Continuing with the thoughts of Montaigne on solitude and contentment, he tells us that after one breaks the knot of obligations, “Let him soothe and caress himself, and above all things be sure to govern himself with reverence to his reason and conscience to that degree as to be ashamed to make a false step in their presence.”5 A somewhat religious man, Montaigne adds, “…my chiefest prayer to Almighty God, that he will please to render me content with myself and the condition wherein I am.”6 Success is specific, “[One] ought to have taken leave of all sorts of labor, what advantage soever it may promise, and generally to have shaken off all those passions which disturb the tranquility of body and soul.”7 But Montaigne does not advocate complete self-denial (at least for himself) noting “Wiser men, having great force and vigor of soul, may propose to themselves a rest wholly spiritual: but for me, who have a very ordinary soul, it is very necessary to support myself with bodily conveniences … and the pleasures of life that our years, one after another, snatch away from us.”8 Presumably this may apply to the reader as well.
He concludes the essay with this:
“Retire yourself into yourself, but first prepare yourself there to receive yourself; it were a folly to trust yourself in your own hands if you cannot govern yourself. A man may miscarry alone as well as in company…present continually to your imagination Cato, Phocion, and Aristides, in whose presence the fools themselves will hide their faults and make them controllers of all your intentions; should these deviate from virtue your respect to those will set you right; they will keep you in the way to be contented with yourself; to borrow nothing of any but yourself; to stay and fix your soul in certain and limited thoughts, wherein she may please herself, and having understood the true and real goods, which men the more enjoy the more they understand, to rest satisfied, without desire of prolongation of life or name.”9
So from Montaigne we extract the following pearls. Solitude separates us from the vice of others, but must include the abolition of the follies of society dwelling in our inner self. It requires personal preparation and is easier with advancing age, though we may never be able to fully withdraw from society. We must care for ourselves and establish self-control in order to eliminate our passions and reduce our responsibilities. Finally solitude facilitates contentment best when we imitate great persons and accept our limitations.
5Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Montaigne. Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 25, page 109.
6Ibid., page 110
7Ibid., page 111.
8Ibid., page 111-112
9Ibid., page 112.