Essays Of Michel De Montaigne

Essays Of Michel De Montaigne-67
Certainly, for Montaigne, as for ancient thinkers led by his favourites, Plutarch and the Roman Stoic Seneca, philosophy was not solely about constructing theoretical systems, writing books and articles.It was what one more recent admirer of Montaigne has called “a way of life”.

Certainly, for Montaigne, as for ancient thinkers led by his favourites, Plutarch and the Roman Stoic Seneca, philosophy was not solely about constructing theoretical systems, writing books and articles.

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He is only a second rate politician and one-time Mayor of Bourdeaux, after all.

With an almost Socratic irony, he tells us most about his own habits of writing in the essays titled “Of Presumption”, “Of Giving the Lie”, “Of Vanity”, and “Of Repentance”.

He was a hero to the enlighteners Montesquieu and Diderot.

Voltaire celebrated Montaigne - a man educated only by his own reading, his father and his childhood tutors – as “the least methodical of all philosophers, but the wisest and most amiable”.

But the message of this latter essay is, quite simply, that Were I to live my life over again, I should live it just as I have lived it; I neither complain of the past, nor do I fear the future; and if I am not much deceived, I am the same within that I am without …

I have seen the grass, the blossom, and the fruit, and now see the withering; happily, however, because naturally.Montaigne has little time for forms of pedantry that value learning as a means to insulate scholars from the world, rather than opening out onto it. ‘He has passed over his life in idleness,’ we say: ‘I have done nothing today.’ What? that is not only the fundamental, but the most illustrious of all your occupations.One feature of the Essays is, accordingly, Montaigne’s fascination with the daily doings of men like Socrates and Cato the Younger; two of those figures revered amongst the ancients as wise men or “sages”.Always, these emotions dwell on things we cannot presently change.Sometimes, they inhibit our ability to see and deal in a supple way with the changing demands of life.His Essays’ preface almost warns us off: Reader, you have here an honest book; …in writing it, I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end. No one before Montaigne in the Western canon had thought to devote pages to subjects as diverse and seemingly insignificant as “Of Smells”, “Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes”, “Of Posting” (letters, that is), “Of Thumbs” or “Of Sleep” — let alone reflections on the unruliness of the male appendage, a subject which repeatedly concerned him.Without pretending to untangle all of the knots of this “book with a wild and desultory plan”, let me tug here on a couple of Montaigne’s threads to invite and assist new readers to find their own way.Some scholars argued that Montaigne began writing his essays as a want-to-be Stoic, hardening himself against the horrors of the French civil and religious wars, and his grief at the loss of his best friend Étienne de La Boétie through dysentery.Nietzsche claimed that the very existence of Montaigne’s Essays added to the joy of living in this world.More recently, Sarah Bakewell’s charming engagement with Montaigne, How to Live or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (2010) made the best-sellers’ lists.

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