Montaigne Essays Hazlitt

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With two printed versions of Montaigne’s essays (translations by Donald Frame and M. A. Screech) and a couple of online editions available to me, I thought I might offer some examples of how individual translations have captured Montaigne’s writing and let you judge which you think is clearer and crisper for reading today.

I chose, somewhat at random, some lines from Book 1, Essay 50: Of Democritus and Heraclitus. It’s a reasonably short piece. I will give it in its entirety once, then offer selected sentences as marked in bold, below, from other translations for comparison. (You can read some commentary on this essay here).

First up: William Hazlitt’s 1877 updating of Charles Cotton’s 1685 translation (public domain, available on Here is the entire essay:

The judgment is an utensil proper for all subjects, and will have an oar in everything: which is the reason, that in these Essays I take hold of all occasions where, though it happen to be a subject I do not very well understand, I try, however, sounding it at a distance, and finding it too deep for my stature, I keep me on the shore; and this knowledge that a man can proceed no further, is one effect of its virtue, yes, one of those of which it is most proud. One while in an idle and frivolous subject, I try to find out matter whereof to compose a body, and then to prop and support it; another while, I employ it in a noble subject, one that has been tossed and tumbled by a thousand hands, wherein a man can scarce possibly introduce anything of his own, the way being so beaten on every side that he must of necessity walk in the steps of another: in such a case, ’tis the work of the judgment to take the way that seems best, and of a thousand paths, to determine that this or that is the best. I leave the choice of my arguments to fortune, and take that she first presents to me; they are all alike to me, I never design to go through any of them; for I never see all of anything: neither do they who so largely promise to show it others. Of a hundred members and faces that everything has, I take one, onewhile to look it over only, another while to ripple up the skin, and sometimes to pinch it to the bones: I give a stab, not so wide but as deep as I can, and am for the most part tempted to take it in hand by some new light I discover in it. Did I know myself less, I might perhaps venture to handle something or other to the bottom, and to be deceived in my own inability; but sprinkling here one word and there another, patterns cut from several pieces and scattered without design and without engaging myself too far, I am not responsible for them, or obliged to keep close to my subject, without varying at my own liberty and pleasure, and giving up myself to doubt and uncertainty, and to my own governing method, ignorance.
All motion discovers us: the very same soul of Caesar, that made itself so conspicuous in marshalling and commanding the battle of Pharsalia, was also seen as solicitous and busy in the softer affairs of love and leisure. A man makes a judgment of a horse, not only by seeing him when he is showing off his paces, but by his very walk, nay, and by seeing him stand in the stable.
Amongst the functions of the soul, there are some of a lower and meaner form; he who does not see her in those inferior offices as well as in those of nobler note, never fully discovers her; and, peradventure, she is best shown where she moves her simpler pace. The winds of passions take most hold of her in her highest flights; and the rather by reason that she wholly applies herself to, and exercises her whole virtue upon, every particular subject, and never handles more than one thing at a time, and that not according to it, but according to herself. Things in respect to themselves have, peradventure, their weight, measures, and conditions; but when we once take them into us, the soul forms them as she pleases. Death is terrible to Cicero, coveted by Cato, indifferent to Socrates. Health, conscience, authority, knowledge, riches, beauty, and their contraries, all strip themselves at their entering into us, and receive a new robe, and of another fashion, from the soul; and of what colour, brown, bright, green, dark, and of what quality, sharp, sweet, deep, or superficial, as best pleases each of them, for they are not agreed upon any common standard of forms, rules, or proceedings; every one is a queen in her own dominions. Let us, therefore, no more excuse ourselves upon the external qualities of things; it belongs to us to give ourselves an account of them. Our good or ill has no other dependence but on ourselves. ‘Tis there that our offerings and our vows are due, and not to fortune she has no power over our manners; on the contrary, they draw and make her follow in their train, and cast her in their own mould. Why should not I judge of Alexander at table, ranting and drinking at the prodigious rate he sometimes used to do?
Or, if he played at chess? what string of his soul was not touched by this idle and childish game? I hate and avoid it, because it is not play enough, that it is too grave and serious a diversion, and I am ashamed to lay out as much thought and study upon it as would serve to much better uses. He did not more pump his brains about his glorious expedition into the Indies, nor than another in unravelling a passage upon which depends the safety of mankind. To what a degree does this ridiculous diversion molest the soul, when all her faculties are summoned together upon this trivial account! and how fair an opportunity she herein gives every one to know and to make a right judgment of himself? I do not more thoroughly sift myself in any other posture than this: what passion are we exempted from in it? Anger, spite, malice, impatience, and a vehement desire of getting the better in a concern wherein it were more excusable to be ambitious of being overcome; for to be eminent, to excel above the common rate in frivolous things, nowise befits a man of honour. What I say in this example may be said in all others. Every particle, every employment of man manifests him equally with any other.
Democritus and Heraclitus were two philosophers, of whom the first, finding human condition ridiculous and vain, never appeared abroad but with a jeering and laughing countenance; whereas Heraclitus commiserating that same condition of ours, appeared always with a sorrowful look, and tears in his eyes:

“Alter ridebat, quoties a limine moverat unum Protuleratque pedem; flebat contrarius alter.”
[“The one always, as often as he had stepped one pace from his threshold, laughed, the other always wept.”—Juvenal, Sat., x. 28.]
[Or, as Voltaire: “Life is a comedy to those who think; a tragedy to those who feel.” D.W.]

