my existence. My birth was, moreover, scarcely to so little purpose but that, had I lived, I might have done some service to the public; but, however this may be, I am prepared to submit to the will of God, when it shall please Him to call me, being confident of enjoying the tranquillity which you have foretold for me. As for you, my friend, I feel sure that you are so wise, that you will control your emotions, and submit to His divine ordinance regarding me; and I beg of you to see that that good man and woman do not mourn for my departure unnecessarily.”
He proceeded to inquire how they behaved at present. “Very well,” said I, “considering the circumstances.” “Ah!” he replied, “that is, so long as they do not abandon all hope of me; but when that shall be the case, you will have a hard task to support them.” It was owing to his strong regard for his wife and uncle that he studiously disguised from them his own conviction as to the certainty of his end, and he prayed me to do the same. When they were near him he assumed an appearance of gaiety, and flattered them with hopes. I then went to call them. They came, wearing as composed an air as possible; and when we four were together, he addressed us, with an untroubled countenance, as follows: “Uncle and wife, rest assured that no new attack of my disease, or fresh doubt that I have as to my recovery, has led me to take this step of communicating to you my intentions, for, thank God, I feel very well and hopeful; but taught by observation and experience the instability of all human things, and even of the life to which we are so much attached, and which is, nevertheless, a mere bubble; and knowing, moreover, that my state of health brings me more within the danger of death, I have thought proper to settle my worldly affairs, having the benefit of your advice.” Then addressing himself more particularly to his uncle, “Good uncle,” said he, “if I were to rehearse all the obligations under which I lie to you. I am sure that I never should make an end. Let me only say that, wherever I have been, and with whomsoever I have conversed, I have represented you as doing for me all that a father could do for a son: both in the care with which you tended my education, and in the zeal with which you pushed me forward into public life, so that my whole existence is a testimony of your good offices towards me. In short, I am indebted for all that I have to you, who have been to me as a parent; and therefore I have no right to part with anything, unless it be with your approval.”
There was a general silence hereupon, and his uncle was prevented from replying by tears and sobs. At last he said that whatever he thought for the best would be agreeable to him; and as he intended to make him his heir, he was at liberty to dispose of what would be his.
Then he turned to his wife. “My image,” said he (for so he often called her, there being some sort of relationship between them), “since I have been united to you by marriage, which is one of the most weighty and sacred ties imposed on us by God, for the purpose of maintaining human society, I have continued to love, cherish, and value you; and I know that you have returned my affection, for which I have no sufficient acknowledgment. I beg you to accept such portion of my estate as I bequeath to you, and be satisfied with it, though it is very inadequate to your desert.”
Afterwards he turned to me. “My brother,” he began, “for whom I have so entire a love, and whom I selected out of so large a number, thinking to revive with you that virtuous and sincere friendship which, owing to the degeneracy of the age, has grown to be almost unknown to us, and now exists only in certain vestiges of antiquity, I beg of you, as a mark of my affection to you, to accept my library: a slender offering, but given with a cordial will, and suitable to you, seeing that you are fond of learning. It will be a memorial of your old companion.”
Then he addressed all three of us. He blessed God that in his extremity he had the happiness to be surrounded by all those whom he held dearest in the world, and he looked upon it as a fine spectacle, where four persons were together, so unanimous in their feelings, and loving each other for each other’s sake. He commended us one to the other; and proceeded thus: “My worldly matters being arranged, I must now think of the welfare of my soul. I am a Christian; I am a Catholic. I have lived one, and I shall die one. Send for a priest; for I wish to conform to this last Christian obligation.” He now concluded his discourse, which he had conducted with such a firm face and with so distinct an utterance, that whereas, when I first entered his room, he was feeble, inarticulate in his speech, his pulse low and feverish, and his features pallid, now, by a sort of miracle, he appeared to have rallied, and his pulse was so strong that for the sake of comparison, I asked him to feel mine.
