“I have at last got the little room I have wanted so long, and am very happy about it. It does me good to be alone…” Louisa May Alcott, Her diary.
Last time we looked at silence and stillness as one channel to contentment; today we assess a close relative, solitude. My plan is to present the perspectives of three thinkers on solitude in chronological order: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Lars Svendsen.
In his essay, Of Solitude, Montaigne offers many benefits of seclusion starting with one’s being free of the vices of others. He believes this seclusion must be comprehensive as private distractions can be as great as public ones. In fact the benefits of solitude come not only from the mere flight from others but the abolishing of the ill effects on one’s inner self originating from exposure to society. “One cannot flee from others if one needs to flee from oneself …Therefore, it is not enough to get remote from the public; ‘tis not enough to shift the soil only; a man must flee from the popular conditions that have taken possession of his soul, he must sequester and come again to himself.”1
Montaigne argues literal seclusion may not even be needed since “our disease lies in the mind, which cannot escape from itself…and therefore is to be called home and confined within itself: that is the true solitude, and that may be enjoyed even in populous cities and the courts of kings, though more commodiously apart.”2 Regardless, for many of us, complete withdrawal may be impossible, “Wives, children, and goods must be had…but we are not so to set our hearts upon them that our happiness must have a dependence upon them; we must reserve a backshop, wholly our own and entirely free, wherein to settle our true liberty, our principle solitude and retreat.”3
Montaigne thinks isolation works best later in life, “Solitude seems to me to wear the best favor, in such as have already employed their most active and flourishing age in the world’s service…we have lived enough for others, let us at least live out the small remnant of our life for ourselves; let us now call in our thoughts and intentions to ourselves, and to our own ease and repose.”4
(continued next post)
1Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Montaigne. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 25, page 108.
3Ibid., page 109.