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On my mind

For the past few days I've been thinking about Michel de Montaigne.

Who is he?

Montaigne could be called the first modern man.

He's also the creator of an entire class of literature, the essay.

Before going any further, take a good look at the photo above. I love the sculptor's portrayal of the great Frenchman. First, did you notice he's bald? For some reason, this little detail stands out for me! Also, as a bibliophile, I love the fact that Montaigne has a book in his hand. Finally, I love the smile on his face; it sure helps these days if you can keep a sense of humor about life.

Montaigne lived during a deeply troubled time in France's history. It was an era dominated by the Wars of Religion. Taking place in the last three decades of his life, "these conflicts, which tore the country asunder, were in fact political and civil as well as religious wars, marked by great excesses of fanaticism and cruelty.”

As violence spread across France, Montaigne took up his pen. In so doing, he did the unexpected, not writing about the wars. Instead, he pondered the mysteries of life, both great and small. Montaigne called his intimate and captivating reflections "essays" (attempts or tests). More than four hundred years later, his book has stood the test of time. Montaigne's influence on the Western world, particularly the world of literature, has been enormous.

Maybe 2022 will be the year that I finally tackle Montaigne's essays. The full collection is daunting; one edition tops out at more than 1300 pages. One of the things that draws me to Montaigne is his remarkable ability to weave memorable and astute sayings into his essays. As a collector of such, tonight I want to share with you a few samples:


If I want to find a fool to laugh at, I don’t have to go far. I can laugh at myself.

Ignorance doesn’t offend me; only the way it is dressed up.

Inconsiderate excuses are a kind of self-accusation.

Malice gives most of its poison to itself.

A man may always study but doesn’t have to always go to school.

A bad word believed obliterates ten years’ merit.

Our foolishness doesn’t make me laugh, our wisdom does.

The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear.

If headaches came before drunkenness, we wouldn’t drink too much.

I can’t refuse to play with my dog if he begs me.

I don’t want to die, but I have no objection to being dead.

I do not care so much what I am to others as I care what I am to myself.

I quote others only in order the better to express myself.

Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.

If I speak of myself in different ways, that is because I look at myself in different ways

I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.

Obsession is the wellspring of genius and madness.

I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more as I grow older.

There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.

My art and profession is to live.

Every man has within himself the entire human condition.

The most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds is, in my opinion, conversation.

Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.

No wind favors he who has no destined port.

I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself.

No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately.

There is as much difference between us and ourselves as there is between us and others.

We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life.

The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to live with purpose.

Pride and curiosity are the two scourges of our souls. The latter prompts us to poke our noses into everything, and the former forbids us to leave anything unresolved and undecided.

One must be a little foolish if one does not want to be even more stupid.

Every other knowledge is harmful to him who does not have knowledge of goodness.


There is one more quote from Montaigne that I need to share with you, for it up sums up both the man and his writing:

"I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind - and to work some of those contradictions out for myself."

In his enduring essays, Montaigne reveals the strange workings of the human mind; his own mind, in particular.

David and the saints pondered something even more mysterious, the mind of Almighty God - and the mysterious relationship He has with His human creatures.

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