I felt my heart so oppressed at this moment, that I had not the power to make him any answer; but in the course of two or three hours, solicitous to keep up his courage, and, likewise, out of the tenderness which I had had all my life for his honor and fame, wishing a larger number of witnesses to his admirable fortitude, I said to him, how much I was ashamed to think that I lacked courage to listen to what he, so great a sufferer, had the courage to deliver; that down to the present time I had scarcely conceived that God granted us such command over human infirmities, and had found a difficulty in crediting the examples I had read in histories; but that with such evidence of the thing before my eyes, I gave praise to God that it had shown itself in one so excessively dear to me, and who loved me so entirely, and that his example would help me to act in a similar manner when my turn came. Interrupting me, he begged that it might happen so, and that the conversation which had passed between us might not be mere words, but might be impressed deeply on our minds, to be put in exercise at the first occasion; and that this was the real object and aim of all philosophy.
He then took my hand, and continued: “Brother, friend, there are many acts of my life, I think, which have cost me as much difficulty as this one is likely to do; and, after all, I have been long prepared for it, and have my lesson by heart. Have I not lived long enough? I am just upon thirty-three. By the grace of God, my days so far have known nothing but health and happiness; but in the ordinary course of our unstable human affairs, this could not have lasted much longer; it would have become time for me to enter on graver avocations, and I should thus have involved myself in numberless vexations, and, among them, the troubles of old age, from which I shall now be exempt. Moreover, it is probable that hitherto my life has been spent more simply, and with less of evil, than if God had spared me, and I had survived to feel the thirst for riches and worldly prosperity. I am sure, for my part, that I now go to God and the place of the blessed.” He seemed to detect in my expression some inquietude at his words; and he exclaimed, “What, my brother, would you make me entertain apprehensions? Had I any, whom would it become so much as yourself to remove them?”
The notary, who had been summoned to draw up his will, came in the evening, and when he had the documents prepared, I inquired of La Boetie if he would sign them. “Sign them,” cried he; “I will do so with my own hand; but I could desire more time, for I feel exceedingly timid and weak, and in a manner exhausted.” But when I was going to change the conversation, he suddenly rallied, said he had but a short time to live, and asked if the notary wrote rapidly, for he should dictate without making any pause. The notary was called, and he dictated his will there and then with such speed that the man could scarcely keep up with him; and when he had done, he asked me to read it out, saying to me, “What a good thing it is to look after what are called our riches.” Sunt haec quae hominibus vocantur bona. As soon as the will was signed, the chamber being full, he asked me if it would hurt him to talk. I answered, that it would not, if he did not speak too loud. He then summoned Mademoiselle de Saint Quentin, his niece, to him, and addressed her thus: “Dear niece, since my earliest acquaintance with thee, I have observed the marks of great natural goodness in thee; but the services which thou rendered to me, with so much affectionate diligence, in my present and last necessity, inspire me with high hopes of thee; and I am under great obligations to thee, and give thee most affectionate thanks. Let me relieve my conscience by counselling thee to be, in the first place, devout to God: for this doubtless is our first duty, failing which all others can be of little advantage or grace, but which, duly observed, carries with it necessarily all other virtues. After God, thou shouldest love thy father and mother—thy mother, my sister, whom I regard as one of the best and most intelligent of women, and by whom I beg of thee to let thy own life be regulated. Allow not thyself to be led away by pleasures; shun, like the plague, the foolish familiarities thou seest between some men and women; harmless enough at first, but which by insidious degrees corrupt the heart, and thence lead it to negligence, and then into the vile slough of vice. Credit me, the greatest safeguard to female chastity is sobriety of demeanor. I beseech and direct that thou often call to mind the friendship which was betwixt us; but I do not wish thee to mourn for me too much—an injunction which, so far as it is in my power, I lay on all my friends, since it might seem that by doing so they felt a jealousy of that blessed condition in which I am about to be placed by death. I assure thee, my dear, that if I had the option now of continuing in life or of completing the voyage on which I have set out, I should find it very hard to choose. Adieu, dear niece.”
