Il se faut reserver une arriere boutique, toute nostre, toute franche, en laquelle nous establissions nostre vraye liberté et principale retraicte et solitude.” [A man should keep for himself a little back shop, all his own, quite unadulterated, in which he establishes his true freedom and chief place of seclusion and solitude.]
Michel de Montaigne. Essais (1580) 38:1
For a bookish introvert like me, this quotation is particularly seductive. It is even more so to anyone who has seen pictures of the elegant tower – Montaigne called it his citadel – to which he retired in 1571 to write his famous book. What a place to withdraw from the world, especially a world as nasty as France was during the Wars of Religion, to think and write undisturbed! And yet. We know in our heart of hearts that we have to quit the citadel some time and go back into the world. That is what Montaigne did, after ten years, when they told him that he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux. It’s more than duty, it’s doing what is good for our neighbours. He understood that, and now one of the greatest Frenchmen who ever lived is buried in the university they named after him.