On Montaigne

by F.

I have over the years read Montaigne, but without much pleasure. Yesterday, though, I got it. Fully. Completely. Totally. Now I can honestly say that if I had to have only one book on a desert island, the Essays would be it. A taste:

In the little I have had to mediate betwixt our princes in the divisions and subdivisions by which we are at this time torn to pieces, I have been very careful that they should neither be deceived in me nor deceive others by me.

People of that kind of trading are very reserved, and pretend to be the most moderate imaginable and nearest to the opinions of those with whom they have to do; I expose myself in my stiff opinion, and after a method the most my own; a tender negotiator, a novice, who had rather fail in the affair than be wanting to myself.

And yet it has been hitherto with so good luck (for fortune has doubtless the best share in it), that few things have passed from hand to hand with less suspicion or more favour and privacy. I have a free and open way that easily insinuates itself and obtains belief with those with whom I am to deal at the first meeting.

Sincerity and pure truth, in what age soever, pass for current; and besides, the liberty and freedom of a man who treats without any interest of his own is never hateful or suspected, and he may very well make use of the answer of Hyperides to the Athenians, who complained of his blunt way of speaking: “Messieurs, do not consider whether or no I am free, but whether I am so without a bribe, or without any advantage to my own affairs.”

My liberty of speaking has also easily cleared me from all suspicion of dissembling by its vehemency, leaving nothing unsaid, how home and bitter soever (so that I could have said no worse behind their backs), and in that it carried along with it a manifest show of simplicity and indifference. I pretend to no other fruit by acting than to act, and add to it no long arguments or propositions; every action plays its own game, win if it can.

(I have added the paragraphing for the sake of readability.)

Was Montaigne a model for Hamlet, as Bloom (and perhaps others) suggests? If so, Shakespeare didn’t get it. At all.

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