Montaigne Essays Summary

Michel de Montaigne

Montaigne Essays

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Montaigne Essays Summary

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The Montaigne Essays are a selection of essays by French philosopher Michel de Montaigne. The essays provide a general assessment of Montaigne’s opinions and assessment of the world around him. Montaigne wrote and revised them between 1570 to 1592, and they were first published as a collection in 1580. Containing a stream-of-consciousness approach designed to engage the reader, and backed up with quotations from the scholars of Greek, Latin, and Italian literature, The Montaigne Essays discuss many contemporary events, with a focus on the nature of man, European colonialism, and the social conventions of the time. They were first translated into English in 1603 and have been reissued several times since. Considered a classic work of French philosophy, the essays are still widely read and studied in philosophy classes today.

The Montaigne Essays are comprised of one hundred and seven individual essays, organises into three volumes, and open with a series of personal letters to important figures of the time. The first volume is the longest, featuring the following topics in order: The ways men arrive at the same end in different ways; sorrow; the way our affections carry themselves beyond us; the way the human soul wastes its passions on false objects and distractions; whether political leaders ought to sue for parlay or peace personally, or send envoys; the dangers of parlay meetings; whether intention is the judge of our actions; idleness; liars; the difference between quick and slow speech; prognostications, constancy; the ceremony of the interview of princes; the obstinacy of humans and the punishments they face for their stubbornness; the punishments people face for cowardice; the proper proceeding of ambassadors; fear; the way happiness cannot truly be judged until after death; the relationship between studying philosophy and preparing for death; the force and power of imagination; the way the profit of one person is often the damage of another; of custom, and the importance of respecting established law; viewing various events from the same counsel; pedantry; the proper education of children; the folly of measuring truth and error solely by our own capacity; friendship; a focus on the twenty-nine sonnets of Estienne de la Boitie (a woman Montaigne had frequent correspondence with, and which bear little relevance to the rest of the essays); the importance of moderation; cannibals; the importance of soberly judging the divine ordinances; and the avoidance of pleasure. Further topics in the first volume include the way fortune is often observed to act by the rule of reason; defects in the government; the customs of wearing clothes; the works of Cato the Younger; the way we often laugh and cry over the same thing; solitude; a look at the works of Cicero; the way relishing good or evil depends upon opinion; the reasons to avoid communicating a man’s honor; inequality in society; sumptuary laws; sleep; the history of the battle of Dreux; names; the uncertainty of judgement; the history of war horses; ancient customs; a study of the Ancient philosophers Democritus and Heraclitus; the vanity of words; the parsimony of the ancients; the famous sayings of Caesar; vain subtleties; smells; prayer; and age.

The second book explores topics including the inconstancy of actions; drunkenness; customs on the ancient Isle of Cea; the way tomorrow always brings new promise; conscience; the way use makes perfect; ways to make recompenses of honor; the affection of fathers for their children; the arms of the ancient Parthians; books; cruelty; an apology for Raimond Sebond; judging the death of another person; the way our mind hinders itself; the way our desires are augmented by difficulty; glory; presumption; giving the lie; liberty of conscience; the way we taste nothing pure; the case against idleness; posting; ill means employed to a good end; the grandeur of the Romans; the case against faking being sick; thumbs; the way cowardice is the mother of cruelty; how all things have their season; virtue; the story of a monstrous child; anger; a defense of Seneca and Plutarch; the story of Spurina; an observation of a war according to Julius Caesar; a story of three good woman; a study of the most excellent men; and the resemblance of children to their fathers.

Book three is a shorter volume, dealing with topics of profit and honesty; repentance; three modes of commerce; diversion; the verses of Virgil; coaches; the inconvenience of greatness; the art of conference; vanity; managing the will; the disabled; physiognomy (the science of facial expressions) and experience.

Michel de Montaigne was a French statesman and author, and one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance. He is celebrated for popularizing the essay as a literary genre, and for his effective merging of casual anecdotes, political commentary, and autobiography. He is best known for his collection of essays, and is considered an important influence on many later European writers. In his lifetime, he was admired more for his skills as a statesman than as an author. He is considered to be a pioneer in his attention to psychology and childhood education.