“Even on the most exalted throne in the world, we are only sitting on our own rear end.” That’s French author Michel de Montaigne born near Bordeaux (1533). He was a learned man, a lawyer and a statesman.
He retired from public life in 1571 — on his 38th birthday — to begin a life of study. His chief subject was himself, and he wrote about it in a series of essays called Essais, after the French word meaning “trial” or “attempt.”
He was revolutionary in his belief that, by examining one’s own life, one could better understand the wider world and the human condition.
His best friend, the humanist scholar and poet Étienne de la Boétie died in 1563, and Montaigne missed their conversations greatly. His essays were like letters, a kind of conversation between Montaigne and an unknown correspondent; perhaps he thought of his dead friend as he wrote them.
In the essays, he wrote, “Don’t discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.”
And “Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.”
And “The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
And “I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself.”