I am clearly for the first humour; not because it is more pleasant to laugh than to weep, but because it expresses more contempt and condemnation than the other, and I think we can never be despised according to our full desert. Compassion and bewailing seem to imply some esteem of and value for the thing bemoaned; whereas the things we laugh at are by that expressed to be of no moment. I do not think that we are so unhappy as we are vain, or have in us so much malice as folly; we are not so full of mischief as inanity; nor so miserable as we are vile and mean. And therefore Diogenes, who passed away his time in rolling himself in his tub, and made nothing of the great Alexander, esteeming us no better than flies or bladders puffed up with wind, was a sharper and more penetrating, and, consequently in my opinion, a juster judge than Timon, surnamed the Man-hater; for what a man hates he lays to heart. This last was an enemy to all mankind, who passionately desired our ruin, and avoided our conversation as dangerous, proceeding from wicked and depraved natures: the other valued us so little that we could neither trouble nor infect him by our example; and left us to herd one with another, not out of fear, but from contempt of our society: concluding us as incapable of doing good as evil.
Of the same strain was Statilius’ answer, when Brutus courted him into the conspiracy against Caesar; he was satisfied that the enterprise was just, but he did not think mankind worthy of a wise man’s concern’; according to the doctrine of Hegesias, who said, that a wise man ought to do nothing but for himself, forasmuch as he only was worthy of it: and to the saying of Theodorus, that it was not reasonable a wise man should hazard himself for his country, and endanger wisdom for a company of fools. Our condition is as ridiculous as risible.

Cotton’s translation seems to have been the main effort in English until the late 19th century, when Hazlitt edited and revised it, and thus re-introduced Montaigne to a new generation.

Brilliant as he was, Hazlitt’s version often reads today like a slog through a wetland. It’s dense with run-on sentences and inverted forms that seem stuffy and overly formal: it feels very Victorian. If Montaigne is a writer for all ages, he needs to be freed from Hazlitt’s stylistic straitjacket. (Blanchard Bates edited Hazlitt’s work for the 1949 publication of selected Essays).

When Ralph Waldo Emerson praised Montaigne he was also praising Hazlitt’s efforts to modernize it:

“The sincerity and marrow of the man reaches to his sentences,” Emerson writes of Montaigne. “I know not anywhere the book that seems less written. It is the language of conversation transferred to a book. Cut these words, and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive.”

But take a step back.

The first translation into English was one Shakespeare knew: John Florio’s edition of 1603 (you can read it on In it, the three sections noted above from Essay 50 read in a way familiar to anyone who has read the KJV of the Bible, or, of course, any of Shakespeare or his contemporaries:

Judgment is an instrument for all subjects, and medleth every where, And therefore in the Essayes I make of it, there is no maner of occasion, I seeke not to employ therein. If it be a subject I understand not my selfe, therein I make triall of it, sounding afarre off the depth of the ford, and finding the same over deepe for my reach, I keepe my selfe on the shoare.

We judge of a horse, not only by seeing him ridden, and cunningly managed, but also by seeing him trot, or pace; yea, if we but looke upon him as he stands in the stable.

Therefore let us take no more excuses from externall qualities of things. To us it belongeth to give our selves accoumpt of it. Our good, and our evill hath no dependancy, but from our selves. Let us offer our vowes and offerings unto it; and not to fortune. She hath no power over our manners.

Even with modernized spelling and punctuation, it feels very dated. But one cannot help admire Florio; it was, in its day, a brilliant work and one surviving copy is believed to have belonged to the Bard himself. Against this version, all subsequent translations would be measured.

Bartleby described the Florio edition (and Cotton’s) like this:

He made no attempt to suppress himself as we are told a good translator should. The reader never forgets that “resolute John Florio” is looking out from the page as well as Montaigne. He is often inaccurate, and not seldom he misses the point. But compare his version with Cotton’s, and you will not hesitate to give the palm to Florio. Cotton’s translation is a sound and scholarly piece of work; Florio’s is a living book

Cotton’s later translation, available in part online for comparison, is somewhat easier to read than Florio’s, but still not an easy go for anyone outside of academia these days. He was more accurate, and thus more literal, but it’s still dated stuff. Hence Hazlitt’s efforts to bring Montaigne up to date – which now seem as far removed from us as Cotton’s did to Hazlitt.

New translations appeared in the 20th century: George Burnham Ives, 1925; Emil Trechmann in 1927;  Jacob Zeitlein in 1934. None of these seem to have survived in print. A more recent translation of selected essays by J.M. Cohen was published by Penguin books in the early 1990s, and may still be found online.

