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Michel de Montaigne (Michel Eyquem, lord of the manor of Montaigne, Dordogne) (28 February1533 – 13 September1592) was an influential French Renaissance writer, generally considered to be the inventor of the personal essay.


  • We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.

Essais (1595)[edit]

Written between 1571 and 1592, these were published in various editions between 1580 and 1595 · Full text of Charles Cotton translation online at the Gutenberg Project

Book I[edit]

  • Je veux qu'on me voit en ma façon simple, naturelle, et ordinaire, sans étude et artifice; car c'est moi que je peins...Je suis moi-même la matière de mon livre.
    • I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice; for it is myself that I portray...I am myself the matter of my book.
      • Book I (1580), To the Reader
  • Certes, c'est un subject merveilleusement vain, divers, et ondoyant, que l'homme. Il est malaisé d'y fonder jugement constant et uniforme.
    • Truly man is a marvellously vain, diverse, and undulating object. It is hard to found any constant and uniform judgement on him.
  • [I]n my country, when they would say a man has no sense, they say, such an one has no memory; and when I complain of the defect of mine, they do not believe me, and reprove me, as though I accused myself for a fool: not discerning the difference betwixt memory and understanding, which is to make matters still worse for me. But they do me wrong; for experience, rather, daily shows us, on the contrary, that a strong memory is commonly coupled with infirm judgment.
  • As for extraordinary things, all the provision in the world would not suffice.
  • In my opinion, every rich man is a miser.
  • How many we know who have fled the sweetness of a tranquil life in their homes, among the friends, to seek the horror of uninhabitable deserts; who have flung themselves into humiliation, degradation, and the contempt of the world, and have enjoyed these and even sought them out.
  • Things are not bad in themselves, but our cowardice makes them so.
  • C'est de quoi j'ai le plus de peur que la peur.
    • The thing I fear most is fear.
    • Book I, ch, 18
  • Whatever can be done another day can be done today.
  • Je veux que la mort me trouve plantant mes choux.
    • I want death to find me planting my cabbages.
    • Book I, Ch. 20
  • All the opinions in the world point out that pleasure is our aim.
  • He who would teach men to die would teach them to live.
  • The day of your birth leads you to death as well as to life.
  • Live as long as you please, you will strike nothing off the time you will have to spend dead.
  • Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in the number of years, for you to have lived enough.
  • All of the days go toward death and the last one arrives there.
  • We must not attach knowledge to the mind, we have to incorporate it there.
  • Every other knowledge is harmful to him who does not have knowledge of goodness.
  • To call out for the hand of the enemy is a rather extreme measure, yet a better one, I think, than to remain in continual fever over an accident that has no remedy. But since all the precautions that a man can take are full of uneasiness and uncertainty, it is better to prepare with fine assurance for the worst that can happen, and derive some consolation from the fact that we are not sure that it will happen.
  • Un peu de chaque chose, et rien du tout, a la française.
    • A little of all things, but nothing of everything, after the French manner.
      • On the education of children; Book I, Chapter 26
  • Je ne dis les autres, sinon pour d'autant plus me dire.
    • I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better.
      • Variant: I quote others only in order the better to express myself.
    • Book I, Ch. 26
  • Since I would rather make of him an able man than a learned man, I would also urge that care be taken to choose a guide with a well-made rather than a well-filled head.
  • Combien de choses nous servoyent hier d’articles de foy, qui nous sont fables aujourd’huy?
    • How many things served us yesterday for articles of faith, which today are fables for us?
    • Book I, Ch. 27
  • Si on me presse, continue-t-il, de dire pourquoi je l'aimais, je sens que cela ne se peut exprimer qu'en répondant: parce que c'était lui; parce que c'était moi.
    • If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because he was he, and I was I.
      • Variants: If a man urge me to tell wherefore I loved him, I feel it cannot be expressed but by answering: Because it was he, because it was myself.
        If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I.
    • Book I, Ch. 28
  • ... il n'est rien creu si fermement que ce qu'on sçait le moins, ...
    • Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.
      • Variant: Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known.
    • Book I, Ch. 31
  • L'homme d'entendement n'a rien perdu, s'il a soi-même.
    • A man of understanding has lost nothing, if he has himself.
    • Book I, Ch. 39
  • La plus grande chose du monde, c'est de savoir être à soi.
    • The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.
    • Book I, Ch. 39
  • He who does not give himself leisure to be thirsty cannot take pleasure in drinking.
  • God's justice and His power are inseparable; 'tis in vain we invoke His power in an unjust cause. We are to have our souls pure and clean, at that moment at least wherein we pray to Him, and purified from all vicious passions; otherwise we ourselves present Him the rods wherewith to chastise us; instead of repairing anything we have done amiss, we double the wickedness and the offence when we offer to Him, to whom we are to sue for pardon, an affection full of irreverence and hatred. Which makes me not very apt to applaud those whom I observe to be so frequent on their knees, if the actions nearest to the prayer do not give me some evidence of amendment and reformation
    • Book I, Ch. 56. Of Prayers
  • A true prayer and religious reconciling of ourselves to Almighty God cannot enter into an impure soul, subject at the very time to the dominion of Satan. He who calls God to his assistance whilst in a course of vice, does as if a cut-purse should call a magistrate to help him, or like those who introduce the name of God to the attestation of a lie.
    • Book I, Ch. 56. Of Prayers
  • There is nothing so easy, so sweet, and so favourable, as the divine law: it calls and invites us to her, guilty and abominable as we are; extends her arms and receives us into her bosom, foul and polluted as we at present are, and are for the future to be. But then, in return, we are to look upon her with a respectful eye; we are to receive this pardon with all gratitude and submission, and for that instant at least, wherein we address ourselves to her, to have the soul sensible of the ills we have committed, and at enmity with those passions that seduced us to offend her;

Book II[edit]

