Michel de Montaigne Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111201566-Montaigne.jpg Michel de Montaigne (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In 1580, while he was in Rome, Montaigne was invited by the papal censor to respond to a report on his Essays prepared by several theologians. This report charged him with using the word “fortune,” referring to heretical poets, arguing against the use of torture to extract confessions from suspected wrongdoers, and defending the emperor Julian. The censor judged these charges as minor imperfections that need not be corrected, and urged Montaigne to continue in “the devotion he had always borne to the Church.” Montaigne did not, however, make the changes suggested in the report. During the years of the Counter-Reformation, the ruling argument of his Essays, that trust in individual reason and conscience is at once destructive of civil order and conducive to atheism, was used by many Catholic apologists, including Jean-Pierre Camus and Pierre Charron.

A thoroughgoing skeptic who was never convinced of humankind’s capacity to find ethical guidance through individual reasoning, Montaigne was a staunch conservative throughout his adult life. “A private fantasy can have but a private jurisdiction,” he emphasized in his influential, long, sustained attack on deism, the “Apology for Raymond Sebond.” In accordance with that principle, Montaigne repeatedly maintained the Church’s authority as the only valid interpreter of Scripture. His belief that a divinely sanctioned teaching from faith, rather than a humanistic reliance...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (mon-TAYN) was born to wealthy parents, Pierre Eyquem and Antoinette de Louppes, in the family château in southwestern France on February 28, 1533. From childhood, he was taught to speak Latin even before his own native language, for his German tutor knew no French and instructed his pupil exclusively in the language of antiquity. Consequently, during his first ten years, Montaigne knew little French at all. From classical languages, however, he learned clarity of expression and thought, and his writings are enriched by references to Roman history, mythology, and authors such as Cicero, Vergil, and Seneca.

Montaigne’s training in classical languages and literature was also an indication of his century. The rapid spread of Greek and Roman classics and the newly revived humanistic learning of the Renaissance was no more than a quarter of a century old in France when he was born, and it was not unusual for children such as Michel to learn Latin. Earlier, however, the Latin that he was taught would have been church Latin, but Montaigne learned the secular Latin of the great poets and orators of the past. Montaigne went on to become one of the principal proponents of this classical learning, called the New Philosophy, and its insistence upon the individual as the measure of all things and upon a healthy skepticism in the pursuit of truth. Montaigne, in fact, took as his motto “Que sais-je?” (“What do I know?”), reflecting his rejection of authority, his tolerance for all ideas, and his restless and searching mind.

Montaigne’s father, a wealthy merchant, sent his son to the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux from 1539 to 1546 and later to the University of Bordeaux to study philosophy. Later still, in 1559, Montaigne studied law at the University of Toulouse. In 1557, his father was elected mayor of Bordeaux, leaving his post as counselor in the parliament of Bordeaux and passing it on to his son. Montaigne served as counselor until 1570, during a time of great religious and political upheaval in France. A series of civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (who acquired the derisive name Huguenots) divided the country, culminating in 1572 with the ambush slaying of twenty thousand Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Day (August 24)....

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Michel de Montaigne’s place in the history of world literature has been secure for more than four hundred years. He is not only the father of the modern essay form but also a writer of singular artistry who has been admired down through the centuries by such noted authors as George Gordon, Lord Byron, Gustave Flaubert, Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, André Gide, T. S. Eliot, and many others. His epigrammatic style makes him an often-quoted author, while the clarity of diction, the balanced phrasing, and the proper words in proper order make his statements ring with truth and stay in the mind.

“Free association artistically controlled—this is the paradoxical secret of Montaigne’s best essays,” said British novelist and essayist Aldous Huxley. “One damned thing after another—but in a sequence that in some almost miraculous way develops a central theme and relates it to the rest of human experience.” Perhaps the American essayist Emerson summarized him best: Montaigne is “never dull, never insincere, and has the genius to make the reader care for all that he cares for.”


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The father of Michel de Montaigne (mohn-tayn), Pierre Eyquem, was a wealthy trader whose grandfather, Ramon Eyquem, had acquired the Château de Montaigne, near the town of Castellan in Périgord, in the last quarter of the fifteenth century. In his youth Pierre Eyquem had served in the armies of Francis I but had returned to become a prominent citizen of Bordeaux and at length its mayor. His wife, Antoinette de Lopez (or Louppes), a member of a Jewish family of Spanish derivation, had embraced the Protestant faith.{$S[A]Eyquem, Michel;Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de}

Michel Eyquem, their third child and eldest son, was born at the Château de Montaigne on February 28, 1533; in maturity he chose to discard his patronymic...

(The entire section is 1075 words.)