Friday, February 4, 2011

How to Live

As you know, I keep promising myself to return to Michel de Montaigne. I have been postponing. Yesterday, I picked up the Sarah Bakewell book I started more than a month ago, with a load of good intentions. It's called How to Live, and its subtitle is "A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer." A perfect approach.

This preface "To the Reader" which Montaigne wrote in 1580, when his Essais were first published, might give my own readers some idea of why he fascinates me so. (I discover that I have difficulty, these days, in reading 16th French. The translation is by Charles Cotton.) Bear with me. More to follow.

12th June 1580

Reader, thou hast here an honest book; it doth at the outset forewarn thee that, in contriving the same, I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end: I have had no consideration at all either to thy service or to my glory. My powers are not capable of any such design. I have dedicated it to the particular commodity of my kinsfolk and friends, so that, having lost me (which they must do shortly), they may therein recover some traits of my conditions and humours, and by that means preserve more whole, and more life-like, the knowledge they had of me. Had my intention been to seek the world’s favour, I should surely have adorned myself with borrowed beauties: I desire therein to be viewed as I appear in mine own genuine, simple, and ordinary manner, without study and artifice: for it is myself I paint. My defects are therein to be read to the life, and any imperfections are my natural form, so far as public reverence hath permitted me. If I had lived among those nations, which (they say) yet dwell under the sweet liberty of nature’s primitive laws, I assure thee I would most willingly have painted myself quite fully and quite naked. Thus, reader, myself am the matter of my book: there’s no reason thou shouldst employ thy leisure about so frivolous and vain a subject. Therefore farewell.

4 comments:

Jean said...

I'm reading this book too, and loving it, and had never read Montaigne. I don't quite agree that Montaigne was 'the firt blogger' - that, surely, Pliny the Younger? But he's certainly a great forefather of our genre.

Jean said...

I mean: I don't quite agree that Montaigne was 'the first blogger' - that, surely, was Pliny the Younger?

Oh dear, Friday afternoon at the end of a very busy week...

PeterAtLarge said...

Hello, Jean. Funny, I was just now reading our exchange about "getting results" in meditation from some time ago. I'm going to be using it in the new book of essays that I'm getting ready for publication. Anyway, your idea intrigues me. I'm going to have to take another look at Pliny the Younger--the first in what is probably close to 60 years!

PeterAtLarge said...

Hello, Jean. Funny, I was just now reading our exchange about "getting results" in meditation from some time ago. I'm going to be using it in the new book of essays that I'm getting ready for publication. Anyway, your idea intrigues me. I'm going to have to take another look at Pliny the Younger--the first in what is probably close to 60 years!