Wednesday 1 December 2010


Who doesn’t like Montaigne (1533-1592), the very man who invented the essay genre? His writings are fun, wise, philosophical, sometimes provocative. He says these things:
  • “If ordinary people complain that I speak too much of myself, I complain that they do not even think of themselves.”
  • “In true education, anything that comes to our hand is as good as a book: the prank of a page-boy, the blunder of a servant, a bit of table talk — they are all part of the curriculum.”
  • “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”
  • “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.”
  • “Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.”
  • “One may be humble out of pride.”
  • “The ceaseless labour of your life is to build the house of your death.”
  • “The soul which has no fixed purpose in life is lost; to be everywhere, is to be nowhere.”
  • “The world is all a carcass and vanity, the shadow of a shadow, a play and in one word, just nothing.”
  • “When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.”

…. and many more.

One of the passages that I return to again and again is his contemplation of his friendship with Estienne de la Boetie, from “Of Friendship” in The Essays of Montaigne (Vol. 6, Chapter XXVII):
[W]hat we commonly call friends and friendships, are nothing but acquaintance and familiarities, either occasionally contracted, or upon some design, by means of which there happens some little intercourse betwixt our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, they mix and work themselves into one piece, with so universal a mixture, that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined. If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I. There is, beyond all that I am able to say, I know not what inexplicable and fated power that brought on this union. We sought one another long before we met, and by the characters we heard of one another, which wrought upon our affections more than, in reason, mere reports should do; I think ’twas by some secret appointment of heaven.
— Emphasis mine. Read the full text of Volume 6.

Is it possible to find such a friend? Is it possible? (Why I ask ‘Is it possible’ twice is beyond my reasoning. But I’ll let the repetition stand.) Have you found yours yet?

1 comment:

  1. A friend told me:

    "To answer the question, I had to check the dictionary for the defintion of the word “importune”:

    1. To beset with insistent or repeated requests; entreat pressingly.

    Then I had to check the words “beset” and “entreat”. Needless to say, I have few friends."


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