Monday, October 13, 2014

The Complete Essays, by Michel de Montaigne

That's one big momma!
This is the third biography on TWEM list.  It does not read like a typical biography because it is actually a sizable collection of opinions and contemplations by Michel de Montaigne, covering various topics, concerning life and the world and everything in between.

Did I mention it was a sizable collection?

Thankfully, Susan Wise Bauer (The Well-Educated Mind) provides a suggested list of essays to read, which, according to Goodreads, amounts to 19.0% of the total 1283 pages.  In the beginning, I was motivated to read additional essays of my choice, but that did not happen.  I was grateful to get through the suggested essays.  They were not bad or horrible; I just found myself longing for a good story in a story format with a happy ending.  This was not that kind of book.

In any case, I did pick up some great quotes and remarks, and I did a lot of circling and underlining and drawing little stars and making little comments within the margins.  Of the essays I read, the most marked up were: "On Sadness," "Our emotions get carried away beyond us," "To philosophize is to learn how to die," and "On the inconsistency of our actions."

The most commented on was "On educating children."  I think I went back and forth between agreeing and disagreeing with the author.  Montaigne includes this comment:
For those who want to learn, the obstacle can often be the authority of those who teach.
Our souls are moved only at second-hand, being shackled and constrained to what is desired by someone else's ideas; they are captives, enslaved to the authority of what they have been taught.  We have been so subjected to leading-reins that we take no free steps on our own.  Our drive to be free has been quenched. 
I wondered if the author would be a fan of child-directed education.  Probably.

One of my favorite quotes was this one:
Truth for us nowadays is not what is, but what others can be brought to accept.
But the OMG moment came from "On virtue."  At the tale end of the essay, Montaigne says this:
The Assassins, who are a people dependent on Phoenicia, are considered by the Mahometans to be sovereignly devout and pure in morals.  They hold that the surest way to merit paradise is to kill someone of an opposing religion.  They therefore show contempt for all personal danger and are often to be found singly or in pairs, carrying out such profitable executions at the cost of their certain death, appearing before an enemy in the midst of his troops to 'assassinate' him-
Montaigne wrote his Essays between 1570 - 1592, but that little bit could have been written for our own times. Eerie.

This title counts towards TWEM Biographies and The Classics Club.


Jillian said...

Great quotes! I've read about a third of his complete essays & stagnated in An Apology for Raymond Sebond. I really need to finish! It's just so... long. But I do love Montaigne. :)

Heidi’sbooks said...

Congrats for making it through the selections! I'm in Dante ' s Inferno. Great quotes. Not much had changed under the sun, eh?

Ruth said...

Hi, Marianne. Montaigne sure does have a lot to say. It is a good thing he had an outlet to write about it or else he would have been a madman.

Ruth said...

No, nothing has changed. In fact, I've noticed that w/ a lot of my reading ventures. Man is the same century after century. Like you said, Ecclesiastes 1:9: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

Cleo said...

Congratulations for getting through what you did! He was a hard start for me, but now that I've read a number of essays, I'm really warming up to him.

It's certain that he'd be an advocate of child-led learning but, as much as he disliked the classical system, I think it would have done him good, keeping his thoughts more in order and making him follow a more logical path with his arguments. Yikes! Sometimes he would meander off who knows where, and then occasionally he would even contradict himself. But I eventually found his style rather endearing and would only occasionally sigh, "Oh, Montaigne!"

Cleo said...

One thing that I've noticed that's very different from modern times, is that in these older books, there is an obvious pursuit of virtue, or at least the support of the pursuit of virtue. Nowadays, the pursuit is for money, or opportunity, or fame, or equality, but very rarely virtue.

Ruth said...

So true. Or they consider it a virtue, whatever they pursue. The things people call righteousness make my head spin.

Ruth said...

I noticed his ramblings. If he lived today, he would have been diagnosed w/ ADHD.

Anonymous said...

When I tried to read through Montaigne's essays a year ago I had the same problem.Your comment about longing for a good story captures the feeling I had perfectly. It might be best to read an essay or two, then break it up with something else, then return for another essay or two, and so on.

Ruth said...

That is exactly what I did: one essay, then a chapter from War & Peace, one essay, chapter from W&P...