Donald Frame originally translated Montaigne in 1943, and published his complete works in 1957 (including numerous letters). This is still in print today (my edition is in the Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf publishers, 2005). It was considered the foremost scholarly edition for many years and certainly the most accessible translation to date. Frame was also a biographer of Montaigne with four books published on him.

Here’s Donald Frame’s version of those lines:

Judgment is a tool to use on all subjects, and comes in everywhere. Therefore in all the tests I make of it here, I use every sort of occasion. If it is a subject I do not understand at all, even on that I essay my judgment, sounding the ford from a good distance; and then, finding it too deep for my height, I stick to the bank.

We judge a horse not only by seeing him handled on a racecourse, but also by seeing him walk, and even by seeing him resting in the stable.

Wherefore, let us no longer make the external qualities of things our excuse; it is up to us to reckon them as we will. Our good and our ill depend on ourselves alone. let us offer our offerings and vows to ourselves, not to Fortune; she has no power over our character; on the contrary, it drags her in its train and mold her in its own form.

John Weightman, in the New York Review of Books, calls Frame’s version as somewhat “fustian.” Others have called it “stately and uniform.” Frame modernized Montaigne considerably, but not thoroughly and he sometimes slips into a formal, archaic style not all that distant from Hazlitt.

Reviewer Richard Chadbourne called frame Montaigne’s “finest translator.” Chadbourne adds,

Montaigne is the creator of the essay, of whom his numerous followers might say, as Haydn, speaking for the composers of his day, said of Handel, “He is the master of us all.” He also, quite extraordinarily for the inventor of a literary form, remains its greatest exponent, which may explain why he is both imitable and inimitable. His successors learned from him: the inexhaustible potentiality of the self as subject, testing itself against an infinite variety of subjects; the role of chance in the selection of subjects; the use of the essay as “a literary device for saying almost everything about anything” (Aldous Huxley, 1958); the essay as vehicle for the process, rather than the end results, of thought: “For we are born to quest after truth; to possess it belongs to a greater power” (“De l’art de conférer” [“Of the Art of Discussion”]); and the replacement of logical thought by “free association artistically controlled” (Huxley).

In the version by Prof. Michael Screech (1991; Penguin Classics version, 2003), the latest translation of the complete essays (but not the letters, as Frame has done), the three selections read:

Our power of judgment is a tool to be used on all subjects; it can be applied anywhere. That is why I seize on any sort of occasion for employing it in the assays I am making of it here. If it concerns a subject which I do not understand at all, that is the very reason I assay my judgment on it; I sound out the ford from a safe distance: if I find I would be out of my depth, then I stick to the bank.

You judge a horse not only by seeing its paces on a race-track but by seeing it walk – indeed, by seeing it in its stable.

So let us no longer seek excuses from the external qualities of anything: the responsibility lies within ourselves. Our good or bad depends on us alone. So let us make our offertories and our vows to ourselves not to Fortune: she has no power over our behaviour; on the contrary our souls drag Fortune in their train and mould her to their own idea.

Writing in the Prairie Schooner (University of Nebraska Press, Vol. 68, No. 3, Fall 1994), Willis Regier first compares previous translations (after unnecessarily debunking some popular impressions of Montaigne), and is cautiously laudatory about Screech (albeit pointing out some mistakes in the first edition that, one hopes, were corrected in subsequent editions). He calls Screech’s translation a “feast for friends” while grumpily pointing out the “petty” errata he feels compelled to raise.

In a review of Screech in Translation and Literature (University of Edinburgh Press, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1996, available on JSTOR), Michael Payne compares Frame and Screech, pointing out again the differences – and difficulties in any translation. He calls Frame’s version the more “successful” translation because of those differences and says in Screech’s version “much of Montaigne’s imagery is lost.” He also says the best rendering of Montaigne’s “poetics” is the 1603 Florio edition.

I personally prefer Screech – I like his modern pacing and style better – even though not everyone in academia seems so taken by it. Whether it lives up to standards in poetics or translation, I cannot say, just that it makes me enjoy reading Montaigne. Screech makes me feel Montaigne’s words are still “vascular and alive.”

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"Montaigne" redirects here. For the Australian singer-songwriter, see Montaigne (musician).

Michel de Montaigne

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne.

BornMichel de Montaigne
28 February 1533
Château de Montaigne, Guyenne, Kingdom of France
Died13 September 1592(1592-09-13) (aged 59)
Château de Montaigne, Guyenne, Kingdom of France
Alma materCollege of Guienne
Collège Royal
University of Toulouse
EraRenaissance philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolRenaissance humanismRenaissance skepticism

Notable ideas

The essay,
Montaigne's wheel argument[1]


  • William Shakespeare, René Descartes, Pierre Charron, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-François Lyotard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Blaise Pascal, Gore Vidal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Albert Hirschman, William Hazlitt, Eric Hoffer, Albert Camus, Michel Onfray, José Saramago[2]


Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Lord of Montaigne (;[3]French: [miʃɛl ekɛm də mɔ̃tɛɲ]; 28 February 1533 – 13 September 1592) was one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. His work is noted for its merging of casual anecdotes[4] and autobiography with serious intellectual insight; his massive volume Essais contains some of the most influential essays ever written.

