Yet another classic author whom I haven't yet read: Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592). Recently I learned that he virtually invented the "essay" --- a word that comes from the French essai = attempt, Montaigne's self-effacing description of his efforts. Ya gotta salute that kind of modesty! So to the used-book-sale I hie myself, and there among a variety of editions I find one that is not only inexpensive but also comes with a built-in story.

It's a falling-apart volume, a tiny 1949 Modern Library tome. Inside the front cover a bookplate announces "EX LIBRIS Roxie Marie José". On one of the blank pages at the back of the book is written in a lovely hand, "This book was given to me by my husband. He knew full well how much I'd enjoy it!" and then the inscription "R. M. José from E. M. J."

Inside the front cover the same handwriting records, "It is said this is the only book William Shakespeare possessed." Sewn --- yes, stitched with a thick black thread --- to the copyright page is a magazine clipping that quotes Dorothy Parker "in Esquire, on Historical novels: I wish people would either write history, or write novels, or go out and sell nylons." The Table of Contents has a red checkmark next to Montaigne's essay "Of the Education of Children". Glued onto the inside back cover is a paragraph, cut with care from another source, bearing the words of Henry David Thoreau:

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. The book exists for us perchance which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them according to his ability by his word, and his life.

Throughout the book favorite passages are underlined, and accompanied by marginal notes on occasion. Some leaves are stained by chemical oxidation, yellow shadows of newsprint left too long in contact with the pages. A DC Transit System bus transfer dated 17 November 1958 is tucked between pps. 134 and 135. A gum wrapper marks p. 454. A scribbled note leads to p. 318, where an indented verse bracketed in red says:

The man lives twice, who can the gift retain
Of memory, to enjoy past life again.

Beside that is written, "Women also".

The book tends to fall open to page 218, towards the end of Montaigne's essay "Of Presumption", where marginalia in pencil admonish "Note here" beside the sentence:

Whether, perhaps, it be that the continual association I have with the ancients' ways of thought and the idea I have formed of those richly endowed souls of past ages give me a distaste both for others and for myself; or whether, in truth, we live in an age which produces only very mediocre things; the fact remains that I know nothing worthy of great admiration.

Fascinating, to see footprints left in the dust by a previous explorer in these ancient caves of thought ...

(see also CharlotteHavenLordHayes (25 Dec 2003), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicWriting - TopicPersonalHistory - 2004-03-08

(correlates: NoRetrenchment, Hobbes and Geometry, MustLoveDogs, ...)