November 20, 2005
Quotations from 
"The Art of Conversation" 
by Michel De Montaigne,                                            
translated by M.A. Screech                                              
(Page numbers are from                                                  
the Penguin 60s chapbook                 
edition of "Four Essays"):               
                                         For comparison, the older
                                         Charles Cotton tranlation
                                         (gutenberg project):     
   Studying books has a languid          The study of books is a languishing 
   feeble motion, whereas                and feeble motion that heats not, 
   conversation provides                 whereas conversation teaches and 
   teaching and exercise all at          exercises at once.  If I converse 
   once.  If I am sparring with          with a strong mind and a rough 
   a strong and solid opponent           disputant, he presses upon my 
   he will attack me on the              flanks, and pricks me right and 
   flanks, stick his lance in me         left; his imaginations stir up mine; 
   right and left; his ideas             jealousy, glory, and contention, 
   send mine soaring.  -- p35            stimulate and raise me up to 
                                         something above myself; and 
                                         acquiescence is a quality altogether 
   Rivalry, competitiveness and          tedious in discourse. 
   glory will drive me and raise 
   me above my own level.  In 
   conversation the most painful 
   quality is perfect 
   harmony. -- p.35 
  Just as our mind is strengthened by contact 
  with vigorous and well-ordered minds, so too 
  it is impossible to overstate how much 
  it loses and deteriorates by the continuous 
  commerce and contact we have with mean 
  and ailing ones.  -- p.35 
  I love arguing and discussing, but with only 
  a few men and for my own sake: for to serve 
  as a spectacle to the great and indulge in 
  a parade of your wits and verbiage is, 
  I consider, an unbecoming trade for an 
  honourable gentleman.     -- p.35 
  Stupidity is a bad quality: but to be unable 
  to put up with it, to be vexed and ground 
  down by it (as happens to me) is another, 
  hardly worse in its unmannerliness 
  than stupidity.  -- p.35-36 
  There is no idea so frivolous or odd 
  which does not appear to me to be fittingly 
  produced by the mind of man.  Those of us 
  who deprive our judgment of the right to 
  pass sentence look gently on strange 
  opinions; we may not lend them our approbation 
  but we do readily lend them our ears. 
     -- p. 36 
  Among gentlemen I like people to express 
  themselves heartily, their words following 
  wherever their thoughts lead.  We 
  ought to toughen and fortify our ears 
  against being seduced by the sound of 
  polite words.  I like a strong, 
  intimate, manly fellowship, the kind of 
  friendship which rejoices in sharp 
  vigorous exchanges just as love rejoices 
  in bites and scratches which draw blood. 
     -- p. 37

  It is impossible to argue in good faith
  with a fool.      -- p. 40

  In debating we are taught merely how to refute
  arguments; the result of each side's refuting the
  other is that the fruit of our debates is the
  destruction and annihilation of the truth.
  That is why Plato in his _Republic_ prohibits
  the exercise to ill-endowed minds not suited
  to it.    -- p. 41

  You are in quest of what *is*.  Why on earth do you
  set out to walk that road with a man who has
  neither pace nor style?  -- p. 41

  One fastens on a word or a comparison; another
  no longer sees his opponent's arguments,
  being too caught up in his own train of thought:
  he is thinking of pursuing his own argument not
  yours.   -- p. 42

  Lastly, there is the man who cannot see reason but
  holds you under siege within a hedge of dialectical
  conclusions and logical formulae.  Who can avoid
  beginning to distrust our professional skills and
  doubt whether we can extract from them any solid
  profit of practical use in life when he reflects on
  the use we put them to?  '_Nihil sanantibus
  litteris_.'  [such erudition as has no power to heal.]
  ((Seneca, _Epist. moral. LIX)) Has anyone ever
  acquired intelligence through logic? Where are her
  beautiful promises?  '_Nec ad melius vivendum nec ad
  commodius disserendum_.'  [She teaches neither how to
  live a better life nor how to argue properly.]
  ((Cicero, _De finibus, I, xix, 63)) Is there more of
  of a hotchpotch in the cackle of fishwives than in the
  public disputations of men who profess logic?  I would
  prefer a son of mine to learn to talk in the tavern
  rather than in our university yap-shops.  -- p. 42

  The involved linguistic convolutions with which they
  confound us remind me of conjuring tricks:  their
  sleight-of-hand has compelling force over our senses
  but it in no wise shakes our convictions.  -- p. 44

  In my part of the country and during my own lifetime
  school-learning has brought amendment of purse but
  rarely amendment of soul.  -- p. 44

  Erudition is a thing the quality of which is
  neither good or bad, almost: it is a most useful
  adjunct to a well-endowed soul: to any other it is
  baleful and harmful; or rather, it is a thing
  which, in use, has great value, but it will
  not allow itself to be acquired at a base price: in
  one hand it is a royal sceptre, in another, a fool's
  bauble.  -- p. 44

  For we are born to go in quest of truth:
  to take possession of it is the property of
  a greater Power.  ((the theme of III "on experience"))
    -- p. 45

  This world is but a school of inquiry.  The
  question is not who will spear the ring but who
  will make the best charges at it. -- p. 46

  ... there is in truth no greater silliness, none
  more enduring, than to be provoked and enraged by
  the silliness of this world ...  p.47

  ... why can we encounter a man with a twisted
  deformed body without getting irritated, yet are
  unable to tolerate a deranged mind without
  flying into a rage?  ((Plutarch ...))  --p.48

  It is not merely the reproaches which we make to
  each other which can be regularly turned against us
  but also our reasons and our arguments in matters
  of controversy: we run ourselves through with our
  own swords. As it was ingeniously and aptly put by
  the man who first said it: '_Stercus cuique suum
  bene olet_' [Everyone's shit smells good to
  himself.]  ((Erasmus, _Adages_, III, IV, II ...))
       -- p. 49

  If we had sound nostrils our shit ought to stink all
  the more for its being our own.  -- p. 51

  Sometimes my mind launches out with paradoxes
  which I mistrust and verbal subtleties which make
  me shake my head; but I let them take their chance.
  I know that some men make a reputation from such things.
  It is not for me alone to judge them.  -- p. 56