Page:Essays Vol 1 (Ives, 1925).pdf/214

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It is not too fanciful, I think, to trace here some indication of a perhaps scarcely conscious break between his earlier intellectual life of incoherent but fertilising reading, and his later life of incoherent but fruitful thinking, of which these Essays are the record.

“History,” he says, “is my chief pursuit in the way of books.” His reader continually appreciates how great an influence Montaigne’s knowledge of historic thought and facts had upon the formation of his own ideas. And in the education of a child Montaigne believed that history should hold a capital place. The object of education for him was to learn how to live reasonably, an art that can be learned only by personal study of life; and in M. Villey’s words: “History is life treasured up in books. It is an indefinite prolongation of our experience.”[1]

The next sentence the perceptive reader has been waiting for through all the preceding pages, and through all the following ones he hears it echo: “Poetry, which I love with a special inclination.”[2] How well, how nobly, how vigorously he loved the poets, we shall learn from later pages. Sainte-Beuve says truly: “No French writer, including the rightly called poets, has had as high an idea of poetry as he.”

Like the greater thinker of ancient days, Plato, whose vein of poetic thought lay still deeper —so did the thinker and poet, Montaigne, write of Education. Not because Plato did, but because to such minds the breeding of the race seems the essential thing. The making of legislators was in their eyes of more importance than the making of laws.

Montaigne fully appreciates the arduousness of the work. “The greatest and most important difficulty,” he says, “of human knowledge seems to lie where it concerns itself with the bringing up and education of children.”

Montaigne had no thought of writing for posterity as he penned these quiet and simple pages. He felt only that, having lately been thinking and writing about pedantisme, it would interest and please him now to write a friendly letter to a pretty lady whom he had known as a young girl (being her father’s familiar friend), whose marriage (in 1579) he had lately helped to arrange, and who was soon going to present her husband, he hoped, with a son and heir. How shall this boy be educated? As carelessly and ignorantly and ineffectually as many young nobles of the day? As strangely as Montaigne himself? No, Montaigne thinks, let it be reasonably and intelligently. And so thinking, he lays down the main lines of an education that to-day could for the most part be bettered only by being carried further; an education for boys — girls were not in his mind.[3]

  1. Livres d’Histoire Moderne, utilisés par Montaigne, p. 19.
  2. See Book I, chap. 37: “From my earliest youth poetry has had the power to pierce and transport me” (1595).
  3. A few passages may be recognised as applying more to the education that men should give themselves than to that suitable for a youth. When Montaigne says: ‘Let him make him sift every thing,” M. Félix Hémon justly remarks (Cours de Littérature — Montaigne): “To examine