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Essays (Montaigne)

Essays is the title given to a collection of 107 essays written by Michel de Montaigne that was first published in 1580. Montaigne essentially invented the literary form of essay, a short subjective treatment of a given topic, of which the book contains a large number. EssaiisFrench for "trial" or "attempt".


Montaigne wrote in a kind of crafted rhetoric designed to intrigue and involve the reader, sometimes appearing to move in a stream-of-thought from topic to topic and at other times employing a structured style which gives more emphasis to the didactic nature of his work. His arguments are often supported with quotations from Hellenic Greek, Latin and Italian texts.


Montaigne's stated goal in his book is to describe man, and especially himself, with utter frankness. He finds the great variety and volatility of human nature to be its most basic features. A typical quote is "I have never seen a greater monster or miracle than myself." He describes his own poor memory, his ability to solve problems and mediate conflicts without truly getting emotionally involved, his disgust for man's pursuit of lasting fame, and his attempts to detach himself from worldly things to prepare for death.

Montaigne is disgusted with the violent and, in his opinion, barbaric conflicts between Catholics and Protestants of his time, and his writings show a pessimism and skepticism quite uncharacteristic for the Renaissance.

Overall, Montaigne was a strong supporter of humanism. He believed in God, and accepted Roman Catholicism, but declined to speculate in what sense particular historical events were influenced by God's providence.

He opposed the conquest of the New World, deploring the suffering it brought upon the natives.

Citing the case of Martin Guerre as an example, he believes that humans cannot attain certainty. His skepticism is best expressed in the long essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond" (Book 2, Chapter 12) which has frequently been published separately. We cannot trust our reasoning because thoughts just occur to us: we don't truly control them. We do not have good reasons to consider ourselves superior to the animals. He is highly skeptical of confessions obtained under torture, pointing out that such confessions can be made up by the suspect just to escape the torture he is subjected to (the first known use of this argument against torture). In the middle of the section normally entitled "Man's Knowledge Cannot Make Him Good," he wrote that his motto was "What do I know?". The essay on Sebond ostensibly defended Christianity. However, Montaigne eloquently employed many references and quotes from classical Greek and Roman, i.e. non-Christian authors, especially the atomist Lucretius.

Montaigne considered marriage necessary for the raising of children, but disliked the strong feelings of romantic love as being detrimental to freedom. One of his quotations is "Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside desperate to get out."

In education, he favored concrete examples and experience over the teaching of abstract knowledge that is expected to be accepted uncritically. Montaigne's essay "On the Education of Children" is dedicated to Diana of Foix.

The remarkable modernity of thought apparent in Montaigne's essays, coupled with their sustained popularity, made them arguably the most prominent work in French philosophy until the Enlightenment. Their influence over French education and culture is still strong. The official portrait of former French president François Mitterrand pictured him facing the camera, holding an open copy of the Essays in his hands.


Montaigne heavily edited Essays at various points in his life. Sometimes he would insert just one word, while at other times he would insert whole passages. Many editions mark this with letters as follows:

  • A: passages written 1571-1580, published 1580
  • B: passages written 1580-1588, published 1588
  • C: passages written 1588-1592, published 1595 (posthumously)

Analysis of the differences and additions between editions shows how Montaigne's thoughts evolved over time. Not unremarkably, he does not seem to remove previous writings, even when they conflict with his newer views.

From Yahoo Answers

Question:Could you answer my question? When I write essay, can I use [I,we,if] ? Some people and my English told me that to use the words in essay is will be low score essay. However, my friend sometimes writes down the words in essay and get high score of writing essay. Why? Am I misunderstanding?

Answers:Try to avoid first person pronouns (I,me, myself, we, us and ourselves) and second person (you, yourself and yourselves.) Whenever possible, you should use third person (he, she, it, himself, herself, itself, they, them and themselves) because it sounds more professional, which is needed in a school setting. If it is an opinion essay (i.e. Should teens require a 3.0 G.P.A. to get a driver's license?) then it is near impossible to not say "In my opinion..." besides that, use third person 99.9% of the time. If is not a pronoun, use it as much as needed, just don't be redundant. For example: Don't say: "You should stop smoking because..." Say: "Smokers should break their addictions because..."

Question:Do the references within the text count toward the words? Example: (Smith, 2006, p. 76)

Answers:Sure. When you're done and you review with Microsoft Word, it counts every word. Your teacher will not expect that you hand count them. Good luck!

Question:essay, in reality she has sub-divided each " question" into 3-7 questions. SO it is in actuality not 5 questions but more like 25-30 significant parts of American history in 1500 words. How realistic is this? She is asking some serious questions that a normal teacher would say" choose ONE of those topics" as a subject. Is this normal? I haven't been in college in a long time, but I think it's actually quite crazy!

Answers:hah.. sounds like we have the same professor! I had the exact same assignment... and I agree - it's a bit crazy... That's asking A LOT in such a limited essay... and if yours is anything like mine - the questions seem to kind of go back and forth a lot - so it doesnt quite make sense.

Question:i have this assignment in english class where we have to write an analytical essay (1000words) describing a word. we read some examples in class and they were about "gentleman," "bookworm" and "manfood". im having a really hard time finding a good word so that i can write the 1000 words... im not a native english speaker so i dont fully understand some words... can anybody help find a good word?? (i know ppl in my class are doing 'geek' 'senior' 'bachelor' and 'punk' so i cant choose those)