Political assassinations, religious rebellions and civil war, this pragmatic Renaissance philosopher lived through them all, and in so doing practiced the art of living.
Sarah Bakewell playfully adopts the Socratic method to investigate the life of Michel de Montaigne. Using the question, ‘How to Live?’, one that Montaigne relentlessly asked himself, she provides twenty attempts at an answer. The result is a book that feeds the soul and inspires the mind; a unique take on the self help genre.
Montaigne was a writer and statesman. He was also a householder, landlord and winegrower. He mined his life experiences to write his famous Essays – nothing was too personal to write about. Not his near death experience after a riding accident; not his love for his best friend and the grief that overwhelmed him at that friend’s death; and not the everyday little tricks that allowed him to control his emotions and make decisions. He was the inventor of the very modern habit of writing about himself to explore the world.
In the era before antibiotics, Montaigne died of an infection brought on by kidney stones. After his death his heart was removed and placed in the church of Sant Michel, and his body was interred in a raised tomb in a church in Bordeaux. It was not to be his final resting place. His remains were removed and reburied several times over the centuries. Perhaps an appropriate end for ‘someone so attuned to the flux of the world, and so aware of how all human endeavours become muddled by error.’ 1
Similarly his essays were revised, rewritten and republished in many forms. But they survive as a reminder that nothing is perfect or permanent. A reminder that life must be lived every day; and that perhaps in the living we may find some answers.
1 p326 How to Live by Sarah Bakewell; A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer, Vintage 2011