Rather we talk about our hopes and fears, what has happened to us, what we have seen, heard, or read that has interested us, how we assess our own actions and those of others. He has no use for the introvert's anguish over the impenetrability of ultimates, the absurdity of man's place in the universe, or the discrepancy between our ideals and our attainments.
The first two of these he accepts without despair as unfathomable data of human life.
Others earlier and later in the century - Marston, Webster, and probably Shakespeare in England, Pascal in France - found a source of cosmic despair in Montaigne's eloquent catalogue of human limitations.
A century after Pascal, Rousseau was struck by the self-portrait that had become Montaigne's principal aim only after the "Apology." Most modern readers, like Gide, are struck by the sturdy individualism, the faith in self, man, and nature, that emerge so triumphantly in the final Essays.
In an age of fierce religious passions the family atmosphere was tolerant.
At the time of Montaigne's birth the moderate humanistic reform of Erasmus, though embattled, seemed triumphant in France.The Essays are his means of communication; the reader takes the place of the dead friend.When we talk to a friend we do not constantly confess and plumb the depths of our soul; for to do so is to threaten, by excessive self-concern, the tacit equilibrium that friendship assumes and needs.Three years earlier, Francis I, patron of arts and letters, had founded his country's first nontheological school of higher learning, the future College de France.A few months earlier Rabelais had published his first comic story, Pantagruel, mocking the conservative, scholastic Sorbonne, and, in the famous letter from Gargantua to his son, hailing the advent of a new golden age of learning. Erasmus was dead, King Francis had turned sharply against all reformers, Calvin had published his Institutio and was making Geneva a citadel of militant reform."I have no more made my book than my book has made me," he wrote; "a book consubstantial with its author, concerned with my own self, an integral part of my life." In his concern to present himself exactly as he was, he addressed the reader in his natural, everyday language. When he started his book be had lost a dear friend, Etienne de La Boétie, to whom be had been able to express, as he never could to any one person again, his every thought, view, and feeling."I correct the faults of inadvertence, not those of habit," he once wrote in answer to a hypothetical critic of his style. Self-sufficient though he was, he had an imperious need to communicate.The chateau was a "noble house" (conferring minor nobility on its owner) which had been in the family for just over fifty-five years.Great-grandfather Ramon Eyquem had bought it in 1477, and his grandson Pierre Eyquem de Montaigne, Michel's father, had enlarged and greatly improved it.Here is a sample, on borrowing ideas from others: "The bees plunder the flowers here and there, but afterward they make of them honey, which is all theirs; it is no longer thyme or marjoram" (1: 26, p. Or again, on the theme that small learning makes for presumption, great learning for humility: "To really learned men has happened what happens to ears of wheat: they rise high and lofty, heads erect and proud, as long as they are empty; but when they are full and swollen with grain in their ripeness, they begin to grow humble and lower their horns" (11: 12, p. The whole chapter on education (I: 26) - a subject in which stylistic anemia is endemic - is a stream of images as vivid as they are appropriate. He himself tells us that the speech he loves is "a speech succulent and sinewy, brief and compressed, not so much daintv and well-combed as vehement and brusque" (1: 26, p. Flaubert described Montaigne's style as a delicious fruit that fills your mouth and throat, "so succulent that the juice goes right to your heart " Emerson found him "wild and savoury as sweet fern," full of a "sincerity and marrow" that reaches to his sentences.Often Montaigne exemplifies ideas, with the same effect: complacency in the man who, after making a stupid speech, was heard in the lavatory muttering conscientiously that the credit belonged to God, not to himself; dogmatism in the donkey, earnest, contemplative, disdainful, resolute, cocksure; the narcissism of the creative artist in the friend who kept his diary by his daily chamber pots, and in whose nostrils all conversation on other subjects stank. "Cut these words," he wrote, "and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive." Sainte-Beuve summed it up superbly when be wrote: "Montaigne's style is a perpetual figure, renewed at every step; you receive his ideas only in images ...