Of Moderation, Excerpt

From Not too much

Of Moderation by Michel de Montaigne, Excerpt

As if we had an infectious touch, we, by our manner of handling, corrupt
things that in themselves are laudable and good: we may grasp virtue so
that it becomes vicious, if we embrace it too stringently and with too
violent a desire. Those who say, there is never any excess in virtue,
forasmuch as it is not virtue when it once becomes excess, only play upon
words:

“Insani sapiens nomen ferat, aequus iniqui,
Ultra quam satis est, virtutem si petat ipsam.”

[“Let the wise man bear the name of a madman, the just one of an
unjust, if he seek wisdom more than is sufficient.”
–Horace, Ep., i. 6, 15.]

This is a subtle consideration of philosophy. A man may both be too much
in love with virtue, and be excessive in a just action. Holy Writ agrees
with this, Be not wiser than you should, but be soberly wise.–[St.
Paul, Epistle to the Romans, xii. 3.]–I have known a great man,
prejudice the opinion men had of his devotion, by pretending to be devout
beyond all examples of others of his condition. I love temperate and
moderate natures. An immoderate zeal, even to that which is good, even
though it does not offend, astonishes me, and puts me to study what name
to give it. Neither the mother of Pausanias,
who was the first instructor of her son’s process, and threw the first
stone towards his death, nor Posthumius the dictator, who put his son to
death, whom the ardour of youth had successfully pushed upon the enemy a
little more advanced than the rest of his squadron, do appear to me so
much just as strange; and I should neither advise nor like to follow so
savage a virtue, and that costs so dear.

The archer that shoots over, misses as much as he that falls short, and
’tis equally troublesome to my sight, to look up at a great light, and
to look down into a dark abyss. Callicles in Plato says, that the
extremity of philosophy is hurtful, and advises not to dive into it
beyond the limits of profit; that, taken moderately, it is pleasant and
useful; but that in the end it renders a man brutish and vicious, a
contemner of religion and the common laws, an enemy to civil
conversation, and all human pleasures, incapable of all public
administration, unfit either to assist others or to relieve himself, and
a fit object for all sorts of injuries and affronts. He says true; for
in its excess, it enslaves our natural freedom, and by an impertinent
subtlety, leads us out of the fair and beaten way that nature has traced
for us.

The complete text of Of Moderation

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