Remarkably modern in their views, the essays continue to resonate with readers as their author bemoans his failing memory, criticizes his culture's obsession with celebrity, and attempts to pursue a more spiritual life. Abounding in aphorisms and anecdotes, enlivened by wordplay and a delightful folksiness, Montaigne's writings constitute a celebration of literacy, friendship, and joie de vivre.
In 1572, Montaigne retired to his estates in order to devote himself to leisure, reading and reflection. There he wrote his constantly expanding 'essays', inspired by the ideas he found in books from his library and his own experience.
He discusses subjects as diverse as war-horses and cannibals, poetry and politics, sex and religion, love and friendship, ecstasy and experience. Above all, Montaigne studied himself to find his own inner nature and that of humanity. The Essays are among the most idiosyncratic and personal works in all literature. An insight into a wise Renaissance mind, they continue to engage, enlighten and entertain modern readers.
Born in 1533, Michel de Montaigne studied law and spent a number of years working as a counsellor before devoting his life to reading, writing and reflection. He died in 1586.
Dr M.A. Screech is regarded as the world's greatest authority on Montaigne.
theologian, Sebond, Montaigne attacks the philosophers who attempt
rational explanations of the universe and argues for a skeptical
Christianity based squarely on faith rather than reason. The result is
the Apology for Raymond Sebond, a classic of Counter-Reformation thought and a masterpiece of Renaissance literature.
This new translation by Roger Ariew and Marjorie Grene achieves both
accuracy and fluency, conveying at once the nuances of Montaigne’s
arguments and his distinctive literary style.
"Inspired. In every page--beginning with Atkinson's brilliant Introduction--this magical Montaigne betrays a lifetime of meditation on its subject." --Stephen G. Nichols, James M. Beall Professor Emeritus of French and Humanities, Johns Hopkins University
"The translators pull off the difficult trick of capturing the whole spectrum of Montaigne’s voices. . . . A thorough, engaging, and wholly readable translation, whose rich and informative guidance for the non-specialist will also be of use for academic readers and teachers of the period." --William McKenzie, St. Hilda's College, Oxford (adapted from MLR)
Michel de Montaigne was the originator of the modern essay form; in these diverse pieces he expresses his views on friendship, contemplates the idea that man is no different from any animal, argues that all cultures should be respected, and attempts, by an exploration of himself, to understand the nature of humanity.
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Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are.
His Essays, which are at once the most celebrated and the most permanent of his productions, form a magazine out of which such minds as those of Bacon and Shakespeare did not disdain to help themselves; and, indeed, as Hallam observes, the Frenchman's literary importance largely results from the share which his mind had in influencing other minds, coeval and subsequent.
But, at the same time, estimating the value and rank of the essayist, we are not to leave out of the account the drawbacks and the circumstances of the period: the imperfect state of education, the comparative scarcity of books, and the limited opportunities of intellectual intercourse. Montaigne freely borrowed of others, and he has found men willing to borrow of him as freely. We need not wonder at the reputation which he with seeming facility achieved. He was, without being aware of it, the leader of a new school in letters and morals. His book was different from all others which were at that date in the world. It diverted the ancient currents of thought into new channels.
It told its readers, with unexampled frankness, what its writer's opinion was about men and things, and threw what must have been a strange kind of new light on many matters but darkly understood. Above all, the essayist uncased himself, and made his intellectual and physical organism public property. He took the world into his confidence on all subjects. His essays were a sort of literary anatomy, where we get a diagnosis of the writer's mind, made by himself at different levels and under a large variety of operating influences.
Of all egotists, Montaigne, if not the greatest, was the most fascinating, because, perhaps, he was the least affected and most truthful.
What he did, and what he had professed to do, was to dissect his mind, and show us, as best he could, how it was made, and what relation it bore to external objects. He investigated his mental structure as a schoolboy pulls his watch to pieces, to examine the mechanism of the works; and the result, accompanied by illustrations abounding with originality and force, he delivered to his fellow-men in a book.
W. C. H.
KENSINGTON, November 1877.
THE LIFE OF MONTAIGNE
The author of the Essays was born, as he informs us himself, between eleven and twelve o'clock in the day, the last of February 1533, at the chateau of St. Michel de Montaigne. His father, Pierre Eyquem, esquire, was successively first Jurat of the town of Bordeaux (1530), Under-Mayor 1536, Jurat for the second time in 1540, Procureur in 1546, and at length Mayor from 1553 to 1556. He was a man of austere probity, who had "a particular regard for honour and for propriety in his person and attire . . . a mighty good faith in his speech, and a conscience and a religious feeling inclining to superstition, rather than to the other extreme. Between 1556 and 1563 an important incident occurred in the life of Montaigne, in the commencement of his romantic friendship with Etienne de la Boetie, whom he had met, as he tells us, by pure chance at some festive celebration in the town. From their very first interview the two found themselves drawn irresistibly close to one another, and during six years this alliance was foremost in the heart of Montaigne, as it was afterwards in his memory, when death had severed it.
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Though it's been over four hundred years since he began writing his essays, Montaigne's writing is still fresh, and his use of the form as a means of self-exploration in the world around him reads as innovative--even by modern standards. He is, simply put, the writer to whom all essayists are indebted. Each contributor has chosen one of Montaigne's 107 essays and has written his/her own essay of the same title and on the same theme, using a quote from Montaigne's essay as an epigraph. The overall effect is akin to a covers album, with each writer offering his or her own interpretation and stylistic verve to Montaigne's themes in ways that both reinforce and challenge the French writer's prose, ideas, and forms. Featuring a who's who of contemporary essayists, After Montaigne offers a startling engagement with Montaigne and the essay form while also pointing the way to the genre's potential new directions.
Contributors: Marcia Aldrich, Chris Arthur, Robert Atwan, Barrie Jean Borich, Mary Cappello, Steven Church, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Danielle Cadena Deulen, Brian Doyle, Lina M. Ferreira C. V., Vivian Gornick, Robin Hemley, Wayne Koestenbaum, Shannon Lakanen, David Lazar, E. J. Levy, Phillip Lopate, Bret Lott, Patrick Madden, Desirae Matherly, Maggie Nelson, José Orduña, Elena Passarello, Lia Purpura, Kristen Radtke, Amy Lee Scott, Jerald Walker, Nicole Walker
Montaigne's stated goal in his book is to describe man, and especially himself, with utter frankness and honesty ("bonne foi"). He finds the great variety and volatility of human nature to be its most basic features, which resonates to the Renaissance thought about the fragility of humans. According to the scholar Paul Oskar Kristeller, "the writers of the period were keenly aware of the miseries and ills of our earthly existence". A representative quote is "I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself."
He opposed the conquest of the New World, deploring the suffering it brought upon the natives. He is highly skeptical of confessions obtained under torture, pointing out that such confessions can be made up by the suspect just to escape the torture he is subjected to. In the middle of the section normally entitled "Man's Knowledge Cannot Make Him Good," he wrote that his motto was "What do I know?". The essay on Sebond ostensibly defended Christianity. However, Montaigne eloquently employed many references and quotes from classical Greek and Roman, i.e. non-Christian authors, especially the atomist Lucretius. Montaigne considered marriage necessary for the raising of children, but disliked the strong feelings of romantic love as being detrimental to freedom. One of his quotations is "Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside desperate to get out." In education, he favored concrete examples and experience over the teaching of abstract knowledge that is expected to be accepted uncritically. The remarkable modernity of thought apparent in Montaigne's essays, coupled with their sustained popularity, made them arguably the most prominent work in French philosophy until the Enlightenment. Their influence over French education and culture is still strong.