Mademoiselle d’Arsat, his step-daughter, was next called. He said to her: “Daughter, you stand in no great need of advice from me, insomuch as you have a mother, whom I have ever found most sagacious, and entirely in conformity with my own opinions and wishes, and whom I have never found faulty; with such a preceptress, you cannot fail to be properly instructed. Do not account it singular that I, with no tie of blood to you, am interested in you; for, being the child of one who is so closely allied to me, I am necessarily concerned in what concerns you; and consequently the affairs of your brother, M. d’Arsat, have ever been watched by me with as much care as my own; nor perhaps will it be to your disadvantage that you were my step-daughter. You enjoy sufficient store of wealth and beauty; you are a lady of good family; it only remains for you to add to these possessions the cultivation of your mind, in which I exhort you not to fail. I do not think it necessary to warn you against vice, a thing so odious in women, for I would not even suppose that you could harbor any inclination for it—nay, I believe that you hold the very name in abhorrence. Dear daughter, farewell.”
All in the room were weeping and lamenting; but he held without interruption the thread of his discourse, which was pretty long. But when he had done, he directed us all to leave the room, except the women attendants, whom he styled his garrison. But first, calling to him my brother, M. de Beauregard, he said to him: “M. de Beauregard, you have my best thanks for all the care you have taken of me. I have now a thing which I am very anxious indeed to mention to you, and with your permission I will do so.” As my brother gave him encouragement to proceed, he added: “I assure you that I never knew any man who engaged in the reformation of our Church with greater sincerity, earnestness, and single-heartedness than yourself. I consider that you were led to it by observing the vicious character of our prelates, which no doubt much requires setting in order, and by imperfections which time has brought into our Church. It is not my desire at present to discourage you from this course, for I would have no man act in opposition to his conscience; but I wish, having regard to the good repute acquired by your family from its enduring concord—a family, than which none can be dearer to me; a family, thank God, no member of which has ever been guilty of dishonor—in regard, further, to the will of your good father to whom you owe so much, and of your uncle, I wish you to avoid extreme means; avoid harshness and violence: be reconciled with your relatives; do not act apart, but unite. You perceive what disasters our quarrels have brought upon this kingdom, and I anticipate still worse mischiefs; and in your goodness and wisdom, beware of involving your family in such broils; let it continue to enjoy its former reputation and happiness. M. de Beauregard, take what I say in good part, and as a proof of the friendship I feel for you. I postponed till now any communication with you on the subject, and perhaps the condition in which you see me address you may cause my advice and opinion to carry greater authority.” My brother expressed his thanks to him cordially.
On the Monday morning he had become so ill that he quite despaired of himself; and he said to me very pitifully: “Brother, do not you feel pain for all the pain I am suffering? Do you not perceive now that the help you give me has no other effect than that of lengthening my suffering?”
Shortly afterwards he fainted, and we all thought him gone; but by the application of vinegar and wine he rallied. But he soon sank, and when he heard us in lamentation, he murmured, “O God! who is it that teases me so? Why did you break the agreeable repose I was enjoying? I beg of you to leave me.” And then, when he caught the sound of my voice, he continued: “And art thou, my brother, likewise unwilling to see me at peace? O how thou robbest me of my repose!” After a while, he seemed to gain more strength, and called for wine, which he relished, and declared it to be the finest drink possible. I, in order to change the current of his thoughts, put in, “Surely not; water is the best.” “Ah, yes,” he returned “doubtless so; ‘but gold is a blazing fire.’ ” He had now become icy-cold at his extremities, even to his face; a deathly perspiration was upon him, and his pulse was scarcely perceptible.
This morning he confessed, but the priest had omitted to bring with him the necessary apparatus for celebrating Mass. On the Tuesday, however, M. de la Boetie summoned him to aid him, as he said, in discharging the last office of a Christian. After the conclusion of Mass, he took the sacrament; and when the priest was about to depart, he said to him: “Spiritual father, I implore you humbly, as well as those over whom you are set, to pray to the Almighty on my behalf; that, if it be decreed in heaven that I am now to end my life, He will take compassion on my soul, and pardon me my sins, which are manifold, it not being possible for so weak and poor a creature as I to obey completely the will of such a Master; or, if He think fit to keep me longer here, that it may please Him to release me from my present extreme anguish, and to direct my footsteps in the right path, that I may become a better man than I have been.” He paused to recover breath a little, but noticing that the priest was about to go away, he called him back, and proceeded: “I desire to say, besides, in your hearing this: I declare that I was christened and I have lived, and that so I wished to die, in the faith which Moses preached in Egypt; which afterwards the Patriarchs accepted and professed in Judaea; and which, in the course of time, has been transmitted to France and to us.” He seemed desirous of adding something more, but he ended with a request to his uncle and me to send up prayers for him; “for these are,” he said, “the best duties that Christians can fulfil one for another.” In the course of talking, his shoulder was uncovered, and although a man-servant stood near him, he asked his uncle to readjust the clothes. Then, turning his eyes towards me, he said, “Ingenui est, cui multum debeas, ei plurimum velle debere.”
