For the Love of (Another) Mike

By John Hertz:  I’m reading M.A. Screech’s second edition (2003) of Montaigne’s Essays.  Dr. Screech collates the different versions, translates the many quotations, and annotates.  That’s the literary present tense; he died June 1st (1926-2018).

Montaigne once said congenially “the most fruitful and natural play of the mind is conversation,” and yes, his name Michel Eyquem de Montaigne points to the land from which, after his life, has come one of the greatest wines in the world, Château d’Yquem (and don’t miss it in Nabokov’s novel Pnin).

He was a skeptic (or, in Commonwealth language, a sceptic), but not in the unhappy sense so often brandished now; as Dr. Screech warns, “Today the very word scepticism implies for many a mocking or beady-eyed disbelief” (p. xxxvi).  He famously asked “What do I know?” and tried to answer.

Of course I expected to keep agreeing and disagreeing with this man, and I haven’t been disappointed.  I thought this passage (Bk. I ch. 56; M.A.S. ed’n 2003 at p. 360; paraphrasing Nicetas; in fact the chapter is “On prayer”) well put.

the factions of princes are armed with anger not with zeal … zeal itself does partake of the divine Reason and Justice when it behaves … moderately but … it changes into hatred and envy whenever it serves human passions, producing then not wheat and the fruit of the vine but tares and nettles.

Wishing you the same.

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