Montaigne: The First Ascent

December 16, 2010 at 4:15 AM | Posted in Montaigne, Writers | 1 Comment
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A book wonderful in every way

1998 was my Montaigne year and I read all of him, including his Travel Journal and letters. I began, by chance, reading “On Thumbs” and immediately jumped to the complete works as translated by Donald Frame. Like many before me, I couldn’t believe I was reading one born in 1533 – he was immediately my friend and I wanted to know what he thought about everything – and he did tell me!

I learned early on that we share the same birth date, the striking February 28th. This struck me as appropriate as Henry James died on that date – and as these two comprise half of my fab four (Shakespeare and Proust, the other two), I knew it was fate that flung us together.

I read Montaigne back then everyday with my coffee. As with Proust, I had to be fully alert and at the top of my game when contending with that great and generous mind, and so used that mild though specifically clear-headed java high to ascend the great essayist’s work.

While I never said to myself that I wanted to be Shakespeare as it seems too great a leap to imagine prowling the boards of the Globe, I knew also that as much as I admired them, I would not want to be either James or Proust. But what man with my solitary tastes would not jump at Montaigne’s retirement to his tower, his favorite quotes written on the ceiling, his vineyards bringing in income as he probed his great mind, inventing a genre?

Since my year of reading Montaigne, I’ve never stopped and have read certain of his essays, like “On Experience” and “On a few lines of Virgil” (about sex) many times. Now, there is a new and wonderful book out How to live or a life of Montaigne … by Sarah Bakewell and I have asked the author to guide me, once again, to Bordeaux and to my old friend Michel. I’ll be telling you about it.

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  1. [...] was just the other day when, in my post Montaigne: the First Ascent, I announced my plan to blog both on Montaigne and the new book by Sarah Bakewell, How to Live [...]


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