Essays of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne
by Michel de Montaigne
He came from a wealthy family of recent nobility, and with his father’s insistence, Montaigne was educated in the classics and Latin before he was sent to school at the age of six. Montaigne worked as a lawyer until he retired in 1571, when he received multiple honorifics. After his retirement from Parliament, he remained active in the political sphere, where he advocated following custom and ancient societal laws.
In 1580, Montaigne published his famous Essays, with two more books published in 1588 and 1595. In these books Montaigne is credited with inventing the essay as we know it. Montaigne puts forth his humanist ideas about the importance of asserting “natural judgment,” the importance of recognizing humans as fallible and connected to the physical world, and the empirical nature of knowledge.
One of his most famous essays in these works is “On Cannibals,” which compares the behavior of European colonialists to the “savages” of Brazil. Other essays explore the doctrine of relativism, namely the concept of law and customs in the context of the horrors of war, arguing that laws can be evil or unjust, but one should follow ancient laws that order society.
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.” He lived by a strict morality and believed that one must act in a way he believes is just while living in this uncertain world.
Author: Michel de Montaigne
Title: Essays of Michael Seigneur de Montaigne
Publication Info: 4th ed. London: Daniel Brown [etc.], 1711.
Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library
Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy
Bound in 3/4 mottled calf leather with marbled boards, top edge gilt and marbled flyleaves and pastedowns. Contains copper engraving frontispiece portrait of Montaigne, gilt extras and letteringpieces to the spine and marginal notes and quotations. Purchased from Hirschfeld Galleries.
- 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.
- John Christian Laursen, “Michel de Montaigne and the Politics of Skepticism,” Historical Reflections, 16, No. 1 (Berghahn Books, Spring 1989), pp. 131-32.
- Norris Brock Johnson, “Cannibals and Culture: The Anthropology of Michel de Montaigne,” Dialectical Anthropology, 18, No. 2 (Springer, 1993), pp. 154-55.
- Laursen, pp. 122-23.
- Laursen, p. 103.