Roughly two years ago, I set off on a journey through Montaigne‘s essays, recording my impressions day by day, essay by essay. Now, I’m going to retrace that same path. Why?
The first paragraph of the Montaigne’s first essay provides a clue:
The commonest way of softening the hearts of those we have offended, when, vengeance in hand, they hold us at their mercy, is by submission to move them to commiseration and pity. However, audacity and steadfastness — entirely contrary means — have sometimes served to produce the same effect.
My first run through the Montaigne essays was my way of trying to move the world to commiserate with me. The project was all about building rapport and understanding through this great thinker. This time will be different. It will be audacious. Some passages may be angry. Most of all, it will be darker.
That’s because I know the lay of the land this time, I don’t need to seek out the light but can instead search for shadow. So I couldn’t get a book contract for my view of Montaigne the first time around? Well to hell with you, then, this version will stand on its own and build its own audience whether you want to buy it or not.
This time through, I’m taking the hard edge of Stoicism. Montaigne wrote:
Truly man is a marvelously vain, diverse and undulating object. It is hard to found any constant and uniform judgment on him.
This is wisdom about mankind and this man as well. So too it was of Montaigne, and this second journey through his essays will reveal a far less sunny character than the first series of essays described. There will be blood, as the last sentence of this essay foreshadows:
This slaughter went on to the last drop of blood that could be shed, and stopped only at unarmed people, old men, women and children, so that thirty thousand of them might be taken as slaves.