ABSTRACT

In so many ways, Montaigne still seems so contemporary, still so near to us in spite of the more than 400 years that have passed since he wrote his Essais, that those who came later can actually seem farther away. The austerity of the rationalists and the swooning of the Romantics can often sound distant to our modern ears, but Montaigne is perennial. He is witty and urbane, skeptical but humane, able to find great value and meaning in the everyday yet endlessly fascinated by the exceptional. As Dudley Marchi has shown, each generation from Montaigne’s to our own has found a kindred spirit in the Essais, a prescient example of humanism or empiricism, of pragmatism or existentialism, and most recently, of post-modernism (Marchi 1994). Yet whatever else he may have been, Montaigne was a Renaissance gentleman, a designation thick with connotations even if it is somewhat vague around the edges. However much his habitual self-effacement and deprecatory wit might lead him to portray himself as a ‘‘man of the people,’’ he was also the lord of a modest estate, a man who dutifully served his two terms of office as Mayor of Bordeaux, but otherwise resigned himself to a life of leisure. He might have been an aristocrat who loved the common people, but he remained an aristocrat, wedded to many of the views and attitudes customary to that station.