Humanist, skeptic, acute observer of himself and others, Michel de Montaigne (1533—92) was the first to use the term “essay” to refer to the form he pioneered, and he has remained one of its most famous practitioners. He reflected on the great themes of existence in his wise and engaging writings, his subjects ranging from proper conversation and good reading, to the raising of children and the endurance of pain, from solitude, destiny, time, and custom, to truth, consciousness, and death. Having stood the test of time, his essays continue to influence writers nearly five hundred years later.
Also included in this complete edition of his works are Montaigne’s letters and his travel journal, fascinating records of the experiences and contemplations that would shape and infuse his essays. Montaigne speaks to us always in a personal voice in which his virtues of tolerance, moderation, and understanding are dazzlingly manifest.
Donald M. Frame’s masterful translation is widely acknowledged to be the classic English version.
Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne, was born in 1533, the son and heir of Pierre, Seigneur de Montaigne (two previous children dying soon after birth). He was brought up to speak Latin as his mother tongue and always retained a Latin turn of mind; though he knew Greek, he preferred to use translations. After studying law he eventually became counselor to the Parlement of Bordeaux. He married in 1565. In 1569 he published his French version of the Natural Theology of Raymond Sebond; his Apology is only partly a defense of Sebond and sets skeptical limits to human reasoning about God, man and nature. He retired in 1571 to his lands at Montaigne, devoting himself to reading and reflection and to composing his Essays (first version, 1580). He loathed the fanaticism and cruelties of the religious wars of the period, but sided with Catholic orthodoxy and legitimate monarchy. He was twice elected Mayor of Bordeaux (1581 and 1583), a post he held for four years. He died at Montaigne (1592) while preparing the final, and richest, edition of his Essays.
“A faithful translation is rare; a translation which preserves intact the original text is very rare; a perfect translation of Montaigne appears impossible. Yet Donald Frame has realized this feat. One does not seem to be reading a translation, so smooth and easy is the style; at each moment, one seems to be listening to Montaigne himself–the freshness of his ideas, the unexpected choice of words. Frame has kept everything.” –New York Times Book Review