Monday, December 20, 2010

Montaigne—related to Browne and his trees

I found this following passage in Montaigne through Keck’s annotations on Browne:

Reflecting as I often do on the ridiculous excoriations of that pleasure, the absurd, mindless, stupefying emotions with which it disturbs a Zeno or a Cratippus, that indiscriminate raging, that face inflamed with frenzy and cruelty at the sweetest point of love, that grave, severe, ecstatic face in so mad an activity, the fact that our delights and our waste-matters are lodged higgledy-piggledy together; and that its highest pleasure has something of the groanings and distraction of pain, I believe that what Plato says is true: Man is the plaything of the gods—

quænam ista jocandi


[what a ferocious way of jesting!]

—and that it was in mockery that Nature bequeathed us this, the most disturbing of activities, the one most common to all creatures, so as to make us all equal, bringing the mad and the wise, men and beasts, to the same level.

When I picture to myself the most reflective and the most wise of men in such postures, I hold it as an effrontery that he should claim to be reflective and wise; like the legs on a peacock, they humble pride;

ridentem dicere verum

Quid vetat?

[what can stop us telling the truth with a laugh?]

Those who reject serious opinions in the midst of fun are, it is said, like the man who refuses to venerate the statue of a saint because it wears no drapery.

Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, Book III, Chapter 5 (Translated by M.A. Screech)


  1. the revealing commonplace notebook entry -

    In a peece of myne published long ago the learned Annotator/commentator hath paralleled many passages with other of Mountaignes essays, whereas to deale clearly, when I penned that peece I had never read 3 leaves of that Author & scarce more ever since.

    suggests that Browne did not want to be associated with Montaigne but that level of indignation must touch a raw nerve to want to disassociate so much.

  2. Yeah, I remember reading that (in Patrides's intro, I think?). Montaigne's full quote is far less tame. I couldn't bring myself to quote all of it. I think, though, that there is an interesting common thread here on the ridiculousness of man in the throes of Venus.

  3. Chris, is your Keck reference here sourced from the university of Chicago/Penelope site? It's a good resource, especially for Pseudodoxia and the miscellaneous tracts; must get my Penguin edition of Montaigne off the shelf, he is so very self-reflecting and frank enough to confess the idiosyncrasies of his personality, just like Browne.

  4. re: Keck—yes, it is. The site has been down a lot lately, though, so I didn't link it.

  5. Thus the Devill played at Chesse with mee, and yeelding a pawne, thought to gaine a Queen of me, taking advantage of my honest endeavours; and whilst I labour'd to raise the structure of my reason, hee striv'd to undermine the edifice of my faith.

    Looks as if Dr.Browne knew how to play Chess! There can't be that many examples in literature of Chess imagery employed to expound theology!

  6. Ha! I love it.

    Interestingly, I seem to recall that at one time Orthodox bishops denounced chess as some sort of evil. I wish bishops would stick to what they're good at. What that is... ah, never mind.


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