Though Montaigne claims to have forgotten much of it later in formal schooling (where he got his experience of how not to educate children), his mind remained well stocked with so much classical culture that his essays are veritable anthologies of quotation and allusion.From his early reading of Ovid, he learned that the first principle of reading is pleasure, and also that the world is a strange and magical place, constantly changing.His great essay “On the Education of Children,” composed as a letter to Madame Diane de Foix, begins, “I never saw a father who, however mangy or hunchbacked his son might be, failed to own him.” For Montaigne, philosophy in its root sense was the essence of education and “that which instructs us to live.” Those who disdained philosophy and went running after fact he called “ergotists.” Schools become “veritable jails of imprisoned youths.” Real education would educate the whole person, and the most wholly educated people were the great philosophers and poets: Someone asked Socrates of what country he was.
If one has the courage to ask her what she thinks, she is always saying the very opposite of what other people say.
We are at liberty to discover more than one Montaigne, including the political freethinker who saw beyond the sectarian wars of his own century to something like our postcolonial perspective.
“So many cities levelled with the ground, so many nations exterminated. But it is to such a degree of softness that I cannot see a chicken’s neck slit without trouble, and I cannot bear to hear the cry of a hare beneath the teeth of my dogs, though the chase is a stirring pleasure.
Our terrorists and torturers would not have surprised him. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and other Christian atrocities, witnessed plenty of killing and public execution. Be free from death; life depends on the will of others, but death on our own will.
Twenty years before Montaigne’s birth in 1533, Machiavelli published .
It was the century in which Copernicus and Brahe disturbed the universe, in which da Vinci died and Cortez conquered New Spain, in which Suleiman the Magnificent brought the Ottoman Empire nearly to Vienna, in which Tyndale died for his Bible, in which Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots lost their heads and the Armada sailed for England. One could be excused for feeling the earth unsteady beneath one’s feet.It is what it is, and the human part of it appalls as much as it edifies. Escaping Nazism in World War II, the Jewish writer Stefan Zweig found solace in the In a time such as that of the Second World War, or in civil-war France . How do I ensure that I go no further in my speech or actions than I think is right? “He has none of the rolling tirades and the beautiful verve of a Schiller or Lord Byron, none of the aggression of a Voltaire.” His constant assertions that he is lazy, feckless, and irresponsible make him sound a poor hero, yet these are not really failings at all. * I devoured Sarah Bakewell’s popular book partly in procrastination while slogging through a very different biography. Philippe Desan’s weighty, authoritative tome appeared in France in 2014 as .They are essential to his battle to preserve his particular self as it is. Be free from belief, disbelief, convictions, and parties. If Montaigne’s renewed popularity owes something to books like Bakewell’s, Desan disdains the popular and would give us Montaigne in his own time.With him there were also two others, of less learning, to attend me and to relieve him.They conversed with me in no other language but Latin.As Woolf put it, Again with politics, statesmen are always praising the greatness of Empire, and preaching the moral duty of civilizing the savage. Montaigne was a man of the Renaissance, but he speaks powerfully to our own era of religious division, tribalism and global instability.But look at the Spanish in Mexico, cried Montaigne in a burst of rage. and the richest and most beautiful part of the world turned upside down for the traffic of pearl and pepper! Readers dismayed by current politics should read Montaigne’s essay “Of Cruelty”: Among other vices I cruelly hate cruelty, both by nature and judgment, as the extreme of all vices.He takes his time doing it, too, and I can’t blame the translators for a merely functional prose style and a scholar’s obsession with minutiae.His declared goal “is to relate the two inseparable aspects of [Montaigne’s] life: literature and political action.” Desan belabors details about the workings of French regional government in the sixteenth century.If many of his views and curiosities now seem to us liberal in the best sense of that word, he had his conservative, pragmatic side as well.It was one hell of a century—the Renaissance bleeding into the Reformation, with occasional rashes of plague and burnings at the stake.