Michel de Montaigne: biography of this French philosopher and writer

The French Renaissance has Michel de Montaigne as one of its greatest representatives, as there are many of his contributions in different fields.

The influence of the work of Michel de Montaigne, although belonging to the sixteenth century, reaches until our days. This is why it is necessary to take a tour of his life as well as his main artistic and intellectual contributions, to understand the extent of his heritage. Let’s review his career through this biography of Michel de Montaigne.

    Brief biography of Michel de Montaigne

    Michel de Montaigne, actually called Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, was born in 1533, in the castle of Montaigne, Name which receives from the locality in which it is located, Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne. It is a city close to the French city of Bordeaux.

    His mother’s family came from the López de Villanueva, a line of Jews from Aragon, more specifically from the Jewish quarter of Calatayud, where they had become new Christians.

    Through this branch, he was linked with other intellectual referents of the time, as he was Martin Antoni du Fleuve, historian and important humanist, who in addition was the second cousin of Michel de Montaigne. As for his father, Pierre Eyquem, he was none other than the mayor of Bordeaux. He belonged to a wealthy family with a good social reputation.

    His childhood

    The socio-economic situation of his family allowed Michel to receive a good education from an early age. However, at a very young age he received a lesson that was valuable all his life. His parents decided to send him to a small village that belonged to them, so that a family of farmers could take care of him. for a while and so Michel de Montaigne understood what it meant to live in a precarious economic situation and thus learned to value each of the resources he had at his birth. At the end of three years, he was authorized to return to the castle, then began the instruction of the young Michel de Montaigne.

    His father, a staunch defender of Renaissance humanism, gave Michel an unconventional education.. He was first assigned to a foreign tutor who did not speak French. In addition, it was forbidden for all members of the castle service to use this language in the presence of the child.

    What was the reason? Let Latin become their reference language. At the age of eight, he already mastered this language, then began his teachings of Greek, in order to be able to manage the two languages ​​of classical culture. It wasn’t until he overcame this challenge that his father felt he could now begin to hear and learn the French language. This was achieved using an innovative methodology that involved fun activities and moments of introspection.

    His intellectual stimulation was not limited to language; he also approached the world of music from an early age. For example, a musician from the castle was in charge of waking up each day with different instruments. Even during the instructional sessions with Horstanus, his German teacher, they played the melody of a zither to enliven the lessons.

    As for his regulated training, Michel de Montaigne he attended the Collège de Guyenne, an academic institution located in Bordeaux who had great prestige. Here he was a pupil of another advocate of humanism and also a prominent figure in Latin studies, the Scottish historian George Buchanan.

    Although the teachings of this school have been raised for a total of twelve courses, Michel only needed seven years to complete all the subjects taught. He was only 13 at the time.

    Youth stage

    After his demonstration of precocity, he continued his studies at the University of Bordeaux, to continue his training, this time in the field of law. However, at this point in Michel de Montaigne’s life there is a gap, as records have not been able to determine what vital events he experienced between 1546 and 1557.

    But there is clear information on what has happened since: he acceded to the magistracy of his region, as a magistrate. Belonging to a good family, like the Eyquem, as well as their proven intellectual capacity, facilitated the creation of this highly prized place. As a magistrate, he meets the person who will be one of the great friendships in the life of Michel de Montaigne, the writer and also magistrate Étienne de la Boétie.

    De la Boétie has established a beautiful relationship with Montaigne and his work has deeply influenced him, Especially the volume “Discours on Voluntary Bondage”. Unfortunately, Étienne died in 1563, when he was only 32 years old. This dramatic event marked the life of Michel de Montaigne, saddened by the loss of what he considered to be a single friend, because he would never find an equal.

    During his tenure as a magistrate, he achieved various successes. He collaborated in the commune of Périgueux as an adviser, a position which also showed to the Superior Court of the Parliament of Bordeaux. It was part of the court of the King of France, Charles IX, Accompanying him in historical moments such as the siege of the city of Rouen, one of the most important events of the French wars of religion between Catholics and Huguenots.

    Thanks to these services, Michel de Montaigne obtained the collar of the Order of Saint Michael, Which represents the highest decoration that a French nobleman of his time could receive. This fact was one of the successes that Michel had set himself from an early age as a goal to aspire to life.

    In 1565, Michel de Montaigne he married Françoise de la Cassaigne, a woman also from a good family, That is why it is not excluded that it is about an arranged marriage. As a result of this relationship, Françoise gave birth to six daughters. However, only one of them survived, Leonor. In his work, he hardly mentions his relationship as a couple, but he does provide details of the love he professed for his daughter.

      The creation of his essays

      Pierre Eyquem, Michel de Montaigne’s father, died in 1568. This event led Michel to inherit the properties of his ancestor, including the Château de Montaigne, of which he became lord. In 1570 he decided to move to this house and the following year they shut themselves up in the castle tower; begins a stage in which he isolated of any social relationship.

      His intention was to retire from public life, tired of serving in court and working as a magistrate, and devoting the rest of his life to reflection and the elaboration of works. Indeed, in the tower, he had a formidable library composed of a thousand and a half volumes, which would be his only company (apart from the staff of the castle) during this period of isolation. This stage began the same day he turned 38.

      In his loneliness, Michel de Montaigne began to write, and this in a humanist framework in which he reflects on humanity itself and the existence of itself.. This is how he invented a new literary genre, that of the essay, which is in fact called “The Essays”, the same work that Michel began to write during his isolation and would hardly end until at the end of his life.

      The first two volumes were published in 1580, when nearly a decade of the castle tower closure ended. But the work is not yet finished and Michel de Montaigne continues to enlarge it to launch a more complete edition in 1588. There will be two more revisions which will be published posthumously, from 1595.

      Essays were a real innovation, because they signified a new way of doing literature. The format was that of articles in no clear order in which we wander, as if we were thinking aloud, on a particular subject. In fact, one of the keys to the end result being this way is that Michel de Montaigne himself dictated his thoughts to a secretary who was the one who drafted it. The result was a work with a seemingly fragmented scheme that nevertheless gained momentum in its format.

      In terms of content, Montaigne treated countless topics, some related to religion, ethics, various professions and social customs, among others.. In fact, the treatment of certain religious subjects served to enter it on the list of books banned by the Vatican for almost a century.

      The last years and death

      After nearly a decade of isolation, Michel de Montaigne began to suffer from renal colic, An illness from which his father also suffered. This led him to undertake a journey through different parts of Europe in search of doctors and remedies to relieve his pain. This pilgrimage takes him to Bagni di Lucca, in Tuscany, to be treated in its thermal waters.

      He had to return to Bordeaux, because he was elected mayor of the city, an honor that his ancestor had also received in his time. He maintained a cordial relationship with the king, Enrique IV, but he resigned when re-elected as mayor. Exhausted, he decided to spend his last years improving his Essays, under his motto, which he had carved on the roof of the castle, “What do I know?”. Michel de Montaigne died in 1592.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Foglia, M. (2014). Modern Philosophy of Modern Religion: The History of Western Philosophy of Religion. Routledge.
      • Hartle, A. (2003). Michel de Montaigne: accidental philosopher. Cambridge.
      • Montaigne, M. de (1724). The essays of Michel Monsieur de Montaigne. J. Tonson and J. Watts.

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