  • There is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.
  • It is the part of cowardice, not of courage, to go and crouch in a hole under a massive tomb, to avoid the blows of fortune.
  • C'est une épineuse entreprise, et plus qu'il ne semble, de suivre une allure si vagabonde que celle de nôtre esprit; de pénétrer les profondeurs opaques de ses replis internes; de choisir et arrêter tant de menus de ses agitations.
    • It is a thorny undertaking, and more so than it seems, to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds, to pick out and immobilize the innumerable flutterings that agitate it.
    • Book II, Ch. 6
  • Mon métier et mon art, c'est vivre.
    • My trade and my art is living.
    • Book II, Ch. 6
  • I am angry at the custom of forbidding children to call their father by the name of father, and to enjoin them another, as more full of respect and reverence, as if nature had not sufficiently provided for our authority. We call Almighty God Father, and disdain to have our children call us so. I have reformed this error in my family.—[As did Henry IV. of France]—And 'tis also folly and injustice to deprive children, when grown up, of familiarity with their father, and to carry a scornful and austere countenance toward them, thinking by that to keep them in awe and obedience; for it is a very idle farce that, instead of producing the effect designed, renders fathers distasteful, and, which is worse, ridiculous to their own children.
    • Book II, Ch. 8. On the affections of fathers to their children
  • Virtue refuses facility for her companion … the easy, gentle, and sloping path that guides the footsteps of a good natural disposition is not the path of true virtue. It demands a rough and thorny road.
  • For my own part, I cannot without grief see so much as an innocent beast pursued and killed that has no defence, and from which we have received no offence at all.
  • Que sais-je?
    • What know I? (or What do I know?)
    • The notion of skepticism is most clearly understood by asking this question.
  • Quand je me joue à ma chatte, qui sait si elle passe son temps de moi, plus que je ne fais d'elle.
    • When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?
    • Book II, Ch. 12
    • The 1595 edition adds: “We entertain each other with reciprocal monkey tricks. If I have my time to begin or to refuse, so has she hers.” As quoted in Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, trans. David Wills, Fordham University Press, 2008.
  • The sage says that all that is under heaven incurs the same law and the same fate.
  • As far as fidelity is concerned, there is no animal in the world as treacherous as man.
  • The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mold...The same reason that makes us wrangle with a neighbor creates a war betwixt princes.
  • The plague of man is boasting of his knowledge.
  • The first law that ever God gave to man was a law of pure obedience; it was a commandment naked and simple, wherein man had nothing to inquire after, nor to dispute; forasmuch as to obey is the proper office of a rational soul, acknowledging a heavenly superior and benefactor.
  • The participation we have in the knowledge of truth, such as it is, is not acquired by our own force: God has sufficiently given us to understand that, by the witnesses he has chosen out of the common people, simple and ignorant men, that he has been pleased to employ to instruct us in his admirable secrets. Our faith is not of our own acquiring; 'tis purely the gift of another's bounty: 'tis not by meditation, or by virtue of our own understanding, that we have acquired our religion, but by foreign authority and command wherein the imbecility of our own judgment does more assist us than any force of it; and our blindness more than our clearness of sight: 'tis more by__ the mediation of our ignorance than of our knowledge that we know any thing of the divine wisdom. 'Tis no wonder if our natural and earthly parts cannot conceive that supernatural and heavenly knowledge: let us bring nothing of our own, but obedience and subjection; for, as it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe."
  • Of all human and ancient opinions concerning religion, that seems to me the most likely and most excusable, that acknowledged God as an incomprehensible power, the original and preserver of all things, all goodness, all perfection, receiving and taking in good part the honour and reverence that man paid him, under what method, name, or ceremonies soever
  • Man is forming thousands of ridiculous relations between himself and God.
  • We are brought to a belief of God either by reason or by force. Atheism being a proposition as unnatural as monstrous, difficult also and hard to establish in the human understanding, how arrogant soever, there are men enough seen, out of vanity and pride, to be the authors of extraordinary and reforming opinions, and outwardly to affect the profession of them; who, if they are such fools, have, nevertheless, not the power to plant them in their own conscience. Yet will they not fail to lift up their hands towards heaven if you give them a good thrust with a sword in the breast, and when fear or sickness has abated and dulled the licentious fury of this giddy humour they will easily re-unite, and very discreetly suffer themselves to be reconciled to the public faith and examples.
  • To an atheist all writings tend to atheism: he corrupts the most innocent matter with his own venom.
  • L'homme est bien insensé. Il ne saurait forger un ciron, et forge des Dieux à douzaines.
    • Man is certainly crazy. He could not make a mite, and he makes gods by the dozen.
    • Book II, Ch. 12
  • Quelle vérité que ces montagnes bornent, qui est mensonge qui se tient au delà?
    • What of a truth that is bounded by these mountains and is falsehood to the world that lives beyond?
    • Book II, Ch. 12
  • Ceux qui ont apparié notre vie à un songe ont eu de la raison... Nous veillons dormants et veillants dormons.
    • Those who have compared our life to a dream were right... We are sleeping awake, and waking asleep.
    • Book II, Ch. 12
    • Variant translation: They who have compared our lives to a dream were, perhaps, more in the right than they were aware of. When we dream, the soul lives, works, and exercises all its faculties, neither more nor less than when awake; but more largely and obscurely, yet not so much, neither, that the difference should be as great as betwixt night and the meridian brightness of the sun, but as betwixt night and shade; there she sleeps, here she slumbers; but, whether more or less, ‘tis still dark, and Cimmerian darkness. We wake sleeping, and sleep waking.
  • There must then be something that is better, and that must be God. When you see a stately and stupendous edifice, though you do not know who is the owner of it, you would yet conclude it was not built for rats. And this divine structure, that we behold of the celestial palace, have we not reason to believe that it is the residence of some possessor, who is much greater than we?
  • We are no nearer heaven on the top of Mount Cenis than at the bottom of the sea; take the distance with your astrolabe. They debase God even to the carnal knowledge of women, to so many times, and so many generations.
  • It was truly very good reason that we should be beholden to God only, and to the favour of his grace, for the truth of so noble a belief, since from his sole bounty we receive the fruit of immortality, which consists in the enjoyment of eternal beatitude.... The more we give and confess to owe and render to God, we do it with the greater Christianity.
  • God might grant us riches, honours, life, and even health, to our own hurt; for every thing that is pleasing to us is not always good for us. If he sends us death, or an increase of sickness, instead of a cure, Vvrga tua et baculus, tuus ipsa me consolata sunt. "Thy rod and thy staff have comforted me," he does it by the rule of his providence, which better and more certainly discerns what is proper for us than we can do; and we ought to take it in good part, as coming from a wise and most friendly hand
  • Great abuses in the world are begotten, or, to speak more boldly, all the abuses of the world are begotten, by our being taught to be afraid of professing our ignorance, and that we are bound to accept all things we are not able to refute: we speak of all things by precepts and decisions. The style at Rome was that even that which a witness deposed to having seen with his own eyes, and what a judge determined with his most certain knowledge, was couched in this form of speaking: “it seems to me.” They make me hate things that are likely, when they would impose them upon me as infallible.
    • Book II, Ch. 12: Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • There is the name and the thing: the name is a voice which denotes and signifies the thing; the name is no part of the thing, nor of the substance; 'tis a foreign piece joined to the thing, and outside it. God, who is all fulness in Himself and the height of all perfection, cannot augment or add anything to Himself within; but His name may be augmented and increased by the blessing and praise we attribute to His exterior works: which praise, seeing we cannot incorporate it in Him, forasmuch as He can have no accession of good, we attribute to His name, which is the part out of Him that is nearest to us. Thus is it that to God alone glory and honour appertain; and there is nothing so remote from reason as that we should go in quest of it for ourselves; for, being indigent and necessitous within, our essence being imperfect, and having continual need of amelioration, 'tis to that we ought to employ all our endeavour.
  • How many valiant men we have seen to survive their own reputation!
  • A man may be humble through vainglory.
  • I find that the best goodness I have has some tincture of vice.
  • Saying is one thing and doing is another.
  • As far as physicians go, chance is more valuable than knowledge.
  • Physicians have this advantage: the sun lights their success and the earth covers their failures.
  • There were never in the world two opinions alike, any more than two hairs or two grains. Their most universal quality is diversity.

Book III[edit]

  • I will follow the good side right to the fire, but not into it if I can help it.
  • I speak the truth, not my fill of it, but as much as I dare speak; and I dare to do so a little more as I grow old.
  • Few men have been admired by their own households.
  • Chaque homme porte la forme, entière de l'humaîne condition.
    • Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition.
    • Book III, Ch. 2
  • For my own part, I may desire in general to be other than I am; I may condemn and dislike my whole form, and beg of Almighty God for an entire reformation, and that He will please to pardon my natural infirmity: but I ought not to call this repentance, methinks, no more than the being dissatisfied that I am not an angel or Cato. My actions are regular, and conformable to what I am and to my condition; I can do no better; and repentance does not properly touch things that are not in our power; sorrow does.. I imagine an infinite number of natures more elevated and regular than mine; and yet I do not for all that improve my faculties, no more than my arm or will grow more strong and vigorous for conceiving those of another to be so.
  • Malice sucks up the greatest part of its own venom, and poisons itself.
    • Of Repentance, Book III, Ch. 2[1]
  • Non pudeat dicere, quod non pudet sentire: "Let no man be ashamed to speak what he is not ashamed to think."
  • It (marriage) happens as with cages: the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out.
  • Not because Socrates said so, but because it is in truth my own disposition — and perchance to some excess — I look upon all men as my compatriots, and embrace a Pole as a Frenchman, making less account of the national than of the universal and common bond.
  • Il n'est si homme de bien, qu'il mette à l'examen des loix toutes ses actions et pensées, qui ne soit pendable dix fois en sa vie.
    • There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thoughts under the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.
    • Book III, Ch. 9
  • A man must be a little mad if he does not want to be even more stupid.
  • At the very beginning of my fevers and sicknesses that cast me down, whilst still entire, and but little, disordered in health, I reconcile myself to Almighty God by the last Christian, offices, and find myself by so doing less oppressed and more easy, and have got, methinks, so much the better of my disease. And I have yet less need of a notary or counsellor than of a physician.
  • I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself.
  • J'ai seulement fait ici un amas de fleurs étrangères, n'y ayant fourni du mien que le filet à les lier.
    • I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.
    • Book III, Ch. 12 : Of Physiognomy
  • ‘Tis a good word and a profitable desire, but withal absurd; for to make the handle bigger than the hand, the cubic longer than the arm, and to hope to stride further than our legs can reach, is both impossible and monstrous; or that man should rise above himself and humanity; for he cannot see but with his eyes, nor seize but with his hold. He shall be exalted, if God will lend him an extraordinary hand; he shall exalt himself, by abandoning and renouncing his own proper means, and by suffering himself to be raised and elevated by means purely celestial. It belongs to our Christian faith, and not to the stoical virtue, to pretend to that divine and miraculous metamorphosis.
    • Book III, Ch. 12 : Of Physiognomy
  • God never sends evils
  • There is no wish more natural than the wish to know.
  • It is more of a job to interpret the interpretations than to interpret the things, and there are more books about books than about any other subject: we do nothing but write glosses about each other.
  • For truth itself does not have the privilege to be employed at any time and in every way; its use, noble as it is, has its circumscriptions and limits.
  • He who remembers the evils he has undergone, and those that have threatened him, and the slight causes that have changed him from one state to another, prepares himself in that way for future changes and for recognizing his condition. The life of Caesar has no more to show us than our own; an emperor's or an ordinary man's, it is still a life subject to all human accidents.
  • Si, avons nous beau monter sur des échasses, car sur des échasses encore faut-il marcher de nos jambes. Et au plus élevé trône du monde, si ne sommes assis que sur notre cul.
    • No matter that we may mount on stilts, we still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.
    • Book III, Ch. 13
  • Let us give Nature a chance; she knows her business better than we do.
  • In this present that God has made us, there is nothing unworthy our care; we stand accountable for it even to a hair; and is it not a commission to man, to conduct man according to his condition; 'tis express, plain, and the very principal one, and the Creator has seriously and strictly prescribed it to us. Authority has power only to work in regard to matters of common judgment, and is of more weight in a foreign language; therefore let us again charge at it in this place
  • Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.
    • Chapter X. Of Managing the Will. End of First Paragraph.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)[edit]

