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These lines have been followed by the thinkers who have succeeded Montaigne, and the path they made by hacking and hewing is the road — the highway of education — along which we now lead our children — our sons — as a matter of course. It must never be forgotten in reading Montaigne’s views on this topic, that they were original in large measure. Rabelais was to some degree his precursor, Erasmus also, and other less well-known men; but Montaigne was the forerunner of Locke and of Rousseau, the two writers who have most influenced the principles of education, the one in England, the other in France (Locke 1632-1704; Rousseau 1712-1778). The torch has passed from one hand to another of “educators.”

To Madame Diane de Foix, Countess of Gurson[1]

I NEVER knew a father who, however feeble or deformed his son might be, failed to acknowledge him; not, to be sure (unless he be completely bewildered by this feeling), that he does not perceive his defect; but, none the less, he is his own. And I, too, I see better than any one else that here are but the idle musings of a man who has conceived in his childhood only the outer covering of learning,[2] and has retained of it merely a general and shapeless impression; a little of every thing and nothing thoroughly, after the French fashion. For, in fine, I know that there is a science of medicine, of jurisprudence, four divisions of mathematics,[3] and, roughly, what they aim at; (c) and perchance I know, also, the contribution of sciences in general to the service of our lives. (a) But as for pushing the matter further and biting my nails over the study of Aristotle,[4] (c) the monarch of modern learning, (a) or persisting in any branch of knowledge, I have never

    every thing, to sift every thing, to accept nothing simply on authority and on credit, suggests in advance the Cartesian system, admirable for men but difficult of application in the education of boys, and almost impossible in that of children, of whom there would be danger of making precocious reasoners and precocious sceptics.”

  1. Charlotte-Diane de Foix was the daughter of Frédéric de Foix, comte de Candale, and of Francoise de la Rochefoucauld. In 1579, she married her cousin, Louis de Foix, comte de Gurson, who, with his two brothers, was killed at the battle of Moncrabeau, in 1587.
  2. Qui n’a gousté des sciences que la crouste premiere en son enfance.
  3. Arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy.
  4. In 1580-1588: estude de Platon, ou d’Aristote.