on February 19, 2005
Over the years I have kept a copy of the Essays by my favorite reading chair to be enjoyed at random, particularly in the middle of the night when Entropy seems to hold the upper hand. They exercise a remarkable calming effect.
Seduced by the idea of having a complete set of all the Essays, I initially opted for the Screech translation, but found it wooden and pedantic. I moved to the Cohen translation, which does not include all of the Essays, but has all of the major ones and is far more enjoyable.
on April 17, 2000
A wonderful book to have for life. I already have the full version with detailed Essays of Montaigne, but this small paperback version is one which goes with me everywhere. It is my handbook to life and thoughts. I've had this book for long, handed to me by my father. I find all daily life substance and teachings with me when I read these wonderful notes, which are not only the thoughts reflecting a person but almost everyone of us. The chapters 'On the power of the imagination' and 'On the uncertainty of our judgement' relates so much to our own daily thoughts and actions- when I feel I have the power to do everything and then bringing it down to reality ... but the words written here in these chapters again fills me with power and optimism but also with a touch of pragmatism. I find this book thoroughly engrossing and often get back to it. These Essays are what all-time classics are made of.
"My library is in the third story of a tower; on the first is my chapel, on the second a bedroom with ante-chambers, where I often lie to be alone; and above it there is a great wardrobe...Adjoining my library is a very neat little room, in which a fire can be laid in winter, and which is pleasantly lighted by a window." Montaigne, On Three Kinds of Relationships
From the start, Montaigne (1533-1592) shows his great love of writing about life and his ultimate pleasure: exercising his mind through the discussion of philosophy. He also loved to point out incongruity and excelled in making logical conclusions.
His honesty seems to be his most attractive quality as he addresses the horror and beauty of life. At times he seems to almost be a reporter describing experience, detached and unemotional. Then when he delves into friendship he shows a new depth of emotion.
"There is no action or thought of mine in which I do not miss him, as he would have missed me. For just as he infinitely surpassed me in every other talent and virtue, so did he also in the duties of friendship." ~Montaigne, On Friendship
Montaigne's writing is at times a history lesson. He draws from the writings of Ovid, Cicero, Horace, Socrates, Plato, Seneca, Virgil and Petrarch.
His topics are fascinating and get even more interesting when he talks about the custom of wearing clothes, the Platonic paradox or why churches use incense. He explores the power of the imagination, truth and error, friendship, why civilized man is at times no better than a savage in his actions and freely discusses his ideas about education.
I must say that when he discusses books, this topic overflows and ends up in other essays. So, while the chapter on books may seem short, you will still find some excellent quotes later on while reading about the three kinds of relationships or "On Physiognomy," which seems to be more about the plague and death being inevitable and how philosophers contemplate death as a life-long exercise.
I learned a great deal about Socrates and how the Athenians felt when he died and that swans sing when they die. It all seems unrelated, but somehow Montaigne casually introduces topic after topic with great intellectual flair. Finally we happen upon his survival when captured by a band of horsemen. Then, we understand why he has titled this chapter "Physiognomy," because he is saved by the kind look on his face and his firmness of speech.
We also learn about his beautiful library. Later he discusses topics of interest like how Emperors built huge arenas that could be filled with deep water filled with sea monsters. These topics all seem related to his love of research.
While he discusses history at length and loves to add in quotes, he is also a keen observer of human nature. He sees life so clearly and freely says what most people fear will offend. Like that when we find a fault in other people, it might be a fault in our character or how strong we have to be to handle being criticized and why there are remarkable proofs of friendship when someone gives constructive criticism. Of course, many would not agree with this, although our friends do see us rather clearly.
"One must learn to endure what one cannot avoid," becomes more relevant near the end when Montaigne faces his own death. He discusses life so casually and even tells us about what he loves to eat and still doesn't enjoy. Life's simple pleasures are still of utmost importance even when he is suffering greatly with illness.
My blinds had turned golden in the early morning when I finished reading this book. I had the longing to sit by a fireplace and read another book by Montaigne. While it took three days to read the essays, this book almost ended too soon. Reading the essays was like discovering a long lost friend or a book through which we can live vicariously in another time and place.
~The Rebecca Review
on May 20, 2006
Montaigne is considered the father the personal essay. And within them, it seems, there is not a topic he didn't cover. After serving in the Bordeaux Parlement, in 1570 "he retired to his chateau...to read, think, and write." This is where his essays are born, late in his life, and soon to be suffering from kidney stones, which would take his life (he discusses his mistrust of doctors in "Of The Resemblance Of Children To Their Fathers")
The tone of essays reveal someone who was highly skeptical and pessimestic. But you quickly gain a sense of how intelligent and honest this man was. Montaigne, in the preface, implies the essays are written to discover and reveal himself and recommends that no one should waste their "leisure about so frivolous and vain a subject." Although, here he is greatly mistaken. Montaigne, to me, was a genius; and there is so much wisdom one can part with after reading only a few of his essays, as can be seen in his influence over brillant minds like Shakespeare and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Any library would seem bare without him.
