Billy Goat Gruff
Graham R. Cooper
He’s so much the opposite that June has named him ‘Chappie’. ‘Chappie’ with an ‘ie’ is a name that she feels really suits our good-tempered young billy goat. What’s more, it’s a nice fit with her Alpine-cross dairy goat, Minnie.
Adults, particularly those whose country of origin is England (like us), will say of a young boy, “He’s a happy chappy”. Our recently acquired billy goat’s six months old, visited morning and evening by June, well-fed and housed, healthy, and being kept company by a young doe – the virginal Dolores. All that attention to his needs: What’s there to be gruff about?
“He’s laid back,” June says.
Alain de Botton, in his book The Consolations Of Philosophy, ponders Montaigne’s writings on “the advantages of living as an animal rather than as a reasoning human”. Observing a goat, Botton remarks:
I found her in the yard of a farm a few kilometres from Montaigne’s chateau, in the hamlet of Les Gauchers. She had never read [Cicero’s] ‘Tuscan Disputations’ or Cicero’s ‘On the Laws’. And yet she seemed content, nibbling at stray pieces of lettuce, occasionally shaking her head like an elderly woman expressing quiet disagreement. It was not an unenviable existence. …
… If offered a choice, Montaigne would in the end perhaps not have opted to live as a goat – but only just. Cicero had presented the benevolent picture of reason. Sixteen centuries later, it was for Montaigne to introduce the adverse:
‘To learn that we have said or done a stupid thing is nothing, we must learn a more ample and important lesson: that we are but blockheads.’ – Michel de Montaigne
And the biggest blockheads of all being philosophers like Cicero who had never suspected they might even be such things. Misplaced confidence in reason was the well-spring of idiocy – and indirectly, also of inadequacy.
I would not have “opted to live as a goat” either, being accepting of my human lot. But I go along with Botton’s paraphrase of Montaigne’s opinion, that when compared to us, “animals were in many respects paragons of health and virtue – an unfortunate reality which philosophy was obliged to reflect, but rarely did”. Our lives, as Montaigne observed:
… consist partly in madness, partly in wisdom: whoever writes about it merely respectfully and by rule leaves more than half of it behind.Michel de Montaigne
Botton sums up this strand of Montaigne’s philosophy:
And yet if we accepted our frailties, and ceased claiming a mastery we did not have, we stood to find – in Montaigne’s generous, redemptive philosophy – that we were ultimately still adequate in our own distinctive half-wise, half-blockheadish way.
I’m “ultimately still adequate” and it’s good to know that Montaigne’s got my back.
I quote others only in order the better to express myself.
In this personal journal entry, I quote Botton and Montaigne “only in order the better to express myself”.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.