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Project Gutenberg’s The Essays of Montaigne, Complete, by Michel de Montaigne

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Title: The Essays of Montaigne, Complete
Author: Michel de Montaigne
Release Date: October 26, 2004 [EBook #3600]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by David Widger

Translated by Charles Cotton

Edited by William Carew Hazilitt




The Life of Montaigne

The Letters of Montaigne


The present publication is intended to supply a recognised deficiency in

our literature--a library edition of the Essays of Montaigne. 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

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


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.

The text of these volumes is taken from the first edition of Cotton’s

version, printed in 3 vols. 8vo, 1685-6, and republished in 1693, 1700,

1711, 1738, and 1743, in the same number of volumes and the same size.

In the earliest impression the errors of the press are corrected merely

as far as page 240 of the first volume, and all the editions follow one

another. That of 1685-6 was the only one which the translator lived to

see. He died in 1687, leaving behind him an interesting and little-known

collection of poems, which appeared posthumously, 8vo, 1689.

It was considered imperative to correct Cotton’s translation by a careful

collation with the ’variorum’ edition of the original, Paris, 1854,

4 vols. 8vo or 12mo, and parallel passages from Florin’s earlier

undertaking have occasionally been inserted at the foot of the page. A

Life of the Author and all his recovered Letters, sixteen in number, have

also been given; but, as regards the correspondence, it can scarcely be

doubted that it is in a purely fragmentary state. To do more than

furnish a sketch of the leading incidents in Montaigne’s life seemed, in

the presence of Bayle St. John’s charming and able biography, an attempt

as difficult as it was useless.

The besetting sin of both Montaigne’s translators seems to have been a

propensity for reducing his language and phraseology to the language and

phraseology of the age and country to which they belonged, and, moreover,

inserting paragraphs and words, not here and there only, but constantly

and habitually, from an evident desire and view to elucidate or

strengthen their author’s meaning. The result has generally been

unfortunate; and I have, in the case of all these interpolations on

Cotton’s part, felt bound, where I did not cancel them, to throw them

down into the notes, not thinking it right that Montaigne should be

allowed any longer to stand sponsor for what he never wrote; and

reluctant, on the other hand, to suppress the intruding matter entirely,

where it appeared to possess a value of its own.

Nor is redundancy or paraphrase the only form of transgression in Cotton,

for there are places in his author which he thought proper to omit, and

it is hardly necessary to say that the restoration of all such matter to

the text was considered essential to its integrity and completeness.

My warmest thanks are due to my father, Mr Registrar Hazlitt, the author

of the well-known and excellent edition of Montaigne published in 1842,

for the important assistance which he has rendered to me in verifying and

retranslating the quotations, which were in a most corrupt state, and of

which Cotton’s English versions were singularly loose and inexact, and

for the zeal with which he has co-operated with me in collating the

English text, line for line and word for word, with the best French

By the favour of Mr F. W. Cosens, I have had by me, while at work on this

subject, the copy of Cotgrave’s Dictionary, folio, 1650, which belonged

to Cotton. It has his autograph and copious MSS. notes, nor is it too

much to presume that it is the very book employed by him in his


W. C. H.

KENSINGTON, November 1877.

I. That men by various ways arrive at the same end.
II. Of Sorrow.
III. That our affections carry themselves beyond us.
IV. That the soul discharges her passions upon false objects, where

the true are wanting.

V. Whether the governor of a place besieged ought himself to go out

to parley.

VI. That the hour of parley is dangerous.
VII. That the intention is judge of our actions
VIII. Of idleness.
IX. Of liars.
X. Of quick or slow speech.
XI. Of prognostications.
XII. Of constancy.
XIII. The ceremony of the interview of princes.
XIV. That men are justly punished for being obstinate in the defence

of a fort that is not in reason to be defended.

