Thursday, February 28, 2013

No good barber in Italy

Michel de Montaigne, the great 16th century French essayist and philosopher, was born 480 years ago today. His essays on any number of topics - from sleep to smells and from cannibals to cruelty - remain in print to this day, and a new biography, by Sarah Bakewell, even credits him with inventing the idea of writing about oneself. For a short while in the 1580s, he travelled beyond the French borders, often seeking out spas in search of relief for his kidney stones. He kept a fine journal of his journeys, often full of detail about the cures he found, and several translations are freely available online.

Montaigne was born in Chãteau de Montaigne, near Bordeaux, in southwest France, on 28 February 1533. His father was a soldier and a lawyer, and his mother came from a Spanish Jewish family converted to protestantism. He studied at Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, and then trained for the law in Bordeaux and Toulouse. He worked at the Court des Aides of Périgueaux, and then in 1557 was appointed to the Bordeaux Parliament. From 1561 to 1563 he served at the court of Charles IX. In 1565, he married Françoise de la Chassaigne. They had one daughter that survived infancy.

After his father died in 1568, Montaigne moved to the family Chãteau. There he wrote the many essays - on numerous topics including sadness, idleness, the education of children, sleep, smells, the greatness of Rome - which, subsequently, brought him fame. From 1578, he suffered from kidney stones which led him in search of cures in Switzerland, Germany and Italy. In 1581, while at La Villa, in Italy, Montaigne found out he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux. He returned to the city, and served in that post for four years. In 1588 he accompanied Henry III to Rouen. He died in 1592. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or Adam Thorpe’s review of Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.

Montaigne was no regular diarist, but he did keep a journal during his travels of 1580 and 1581 - across France to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy - and this often appears with his essays as part of a set of ‘complete works’. The most modern translation of the journal was made by Donald M. Frame in The Complete Works of Montaigne published by Stanford University Press in the US in 1957, and Hamish Hamilton in the UK in 1958.

Frame says, in his ‘notes on the travel journal’, that Montaigne’s journal has a curious history. Part of it was dictated in French to a secretary, and part of it was written by Montaigne in French and Italian. The manuscripts lay buried in a chest at the Chãteau for two centuries before being discovered by a historian in 1770. This led to it being published soon after in five editions during the mid-1770s; thereafter, though, the original manuscripts vanished during the Revolution. All subsequent editions and translations, thus, rely on the French printed editions from the 1770s which, according to Frame, ‘offer only many variants but also a good many apparent misplacements and misreadings’. Nevertheless, more modern editions in French and Italian, Frame adds, are helpful for their geographical amendments or conjectural emendations.

The Journal, Frame explains, has been translated into English three times, by William Hazlitt (1842), W. G. Waters (1903) and E. J. Trechmann (1929), though he only rates the latter as any good. All three of these translations are available freely online, the first two at Internet Archive, and the latter at the Hathi Trust Digital Library. The following extracts are taken from Frame’s The Complete Works of Montaigne. (The journal reads more as a narrative than a diary in that the dates are incorporated into the text, and I have left the extracts thus.)

‘Monday early we left there. And along the road, without dismounting, after stopping a while to visit the villa of the bishop, who was there (and were made much of by his men, and invited to stay there to dinner), we came to dine at the baths of La Villa, fifteen miles. I received a warm welcome and greetings from all those people. In truth it seemed that I had come back to my own home. I went back to the same room I had the first time, at the price of twenty crowns a month, and on the same conditions.

Tuesday August 15th I went to the bath early and stayed there a little less than an hour. I again found it rather cold than otherwise. It did not start me sweating at all. I arrived at these baths not only healthy, but I may further say in all-round good spirits. After bathing, I passed some cloudy urine; and in the evening, after walking a good bit over alpine and not at all easy roads, I passed some that was quite bloody; and in bed I felt something indefinably wrong with the kidneys.

