My first encounter with Michel de Montaigne was a breathtaking infatuation: I picked up the Screech translation — quite accidentally — and was instantly, completely and wholly taken in by the prose: the rhythm, the scansion, the alliteration; the easy, torrentious flow of words and thoughts, tossed off like precious gems into the boiling foam of the sea. By accident, the encounter took place the day before I set off on my travels and I have traveled ever since. I have traveled these eleven years almost incessantly — and my travels have distracted me: I have never managed to lay my hands on the Screech again. (Love, it seems to us — what a folly — can always wait while we set about getting the more important stuff out of the way).
At times, I remembered to look for Montaigne, but could never easily find Screech. Others — Cotton, Frame and all the others failed to reproduce the first love-making experience. Now Sarah Bakewell’s book explains why: as she discovers him to us, Montaigne seems a thoroughly dull and boring fellow, his insights perfectly ordinary, his life-lessons not much worth reading about.
It’s all in the style, you see, the style and nothing else: it does not matter what you do, really, but — how.
This time, when I return home, I will get Screech. Perhaps try Montaigne in the original, too. As soon as I get this, more important stuff, out of the way.