Here’s the first post of my new blog post project: short, snappy profiles on interesting, inspiring and influential people from the past and present.
Who: Michel de Montaigne, French writer & philosopher who lived during the French Renaissance
Born: 28th February, 1533
Died: 13 September, 1592 (Aged 59)
Claim to fame: Montaigne founded the essay and was amongst the first to write philosophically with modern skepticism
Snapshot of Notable Facts & Achievements:
- He is regarded as the founder of the essay. Michel de Montaigne described his works as ‘essays’ – ‘essayer’ is French for ‘to try’ or ‘to attempt’.
- In his essays he expressed opinions on his nature and the habits of people, and he questioned the wisdom of humans.
- He is most well known for the remark, “Que sais-je?” (“What do I know?”)
- There is a biography of Michel de Montaigne written by Sarah Bakewell called How To Live. The question, “How to live?” obsessed Montaigne. In the book, Bakewell addresses Montaigne’s essays with 20 chapters including, “Don’t Worry About Death”, “Read A Lot, Forget Most of What You Read”, “Survive Love and Loss”, “Question Everything”, “Do Something No One Has Done Before” and “Reflect on Everything; Regret Nothing”.
- For some time, he moderated between Catholics and Protestants.
- In his essay Of Cannibals Montaigne wrote that “one calls ‘barbarism’ whatever he is not accustomed to,” questioning the differences between barbaric and moral man.
- His skepticism got him into the Index of Forbidden Books for almost 200 years. The Index of Forbidden Books was a list of publications prohibited by the Catholic Church. It was abolished in 1966.
- His birthplace is now called Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne.
Some of Montaigne’s quotes:
- “Don’t discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.”
- “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.”
- “When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.”
- “A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.”
- “An untempted woman cannot boast of her chastity.”
- “I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more as I grow older.”
- “I know that the arms of friendship are long enough to reach from the one end of the world to the other”
- “There is no knowledge so hard to acquire as the knowledge of how to live this life well and naturally.”
- “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”