One of France's great Renaissance thinkers, Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) invented the essay as a literary form. This compilation features the best of his brief, highly readable reflections on poetry, philosophy, theology, law, literature, education, and world exploration. 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.
« Ce ne sont mes gestes que j'escris ; c'est moy, c'est mon essence. Je tien qu'il faut estre prudent a estimer de soy, et pareillement conscientieux a en tesmoigner : soit bas, soit haut, indifferemment. Si je me sembloy bon et sage tout a fait, je l'entonneroy a pleine teste. De dire moins de soy, qu'il n'y en a, c'est sottise, non modestie : se payer de moins, qu'on ne vaut, c'est lascheté et pusillanimité selon Aristote. Nulle vertu ne s'ayde de la fausseté : et la verité n'est jamais matiere d'erreur. De dire de soy plus qu'il n'en y a, ce n'est pas tousjours presomption, c'est encore souvent sottise. Se complaire outre mesure de ce qu'on est, en tomber en amour de soy indiscrete, est a mon advis la substance de ce vice. Le supreme remede a le guarir, c'est faire tout le rebours de ce que ceux icy ordonnent, qui en defendant le parler de soy, defendent par consequent encore plus de penser a soy. L'orgueil gist en la pensée : la langue n'y peut avoir qu'une bien legere part. »
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne cover a wide range of topics and explore his thoughts, his life and learning in written form. The essays are widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay: a focused treatment of issues, events and concerns past, present and future. Montaigne wrote in a kind of crafted rhetoric designed to intrigue and involve the reader, sometimes appearing to move in a stream-of-thought from topic to topic and at other times employing a structured style which gives more emphasis to the didactic nature of his work. His arguments are often supported with quotations from Ancient Greek, Latin and Italian texts, which he quotes in the original source. 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.
You can read books purchased on Google Play using your computer's web browser.
eReaders and other devices
To read on e-ink devices like the Sony eReader or Barnes & Noble Nook, you'll need to download a file and transfer it to your device. Please follow the detailed Help center instructions to transfer the files to supported eReaders.