I am currently re-reading Sarah Bakewell’s Montaigne: How To Live (subtitled A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer), which has reminded me just what an accessible and enjoyable book this is.

For now, I am going to focus on one of the questions posed:

1. Q. How to live? A. Don’t worry about death

Early on in his life, Montaigne was obsessed by death, in fact he was so obsessed by the thought of losing his life that he was unable to enjoy life itself.

In his 30s, Montaigne experienced the loss of many of those close to him, including the deaths of his best friend, his father, his younger brother, and his first born child. All of these losses served to re-inforce the undeniable reality, but more so the fear, of death.

Montaigne had an epiphany when he was 36, following a riding accident. He recovered, but was utterly changed by the ‘near-dying’ experience. Thereafter, he lived his life differently:

‘If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it.’

This maxim – ‘Don’t worry about death’ – became Montaigne’s means of living, a rebirth of sorts where he could experience life without the constant shadow, and fear, of death.