Montaigne's Discovery of Man: The Humanization of Humanist

Montaigne's Discovery of Man: The Humanization of Humanist

Montaigne's Discovery of Man: The Humanization of Humanist

Montaigne's Discovery of Man: The Humanization of Humanist

Excerpt

Most of Montaigne's remarks about the common herd (le vulgaire) are not flattering. It would be amazing if they were. The great ancients whom he loved almost from the cradle, his favorite moderns who imbibed the ancient wisdom as he did and used it in translation like Amyot, in poetry like Ronsard, or in action like La Boétie, held that the common herd was to be led with blinkers, if not hated and thrust aside as a thing profane. Their undemocratic contempt was not so much social as intellectual; they shunned not the poor but the ignorant. Though they agreed with Rabelais that the study of ancient letters had at last led France out of the darkness of centuries smelling of the "infelicity and calamity of the Goths," they felt that not all Frenchmen had emerged. Only the humanists, those who had the will and the way to devote themselves to the litterae humaniores, had made the climb from the shadows and firelight of the cave into the brilliant sunlight of the French Renaissance.

For all his love of freedom, simplicity, and naturalness, Montaigne started his quest of happiness and wisdom as a humanist. Thus it is not surprising to find, among his milder remarks about le vulgaire in the early essays, one to the effect that we would be foolish to believe all that we cannot disprove, for, if we did, the belief of the common herd would be as mobile as a weathercock.

What is surprising is a very short addition to this passage, one of hundreds that Montaigne made in the last years of his life.

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