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Man in sooth is a marvellous, vain, fickle, and unstable subject.
    • Book I, Ch. 1. That Men by various Ways arrive at the same End
  • All passions that suffer themselves to be relished and digested are but moderate.
  • It is not without good reason said, that he who has not a good memory should never take upon him the trade of lying.
  • He who should teach men to die would at the same time teach them to live.
    • Book I, Ch. 18. That Men are not to judge of our Happiness till after Death
  • The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom.
    • Book I, Ch. 22. Of Custom
  • Accustom him to everything, that he may not be a Sir Paris, a carpet-knight, 5 but a sinewy, hardy, and vigorous young man.
    • Book I, Ch. 15. Of the Education of Children
  • We were halves throughout, and to that degree that methinks by outliving him I defraud him of his part.
    • Book I, Ch. 27. Of Friendship
  • There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.
    • Book I, Ch. 30. Of Cannibals
  • Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.
    • Book I, Ch. 31. Of Divine Ordinances
  • A wise man never loses anything, if he has himself.
    • Book I, Ch. 38. Of Solitude
  • Even opinion is of force enough to make itself to be espoused at the expense of life.
    • Book I, Ch. 40. Of Good and Evil
  • Plato says, "'T is to no purpose for a sober man to knock at the door of the Muses;" and Aristotle says "that no excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of folly."
    • Book II, Ch. 2. Of Drunkenness
  • For a desperate disease a desperate cure.
    • Book II, Ch. 3. The Custom of the Isle of Cea
  • And not to serve for a table-talk.
    • Book II, Ch. 3. The Custom of the Isle of Cea
  • To which we may add this other Aristotelian consideration, that he who confers a benefit on any one loves him better than he is beloved by him again.
    • Book II, Ch. 8. Of the Affections of Fathers
  • The middle sort of historians (of which the most part are) spoil all; they will chew our meat for us.
    • Book II, Ch. 10. Of Books
  • The only good histories are those that have been written by the persons themselves who commanded in the affairs whereof they write.
    • Book II, Ch. 10. Of Books
  • She [virtue] requires a rough and stormy passage; she will have either outward difficulties to wrestle with, 11 … or internal difficulties.
    • Book II, Ch. 11. Of Cruelty
  • There is, nevertheless, a certain respect and a general duty of humanity that ties us, not only to beasts that have life and sense, but even to trees and plants.
    • Book II, Ch. 11. Of Cruelty
  • Some impose upon the world that they believe that which they do not; others, more in number, make themselves believe that they believe, not being able to penetrate into what it is to believe.
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • When I play with my cat, who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me?
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • 'T is one and the same Nature that rolls on her course, and whoever has sufficiently considered the present state of things might certainly conclude as to both the future and the past.
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mould…. The same reason that makes us wrangle with a neighbour causes a war betwixt princes.
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • Man is certainly stark mad; he cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens.
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • Why may not a goose say thus: "All the parts of the universe I have an interest in: the earth serves me to walk upon, the sun to light me; the stars have their influence upon me; I have such an advantage by the winds and such by the waters; there is nothing that yon heavenly roof looks upon so favourably as me. I am the darling of Nature! Is it not man that keeps and serves me?"
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • Arts and sciences are not cast in a mould, but are formed and perfected by degrees, by often handling and polishing, as bears leisurely lick their cubs into form.
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • He that I am reading seems always to have the most force.
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • Apollo said that every one's true worship was that which he found in use in the place where he chanced to be.
    • Book II, Ch. 12. Apology for Raimond Sebond
  • How many worthy men have we seen survive their own reputation!
    • Book II, Ch. 16. Of Glory
  • The mariner of old said to Neptune in a great tempest, "O God! thou mayest save me if thou wilt, and if thou wilt thou mayest destroy me; but whether or no, I will steer my rudder true."
    • Book II, Ch. 16. Of Glory
  • One may be humble out of pride.
    • Book II, Ch. 17. Of Presumption
  • I find that the best virtue I have has in it some tincture of vice.
    • Book II, Ch. 20. That we taste nothing pure
  • Saying is one thing, doing another.
    • Book II, Ch. 31. Of Anger
  • Is it not a noble farce, wherein kings, republics, and emperors have for so many ages played their parts, and to which the whole vast universe serves for a theatre?
    • Book II, Ch. 36. Of the most Excellent Men
  • Nature forms us for ourselves, not for others; to be, not to seem.
    • Book II, Ch. 37. Of the Resemblance of Children to their Brothers
  • There never was in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity.
    • Book II, Ch. 37. Of the Resemblance of Children to their Fathers
  • The public weal requires that men should betray and lie and massacre.
    • Book III, Ch. 1. Of Profit and Honesty
  • Like rowers, who advance backward.
    • Book III, Ch. 1. Of Profit and Honesty
  • I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little the more as I grow older.
    • Book iii. Chap 2. Of Repentance
  • Few men have been admired by their own domestics.
    • Book iii. Chap 2. Of Repentance
  • It happens as with cages: the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out.
    • Book III, Ch. 5. Upon some Verses of Virgil
  • And to bring in a new word by the head and shoulders, they leave out the old one.
    • Book III, Ch. 5. Upon some Verses of Virgil
  • All the world knows me in my book, and my book in me.
    • Book III, Ch. 5. Upon some Verses of Virgil
  • 'T is so much to be a king, that he only is so by being so. The strange lustre that surrounds him conceals and shrouds him from us; our sight is there broken and dissipated, being stopped and filled by the prevailing light.
    • Book III, Ch. 7. Of the Inconveniences of Greatness
  • We are born to inquire after truth; it belongs to a greater power to possess it. It is not, as Democritus said, hid in the bottom of the deeps, but rather elevated to an infinite height in the divine knowledge.
    • Book III, Ch. 8. Of the Art of Conversation
  • I moreover affirm that our wisdom itself, and wisest consultations, for the most part commit themselves to the conduct of chance.
    • Book III, Ch. 8. Of the Art of Conversation
  • What if he has borrowed the matter and spoiled the form, as it oft falls out?
    • Book III, Ch. 8. Of the Art of Conversation
  • The oldest and best known evil was ever more supportable than one that was new and untried.
    • Book III, Ch. 9. Of Vanity
  • Not because Socrates said so,… I look upon all men as my compatriots.
    • Book III, Ch. 9. Of Vanity
  • My appetite comes to me while eating.
    • Book III, Ch. 9. Of Vanity
  • There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.
    • Book III, Ch. 9. Of Vanity
  • Saturninus said, "Comrades, you have lost a good captain to make him an ill general."
    • Book III, Ch. 9. Of Vanity
  • A little folly is desirable in him that will not be guilty of stupidity.
    • Book III, Ch. 9. Of Vanity
  • Habit is a second nature.
  • We seek and offer ourselves to be gulled.
    • Book III, Ch. 11. Of Cripples
  • I have never seen a greater monster or miracle in the world than myself.
    • Book III, Ch. 11. Of Cripples
  • Men are most apt to believe what they least understand.
    • Book III, Ch. 11. Of Cripples
  • I have here only made a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the thread that ties them together.
    • Book III, Ch. 12. Of Physiognomy
  • Amongst so many borrowed things, I am glad if I can steal one, disguising and altering it for some new service.
    • Book III, Ch. 12. Of Physiognomy
  • I am further of opinion that it would be better for us to have [no laws] at all than to have them in so prodigious numbers as we have.
    • Book III, Ch. 13. Of Experience
  • For truth itself has not the privilege to be spoken at all times and in all sorts.
    • Book III, Ch. 13. Of Experience
  • The diversity of physical arguments and opinions embraces all sorts of methods.
    • Book III, Ch. 13. Of Experience
  • I have ever loved to repose myself, whether sitting or lying, with my heels as high or higher than my head.
    • Book III, Ch. 13. Of Experience
  • I, who have so much and so universally adored this [greek], "excellent mediocrity," 32 of ancient times, and who have concluded the most moderate measure the most perfect, shall I pretend to an unreasonable and prodigious old age?
    • Book III, Ch. 13. Of Experience


Most quotations of Montaigne come from the Essais but the following have not yet been given definite citation.

