Of Cicero he says: "Ignoring the space of time which separates us, I addressed him with a familiarity springing from my sympathy with his genius." And in his letter to Livy: "I should wish (if it were permitted from on high), either that I had been born in thine age, or thou in ours; in the latter case, our age itself, and in the former, I personally should have been the better for it." Montaigne says that he had been brought up from infancy with the dead, and that he had knowledge of the affairs of Rome "long before he had any of those of his own house; he knew the capitol and its plan before he knew the Louvre, and the Tiber before he knew the Seine.
THE RENAISSANCE CURIOSITY
This infatuation for antiquity may seem bizarre, but it did not exclude intense interest on the part of the Renaissance man for the world about him, his town, his country, and remote as well as neighboring nations. Petrarch likes to speak of the marvels of India and Ceylon. There were drops of gypsy blood in his veins, but he was afraid of stealing time from his beloved books, and remains an excellent example of the "far-gone" fireside traveler, who in his study roamed through distant parts, spared the inclemency of the weather and the incommodities and dangers of the road.
Montaigne, who loved "rain and mud like a duck," was of stronger fiber. "Nature," he says, "has placed us in the world free and unbound; we imprison ourselves in certain straits." "Travel is, in my opinion, a very profitable exercise; the soul is then continually employed in observing new and unknown things, and I do not know, as I have often remarked, a better school wherein to model life than by incessantly exposing to it the diversity of so many other lives, fancies and usances, and by making it relish so perpetual a variety of forms of human nature."
From one source or another, then, the Renaissance men acquired an immense number of facts, and were able to retain them; for much is said about their inexhaustible memory. The important thing to know is what they did with them. Was their passion for
- Cf. Montaigne's "Institution and Education of Children" in Harvard Classics, xxxii, 29-71; and especially on his own education, pp. 65-69. See also Sainte-Beuve's essay "Montaigne" in Harvard Classics, xxxii, 105.