This is not a picture of Michel de Montaigne’s castle. I looked on Google maps to see where Château de Montaigne was located, and it resides in a part of France that I have never been to before. The castle depicted is Château de Belcayre, and it’s a good 121 km (75 miles) from Château de Montaigne, which is about the closest that I have ever been to the home of one of my heroes.
Michel de Montaigne lived from 1533 to 1592 and is credited for inventing the personal memoir. At the age of 38, he walked away from the duties of court life, and holed himself inside a room at his castle. There, he sat down and started to write about the only thing he really knew about: himself. For the next 20 years, he reflected on the life he lived and mused about it in a thousand different ways. He lived the life of a wealthy and successful man and possessed a well-spring of experiences in which to dip his writing quill into. He was blessed with keen observation, but he mostly directed his gaze towards himself.
I have read the writings of Michel de Montaigne, and they are admittedly not the most interesting stories. It’s the gist of his writing that matters the most to me as well as several of his most poignant quotes:
The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.
Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.
My art and profession is to live.
And there are more. Many more. He was a very singular man, and he wasn’t afraid to admit that to the world. I absolutely love that about him. He was proud to be just as he was, faults and all. He knew that he was lucky. He knew that he was fortunate to have been born rich. He knew that he was able to do something that the majority of French citizens could not, which was bow out of society and essentially become a hermit. He strikes me as someone who never took his privilege for granted. He seems to have always known that he wanted to be a writer but diligently bided his time for the moment when he could sit down and actually become one.
I envy Michel de Montaigne. I, too, want to escape the rat race and hole myself in a castle and do nothing but write. Hell, I’d forgo the castle part and hole myself up in any sort of room so long as I’d have access to a bathroom. I want to be a writer a la Michel de Montaigne, but I don’t have the wherewithal to do it. I am not insanely wealthy like he was, so there will never be any bowing out of society for me. But, then again, it doesn’t cost any money to write, but it does cost money to live. Being a poor writer is easy. Being a poor citizen is hard. Modern life costs a lot — too much, in fact. When did living become so expensive?
It’s not that life itself costs a lot because life in and of itself costs nothing. It’s everything else that we expect out of life that costs us all that we earn. Humans could live in a cave, but we chose instead to live in expensive purposely built houses. Humans could treat diseases with magic and herbs, but we chose instead to pay expensive doctors. Humans could eat the food we grow and the game we hunt, but we chose instead to spend our money at expensive restaurants and grocery stores. I could continue, but the point is already made. It’s not that we aren’t human anymore, but I do sometimes think that we forgot how to be one.
I think Michel de Montaigne had a quote for my sentiments:
Every man has within himself the entire human condition.