Montaigne, Michael De

, an eminent French, writer, was born at the castle of Montaigne, in the Perigord, Feb. 8, 1533. His father, seigneur of Montaigne, and mayor of Bourdeaux, bestowed particular attention on his education, perceiving in him early proofs of talents that would one day reward his care. His mode of teaching him languages is mentioned as somewhat singular at that time, although it has since been frequently practised. He provided him with a German attendant, who did not know French, and who was enjoined to speak to him in Latin, and in consequence young Montaigne is said to have been a master of that language at the age of six years. He was taught Greek also as a sort of diversion, and because his father had heard that the brains of children may be injured by being roused too suddenly out of sleep, he caused him to be awakened every morning by soft music. All this care he repaid by the most tender veneration for the memory of his father. Filial piety, indeed, is said to have been one of the most remarkable traits of his character, and he sometimes displayed it rather in a singular manner. When on horseback he constantly wore a cloak which had belonged to his father, not, as he said, for convenience, but for the pleasure it gave him. “II me semble m’envelopper de lui,” “I seem to be wrapped up in my father;” and this, which from any other wit would have been called the personification of a pun, was considered in Montaigne as a sublime expression of filial piety.

At the age of thirteen he had finished his course of studies, which he began at the college of Bourdeaux, under Grouchy, the celebrated Buchanan, and Muret, all learned and eminent teachers, and his progress bore proportion to their care. Being designed for the bar by his father, he married the daughter of a counsellor of parliament at Bourdeaux, when in his thirty-third year, and for some time himself sustained that character, but afterwards abandoned a profession to which he probably was never cordially attached. His favourite study was that of human nature, to pursue which he travelled through various parts of France, Germany, Swisserland, and Italy, making his observations on every thing curious or interesting in society, and receiving many marks of distinction. At Rome, in 1581, he was admitted a citizen; and the same year he was chosen mayor of Bourdeaux, and in this office gave such satisfaction to his fellow-citizens, that in 1582 they | employed him in a special mission to courj; on important affairs, and after his mayoralty expired, they again elected him into the same office. In 1588 he appeared to advantage at the assembly of the states of Blois, and although not a deputy, took a share in their proceedings and cabals. During one of his visits at court, Charles IX. decorated him with the collar of the order of St. Michael, without any solicitation, which, when young, he is said to nave coveted above all things, it being at that time the highest mark of honour among the French nobility, and rarely bestowed.

Returning afterwards to his family residence, he devoted himself to study, from which be suffered some disturbance during the civil wars. On one occasion a stranger presented himself at the entrance of his house, pretending that while travelling with his friends, a troop of soldiers had attacked their party, taken away their baggage, killed all who made resistance, and dispersed the rest. Mon< taigne, unsuspectingly, admitted this man, who was the chief of a gang, and wanted admittance only to plunder the house. In a few minutes two or three more arrived, whom the first declared to be his friends that had made their escape, and Montaigne compassionately made them welcome. Soon after, however, he perceived the court of his chateau filled with more of the party, whose behaviour left him in no doubt as to their intentions. Montaigne preserved his countenance unaltered, and ordered them every refreshment the place afforded, and presented this with so nauch* kindness and politeness, that the captain of the troop had not the courage to give the signal for pillage.

In his old age Montaigne was much afflicted with the stone and nephritic colic, but could never be prevailed upon to take medicines, in which he never had any faith. The physicians, he used to say, “know Galen, but they know nothing of a sick person;” and such was his confidence in the powers of nature, that he refused even a common purgative, when the, indication was plain. He died Sept. 15, 1592, in his sixtieth year.