On the 16th I continued the bathing, and I went to the women’s bath, where I had not yet been, in order to be separate and alone. I found it too hot, either because it was really so or indeed because my pores, being opened from the bathing of the day before, had made me get hot easily. At all events I stayed there an hour at most and sweated moderately. My urine was natural; no gravel at all. After dinner my urine again came turbid and red, and at sunset it was bloody.

On the 17th I found this same bath more temperate. I sweated very little. The urine rather turbid, with a little gravel; my colour a sort of yellow pallor.

On the 18th I stayed two hours in the aforesaid bath. I felt I know not what heaviness in the kidneys. My bowels were reasonably loose. From the very first day I felt full of wind, and my bowels rumbling. I can easily believe that this effect is characteristic of these waters, because the other time I bathed I clearly perceived that they brought on the flatulence this way.

On the 19th I went to the bath a little later to give way to a lady of Lucca who wanted to bathe, and did bathe, before me; for this rule is observed, and reasonably so, that the ladies may enjoy their own bath when they please. I again stayed there for two hours. There came over me a little heaviness in my head, which had been in the best of condition for several days. My urine was still turbid, but in different ways, and it carried off a lot of gravel. I also noticed some commotion in the kidneys. And if my feelings are correct, these baths can do much in that particular; and not only do they dilate and open up the passages and conduits, but furthermore they drive out the matter, dissipated and scatter it. I voided the gravel that seemed really to be stones broken up into pieces.

In the night I felt in the left-side the beginning of a very violent and painful colic, which tore me for a good while and yet did not run its ordinary course; it did not reach the belly and the groin, and ended in a way that made me believe it was wind. [. . .]

On the 27th after dinner I was cruelly tormented by a very acute toothache, so that I sent for the doctor, who, when he had come and considered everything, and especially that my pain had left me in his presence, judged that this defluxion had no body unless a very subtle one, and that it was wind and flatulence that mounted from the stomach to the head and, mingling with a little humor, gave me that discomfort. This indeed seemed to me very likely, considering that I had suffered similar accidents in other parts of the body.

On Monday, August 28th, at dawn, I went to drink at Bernabo’s spring and drank seven pounds four ounces of the water, at twelve ounces to the pound. It made my bowels move once. I voided a little less than half of it before dinner. I clearly felt that it sent vapors to my head and made it heavy. [. . .]

On Thursday, September 7th, in the morning I was an hour in the big bath. This same morning they delivered into my hands, by way of Rome, letters from Monsieur de Tausin, written in Bordeaux on August 2nd, by which he advised me that the day before, by general consent, I had been made mayor of that city; and he urged me to accept this charge for the love of my country.

On Sunday, September 10th, I bathed for an hour in the morning in the women’s bath; and since it was a bit warm, I sweated some. After dinner I went alone on horseback to see some other places in the neighbourhood, and a little villa called Granajolo, which stands on top of one of the highest mountains in these parts. As I passed over these heights, they seemed to me the most beautiful, fertile, and pleasant inhabited slopes that could possibly be seen.

Talking with the natives, I asked one very elderly man whether they used our baths, and he replied that it worked out with them as it did with the people who live near Our Lady of Loreto; that those people rarely go there on a pilgrimage, and that there is little use of the baths except for the benefit of foreigners and those who live far away. He said he was very sorry about one thing, that for a number of years he had observed that the baths did more harm than good to those who used them [. . .].

Monday, September 11th, in the morning, I voided a good quantity of gravel, most of it looking like millet, solid, red on the surface and grey inside.

On September 12th, 1581, we left the baths of La Villa early in the morning and came to dine at Lucca, fourteen miles. These days they were beginning to gather the grapes. The Feast of the Holy Cross is one of the principal ones in this city; and for a week around it freedom is given to anyone who wants it and who has been banished on account of a civil debt, to return in security to his house, to give him opportunity to attend to his devotions.

I have not found in Italy a single good barber to shave my beard and cut my hair.’

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