Montaigne had a direct influence on Western writers, including Francis Bacon, René Descartes,[5]Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Albert Hirschman, William Hazlitt,[6]Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stefan Zweig, Eric Hoffer,[7]Isaac Asimov, and possibly on the later works of William Shakespeare.

In his own lifetime, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that, "I am myself the matter of my book", was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne would come to be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt which began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, "Que sçay-je?" ("What do I know?", in Middle French; now rendered as Que sais-je? in modern French).


Montaigne was born in the Aquitaine region of France, on the family estate Château de Montaigne, in a town now called Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne, close to Bordeaux. The family was very wealthy; his great-grandfather, Ramon Felipe Eyquem, had made a fortune as a herring merchant and had bought the estate in 1477, thus becoming the Lord of Montaigne. His father, Pierre Eyquem, Seigneur of Montaigne, was a French Catholic soldier in Italy for a time and had also been the mayor of Bordeaux.

Although there were several families bearing the patronym "Eyquem" in Guyenne, his father's family is thought to have had some degree of Marrano (Spanish and Portuguese Jewish) origins.[8] While his mother, Antoinette López de Villanueva, was a convert to Protestantism.[9] His maternal grandfather, Pedro Lopez,[10] from Zaragoza, was from a wealthy Marrano (Sephardic Jewish) family who had converted to Catholicism.[11][12][13][14] His maternal grandmother, Honorette Dupuy, was from a Catholic family in Gascony, France.[15]

His mother lived a great part of Montaigne's life near him, and even survived him, but is mentioned only twice in his essays. Montaigne's relationship with his father, however, is frequently reflected upon and discussed in his essays.

Montaigne's education began in early childhood and followed a pedagogical plan that his father had developed, refined by the advice of the latter's humanist friends. Soon after his birth, Montaigne was brought to a small cottage, where he lived the first three years of life in the sole company of a peasant family, in order to, according to the elder Montaigne, "draw the boy close to the people, and to the life conditions of the people, who need our help".[16] After these first spartan years, Montaigne was brought back to the château. The objective was for Latin to become his first language.

The intellectual education of Montaigne was assigned to a German tutor (a doctor named Horstanus, who could not speak French). His father hired only servants who could speak Latin, and they were also given strict orders always to speak to the boy in Latin. The same rule applied to his mother, father, and servants, who were obliged to use only Latin words he himself employed, and thus acquired a knowledge of the very language his tutor taught him. Montaigne's Latin education was accompanied by constant intellectual and spiritual stimulation. He was familiarized with Greek by a pedagogical method that employed games, conversation, and exercises of solitary meditation, rather than the more traditional books.

The atmosphere of the boy's upbringing, although designed by highly refined rules taken under advisement by his father, created in the boy's life the spirit of "liberty and delight" to "make me relish... duty by an unforced will, and of my own voluntary motion...without any severity or constraint"; yet he would have everything to take advantage of his freedom. And so a musician woke him every morning, playing one instrument or another,[17] and an épinettier (with a zither) was the constant companion to Montaigne and his tutor, playing a tune to alleviate boredom and tiredness.

Around the year 1539, Montaigne was sent to study at a prestigious boarding school in Bordeaux, the Collège de Guyenne, then under the direction of the greatest Latin scholar of the era, George Buchanan, where he mastered the whole curriculum by his thirteenth year. He then began his study of law at the University of Toulouse in 1546 and entered a career in the local legal system. He was a counselor of the Court des Aides of Périgueux and, in 1557, he was appointed counselor of the Parlement in Bordeaux (a high court). From 1561 to 1563 he was courtier at the court of Charles IX; he was present with the king at the siege of Rouen (1562). He was awarded the highest honour of the French nobility, the collar of the Order of St. Michael, something to which he aspired from his youth. While serving at the Bordeaux Parlement, he became very close friends with the humanist poet Étienne de la Boétie, whose death in 1563 deeply affected Montaigne. It has been suggested by Donald M. Frame, in his introduction to The Complete Essays of Montaigne that because of Montaigne's "imperious need to communicate" after losing Étienne, he began the Essais as his "means of communication" and that "the reader takes the place of the dead friend".[18]

Montaigne married Françoise de la Cassaigne in 1565, probably in an arranged marriage. She was the well-got daughter and niece of merchants of Toulouse and Bordeaux. They had six daughters, but only the second-born, Léonor, survived infancy.[19] Little is known about their marriage, a few words only escaping from Montaigne himself on the subject – he wrote of his daughter Léonor, "All my children die at nurse; but Léonore, our only daughter, who has escaped this misfortune, has reached the age of six and more without having been punished, the indulgence of her mother aiding, except in words, and those very gentle ones."[20] His daughter married François de la Tour and later Charles de Gamaches and had a daughter by each.[21]

Following the petition of his father, Montaigne started to work on the first translation of the Catalan monk Raymond Sebond's Theologia naturalis, which he published a year after his father's death in 1568 (In 1595, Sebond's Prologue was put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum for its declaration that the Bible is not the only source of revealed truth). After this, he inherited the family's estate, the Château de Montaigne, to which he moved back in 1570, thus becoming the Lord of Montaigne. Another literary accomplishment was Montaigne's posthumous edition of his friend Boétie's works.

