Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne, was born in 1533, the son and heir of Pierre, Seigneur de Montaigne (two previous children dying soon after birth). He was brought up to speak Latin as his mother tongue and always retained a Latin turn of mind; though he knew Greek, he preferred to use translations. After studying law he eventually became counselor to the Parlement of Bordeaux. He married in 1565. In 1569 he published his French version of the Natural Theology of Raymond Sebond; his Apology is only partly a defense of Sebond and sets skeptical limits to human reasoning about God, man and nature. He retired in 1571 to his lands at Montaigne, devoting himself to reading and reflection and to composing his Essays (first version, 1580). He loathed the fanaticism and cruelties of the religious wars of the period, but sided with Catholic orthodoxy and legitimate monarchy. He was twice elected Mayor of Bordeaux (1581 and 1583), a post he held for four years. He died at Montaigne (1592) while preparing the final, and richest, edition of his Essays.
Michel de Montaigne was one of the most influential figures of the Renaissance, singlehandedly responsible for popularising the essay as a literary form. This Penguin Classics edition of The Complete Essays is translated from the French and edited with an introduction and notes by M.A. Screech. In 1572 Montaigne retired to his estates in order to devote himself to leisure, reading and reflection. There he wrote his constantly expanding ‘assays’, inspired by the ideas he found in books contained in his library and from his own experience. He discusses subjects as diverse as war-horses and cannibals, poetry and politics, sex and religion, love and friendship, ecstasy and experience. But, above all, Montaigne studied himself as a way of drawing out his own inner nature and that of men and women in general. The Essays are among the most idiosyncratic and personal works in all literature and provide an engaging insight into a wise Renaissance mind, continuing to give pleasure and enlightenment to modern readers. With its extensive introduction and notes, M.A. Screech’s edition of Montaigne is widely regarded as the most distinguished of recent times. 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 The Complete Essays, you might like Francois Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, also available in Penguin Classics. ‘Screech’s fine version … must surely serve as the definitive English Montaigne’ A.C. Grayling, Financial Times ‘A superb edition’ Nicholas Wollaston, Observer