Essays Montaigne Analysis

Essays Montaigne Analysis-65
_____________ Born in 1533 at his family’s chateau between Bordeaux and Périgord, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was, on his father’s side, the son of a long line of successful merchants who only four generations earlier had purchased their title of nobility and with it the name Montaigne.

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“Essay,” it is generally noted, comes from the French verb : to try, to attempt.

In bringing up this etymology most people wish to underscore the tentativeness of the form.

He is himself the most digressive of writers, always ready to tell a story, often from the chronicles of ancient history which he loved—usually to illustrate a point but sometimes, too, just because he thinks it a good story.

In his essays he found the form that best fit the shape of his own mind.

, in 1572, Montaigne was the first man to write freely about himself, and not for another two centuries, until Jean Jacques Rousseau, would anyone do so with such unabashed candor again.

Chiding Tacitus for undue modesty, Montaigne remarked that “not to dare to talk roundly of yourself betrays a defect of thought.” This, clearly, was not Montaigne’s defect.

“I not only dare to talk about myself but to talk of nothing else but myself.” That is not quite true; he talks about a great deal else in the Yet there was something to what he said when he added: “I study myself more than any other subject.

That is my metaphysics; that is my physics.” Inscribed on the tympanum of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was the legend, “Know Thyself.” This was the project Montaigne set to work on when in 1570, at the age of thirty-seven, he retired from public life to the tower on his estate in Gascony in which he kept his library of a thousand or so books.

Such modesty does not at all apply to Montaigne, who, while not out for the last word or seeking to be in any way definitive, nonetheless has fairly larger things in mind than the intellectual equivalent of a stroll around the garden.

Nor are the merely a variety of disquisitions upon what its author happens to think on such subjects as Vanity, Experience, Sadness, Fear, Liars, and the rest, even though such words appear in the titles of his essays.


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