In his essay "Of Solitude," what are Montaigne's ideas of duty, public health, and responsibility?

In his essay "Of Solitude," Montaigne states that we have a responsibility when young to devote ourselves to the larger public health. However, it is also an important duty to cultivate a love of solitude. Learning to embrace solitude helps us put worldly ambition into perspective and helps us to prepare for old age, when we will be retired from civic life. We have a duty to prepare for the time when we will necessarily be more alone.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Of Solitude," Montaigne expresses his conviction that men have a duty and responsibility to engage in a civic or public life, one that includes career, health, and family, when young. As he writes:

Wives, children, and goods must be had, and especially health, by him that can get it.

...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In "Of Solitude," Montaigne expresses his conviction that men have a duty and responsibility to engage in a civic or public life, one that includes career, health, and family, when young. As he writes:

Wives, children, and goods must be had, and especially health, by him that can get it.

In this essay, however, his focus is on solitude as a way to put the public life and all its duties into perspective, stating:

but we are not so to set our hearts upon them [Wives, children, and goods] that our happiness must have its dependence upon them

Montaigne thus emphasizes the importance of cultivating the habits of solitude. These help to keep us from becoming overly ambitious and help us cultivate a spiritual perspective. Solitude allows us to see the bigger picture of life and death. It helps us to learn to enjoy our own company and to rely on ourselves so that we are not frightened when others are not around. It encourages us to see that every individual will:

voluntarily exchange his health, his repose, and his very life for reputation and glory, the most useless, frivolous, and false coin that passes current amongst us

By taking time alone, we learn to better discern what is most important and, therefore, what our chief duties and responsibilities are.

Perhaps most importantly, learning to embrace the virtues of solitude when we are young will help support us emotionally when solitude necessarily becomes a bigger part of our life in old age. We must at at certain point retire from public life: no longer will fame and worldly reputation be a part of our lives. At this point, it is best if we have cultivated the inner resources that will be our solace as we face death. Solitude is the key to this renunciation, and preparation for it is one of our life's duties.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on