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Michel De Montaigne's Biography
French courtier and author of ESSAIS (1572-80, 1588), which established a new literary form. Montaigne has remained the greatest exponent of the essay, a short piece that discusses the author's personal thoughts about a particular subject. His successors have followed him in the use of the self as subject, the replacement of logical thought by free association, and the use of essay as "a literary device for saying almost everything about anything" (Aldous Huxley).

Montaigne was born at his family estate in Chãteau de Montaigne, near Bordeaux, in southwest France. His grandfather, Ramon Eyquem, had bought the estate of Montaigne in 1477, and thus gained the right to its name. Montaigne's father, a lawyer, had served as a soldier in Italy and adopted advanced views about education, which benefited his son. He had married Antoniette de Lopez, who came from a Spanish Jewish family converted to Protestantism. As a baby Montaigne was sent to live with a peasant family so that his earliest memories would be of humble surroundings. He was brought up to speak Latin before French. He received his early education at the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, and then studied law at Bordeaux and Toulouse. He was a counselor of the Court des Aides of Périgueaux, in 1557 he was appointed councilor of the Bordeaux Parliament, and from 1561 to 1563 he was at the court of Charles IX. When his friend Etienne de la Boëtie died in 1563 at thirty-two, Montaigne suffered the most severe emotional experience of his life. Thereafter he never had a close relationship.

In 1565 Montaigne married Françoise de la Chassaigne, with whom he had one daughter; four other children died in infancy. After his father's death in 1568, he retired to the family Chãteau in 1570. He lived there the life of a country gentleman, and completed in the following years the first books of his Essais, which reflected his wide interests and learning. Montaigne's first book of collected essays was published when he was 47. He argued that the beliefs of different cultures should be respected, and covered in his texts a huge range of subjects, including how to converse properly, how to endure pain, how to prepare for death, how to read well, how to bring up children, and how to deal with the sexual urge. Even his cat did not escape his watchful attention: "When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn't amusing herself with me more than I am with her?" Montaignes's voice is skeptical and sincere; "I am myself the subject of my book; it is not reasonable to expect you to waste your leisure on a matter so frivolous and empty". Occasionally he made incursions into the world of affairs. As a moderate Roman Catholic and advocacy of toleration, he acted as one of the intermediaries between Henry of Navarre (1589 – assassinated 1610) and the court party. However, in 1588 he was arrested by the members of the Protestant League, but released after a few hours in the Bastille. During this journey he met Marie Le Jars de Goyrnay, a young woman. Montaigne was flattered by her admiration of his work, and called her, perhaps somewhat ironically, his fille d'alliance.

From 1578 Montaigne had suffered from kidney stones. This led him in search of curative waters. In 1580 he set out on travels through Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, meeting Torquato Tasso at Ferrara. At the beginning of May 1581, he spent some time at Bagno della Villa, recording in his journal his daily routines, baths and medicines he took, and what he had for dinner. In 1581 Montaigne was elected mayor of Bordeaux. He was still in Italy and on the occasion Henry III (1551 – assassinated 1589) wrote to him: "Inasmuch as I hold in great esteem your fidelity and zealous devotion to my service, it has been a pleasure to me to learn that you have been chosen mayor of my town of Bordeaux. I have had the agreeable duty of confirming the selection, and I did so the more willingly, seeing that it was made during your distant absence; wherefore it is my desire, and I require and command you expressly that you proceed without delay to enter on the duties to which you have received so legitimate a call. And so you will act in a manner very agreeable to me, while the contrary will displease me greatly." Montaigne served for four years, he absented himself from his duties only at a time of plague. In 1588 he accompanied Henry III to Rouen and spent the last years in revising his writings. Montaigne died on September 13, 1592, at Château Montaigne. He was buried near his own house. A few years his remains were removed to the church of a Commandery of St. Antoine at Bordeaux.

The practical and self-centered world-view of the Renaissance was manifested in the autobiographical writings of Cellini and Montaigne, the historical analyses of Machiavelli, and Leonardo's drawing of the Vitruvian man. Montaigne was the first to use the term 'essay' to describe the literary form to which he had devoted himself – "the dialogue of the mind with itself" as the poet and critic Matthew Arnold said. Montaigne's Essais had great influence not only in France, but also in England, where his works were quoted by William Shakespeare and imitated by Francis Bacon. – No real models existed for Montaigne's essays. His literary apprenticeship had been slight: his only early noteworthy publication had been a work of translation. Montaigne's purpose in his essays was self-knowledge: "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself." But the self one finds in his writings is not narcissistic, although he admitted: "Painting myself for others, I represent myself in a better colouring than my own natural complexion." Montaigne gives room for dialogue, addressing his thoughts to the potential reader, and combining the form of a letter with the form of a dialogue with an ideal friend. Later the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) developed Montaigne's unsystematic thoughts into their logical conclusion in his famous "Cogito; ergo sum" (Je pense, donc je suis; I think, therefore I am).

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

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