XV. Of the punishment of cowardice.
XVI. A proceeding of some ambassadors.
XVII. Of fear.

XVIII. That men are not to judge of our happiness till after death.

XIX. That to study philosophy is to learn to die.
XX. Of the force of imagination.

XXI. That the profit of one man is the damage of another.

XXII. Of custom, and that we should not easily change a law received.
XXIII. Various events from the same counsel.
XXIV. Of pedantry.
XXV. Of the education of children.
XXVI. That it is folly to measure truth and error by our own capacity.
XXVII. Of friendship.
XXVIII. Nine-and-twenty sonnets of Estienne de la Boetie.
XXIX. Of moderation.
XXX. Of cannibals.
XXXI. That a man is soberly to judge of the divine ordinances.
XXXII. That we are to avoid pleasures, even at the expense of

XXXIII. That fortune is oftentimes observed to act by the rule of reason.

XXXIV. Of one defect in our government.
XXXV. Of the custom of wearing clothes.
XXXVI. Of Cato the Younger.
XXXVII. That we laugh and cry for the same thing.

XXXVIII. Of solitude.

XXXIX. A consideration upon Cicero.
XL. That the relish of good and evil depends in a great measure upon

the opinion we have of them.

XLI. Not to communicate a man’s honour.
XLII. Of the inequality amongst us.
XLIII. Of sumptuary laws.
XLIV. Of sleep.
XLV. Of the battle of Dreux.
XLVI. Of names.
XLVII. Of the uncertainty of our judgment.
XLVIII. Of war-horses, or destriers.
XLIX. Of ancient customs.
L. Of Democritus and Heraclitus.
LI. Of the vanity of words.
LII. Of the parsimony of the Ancients.
LIII. Of a saying of Caesar.
LIV. Of vain subtleties.

LV. Of smells.

LVI. Of prayers.
LVII. Of age.


[This is translated freely from that prefixed to the ’variorum’ Paris

edition, 1854, 4 vols. 8vo. This biography is the more desirable that

it contains all really interesting and important matter in the journal of

the Tour in Germany and Italy, which, as it was merely written under

Montaigne’s dictation, is in the third person, is scarcely worth

publication, as a whole, in an English dress.]

The author of the Essays was born, as he informs us himself, between

eleven and twelve o’clock in the day, the last of February 1533, at the

chateau of St. Michel de Montaigne. His father, Pierre Eyquem, esquire,

was successively first Jurat of the town of Bordeaux (1530), Under-Mayor

1536, Jurat for the second time in 1540, Procureur in 1546, and at

length Mayor from 1553 to 1556. He was a man of austere probity, who had

”a particular regard for honour and for propriety in his person and

attire . . . a mighty good faith in his speech, and a conscience and

a religious feeling inclining to superstition, rather than to the other

extreme.”[Essays, ii. 2.] Pierre Eyquem bestowed great care on the

education of his children, especially on the practical side of it. To

associate closely his son Michel with the people, and attach him to those

who stand in need of assistance, he caused him to be held at the font by

persons of meanest position; subsequently he put him out to nurse with a

poor villager, and then, at a later period, made him accustom himself to

the most common sort of living, taking care, nevertheless, to cultivate

his mind, and superintend its development without the exercise of undue

rigour or constraint. Michel, who gives us the minutest account of his

earliest years, charmingly narrates how they used to awake him by the

sound of some agreeable music, and how he learned Latin, without

suffering the rod or shedding a tear, before beginning French, thanks to

the German teacher whom his father had placed near him, and who never

addressed him except in the language of Virgil and Cicero. The study of

Greek took precedence. At six years of age young Montaigne went to the

College of Guienne at Bordeaux, where he had as preceptors the most

eminent scholars of the sixteenth century, Nicolas Grouchy, Guerente,

Muret, and Buchanan. At thirteen he had passed through all the classes,

and as he was destined for the law he left school to study that science.