Some favorite quotes from his essays:
"The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself."
"A man should keep for himself a little back shop, all his own, quite unadulterated, in which he establishes his true freedom and chief place of seclusion and solitude."
"Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom."
Michel de Montaigne is considered by many to be the inventor of the literary form of the essay, so the collection from which these excerpts come is important in several ways. Montaigne was a humanist and a skeptic in his philosophical approach, and essentially looked at his own experience as the first topic for examination always.
The book of Essays was one he worked on periodically throughout his life, issuing different editions, the first of which appeared in 1580. Montaigne's style of writing is sometimes stream-of-consciousness, sometimes structured in more formal styles.
Montaigne's stated task in his preface to the reader is for self-examination, but it becomes very clear that Montaigne sees himself as an 'everyman' character. He strives for full-disclosure; indeed, he writes that were he another culture 'which are said to live still in the sweet freedom of nature's first laws', then he might have appeared naked.
This is a complete set of the Essays, together with a helpful introduction and notes for reading. As Montaigne added to his essays periodically, they are not necessarily in the order he wrote them, but this collection has preserved their order according to his standards.
Montaigne's essays show a pessimism and skepticism, perhaps based on the kinds of conflicts between Catholics and Protestants going on, in France and elsewhere, as well as the periodic flare of plague. He was a humanist who saw cultures as having value internal to themselves and preferred to not universalise morals, laws and other ideas.
Montaigne was sometimes conventional in thought (seeing marriage as necessary for children, and distrusting the idea of romantic love), but other times he was very much a free thinker (particularly when it came to religious dogma or absolutist kinds of philosophical paradigms). Montaigne had respect for those who followed religious codes and ways of life, but distrusted those who tried to impose such ideas upon others.
Montaigne added to his essays twice in major ways, but did not strive for consistency or systematic ways of thinking - he declined to remove previous essays if they contradicted new writings.
Montaigne is perhaps the most important French philosopher prior to the Enlightenment. His essays remain popular because they have a sense of the modern and the current about them.
on June 16, 2008
This edition contains a properly hyperlinked table of contents (use the menu to see it; it's at the end of the file), correct typography, and retains formatting such as italics. It's functional and pleasant to look at.
Unfortunately, it is still the rather archaic Charles Cotton translation from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Still, if you want an edition of Montaigne's essays for your Kindle, this (as of June 2008) is the one to choose.
on February 5, 2007
French courtier and author
(born Feb. 28,28,1533,Chateux de Montaingne,France
died-Sept. 23,1592,Chateaux de Montaigne)
He served as a counselor at the Bordeaux Parliament.There he met the lawyer
Etienne de La Boetie,with which he formed an extraordinary friendship.The void left by La Boetie's death in 1563 likely led Montaigne to begin his writing career.He retired to his chateaux in 1571 to work on his 'Essais'
(1580,1588),a series of short prose reflections on subjects that form one of the most captivating and intimate self-portraits ever written.
"'''At once deeply critical of his time and deeply involved in its struggles,he sought understanding through self-examination,which he developed into a description of the human condition and an ethic of authenticity,self-acceptance,and struggles,he sought understanding through
self-examination,which he developed into a description of the human condition,and an ethic of authenticity,self-acceptance;and tolerance..."
(excerpt from the Columbia Encyclopedia on a profile of Montaigne)
It reminds me alot of Dr. Samuel Johnson's writings on self-examination, in his brilliant series of essays called 'THE RAMBLER',and also an amazing text on the diseases of the imagination.Montaigne is a fascination study.The essays are exquisitely written and the subject matter is continuosly changing,which makes it difficult to put down.This collection of essays along with the writings of Dr. Samuel Johnson come highly reccomended.Enjoy.
on January 21, 2013
Reading the history of this innovator in writing--which means "A Trial" presentation from the writer to the reader presents an inside history of this remarkable man. When we think of "Essays" today, it is fortunate to be able to read a biography of the creator of this writing form.
on March 25, 2015
I was very frustrated to realize that this version is missing many essays. Part One for example consists of 57 essays, this version provides 14. Thus the flow of the book is disrupted and the author intended order is destroyed. I wish this would have been advertised in the description.
Instead of just listing what it contains, it should have stated that it is not containing the majority of the essays.
on January 7, 2014
A foundation work for western culture.
Mature thoughts on living that have been admired by our greatest authors.
Indeed it is clear Shakespeare drew on these thoughts in several cases.
A remarkable bridge for epicurean thought into modern times.