M. de Belot called in the afternoon to see him, and M. de la Boetie, taking his hand, said to him: “I was on the point of discharging my debt, but my kind creditor has given me a little further time.” A little while after, appearing to wake out of a sort of reverie, he uttered words which he had employed once or twice before in the course of his sickness: “Ah well, ah well, whenever the hour comes, I await it with pleasure and fortitude.” And then, as they were holding his mouth open by force to give him a draught, he observed to M. de Belot: “An vivere tanti est?”
As the evening approached, he began perceptibly to sink; and while I supped, he sent for me to come, being no more than the shadow of a man, or, as he put it himself, non homo, sed species hominis; and he said to me with the utmost difficulty: “My brother, my friend, please God I may realize the imaginations I have just enjoyed.” Afterwards, having waited for some time while he remained silent, and by painful efforts was drawing long sighs (for his tongue at this point began to refuse its functions), I said, “What are they?” “Grand, grand!” he replied. “I have never yet failed,” returned I, “to have the honor of hearing your conceptions and imaginations communicated to me; will you not now still let me enjoy them?” “I would indeed,” he answered; “but, my brother, I am not able to do so; they are admirable, infinite, and unspeakable.” We stopped short there, for he could not go on. A little before, indeed, he had shown a desire to speak to his wife, and had told her, with as gay a countenance as he could contrive to assume, that he had a story to tell her. And it seemed as if he was making an attempt to gain utterance; but, his strength failing him, he begged a little wine to resuscitate it. It was of no avail, for he fainted away suddenly, and was for some time insensible.
Having become so near a neighbor to death, and hearing the sobs of Mademoiselle de la Boetie, he called her, and said to her thus: “My own image, you grieve yourself beforehand; will you not have pity on me? take courage. Assuredly, it costs me more than half the pain I endure to see you suffer; and reasonably so, because the evils which we ourselves feel we do not actually ourselves suffer, but it is certain sentient faculties which God plants in us that feel them: whereas what we feel on account of others, we feel by consequence of a certain reasoning process which goes on within our minds. But I am going away—” That he said because his strength was failing him; and fearing that he had frightened his wife, he resumed, observing: “I am going to sleep. Good night, my wife; go thy way.” This was the last farewell he took of her.
After she had left, “My brother,” said he to me, “keep near me, if you please;” and then feeling the advance of death more pressing and more acute, or else the effect of some warm draught which they had made him swallow, his voice grew stronger and clearer, and he turned quite with violence in his bed, so that all began again to entertain the hope which we had lost only upon witnessing his extreme prostration.
At this stage he proceeded, among other things, to pray me again and again, in a most affectionate manner, to give him a place; so that I was apprehensive that his reason might be impaired, particularly when, on my pointing out to him that he was doing himself harm, and that these were not the words of a rational man, he did not give way at first, but redoubled his outcry, saying, “My brother, my brother! dost thou then refuse me a place?” insomuch that he constrained me to demonstrate to him that, as he breathed and spoke, and had his physical being, therefore he had his place. “Yes, yes,” he responded, “I have; but it is not that which I need; and, besides, when all is said, I have no longer any existence.” “God,” I replied, “will grant you a better one soon.” “Would it were now, my brother,” was his answer. “It is now three days since I have been eager to take my departure.”
Being in this extremity, he frequently called me, merely to satisfy him that I was at his side. At length, he composed himself a little to rest, which strengthened our hopes; so much so, indeed, that I left the room, and went to rejoice thereupon with Mademoiselle de la Boetie. But, an hour or so afterwards, he called me by name once or twice, and then with a long sigh expired at three o’clock on Wednesday morning, the 18th August 1563, having lived thirty-two years, nine months, and seventeen days.