He was then about fourteen, but these early years of his life are

involved in obscurity. The next information that we have is that in 1554

he received the appointment of councillor in the Parliament of Bordeaux;

in 1559 he was at Bar-le-Duc with the court of Francis II, and in the

year following he was present at Rouen to witness the declaration of the

majority of Charles IX. We do not know in what manner he was engaged on

these occasions.

Between 1556 and 1563 an important incident occurred in the life of

Montaigne, in the commencement of his romantic friendship with Etienne de

la Boetie, whom he had met, as he tells us, by pure chance at some

festive celebration in the town. From their very first interview the two

found themselves drawn irresistibly close to one another, and during six

years this alliance was foremost in the heart of Montaigne, as it was

afterwards in his memory, when death had severed it.

Although he blames severely in his own book [Essays, i. 27.] those who,

contrary to the opinion of Aristotle, marry before five-and-thirty,

Montaigne did not wait for the period fixed by the philosopher of

Stagyra, but in 1566, in his thirty-third year, he espoused Francoise de

Chassaigne, daughter of a councillor in the Parliament of Bordeaux. The
history of his early married life vies in obscurity with that of his

youth. His biographers are not agreed among themselves; and in the

same degree that he lays open to our view all that concerns his secret

thoughts, the innermost mechanism of his mind, he observes too much

reticence in respect to his public functions and conduct, and his social

relations. The title of Gentleman in Ordinary to the King, which he

assumes, in a preface, and which Henry II. gives him in a letter, which

we print a little farther on; what he says as to the commotions of

courts, where he passed a portion of his life; the Instructions which he

wrote under the dictation of Catherine de Medici for King Charles IX.,

and his noble correspondence with Henry IV., leave no doubt, however, as

to the part which he played in the transactions of those times, and we

find an unanswerable proof of the esteem in which he was held by the most

exalted personages, in a letter which was addressed to him by Charles at

the time he was admitted to the Order of St. Michael, which was, as he

informs us himself, the highest honour of the French noblesse.

According to Lacroix du Maine, Montaigne, upon the death of his eldest

brother, resigned his post of Councillor, in order to adopt the military

profession, while, if we might credit the President Bouhier, he never

discharged any functions connected with arms. However, several passages

in the Essays seem to indicate that he not only took service, but that he

was actually in numerous campaigns with the Catholic armies. Let us add,

that on his monument he is represented in a coat of mail, with his casque

and gauntlets on his right side, and a lion at his feet, all which

signifies, in the language of funeral emblems, that the departed has been

engaged in some important military transactions.

However it may be as to these conjectures, our author, having arrived at

his thirty-eighth year, resolved to dedicate to study and contemplation

the remaining term of his life; and on his birthday, the last of February

1571, he caused a philosophical inscription, in Latin, to be placed upon

one of the walls of his chateau, where it is still to be seen, and of

which the translation is to this effect:--”In the year of Christ . . .

in his thirty-eighth year, on the eve of the Calends of March, his
birthday, Michel Montaigne, already weary of court employments and public

honours, withdrew himself entirely into the converse of the learned

virgins where he intends to spend the remaining moiety of the to allotted

to him in tranquil seclusion.”

At the time to which we have come, Montaigne was unknown to the world of

letters, except as a translator and editor. In 1569 he had published a

translation of the ”Natural Theology” of Raymond de Sebonde, which he had

solely undertaken to please his father. In 1571 he had caused to be

printed at Paris certain ’opuscucla’ of Etienne de la Boetie; and these

two efforts, inspired in one case by filial duty, and in the other by

friendship, prove that affectionate motives overruled with him mere

personal ambition as a literary man. We may suppose that he began to

compose the Essays at the very outset of his retirement from public

engagements; for as, according to his own account, observes the President

Bouhier, he cared neither for the chase, nor building, nor gardening, nor

agricultural pursuits, and was exclusively occupied with reading and

reflection, he devoted himself with satisfaction to the task of setting

down his thoughts just as they occurred to him. Those thoughts became a

book, and the first part of that book, which was to confer immortality on

the writer, appeared at Bordeaux in 1580. Montaigne was then

fifty-seven; he had suffered for some years past from renal colic and

gravel; and it was with the necessity of distraction from his pain, and

the hope of deriving relief from the waters, that he undertook at this

time a great journey. As the account which he has left of his travels in

Germany and Italy comprises some highly interesting particulars of his

life and personal history, it seems worth while to furnish a sketch or

analysis of it.

