Let Us Have a Good One

Anyone who would aim straight at a cure and would reflect on it before taking any action, would be likely to cool off about setting his hand to it. Pacuvius Calavius corrected the error of this procedure by a signal example. His fellow citizens were in revolt against their magistrates. He, a person of great authority in the city of Capua, one day found means to lock up the Senate in the palace, and, calling the people together in the market place, told them that the day had come when in full liberty they could take vengeance on the tyrants who had so long oppressed them, and whom he held alone and disarmed at his mercy. He advised them that these men should be brought out one by one, by lot, and that they should decide about each one individually, and have their sentence executed on the spot; with this provision also, that at the same time they should decide to appoint some honorable man in the place of the condemned man, so that the office should not remain vacant. They had no sooner heard the name of one senator than there arose a cry of general dissatisfaction against him. “I see very well,” said Pacuvius, “that we must dismiss this one; he is a wicked man; let us have a good one in exchange.” There was a prompt silence, everyone being much at a loss whom to choose. The first man bold enough to name his choice met a still greater unanimity of voices to refuse him, citing a hundred imperfections and just causes for rejecting him. These contradictory humors having grown heated, it fared still worse with the second senator, and the third: as much disagreement about election as agreement about dismissal. Having tired themselves out uselessly in this dispute, they began bit by bit, one this way, one that, to steal away from the assembly, each one bearing away this conclusion in his mind, that the oldest and best-known evil is always more bearable than an evil that is new and untried. (Montaigne, Essays, III, 9)