  • A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.
  • A wise man sees as much as he ought, not as much as he can
  • Age imprints more wrinkles in the mind than it does on the face.
  • Ambition is not a vice of little people.
  • An untempted woman cannot boast of her chastity.
  • Confidence in another man's virtue is no light evidence of a man's own, and God willingly favors such a confidence.
    • Variant: Confidence in the goodness of another is good proof of one's own goodness.
    • Book I, Ch. 14
  • Courtesy is a science of the highest importance. It is, like grace and beauty in the body, which charm at first sight, and lead on to further intimacy and friendship, opening a door that we may derive instruction from the example of others, and at the same time enabling us to benefit them by our example, if there be anything in our character worthy of imitation.
  • Covetousness is both the beginning and the end of the devil's alphabet— the first vice in corrupt nature that moves, and the last which dies.
  • Death, they say, acquits us of all obligations.
  • Don't discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.
  • Even from their infancy we frame them to the sports of love: their instruction, behavior, attire, grace, learning and all their words azimuth only at love, respects only affection. Their nurses and their keepers imprint no other thing in them.
  • Fame and tranquility can never be bedfellows.
  • Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the desire to seem rather than to be.
  • Fortune, seeing that she could not make fools wise, has made them lucky.
    • Book III, Ch. 8
    • This quote is a paraphrase of a lengthier statement, as follows: We ordinarily see, in the actions of the world, that Fortune, to shew us her power in all things, and who takes a pride in abating our presumption, seeing she could not make fools wise, has made them fortunate in emulation of virtue; and most favours those operations the web of which is most purely her own; whence it is that the simplest amongst us bring to pass great business, both public and private; and, as Seiramnes, the Persian, answered those who wondered that his affairs succeeded so ill, considering that his deliberations were so wise, ‘that he was sole master of his designs, but success was wholly in the power of fortune’; these may answer the same, but with a contrary turn.
    • From Essays of Michel de Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton (1877), Book the Third, Chapter VIII — Of The Art Of Conference. Note : this is the version found at Project Gutenberg.
  • Hath God obliged himself not to exceed the bounds of our knowledge?
  • He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.
  • He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.
  • He who is not sure of his memory, should not undertake the trade of lying.
    • Variant: He who is not very strong in memory should not meddle with lying.
    • Book I, Ch. 9
  • I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself. I will be rich by myself, and not by borrowing.
  • I do myself a greater injury in lying than I do him of whom I tell a lie.
  • I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.
  • I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.
  • If you don't know how to die, don't worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don't bother your head about it.
  • In plain truth, lying is an accursed vice. We are not men, nor have any other tie upon another, but by our word.
  • In true education, anything that comes to our hand is as good as a book: the prank of a page-boy, the blunder of a servant, a bit of table talk— they are all part of the curriculum.
    • The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne, Chapter III, pg. 24 (Translated by Marvin Lowenthal
  • It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.
  • It is not death, it is dying that alarms me.
  • It is the mind that maketh good or ill, That maketh wretch or happy, rich or poor.
  • It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity.
    • Variants: It should be noted that the games of children are not games, and must be considered as their most serious actions.
      For truly it is to be noted, that children's plays are not sports, and should be deemed as their most serious actions.
    • Book I, Ch. 23
  • Labour not after riches first, and think thou afterwards wilt enjoy them. He who neglecteth the present moment, throweth away all that he hath. As the arrow passeth through the heart, while the warrior knew not that it was coming; so shall his life be taken away before he knoweth that he hath it.
  • Love to his soul gave eyes; he knew things are not as they seem. The dream is his real life; the world around him is the dream.
  • Make your educational laws strict and your criminal ones can be gentle; but if you leave youth its liberty you will have to dig dungeons for ages.
  • Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out.
  • Marriage, a market which has nothing free but the entrance.
  • My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.
  • No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately.
  • No wind serves him who addresses his voyage to no certain port.
  • Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.
  • Nothing prints more lively in our minds than something we wish to forget.
  • Observe, observe perpetually.
  • Of all our infirmities, the most savage is to despise our being.
    • Book III, Ch. 13
    • Variant: Of all the infirmities we have, 'tis the most savage to despise our being. (Charles Cotton translation)
  • Once conform, once do what others do because they do it, and a kind of lethargy steals over all the finer senses of the soul.
  • Rejoice in the things that are present; all else is beyond thee.
  • So it is with minds. Unless you keep them busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, they throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination. ..And there is no mad or idle fancy that they do no bring forth in the agitation.
  • Book I, Ch. 8
  • The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure not a slight pleasure.
  • The ceaseless labour of your life is to build the house of death.
  • The entire lower world was created in the likeness of the higher world. All that exists in the higher world appears like an image in this lower world; yet all this is but One.
  • The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness; her state is like that in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene.
    • Variant: The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.
    • Book I, Ch. 26
  • The most profound joy has more of gravity than of gaiety in it.
  • The strangest, most generous, and proudest of all virtues is true courage.
  • The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them... Whether you find satisfaction in life depends not on your tale of years, but on your will.
  • The world is all a carcass and vanity, The shadow of a shadow, a play
    And in one word, just nothing.
  • The world is but a perpetual see-saw.
  • The worst of my actions or conditions seem not so ugly unto me as I find it both ugly and base not to dare to avouch for them.
  • There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.
  • There is a plague on Man, the opinion that he knows something.
  • There is a sort of gratification in doing good which makes us rejoice in ourselves.
  • There is little less trouble in governing a private family than a whole kingdom.
    • Variant: There is not much less vexation in the government of a private family than in the managing of an entire state.
    • Book I, Ch. 39
  • There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.
  • There is no passion so contagious as that of fear.
  • There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to.
  • There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.
  • Those that will combat use and custom by the strict rules of grammar do but jest.
  • 'Tis the sharpness of our mind that gives the edge to our pains and pleasures.
  • Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.
  • We can be knowledgeable with other men's knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men's wisdom.
  • We only labor to stuff the memory, and leave the conscience and the understanding unfurnished and void.
  • When I am attacked by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.
  • Who does not in some sort live to others, does not live much to himself.
  • Wonder is the foundation of all philosophy, research is the means of all learning, and ignorance is the end.
  • Writing does not cause misery. It is born of misery.

Quotes about Montaigne[edit]

Sorted alphabetically by author or source
  • Montaigne speak of an “Abecedarian” ignorance that precedes knowledge, and a doctoral ignorance that comes after it. The first is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their A-B-C’s, cannot read at all. The second is the ignorance of those who have misread many books.
  • From now on, Montaigne would live for himself rather than for duty.
    • Sarah Bakewell, describing Montaigne’s retirement at age 38, How to Live (2010), p. 24
  • He felt ordinary, but knew that the very fact of realizing his ordinariness made him extraordinary.
    • Sarah Bakewell, How to Live (2010), p. 52
  • The hedonistic approach to education did make a difference to him. Having been guided early in life by his own curiosity alone, he grew up to be an independent-minded adult, following his own path in everything rather than deferring to duty and discipline.
  • The most offensive egotist is he that fears to say "I" and "me." "It will probably rain "—that is dogmatic. "I think it will rain"—that is natural and modest. Montaigne is the most delightful of essayists because so great is his humility that he does not think it important that we see not Montaigne. He so forgets himself that he employs no artifice to make us forget him.
  • Montaigne the I-sayer. “I” as space, not as position.
    • Elias Canetti, The Secret Heart of the Clock, J. Agee, trans. (1989), p. 54
  • Europeans had often thought that somewhere in the world must dwell a noble race, remnants of that golden age before man became corrupted by civilization. As reports of Indians filtered back to Europe... Michelle de Montaigne took the trouble to talk with explorers, to read the traveler's chronicles, and even to meet three Indians who had been brought as curiosities to the Court of Versailles. He concluded that the Noble Savage has at last been found, for the Indian "hath... no name of magistrate, nor of politics... no contracts... no apparel but natural... The very words that import a lie, falsehood, treason, covetousness, envy, detraction, were not heard among them." Montaigne presented an idealized notion about the aborigines ...that foreshadowed the Noble Savage of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
  • 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 book.
    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 expectations.
    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.
    • William Carew Hazlitt, in the Preface to his 1877 edition, based on the translations of Charles Cotton (November 1877)
  • Mr. Sensible learned only catchwords from them. He could talk like Epicurus of spare diet, but he was a glutton. He had from Montaigne the language of friendship, but no friend.
  • Montaigne [puts] not self-satisfied understanding but a consciousness astonished at itself at the core of human existence.
  • The manner in which Epictetus, Montaigne, and Salomon de Tultie wrote, is the most usual, the most suggestive, the most remembered, and the oftener quoted; because it is entirely composed of thoughts born from the common talk of life.
    • Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 18 (1669); Note: Salomon de Tultie was a pseudonym adopted by Pascal as the author of the Provincial Letters.
  • What the earliest utopians — Montaigne, Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella — understood was that they fought not for a place but for a new set of ideas through which to recognize what would count as Real: Equality, not hierarchical authority. Individualdignity, not slavish subservience. Our preeminent problem is that we recognize the Real in what is most deadly: a culture of duty to legalities that are, finally, cruel and destructive. We need to work inventively — as Christ did, as Thoreau did — in the spirit of disobedience for the purpose of refusing the social order into which we happen to have been born and putting in its place a culture of life-giving things.
    • Curtis White, “The Spirit Of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance" in Harper’s Magazine (April 2006), p. 40

External links[edit]

I speak the truth, not my fill of it, but as much as I dare speak; and I dare to do so a little more as I grow old.
I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better.

