MONTAIGNE, MICHEL DE 2 ) , French es sayist, was born, as he himself tells us, between eleven o'clock and noon on Feb. 28, 1533. The patronymic of the Montaigne family, who derived their title from the château at which the es sayist was born and which had been bought by his grandfather, was Eyquem. Montaigne is not far from Bordeaux, with which the Eyquem family had for some time been connected. Pierre Eyquem, Montaigne's father, had been engaged in commerce (a herring-merchant Scaliger calls him, and his grandfather Ramon had certainly followed that trade), had filled many municipal offices in Bordeaux, and had served under Francis I. in Italy as a soldier. He married Antoinette de Louppes (Lopez), descended from a family of Spanish Jews. The essayist was the third son. By the death of his elder brothers, however, he became head of the family. He had also six younger brothers and sisters. Mon taigne was put out to nurse with a peasant woman, and had his sponsors from the same class. He was taught Latin orally by servants who could speak no French, and many curious fancies were tried on him, as, for instance, that of waking him every morn ing by soft music.
At six years old Montaigne was sent to the college de Guienne at Bordeaux, then at the height of its reputation. At thirteen Montaigne began to study law, probably at Toulouse. In 1548 he was at Bordeaux during one of the frequent riots caused by the gabelle, or salt-tax. Six years afterwards he was made a counsellor in the Bordeaux parlement. In 1558 he was present at the siege of Thionville, in 1559 and 1561 at Paris, and in 1562 at the siege of Rouen. He was also much about the court, and he admits that in his youth he led a life of pleasure, if not exactly of excess.
In 1565 Montaigne married Francoise de la Chassaigne, whose father was, like himself, a member of the Bordeaux parlement. Three years later his father died, and he succeeded to the family possessions. Finally, in 1571, he retired to Montaigne, having given up his magistracy the year before. His health, never strong, had been further weakened by hard living. He resolved, accord ingly, to retire to a life of study and contemplation, though he indulged in no asceticism except careful diet. He lived on excel lent terms with his wife, and bestowed some pains on the educa tion of the only child (a daughter Leonore) who survived infancy.
In his father's lifetime, and at his request, he had translated the Theologia naturalis of Raymund de Sabunde, a Spanish school man (published 1569). On first coming to live at Montaigne he
edited the works of his deceased friend Etienne de la Bootie. But the years of his studious retirement were spent on a work This influence is almost equally remarkable in point of matter and in point of form. Montaigne is one of the few great writers who have invented a literary kind. The essay as he gave it had no forerunner in modern literature and no direct ancestor in the literature of classical times. In matter of style and language Montaigne's position is equally important, but the ways which led him to it are more clearly traceable. His favourite author was beyond all doubt Plutarch, and his own explicit confession makes it undeniable that Plutarch's translator, Jacques Amyot, was his master in point of vocabulary and (so far as he took any lessons in it) of style. Montaigne, however, followed with the perfect independence that characterized him. He was a contemporary of Ronsard, and his first essays were published when the innovations of the Pleiade had fully established themselves. He adopted them to a great extent, but with much discrimination, and he used his own judgment in latinizing when he pleased. In the same way he retained archaic and provincial words with a good deal of freedom, but by no means to excess.
Perhaps the only actual parallel to Montaigne in literature is Lamb. There are differences between them, arising naturally enough from differences of temperament and experience ; but both agree in their attitude—an attitude which is sceptical without being negative and humorous without being satiric. There is hardly any writer in whom the human comedy is treated with such completeness as it is in Montaigne. There is discernible in his essays no attempt to map out a complete plan, and then to fill up its outlines. But in the desultory and haphazard fashion which distinguishes him there are few parts of life on which he does not touch, if only to show the eternal contrast and antithesis which dominate it. The exceptions are chiefly to be found in the higher and more poetical strains of feeling to which the humorist temperament lends itself with reluctance and distrust, though it by no means excludes them. The positiveness of the French dis position is already noticeable in Rabelais; it becomes more notice able in Montaigne. He is always charming, but rarely inspiring.