Essays of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne

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by Michel de Montaigne

Essays of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne

Title page from Essays of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne, volume two, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Michel de Montaigne
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator Charles Cotton
Published London: Daniel Brown [etc.]
Date 1711
Edition Fourth
Language English
Volumes 3 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 8vo (20 cm.)
Location Shelf L-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Frontispiece, volume one.
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was an influential philosopher and essayist with revolutionary values derivative of humanism, skepticism, relativism, and empirical knowledge.[1] He came from a wealthy family of recent nobility, and was educated in the classics and Latin before he was sent to school at the age of six. Montaigne worked as a lawyer, including positions as a counselor of the Court des Aides of Périgueux and counselor of the Parlement in Bordeaux. He retired from public life in 1571. Despite his retirement, Montaigne remained active in the political sphere, where he advocated following custom and ancient societal laws.[2]

In 1580, Montaigne published his famous Essays, with two more books published in 1588 and 1595. In them he sets forth humanist ideas about the importance of asserting “natural judgment,” recognizing humans as fallible and connected to the physical world, and the empirical nature of knowledge. One of his most famous essays, “On Cannibals,” compares the behavior of European colonialists to the “savages” of Brazil.[3] Other essays customs in the context of the horrors of war where he argues that laws can be evil or unjust, but one should follow ancient laws that order society.[4] The Essays are pervaded by Montaigne’s skepticism, learned from reading the Stoics, which “insist[s] that it is the self that is in constant flux and in need of a stable political environment.”[5] He lived by a strict morality and believed that one must act in a way he believes is just while living in an uncertain world.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Montaigne. Eng. 2.v. 8vo. and given by Thomas Jefferson to his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph. We do not have enough information to conclusively identify which edition Wythe owned. George Wythe's Library[6] on LibraryThing indicates this without choosing a specific edition. The Brown Bibliography[7] lists the 1759 edition published in London but notes that "which English edition Wythe owned is undetermined." Because we do not know which edition Wythe owned, the Wolf Law Library purchased the fourth edition, published in London in 1711 when a copy became available.

Initial capital, first page of text.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in 3/4 mottled calf leather with marbled boards by Joseph Zaehnsdorf, top edge gilt. Contains gilt extras and lettering pieces to the spine. Includes marbled flyleaves and pastedowns. Copy features marginal notes and quotations. Purchased from Hirschfeld Galleries. Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. Marc Foglia, “Michel de Montaigne”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013), accessed on October 24, 2013. All biographical information is from this source unless otherwise noted.
  2. John Christian Laursen, “Michel de Montaigne and the Politics of Skepticism,” Historical Reflections, 16, No. 1 (Berghahn Books, Spring 1989), pp. 131-32.
  3. Norris Brock Johnson, “Cannibals and Culture: The Anthropology of Michel de Montaigne,” Dialectical Anthropology, 18, No. 2 (Springer, 1993), pp. 154-55.
  4. Laursen, pp. 122-23.
  5. Laursen, p. 103.
  6. LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on November 13, 2013,
  7. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:

External Links

Read volume one in Google Books.
Read volume two in Google Books.
Read volume three in Google Books.