Thursday, 29 March 2012

Book 1, Chapter 27: Of Friendship (2 of 3)

In this part of the essay Montaigne talks about the dangers of marriage. Then, he goes into intimate detail about his relationship with Etienne, including the heart-warming account of the first time they met.

'in the friendship I speak of, the souls mixed so universally that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined'

We can’t compare the love we bear to women to other friendships, even though that too, unlike family relationships, is an act of our own choice. Nonetheless, its fire is more active, more eager, and more sharp. But also, more fickle and inconstant; it is a fever subject to intermissions and fits, and it seizes just one part of us. Friendship’s fire, on the other hand, is general and universal, temperate and equal, a constant established heat. In love, it is frantic desire that flies from us. Aristo writes of the hunter that  pursues the hare, in cold and heat, to the mountain, to the shore, but no longer cares for it once it is taken. He only delights in chasing that which flees from him. 

Fruition destroys love, which has only fleshly motives, and is therefore capable of being satiated. Friendship, on the contrary, is enjoyed proportionately as it is desired; and is only nourished and improved by enjoyment, because it is in itself spiritual, and so, like the soul, it grows more refined by practice. Under this perfect friendship, the other fleeting affections have in my younger years found some place in me, to say nothing of him, who himself so confesses but too much in his verses; so that I had both these passions. But I could always differentiate between them. The two cannot be compared - one maintains its flight in so high and so brave a place, that it can only look down with disdain at the other, flying at a far humbler pitch below. 

Marriage is a covenant to which only the entrance is free. The continuance is forced and compulsory, depending on other things than our own free will, and normally contracted for other motives. In marriage, there are a thousand intricacies to unravel, enough to break the thread and to divert the current of a lively affection. Friendship, however, has no interest but itself. And to be honest, the ordinary talent of women is not such sufficient to maintain the communication required to support this sacred tie. Also, they do not have the constancy of mind, to sustain the pinch of so hard and durable a knot. If there could be free and voluntary familiarity contracted without marriage, where not only the souls might have this entire fruition, but the bodies also might share in the alliance, the friendship would certainly be more full and perfect. But women have not yet arrived at such perfection. 

That other Grecian license (Montaigne appears to be referring to gay sex) is justly abhorred by our manners. And that too, because it is practiced between lovers who are so different in age and in office, cannot provide any more perfect a union and harmony than the other.

I don’t think anyone will contradict me when I point out that the love that the son of Venus felt upon sight of the springing and blossoming youth was simply founded upon external beauty, the false image of a young body. This immoderate ardour could not have ground this love upon the soul, the sight of which as yet lay concealed. It sprang straight way, it did not blossom in maturity. Cicero said, "Love is a desire of contracting friendship arising from the beauty of the object."

Let me return to my own more just and true description. For the rest, what we commonly call friends are only acquaintance and familiarities, either contracted by chance or for some purpose. There is little communication between our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, the souls mixed so universally that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined. If someone asked me why I loved him, I could only answer: because it was he, because it was I. That’s all I can say; I don’t know what inexplicable and fated power that brought on this union. We sought one another long before we met. The things we’d heard about each other wrought our affections more than mere reports would normally do. I think it was by some secret appointment of heaven. Our first meeting, at a great city entertainment, was by chance, and we found ourselves so mutually taken with one another, so acquainted, and so endeared, that from then on nothing was so near to us as one another. He wrote an excellent Latin satire, since published, on the subject. When we first met we were both full-grown men, and he some years older, so we were destined to have only a short time together. Our intelligences had very recently and very late come to perfection and there was no time to lose. Also, we felt no need to conform to the example of those slow and regular friendships that require so many long preliminary conversation. This has no other idea than that of itself, and can only refer to itself: this is no one special consideration, nor two, nor three, nor four, nor a thousand. End of the day I can’t say why my whole will plunged and lost itself in his, and that having seized his whole will, brought it back with equal concurrence and appetite to plunge and lose itself in mine. I may truly say lose, reserving nothing to ourselves that was either his or mine.

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