Crikey - It's Proust!
Reading Montaigne on the train today I came upon this:
"The men whose society and intimacy I seek are those who are called well-bred and talented men; and the thought of these gives me a distaste for others. Their kind is, rightly considered, the rarest that we have, a kind that owes almost everything to nature. The purpose of our intercourse is simply intimacy, familiarity, and talk; the exercise of the mind is our sole gain. In our conversations all subjects are alike to me. I do not care if there is no depth or weight in them; they always possess charm, and they always keep to the point. All is colored by a ripe and steady judgment, blended with kindness, candor, gaiety, and friendship... I know my kind even by their silences and their smiles... Hippomachus said truly he that he knew a good wrestler simply by seeing him walk in the street."
I read this with a shock of recognition. Crikey, I said to myself, he's talking about Proust!
It is no good telling me that Proust and Montaigne live three centuries apart. Just imagine Montaigne and Proust in conversation! (I consider myself humbly fortunate to have friends who can follow my conversation at all.)
Neither it is any use telling me that Gide or Saint-Beuve could fit the bill. They do not. Saint-Beuve is Montaigne's disciple, not his mate; and Gide - his diminution.