Category: Diary

Michel de Montaigne

MontaigneI’m fond of quoting the French humanist Michel de Montaigne. He died on the 13th September 1592, but his observations are as relevant today as when they were written.

At forty-two Montaigne had a medal struck with the words, Que sçais-je?, meaning ‘What do I know?’. He’s best remembered today for his essays, where he examined what he did or didn’t know, accepting that we can’t know everything, while questioning everything. The essays were, in effect, his autobiography, but they didn’t give an account of his life in chronological order – I was born, I did this or that, etc. Instead, we get to know him through his thoughts, which are much more revealing than a conventional autobiography.

His portrait on the cover of my ageing copy of his essays, published in the late ‘50s, shows a bald man with a clear gaze, who looks as though he’s thinking about what to write about the experience of being painted. His translator, J M Cohen, describes him as modest, truthful, humorous, and objective. I’ve learned that he was fond of cats. He wrote, ‘When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is amusing herself with me, or I with her?’