Short summary - Essays - Michel de Montaigne

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Essays
Michel de Montaigne

The first book is preceded by an appeal to the reader, where Montaigne declares that he did not seek fame and did not seek to be useful - this is first of all a "sincere book", but it is intended for family and friends, so that they can revive in memory his appearance and character when he comes time of separation - already very close.

Book I

Chapter 1.

One and the same one can be achieved in different ways.

Amazingly vain, truly fickle and eternally wavering being - man. The heart of the ruler can be softened by humility. But there are examples when directly opposite qualities - courage and firmness - led to the same result. So, Edward, Prince of Wales, having captured Limoges, remained deaf to the pleas of women and children, but spared the city, admiring the courage of three French nobles. Emperor Conrad III forgave the defeated Duke of Bavaria when the noble ladies carried their own husbands out of the besieged fortress on their shoulders. About himself, Montaigne says that both ways could affect him - but by nature he is so inclined to mercy that he would rather be disarmed by pity, although the Stoics consider this feeling worthy of condemnation.

Chapter 14.

The fact that our perception of good and evil largely depends on the idea that we have about them.

Everyone who suffers for a long time is to blame for this himself.

Suffering comes from reason. People regard death and poverty as their worst enemies; meanwhile, there are plenty of examples when death was the highest good and the only refuge. It happened more than once that a person retained the greatest presence of mind in the face of death and, like Socrates, drank to the health of his friends. When Louis XI captured Arras, many were hanged for refusing to shout "Long live the king!" Even such low souls as clowns do not give up joking before execution. And when it comes to beliefs, they are often defended at the cost of life, and each religion has its own martyrs - so, during the Greco-Turkish wars, many chose to die a painful death, just not to undergo the rite of baptism. It is the intellect that fears death, for only a moment separates it from life. It is easy to see that the power of the mind aggravates suffering - a cut with a surgeon's razor is felt more strongly than a sword strike received in the heat of battle. And women are ready to endure incredible torment, if they are sure that this will benefit their beauty - everyone has heard of one Parisian person who ordered to rip off her skin in the hope that a new one will take on a fresher look. The idea of things is a great power. Alexander the Great and Caesar pursued danger with much greater zeal than others - for safety and peace. Not need, but abundance gives rise to greed in people. Montaigne was convinced of the validity of this statement from his own experience. Until about twenty, he lived with only random funds - but spent money cheerfully and carefree. Then he started saving, and he began to set aside the surplus, losing his peace of mind in return. Fortunately, some kind genius knocked all this nonsense out of his head, and he completely forgot about hoarding - and now lives in a pleasant, orderly way, proportioning his incomes with expenses. Anyone can do the same, because everyone lives well or badly, depending on what he thinks about it, And nothing can help a person if he does not have the courage to endure death and endure life.

Book II

Chapter 12.

Apology of Raymund of Sabund The

saliva of a lousy mongrel, having splashed Socrates' hand, can destroy all his wisdom, all his great and profound ideas, destroy them to the ground, leaving no trace of his former knowledge.

Man ascribes to himself great power and imagines himself to be the center of the universe. This is how a stupid goose could reason, believing that the sun and the stars shine only for him, and people were born to serve him and look after him. By the vanity of imagination, a person equals himself with God, while he lives among dust and filth. At any moment, death awaits him, which he cannot fight. This wretched creature is not even able to control himself, but he longs to rule the universe. God is completely incomprehensible to the grain of reason that man possesses. Moreover, reason is not given to embrace the real world, because everything in it is impermanent and changeable. And in terms of the ability to perceive, a person is inferior even to animals: some surpass him in vision, others in hearing, and others in smell. Perhaps a person is generally deprived of several feelings, but in his ignorance he does not suspect about it. In addition, the ability depends on bodily changes: for a patient, the taste of wine is not the same as for a healthy one, and numb fingers perceive the hardness of a tree differently. Feelings are largely determined by changes and mood - in anger or joy, the same feeling can manifest itself in different ways. Finally, assessments change with the passage of time: what seemed true yesterday is now considered false, and vice versa. Montaigne himself more than once had the opportunity to support an opinion opposite to his own, and he found such convincing arguments that he abandoned the previous judgment. In his own writings, he sometimes cannot find the original meaning, wonders about what he wanted to say, and makes amendments, which, perhaps, spoil and distort the idea. So the mind is either marking time, or wandering and rushing about, finding no way out.

Chapter 17.

On Doubt

Everyone looks into what is before him; I look at myself.