1. Life

Montaigne (1533–1592) came from a rich bourgeois family that acquired nobility after his father fought in Italy in the army of King Francis I of France; he came back with the firm intention of bringing refined Italian culture to France. He decorated his Périgord castle in the style of an ancient Roman villa. He also decided that his son would not learn Latin in school. He arranged instead for a German preceptor and the household to speak to him exclusively in Latin at home. So the young Montaigne grew up speaking Latin and reading Vergil, Ovid, and Horace on his own. At the age of six, he was sent to board at the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, which he later praised as the best humanist college in France, though he found fault with humanist colleges in general. Where Montaigne later studied law, or, indeed, whether he ever studied law at all is not clear. The only thing we know with certainty is that his father bought him an office in the Court of Périgueux. He then met Etienne de La Boëtie with whom he formed an intimate friendship and whose death some years later, in 1563, left him deeply distraught. Tired of active life, he retired at the age of only 37 to his father's castle. In the same year, 1571, he was nominated Gentleman of King Charles IX's Ordinary Chamber, and soon thereafter, also of Henri de Navarre's Chamber. He received the decoration of the Order of Saint-Michel, a distinction all the more exceptional as Montaigne's lineage was from recent nobility. On the title page of the first edition (1580) of the Essays, we read: “Essais de Messire Michel Seigneur de Montaigne, Chevalier de l'ordre du Roy, & Gentilhomme ordinaire de sa chambre.” Initially keen to show off his titles and, thus, his social standing, Montaigne had the honorifics removed in the second edition (1582).

Replicating Petrarca's choice in De vita solitaria, Montaigne chose to dedicate himself to the Muses. In his library, which was quite large for the period, he had wisdom formulas carved on the wooden beams. They were drawn from, amongst others, Ecclesiastes, Sextus Empiricus, Lucretius, and other classical authors, whom he read intensively. To escape fits of melancholy, he began to commit his thoughts to paper. In 1580, he undertook a journey to Italy, whose main goal was to cure the pain of his kidney stones at thermal resorts. The journey is related in part by a secretary, in part by Montaigne himself, in a manuscript that was only discovered during the XVIIIth century, given the title The Journal of the Journey to Italy, and forgotten soon after. While Montaigne was taking the baths near Pisa, he learnt of his election as Mayor of Bordeaux. He was first tempted to refuse out of modesty, but eventually accepted (he even received a letter from the King urging him to take the post) and was later re-elected. In his second term he came under criticism for having abandoned the town during the great plague in an attempt to protect himself and his family. His time in office was dimmed by the wars of religion between Catholics and Protestants. Several members of his family converted to Protestantism, but Montaigne himself remained a Catholic.

2. Work

Montaigne wrote three books of Essays. (‘Essay’ was an original name for this kind of work; it became an appreciated genre soon after.) Three main editions are recognized: 1580 (at this stage, only the first two books were written), 1588, and 1595. The last edition, which could not be supervised by Montaigne himself, was edited from the manuscript by his adoptive daughter Marie de Gournay. Till the end of the XIXth century, the copy text for all new editions was that of 1595; Fortunat Strowski and shortly after him Pierre Villey dismissed it in favor of the “Bordeaux copy”, a text of the 1588 edition supplemented by manuscript additions.[1] Montaigne enriched his text continuously; he preferred to add for the sake of diversity, rather than to correct.[2] The unity of the work and the order of every single chapter remain problematic. We are unable to detect obvious links from one chapter to the next: in the first book, Montaigne jumps from “ Idleness” (I,8) to “Liars” (I,9), then from “Prompt or slow speech” (I,10) to “Prognostications” (I,11). The random aspect of the work, acknowledged by the author himself, has been a challenge for commentators ever since. Part of the brilliance of the Essays lies in this very ability to elicit various forms of explanatory coherence whilst at the same time defying them. The work is so rich and flexible that it accommodates virtually any academic trend. Yet, it is also so resistant to interpretation that it reveals the limits of each interpretation.

Critical studies of the Essays have, until recently, been mainly of a literary nature. However, to consider Montaigne as a writer rather than as a philosopher can be a way of ignoring a disturbing thinker. Indeed, he shook some fundamental aspects of Western thought, such as the superiority we assign to man over animals,[3] to European civilization over ‘Barbarians’,[4] or to reason as an alleged universal standard. A tradition rooted in the 19th century tends to relegate his work to the status of literary impressionism or to the expression of a frivolous subjectivity. To do him justice, one needs to bear in mind the inseparable unity of thought and style in his work. Montaigne's repeated revisions of his text, as modern editions show with the three letters A, B, C, standing for the three main editions, mirror the relationship between the activity of his thought and the Essays as a work in progress. The Essays display both the laboriousness and the delight of thinking.

In Montaigne we have a writer whose work is deeply infused by philosophical thought. One verse out of sixteen in Lucretius' De natura rerum is quoted in the Essays.[5] If it is true, as Edmund Husserl said, that philosophy is a shared endeavor, Montaigne is perhaps the most exemplary of philosophers since his work extensively borrows and quotes from others. Montaigne managed to internalize a huge breadth of reading, so that his erudition does not appear as such. He created a most singular work, yet one that remains deeply rooted in the community of poets, historians, and philosophers. His decision to use only his own judgment in dealing with all sorts of matters, his resolutely distant attitude towards memory and knowledge, his warning that we should not mix God or transcendent principles with the human world, are some of the key elements that characterize Montaigne's position. As a humanist, he considered that one has to assimilate the classics, but above all to display virtue, “according to the opinion of Plato, who says that steadfastness, faith, and sincerity are real philosophy, and the other sciences which aim at other things are only powder and rouge.”[6]

3. A Philosophy of Free Judgment

Montaigne rejects the theoretical or speculative way of philosophizing that prevailed under the Scholastics ever since the Middle Ages. According to him, science does not exist, but only a general belief in science. Petrarch had already criticized the Scholastics for worshiping Aristotle as their God. Siding with the humanists, Montaigne develops a sharp criticism of science “à la mode des Geométriens”,[7] the mos geometricus deemed to be the most rigorous. It is merely ‘a practice and business of science’,[8] he says, which is restricted to the University and essentially carried out between masters and their disciples. The main problem of this kind of science is that it makes us spend our time justifying as rational the beliefs we inherit, instead of calling into question their foundations; it makes us label fashionable opinions as truth, instead of gauging their strength. Whereas science should be a free inquiry, it consists only in gibberish discussions on how we should read Aristotle or Galen.[9] Critical judgment is systematically silenced. Montaigne demands a thought process that would not be tied down by any doctrinaire principle, a thought process that would lead to free enquiry.

If we trace back the birth of modern science, we find that Montaigne as a philosopher was ahead of his time. In 1543, Copernicus put the earth in motion, depriving man of his cosmological centrality. Yet he nevertheless changed little in the medieval conception of the world as a sphere. The Copernican world became an “open” world only with Thomas Digges (1576) although his sky was still situated in space, inhabited by gods and angels.[10] One has to wait for Giordano Bruno to find the first representative of the modern conception of an infinite universe (1584). But whether Bruno is a modern mind remains controversial (the planets are still animals, etc). Montaigne, on the contrary, is entirely free from the medieval conception of the spheres. He owes his cosmological freedom to his deep interest in ancient philosophers, to Lucretius in particular. In the longest chapter of the Essays, the ‘Apologie de Raymond Sebond’, Montaigne conjures up many opinions, regarding the nature of the cosmos, or the nature of the soul. He weighs the Epicureans' opinion that several worlds exist, against that of the unicity of the world put forth by both Aristotle and Aquinas. He comes out in favor of the former, without ranking his own evaluation as a truth.

