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Guide to the Classics: Michel de Montaigne’s Essay

A free-thinking sceptic

❶Therefore, we should admit animals employ the same method and reasoning as us. Indeed, everything about our passions and, above all, our imagination , speaks against achieving that perfect tranquillity the classical thinkers saw as the highest philosophical goal.

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They were almost scandalous for their day. Modern art no longer restricts its subject matters to classical myths, biblical tales, the battles and dealings of Princes and prelates.

Montaigne frequently apologises for writing so much about himself. He is only a second rate politician and one-time Mayor of Bourdeaux, after all. But the message of this latter essay is, quite simply, that non, je ne regrette rien , as a more recent French icon sang:. Were I to live my life over again, I should live it just as I have lived it; I neither complain of the past, nor do I fear the future; and if I am not much deceived, I am the same within that I am without … I have seen the grass, the blossom, and the fruit, and now see the withering; happily, however, because naturally.

Within a decade of his death, his Essays had left their mark on Bacon and Shakespeare. He was a hero to the enlighteners Montesquieu and Diderot.

So what are these Essays, which Montaigne protested were indistinguishable from their author? Anyone who tries to read the Essays systematically soon finds themselves overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of examples, anecdotes, digressions and curios Montaigne assembles for our delectation, often without more than the hint of a reason why. Many titles seem to have no direct relation to their contents.

Nearly everything our author says in one place is qualified, if not overturned, elsewhere. Certainly, for Montaigne, as for ancient thinkers led by his favourites, Plutarch and the Roman Stoic Seneca, philosophy was not solely about constructing theoretical systems, writing books and articles. Montaigne has little time for forms of pedantry that value learning as a means to insulate scholars from the world, rather than opening out onto it. We are great fools. Their wisdom, he suggests , was chiefly evident in the lives they led neither wrote a thing.

In particular, it was proven by the nobility each showed in facing their deaths. Socrates consented serenely to taking hemlock, having been sentenced unjustly to death by the Athenians. Indeed, everything about our passions and, above all, our imagination , speaks against achieving that perfect tranquillity the classical thinkers saw as the highest philosophical goal.

We discharge our hopes and fears, very often, on the wrong objects, Montaigne notes , in an observation that anticipates the thinking of Freud and modern psychology. Always, these emotions dwell on things we cannot presently change. Sometimes, they inhibit our ability to see and deal in a supple way with the changing demands of life. Philosophy, in this classical view, involves a retraining of our ways of thinking, seeing and being in the world.

I have experienced common friendships, even the most perfect ones, and no one should confuse the rules of the one and the other, for they would find themselves much deceived.

In ordinary friendships, you have to be careful and thoughtful, because there is a possibility of the knot slipping. Chilo said, "Love him so as if you were one day to hate him; and hate him so as you were one day to love him. Aristotle often said, "O my friends, there is no friend".

In the friendship I speak of, presents and benefits by which other friendships are supported and maintained are not even mentioned.

This is because our wills are one; the kindnesses that I give to myself, for example, do not affect my relationship with myself. So it was with Etienne, with such truly perfect friends there is no idea of duties, no words of division and distinction, benefits, obligation, acknowledgment, entreaty, thanks, and the like. All things, wills, thoughts, opinions, goods, wives, children, honours, and lives, are in common.

That absolute concurrence of affections is no other than one soul in two bodies according to that very proper definition of Aristotle , they can neither lend nor give anything to one another.

This is the reason why the lawgivers, to honour marriage with some resemblance of this divine alliance, forbid all gifts between man and wife, inferring that all should belong to each of them, and that they have nothing to divide or to give to each other.

If, in this kind of friendship, one gives to the other, the receiver of the benefit would be obliging his friend; because each wants, above all things, to be useful to the other. The receiver is thus giving his friend the satisfaction of doing that which he most desires.

When the philosopher Diogenes wanted money, he used to say that he redemanded it of his friends, not that he demanded it. And to let you see the practical working of this, I will here produce an ancient and singular example. He was poor, and his two friends rich. When he was coming to die, he said in his will, "I bequeath to Areteus the maintenance of my mother, to support and provide for her in her old age; and to Charixenus I bequeath the care of marrying my daughter, and to give her as good a portion as he is able; and in case one of these chance to die, I hereby substitute the survivor in his place.

