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Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne Michel de Montaigne[2†]

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533–1592) was a French Renaissance writer and philosopher. Renowned for popularizing the essay genre through his work "Essais", Montaigne merged casual anecdotes and autobiography with profound insights. His essays offer a captivating self-portrait akin to Augustine's and Rousseau's. Montaigne critically observed societal decline, exploring human truths amidst ideological strife. His influential essays shaped Western literature, though initially recognized more as a statesman than an author. Over time, Montaigne became celebrated for embodying the spirit of doubt prevalent in his era, offering enduring contributions to philosophical thought[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born on February 28, 1533, in the family domain of Château de Montaigne, near Bordeaux, France[1†][2†]. The family was very wealthy, with the family fortune having been founded in commerce by Montaigne’s great-grandfather, who acquired the estate and the title of nobility[1†]. His father, Pierre Eyquem, Seigneur of Montaigne, was a French Catholic soldier in Italy for a time and had also been the mayor of Bordeaux[1†][2†].

Montaigne received his early education at the College de Guyenne in Bordeaux[1†][3†][4†]. In 1539, he was sent to study Latin at a boarding school in Bordeaux[1†][5†]. Afterward, in 1546, he studied law at the University of Toulouse[1†][5†]. After completing his studies, he began a career in the legal profession, becoming a counselor of the Court des Aides of Perigueaux, the Bordeaux Parliament, and, in 1561, at the court of Charles IX[1†][3†].

His education was rooted in the classics, and he was educated in Latin from infancy[1†][4†]. His teens were spent receiving a classical education at the Humanist Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux[1†][4†]. This early immersion in the classics would later influence his work and his contribution to literature.

Career Development and Achievements

After completing his studies, Montaigne began his career in the local legal system[6†]. He served as a counselor of the Court des Aides of Périgueux, and in 1557, he obtained the position of a counselor in the Bordeaux Parlement[6†][7†]. His career in the legal system was marked by his dedication to justice and his ability to navigate the complex legal landscape of the time[6†][7†].

However, Montaigne’s most significant contributions came not from his legal career, but from his work as a writer and philosopher[6†][1†][2†]. His work, “Essais” (Essays), established a new literary form[6†][1†][2†]. In his Essays, he wrote one of the most captivating and intimate self-portraits ever given, on a par with Augustine’s and Rousseau’s[6†][1†][2†]. His essays were noted for their merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight[6†][2†].

Montaigne’s work had a direct influence on numerous Western writers[6†][2†]. His massive volume “Essais” contains some of the most influential essays ever written[6†][2†]. During his lifetime, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author[6†][2†]. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation[6†][2†]. However, in time, Montaigne came to be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt that began to emerge at that time[6†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Michel de Montaigne’s most significant work is his “Essais” (Essays), which established a new literary form[1†][2†]. In his Essays, he wrote one of the most captivating and intimate self-portraits ever given[1†][2†]. His work is noted for its merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight[1†][2†]. His massive volume Essais contains some of the most influential essays ever written[1†][2†].

Here are some of the main works included in his “Essais”:

Each of these essays provides a unique insight into Montaigne’s thought process and philosophy. They cover a wide range of topics, reflecting Montaigne’s broad interests and his deep curiosity about the world and human nature[1†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Michel de Montaigne’s “Essais” is a groundbreaking work that has had a profound influence on literature and thought. The essays are a series of short works that examine Montaigne’s innermost thoughts and feelings, attitudes and beliefs, preferences and daily habits[9†]. His charm, wit, and wisdom shine through, making the mundane seem fascinating[9†]. His attitude is tolerant and open-minded for his era, and his ideas and insights remain relevant today[9†].

Montaigne’s essays are not only significant for their content but also for their style. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation by his contemporaries[9†][10†]. However, in time, Montaigne came to be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt that began to emerge at that time[9†][10†].

