A passion which may be relished and digested is but a poor thing.
Montaigne on sadness appears to be about excess of emotion rather than sadness as such – are the effects of emotion cumulative, is the inexpressible emotion stronger than that which may be vented with tears or sighs? It is at first odd that he turns from the stories of Psammenitus and Agamemnon watching their families suffer (and being themselves the cause of that suffering) to a more general consideration of love, but given that love is at least in part the cause of the sadness felt in these cases, I suppose the transition is not as opaque as it seems. The list of people who died from joy was an absurd addition, though, and the story of Diodorus the dialectician who died of shame on being unable to answer his opponent’s argument reaches the highest flats of the bathetic. This is perhaps to be expected from one who boasts:
I am little subject to these violent passions, being naturally slow to apprehend, and this tendency becomes every day more crusted over and hardened by reason.1
- Which makes Montaigne sound like a meringue.