Essays of Michel De Montaigne

Essays of Michel De Montaigne

by Michel De Montaigne
     
 

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Essays of Michel De Montaigne

Michel De Montaigne

Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazlitt

1877

The Essays of Michel de Montaigne are contained in three books and 107 chapters of variable length. Montaigne's stated design in writing, publishing and revising the Essays over the period from approximately 1570 to 1592 was to record for

Overview

Essays of Michel De Montaigne

Michel De Montaigne

Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazlitt

1877

The Essays of Michel de Montaigne are contained in three books and 107 chapters of variable length. Montaigne's stated design in writing, publishing and revising the Essays over the period from approximately 1570 to 1592 was to record for the 'private benefit of friends and kinsmen ... some traits of my character and of my humours.' The Essays were first published in 1580 and cover a wide range of topics. As Essai is French for "trial" or "attempt", so Montaigne attempted to explore his thoughts, his life and learning in written form. His 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.
Citing the case of Martin Guerre as an example, he believes that humans cannot attain certainty. His skepticism is best expressed in the long essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" (Book 2, Chapter 12) which has frequently been published separately. We cannot trust our reasoning because thoughts just occur to us: we don't truly control them. We do not have good reasons to consider ourselves superior to the animals. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781501004025
Publisher:
CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
09/01/2014
Pages:
324
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.68(d)

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