As a humanist, Montaigne conceived of philosophy as morals. In the chapter “On the education of children”,[11] education is identified with philosophy, this being understood as the formation of judgment and manners in everyday life: “for philosophy, which, as the molder of judgment and conduct, will be his principal lesson, has the privilege of being everywhere at home”.[12] Philosophy, which consists essentially in the use of judgment, is significant to the very ordinary, varied and ‘undulating’[13] process of life. In fact, under the guise of innocuous anecdotes, Montaigne achieved the humanist revolution in philosophy. He moved from a conception of philosophy conceived of as theoretical science, to a philosophy conceived of as the practice of free judgment. Lamenting that ‘philosophy, even with people of understanding, should be an empty and fantastic name, a thing of no use and no value”,[14] he asserted that philosophy should be the most cheerful activity. He practised philosophy by setting his judgment to trial, in order to become aware of its weaknesses, but also to get to know its strength. ‘Every movement reveals us”,[15] but our judgments do so the best. At the beginning of the past century, one of Montaigne's greatest commentators, Pierre Villey, developed the idea that Montaigne truly became himself through writing. This idea remains more or less true, in spite of its obvious link with late romanticist psychology. The Essays remain an exceptional historical testimony of the progress of privacy and individualism, a blossoming of subjectivity, an attainment of personal maturity that will be copied, but maybe never matched since. It seems that Montaigne, who dedicated himself to freedom of the mind and peacefulness of the soul, did not have any other aim through writing than cultivating and educating himself. Since philosophy had failed to determine a secure path towards happiness, he committed each individual to do so in his own way.[16]

Montaigne wants to escape the stifling of thought by knowledge, a wide-spread phenomenon which he called “pedantism’,[17] an idea that he may have gleaned from the tarnishing of professors by the Commedia dell'arte. He praises one of the most famous professors of the day, Adrianus Turnebus, for having combined robust judgment with massive erudition. We have to moderate our thirst for knowledge, just as we do our appetite for pleasure. Siding here with Callicles against Plato, Montaigne asserts that a gentleman should not dedicate himself entirely to philosophy.[18] Practised with restraint, it proves useful, whereas in excess it leads to eccentricity and insociability.[19] Reflecting on the education of the children of the aristocracy (chapter I, 26, is dedicated to the countess Diane de Foix, who was then pregnant), Montaigne departs significantly from a traditional humanist education, the very one he himself received. Instead of focusing on the ways and means of making the teaching of Latin more effective, as pedagogues in the wake of Erasmus usually did, Montaigne stresses the need for action and playful activities. The child will conform early to social and political customs, but without servility. The use of judgment in every circumstance, as a warrant for practical intelligence and personal freedom, has to remain at the core of education. He transfers the major responsibility of education from the school to everyday life: ‘Wonderful brilliance may be gained for human judgment by getting to know men’.[20] The priority given to the formation of judgment and character strongly opposes the craving for a powerful memory during his time. He reserves for himself the freedom to pick up bits of knowledge here and there, displaying the “nonchalance” or unconcern intellectually, much in the same way that Castiglione's courtier would use sprezzatura in social relationships. Although Montaigne presents this nonchalance as essential to his nature, his position is not innocent: it allows him to take on the voice now of a Stoic, and then of a Sceptic, now of an Epicurean and then of a Christian. Although his views are never fully original, they always bear his unmistakable mark. Montaigne's thought, which is often rated as modern in so many aspects, remains deeply rooted in the classical tradition. Montaigne navigates easily through heaps of classical knowledge, proposing remarkable literary and philosophical innovations along the way.

Montaigne begins his project to know man by noticing that the same human behavior can have opposite effects, or that even opposite conducts can have the same effects: ‘by diverse means we arrive at the same end‘.[21] Human life cannot be turned into an object of rational theory. Human conduct does not obey universal rules, but a great diversity of rules, among which the most accurate still fall short of the intended mark. ‘Human reason is a tincture infused in about equal strength in all our opinions and ways, whatever their form: infinite in substance, infinite in diversity’[22] says the chapter on custom. By focusing on anecdotal experience, Montaigne comes thus to write “the masterpiece of modern moral science”, according to the great commentator Hugo Friedrich. He gives up the moral ambition of telling how men should live, in order to arrive at a non-prejudiced mind for knowing man as he is. “Others form man, I tell of him”.[23] Man is ever since “without a definition”, as philosopher Marcel Conche commented.[24] In the chapter ‘Apologie de Raimond Sebond’, Montaigne draws from classical and Renaissance knowledge in order to remind us that, in some parts of the world, we find men that bear little resemblance to us. Our experience of man and things should not be perceived as limited by our present standards of judgment. It is a sort of madness when we settle limits for the possible and the impossible.[25]

Philosophy has failed to secure man a determined idea of his place in the world, or of his nature. Metaphysical or psychological opinions, indeed far too numerous, come as a burden more than as a help. Montaigne pursues his quest for knowledge through experience; the meaning of concepts is not set down by means of a definition, it is related to common language or to historical examples. One of the essential elements of experience is the ability to reflect on one's actions and thoughts. Montaigne is engaging in a case-by-case gnôti seauton, “know thyself”: although truth in general is not truly an appropriate object for human faculties, we can reflect on our experience. What counts is not the fact that we eventually know the truth or not, but rather the way in which we seek it.“The question is not who will hit the ring, but who will make the best runs at it.”[26] The aim is to properly exercise our judgment.

Montaigne's thinking baffles our most common categories. The vision of an ever-changing world that he developed threatens the being of all things. ‘We have no communication with being’.[27] We wrongly take that which appears for that which is, and we indulge in a dogmatic, deceptive language that is cut off from an ever-changing reality. We ought to be more careful with our use of language. Montaigne would prefer that children be taught other ways of speaking, more appropriate to the nature of human inquiry, such as ‘What does that mean ?’, ‘I do not understand it’, ‘This might be’, ‘Is it true?’[28] Montaigne himself is fond of ‘these formulas that soften the boldness of our propositions’: “perhaps”, “to some extent”, “they say”, “I think”,[29] and the like. Criticism on theory and dogmatism permeates for example his reflexion on politics. Because social order is too complicated to be mastered by individual reason, he deems conservatism as the wisest stance.[30] This policy is grounded on the general evaluation that change is usually more damaging than the conservation of social institutions. Nevertheless, there may be certain circumstances that advocate change as a better solution, as history sometimes showed. Reason being then unable to decide a priori, judgment must come into play and alternate its views to find the best option.

4. Montaigne's Scepticism

With Cornelius Agrippa, Henri Estienne or Francisco Sanchez, among others, Montaigne has largely contributed to the rebirth of scepticism during the XVIth century. His literary encounter with Sextus produced a decisive shock: around 1576, when Montaigne had his own personal medal coined, he had it engraved with his age, with “Epecho” , “I abstain” in Greek, and another Sceptic motto in French: ‘Que sais-je?’: what do I know ? At this period in his life, Montaigne is thought to have undergone a “sceptical crisis”, as Pierre Villey famously commented. In fact, this interpretation dates back to Pascal, for whom scepticism could only be a sort of momentary frenzy.[31] The “Apologie de Raimond Sebond”, the longest chapter of the Essays, bears the sign of intellectual despair that Montaigne manages to shake off elsewhere. But another interpretation of scepticism formulates it as a strategy used to comfort “fideism”: because reason is unable to demonstrate religious dogmas, we must rely on spiritual revelation and faith. The paradigm of fideism, a word which Montaigne does not use, has been delivered by Richard Popkin in History of Scepticism[32]. Montaigne appears here as a founding father of the Counter Reformation, being the leader of the “Nouveaux Pyrrhoniens’, for whom scepticism is used as a means to an end, that is, to neutralize the grip that philosophy once had on religion.

Commentators now agree upon the fact that Montaigne largely transformed the type of scepticism he borrowed from Sextus. The two sides of the scale are never perfectly balanced, since reason always tips the scale in favor of the present at hand. This imbalance undermines the key mechanism of isosthenia, the equality of strength of two opposing arguments. Since the suspension of judgment cannot occur “casually”, as Sextus Empiricus would like it to, judgment must abstain from giving its assent. In fact, the sources of Montaigne's scepticism are much wider: his child readings of Ovid's Metamorphosis, which gave him a deep awareness of change, the in utramque partem academic debate which he practised at the Collège de Guyenne (a pro and contra discussion inherited from Aristotle and Cicero), and the humanist philosophy of action, dealing with the uncertainty of human affairs, shaped his mind early on. Through them, he learned repeatedly that rational appearances are deceptive. In most of the chapters of the Essays, Montaigne now and then reverses his judgment: these sudden shifts of perspective are designed to escape adherence, and to tackle the matter from another point of view.[33] The Essays mirror a discreet conduct of judgment, in keeping with the formula iudicio alternante, which we still find engraved today on the beams of the Périgord castle's library. The aim is not to ruin arguments by opposing them, as it is the case in the Pyrrhonian ‘antilogy’, but rather to counterbalance a single opinion by taking into account other opinions. In order to work, each scale of judgment has to be laden. If we take morals, for example, Montaigne refers to varied moral authorities, one of them being custom and the other reason. Against every form of dogmatism, Montaigne returns moral life to its original diversity and inherent uneasiness. Through philosophy, he seeks full accordance with the diversity of life: “As for me, I love life and cultivate it as God has been pleased to grant it to us”.[34]