In 1571, he retired from public life to the Tower of the Château, his so-called "citadel", in the Dordogne, where he almost totally isolated himself from every social and family affair. Locked up in his library, which contained a collection of some 1,500 works, he began work on his Essais ("Essays"), first published in 1580. On the day of his 38th birthday, as he entered this almost ten-year period of self-imposed reclusion, he had the following inscription crown the bookshelves of his working chamber:

In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, his birthday, Michael de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned virgins, where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life, now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.[22]

During this time of the Wars of Religion in France, Montaigne, a Roman Catholic, acted as a moderating force,[citation needed] respected both by the Catholic King Henry III and the Protestant Henry of Navarre. Montaigne believed that a knowledge of devastating effects of vice is calculated to excite an aversion to vicious habits.

In 1578, Montaigne, whose health had always been excellent, started suffering from painful kidney stones, a sickness he had inherited from his father's family. Throughout this illness, he would have nothing to do with doctors or drugs.[23] From 1580 to 1581, Montaigne traveled in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, partly in search of a cure, establishing himself at Bagni di Lucca where he took the waters. His journey was also a pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loreto, to which he presented a silver relief depicting himself and his wife and daughter kneeling before the Madonna, considering himself fortunate that it should be hung on a wall within the shrine.[24] He kept a fascinating journal recording regional differences and customs[25] and a variety of personal episodes, including the dimensions of the stones he succeeded in ejecting from his bladder. This was published much later, in 1774, after its discovery in a trunk which is displayed in his tower.[26]

During Montaigne's visit to the Vatican, as he described in his travel journal, the Essais were examined by Sisto Fabri who served as Master of the Sacred Palace under Pope Gregory XIII. After Fabri examined Montaigne's Essais the text was returned to its author on 20 March 1581. Montaigne had apologized for references to the pagan notion of "fortuna" as well as for writing favorably of Julian the Apostate and of heretical poets, and was released to follow his own conscience in making emendations to the text.[27]

While in the city of Lucca in 1581, he learned that, like his father before him, he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux; he returned and served as mayor. He was re-elected in 1583 and served until 1585, again moderating between Catholics and Protestants. The plague broke out in Bordeaux toward the end of his second term in office, in 1585. In 1586, the plague and the Wars of Religion prompted him to leave his château for two years.[23]

Montaigne continued to extend, revise, and oversee the publication of Essais. In 1588 he wrote its third book and also met the writer Marie de Gournay, who admired his work and later edited and published it. Montaigne called her his adopted daughter.[23] King Henry III was assassinated in 1589, and Montaigne then helped to keep Bordeaux loyal to Henry of Navarre, who would go on to become King Henry IV.

Montaigne died of quinsy at the age of 59, in 1592 at the Château de Montaigne. The disease in his case "brought about paralysis of the tongue",[28] and he had once said "the most fruitful and natural play of the mind is conversation. I find it sweeter than any other action in life; and if I were forced to choose, I think I would rather lose my sight than my hearing and voice."[29] Remaining in possession of all his other faculties, he requested mass, and died during the celebration of that mass.[30]

He was buried nearby. Later his remains were moved to the church of SaintAntoine at Bordeaux. The church no longer exists: it became the Convent des Feuillants, which has also disappeared.[31] The Bordeaux Tourist Office says that Montaigne is buried at the Musée Aquitaine, Faculté des Lettres, Université Bordeaux 3 Michel de Montaigne, Pessac. His heart is preserved in the parish church of Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne.

The humanities branch of the University of Bordeaux is named after him: Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3.


Main article: Essays (Montaigne)

His fame rests on the Essais, a collection of a large number of short subjective treatments of various topics published in 1580, inspired by his studies in the classics, especially by the works of Plutarch and Lucretius.[32] Montaigne's stated goal is to describe humans, and especially himself, with utter frankness. Montaigne's writings are studied as literature and philosophy around the world.

Inspired by his consideration of the lives and ideals of the leading figures of his age, he finds the great variety and volatility of human nature to be its most basic features. He describes his own poor memory, his ability to solve problems and mediate conflicts without truly getting emotionally involved, his disdain for the human pursuit of lasting fame, and his attempts to detach himself from worldly things to prepare for his timely death. He writes about his disgust with the religious conflicts of his time. He believed that humans are not able to attain true certainty. The longest of his essays, Apology for Raymond Sebond, marking his adoption of Pyrrhonism contains his famous motto, "What do I know?"

Montaigne considered marriage necessary for the raising of children, but disliked strong feelings of passionate love because he saw them as detrimental to freedom. In education, he favored concrete examples and experience over the teaching of abstract knowledge that has to be accepted uncritically. His essay "On the Education of Children" is dedicated to Diana of Foix.