”The Journey, of which we proceed to describe the course simply,” says

the editor of the Itinerary, ”had, from Beaumont-sur-Oise to Plombieres,

in Lorraine, nothing sufficiently interesting to detain us . . . we

must go as far, as Basle, of which we have a description, acquainting us

with its physical and political condition at that period, as well as with

the character of its baths. The passage of Montaigne through Switzerland

is not without interest, as we see there how our philosophical traveller

accommodated himself everywhere to the ways of the country. The hotels,

the provisions, the Swiss cookery, everything, was agreeable to him; it

appears, indeed, as if he preferred to the French manners and tastes

those of the places he was visiting, and of which the simplicity and

freedom (or frankness) accorded more with his own mode of life and

thinking. In the towns where he stayed, Montaigne took care to see the

Protestant divines, to make himself conversant with all their dogmas. He

even had disputations with them occasionally.
”Having left Switzerland he went to Isne, an imperial then on to Augsburg

and Munich. He afterwards proceeded to the Tyrol, where he was agreeably

surprised, after the warnings which he had received, at the very slight

inconveniences which he suffered, which gave him occasion to remark that

he had all his life distrusted the statements of others respecting

foreign countries, each person’s tastes being according to the notions of

his native place; and that he had consequently set very little on what he

was told beforehand.

”Upon his arrival at Botzen, Montaigne wrote to Francois Hottmann, to say

that he had been so pleased with his visit to Germany that he quitted it

with great regret, although it was to go into Italy. He then passed

through Brunsol, Trent, where he put up at the Rose; thence going to

Rovera; and here he first lamented the scarcity of crawfish, but made up

for the loss by partaking of truffles cooked in oil and vinegar; oranges,

citrons, and olives, in all of which he delighted.”

After passing a restless night, when he bethought himself in the morning

that there was some new town or district to be seen, he rose, we are

told, with alacrity and pleasure.
His secretary, to whom he dictated his Journal, assures us that he never

saw him take so much interest in surrounding scenes and persons, and

believes that the complete change helped to mitigate his sufferings in

concentrating his attention on other points. When there was a complaint

made that he had led his party out of the beaten route, and then returned

very near the spot from which they started, his answer was that he had no

settled course, and that he merely proposed to himself to pay visits to

places which he had not seen, and so long as they could not convict him

of traversing the same path twice, or revisiting a point already seen, he

could perceive no harm in his plan. As to Rome, he cared less to go

there, inasmuch as everybody went there; and he said that he never had a

lacquey who could not tell him all about Florence or Ferrara. He also

would say that he seemed to himself like those who are reading some

pleasant story or some fine book, of which they fear to come to the end:

he felt so much pleasure in travelling that he dreaded the moment of

arrival at the place where they were to stop for the night.

We see that Montaigne travelled, just as he wrote, completely at his

ease, and without the least constraint, turning, just as he fancied, from

the common or ordinary roads taken by tourists. The good inns, the soft

beds, the fine views, attracted his notice at every point, and in his

observations on men and things he confines himself chiefly to the

practical side. The consideration of his health was constantly before

him, and it was in consequence of this that, while at Venice, which

disappointed him, he took occasion to note, for the benefit of readers,

that he had an attack of colic, and that he evacuated two large stones

after supper. On quitting Venice, he went in succession to Ferrara,

Rovigo, Padua, Bologna (where he had a stomach-ache), Florence, &c.; and

everywhere, before alighting, he made it a rule to send some of his

servants to ascertain where the best accommodation was to be had. He

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