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Montaigne : selected essays by Michel de…

Montaigne : selected essays (original 1580; edition 1949)

by Michel de Montaigne

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974713,821 (3.93)13
A survey of one of the giants of Renaissance thought, TheEssays- A Selection collects some of Michel de Montaigne's most startling and original works, translated from the French and edited with an introduction and notes by M.A. Screech in Penguin Classics.To overcome a crisis of melancholy after the death of his father, Montaigne withdrew to his country estates and began to write, and in the highly original essays that resulted he discussed themes such as fathers and children, conscience and cowardice, coaches and cannibals, and, above all, himself. On Some Lines of Virgilopens out into a frank discussion of sexuality and makes a revolutionary case for the equality of the sexes. In On Experiencehe superbly propounds his thoughts on the right way to live, while other essays touch on issues of an age struggling with religious and intellectual strife, with France torn apart by civil war. These diverse subjects are united by Montaigne's distinctive voice - that of a tolerant man, sceptical, humane, often humorous and utterly honest in his pursuit of the truth.M.A. Screech's distinguished translation fully retains the light-hearted and inquiring nature of the essays. In his introduction, he examines Montaigne's life and times, and the remarkable self-portrait that emerges from his works.Michel de Montaigne (1533-1586) studied law and spent a number of years working as a counsellor before devoting his life to reading, writing and reflection. If you enjoyed TheEssays- A Selection, you might like Francis Bacon's The Essays,also available in Penguin Classics.… (more)
Title:Montaigne : selected essays
Authors:Michel de Montaigne
Info:New York: The Modern Library, c1949. xxxiii, 602 p. ; 19 cm.
Collections:Your library

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The Essays: A Selection by Michel de Montaigne (1580)



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In this collection of essays, Montaigne established the essay form in the modern way that we still recognize today. From this collection I would like to focus on one of the most famous essays; namely, "To philosophize is to learn how to die". Montaigne begins by referencing Cicero (who himself was paraphrasing Socrates as he was presented by Plato in his dialogue, Phaedo). He quickly concludes that the purpose of philosophy "is to teach not to be afraid of dying." (p 17) This, however, he immediately modifies this to say that "the labor of reason must be to make us live well, and at our ease," with a target of happiness (quoting scripture rather than Aristotle).

The essay could have ended here, but Montaigne goes on at length about the nature of virtue and how it abhors death. He also references common opinions about death but comes around to his own recommendations that death is part of the human condition. The answer, it seems, is to always have our death in mind so that we become used to it, and as such prepared for it. He provides quotes from his predecessors including the following, from Plutarch, that sounds just a bit fatalistic:
"Believe that each day is the last to shine on you. If it comes, time not hoped for will be welcome indeed."(p 24)
He even invokes religion and its contempt for life: "why should we fear to lose something which, once lost, cannot be regretted? Death is inevitable, does it matter when it comes?" (p 30) This would seem to be an end to the discussion.

However, he turns to the works of Lucretius in the closing pages of the essay and lets Nature speak about how one should view death: "Leave this world,' she says, 'just as you entered it. The same journey from death to life, which you once mad without suffering or fear, make it again from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe; it is a part of the life of the world'"(p 31)
Thus he suggests living is like a project and one should not regret the unfinished project in anticipation of death. This view is not dissimilar from that later thinker and essayist, David Hume, that puts forth a sense of benevolence for life and death as a natural part of human existence.

Montaigne concludes his essay with an exhortation to seek happiness in the most natural way possible. This will dispel any interest in immortality; even as Nature claims that a life that lasted forever would be unbearable. We should be aware rather of the advantages of death and recognize that what bits of anguish this life may contain only serve to make death more palatable and our acceptance of it more reasonable. Lucretius painted a poetic vision of how natural death is for humans in his great poem, On the Nature of Things. In this essay Montaigne reasons with himself and with us as fellow humans toward that same end in his own philosophical way as an essayist. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jul 11, 2016 |
This review refers to Montaigne: Selected essay edited by Tilley and Boase, 3rd ed. 1954, Manchester University Press

This edition brings the original text in old French of a selection of 15 essays (7 of book I, 4 of book II, 4 of book III). The text is augmented by footnotes, Notes, Select Bibliography, a Glossary as well as a Preface and Introduction. Short historical introductions supplement each essay. The editions of 1580, 1588 and the Bordeaux copy are distinguished by marginal signs (as has been done in my German edition of selected essays).In short: editing has been exemplary!

It is perhaps surprising that the 16th century French does not present an insurmountable obstacle - given the help by footnotes with translations of more unusual words and those that have changed their meaning since then - for me whose knowledge of French is far from fluent.
(II-12) 5* for this edition because of the excellent editing. ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Feb 20, 2012 |
What a wonderful book to have on the bookshelf. It took me about a year and half to read it, as I would leisurely consume an essay or two while between books, or if I was just looking for a pleasant respite from my other reading. Montaigne is every bit as readable, fascinating and wise as the judgment of history has deemed him. ( )
  Narboink | Aug 11, 2011 |
If I had only one book, this would be it. ( )
  jamescostello | Apr 4, 2011 |
Book Description: Roslyn, NY, USA: Walter J. Black, 1951. Very Good. First Edition. 12mo - over 6" - 7¾" tall. Classics Club Series. Frontispiece map of ancient Greece and illustration of Alexander's Empire. Clean copy, near fine condition in cloth. Two volumes in one book.
  Czrbr | Jun 7, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Montaigne, Michel deprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bates, Blanchard W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cotton, CharlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Crocker, Lester G.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Florio, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hazlitt, William CarewTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Reader, thou hast here an honest book;  it doth at the outset forewarn thee that, in contriving the same I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end:  I have had no consideration at all either to thy service or to my glory.
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