Complete Works: Essays, Travel Journal, Letters (Everyman's Library Classics), The

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
 Humanist, skeptic, acute observer of himself and others, Michel de Montaigne (1533—92) was the first to use the term “essay” to refer to the form he pioneered, and he has remained one of its most famous practitioners. He reflected on the great themes of existence in his wise and engaging writings, his subjects ranging from proper conversation and good reading, to the raising of children and the endurance of pain, from solitude, destiny, time, and custom, to truth, consciousness, and death. Having stood the test of time, his essays continue to influence writers nearly five hundred years later. Also included in this complete edition of his works are Montaigne’s letters and his travel journal, fascinating records of the experiences and contemplations that would shape and infuse his essays. Montaigne speaks to us always in a personal voice in which his virtues of tolerance, moderation, and understanding are dazzlingly manifest. Donald M. Frame’s masterful translation is widely acknowledged to be the classic English version.(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)


Reviewed: 2020-04-27

Son of wealthy noble Gascon traders, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne received a learned and humanist education. At Guyenne's college in Bordeaux, he quickly showed his talent for discussion and rhetorical jousting. After studying law, in 1554 he became an adviser at the Court of Aid in Périgueux, then at the Parliament of Bordeaux. Montaigne befriends Etienne de La Boétie, a young humanist magistrate who died in 1563, aged 33. He describes this friendship which has remained famous in a chapter of the Essays ("On Friendship").

It was in 1571 that Montaigne decided to retire to his "library", at the Château de Montaigne. He therefore began to write his main work, "Les Essais" , on which he worked until the end of his life.

From 1580 to 1581, he traveled to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, for health reasons and kept a "Travel Journal" which was not published until 1774. It was in Rome that he learned that he was elected mayor of Bordeaux, a function that his father had already held. He exercised this mandate until 1585, trying to temper relations between Catholics and Protestants. Himself a Catholic, he was respected by Henri III, a Catholic, and by Henri de Navarre, a Protestant. When the latter, who became King Henry IV, invited him to court as an adviser, he declined the proposal in order to continue, enrich and revise "Les Essais".

In the Essays, Montaigne depicts himself, as an observed subject, without artifice, to reveal his "self" in his full nudity, to understand himself and understand the world. He gives free rein to his thoughts, often steeped in pessimism, as they appear to him. His philosophical astonishment begins with his motto "What do I know?" Its influence on French literature is very important.

Montaigne's work is that of a skeptic who takes care to banish intangible doctrines and blind certainties. He attacks all dogmatisms, whether religious or philosophical, never freezing his skepticism, his methodical doubt about certainties or absolutes. In the midst of a religious war, he displayed his tolerance and aversion to fratricidal struggles between Catholics and Protestants, considering that the complexity of the situations could not be resolved by binary opposition. If he believes in God, he considers that man cannot speculate on his nature and that he must be freed from the beliefs and prejudices which accompany him ("Apologie de Raymond Sebond"). For Montaigne, man has the possibility and the power to bring about freedom of thought in him.

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