06 February 2012

Meeting Montaigne

"If you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved."

That comes from Michel de Montaigne, the man who invented "the essay". I first read him in my late 30s - when old enough to appreciate his insights.

Yesterday I picked up a small book to read while travelling and it turned out to be The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton. Opening it midway, I found myself reading about Montaigne's 17-month journey in 1580-1 through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy,  encountering different practices in different places and viewing them with an open mind: "I enter into discussion and argument with great freedom and ease, inasmuch as opinion finds me in a bad soil to penetrate and take deep root in. No propositions astonish me, no belief offends me, whatever contrast it offers to my own. There is no fancy so frivolous and so extravagant that it does not seem to me quite suitable to the production of the human mind."

He re-wrote his Essays several times, and didn't worry about contradicting himself. (Your thoughts change over time, right?) Here's his annotated copy of the 1588 edition, the last one printed during his lifetime -

The revised edition was published posthumously. Montaigne wanted to write "as long as there is ink and paper in the world", and kept amending the Essays right up till his death in 1592. First published in English in 1603, they exist in many editions -

Downloadable versions are available via Project Gutenberg

1 comment:

sandra wyman said...

"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I conbtradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes" Walt Whitman