Adonis Diaries

The all-time freest spirit: Humanist and French essayist Montaigne (1533-1592)

Posted on: October 13, 2010

The all-time freest spirit: Humanist Montaigne

The French essayist Michel Eyquem, known as Montaigne (1533-1592), died a century after the Americas were “discovered”:  He read and heard eye-witness accounts of what pains, suffering, and crimes against humanity the America Indians have been submitted to.

He wrote in his Essays (Book 3):

“Everyone labels barbarian behaviors, customs not of his own usage or habit observed in other tribes or new people.”  This is pretty relevant in all generations, in all ethnic people, and in all religions.  This is valid for the European, the Americans, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, the German, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Russians, the Catholics, the Moslems… in every decade and century, all the way to our “modern time”.

Every colonial power imposed their own customs and system of beliefs on “barbarians” they invaded and then exploited to replenish empty crown treasuries.

Montaigne was the eldest of five boys and three girls and inherited the estate of Montaigne. In this 16th century, smack in Europe Renaissance and religious wars between the Protestants (Calvinists, Anabaptists, and Huguenots of France) and the Catholics of papal Rome, the French humanist Montaigne wrote:

”I try to get moving.  Life is movement of matters and bodies; it is an imperfect action of its essence and deregulated.  I work at serving life.  I brag to meticulously embracing the commodities of life and I find but wind.  But are we not partners of the wind?  The wind howls, is agitated, does not desire stability or solidity.  Vanity is the wisdom of the wind and mankind.”

In 1571, Montaigne decided to retreat from politics, the court, and social responsibilities but the isolation was short-lived:  In 1572, the regent of France, Catherine of Medici, fomented the religious massacre of St. Barthelemy against the Huguenots all over France.

Bordeaux in the Perigor province was the bastion of the Huguenots Protestants.  Catholic Paris clamped down on the Huguenots several times.  Montaigne wrote:

I am Christian in the same title as I am from Perigor.”

Montaigne didn’t give religious belief any weight surpassing the reality of existence and communication among people and daily trade.  King Henry IV, the contemporary and friend of Montaigne converted to Catholicism in order to be crowned King of France. Historians coined this phrase to Henry IV: “Paris is worth convertin.”, but it is not true that he said it

Montaigne tours Europe for a year in 1580.  He travelled in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy and had to cut his trip short as he was elected mayor of Bordeaux for two years.  Montaigne said in the introduction of his Essays:

I do not teach; I tell stories.”

What follows are a few quotations from Montaigne that demostrate his humanistic tendencies:

Mankind has no communication whatsoever with his entity

“Human eyes perceive things only through the forms of their knowledge

“I like my friend La Boetie (Montaigne’s colleague in the Bordeaux city parliament) because he is what he is; because I am what I am…”

“He may be as wise as he wishes to be; but finally, he is a man:  That he is more archaic, more miserable, and more of the void.”

Wise principles cannot impress upon our natural conditions

Note:  Leonor was the only daughter of nine who survived to beget Montaigne’s grandchild named Francoise de la Tour Montaigne in 1591, a year before he died.

2 Responses to "The all-time freest spirit: Humanist and French essayist Montaigne (1533-1592)"

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adonis49

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