He Who Fears Suffering Is Suffering That Which He Fears.
Apart from periods serving in courts and as the mayor of Bordeaux, where he played a powerful role as a moderate in the arguments between humanists, protestants and the Catholic Church, he was also a well travelled unofficial representative of French interests throughout central Europe and Italy. During his lifetime, it was for his achievements in these roles that he was most highly regarded.
History, however, remembers him first and foremost for the introduction of the essay as a form of intellectual writing. Combining personal anecdote, metaphor, and robust intellectual and theological argument into digestible pieces, he dubbed them “attempts” or “essai”.
While this form was at first treated as a somewhat self-involved conceit, it rapidly increased in both popularity and intellectual valuation. Not only was this form of writing accessible but De Montaigne was very good at it – creating compelling arguments and addressing his professed subject: to describe humans (especially himself) with utter frankness. Along with his above quote, he is famous for his statement “What Do I Know?”, a literary flourish that captured his philosophy of human uncertainty and inspired the likes of Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederich Nietzsche, and even Shakespeare.
Before every student curses his name for invented the dreaded essay, it pays to remember that until De Montaigne they would have been writing the equivalent of theses instead. His contributions to education were more far reaching, encouraging questioning and the scientific method as well as social, individualised learning – a line of thought that has found renewed strength in many modern education systems.