On one and the same day, he also solemnised both their nuptials. This example is very full, but my only objection is that it speaks of more than one friend. In the perfect friendship I speak, each one gives himself so entirely to his friend, that he has nothing left to distribute to others.

On the contrary, he is sorry that he is not double, treble, or quadruple, and that he has not many souls and many wills, to confer them all upon this one object. Common friendships will admit of division; one may love the beauty of this person, the good-humour of that, the liberality of a third, the paternal affection of a fourth, the fraternal love of a fifth, and so on, but this friendship that possesses the whole soul cannot possibly admit of a rival.

If two at the same time should call to you for help, to which of them would you run? Should they require of you favours that are contrary, how could you serve them both?

Should one urge you to keep something secret that you knew was of importance to the other to know, how would you disengage yourself? A unique and particular friendship dissolves all other obligations whatsoever. The secret I have sworn not to reveal to anyone else, I may without perjury communicate to him who is not another, but myself.

Though one may almost everywhere meet with men sufficiently qualified for a superficial acquaintance, yet in this, where a man is to deal from the very bottom of his heart, without any manner of reservation, it will be requisite that all the wards and springs be truly wrought and perfectly sure. In relationships that hold a single purpose, we only have to worry about the imperfections that concern that purpose.

It is of no importance to me what religion my doctor or lawyer is — that has nothing to do with the duties of friendship that they owe me. Similarly, I never inquire, when I am to take a footman, if he is chaste, I only ask whether he is diligent. For table-talk, I prefer the pleasant and witty before the learned and serious; in bed, beauty before goodness; in common discourse the ablest speaker, whether or not he is sincere.

Plutarch tells of a man who was found playing with his children on a rocking horse, who entreated the person who had surprised him in that posture to say nothing of it till he himself came to be a father, supposing that the fondness that would then possess his own soul, would render him a fairer judge of such an action.

Like him, I also could wish to speak to those who have had experience of what I say: For even these discourses left us by antiquity upon this subject seem to me flat and poor, in comparison with the sense I have of it.

The ancient Menander declared him to be happy that had had the good fortune to meet with even the shadow of a friend. Doubtless, he had good reason to say so, especially if he spoke by experience, for in all honesty, if I compare all the rest of my life, as wonderful as it has been, with the four years I had the happiness to enjoy the sweet society of this excellent man, it is nothing but smoke, an obscure and tedious night.

We were halves throughout, and to that degree, that I think, by outliving him, I defraud him of his part. I was so used to being his double in all places and in all things, that I feel no more than half of myself. There is no action or imagination of mine wherein I do not miss him; as I know that he would have missed me: Thursday, 29 March Book 1, Chapter Of Friendship 2 of 3. In this part of the essay Montaigne talks about the dangers of marriage.

Then, he goes into intimate detail about his relationship with Etienne, including the heart-warming account of the first time they met. Nonetheless, its fire is more active, more eager, and more sharp. But also, more fickle and inconstant; it is a fever subject to intermissions and fits, and it seizes just one part of us. In love, it is frantic desire that flies from us. He only delights in chasing that which flees from him.

Fruition destroys love, which has only fleshly motives, and is therefore capable of being satiated. Friendship, on the contrary, is enjoyed proportionately as it is desired; and is only nourished and improved by enjoyment, because it is in itself spiritual, and so, like the soul, it grows more refined by practice.

Under this perfect friendship, the other fleeting affections have in my younger years found some place in me, to say nothing of him, who himself so confesses but too much in his verses; so that I had both these passions. But I could always differentiate between them.

The two cannot be compared - one maintains its flight in so high and so brave a place, that it can only look down with disdain at the other, flying at a far humbler pitch below.

Marriage is a covenant to which only the entrance is free. The continuance is forced and compulsory, depending on other things than our own free will, and normally contracted for other motives. In marriage, there are a thousand intricacies to unravel, enough to break the thread and to divert the current of a lively affection. Friendship, however, has no interest but itself. And to be honest, the ordinary talent of women is not such sufficient to maintain the communication required to support this sacred tie.

Also, they do not have the constancy of mind, to sustain the pinch of so hard and durable a knot. If there could be free and voluntary familiarity contracted without marriage, where not only the souls might have this entire fruition, but the bodies also might share in the alliance, the friendship would certainly be more full and perfect. But women have not yet arrived at such perfection.

