The following entries comprise the author's first self-published book entitled Letters to Montaigne. Completed in 2004, these personal essays are written in the form of letters and are addressed to the 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne. Informal in tone, they cover a variety of philosophical subjects.



Letters to Montaigne (2003 ~ 2004)

Sunday
Jul172011

prologue

Dear Reader,

My friend Michel de Montaigne was born on February 28th, 1533 near the town of Bordeaux, France. Generally considered the father of the modern essay, he was interested in a wide variety of subjects and held the classical philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome in high regard. His style of writing was highly personal and strikingly informal. He started composing his Essais at the age of 38 and worked on them in his private library until his death in 1592.

I was born on March 20th, 1968 near the city of Chicago, Illinois. Currently, I am not considered the father of any particular style of writing. I suppose, however, that my interests in reading, writing, and traveling are worth noting. And, although I don’t have a private library, I did compose the following letters, addressed to Monsieur Montaigne, from my home in North Carolina between June 2003 and September 2004. Since he is obviously unable to read them, I thought I might share them with you.

Sincerely,
Brian Crean

Sunday
Jul172011

On Paris, Walking, and Talking

Monsieur Montaigne,

My name is Brian Crean, and I have spent the last two years reading and studying your essays. While traveling to Paris early last year, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a translation of your work in a small bookshop near Boulevard Saint Germain des Pres.

I am thankful for my discovery, as I am also thankful for my good friends, who without knowing it, indirectly introduced me to you. My good friend, Pascal, is French, and although I've known him for eight years now, last year was the first time we ever spent time together in France. My respect for him grew on that trip, as it was one of the first times I heard him speak his native language at great length. My native language is English, and unfortunately, I am fluent in no other languages. Pascal, and his sister Sophie, speak both French and English with great ease, and I must admit that I am a bit envious of them. But, on the other hand, I feel grateful to have met them both. As you know, it is not often that you meet someone with whom you can share an engaging conversation.

Your father was wise indeed to encourage your being raised to speak Latin. Languages are so much more easily learned while we are young. I've been trying to learn French recently, but because I am 35 years old, and because I have yet to plan another trip to Paris, I have not been studying often. Like you, my spirit and my mind tend to wander in a meandering sort of way. Without an obvious and visible finish line, so to speak, I tend to lose interest in activities.

Perhaps this is why I am writing to you now. After recently finishing your essays, I am anxious to restart my studies with pen and paper. I think that although we are alike, your humility reaches far beyond my own. At times, I can be too opinionated and sure of myself. Fortunately, those times don't last very long. My personality is usually wavering and unsure and avoids heated arguments, at least until my frustration hinders my better judgment.

Lately I've been trying to spend time with people who are smarter than myself. Since reading the ancient Sanskrit text The Art of Wealth, I have learnded the importance of wise associations. As Kauthilya, the Indian philosopher, once wrote,

"The root of mastery of the faculties is guidance;
the root of guidance is attendance upon elders.
From the attendance upon elders comes discernment;
by means of discernment one may prosper."

And,

"The thinking individual should designate an advisor who is a fitting counterpart to oneself."

And finally,

"One who is learned and innocent of pretense should be made a counselor."

Monsieur Montaigne, before I continue further, I should probably say thank you. WIthout knowing it, you have become an advisor and a counselor to me. I have been learning a great deal by reading the fruit of your "back shop." Your essays, the result of the time you spent in your private library, have benefited my life immensely.

So now, since it is impossible for us to speak, or share conversation, I thought I might simply write a series of letters to you. As I said earlier, in some ways, I think we are alike, and I have decided to stucture these letters with your essays in mind. Perhaps the very best activities are those that mix elements of structure with elements of spontaneity.

I am especially happy to have discovered your Essais in Paris. While Rome was your great foreign love; thus far, mine has been Paris. For me, it seems appropriately far away, and because my knowlegde of it is only cursory, it is quite easy for my imagination to project many of my own ideals into its streets and citizens. In a way, at least of late, Paris has become my civic mistress. Unfortunately, it seems that romance needs imagination. If I were as familiar with Paris as I am with my own hometown, I doubt that I would hold it in such high regard. I might even begin to resent it for not living up to my dreamy expectations. Perhaps, in reality, I am only intrigued by Paris because I have imagined it to embody the things I hold dear. In any event, no matter how I imagine it, I don't think that I'll ever be accomplished enough to be awarded an honorary citizenship there. I am happy that Rome was able to do this for you. Clearly, the city leaders recognized your unique contribution to the world.

