Michel Eyquem de Montaigne - Biography

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne - Biography

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Short biography - Michel de Montaigne, the great Humanist, was inclined to tolerance between beings and respect for difference, laying down the first principles whereby Society should be made to serve Man and not the other way around. Liking to communicate and making it his philosophy, he has always advocated dialogue and reflection rather than violence and action, as he writes in his Essays "the word is half to those who speak, half to those who listen. "Or" our good and our evil is up to us "and finally" there is no such sweet consolation in the loss of our friends as that which science brings us to have forgotten nothing to tell them, and to have had perfect and complete communication with them ”.


The youth of Montaigne

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born on February 28, 1533 in the family property of Périgord. His great-grandfather, a Bordeaux merchant, bought this 14th century house, thus bearing the title of Lord of Montaigne, which he passed on to his heirs.

The eldest of eight children, Michel was first fostered and then educated in the family chateau, at the gates of Bergerac and Saint-Emilion. At the age of seven, having learned Greek, he spoke Latin fluently with his German tutor (who spoke only in Latin) and the servants of the castle. Then at Guyenne College in Bordeaux, he proved to be a brilliant student through his discussions as well as his adaptation to humanist teaching and his taste for the theater. His law studies in Toulouse led him to the post of Counselor at the Court of Aid of Périgueux in 1554, then at the Parliament of Bordeaux in 1557 where he remained there for fifteen years. On the political side, he became involved in religious conflicts and participated in the siege of Rouen.

In Bordeaux, he meets Etienne de la Boétie, humanist, poet and author of Speech of voluntary servitude, who will play an important role in the life of Michel de Montaigne. Bound by a great and deep friendship, Montaigne is very affected during the disappearance of La Boétie in 1563, carried away by the plague. He then begins to write the Essays and dedicates this sentence to it "because it was him, because it was me".

This void left by La Boétie will not be filled despite his marriage to Françoise de la Chassaigne in 1565 and the six daughters he will have with his wife, only one of whom will survive.

Montaigne castle

When his father died in 1568, he inherited a large fortune and domain of Montaigne, in a majestic park with the layouts desired by Montaigne. After having sold his office as parliamentarian in 1570, his bedroom being on the first floor, he had his "bookstore" fitted out on the top floor of one of the castle towers (which can be visited). There, among the thousand works he owns, as well as those bequeathed by La Boétie, he meditates, fleeing family constraints "this is my seat. I try to make it pure domination, and to withdraw this single corner from the conjugal, filial, and civil community ”. In his lair, he had maxims from ancient texts and sentences from Sacred Scripture engraved on the beams of the ceiling and began writing his Essays "I want people to see me in my simple, natural and ordinary, without restraint and artifice: because it is I who I paint ”. He describes himself without artifice, to understand himself and the world. The first two-volume collection was published in 1580.

Continuing his social and political life, appointed ordinary gentleman of the king's chamber in 1573, he was sent in 1574 on a mission to the parliament of Bordeaux, then as a mediator, trying to bring Henri III and the future Henri IV together. Henri de Navarre coming regularly to seek advice from Montaigne, he placed his castle at the disposal of the king, offering him food and stag hunting parties in the vast domain. He also actively participated in the Civil War until 1577.

His last years

But illness (gravel) forced him to travel to spa towns in Europe from 1580. He crossed Switzerland, Germany and Italy where he obtained Roman citizenship. This is how he writes a Travel Journal, reporting his adventures, his thoughts on the mores and customs of different countries, as well as his feelings about pain. This manuscript was not published until it was discovered in 1774.

Just elected Mayor of Bordeaux in September 1581, he was recalled urgently by Henry III while he was at the baths of Lucca. He held this position until 1585, but abandoned his post during the plague epidemic that raged in the region. During this time, he worked on a new edition of the Essays in 1582 with more than six hundred additions, which he published in 1588. Also in Paris in 1588, he was embastiled on the order of the League, but was quickly released by Catherine de Medici. He meets his future adopted daughter Marie Le Jars de Gournay, who will publish a posthumous edition of the Essays called “Bordeaux edition”, three years after Montaigne's death.

More and more ill, he rarely leaves his "bookstore" and his room in his tower. There, he listened to the masses celebrated in the small chapel on the ground floor (a hole in the wall that can still be seen today), no longer having the strength to move. On September 13, 1592, he passed away among his close neighbors, during mass at the time of the Elevation. He is fifty nine years old.

Montaigne's work

Montaigne's work is above all that of a moralist, disappointed by the violence and intolerance of his time. The time for refined poets is well over: Montaigne's skepticism, illustrated by his famous “Que sais-je? ", Expresses the end of an" optimistic "literary impetus and humanist inspiration at the turn of the century. Of course, Montaigne studies man and has faith in reason, but more like a lucid and disillusioned psychologist than a reformist critic.

- The essays of Michel de Montaigne (in modern French). Gallimard, 2009.

Bibliography and biography of Montaigne

- Montaigne, biography of Arlette Jouanna. Gallimard, 2017.

- Montaigne, biography of Stefan Zweig. PUF, 2012.

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