Montaigne

It does not matter what you do, really, but how

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.

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