Montaigne admits that he is obsessed with this idea - that the “universe” doesn’t seem to care when and how we die. Montaigne says that true friendship is only possible in certain contexts, specifically male non-familial, non-professional relationships. But, what if we thought of the universe and God in terms of relationality, perhaps even friendship? Aristotle posits three types of friendship: friendships of pleasure, friendships of utility, and friendships of virtue.
Montaigne echoes the wisdom traditions of the world’s religions and philosophies: death is part of life, inextricable from each moment.
In the face of death every day, what higher good is there than friendship?
12th June 1580 Reader, thou hast here an honest book; it doth at the outset forewarn thee that, in contriving the same, I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end: I have had no consideration at all either to thy service or to my glory. I have dedicated it to the particular commodity of my kinsfolk and friends, so that, having lost me (which they must do shortly), they may therein recover some traits of my conditions and humours, and by that means preserve more whole, and more life-like, the knowledge they had of me. Margaret Cavendish If any take delight to read them [my books], I will not thank them for it: for if anything please them, they are to thank me for so much pleasure.
Had my intention been to seek the world’s favour, I should surely have adorned myself with borrowed beauties: I desire therein to be viewed as I appear in mine own genuine, simple, and ordinary manner, without study and artifice: for it is myself I paint. William Hazlitt It may amuse the reader to see the way in which I work out some of my conclusions underground, before throwing them up on the surface.
This spiritual practice is available to everyone (an update of Montaigne’s attitude).
Where, then, do you experience true friendship in your life?Montaigne subscribes to a radically different definition of “essay,” one especially suited for writing.The French word essayer means “to try, to attempt, to test.” An essay, in Montaigne’s conception, is a trial, a test-drive of an idea, a throwing of noodles against the wall.If friendship “surpasses even the precepts of philosophy,” how can we connect the ideas in “Of Friendship” to Montaigne’s propositions in “That To Study...”?Indeed, one might argue that Montaigne, in his passionate advocacy of pleasure against the terror of death, is not talking about philosophy, but about life itself.We still want to think of life in terms of knowable systems, within which an individual life, and even the life of our species, is a random manifestation of measurable forces. We came about randomly; we will pass on randomly (and the world will be better off for it). Where do we find friends amid all our “connections”? Is female friendship different from male friendship? For Montaigne, friendship is a spiritual practice rooted in divulgence and sharing. On treatment: "I hate remedies that are more troublesome than the disease itself." On the most preferable ailments: here the essayist writes of the advantages of stone: that is, the agony always ends, the disease does not portend death or worse, the sufferer spends more time feeling well than hurting, and it has political advantages for allowing a show of stoicism. As a study in fine style, clear and lively, none is better than Montaigne's essays.Although he is concerned with all things, his final, and in the opinion of many, finest of essays, is heavily laced with allusions to disease and doctors.My defects are therein to be read to the life, and any imperfections are my natural form, so far as public reverence hath permitted me. Michel de Montaigne If the world find fault that I speak too much of myself, I find fault that they do not so much as think of themselves.If I had lived among those nations, which (they say) yet dwell under the sweet liberty of nature’s primitive laws, I assure thee I would most willingly have painted myself quite fully and quite naked. Richard Steele there [is] no Rule in the World to be made for writing letters, but that of being as near what you speak Face to Face as you can.