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From the “Library of the World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern,” Volume XXIX, Memorial Edition De Luxe, Editor: Charles Dudley Warner, J. A. Hill & Company; New York; 1902; pp. 11641-4.



From Plutarch’s ‘Miscellanies and Essays’: Copyrighted. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown & Co., publishers

AS for the messenger you dispatched to tell me of the death of my little daughter, it seems he missed his way as he was going to Athens. But when I came to Tanagra, I heard of it by my niece. I suppose by this time the funeral is over. I wish that whatever has been done may create you no dissatisfaction, as well now as hereafter. But if you have designedly let anything alone, depending upon my judgment, thinking better to determine the point if I were with you, I pray let it be without ceremony and timorous superstition, which I know are far from you.

Only dear wife, let you and me bear our affliction with patience. I know very well and do comprehend what loss we have had; but if I should find you grieve beyond measure, this would trouble me more than the thing itself. For I had my birth neither from a stock nor a stone; and you know it full well, I having been assistant to you in the education of so many children, which we brought up at home under our own care. This daughter was born after four sons, when you were longing to bear a daughter; which made me call her by your own name. Therefore I know she was particularly dear to you. And grief must have a peculiar pungency in a mind tenderly affectionate to children, when you call to mind how naturally witty and innocent she was, void of anger, and not querulous. She was naturally mild, and compassionate to a miracle. And her gratitude and kindness not only gave us delight, but also manifested her generous nature; for she would pray her nurse to give suck, not only to other children, but to her very playthings, as it were courteously inviting them to her table, and making the best cheer for them she could.

Now, my dear wife, I see no reason why these and the like things, which delighted us so much when she was alive, should upon remembrance of them afflict us when she is dead. But I also fear lest, while we cease from sorrowing, we should forget her: as Clymene said —

“I hate the handy horned cow
And banish youthful pastimes now.” —

because she would not be put in mind of her son by the exercises he had been used to. For nature always shuns such things as are troublesome. But since our little daughter afforded all our senses the sweetest and most charming pleasure, so ought we to cherish her memory, which will conduce in many ways — or rather manyfold — more to our joy than our grief. And it is but just that the same arguments which we have ofttimes used to others should prevail upon ourselves at this so seasonable a time, and that we should not supinely sit down and overwhelm the joys which we have tasted with a multiplicity of new griefs.

Moreover, they who were present at the funeral report this with admiration, — that you neither put on mourning, nor disfigured yourself or any of your maids; neither were there any costly preparations nor magnificent pomp; but all things were managed with silence and moderation in the presence of our relatives alone. And it seems not strange to me that you, who never used richly to dress yourself for the theatre or other public solemnities, esteeming such magnificence vain and useless even in matters of delight, have now practiced frugality on this sad occasion. For a virtuous woman ought not only to preserve her purity in riotous feasts, but also to think thus with herself: that the tempest of the mind in violent grief must be calmed by patience, which does not encroach on the natural love of parents towards their children, as many think, but only struggles against the disorderly and irregular passions of the mind. For we allow this love of children to discover itself in lamenting, wishing for, and longing after them when they are dead. But the excessive inclination to grief, which carries people on to unseemly exclamations and furious behavior, is no less culpable than luxurious intemperance. Yet reason seems to plead in its excuse; because, instead of pleasure, grief and sorrow are ingredients of the crime. What can be more irrational, I pray, than to check excessive laughter and joy, and yet to give a free course to rivers of tears and sighs, which flow from the same fountain? or as some do, quarrel with their wives for using artificial helps to beauty, and in the mean time suffer them to shave their heads, wear the mournful black, sit disconsolate, and lie in pain? and (which is worst of all) if their wives at any time chastise their servants or maids immoderately, to interpose and hinder them, but at the same time suffer them to torment and punish 11643 themselves most cruelly, in a case which peculiarly requires their greatest tenderness and humanity?

But between us, dear wife, there never was any occasion for such contests, nor I think will there ever be. For there is no philosopher of our acquaintance who is not in love with your frugality, both in apparel and diet; nor a citizen to whom the simplicity and plainness of your dress is not conspicuous, both at religious sacrifices and public shows in the theatre. Formerly also you discovered on the like occasion a great constancy of mind, when you lost your eldest son; and again when the lovely Chæron left us. For I remember, when the news was brought me of my son’s death, as I was returning home with some friends and guests who accompanied me to my house, when they beheld all things in order and observed a profound silence everywhere, — as they afterwards declared to others, — they thought no such calamity had happened, but that the report was false. So discreetly had you settled the affairs of the house at that time, when no small confusion and disorder might have been expected. And yet you gave this son suck yourself, and endured the lancing of your breast, to prevent the ill effects of a contusion. These are things worthy of a generous woman, and one that loves her children.

Whereas we see most other women receive their children in their hands as playthings, with a feminine mirth and jollity; and afterwards, if they chance to die, they will drench themselves in the most vain and excessive sorrow. Not that this is any effect of their love, for that gentle passion acts regularly and discreetly; but it rather proceeds from a desire of vainglory, mixed with a little natural affection, which renders their mourning barbarous, brutish, and extravagant. Which thing Æsop knew very well, when he told the story of Jupiter’s giving honors to the gods, for it seems Grief also made her demands, and it was granted that she should be honored, but only by those who were willing of their own accord to do it. And indeed, this is the beginning of sorrow. Everybody first gives her free access; and after she is once rooted and settled and become familiar, she will not be forced thence with their best endeavors. Therefore she must be resisted at her first approach: nor must we surrender the fort to her by any exterior signs, whether of apparel, or shaving the hair, or any other such-like symptoms of mournful weakness; which happening daily, and wounding us by degrees with a kind of 11644 foolish bashfulness, at length do so enervate the mind, and reduce her to such straits, that, quite dejected and besieged with grief, the poor timorous wretch dare not be merry, or see the light, or eat and drink in company. This inconvenience is accompanied by a neglect of the body: carelessness of anointing and bathing, with whatsoever relates to the elegancy of human life. Whereas on the contrary the soul, when it is disordered, ought to receive aid from the vigor of a healthful body. For the sharpest edge of the soul’s grief is rebated and slacked when the body is in tranquillity and ease, like the sea in a calm. But where, from an ill course of diet, the body becomes dry and hot, so that it cannot supply the soul with commodious and serene spirits, but only breathes forth melancholy vapors and exhalations, which perpetually annoy her with grief and sadness, there it is difficult for a man (though never so willing and desirous) to recover the tranquillity of his mind, after it has been disturbed with so many evil affections.

But that which is most to be dreaded in this case does not at all affright me, — to wit, the visits of foolish women, and their accompanying you in your tears and lamentations; by which they sharpen your grief, not suffering it either of itself or by the help of others to fade and vanish away. For I am not ignorant how great a combat you lately entered, when you assisted the sister of Theon, and opposed the women who came running in with horrid cries and lamentations, bringing fuel as it were to her passion. Assuredly, when men see their neighbor’s house on fire, every one contributes his utmost to quench it; but when they see the mind inflamed with furious passion, they bring fuel to nourish and increase the flame. When a man’s eye is in pain, he is not suffered to touch it, though the inflammation provokes him to it; nor will they that are near him meddle with it. But he who is galled with grief sits and exposes his distemper to every one, like waters that all may poach in; and so that which at first seemed a light itching or trivial smart, by much fretting and provoking becomes a great and almost incurable disease. But I know very well that you will arm yourself against these inconveniences.

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