That other Grecian license Montaigne appears to be referring to gay sex is justly abhorred by our manners. And that too, because it is practiced between lovers who are so different in age and in office, cannot provide any more perfect a union and harmony than the other. This immoderate ardour could not have ground this love upon the soul, the sight of which as yet lay concealed. It sprang straight way, it did not blossom in maturity.

Cicero said, " Love is a desire of contracting friendship arising from the beauty of the object. For the rest, what we commonly call friends are only acquaintance and familiarities, either contracted by chance or for some purpose. There is little communication between our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, the souls mixed so universally that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined.

If someone asked me why I loved him, I could only answer: We sought one another long before we met. I think it was by some secret appointment of heaven.

Our first meeting, at a great city entertainment, was by chance, and we found ourselves so mutually taken with one another, so acquainted, and so endeared, that from then on nothing was so near to us as one another. He wrote an excellent Latin satire, since published, on the subject. When we first met we were both full-grown men, and he some years older, so we were destined to have only a short time together. Our intelligences had very recently and very late come to perfection and there was no time to lose.

Also, we felt no need to conform to the example of those slow and regular friendships that require so many long preliminary conversation. This has no other idea than that of itself, and can only refer to itself: I may truly say lose, reserving nothing to ourselves that was either his or mine.

Wednesday, 28 March Book 1, Chapter Of Friendship 1 of 3. In the first part of this touching tribute to his best friend Etienne, Montaigne discusses friendship, and relationships between parent and child. I have noted the technique of a painter in my employ, and would not mind imitating it. This painter chooses a beautiful spot — the middle of some wall or panel — and draws his picture there with utmost art and care.

Then, he covers the blank spaces around the picture with grotesque art, odd fantastic figures with no grace. In truth, what are the things I scribble here but grotesque and monstrous bodies, made of various parts but without any clear figure and containing, except by accident, no order, coherence, or proportion.

So in the second part I am like the painter, but in the first and better part, I fall very short of him. I have therefore thought it fit to borrow from Etienne de la Boetie, a piece that will honour and adorn the rest of my work. Etienne wrote it before he was even eighteen years old, and it has since run through the hands of men of great learning, all of whom praise it, because it is finely written and as full as anything can be.

And yet, one can confidently say it is far short of what he was able to do. In the more mature age when I knew him, Etienne had decided to commit his thought to writing, the way that I am doing now. We would have had a great many rare things that would have rivaled the best writings of antiquity if he had done so, for I know no man comparable to him.

But he left nothing behind except this discourse, which he bequeathed to me along with his library and other papers, in his last will. I came to know of Etienne because of this discourse, and only became acquainted with him long after he had written it.

This discourse, in fact, proved to be the first cause and foundation of our friendship, which we afterwards improved and maintained for as long as God allowed us to be together.

Our friendship was so perfect, inviolate, and entire that none like it could be found in any story, and amongst men of our time there is no sign or trace of such a thing. So much concurrence is required for such a friendship that it is much if fortune allows it to pass even once in three ages. There is nothing to which nature seems to make us as inclined as to society. Aristotle said that good legislators respected friendship more than justice.

Also, the four ancient kindnesses: The relationship of children and their parents is based on respect. Friendship is nourished by a communication that is impossible between parent and child, due to great differences. This communication would offend the duties of nature, for neither are all the secret thoughts of fathers fit to be communicated to their children this would lead to an indecent familiarity , nor can advice and reproofs one of the principal offices of friendship be performed by the son towards the father.

Naturally, the expectations of the one depend upon the ruin of the other. Many great philosophers have made nothing of parent-child relationships.

When Aristippus was pressed about the affection he owed to his children, he spat forcefully and said that that too had come out of him, and that we also breed worms and lice. The word itself is fine and delectable, and for that reason Etienne and I called each other brother. So, if you are a complete beginner, here are a few Sudoku tips that you can use to improve your Sudoku skills. Now that you know a little more about Sudoku, play and enjoy this free online game.

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Montaigne Essays Sparknotes Michel De Montaigne As an essayist Introduction: Michel de Montaigne the famous essayist is considered as the great French essayist was born 28th February,

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Montaigne Essays Simplified - essays in days (Almost) everyday, I intend to take one of Montaigne's essays, and summarise it here as clearly, concisely, and comprehensively as possible. Everything in each essay is taken directly from Montaigne's work. Guide to the classics: Michel de Montaigne’s Essays By the end of the Essays, Montaigne has Stay informed and subscribe to our free daily newsletter and get the latest analysis and.