His reputation is founded on his “Essays,” which were at one time extremely popular, and which are still read with pleasure by a numerous class of persons. La Harpe says of him, “As a writer, he has impressed on our language (the French) an energy which it did not before | possess, and which has not become antiquated, because it is that of sentiments and ideas. As a philosopher he has painted man as he is; he praises without compliment, and blames without misanthropy.” In 1774 was published at Rome (Paris), “Memoirs of a Journey into Italy,” &c. by Montaigne, the editor of which has given us a few less known particulars of the author. He says that “with a large share of natural vivacity, passion, and spirit, Montaigne’s life was far from being that of a sedentary contemplatist, as those may be inclined to think, who view him only in the sphere of his library and in the composition of his essays. His early years by no means passed in the arms of leisure. The troubles and commotions whereof he had been an eye-witness during five reigns, which he had seen pass successively before that of Henry IV. had not in any degree contributed to relax that natural activity and restlessness of spirit. They had been sufficient to call it forth even from indolence itself. He had travelled a good deal in France, and what frequently answers a better purpose than any kind of travel, he was well acquainted with the metropolis, and knew the court. We see his attachment to Paris in the third book of his Essays. Thuanus likewise observes, that Montaigne was equally successful in making his court to the famous duke of Guise, Henry of Lorraine, and to the king of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV. king of France. He adds, that he was at his estate at Blois when the duke of Guise was assassinated, 1558. Montaigne foresaw, says he, that the troubles of the nation would only end with the life of that prince, or of the king of Navarre; and this instance we have of his political sagacity. He was so well acquainted with the character and disposition of those princes, so well read in their hearts and sentiments, that he told his friend Thuanus, the king of Navarre would certainly have returned to the religion of his ancestors (that of the Romish communion) if he had not been apprehensive of being abandoned by his party. Montaigne, in short, had talents for public business and negociation, but his philosophy kept him at a distance from political disturbances; and he had the address to conduct himself without offence to the contending parties, in the worst of times.

More recently, in 1799, his memory has been revived in France by an extravagant eloge from the pen of a French lady, Henrietta Bourdic-viot, who assures us that | it was in the works of Montaigne that she acquired the knowledge of her duties.“But we rather incline to the more judicious character given of this author by Dr. Joseph Warton.” That Montaigne,“says this excellent critic,” abounds in native wit, in quick penetration, in perfect knowledge of the human heart, and the various vanities and vices that lurk in it, cannot justly be denied. But a man who undertakes to transmit his thoughts on life and manners to posterity, with the hope of entertaining and amending future ages, must be either exceedingly vain or exceedingly careless, if he expects either of these effects can be produced by wanton sallies of the imagination, by useless and impertinent digressions, by never forming or following any regular plan, never classing or confining his thoughts, never changing or rejecting any sentiment that occurs to him. Yet this appears to have been the conduct of our celebrated essayist; and it has produced many awkward imitators, who, under the notion of writing with the fire and freedom of this lively old Gascon, have fallen into confused rhapsodies and uninteresting egotisms. But these blemishes of Montaigne are trifling and unimportant, compared with his vanity, his indecency, and his scepticism. That man must totally have suppressed the natural love of honest reputation, which is so powerfully felt by the truly wise and good, who can calmly sit down to give a catalogue of his private vices, publish his most secret infirmities, with the pretence of exhibiting a faithful picture of himself, and of exactly pourtraying the minutest features of his mind. Surely he deserves the censure Quintilian bestows on Demetrius, a celebrated Grecian statuary, that he was nimius in veritate, ct similitudinis quam pulchritudinis amantior; more studious of likeness than of beauty."

The first edition of Montaigne’s Essays was published by himself in 1580, 8vo, in two books only, which were augmented afterwards to the present number. Of the subsequent editions, those by P. Coste are reckoned the best, and of these, Tonson’s edition, 1724, in 3 vols. 4to, is praised by the French bibliographers, as the most beautiful that has ever appeared. We have also two English translations. Montaigne’s life was first written by the president Bouhier, and prefixed to a supplementary volume of his works in 1740. Montaigne appeared once as the editor of some of the works of Stephen de la Boetie, in | 1571; and ten years afterwards translated the “Natural Theologie” of Raimond de Sebonda, a learned Spaniard, and prefixed prefaces to both. 1


Moreri, —Niceron, vol. XVI. Adventurer, No. 49. —Dict. Hist.