I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The First Egoist

The First Egoist

Enda O’Doherty
How to Read Montaigne, by Terence Cave, Granta, 133 pp, £6.99, ISBN: 978-1862079441 On the last day of November 1580, the French landowner and writer Michel de Montaigne arrived with his company and servants in Rome, the ultimate goal of a journey on which he had set out, from his family estate in southwestern France, in the previous June. He was to stay in the city for almost five months, before returning home to take up the public duties which had been thrust upon him by his election, in his absence, as mayor of Bordeaux. Montaigne approved of travel and took great pleasure in it. A recurrent theme in his writings is his deprecation of the pride and cultural arrogance of his fellow countrymen, their tendency to cling together when abroad and think that whatever is not got up and presented to them in the French way must be outlandish or uncivilised. On such matters he rather attempts to judge as he finds – their linen is rather mean and dirty, their fowls plumper and juicier than ours, their wines light yet refreshing, their manners a little rough but honest etc. Philosophically, following Socrates (and perhaps the Church), he has a tendency to universalism, considering all men his compatriots and being as apt, he says, to embrace a Pole as a Frenchman: “I am scarcely infatuated with the sweetness of my native air.” For a person of such a temperament, Rome was an ideal place of pilgrimage, the meeting place of all Christian nations. Indeed at the time of his visit its cosmopolitanism was in the process of being further strengthened as the reigning pope, Gregory XIII (Ugo Buoncompagno of Bologna), “built colleges for the Greeks, and for the English, Scots, French, Germans, and Poles … to call to the Church the children of those nations, corrupted by evil opinions”. (He might also at this time have set up a college for the Irish but considered it a more urgent need to provide them, as the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, with “the sinews of war”; Rome’s Irish College had to wait another generation to be established.) Montaigne’s experiences in Rome are recorded in his Travel Journal, transcribed partly by an (anonymous) secretary and partly by himself, which he seems to have written only for private use and which was not published until 1774. The journal forms however, in spite of its…



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