We find two readings of Montaigne as a Sceptic. The first one concentrates on the polemical, negative arguments drawn from Sextus Empiricus, at the end of the ‘Apology’. This hard-line scepticism draws the picture of man as “humiliated”.[35] Its aim is essentially to fight the pretensions of reason and to annihilate human knowledge. “Truth”, “being” and “justice” are equally dismissed as unattainable. Doubt foreshadows here Descartes' Meditations, on the problem of the reality of the outside world. Dismissing the objective value of one's representations, Montaigne would have created the long-lasting problem of ‘solipsism’. We notice, nevertheless, that he does not question the reality of things — except occasionally at the very end of the 'Apology' — but the value of opinions and men. The second reading of his scepticism puts forth that Cicero's probabilism is of far greater significance in shaping the sceptical content of the Essays. After the 1570's, Montaigne no longer read Sextus; additions show, however, that he took up a more and more extensive reading of Cicero's philosophical writings. We assume that, in his early search for polemical arguments against rationalism during the 1570's, Montaigne borrowed much from Sextus, but as he got tired of the sceptical machinery, and understood scepticism rather as an ethics of judgment, he went back to Cicero.[36] The paramount importance of the Academica for XVIth century thought has been underlined by Charles B. Schmitt[37]. In the free enquiry, which Cicero engaged throughout the varied doctrines, the humanists found an ideal mirror of their own relationship with the Classics. “The Academy, of which I am a follower, gives me the opportunity to hold an opinion as if it were ours, as soon as it shows itself to be highly probable”[38], wrote Cicero in the De Officiis. Reading Seneca, Montaigne will think as if he were a member of the Stoa; then changing for Lucretius, he will think as if he had become an Epicurean, and so on. Doctrines or opinions, beside historical stuff and personal experiences, make up the nourishment of judgment. Montaigne assimilates opinions, according to what appears to him as true, without taking it to be absolutely true. He insists on the dialogical nature of thought, referring to Socrates' way of keeping the discussion going: “The leader of Plato's dialogues, Socrates, is always asking questions and stirring up discussion, never concluding, never satisfying (…).”[39] Judgment has to determine the most convincing position, or at least to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each position. The simple dismissal of truth would be too dogmatic a position; but if absolute truth is lacking, we still have the possibility to balance opinions. We have resources enough, to evaluate the various authorities that we have to deal with in ordinary life.

The original failure of commentators was perhaps in labelling Montaigne's thought as “sceptic” without reflecting on the proper meaning of the essay. Montaigne's exercise of judgment is an exercise of ‘natural judgment’, which means that judgment does not need any principle or any rule as a presupposition. In this way, many aspects of Montaigne's thinking can be considered as sceptical, although they were not used for the sake of scepticism. For example, when Montaigne sets down the exercise of doubt as a good start in education, he understands doubt as part of the process of the formation of judgment. This process should lead to wisdom, characterized as ‘always joyful’.[40] Montaigne's scepticism is not a desperate one. On the contrary, it offers the reader a sort of jubilation which relies on the modest but effective pleasure in dismissing knowledge, thus making room for the exercise of one's natural faculties.

5. Montaigne and Relativism

Renaissance thinkers strongly felt the necessity to revise their discourse on man. But no one accentuated this necessity more than Montaigne: what he was looking for, when reading historians or travellers such as Lopez de Gomara's History of Indies, was the utmost variety of beliefs and customs that would enrich his image of man. Neither the Hellenistic Sage, nor the Christian Saint, nor the Renaissance Scholar, are unquestioned models in the Essays. Instead, Montaigne is considering real men, who are the product of customs. “Here they live on human flesh; there it is an act of piety to kill one's father at a certain age (…).”[41] The importance of custom plays a polemical part: alongside with scepticism, the strength of imagination (chapter I,21) or Fortune (chapters I,1, I,24, etc.), it contributes to the devaluation of reason and will. It is bound to destroy our spontaneous confidence that we do know the truth, and that we live according to justice. During the XVIth century, the jurists of the “French school of law” showed that the law is tied up with historical determinations.[42] In chapter I,23, ‘On custom’, Montaigne seems to extrapolate on this idea : our opinions and conducts being everywhere the product of custom, references to universal “reason”, “truth”, or “justice” are to be dismissed as illusions. Pierre Villey was the first to use the terms ‘relativity’ and “relativism”, which proved to be useful tools when commenting on the fact that Montaigne acknowledges that no universal reason presides over the birth of our beliefs.[43] The notion of absolute truth, applied to human matters, vitiates the understanding and wreaks havoc in society. Upon further reflexion, contingent customs impact everything: ‘in short, to my way of thinking, there is nothing that custom will not or cannot do’.[44] Montaigne calls it “Circe's drink”.[45] Custom is a sort of witch, whose spell, among other effects, casts moral illusion. “The laws of conscience, which we say are born from nature, are born of custom. Each man, holding in inward veneration the opinions and the behavior approved and accepted around him (…)“[46], obeys custom in all his actions and thoughts. The power of custom, indeed, not only guides man in his behavior, but also persuades him of its legitimacy. What is crime for one person will appear normal to another. In the XVIIth century, Blaise Pascal will use this argument when challenging the pretension of philosophers of knowing truth. One century later, David Hume will lay stress on the fact that the power of custom is all the stronger, specifically because we are not aware of it. What are we supposed to do, then, if our reason is so flexible that it “changes with two degrees of elevation towards the pole”, as Pascal puts it ?[47] For the Jansenist thinker, only one alternative exists, faith in Jesus Christ. However, it is more complicated in the case of Montaigne. Getting to know all sorts of customs, through his readings or travels, he makes an exemplary effort to open his mind. “We are all huddled and concentrated in ourselves, and our vision is reduced to the length of our nose”.[48] Custom's grip is so strong that it is dubious as to whether we are in a position to become aware of it and shake off its power.

Montaigne was hailed by Claude Lévi-Strauss as the progenitor of the human sciences, and the pioneer of cultural relativism.[49] However, Montaigne has not been willing to indulge entirely in relativism. Judgment is at first sight unable to stop the relativistic discourse, but it is not left without remedy when facing the power of custom. Exercise of thought is the first counterweight we can make use of, for example when criticizing an existing law. Customs are not almighty, since their authority can be reflected upon, evaluated or challenged by individual judgment. The comparative method can also be applied to the freeing of judgment: although lacking a universal standard, we can nevertheless stand back from particular customs, by the mere fact of comparing them. Montaigne thus compares heating or circulating means between people. In a more tragical way, he denounces the fanaticism and the cruelty displayed by Christians against one another, during the civil wars in France, through a comparison with cannibalism: “I think there is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead, and in tearing by tortures and the rack a body still full of feeling (…).”[50] The meaning of the word ‘barbarity’ is not merely relative to a culture or a point of view, since there are degrees of barbarity. Passing a judgment on cannibals, Montaigne also says: “So we may well call these people barbarians, in respect to the rules of reason, but not in respect to ourselves, who surpass them in every kind of barbarity (…).”[51] Judgment is still endowed with the possibility of postulating universal standards, such as “reason” or “nature”, which help when evaluating actions and behaviors. Although Montaigne maintains in the ‘Apologie’ that true reason and true justice are only known by God, he asserts in other chapters that these standards are somehow accessible to man, since they allow judgment to consider customs as particular and contingent rules.[52] In order to criticize the changeable and the relative, we must suppose that our judgment is still able to “bring things back to truth and reason”.[53] Man is everywhere enslaved by custom, but this does not mean that we should accept the numbing of our mind. Montaigne elaborates a pedagogy, which rests on the practice of judgment itself. The task of the pupil is not to repeat what the master said, but, on a given subject of problem, to confront his judgment with the master's one. Moreover, relativistic readings of the Essays are forced to ignore certain passages that carry a more rationalistic tone. “The violent detriment inflicted by custom” (I,23) is certainly not a praise of custom, but an invitation to escape it. In the same way that Circe's potion has changed men into pigs, custom turns their intelligence into stupidity. In the toughest cases, Montaigne's critical use of judgment aims at giving “a good whiplash to the ordinary stupidity of judgment.”[54] In many other places, Montaigne boasts of himself being able to resist vulgar opinion. Independence of thinking, alongside with clear-mindedness and good faith, are the first virtues a young gentleman should acquire.

6. Montaigne's Legacy on Charron and Descartes

Pierre Charron was Montaigne's friend and official heir. In De la sagesse (1601 and 1604), he re-organized many of his master's ideas, setting aside the most disturbing ones. His work is now usually dismissed as a dogmatic misrepresentation of Montaigne's thought. Nevertheless, his book was given priority over the Essays themselves during the whole XVIIth century, especially after Malebranche's critics conspired to have the Essays included in the Roman Index of 1677. Montaigne's historical influence must be reckoned through the lens of this mediation. Moreover, Charron's reading is not simply faulty. According to him, wisdom relies on the readiness of judgment to revise itself towards a more favorable outcome:[55] this idea is one of the most remarkable readings of the Essays in the early history of their reception.

