Helpful advice to men—from the 16th Century

Montaigne, re-imagined

from On the power of the imagination, an essay by Michel Montaigne, translated by J M Cohen:

“I have personal knowledge of the case of a man for whom I can answer as for myself, and who could not fall under the least suspicion impotence or being under a spell. He had heard a comrade of his tell of an extraordinary loss of manhood that had fallen on him at a most inconvenient moment; and, when he was himself in a like situation, the full horror of this story had suddenly struck his imagination so vividly that he suffered a similar loss himself. Afterwards the wretched memory of his misadventure so devoured and tyrannised over him that he had become subject to relapses. He found some remedy for this mental trick in another trick; by himself confessing this weakness of his and declaring it in advance, he relieved the strain on his mind and the mishap being expected, his responsibility for it diminished and weighed upon him less. When he had an opportunity of his own choosing—his thought being disengaged and free and his body in its normal state—he would have his virility tested, seized and taken unawares, by previous arrangement with the other party. He was then completely and immediately cured of his infirmity. For once a man has been capable with a certain woman, he will never be incapable with her again unless out of real impotence.

. . .

“Married men, with time at their command, need not hurry, nor need they attempt the enterprise if they are not ready. It is better to accept the disgrace and refrain from inaugurating the marriage-bed when feverish and full of agitations, and to await a more private and less disturbed opportunity, than to be thrown into a perpetual misery by the surprise and disappointment of an initial failure. Before possession is taken, one who suffers from imagination should by sallies at different times make essays and gentle overtures without any strain or persistence, in order definitely to convince himself of his powers. Those who know their members to be obedient by nature need only take care to out-manoeuvre the imagination.

. . .

“We have reason to remark the intractable liberties taken by this member, which intrudes so tiresomely when we do not require it and fails us so annoyingly when we need it most, imperiously pitting its authority against that of the will, and most proudly and obstinately refusing our solicitations both mental and manual.

He says it better than any agony aunt could today.

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