"We Be Monsters: Montaigne in the Age of Discovery," 3 Quarks Daily, November 25, 2013.
Montaigne was no stranger to grief. His particular complexion of humors (he thought of himself as a sanguine melancholic, common among men of learning) was considered vulnerable to genius or lunacy. So when he finds himself, in his scholarly leisure, not at ease, but at risk of losing control of his rational mind, Montaigne does not resort to the traditional cures—stones, plants, herbs, and the like. Nor does he turn to scripture or prayer or God, as doctors of his time would have advised. Montaigne turns to the mind itself. He observes and doubts its behavior. He keeps a record, as a scientist might, of his observations. Montaigne is writing to restore the mind's agency over his runaway passions. Of course today we recognize the therapeutic dimension of writing to get a grip. But at the time Montaigne was writing, to write one's own mind—to write to the edge of one's own understanding, to the threshold between knowing and unknowing—was without precedent. Montaigne is containing the dragon, drawing its tail up against the edge of the page. He saw the threat of madness. He understood the moral dimensions of health—body and mind—and was writing to restore the rational soul. This is an ancient-medieval idea. That this would be achieved by a turn toward the self is not. Montaigne is not merely introspective. He is a natural historian of the soul.
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