Montaigne Essays On Vanity

Montaigne Essays On Vanity-17
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.

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.

The soul selects her own Montaigne, and nearly every soul can find the Montaigne she needs.

Especially in terrible times, we look to him for ordinary sanity in extraordinary prose.

It was a world in which science, superstition and medicine melded together.

In 1560, for example, Montaigne would witness the trial of Martin Guerre, or the man who pretended to be Martin Guerre. Desan covers all this very well and with more context than Bakewell’s book—though, as I say, the context sometimes seems best suited for specialists.

“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.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.If a man had to make his place in the world and a woman had to make a good marriage, it helped to have successful parents.Montaigne’s mother was a tough, controlling figure, but he was loyal to her, and he adored his father, who had been a soldier and politician and valued education above all things.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.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.He did not answer “Of Athens,” but, “Of the world.” Having an imagination richer and more expansive, he embraced the whole world as his city and extended his society, his friendship, and his knowledge to all mankind; not as we do, who look no farther than our feet.He was steeped in philosophy, yet as William Hazlitt wrote, “he did not set up for a philosopher, wit, orator, or moralist, but he became all these by merely daring to tell us whatever passed through his mind, in its naked simplicity and force.” Writers have always made of Montaigne what they needed, generally finding him adaptable to their requirements. In the same decade, Virginia Woolf reviewed a new edition of the essays: . It’s hard even in our jaded generation not to be similarly wowed.The essays Montaigne wrote between 1572 and his death twenty years later are unlike anything else I have read—a book of one man and a book of the world.


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