A man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himselfThe almanac Dec 26, 2008
A man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himselfThe almanac Dec 26, 2007
A man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himselfThe Almanac Dec 26, 2006
A man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himselfThe Almanac Dec 26, 2005
A man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himselfThe Almanac Dec 26, 2004
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (French pronounced ) (February 28, 1533–September 13, 1592) was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance. Montaigne is known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes and autobiography — and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as "Attempts") contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a direct influence on writers the world over, including René Descartes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Stefan Zweig, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Isaac Asimov, and perhaps William Shakespeare (see section "Related Writers and Influence" below).
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 sais-je?' ('What do I know?'). 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.
Montaigne was born in the Aquitaine region of France, on the family estate Château de Montaigne, in a town now called Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne, not far from Bordeaux. The family was very rich; his grandfather, Ramon Eyquem, had made a fortune as a herring merchant and had bought the estate in 1477. His father, Pierre Eyquem, was a French Roman Catholic soldier in Italy for a time, and developed some very progressive views on education there; he had also been the mayor of Bordeaux. His mother, Antoinette de Louppes, was, apparently, the daughter of a Spanish converso (converted Jewish) father of the Protestant religion, and a Spanish Roman Catholic mother, who had left Spain in 1497 to join kin who had already settled in Toulouse. Although she lived a great part of Montaigne's life near him, and even survived him, she is only mentioned twice in his work. Montaigne's relationship with his father, however, played a prominent role in his life and works. From the moment of his birth, Montaigne's education followed a pedagogical plan sketched out by his father and refined by the advice of the latter's humanist friends. Soon after his birth, Montaigne was brought to a small cottage, where he lived the first three years of life in the sole company of a peasant family, 'in order to', according to the elder Montaigne, 'draw the boy close to the people, and to the life conditions of the people, who need our help.' After these first spartan years spent amongst the lowest social class, Montaigne was brought back to the Château. The objective was for Latin to become his first language. The intellectual education of Montaigne was assigned to a German tutor (a doctor named Horstanus who couldn't speak French). His father only hired servants who could speak Latin and they also were given strict orders to always speak to the boy in Latin, or when he was in their presence.The same rule applied to his mother, father and servants, who were obliged only to use Latin words he himself employed, and thus acquired a knowledge of the very language his tutor taught him. Montaigne's Latin education was accompanied by constant intellectual and spiritual stimulation. He was familiarized with Greek by a pedagogical method that employed games, conversation, exercises of solitary meditation, rather than books. Music was played from the moment of Montaigne's awakening. An épinettier (playing a zither original to the French region of Vosges) constantly accompanied Montaigne and his tutor, playing a tune any time the boy became bored or tired. When he wasn't in the mood for music, he could do whatever he wished: play games, sleep, be alone - most important of all was that the boy wouldn't be obliged to anything, but that, at the same time, he would have everything in order to take advantage of his freedom.