The Diversities and the Contradictions

‘A man should not rivet himself too fast to his own humours and temperament. Our chief talent is the power of suiting ourselves to different ways of life. To be tied and bound of necessity to one single way is not to live but to exist. The best minds are those that are most voracious and most supple. Here is an honourable testimony to the elder Cato: ‘His versatile genius was so equally adapted to everything that, whatever he happened to be doing, you would say he was born to do that thing alone.’ If it were in my power to mould myself as I would, there is no form, however good, in which I should wish to be so fixed that I could not depart from it.’

‘Life is an unequal, irregular, and multiform movement. Incessantly to follow one’s own track, to be so close a prisoner to one’s own inclinations that one cannot stray from them, or give them a twist,is to be no friend to oneself, still less to be one’s master; it is to be one’s slave.’

Michel de Montaigne, ‘On Three Kinds of Relationships’, Essays, translated by J. M. Cohen.

‘Montherlant points to Shakespeare as a supreme example of a man who renounces nothing, accepting all… “A healthy soul, with that basic simplicity which both distinguishes and makes possible great things, will always be flexible, copious and vigorous enough to reconcile in a higher and joyous unity, most of these so-called contradictions which give pause to the many spineless creatures we see around us.”…The virtues he sees in Shakespeare are essentially those he seeks for himself, when he prays: “Let me live all the lives, the diversities, and the contradictions in the world intensely…Do everything, in order to experience everything; experience everything, in order to understand everything; understand everything in order to express everything: how great will our reward be when we look at ourselves and see ourselves as the mirror of creation and think of God as made in the image of man.” – To be truly human is to “comprehend all the movements of men”.’

Jonathan R. Price, ‘Montherlant’s Exemplar’, Yale French Studies, 1964.


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