Montaigne’s second essay is entitled “On Sadness,” but he's focused on a specific, fashionable form of sadness in his day that was oddly equated with genius, as in the poseur artiste who wallows in self pity all day to attract attention to his otherwise forgettable paintings.
And in the first paragraph, Montaigne again lumps all the Stoics together without naming one:
The Stoics forbid this emotion to their sages as being base and cowardly.
This makes me wonder, at least in his early essays, is who Montaigne meant when he said Stoics. Is he referring purely to the original Greek school? Because if Montaigne meant Stoic in the way we commonly refer to them now – also including a number of Roman thinkers such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca – then it gets a little more complicated.
But I sense Montaigne knows this – that the tristezza he wants to attack in this essay wasn’t a direct subject of most Stoic writers, they were more focused on questions like death and grieving. Seneca might have come closest with this interesting thought:
Why need we weep over parts of our life? The whole of it calls for tears. New miseries assail us before we free ourselves from the old ones. You, therefore, who allow them to trouble you to an unreasonable extent ought especially to restrain yourselves, and to muster all the powers of the human breast to combat your tears and your pains.
And then he closes this thought with the typical Stoic bravado:
Those whom you love and those whom you despise will both be made equal in the same ashes.
But come to think of it, if that thought doesn’t inspire a long-term mildly depressive outlook on life, I’m no sure what would. Montaigne was no stranger to grief and his project began because he no longer had Etienne de la Boetie to communicate with anymore. It makes this paragraph especially powerful and ultimately more meaningful that all of his glosses over history and philosophy:
The force of extreme sadness inevitably stuns the whole of our soul, impeding her freedom of action. It happens to us when we are suddenly struck with alarm by some really bad news; we are enraptured, seized, paralyzed in all our movements in such a way that, afterwards, when the soul lets herself go with tears and lamentations; she seems to have struggled loose, disentangled herself and become free to range about as she wishes.