The Complete Essays of Montaigne: Book Three

This final book was tacked on later, after the initial publication (1580) and you can tell that Montaigne lets his hair down a bit, settles in and gets comfortable, lets fly with his last bits of wisdom before he wanders off into that good night, his final repose.

Helpful thoughts for the pandemic: “We get hardened to anything to which we are accustomed. And in wretched circumstances such as ours now it is a most kindly gift of Nature that we do grow accustomed to it, so that it deadens our sense of suffering many evils.” (3:9)

On old age: “If we were always progressing towards improvement, to be old would be a beautiful thing. But it is a drunkard’s progress, formless, staggering, like reeds which the wind shakes as it fancies, haphazardly.” (3:9)

On solitude: “Wretched the man (to my taste) who has nowhere in his house where he can be by himself, pay court to himself in private and hide away!” (3:3)

On laziness: “… my chief aim in life being to live it lazily and leisurely rather than busily…” (3:9) “For me nothing is expensive save toil and worry: all I want is to be indifferent and bovine.” (3:9)

On books: “… days and even months on end may pass without my using them. ‘I will read them soon,’ I say, ‘or tomorrow; or when I feel like it.’ Thus the time speeds by and is gone, but does me no harm; for it is impossible to describe what comfort and peace I derive from the thought that they are there beside me, to give me pleasure whenever I want it, or from recognizing how much succour they bring to my life. It is the best protection which I have found for our human journey and I deeply pity men of intelligence who lack it. I on the other hand can accept any sort of pastime, no matter how trifling, because I have this one which will never fail me.” (3:3)

Some Zen thoughts: “… there is in truth no greater silliness, none more enduring, than to be provoked and enraged by the silliness of the world—and there is none more bizarre. For it makes you principally irritated with yourself…” (3:8) “… we have to live among the living and let the stream flow under the bridge without worrying about it or, at the very least, without making ourselves ill over it.” (3:8)

On friendship: “Most of all I am able to make and keep exceptional and considered friendships, especially since I seize hungrily upon any acquaintanceship which corresponds to my tastes. I put myself forward and throw myself into them so eagerly that I can hardly fail to make attachments and to leave my mark wherever I go… In commonplace friendships I am rather barren and cold, for it is not natural to me to proceed except under full sail.” (3:3)

Odds & ends

There’s a reference to a great legal tale in Rabelais: “a chef complained that a poor man was savouring the smell of his roast beef: a fool, called in to judge, ordered the smell to be paid by the jangle of coins.” (3:5)

“You ask me, ‘What is the origin of our custom of saying Bless you when people sneeze?’ Well, we break three sorts of wind: the one which issues lower down is very dirty; the one which issues from the mouth comports an element of reproach for gluttony; and the third is sneezing, to which, since it issues from the head and is blameless, we give that honourable greeting.” (3:6)

Montaigne knew a dude who made you look at 8 days worth of poop in his chamberpots when you visited. (3:9)

Like all good Frenchmen, he mixed his wine with water. “I water my wine, sometimes half and half, sometimes one-third water… It is said that this custom of mixing wine and water was invented by Cranaus, King of Athens—I have heard arguments both for and against its usefulness.” (3:13)