That the Profit of One Man is the Damage of Another

Demades the Athenian—[Seneca, De Beneficiis, vi. 38, whence nearly the whole of this chapter is taken.]—condemned one of his city, whose trade it was to sell the necessaries for funeral ceremonies, upon pretence that he demanded unreasonable profit, and that that profit could not accrue to him, but by the death of a great number of people. A judgment that appears to be ill grounded, forasmuch as no profit whatever can possibly be made but at the expense of another, and that by the same rule he should condemn all gain of what kind soever. The merchant only thrives by the debauchery of youth, the husband man by the dearness of grain, the architect by the ruin of buildings, lawyers and officers of justice by the suits and contentions of men: nay, even the honour and office of divines are derived from our death and vices. A physician takes no pleasure in the health even of his friends, says the ancient Greek comic writer, nor a soldier in the peace of his country, and so of the rest. And, which is yet worse, let every one but dive into his own bosom, and he will find his private wishes spring and his secret hopes grow up at another’s expense. Upon which consideration it comes into my head, that nature does not in this swerve from her general polity; for physicians hold, that the birth, nourishment, and increase of every thing is the dissolution and corruption of another:

“Nam quodcumque suis mutatum finibus exit,
Continuo hoc mors est illius, quod fuit ante.”

[“For, whatever from its own confines passes changed, this is at
once the death of that which before it was.”—Lucretius, ii. 752.]


Posted in Montaigne: Book I, Originals.