Had Montaigne Seen Rugby

This is a fragment of an essay I wrote in the style of Montaigne, on the subject of knowing oneself.

So here sit I, contemplating myself: an armchair philosopher. But an armchair philosopher, however much he knows himself, knows only his sitting self: and that is a very limited self indeed! How much better it is to know oneself in sport or conversation, to know oneself in gaming or feasting, to know oneself in sorrow, in danger, in love, in religious reverence and awe, and

the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to?

How much better to know yourself living than to know yourself as one who sits in a chair and thinks! For that reason, I now set down this essay and turn myself to the far more helpful activity of running around the block once or twice. When I am back, I shall perhaps not have progressed as far as Socrates: but at the least I shall have lived better (and I’ll have the advantage of saying that I’ve been around the block a few times.) I am inclined to believe that Plato would have been the better for a good ride on a bicycle. It is not only the soul that man must know, for the good Lord gave us bodies as well: they are as much a part of us as our souls.

So how can a philosopher or any man, indeed, know himself if he knows not his body? Did not the fathers tell us that we must keep our bodies in check, and under our reason’s control at all times? A good game of rugby, played well, will tell you once and for all, how well your reason has your body in hand. And what better way to mortify the flesh than with the bruises and knocks that come of hard sport? I daresay a seasoned rugby player has mortified his flesh as much as, if not more than, any flagellant. A hard-earned try tells you as much about yourself as any syllogism. A closely held tackle gives as much glory to God as a finely crafted sonnet.


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