How to Live

How to Live – A life of Montaigne – Sarah Bakewell

In one question and twenty attempts at an answer

This was an excellent biography of the life of Montaigne, below are a few points that jumped out to me.

Pg 81 – During these years, other problems troubled France, including runaway inflation, which injured the poor more than anyone and benefited the landed gentry, who received higher rents and responded by buying more and more property.

Pg 94 – The subject of Voluntary Servitude is the ease with which, throughout history, tyrants have dominated the masses, even though their power would evaporate instantly if those masses withdrew their support. There is no need for a revolution: the people need only stop cooperating, and supplying armies of slaves an sycophants to prop the tyrant up. Yet this almost never happens, even to those who maltreat their subjects monstrously. The more they starve and neglect their people, the more the people seem to love them.

Pg 95 – Here was an emperor “who abolished the laws and liberty, a personage in whom there was, it seems to me, nothing of value,” yet he was adored out of all measure. The mystery of tyrannical dominance is as profound as that of love itself.

Pg 95 – whose power they should not fear, since he is alone

Pg 95 – If it occurred on a smaller scale, someone would probably be burned at the stake, but when bewitchment seizes a whole society, it goes unquestioned.

Pg 127 – He did not want to make himself a stump or a stone; he wanted to make himself a living, thinking, reasoning man, enjoying all natural pleasures and comforts, employing and using all his bodily and spiritual faculties.

Pg 127 – the pretention most people fall prey to: that of “regimenting, arranging, and fixing truth.”

Pg 127 – To keep this goal in the forefront of his mind, he had a series of medals struck in 1576, featuring Sextus’s magic word epekho, together with his own arms and an emblem of weighing scales. The scales are another pyrrhonian symbol, designed to remind himself both to maintain balance, and to weigh things up rather than merely accepting them.

Pg 128 – Skepticism guided him at work, in his home life, and in writing – pages infused with words such as “perhaps,” “to some extent,” “I think,” “it seems to me,”

Pg 150 – The surest way to be taken in is to think of oneself craftier than other people.

Pg 150 – We often irritate others when we think we could not possibly do so.

Pg 159 – “Men with unruly humors like me, who hate any sort of bond or obligation, are not so fit for it.”

Pg 159 – The problem lay more in the principle of being obliged – never liked feeling boxed in

Pg 191 – This earth gives this natural man everything he needs

Pg 191 – Only when civilization makes man “sociable and a slave” does he lose his manliness, learning to be weak and to fear everything around him. He also learns despair: no one ever heard of a “free savage” killing himself, says Rousseau

Pg 191 – feel sympathy for all suffering fellow beings

Pg 278 – He also observes that anyone who thinks too much about all the circumstances and consequences of an action makes it impossible to do anything at all – a neat summary of Hamlets’s main problem in life.

Pg 319 – One’s outward appearance might bear no relation to what was going on in one’s inner world

Pg 319 – he thought the old were more given to vanities and imperfections than the young. They were inclined to “a silly and decrepit pride, a tedious prattle, prickly and unsociable humors, superstition, and a ridiculous concern for riches.” But this was the twist, for it was in the adjustment to such flaws that the value of aging lay. Old age provides an opportunity to recognize one’s fallibility.

Ordered “Of Voluntary Servitude” and need to read Plutarch’s Lives!