The influence Montaigne had on Descartes has been commented upon by many critics, at least from the XIXth century on, within the context of the birth of modern science. As a sceptic, calling into question the natural link between mind and things, Montaigne would have won his position in the modern philosophical landscape. The scepticism in the ‘Apologie’ is, no doubt, a main source of “solipsism”, but Descartes cannot be called a disciple of Montaigne in the sense that he would have inherited a doctrine. Above all, he owes the Périgourdin gentleman a way of educating himself. Far from substituting Montaigne for his Jesuit schoolteachers, Descartes decided to teach himself from scratch, following the path indicated by Montaigne to achieve independence and firmness of judgment. The mindset that Descartes inherited from the Essays appears as something particularly obvious, in the two first parts of the Discours de la méthode. As the young Descartes left the Collège de La Flèche, he decided to travel, and to test his own value in action. “I employed the rest of my youth to travel, to see courts and armies, to meet people of varied humors and conditions, to collect varied experiences, to try myself in the meetings that fortune was offering me (…).”[56] Education, taken out of a school context, is presented as an essay of the self through experience. The world, as pedagogue, has been substituted for books and teachers. This new education allows Descartes to get rid of the prejudice of overrating his own customs, a widespread phenomenon that we now call ethnocentrism. Montaigne's legacy becomes particularly conspicuous when Descartes draws the lesson from his travels, "having acknowledged that those who have very contrary feelings to ours are not barbarians or savages, but that many of them make use of reason as much or more so than we do". And also : “It is good to know something of different people, in order to judge our own with more sanity, and not to think that everything that is against our customs and habits is ridiculous and against reason, as usually do those who have never seen anything.”[57] Like Montaigne, Descartes begins by philosophizing on life with no other device than the a discipline of judgment: “I was learning not to believe anything too firmly, of which I had been persuaded through example and custom.”[58] He departs nevertheless from Montaigne when he will equate with error opinions that are grounded on custom.[59] The latter would not have dared to speak of error: varied opinions, having more or less authority, are to be weighed upon the scale of judgment. It is thus not correct to interpret Montaigne's philosophy as a ‘criticism of prejudice’ from a Cartesian stance.

7. Conclusion

Montaigne cultivates his liberty by not adhering exclusively to any one idea, while at the same time exploring them all. In exercising his judgment on various topics, he trains himself to go off on fresh tracks, starting from something he read or experienced. For Montaigne this also means calling into question the convictions of his time, reflecting upon his beliefs and education, and cultivating his own personal thoughts. His language can be said to obey only one rule, that is, to be “an effect of judgment and sincerity,”[60] which is the very one that he demands from the pupil. His language bears an unmistakable tone but contradicts itself sometimes from one place to another, perhaps for the very reason that it follows so closely the movements of thought.

If being a philosopher means being insensitive to human frailties and to the evils or to the pleasures which befall us, then Montaigne is not a philosopher. If it means using a “jargon”, and being able to enter the world of scholars, then Montaigne is not one either. Yet, if being a philosopher is being able to judge properly in any circumstances of life, then the Essays are the exemplary testimony of an author who wanted to be a philosopher for good. Montaigne is putting his judgment to trial on whatever subject, in order not only to get to know its value, but also to form and strengthen it.

He manages thus to offer us a philosophy in accordance with life. As Nietzsche puts it, “that such a man has written, joy on earth has truly increased…If my task were to make this earth a home, I would attach myself to him.” Or, as Stefan Zweig said, in a context which was closer to the historical reality experienced by Montaigne himself : “Montaigne helps us answer this one question: ‘How to stay free? How to preserve our inborn clear-mindedness in front of all the threats and dangers of fanaticism, how to preserve the humanity of our hearts among the upsurge of bestiality?’”



  • Essais, F. Strowski (ed.), Paris: Hachette, 1912, Phototypic reproduction of the ‘Exemplaire de Bordeaux’, showing Montaigne's handwritten additions of 1588–1592.
  • Essais, Pierre Villey (ed.), 3 volumes, Alcan, 1922–1923, revised by V.-L. Saulnier, 1965. Gives the 3 strata indications, probable dates of composition of the chapters, and many sources.
  • Michel de Montaigne. Les Essais, J. Balsamo, C. Magnien-Simonin & M. Magnien (eds.) (with “Notes de lecture” and “Sentences peintes” edited by Alain Legros), Paris, “Pléiade”, Gallimard, 2007. The Essays are based on the 1595 published version.
  • La Théologie naturelle de Raymond Sebond, traduicte nouvellement en François par Messire Michel, Seigneur de Montaigne, Chevalier de l'ordre du Roy et Gentilhomme ordinaire de sa chambre. Ed. by Dr Armaingaud, Paris: Conard, 1935.
  • Le Journal de Voyage en Italie de Michel de Montaigne. Ed. by François Rigolot, Paris: PUF, 1992.
  • Lettres. Ed. by Arthur Armaingaud, Paris, Conard, 1939 (vol. XI, in Œuvres complètes, pp. 159–266).

Translations in English

  • The Essayes, tr. by John Florio. London: V. Sims, 1603.
  • The Essays, tr. by Charles Cotton. 3 vol., London: T. Basset, M. Gilliflower and W. Hensman, 1685–1686.
  • The Essays, tr. by E.J. Trechmann. 2 vol., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1927.
  • Michel de Montaigne. The Complete Works. Essays, Travel Journal, Letters, tr. by Donald M. Frame, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958, renewed 1971 & 1976.
  • The Complete Essays, tr. by M.A. Screech, London/New York: Penguin, 1993.
  • The Journal of Montaigne's Travels, tr. by W.G. Watters, 3 vol., London: John Murray, 1903.
  • The Diary of Montaigne's Journey to Italy in 1580 and 1581, tr. by E.J. Trechmann. London: Hogarth Press, 1929.

Secondary Sources

  • Auerbach, Erich, 1946, “l'humaine condition” (on Montaigne) in Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard Trask. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003 (originally pub. Bern: Francke).
  • Burke, Peter, 1981, Montaigne, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Compayré, Gabriel, 1908, Montaigne and the Education of the Judgment, trans. J. E. Mansion, New York: Burt Franklin, 1971.
  • Conche, Marcel, 1996, Montaigne et la philosophie, Paris: PUF.
  • Desan, Philippe (dir.), 2007, Dictionnaire de Montaigne, Paris: Champion.
  • Frame, Donald M., 1984, Montaigne: A Biography, New York: Harcourt/ London: Hamish Hamilton, 1965/ San Francisco: North Point Press.
  • Friedrich, Hugo, 1991, Montaigne, Bern: Francke, 1949; Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Fontana, Biancamaria, 2008, Montaigne’s Politics: Authority and Governance in the Essays, Geneva: Princeton University Press.
  • Hoffmann, Georges, 1998, Montaigne's Career, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Horkheimer, Max, 1938, Montaigne und die Funktion der Skepsis, Frankfurt: Fischer, reprinted 1971.
  • Imbach, Ruedi, 1983, “‘Et toutefois nostre outrecuidance veut faire passer la divinité par nostre estamine’, l'essai II,12 et la genèse de la pensée moderne. Construction d'une thèse explicative” in Paradigmes de théologie philosophique, O. Höffe et R. Imbach (eds.), Fribourg.
  • Ulrich Langer, 2005, The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Leake, R.E., 1981, Concordance des Essais de Montaigne, 2 vol., Genève: Droz.
  • Popkin, Richard, 1960, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes, Assen: Van Gorcum.
  • Popkin, Richard, 1979, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Popkin, Richard, 2003, The History of Scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Schmitt, Charles B., 1972, Cicero scepticus: A Study of the Influence of the Academica in the Renaissance, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Screech, Michael, 1983, Montaigne & Melancholy — The Wisdom of the Essays, London: Duckworth.
  • Screech, Michael, 1998, Montaigne's Annotated Copy of Lucretius, A transcription and study of the manuscript, notes and pen-marks, Geneva: Droz.
  • Starobinski, Jean, 2009, Montaigne in Motion, University of Chicago Press.
  • Supple, James, 1984, Arms versus Letters, The Military and Literary Ideals in the Essays, Cambridge: Clarendon Press.
  • Tournon, André, 1983, La glose et l'essai, Paris: H. Champion, reprinted 2001.
  • Zweig, Stefan, 1960, Montaigne [written 1935–1941] Frankfurt: Fischer.

Other Internet Resources



  • Montaigne's Essays John Florio's translation (first published 1603, Ben R. Schneider (ed.), Lawrence University, Wisconsin, from The World's Classics, 1904, 1910, 1924), published at Renascence Editions, U. Oregon


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