The Essais exercised important influence on both French and English literature, in thought and style.[33]Francis Bacon's Essays, published over a decade later, in 1596, are usually assumed to be directly influenced by Montaigne's collection, and Montaigne is cited by Bacon alongside other classical sources in later essays.[34]

Montaigne's influence on psychology[edit]

Though not a scientist, Montaigne made observations on topics in psychology.[35] In his essays, he developed and explained his observations of these topics. His thoughts and ideas covered topics such as thought, motivation, fear, happiness, child education, experience, and human action. Montaigne’s ideas have influenced psychology and are a part of psychology’s rich history.

Child education[edit]

Child education was among the psychological topics that he wrote about.[35] His essays On the Education of Children, On Pedantry, and On Experience explain the views he had on child education.[36]:61:62:70 Some of his views on child education are still relevant today.[37]

Montaigne’s views on the education of children were opposed to the common educational practices of his day.[36]:63:67He found fault with both what was taught and how it was taught.[36]:62 Much of the education during Montaigne’s time was focused on the reading of the classics and learning through books.[36]:67Montaigne disagreed with learning strictly through books. He believed it was necessary to educate children in a variety of ways. He also disagreed with the way information was being presented to students. It was being presented in a way that encouraged students to take the information that was taught to them as absolute truth. Students were denied the chance to question the information. Therefore, students could not truly learn. Montaigne believed that, to learn truly, a student had to take the information and make it their own.

At the foundation Montaigne believed that the selection of a good tutor was important for the student to become well educated.[36]:66 Education by a tutor was to be done at the pace of the student.[36]:67He believed that a tutor should be in dialogue with the student, letting the student speak first. The tutor should also allow for discussions and debates to be had. Through this dialogue, it was meant to create an environment in which students would teach themselves. They would be able to realize their mistakes and make corrections to them as necessary.

Individualized learning was also integral to his theory of child education. He argued that the student combines information he already knows with what is learned and forms a unique perspective on the newly learned information.[38]:356 Montaigne also thought that tutors should encourage a student’s natural curiosity and allow them to question things.[36]:68He postulated that successful students were those who were encouraged to question new information and study it for themselves, rather than simply accepting what they had heard from the authorities on any given topic. Montaigne believed that a child’s curiosity could serve as an important teaching tool when the child is allowed to explore the things that they are curious about.

Experience was also a key element to learning for Montaigne. Tutors needed to teach students through experience rather than through the mere memorization of knowledge often practised in book learning.[36]:62:67He argued that students would become passive adults; blindly obeying and lacking the ability to think on their own.[38]:354 Nothing of importance would be retained and no abilities would be learned.[36]:62 He believed that learning through experience was superior to learning through the use of books.[37] For this reason he encouraged tutors to educate their students through practice, travel, and human interaction. In doing so, he argued that students would become active learners, who could claim knowledge for themselves.

Montaigne’s views on child education continue to have an influence in the present. Variations of Montaigne’s ideas on education are incorporated into modern learning in some ways. He argued against the popular way of teaching in his day, encouraging individualized learning. He believed in the importance of experience over book learning and memorization. Ultimately, Montaigne postulated that the point of education was to teach a student how to have a successful life by practising an active and socially interactive lifestyle.[38]:355

Related writers and influence[edit]

Thinkers exploring similar ideas to Montaigne include Erasmus, Thomas More, and Guillaume Budé, who all worked about fifty years before Montaigne.[39] Many of Montaigne's Latin quotations are from Erasmus' Adagia, and most critically, all of his quotations from Socrates. Plutarch remains perhaps Montaigne's strongest influence, in terms of substance and style. Montaigne's quotations from Plutarch in the Essays number well over 500.[41]

Ever since Edward Capell first made the suggestion in 1780, scholars have suggested Montaigne to be an influence on Shakespeare.[42] The latter would have had access to John Florio's translation of Montaigne's Essais, published in English in 1603, and a scene in The Tempest "follows the wording of Florio [translating Of Cannibals] so closely that his indebtedness is unmistakable".[43] However, most parallels between the two can be explained as commonplaces:[42] as with Cervantes, Shakespeare's similarities with writers in other nations could be due simply to their simultaneous study of Latin moral and philosophical writers such as Seneca the Younger, Horace, Ovid and Virgil.

Much of Blaise Pascal's skepticism in his Pensées has been traditionally attributed to his reading Montaigne.[44]

The English essayist William Hazlitt expressed boundless admiration for Montaigne, exclaiming that "he was the first who had the courage to say as an author what he felt as a man. ... He was neither a pedant nor a bigot. ... In treating of men and manners, he spoke of them as he found them, not according to preconceived notions and abstract dogmas".[45] Beginning most overtly with the essays in the "familiar" style in his own Table-Talk, Hazlitt tried to follow Montaigne's example.[6]

Ralph Waldo Emerson chose "Montaigne; or, the Skeptic" as a subject of one of his series of lectures entitled Representative Men, alongside other subjects such as Shakespeare and Plato. In "The Skeptic" Emerson writes of his experience reading Montaigne, "It seemed to me as if I had myself written the book, in some former life, so sincerely it spoke to my thought and experience." Friedrich Nietzsche judged of Montaigne: "That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on this Earth".[46]Sainte-Beuve advises us that "to restore lucidity and proportion to our judgments, let us read every evening a page of Montaigne." [47]