I do believe, however, that Paris is a wonderfual city. The architecture is stunning, and the streets are winding and perfect for walking. Additionally, the respect that the French people have for art, culture, and conversation is something I admire very much. Having been raised in an often loud and ignorant country, I have a great respect for the nuance and subtlety associated with French culture. In my own country, many people believe that more of everything is better. They also tend to believe that bigger things are better than smaller things. I disagree completely. In the words of Gracian,

"Little and good is twice good."

And, as you wrote in Book One of your essays,

"There is nothing so hampering, so cloying, as abundance."

I also think that the French language is the most poetic language I have heard. With so much emphasis on vowels, it seems to dance along in a lyrical sort of way. But unfortunately, although French is beautiful to hear, it is difficult to speak, at least for my sometimes slow and discriminating mind. It takes me a long time to learn how to pronounce many French words and phrases, and once I learn to pronounce them well, it takes me an even longer time to commit them to memory. Perhaps I am the sort of person who must live in a country for a long time before I am able to learn to speak another language competently. I hope to learn more French as the years go by. I also hope to spend many more months in Paris before my brain and heart expire.

Although my nerves are easily frazzled while traveling, I can't imagine not being able to venture beyond my home from time to time. If I am unable to get away when I feel the need, I can become quite irritable and unpleasant to those around me.

I think that traveling is simply a part of my nature. Not only do I value each of my adventures individually, but I also learn something about myself in the process of acclimating to each new and strange environment. When I travelled to Ireland, for example, I learned that I can become quite a lively dancer. For some reason, the friendliness of the Irish people put me at ease, and I was able to dance effortlessly. Or, perhaps, I only danced well because I found myself drinking a bit more than I usually do. Unfortunately, when the mood strikes me, I can get carried away by alcohol. There is something about traveling that makes me less prudent, I'm afraid. I often wish I was less of a chameleon.

Years ago, while traveling in Germany, I remember that I tended to walk fast and upright, as many Germans do. In Russia, because of all of the economic unrest at the time, I tended to walk with my hands in my pockets, guarding my passport and my money. In Finland and in Denmark, I tended to walk very clumsily, because of the many striking and statuesque women living there. In Poland, I tended to walk as in Germany. In Italy, I tended to walk very slowly, almost as if ambling around. And, recently, while visiting Paris, I tended to walk at whatever pace I tended to talk - sometimes quickly and with wit and style, and , at other times, more slowly, almost as though I were lost. I particularly liked walking through the many parks and small streets of Paris. With less automobile traffic to worry about, it was easier to walk around as if I were born there.

In my own country, I tend to forget the way I walk. If I had to guess, I think that I would say that I walk differently than most of my fellow countrymen. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. I'm likely a bit more hesitant when I venture out than when I find my way back home. A lot of people in my country eat what is called "fast food" while they rush around to accomplish unimportant things. It looks exhausting. They really ought to take the time to sit down for a good meal with a good friend. If I could afford it, I would invite a good friend out to lunch every day of the week. Eating and talking are as effortless as walking and talking. And, all three of these activities are perhaps my greatest pleasures - if I am in the right company, of course. I would certainly rather read a book than talk with someone with whom I have nothing in common. Better to be alone than to be forced to converse with a spiritual stranger - especially a loud one.

There is something rhythmic and comforting about a long walk, so long as the temperature is not too hot. Like you, Monsieur, I prefer the cold of winter to the heat of summer. But, that is a different topic altogether. Perhaps this, my very first letter addressed to you, has rambled on inappropriately. Instead of referencing the many good ideas in your essays, as I had originally intended, I'm afraid that I have allowed my mind to wander a bit much. So, with this in mind, I will say goodbye and write to you again soon.

Kind Regards,

Brian Crean