Month of Montaigne: Meet Michel de Montaigne

michel_de_montaigne_1The man to the right is the subject of February: Michel de Montaigne.  His full name, actually, was Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.  He was born February 28, 1533 at the family estate of Montaigne in southern France.  His mother was the daughter of a converted Spanish Jew, and his father was a veteran of the French Wars in Italy and the former mayor of Bordeaux.  His father laid out a very elaborate plan to educate his son, which involved young Montaigne doing pretty much whatever he felt like doing.  Another part of the plan involved, for instance, the young boy spending his first three years with a peasant family, to gain an affinity for people outside of his social class.  He studied at a prestigious boarding school, where he excelled, and then became a lawyer and a well-regarded member of the nobility.  Eventually he married, and his wife gave him six daughters (he lost five of them before adulthood.  At some point, his father asked him to translate a volume by Raymond Sebond, a Spanish monk and theologian. (An essay concerning Sebond is the largest essay in the Essays)

Montaigne did many things in his life, including a term as Mayor of Bordeaux.  Of course, the thing for which he is most noted is the Essays, a collection of thoughts about various things, both personal and more general.  In fact, Montaigne is actually noted for inventing the form of writing that we call an essay.  The word itself comes from the French word essayer, which means “to try”.  So anyone who has less than fond memories of writing essays in school, blame it on Montaigne.  As noted, his thoughts range widely, from the topic of memory, to theology, to courage, to the rules of war.  He has influenced many, many other philosophers across history, including such diverse characters as Blaise Pascal, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzche (“That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on this Earth”), and Eric Hoffer.  He may have even influenced Shakespeare.

How did I first become aware of Montaigne?  First, when my Latin teacher told me about Eric Hoffer, he mentioned that Hoffer became a philosopher after he read Montaigne’s Essays on a train ride from New York to California.  Then I looked up Montaigne on Wikiquote, which is where I get most of my QODs from.  The more I read, the more I liked.  So I ordered a copy of the complete Essays from Barnes and Noble, and it just arrived the other day.  Let me tell you, that is a big book.  That’s why I’m not sure I’ll get through the whole book in a month.  Still, all I can do is try.

The last thing I would like to note is how Montaigne wrote Essays.  He essentially locked himself into a tower for about ten years and just kept reading and writing.  In 1580, he published the first edition, and revised it for re-release two more times in his life.  An interesting way to write, though not something everyone can do.  Of course, he had money, so he could do that sort of thing.  It’s an interesting factoid about this very interesting book.

So, like I said, stay tuned to get some Montaigne on.  I will start with a summary of the first few essays, hopefully on Feb. 1st.  Then the first Montaigne QOD will be on Feb. 2nd.  Just to be clear, though, I intend to also post about other things while this celebration is ongoing.

Incoming French Philosophy!

Just to let you know, this upcoming month is the Month of Montaigne for me.  All of my QODs (Quotes Of the Day) will be derived from Michel de Montaigne’s seminal work of philosophy, the Essays.  I will also try to read as much as possible and post summaries of his various essays on this very blog.  And by remarkable coincidence, February 28th is his birthday.  So keep an eye out for that, because it’s gonna be a doozy.  More details and biographical info on this remarkable guy will be on their way this week.