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The father of the bloggers: Montaigne

December 18, 2010

When we think of a blog or Facebook entry, we assume that this genre of writing  about one’s life and interests  (here, the law) always existed as if it was natural to us all.   But,  this  writing genre, the essay, which means in French, to “try to taste, to give it a “whirl,” was invented by  a genius and Frenchman, 16th century Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. 

“This idea — writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity — has not existed forever.  It had to be invented. And unlike many cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person,” Ms. Sarah Bakewell writes in her new book, How To Live:  Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  

In her website, Ms. Bakewell elaborates:

“This idea – that immersion in one’s inner world can be a sociable act, and that the assertion of what makes us unlike anyone else can bring out the humanity we share with everyone else – is something we owe to Michel de Montaigne.  Living from 1533 to 1592, in a France dominated by bloody and miserable civil war, he maintained as private a life as possible while writing a hundred or so lively, revealing pieces which he called essais, or “tries” – a term he was the first to use in this context.  He meant them not as pedantic treatises, but as attempts or experiments upon himself.  Here are some of his titles:

By diverse means we arrive at the same end.
Our feelings reach out beyond us.
Of friendship.
Of cannibals.
Of the custom of wearing clothes.
How we cry and laugh for the same thing.
How our mind hinders itself.
Of diversion.
Of coaches.
Of experience.

Some essays fill just a page or two, others are much longer; the whole collection runs to more than a thousand pages.  They create a frank self-portrait which is also a mirror, for Montaigne believed that “each man bears the entire form of the human condition,” and that by opening his own mind to view he could show us ours as well.


Wow. We have much to learn from the father of all bloggers.  Sarah Bakewell’s  book is a great read  for the holiday season. 

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