Sunday, 7 October 2018

Of Experience by Michel de Montaigne

Portrait of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne, in his final essay, “Of Experience,” (The Essays of Michel de Montaigne; Chapter 13), talks about his lifelong quest for self knowledge through life’s experiences. He begins his essay with these lines: “There is no desire more natural than that of knowledge. We try all ways that can lead us to it; where reason is wanting, we therein employ experience.”

In the last paragraph of the essay, he writes:
The pretty inscription wherewith the Athenians honoured the entry of Pompey into their city is conformable to my sense: “By so much thou art a god, as thou confessest thee a man.” ’Tis an absolute and, as it were, a divine perfection, for a man to know how loyally to enjoy his being. We seek other conditions, by reason we do not understand the use of our own; and go out of ourselves, because we know not how there to reside. ’Tis to much purpose to go upon stilts, for, when upon stilts, we must yet walk with our legs; and when seated upon the most elevated throne in the world, we are but seated upon our breech. The fairest lives, in my opinion, are those which regularly accommodate themselves to the common and human model without miracle, without extravagance. Old age stands a little in need of a more gentle treatment. 
What he is essentially saying in the above paragraph is that no matter that we may mount on stilts, we still must walk on our own legs; and on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.

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