Saturday, February 11, 2006

Montaigne, Law, and Prudence

Where has the day gone? Breakfast out with friends, grocery shopping, a long chat with my sister in Los Angeles (hi sis!) and another chat with my Mom in San Diego (hi Mom!). In between I managed to read in bits and pieces two essays from The Cambridge Companion The first, "Justice and the Law" by Andre Tournon focused on Montaigne's legal career and the essay by Francis Goyet that followed, "Montainge and the Notion of Prudence" not only argued the concept of prudence but took issue with Tournon. Ah, when essays argue! It would have been nice if Tournon could have had a short defense following Goyet's essay since I don't know enough about French law or the 16th century concept of prudence. But, alas, I must make what I can of their arguments which are both difficult. And since I am not really sure what to make of them, I cling to the autobiographical facts. I learned that when Montaigne "retired" in 1571, he didn't retire to a life of gentlemanly leisure. Far from it. He retired from public life as a judge in his regions' court of appeals to become a bit of a politician. Not only did he have two terms as Mayor of Bordeaux, but he also became a go between in negotiations between his ally, the Catholic Foix clan, and their enemy, Henri of Navarre. From both essays I learned there are quite a few nuances in Montaigne's essays in reference to the law and politics that I did not understand because I know nothing about either in his time. The essays were not detailed enough to give me any kind of sure understanding, but only a vague notion that there is much I do not know. One thing in particular, Goyet mentions several times comparisons between Montaigne and Machiaveli. I have never read Machiaveli so I can't judge Goyet's comparisons. Now I feel like I should read The Prince, assuming that would be the thing to read. The more I read about Montaigne, the more I realize I don't know (isn't that how things like this always work?). But I am glad I read the Essays before reading anything about Montaigne, because while having extra scholarly knowledge adds to the enjoyment, it is not necessary to the enjoyment. I am glad I got a chance to get to know Montaigne without any intermediary opinions intruding upon my own. So instead of reading Montaigne with other people's opinions in mind, I can read other people's opinions about Montaigne with my own experience of the essays in mind. Does that make sense? It is the same reasoning which makes me skip the introduction to so frequently appears before a classic. I don't want someone else telling me what it means before I have a chance to figure out what it means. The reading ends up being more meaningful. Know what I mean? The Olympics are on now. I can tell already they are going to be intrusive on my time these next two weeks.