Michel de Montaigne 28 February 1533 — 13 September 1592. French writer and philosopher of the Renaissance. Famous for his wise thoughts.


Life and Work:

1. Michel Montaigne was not a great experimenter, but he gained fame through his Essays. The Essays were valued by Pascal and La Rochefoucauld, Moliere and Shakespeare, Pushkin and Stendhal. In Shakespeare’s works, 750 borrowings from Montaigne were found.


2. The philosopher’s great-grandfather Ramon Eyquem, a well-respected fish and wine merchant in Bordeaux, bought Montaigne Castle in 1477 and thus took the first step on the road to the aristocratic class. In this castle near Bordeaux and Périgueux, the future scientist was born.


3. Michel’s father, Pierre Eyquem, a participant in the Italian Wars, who received the noble title of de Montaigne, nevertheless held liberal views. He first sent his son to be raised in a peasant family, and then hired a German teacher for him, who did not know French and spoke only Latin to Michel. At the age of 6, Montaigne later recalled, he understood French as well as Arabic.


4. At Bordeaux College, he had to learn French from scratch. At the University of Toulouse and the University of Paris, Montaigne studied law and read the works of all the ancient philosophers.


5. Montaigne devoted two decades of his life to his legal career. Only after the death of his father, he sold his judicial position and retired to the castle of Montaigne to reflect on nature, man and knowledge and to write the Essays.


6. As a matter of fact, Montaigne himself admitted that the Essays are the fruit of reasoning, not experience: “The conclusions from all this belong to me, and I came to them by reasoning, and not relying on my personal experience.”


7. Montaigne traveled extensively: he visited France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. In Lucca, Italy, in 1581, he learned that he was elected mayor of Bordeaux. In his usual aphoristic way, Montaigne wrote about it this way: “Messieurs of Bordeaux elected me mayor of their city when I was far from France and still farther from such a thought.” But nonetheless he had to return and fill the position.


8. France at the time of Montaigne was torn apart by religious wars. The mayor of Bordeaux, and later just a respectable citizen, took a moderate position and tried his best to reconcile the warring parties. He was respected by both opposing sides — the Catholic Henry III and the Huguenot Henry of Navarre, the future Henry IV. Despite the general respect, Montaigne was still arrested and spent one day in the Bastille, until Catherine de’ Medici, the mother of the Catholic king, intervened.


9. Still, the political career did not appeal to the scientist: in 1590, he declined the offer of Henry IV to become his adviser.


10. The first essayist and the remarkable humanist philosopher of the Renaissance is considered a stoic, skeptic, and sensualist, that is, a thinker who does not trust other people’s words, but trusts his own eyes and mind.


11. Montaigne’s neighbors locked their castles and armed their peasants to protect them from looters. Montaigne had neither servants nor weapons. However, during the war, his castle was not looted once, because Montaigne kept the gates wide open, and those who passed by had the impression that the castle had already been looted.


12. In 1582, France switched to the new Gregorian calendar, and December 9 was followed by December 20. Michel Montaigne responded: “Ten days were stolen from me in the month of December.”


13. Biographers consider Montaigne’s marriage a marriage of convenience, noting that in the texts Montaigne distinguished marriage from love. Of his six daughters, only Léonore survived infancy.


14. One can quote Montaigne for hours. Here are just a few examples of his wisdom: “To those who do not comprehend the science of good, any other science only brings harm,” “You need to study a lot to realize that you know little,” “A person suffers not so much from what is happening, but from how he evaluates what is happening to him,” “The more our soul is filled, the more spacious it becomes.” And the most important conclusion from he read and wrote: “It is the reason that is most justly distributed in the world: no one complains about its lack.”