Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592)
I would like to consider myself as a writer—in a small way. I’ve tried fiction and failed: My Hungarian-American detective,Emeric Toth, was an interesting character. My dialogue was fine, but I could never think of an interesting plot line for him to exercise his talents. I’ve never really tried poetry, but would like to at some point. Time, however, is running out.
So what I am left with are essays. In my library are several hundred volumes of essays by such luminaries as Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, who invented the word, which in French means “attempts”; Thomas De Quincey, William Hazlitt, G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, William Cobbett, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Charles Lamb, Albert Camus, Hunter Thompson, Norman Mailer, J. M. Coetzee, and scores of others.
Probably the best essays are those of the terms originator, Montaigne. And perhaps the best essay I’ve ever read is ”Of Experience,” in which the author talks about his excruciating pain from kidney stones. Even after all the intervening centuries, it is a tribute to how to live despite all that suffering. If I were to teach a class about him, I would make that essay the first reading assignment. Then I might ass Chesterton’s collection entitled Tremendous Trifles, to be followed by a selection of Hazlitt’s work, especially his essay on boxing.
These posts are all fairly brief, but I look forward to living my life in such a way that I might have interesting things to say. The coronavirus outbreak has made that difficult, but what it has done is made me turn more toward books and film. I occasionally still write about politics, but I feel I have nothing original to say in that area.
To start you thinking, here is a quote from Montaigne:
To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death… We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere.
To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.
There exist excellent translations by Donald Frame and J. M. Cohen.