The American philosopher Eric Hoffer employed Montaigne both stylistically and in thought. In Hoffer's memoir, Truth Imagined, he said of Montaigne, "He was writing about me. He knew my innermost thoughts." The Welsh novelist John Cowper Powys expressed his admiration for Montaigne's philosophy in his books Suspended Judgements (1916) and The Pleasures of Literature (1938). Judith N. Shklar introduces her book Ordinary Vices (1984), "It is only if we step outside the divinely ruled moral universe that we can really put our minds to the common ills we inflict upon one another each day. That is what Montaigne did and that is why he is the hero of this book. In spirit he is on every one of its pages..."

20th-century literary critic Erich Auerbach called Montaigne the first modern man. "Among all his contemporaries", writes Auerbach (Mimesis, Chapter 12), "he had the clearest conception of the problem of man's self-orientation; that is, the task of making oneself at home in existence without fixed points of support".[48]


Further reading[edit]

  • Marvin Lowenthal (1935). The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne: Comprising the Life of the Wisest Man of his Times: his Childhood, Youth, and Prime; his Adventures in Love and Marriage, at Court, and in Office, War, Revolution, and Plague; his Travels at Home and Abroad; his Habits, Tastes, Whims, and Opinions. Composed, Prefaced, and Translated from the Essays, Letters, Travel Diary, Family Journal, etc., withholding no signal or curious detail. Houghton Mifflin. ASIN B000REYXQG. 

External links[edit]

