I wrote just yesterday about how people can be unfathomable, and that the normal opaqueness of human motivation can be compounded by the past’s nature as a foreign country. But the reverse can sometimes be the case as well, and thankfully so. From time to time you can feel that someone who is long dead is sitting right next to you in the room, talking to you, and that the thoughts expressed are a clear and as refreshing as water.
Montaigne can feel that way.
And another too: Benjamin Franklin.
I have read about Franklin but I never really read much of Franklin’s own words. My son gave me a volume of Franklin’s writings for Christmas and I have begun, happily, to rectify that deficiency.
Franklin’s writing gives much pleasure on many dimensions. For one, while clearly written well before the advent of Hemingway-ish stripped down prose, it is lucid and clear in its colonial fashion. There’s a wry and mordant wit at work as well, one that would be fully at home in the modern age. And then of course there is the breadth of interests and subjects–scientific experiments, religion, diplomacy, personal matters.
I was not surprised, then, to find that Montaigne was a direct influence on Franklin. This from a 1957 article in Modern Language Notes: