Inside the mind of a child genius

Riviera Tutors’ Toby Parker-Rees looks at the remarkable upbringing of French intellectual Michel Montaigne, and why it can serve as an inspiration to anyone looking to achieve educational excellence.

Blame it on the parents

Michel de Montaigne’s father was a well-read nobleman who liked to vault tables on his thumbs. He sent his son to live with peasants in the local village for the first three years of his life. This was the first stage of a carefully planned, albeit maverick, upbringing designed to raise a genius.  Young Michel would go on to become one of the greatest writers in history and William Shakespeare’s favourite author.1 body shakespeareMichel de Montaigne was Shakespeare’s favourite author

Who said Latin was dead?

When he was three-years-old, Montaigne returned to the family chateau in Bordeaux. For the next few years he was allowed to speak only Latin – and no member of the household could speak to him in French (this had the knock-on effect of creating an unusually literate set of servants, whose classical vocabulary stayed with the surrounding villages for generations). His father brought in a young German tutor to help things along – no one in the chateau spoke Latin well enough to hold a conversation with the curious child.

Learning from the best

The tutor lived with the family, as was usual, and worked with young Montaigne throughout the day. Lessons took the form of friendly conversations – games featured heavily, and there was live music in the background. The little lord learnt easily. Knowledge and ideas were elaborate toys.

Reaping the benefits

When he grew up Montaigne invented the essay. He took ideas for vigorous rambles, because he was comfortable in their company. He ushered in the intellectual playfulness that let Hamlet have silly parts and puns. He gave every area of humanity an interested prod, considering everything and judging nothing – ‘I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself’.

Riviera Tutors’ approach

At Riviera Tutors we want our students to learn like Montaigne. Our tutors are generally graduates from Oxford and Cambridge, where the one-on-one tutorial is still the principal teaching method. Oxbridge students have to talk and think at the level of the world-class scholar sitting opposite them, because there’s no one else to talk to. This is experience we want to pass on.

The art of teaching

For Montaigne, for the students of Oxford and Cambridge, and for our tutees, there are no distractions – there is no one to impress by showing off. Learning is the only thing to do. We do not patronise, and we do not force the issue. Good conversation demands the generosity of mutual respect. Our students learn to use their knowledge – taking it out to play with instead of letting it moulder in boxes between tests.

100% success rate

We are immensely proud of the work we have done so far on the Riviera – we have never failed to help a tutee get into their chosen school, and our clients’ testimonials speak of ‘cherishing’ our ‘special attention and care’. This is all part of good conversation. We would love to hear from you too.

Toby Parker-Rees graduated with a First in English Literature from Cambridge. He won the Homerton English Prize (twice) and is a published poet and playwright. He is also a theatre director. To enquire about his availability please visit

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