CONTENTS OF VOLUME 1.
The Life of Montaigne
The Letters of Montaigne
The present publication is intended to supply a recognised deficiency in
our literature--a library edition of the Essays of Montaigne. This great
French writer deserves to be regarded as a classic, not only in the land
of his birth, but in all countries and in all literatures. 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
Eloquence, rhetorical effect, poetry, were alike remote from his design.
He did not write from necessity, scarcely perhaps for fame. But he
desired to leave France, nay, and the world, something to be remembered
by, something which should tell what kind of a man he was--what he felt,
thought, suffered--and he succeeded immeasurably, I apprehend, beyond his
It was reasonable enough that Montaigne should expect for his work a
certain share of celebrity in Gascony, and even, as time went on,
throughout France; but it is scarcely probable that he foresaw how his
renown was to become world-wide; how he was to occupy an almost unique
position as a man of letters and a moralist; how the Essays would be
read, in all the principal languages of Europe, by millions of
intelligent human beings, who never heard of Perigord or the League, and
who are in doubt, if they are questioned, whether the author lived in the
sixteenth or the eighteenth century. This is true fame. A man of genius
belongs to no period and no country. He speaks the language of nature,
which is always everywhere the same.
The text of these volumes is taken from the first edition of Cotton's
version, printed in 3 vols. 8vo, 1685-6, and republished in 1693, 1700,
1711, 1738, and 1743, in the same number of volumes and the same size.
In the earliest impression the errors of the press are corrected merely
as far as page 240 of the first volume, and all the editions follow one
another. That of 1685-6 was the only one which the translator lived to
see. He died in 1687, leaving behind him an interesting and little-known
collection of poems, which appeared posthumously, 8vo, 1689.
It was considered imperative to correct Cotton's translation by a careful
collation with the 'variorum' edition of the original, Paris, 1854,
4 vols. 8vo or 12mo, and parallel passages from Florin's earlier
undertaking have occasionally been inserted at the foot of the page.