I cannot deny that if the loud report of an arquebus suddenly strikes on my ear in a place where I have no reason to expect it, I am startled; which I have seen happen to others more valorous than I.
– Montaigne (Essays, ‘On Steadfastness’)
Is steadfastness then to apply only in those circumstances that meet expectations? No, of course not. Yet strange how steadfastness is so similar to impassivity or inertia.
For my part, I often neglect both of these empty formalities, since I curtail all ceremony in my own house. If any take offence, what shall I do? Better to offend him once than myself every day; that would be a perpetual slavery. […] Not only every country, but every city and every profession has its particular form of civility. I was rather carefully drilled in this in my boyhood, and have lived in sufficiently good company not to be ignorant of the rules of our French courtesy, and could keep a school in it. I like to follow these rules, but no so timorously as to but restraint upon my whole life. Some of them are so irksome that to neglect them, provided it be done out of discretion and not from ignorance, is no less graceful an act. I have often seen men become uncivil by dint of too much civility, and tiresome in their courtesy.
– Montaigne (Essays, ‘Ceremony at the meeting of Kings’)
Crambe repetita (37)
There are two very exciting machines which I think would capture the imagination of anyone. For instance I have always found a self-binder with its revolving arms a most attractive picture. I think too, perhaps the use of electric fences, which have become very popular recently, might be touched upon and such machines as an automatic cabbage planter, which is equal to Heath Robinson at his best. Apart from these there is a crowd of material on which to draw in such implements as mole-drain diggers, combine harvesters, silage making machines known as cutters and blowers, pocket sized grinding mills as part of any modern barn equipment, milking machines, etc., which linked up with modern methods of transportation are bringing farming once again into its own.
– Allen Lane, writing to the authors of A History of the Countryside
(quoted in Steve Hare, ed. Penguin Portrait, p. 19)
I live from day to day, and am content with having sufficient for present and ordinary needs; for the extraordinary all the provision in the world will not suffice. And it is madness to expect that Fortune could ever sufficiently arm us against herself. With our own arms must we fight her.
– Montaigne (Essays, ‘That the taste of good and evil depends, for a good part, upon the idea we form of them’)
One of the running heads for the essay advises the reader: ‘study your soul!’ The essay as a whole is not so bold: rather, it hesitates towards the notion that it’s no good to prepare for the unknown – precisely because it is unknown and probably unknowable. It illustrates this oddly, with (among other examples) condemned men offered reprieve if they marry a girl at the gallows – and refuse because the proffered girl has a limp or puffy cheeks and a sharp nose. One wonders what the girl with puffy cheeks and a sharp nose thought of the matter as they watched the execution.
Now for the ladies! Who has not heard tell of the lady in Paris who, solely to acquire a fresher complexion and a new skin, had herself flayed? … How many examples we may see in this sex of contempt of pain! What are they not capable of, what do they fear, as long as they have any hope of improving their beauty?
Yet the girl with the limp or the puffy cheeks – they have not brutalized themselves for beauty. At least they have the chance to know the finer, more soul-fortifying pain of humiliation. How nice.1
- Yes, they were probably chosen to humiliate the condemned man, too; perhaps these women were amused by the business – Montaigne doesn’t consider their opinion so it’s impossible to say. [↩]
So above all things a man should take heed, if he can, against falling into the hands of an enemy judge who is victorious and armed.
– Montaigne (Essays, ‘One does not
with impunity defend a place
obstinately and against reason’)1
- One of my favorite titles so far. [↩]
A view (43)
Going through my hard drive and tidying up all my old photos – discarding the blurred and the irretrievably badly exposed – brought up quite a few memories.