René Descartes
[ Issue 45 ]

Emily Bronto is definitely one of René  Descartes’ many fans

Bikwil salutes René  Descartes

René Descartes

Fizzgig today relates a few facts about a feller who preferred his own company, and who even regularly hid from his few friends in order to work — or at least to reflect, something he did a lot of.

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Much has been written on solitude — by philosophers, theologians, archbishops, poets, novelists, essayists, feminists, psychologists and new-age inspirationalists: Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Jane Austen, Francis Bacon, Pearl Buck, Lord Byron, Joseph Conrad, Stephanie Dowrick, George Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Aldous Huxley, John Keats, Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander Pope, the Vatican Pope, Henry David Thoreau, Paul Tillich, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, William Wordsworth . . .

Few of them, if any, knew their subject from intimate experience as well as today’s subject. In his own time he was as notorious for his “leave-me-to-myself” personal behaviour as his ideas have been widespread and enduring since.

“I think, therefore I am”. Thus spake philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650). Of course, he put it more succinctly — in Latin. Incidentally, according to Harlish Goop it must’ve been someone as well acquainted with the risks of contemplation as with its benefits who devised this anagram of cogito ergo sum: “outcome is grog”.

Having spent most of his childhood in solitude, as an adult our René readily came to prefer his own company, and regularly hid from his few friends in order to work. If asked, his furious mates might well have commented, “Good company he ain’t”. Serious and sustained reflection was René’s thing, not social conversation, and he usually meditated in bed till midday. If the weather was very cold he used to get inside the stove so he could ruminate there.

In his thirties he even moved to the Netherlands, taking great pains to conceal his whereabouts (he moved 24 times while there), and did not return to France for sixteen years. He wrote, “I have been able to live as solitary and withdrawn as I would in the most remote of deserts.”

I wonder, though, if he were living today whether he’d appreciate this extract from an Italian hotel brochure:

This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude. In fact, crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy its solitude.

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