From Penguin Books’ On Friendship (translated by M.A.Screech) and Faber & Faber’s Montaigne and Being in Touch with Life by Saul Frampton
On Friendship & Marriage:
You cannot compare with friendship the passion of men feel for women, even though it is born of our own choice, nor can you put them in the same category. I must admit that flames of passion are more active, sharp and keen. But the fire is rash one, fickle, fluctuating and variable; it is a feverish fire, subject to attacks and relapses, which only gets hold of a corner of us. The love of friends is a general universal warmth, temperate moreover and smooth, a warmth which is constant and at rest, all gentleness and evenness, having nothing sharp nor keen.
As for marriage, apart from being a bargainer only the entrance is free (its duration being fettered and constrained, depending on things outside our will), it is a bargain struck for other purposes; within it you soon have to unsnarl hundreds of extraneous tangled ends, which are enough to break the thread of a living passion and to trouble its course, whereas in friendship there is no traffic or commerce but with itself. In addition, women are in truth not normally capable of responding to such familiarity and mutual confidence as sustain that holy bond of friendship, nor do their souls seem firm enough to withstand the clasp of a knot so lasting, and so tightly drawn. And indeed if to were not for that, if it were possible to fashion such a relationship, willing, and free, in which not only the souls had this full enjoyment but in which the bodies too shared in the union – where the whole human being was involved – it is certain that the loving-friendship would be more full and more abundant. But there is no example yet of woman attaining to it and by common agreement of the ancient schools of philosophy she is excluded from it.
It’s madness to judge the true and false from our own capacities:
Caesar maintains that ‘’News of an event actually anticipated the event itself?’ – is that clairvoyance but unexplainable by judgment. When we grow used to seeing anything it accustoms our minds to it and we cease to be astonished by it; we never seek the causes of things like that. What makes us seek the cause of anything is not the size but novelty.
We ought to judge the infinite power of nature with more reverence and a greater recognition of our own ignorance and weakness. How many improbable things there are which have been testified to by people worthy of out trust: if we cannot be convinced we should at least remain in suspense. To condemn them as impossible is to be rashly presumptuous, boasting, that we know the limits of the possible. Essentially as laid out by Chilo, Nothing to excess, would be, Not to believe too rashly : Not to disbelieve too easily.
Art of Conversation:
The world is but a school of enquiry. The question is not who will spear the ring but who will make the best charges at it. The man who says what is true can act as foolishly at the one who says what is untrue: we are talking about the way you say it not what you say. My humor is to consider the form as much as the substance.
We should not only examine what each one says, but what are his opinions and what grounds he has for holding them.
When I‘m playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing me? That is to say, rather than being his pet, is he hers? Montaigne goes on to add: We ourselves entertain with similar apish tricks. If I have my hour to begin or refused, also she has hers. And here Montaigne is saying that he doesn’t know she is playing with him, as he is able to see his own experience (of wanting or refusing to play) reflected in her actions. Once he overcomes his ‘natural presumption’ of species superiority, he is able to read and understand her movements and gestures, as she can his. And significant here is the shift from the ‘I’ and the ‘she’ to reflexive ‘we’. From a position of separation and distance, of two separate identities, two different species, Montaigne and his cat become, in their mutual playfulness, one. Not exactly one soul in two bodies, but two bodies sharing the same movements, gestures and thoughts. But the important point is that this reciprocal awareness is achieved not despite their lack o linguistic exchange, but because of it: it is a proximate language of touch and gesture, of caress and playful taps that rings about a mutual understanding.