Sunday, January 22, 2006

Can't Let Go

Did you think that just because I finished reading Montaigne's Essays you were safe from more things Montaigne? Think again! I began reading The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne and after only the introduction and the first essay it is already turning out to be quite good. I learned some interesting biographical bits about the man. For instance he was imprisoned in the Bastille in July 1588 by the overzealous Ligueurs, a staunch Catholic "Association" that seemed to enjoy killing Huguenots. Montaigne was Catholic but did not belong to the Ligue, instead he was sympathetic to the Politique thinkers who believed that only a strong monarchy could ensure order. The Liguers, while adamantly Catholic, were also anti-monarchy and Montaigne happened to be in Paris when they barricaded the city. But Montaigne was not long in the Bastille due to the kindly intervention of Catherine de' Medici. Another interesting tidbit, Montaigne was considered sort of noveau riche for his time period. Montainge comes from a family of merchants. During the late 1400s and early 1500s France had a booming economy and Montaigne's great-grandfather made quite a bit of cash. The actual aristocracy was not doing so well, however, and Grandpa bought the estate of Montaigne from it's previous owner in 1477. The laws in France at the time declared that if you could hold noble land for three generations, the third generation and onward (as long as they still held the land) could call themselves noble. Montaigne's actual family name is Eyquem, but because he was the third generation he was able to take the noble title of Montaigne. Montainge, however, was a provincial estate in Bordeaux and while it had a solid income, it was not spectacular which is why the man Montaigne and his wife had to manage the castle and vineyards themselves instead of hiring someone to do it for them. But it is also helped save his property from being overrun by the wars of religion. Montaigne spoke Gascon and came into contact with the peasants who worked his land and the other people employed on his estate on a daily basis. We already know he was a pretty good guy, and when your boss is not a tyrant it is hard to find a good reason for an uprising even if you are a Huguenot and he is Catholic. Montaigne writes in one of his essays (sorry, can't remember which one) that some of his laborers decided one day that they were going to take over the castle. The mob rode up to the gate and asked to be let in. Montaigne knew exactly what was afoot and let them in calling them all by name and chatting them up, pretending he had know idea what was going on until the mob decided on their own to change their mind and left peacefully. All that and I've hardly begun. This book is going to be fun!