People create for themselves an exaggerated concept of their merits - at the heart of it is reckless self-love. Of course, one should not belittle oneself, because the verdict must be fair, Montaigne notices a tendency to underestimate the true value of what belongs to him and, on the contrary, exaggerate the value of everything else. He is seduced by the state structure and customs of distant peoples. Latin, for all its virtues, inspires him with more respect than it deserves. Having successfully completed something, he attributes it rather to luck than to his own skill. Therefore, among the statements of the ancients about man, he most willingly accepts the most irreconcilable, believing that the purpose of philosophy is to expose human conceit and vanity. He considers himself a mediocre person, and his only difference from others is that he clearly sees all his shortcomings and does not come up with excuses for them. Montaigne envies those who are able to rejoice in the work of their own hands, for his own writings only annoy him. His French is rough and careless, and Latin, which he once knew perfectly, has lost its former brilliance. Any story becomes dry and dull under his pen - there is no ability in it to amuse or whip up the imagination. Equally, he is not satisfied with his own appearance, but beauty is a great force that helps in communication between people. Aristotle writes that the Indians and Ethiopians, when choosing kings, always paid attention to growth and beauty - and they were absolutely right, for a tall, powerful leader inspires awe in his subjects, and frightens his enemies. Montaigne is not satisfied with his spiritual qualities, reproaching himself primarily for laziness and ponderousness. Even those traits of his character that cannot be called bad are completely useless in this age: compliance and complaisance will be called weakness and cowardice, honesty and conscientiousness will be considered absurd scrupulousness and prejudice. However, there are some advantages in a spoiled time, when one can easily become the embodiment of virtue without much effort: whoever has not killed his father and robbed churches is already a decent and excellently honest person. Next to the ancients, Montaigne seems to be a pygmy, but in comparison with the people of his age, he is ready to recognize unusual and rare qualities for himself, for he would never give up his convictions for the sake of success and harbors a fierce hatred of the newfangled virtue of pretense. In dealing with those in power, he prefers to be boring and immodest, rather than a flatterer and pretender, because he does not have a flexible mind to wiggle when a question is asked directly, and his memory is too weak to keep distorted truth - in a word, this can be called courage from weakness. He knows how to defend certain views, but he is completely incapable of choosing them - after all, there are always many arguments in favor of any opinion. And yet he does not like to change his opinions, because in opposite judgments he looks for the same weaknesses. And he appreciates himself for what others never admit, because no one wants to be branded as stupid, his judgments about himself are ordinary and old as the world. Everyone expects praise for his liveliness and quickness of mind, but Montaigne prefers to be praised for the severity of his opinions and morals.

Book III

Chapter 13.

On Experience

There is nothing more beautiful and commendable than doing one's human destiny properly and well.

There is no desire more natural than the desire to master knowledge. And when the ability to think is lacking, a person turns to experience. But the variety and variability of things are endless. For example, there are more laws in France than in the rest of the world, but this only led to the fact that the possibilities for arbitrariness have infinitely expanded - it would be better to have no laws at all than such an abundance of them. And even the French language, so convenient in all other cases of life, becomes obscure and unintelligible in contracts or wills. In general, from a multitude of interpretations, the truth is, as it were, fragmented and scattered. The wisest laws are established by nature, and she should be trusted in the simplest way - in fact, there is nothing better than ignorance and unwillingness to know. It is preferable to understand yourself well than Cicero. There are not so many instructive examples in Caesar's life as in our own. Apollo, the god of knowledge and light, inscribed on the pediment of his temple the call "Know thyself" - and this is the most comprehensive advice he could give people. Studying himself, Montaigne learned to understand other people quite well, and his friends were often amazed that he understood their life circumstances much better than they themselves. But there are few people who are able to hear the truth about themselves without being offended or offended. Montaigne was sometimes asked what kind of activity he felt fit for, and he sincerely replied that he was not fit for anything. And he even rejoiced at this, because he did not know how to do anything that could turn him into a slave of another person. However, Montaigne would have been able to tell his master the truth about himself and outline his character, refuting flatterers in every possible way. For the rulers are endlessly spoiled by the bastard around them - even Alexander, the great sovereign and thinker, was completely defenseless against flattery. Likewise, for the health of the body, Montaigne's experience is extremely useful, since it appears in a pure form, not spoiled by medical tricks. Tiberius quite rightly argued that after twenty years, everyone should understand what is harmful to him and what is useful, and, as a result, do without doctors. The patient should adhere to his usual lifestyle and his usual food - abrupt changes are always painful. You need to reckon with your desires and inclinations, otherwise one trouble will have to be healed with the help of another. If you drink only spring water, if you deprive yourself of movement, air, light, then is life worth such a price? People tend to believe that only the unpleasant is useful, and anything that is not painful seems suspicious to them. But the body itself makes the right decision. In his youth, Montaigne loved hot spices and sauces, but when they began to harm the stomach, he immediately stopped loving them. Experience teaches that people destroy themselves with impatience, meanwhile diseases have a strictly defined fate, and they are also given a certain period of time. Montaigne fully agrees with Krantor that one should neither recklessly resist the disease, nor give in to it weakly - let it follow a natural course, depending on its own and human properties. And the mind will always come to the rescue: so, he instills in Montaigne that kidney stones are just a tribute to old age, for all organs have already come to weaken and deteriorate. In fact, the punishment that befell Montaigne is very mild - this is truly a paternal punishment. She came late and torments her at an age that is sterile in itself. There is one more advantage in this disease - there is no need to guess about anything, while other ailments pester with anxiety and excitement due to unclear reasons. Let a large stone torment and tear the tissues of the kidneys, let life flow out little by little with blood and urine, like unnecessary and even harmful impurities - while you can experience something like a pleasant feeling. There is no need to be afraid of suffering, otherwise you will have to suffer from the very fear. At the thought of death, the main consolation is that this is a natural and just phenomenon - who dares to demand mercy for himself in this respect? In everything, one should take an example from Socrates, who knew how to calmly endure hunger, poverty, disobedience of children, the evil disposition of his wife, and in the end he accepted slander, oppression, prison, chains and poison.