Quotes about Michel de Montaigne
34 Sourced Quotes
There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious. And therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace, and such an odious charge? Saith he, If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much to say, as that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man. Surely the wickedness of falsehood, and breach of faith, cannot possibly be so highly expressed, as in that it shall be the last peal, to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men; it being foretold, that when Christ cometh, he shall not find faith upon the earth.
In reading this author [Montaigne] and comparing him with Epictetus, I have found that they are assuredly the two greatest defenders of the two most celebrated sects of the world, and the only ones conformable to reason, since we can only follow one of these two roads, namely: either that there is a God, and then we place in him the sovereign good; or that he is uncertain, and that then the true good is also uncertain, since he is incapable of it.
If Montaigne is a man in the prime of life sitting in his study on a warm morning and putting down the sum of his experience in his rich, sinewy prose, then Pascal is that same man lying awake in the small hours of the night when death seems very close and every thought is heightened by the apprehension that it may be his last.
What the earliest utopians—Montaigne, Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella—understood was that they fought not for a place but for a new set of ideas through which to recognize what would count as Real: Equality, not hierarchical authority. Individual dignity, not slavish subservience. Our preeminent problem is that we recognize the Real in what is most deadly: a culture of duty to legalities that are, finally, cruel and destructive. We need to work inventively—as Christ did, as Thoreau did—in the spirit of disobedience for the purpose of refusing the social order into which we happen to have been born and putting in its place a culture of life-giving things.
Finding his mind so filled with chimeras and fantastic monsters, one after another, without order or purpose, he [Montaigne] decided to write them down, not directly to overcome them, but to inspect their strangeness at his leisure. So he picked up his pen; the first of the Essays was born.
Reading, like all work, has its rules. A perfect knowledge of a few writers and a few subjects is more valuable than a superficial one of a great many. The fine points of a piece of writing are seldom apparent at first reading. In youth, one should search among books as one searches the world for friends, and once these friends are found, chosen, and adopted, one must go into retirement with them. Intimacy with Montaigne, Saint Simon, Retz, Balzac, or Proust would be enough to enrich one's whole life.
The trick is to maintain a kind of naïve amazement at each instant of experience—but, as Montaigne learned, one of the best techniques for doing this is to write about everything. Simply describing an object on your table, or the view from your window, opens your eyes to how marvelous such ordinary things are. To look inside yourself is to open up an even more fantastical realm.
A comparably capacious embrace of beauty and pleasure - an embrace that somehow extends to death as well as life, to dissolution as well as creation - characterizes Montaigne's restless reflections on matter in motion, Cervantes's chronicle of his mad knight, Michelangelo's depiction of flayed skin, Leonardo's sketches of whirlpools, Caravaggio's loving attention to the dirty soles of Christ's feet.
After four centuries, Montaigne's curious genius still has that effect on his readers and, time and again, one finds in his self-portrait one's own most brilliant aperçus (the ones that somehow we forgot to write down and so forgot) restored to us in his essays—attempts—to assay—value—himself in his own time as well as, if he was on the subject, all time, if there is such a thing.
Essays…although they go back four hundred years to Montaigne, seem a mercurial, newfangled, sometimes hokey affair that has lent itself to many of the excesses of the age, from spurious autobiography to spurious hallucination, as well as to the shabby careerism of traditional journalism. It's a greased pig.
Montaigne speaks of an Abecedarian ignorance that precedes knowledge, and a doctoral ignorance that comes after it. The first is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their A-B-C's, cannot read at all. The second is the ignorance of those who have misread many books. They are, as Alexander Pope rightly calls them, bookful blockheads, ignorantly read. There have always been literate ignoramuses, who have read too widely, and not well. The Greeks had a name for such a mixture of learning and folly which might be applied to the bookish but poorly read of all ages. They are all sophomores.