Montaigne Essays On Vanity

Montaigne Essays On Vanity-32
As Woolf put it, Again with politics, statesmen are always praising the greatness of Empire, and preaching the moral duty of civilizing the savage. Montaigne was a man of the Renaissance, but he speaks powerfully to our own era of religious division, tribalism and global instability.

As Woolf put it, Again with politics, statesmen are always praising the greatness of Empire, and preaching the moral duty of civilizing the savage. Montaigne was a man of the Renaissance, but he speaks powerfully to our own era of religious division, tribalism and global instability.But look at the Spanish in Mexico, cried Montaigne in a burst of rage. and the richest and most beautiful part of the world turned upside down for the traffic of pearl and pepper! Readers dismayed by current politics should read Montaigne’s essay “Of Cruelty”: Among other vices I cruelly hate cruelty, both by nature and judg­ment, as the extreme of all vices.

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If a man had to make his place in the world and a woman had to make a good marriage, it helped to have successful parents.

Montaigne’s mother was a tough, controlling figure, but he was loyal to her, and he adored his father, who had been a soldier and politician and valued education above all things.

He takes his time doing it, too, and I can’t blame the translators for a merely functional prose style and a scholar’s obsession with minutiae.

His declared goal “is to relate the two inseparable aspects of [Montaigne’s] life: literature and political action.” Desan belabors details about the workings of French regional government in the sixteenth century.

He was steeped in philosophy, yet as William Hazlitt wrote, “he did not set up for a philosopher, wit, orator, or moralist, but he became all these by merely daring to tell us whatever passed through his mind, in its naked simplicity and force.” Writers have always made of Montaigne what they needed, generally finding him adaptable to their requirements. In the same decade, Virginia Woolf reviewed a new edition of the essays: . It’s hard even in our jaded generation not to be similarly wowed.

The essays Montaigne wrote between 1572 and his death twenty years later are unlike anything else I have read—a book of one man and a book of the world.

His great essay “On the Education of Children,” composed as a letter to Madame Diane de Foix, begins, “I never saw a father who, however mangy or hunchbacked his son might be, failed to own him.” For Montaigne, philosophy in its root sense was the essence of education and “that which instructs us to live.” Those who disdained philosophy and went running after fact he called “ergotists.” Schools become “veritable jails of imprisoned youths.” Real education would educate the whole person, and the most wholly educated people were the great philosophers and poets: Someone asked Socrates of what country he was.

He did not answer “Of Athens,” but, “Of the world.” Having an imagination richer and more expansive, he embraced the whole world as his city and extended his society, his friendship, and his knowledge to all mankind; not as we do, who look no farther than our feet.

Though Montaigne claims to have forgotten much of it later in formal schooling (where he got his experience of how not to educate children), his mind remained well stocked with so much classical culture that his essays are veritable anthologies of quotation and allusion.

From his early reading of Ovid, he learned that the first principle of reading is pleasure, and also that the world is a strange and magical place, constantly changing.


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