The 16th century was a period of extraordinary conflict and violence. Disputes about religious and territorial matters divided the population in factions engaged in continuous wars, persecutions, and torture. Luckily, not everybody fell prey to the dominant ideas of the time and a few men taught us lessons that we should strive to keep always present in our minds.
The feeling of being in the wrong place
The French writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is
one of the most interesting personalities of that time. We would
probably never have heard of him if he had been more successful in his
profession and businesses, or one should rather say, if he had attempted
to become more successful.
After learning Latin, the most
widespread language at that time in Europe, and receiving some basic
training in jurisprudence, Montaigne spent more than a decade as
secretary of different legislative councils and courts of justice in the
south of France.
Later on, he resided for a while in Paris, but
he was clever enough to realize that his natural aversion to lies,
flattery, and pretence made him unsuitable for a lifelong career as
civil servant. When he turned 38 years of age, in the middle of one of
the worst periods of religious conflict in France, he decided to abandon
his career and retire to a farm in the south of France.
Moving in the right direction
followed during the next 15 years was a memorable attempt at living life
according to Nature and common sense. Everyday, Montaigne would devote
the necessary effort to his farming activities, but not with the purpose
of expanding his wealth, but simply to ensure his subsistence and that
of his family.
For the rest, Montaigne set himself the goal of
reflecting about the good life and writing down his thoughts as he went
along. Surrounded by the books that he had accumulated in the previous
decades of his life, he wrote continuously during his forties and early
Concentrating on important matters
While his neighbours in the south of France took sides
passionately in favour of some ideological faction or other, Montaigne
always called for moderation, pleaded for peace, and recommended
tolerance as the best policy to ensure prosperity and maintain human
Montaigne's essays were published in successive
compilations, which he corrected and edited further, until he was happy
with the result. The principles of common sense, prudence, tolerance,
moderation, and learning from experience, permeate his whole writings,
from beginning to end.
Since the 16th century, other thinkers
have tried to establish the principles of the good life, but few have
equalled Montaigne's erudition and literary skills. For those who, in
our age, seek to learn how to live in accordance with Nature,
Montaigne's essays are, more than four centuries after his death, still a
delight to read.
For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living
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