The agreeable eye

an eudæmonistarchives

Montaigne 3.12

Four heads of Socrates
Four (of eight) heads of Socrates
from Lavater’s Lectures on Physiognomy
(p. 160)

It is a great thing to have been able to put such order into ideas as pure as those of a child that, without altering or stretching them, he produced from them the finest results of our mind. The mind he shows us is neither exalted nor richly furnished, only healthy, but assuredly with a health that is very brisk and sound (510).

‘Of Physiognomy’ holds tightly to its course, viz., that character is, in a sense, destiny, and is shaped by one’s appearance as well as one’s learning. Montaigne write of the civil unrest, of unsteady states, of war – and frankly acknowledges that he is ‘pleased to be a spectator’ to such things (519). This plays into his self-deflating comparison with Socrates, which charms – and holds up an unflattering mirror to the reader (should the reader be so ‘fortunate’ as to live in interesting times).

What if knowledge, whilst trying to arm us with new defences agains natural misfortunes, has rather impressed our mind with the weight of them than furnished it with arguments and sophistries to shelter us from them? They are sophistries indeed, with which she alarms us to little purpose. Look at even the wisest and most concise of writers, how many frivolous and, if we examine them closely, bodyless arguments they scatter around a single good one. They are but wordy quibbles, made to deceive us (512).


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