Writing is a process of discovery 

Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to do my usual exercise due to not being able to wear contact lenses at the moment, I sat down yesterday evening with my back to our bedroom radiator to read Stefan Zweig’s Montaigne.

It’s a short book, and quite odd, in that it doesn’t really quote much from Montaigne’s Essays, nor does it go into a lot of detail about his life. Instead, what I appreciated about Zweig’s writing is that it simultaneously discusses the impact that Montaigne has had on the author, and the context within which Montaigne lived and wrote.

I hadn’t realised, for example, that the famous circular tower in which Montaigne wrote (his ‘citadel’) was somewhere he’d retreated to aged just 37. Nor was I aware that, a decade later, Montaigne realised that he could never fully retreat from the world, and so set about on a tour of Europe, never planning ahead where to go next, but just going where he fancied. He was away (with a small retinue) for two years.

Of course, all of this was possible for Montaigne because of his estate and the income generated by it. But I didn’t know that this was quite a recent thing, ancestrally-speaking, for the Montaignes. In fact, even that surname was purchased, along with a coat of arms. Only a couple of generations previously his family had been fish merchants!

What I’ve always appreciated in Montaigne’s writing is that, as many others have said before me, he was a kind of 16th-century ‘blogger’. By starting from introspection, humility, and self-deprecation, he was able to write some of the finest essays ever written. Although he too had his foibles around fame and glory, it’s a reminder to me to write for myself, first and foremost.