11 July 2013

The Bottom of the Pot

Michel de Montaigne, "Not to Judge of Our Happiness Till After Death," [18.1] in The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, tr. Charles Cotton, Vol. I (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1913), p. 63:
[T]he very felicity of life itself, which depends upon the tranquillity and contentment of a well-descended spirit, and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul, ought never to be attributed to any man till he has first been seen to play the last, and, doubtless, the hardest act of his part. There may be disguise and dissimulation in all the rest: where these fine philosophical discourses are only put on, and where accident, not touching us to the quick, gives us leisure to maintain the same gravity of aspect; but, in this last scene of death, there is no more counterfeiting: we must speak out plain, and discover what there is of good and clean in the bottom of the pot,
Nam vera; voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Ejiciuntur; et eripitur persona, manet res.

Then at last truth issues from the heart;
the visor's gone, the man remains. — Lucretius, iii. 57.
The French:
[Le] bonheur de nostre vie, qui dépend de la tranquillité et contentement d'un esprit bien né, et de la resolution et asseurance d'un'ame reglée, ne se doive jamais attribuer à l'homme, qu'on ne luy aye veu jouer le dernier acte de sa comedie, et sans doute le plus difficile. En tout le reste il y peut avoir du masque: ou ces beaux discours de la Philosophie ne sont en nous que par contenance; ou les accidens, ne nous essayant pas jusques au vif, nous donnent loysir de maintenir tousjours nostre visage rassis. Mais à ce dernier rolle de la mort et de nous, il n'y a plus que faindre, il faut parler François, il faut montrer ce qu'il y a de bon et de net dans le fond du pot.
It would cost thousands to buy a hard copy of the 1635 edition of the Essais pictured above, but a colour facsimile can be downloaded for free from the Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes or from Gallica.fr.