No rambling exegeses this week. Instead, you get a couple of passages from Montaigne. The first comes from his Defense of Seneca and Plutarch:
We must not judge what is possible and what is not, according to what is credible and incredible to our sense. . . . It seems to each man that the ruling pattern of nature is in him; to this he refers all other forms as to a touchstone. The ways that do not square with his are counterfeit and artificial. What brutish stupidity!
For my part, I consider some men very far above me, especially among the ancients; and although I clearly recognize my inability to follow them with my steps, I do not fail to follow them with my eyes and judge the powers that raise them so high . . . I well see the method which the great souls use to raise themselves, and I wonder at their greatness. And the flights that I find very beautiful, I embrace; and if my powers do not reach them, at least my judgment applies itself to them very gladly.
The next is from The Story of Spurina, which explores our physical and mental lusts and then relates the tale of a beautiful young man who decided to disfigure himself to avoid inflicting desire upon others. M. condemns this action as unwise, because desire is only one sin: “What is his ugliness later served to cast others into the sin of scorn and hatred or of envy for the glory of so rare a merit, or of calumny, interpreting this impulse as a frantic ambition?”
He goes on to tell us how, to quote Annie Lennox, “Dying is easy / It’s living that scares me to death”:
Those who evade the common duties and that infinite number of thorny and many-faceted rules that bind a man of precise probity in civil life, achieve, in my opinion, a fine saving, whatever point of especial rigor they may impose on themselves. It is in a sense dying to escape the trouble of living well. They may have some other prize; but the prize of difficulty it has never seem to me they had, nor do I think there is anything more arduous than keeping oneself straight amid the waves and rush of the world, loyally repsonding to and satisfying every part of one’s charge.