Only the outer bark of my attention

From Montaigne’s Essais bk 3 – De Trois Commerces.  The translation is Screech’s Penguin Classics.

Reading, by its various subjects, particularly serves to arouse my discursive reason: it sets not my memory to work but my judgement.  So, for me, few conversations are arresting unless they are vigorous and powerful.  It is true that grace and beauty occupy me and fulfil me as much or more as weight and profundity.  And since I doze off during any sort of converse and lend it only the outer bark of my attention, it often happens that during polite conversation (with its flat, well-trodden sort of topics) I say stupid things unworthy of a child, or make silly, ridiculous answers, or else I remain stubbornly silent which is even more inept and rude.  I have a mad way of withdrawing into myself as well as a heavy, puerile ignorance of everyday matters.

La lecture me sert specialement à esveiller par divers objects mon discours, à embesongner mon jugement, non ma memoyre. Peu d’entretiens doncq m’arretent sans vigueur et sans effort. Il est vray que la gentillesse et la beauté me remplissent et occupent autant ou plus que le pois et la profondeur. Et d’autant que je sommeille en toute autre communication et que je n’y preste que l’escorce de mon attention, il m’advient souvent, en telle sorte de propos abatus et laches, propos de contenance, de dire et respondre des songes et bestises indignes d’un enfant et ridicules, ou de me tenir obstiné en silence, plus ineptement encore et incivilement. J’ay une façon resveuse qui me retire à moy, et d’autre part une lourde ignorance et puerile de plusieurs choses communes.

I apply this phrase to myself several times a day.

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