An Introduction to Michael de Montaigne

Montaigne entered the field of literature in a century when humanism gained importance.  In those days, people could only look at the lives of saints and learn from them. Montaigne made his own observations and produced works in which he expressed his thoughts.  In order to understand him and his works, let’s first take a look at his life.

Montaigne essays

Montaigne’s Life

Montaigne was born into a wealthy family in Dologne, France. He is being brought up by a German teacher who speaks Latin. He entered Guyenne College and learned Greek there. Then he studied philosophy in Bordeaux and law in Toulouse. He later entered the Bordeaux city council. His beloved friend La Boetie died in 1563. After his father’s death, Montaigne moved to live on the farm he inherited. In 1579, he started to write Essays, in which he told the most about himself, and developed Essays until his death.

The Formation of Montaigne’s Essays

In 1570 Montaigne resigned from his job. There were two reasons for this: to keep the promise he made to his father and to suppress La Boetie’s works. After this resignation, his insatiable curiosity forced him to an inner journey.

This book is simple, natural, as always, without being artificial or stressed; I want to create my own portrait… In short, the subject of the book is myself.

Montaigne, Book I, 1580

Montaigne spent all his strength in proving the inadequacy of the human mind. He gave himself to the books.  He studied the effects of his body and mind on life.  Most importantly, “Que sais-je?”, “What do I know?” he asked.  As he read and thought, he took notes. Finally, his book “Essays”, in which he made “I” the subject of the sentence, was born.  This internal ethnology, which Pascal fiercely criticized, later found itself in Rousseau.

Essays are the application of the idea of knowing yourself to a whole life. Montaigne says, “My book made me as much as I made my book.” I don’t think any work has been so sincere and natural.

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