Happy birthday, Michel de Montaigne. The Writer’s Almanac has this bio:
It’s the birthday of the great essayist Michel de Montaigne, (books by this author) born in Périgueux, France (1533). His father was a wealthy landowner. Montaigne went off to college and became a lawyer, but his father died when Montaigne was 38 years old. And so he retired to the family estate and took over managing the property. And it was there that he began to write. He wrote short pieces on various topics, and he called them “essays,” because the French word “essai” means attempt.
He lived at a time when religious civil wars were breaking out all over the country — Protestants and Catholics killing each other. The Black Plague was ravaging the peasants in his neighborhood; he once saw men digging their own graves and then lying down to die in them. Still, while he occasionally wrote about big subjects like hatred and death, he also wrote about the most ordinary things, like his gardening or the way radishes affected his digestion. He wrote about sadness, idleness, liars, fear, smell, prayer, cannibals, and thumbs, among other things.
Michel de Montaigne wrote, “The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.”