How Montaigne Learned Latin

While reading Aldous Huxley’s Grey Eminence I was struck by this passage:

he could have delivered an equally effective oration in Greek, a language he had learnt at almost as early an age as John Stuart Mill and by the same conversational methods as had been used to teach Montaigne his Latin.

So how did Montaigne learn his Latin?

Here’s a quote from his Of the Education of Children:

So it is, that the expedient my father found out for this was, that in my infancy, and before I began to speak, he committed me to the care of a German, who since died a famous physician in France, totally ignorant of our language, and very fluent and a great critic in Latin. This man, whom he had fetched out of his own country, and whom he entertained with a great salary for this only one end, had me continually with him; he had with him also joined two others, of inferior learning, to attend me, and to relieve him; these spoke to me in no other language but Latin. As to the rest of his household, it was an inviolable rule, that neither himself, nor my mother, nor valet, nor chambermaid, should speak anything in my company, but such Latin words as each one had learned to gabble with me. It is not to be imagined how great an advantage this proved to the whole family; my father and my mother by this means learned Latin enough to understand it perfectly well, and to speak it to such a degree as was sufficient for any necessary use; as also those of the servants did who were most frequently with me.

And just how early is as early as John Stuart Mill?

In the philosopher’s own words, from his Autobiography:

I have no remembrance of the time when I began to learn Greek; I have been told that it was when I was three years old.

Such educational feats were achieved through aristocratic tutoring, an interesting topic you can read about on Erik Hoel’s How geniuses used to be raised.