Château de Montaigne, a house built on the land once owned by Montaigne's family. His original family home no longer exists, though the tower in which he wrote still stands.
Portrait of Michel de Montaigne by Dumonstier around 1578.
The Tour de Montaigne (Montaigne's tower), mostly unchanged since the 16th century, where Montaigne's library was located
The coat of arms of Michel Eyquem, Lord of Montaigne
Journey to Italy by Michel de Montaigne 1580–1581
  1. ^Robert P. Amico, The Problem of the Criterion, Rowman & Littlefield, 1995, p. 42. Primary source: Montaigne, Essais, II, 12: "Pour juger des apparences que nous recevons des subjets, il nous faudroit un instrument judicatoire ; pour verifier cet instrument, il nous y faut de la demonstration ; pour verifier la demonstration, un instrument : nous voilà au rouet [To judge of the appearances that we receive of subjects, we had need have a judicatorie instrument: to verifie this instrument we should have demonstration; and to approve demonstration, an instrument; thus are we ever turning round]" (transl. by Charles Cotton).
  2. ^ "Small Talk: José Saramago". "Everything I’ve read has influenced me in some way. Having said that, Kafka, Borges, Gogol, Montaigne, Cervantes are constant companions."
  3. ^"Montaigne". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  4. ^His anecdotes are 'casual' only in appearance; Montaigne writes: 'Neither my anecdotes nor my quotations are always employed simply as examples, for authority, or for ornament...They often carry, off the subject under discussion, the seed of a richer and more daring matter, and they resonate obliquely with a more delicate tone,' Michel de Montaigne, Essais, Pléiade, Paris (ed. A. Thibaudet) 1937, Bk. 1, ch.40, p. 252 (tr. Charles Rosen)
  5. ^Buckley, Michael J., At the Origins of Modern Atheism, Yale UP, 1990, p. 69.
  6. ^ abKinnaird, John, William Hazlitt: Critic of Power, Columbia University Press, 1978, p. 274.
  7. ^from Truth Imagined, memoir by Eric Hoffer.
  8. ^Sophie Jama, L’Histoire Juive de Montaigne [The Jewish History of Montaigne], Paris, Flammarion, 2001, p. 76.
  9. ^"His mother was a Jewish Protestant, his father a Catholic who achieved wide culture as well as a considerable fortune." Civilization, Kenneth Clark, (Harper & Row: 1969), p. 161.
  10. ^Winkler, Emil (1942). "Zeitschrift für Französische Sprache und Literatur". 
  11. ^Goitein, Denise R (2008). "Montaigne, Michel de". Encyclopaedia Judaica. The Gale Group. Retrieved 2014-03-06. 
  12. ^Introduction: Montaigne's Life and Times, in Apology for Raymond Sebond, By Michel de Montaigne (Roger Ariew), (Hackett: 2003), p. iv: "Michel de Montaigne was born in 1533 at the chateau de Montagine (about 30 miles east of Bordeaux), the son of Pierre Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne, and Antoinette de Louppes (or Lopez), who came from a wealthy (originally Iberian) Jewish family".
  13. ^"...the family of Montaigne's mother, Antoinette de Louppes (Lopez) of Toulouse, was of Spanish Jewish origin...." The Complete Essays of Montaigne, Translated by Donald M. Frame, "Introduction," p. vii ff., Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1989 ISBN 0-8047-0486-4
  14. ^Popkin, Richard H (2003-03-20). "The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle". ISBN 9780195107678. 
  15. ^Green, Toby (2009-03-17). "Inquisition: The Reign of Fear". ISBN 9781429938532. 
  16. ^Montaigne. Essays, III, 13
  17. ^Hutchins, Robert Maynard; Hazlitt, W. Carew, eds. (1952). The Essays of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. Great Books of the Western World. twenty-five. Trans. Charles Cotton. Encyclopædia Britannica. p. v.  
  18. ^Frame, Donald (translator). The Complete Essays of Montaigne. 1958. p. v.
  19. ^The New Yorker
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^As cited by Richard L. Regosin, ‘Montaigne and His Readers', in Denis Hollier (ed.) A New History of French Literature, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London 1995, pp. 248–52, p. 249. The Latin original runs: 'An. Christi 1571 aet. 38, pridie cal. mart., die suo natali, Mich. Montanus, servitii aulici et munerum publicorum jamdudum pertaesus, dum se integer in doctarum virginum recessit sinus, ubi quietus et omnium securus (quan)tillum in tandem superabit decursi multa jam plus parte spatii: si modo fata sinunt exigat istas sedes et dulces latebras, avitasque, libertati suae, tranquillitatique, et otio consecravit.' as cited in Helmut Pfeiffer, 'Das Ich als Haushalt:Montaignes ökonomische Politik’, in Rudolf Behrens, Roland Galle (eds.) Historische Anthropologie und Literatur:Romanistische Beträge zu einem neuen Paradigma der Literaturwissenschaft, Königshausen und Neumann, Würzburg, 1995 pp. 69–90 p. 75
  23. ^ abc Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Montaigne, Michel, Seigneur". Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company. 
  24. ^Edward Chaney, The Evolution of the Grand Tour: Anglo-Italian Cultural Relations since the Renaissance, 2nd ed. (London, 2000), p. 89.
  25. ^Cazeaux, Guillaume (2015). Montaigne et la coutume [Montaigne and the custom]. Milan: Mimésis. ISBN 9788869760044. Archived from the original on 2015-10-30. 
  26. ^Montaigne's Travel Journal, translated with an introduction by Donald M. Frame and foreword by Guy Davenport, San Francisco, 1983
  27. ^, L'encicolpedia Italiana, Dizionario Biografico. Accessed 10 August 2013
  28. ^Montaigne, Michel de, Essays of Michel de Montaigne, tr. Charles Cotton, ed. William Carew Hazlitt, 1877, "The Life of Montaigne" in v. 1. n.p., Kindle edition.
  29. ^"The Autobiography of Michel De Montaign", translated, introduced, and edited by Marvin Lowenthal, David R. Godine Publishing, p. 165
  30. ^"Biographical Note", Encyclopædia Britannica "Great Books of the Western World", Vol. 25, p. vi "Montaigne"
  31. ^Bakewell, Sarah. How to Live – or – A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (2010), pp. 325–26, 365 n. 325.
  32. ^"Titi Lucretii Cari De rerum natura libri sex (Montaigne.1.4.4)". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 9 July 2015. 
  33. ^Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon. 
  34. ^Bakewell, Sarah (2010). How to live : a life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer. London: Vintage. p. 280. ISBN 9780099485155. 
  35. ^ abKing, Brett; Viney, Wayne; Woody, William.A History of Psychology: Ideas and Context, 4th ed., Pearson Education, Inc. 2009, p. 112.
  36. ^ abcdefghiHall, Michael L. Montaigne's Uses of Classical Learning. "Journal of Education" 1997, Vol. 179 Issue 1, p. 61
  37. ^ abEdiger, Marlow. Influence of ten leading educators on American education.Education Vol. 118, Issue 2, p. 270
  38. ^ abcWorley, Virginia. Painting With Impasto: Metaphors, Mirrors, and Reflective Regression in Montagne's 'Of the Education of Children.'Educational Theory, June 2012, Vol. 62 Issue 3, p. 343–70.
  39. ^Friedrich, Hugo; Desan, Philippe (1991). Montaigne. ISBN 9780520072534. 
  40. ^Billault, Alain (2002). "Plutarch's Lives". In Gerald N. Sandy. The Classical Heritage in France. p. 226. ISBN 9789004119161. 
  41. ^ abOlivier, T. (1980). "Shakespeare and Montaigne: A Tendency of Thought". Theoria. 54: 43–59. 
  42. ^Harmon, Alice (1942). "How Great Was Shakespeare's Debt to Montaigne?". PMLA. 57 (4): 988–1008. JSTOR 458873. 
  43. ^Eliot, Thomas Stearns (1958). Introduction to Pascal's Essays. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co. p. viii. 
  44. ^Quoted from Hazlitt's "On the Periodical Essayists" in Park, Roy, Hazlitt and the Spirit of the Age, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1971, pp. 172–73.
  45. ^Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, Chapter 3, "Schopenhauer as Educator", Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 135
  46. ^Sainte-Beuve, "Montaigne", "Literary and Philosophical Essays", Ed. Charles W. Eliot, New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1938.
  47. ^Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis: Representations of Reality in Western Literature', Princeton UP, 1974, p. 311

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