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Ces deux commerces sont fortuites et despendans d’autruy. L’un est ennuyeux par sa rareté; l’autre se flestrit avec l’aage; ainsin ils n’eussent pas assez prouveu au besoing de ma vie. Celuy deslivres, qui est le troisiesme, est bien plus seuret plus à nous. Il cede aux premiers les autres avantages, mais il a pour sa part la constance et facilité de son service. Cettuy-cy costoie tout mon cours et m’assiste par tout. Il me console en la vieillesse et en la solitude. Il me discharge du pois d’une oisiveté ennuyeuse; et me deffaict à toute heure des compaignies qui me faschent. Il emousse les pointures de la douleur, si elle n’est dutout extreme et maistresse. Pour me distraire d’une imagination importune, il n’est que de recourir aux livres; ils me destournent facilement à eux et me la desrobent.
These two engagements are fortuitous, and depending upon others; the one is troublesome by its rarity, the other withers with age, so that they could never have been sufficient for the business of my life. That of books, which is the third, is much more certain, and much more our own. It yields all other advantages to the two first, but has the constancy and facility of its service for its own share. It goes side by side with me in my whole course, and everywhere is assisting me: it comforts me in old age and solitude; it eases me of a troublesome weight of idleness, and delivers me at all hours from company that I dislike: it blunts the point of griefs, if they are not extreme, and have not got an entire possession of my soul.
–Michel de Montaigne, De trois commerces, Essais, livre iii, ch iii (1588) in: Œuvres complètes p. 805 (Pléiade ed. 1962)(C. Cotton transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”