Montaigne’s essays have been analyzed and studied extensively. They are seen as a detailed and wide-ranging work of self-examination, documenting the author’s thought processes as he searches for truth and wisdom about himself and the human condition as a whole[9†][11†]. His essays have entertained and enlightened readers worldwide for over 400 years[9†].

Montaigne’s work has also been compared to that of other contemporary essayists. For example, Francis Bacon, a contemporary of Montaigne, is also famous for writing essays. However, Bacon’s essays differ significantly from those of Montaigne[9†][10†].

Personal Life

Michel de Montaigne led a relatively unremarkable life in terms of events, but it was full of deep contemplation and introspection[12†]. He was born into a wealthy family and spent most of his life at his family estate, Château de Montaigne, and in the city of Bordeaux[12†][1†][2†].

In his personal life, Montaigne married Françoise de la Chassaigne[12†][13†]. Together, they had six children, but tragically, only one of their children survived infancy[12†][13†]. Despite the personal losses he experienced, Montaigne was known to have a deep love for his family and often wrote about them in his essays.

Montaigne’s life was also marked by his service to the public. He was appointed as Gentleman of the King’s Ordinary Chamber in 1571[12†][13†]. For 13 years, he served as a magistrate in the city of Bordeaux[12†].

Despite his public service and literary accomplishments, Montaigne’s life was not without hardship. He suffered from health problems and died of kidney-stone complications in 1592[12†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Michel de Montaigne’s legacy is vast and enduring. His innovative work, the Essais, established a new literary form, the essay, which remains popular to this day[1†]. His writings, characterized by their personal and ruminative nature, continue to inspire readers and provoke contemplation[1†][14†].

Montaigne’s influence extends beyond literature. His skepticism is often seen as a precursor to René Descartes’ experiments in hyperbolic doubt, contributing to the emergence of rationalism in seventeenth-century France[1†][15†]. His observations led him to conclude that “civilized” people may be no better or worse than “savages,” arguing that civilization had smothered the natural instincts of human beings[1†][16†].

In the realm of education, Montaigne’s emphasis on free thinking and self-study, and his method of ‘essaying,’ which focuses on reflective practice and learning from experience, have been recognized for their educative importance[1†][17†]. His writings continue to be studied and admired for their insights into the human condition and the nature of knowledge and understanding[1†][17†].

In conclusion, Michel de Montaigne’s legacy lives on through his writings, which continue to inspire and provoke contemplation[1†][14†]. His work has influenced countless writers and thinkers who followed in his footsteps[1†][14†], and his ideas continue to resonate in contemporary philosophical and educational thought[1†][17†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Michel de Montaigne: French writer and philosopher [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Michel de Montaigne [website] - link
  3. Google Books - The Education of Children - Michel de Montaigne [website] - link
  4. Columbia University - The Core Curriculum - Michel de Montaigne [website] [archive] - link
  5. History Crunch - Michel de Montaigne [website] - link
  6. Michel de Montaigne by Aidan Giordano - Biography – Michel de Montaigne [website] - link
  7. Prabook - Michel de Montaigne (February 28, 1533 — September 13, 1592), France philosopher, author [website] [archive] - link
  8. Wikipedia (English) - Essays (Montaigne) [website] - link
  9. SuperSummary - Montaigne: Essays Summary and Study Guide [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Michel de Montaigne Analysis [website] - link
  11. Google Books - Essays by Michel de Montaigne (Book Analysis): Detailed Summary, Analysis ... - Bright Summaries [website] - link
  12. The Guardian - Montaigne, philosopher of life, part 1: How to live [website] - link
  13. SunSigns - Michel de Montaigne Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  14. Facts.net - Turn Your Curiosity Into Discovery [website] - link
  15. Knowledge@UChicago - Michel de Montaigne, Skeptical Empiricism, and Seventeenth-Century Anti-Cartesian Literature [website] - link
  16. Encyclopedia.com - Michel de Montaigne [website] - link
  17. Oxford Academic - Journal of Philosophy of Education - Essaying and Reflective Practice in Education: The Legacy of Michel de Montaigne [website] - link
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