The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

Montaigne 1.34

Illustration to Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender

Montaigne presents an odd selection of (mis)fortunes to illustrate the precarious role of fate in the lives of men (and women). A pope mistakenly poisoned; a bridegroom captured in a tourney before his wedding night; a father and son condemned to death, killing each other to cheat the executioner’s sword; all these suggest the darker side. But the man with an abscess in his chest who, given up for dead by his doctors, charges into battle, where a fortuitous injury lances the abscess and saves his life, or the painter who, frustrated with his inability to perfect a painting of a dog, throws his sponge at the artwork, thus creating the desired effect by happenstance that he could not achieve by art – these suggest that only by giving up all hope can one achieve even a hint of salvation. In any case, it brought to mind Hardy’s cheerless poem:

If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan….
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

—Thomas Hardy, ‘Hap’


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