Michel de Montaigne
1533 – 1592
Who was Michel de Montaigne?
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre, and commonly thought of as the father of modern skepticism. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual exercises with casual anecdotes and autobiography—and his massive volume Essais contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a direct influence on writers all over the world, including René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Albert Hirschman, William Hazlitt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stefan Zweig, Eric Hoffer, Isaac Asimov, and possibly on the later works of William Shakespeare.
In his own time, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that, 'I am myself the matter of my book', was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne would be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt which began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, 'Que sçay-je?'. Remarkably modern even to readers today, Montaigne's attempt to examine the world through the lens of the only thing he can depend on implicitly—his own judgment—makes him more accessible to modern readers than any other author of the Renaissance. Much of modern literary non-fiction has found inspiration in Montaigne and writers of all kinds continue to read him for his masterful balance of intellectual knowledge and personal story-telling.
- Each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice...for we have no other criterion of reason than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the country we live in.
- Once you have decided to keep a certain pile, it is no longer yours; for you can't spend it.
- It is a common seen by experience that excellent memories do often accompany weak judgments.
- The confidence in another man's virtue is no light evidence of a man's own, and God willingly favors such a confidence.
- I quote others in order to better express myself.
- Virtue craves a steep and thorny path.
- If there is such a thing as a good marriage, it is because it resembles friendship rather than love.
- There is not much less vexation in the government of a private family than in the managing of an entire state.
- We only labor to stuff the memory, and leave the conscience and the understanding unfurnished and void.
- I consider myself an average man, except in the fact that I consider myself an average man.
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