Though Montaigne had some affection for his wife, Françoise de la Chassaigne, he did not ultimately judge that he was right to have married her. Though common people with “simple plebeian souls” might be suited for marriage, “men with unruly humors like me, who hate any sort of bond or obligation, are not so fit for it.” The problem is not that he chose a bad wife, but that he married at all. Looking back, he writes: “Of my own choice, I would have avoided marrying Wisdom herself, if she had wanted me.” Regarding the possibility of a bon mariage, the sentence which contains that phrase’s final occurrence in “On Some Verses of Vergil” summarizes Montaigne’s verdict: “That man knew what it was all about, it seems to me, who said that a good marriage was one made between a blind wife and a deaf husband.” True friendship or good sex—do not expect that marriage will furnish either. Moreover, as the image of the deaf husband suggests, do not expect good conversation from marriage.
To grasp the depth of the contrast with Nietzsche, consider this stunning aphorism from Human, All Too Human:
Marriage as a long conversation. When entering into a marriage one ought to ask oneself: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman up into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory, but most of the time you are together will be devoted to conversation.
By itself, this aphorism does not establish that Nietzsche believes in the possibility of a good marriage. But when read in conjunction with the aphorism holding that “the best friend will probably acquire the best wife, because a good marriage is founded on the talent for friendship,” it seems difficult to deny that for Nietzsche, unlike Montaigne, “good marriage” names a genuine (if not frequently instantiated) human possibility. Whereas Montaigne does not think that the highest friendship is possible with a woman at all, let alone in marriage, Nietzsche does not hesitate to speak of “the higher conception of marriage as the soul-friendship of two people of differing sex.”
— Robert Miner, Nietzsche and Montaigne
I re-read Human, All Too Human a couple months ago and was pleasantly surprised by that aphorism, among many others (the book overall was better than I remembered it). Sue Prideaux, in her recent biography of Nietzsche, provides a lovely description of a fateful climb he made with Lou Salomé up Monte Sacro in the Italian Alps a few years after writing it:
Both of them described how similarly they thought and felt about things, and how words tumbled between them. They took words, like food, from each other’s mouths. Individual command melted as they finished each other’s thoughts and completed each other’s sentences. When they came down the mountain, he said to her, quietly, “I thank you for the most exquisite dream of my life.”
It was a short-lived dream and ended badly, but the experience was no less powerful for its brief duration.
The Lady of the House and I were lengthy-email-correspondents for over a year before we ever heard each other’s voices, and phone-friends for most of another year before we ever met in person. I recall a lazy Sunday in February, not on a mountain peak, but on the phone from early morning until late evening, with words tumbling between us and individual command melting. I hope it goes without saying that I don’t say it boastfully; I only want to testify to the truth of that vision, that possibility, of a relationship as a long, fruitful conversation, extending, with any luck, into old age.