A crowd before the picture

It is for the corner of a Librarie, or to ammuse a neighbour, a kinsman, or a friend of mine withall, who by this image may happily take pleasure to renew acquaintance, and to reconverse with me. (Essais II.18, ‘Of giving the lie’, trans. Florio)

‘As the centuries go by, there is always a crowd before that picture, gazing into its depths, seeing their own faces reflected in it, seeing more the longer they look, never being able to say quite what it is that they see’ (Virginia Woolf on the Essais, in The common reader). Woolf, like so many writers, engaged with the Essais and responded in kind. Montaigne has had his critics, but he has always had his readers—and his readers have always had Montaigne, drawn in by the Essais as if in friendship. In 1746, Voltaire wrote of Montaigne: ‘He bases his thoughts on those of the celebrated figures of antiquity; he weighs them up; he wrestles with them. He converses with them, with his reader and with himself’. Over four hundred years later, the conversation continues.

(Click to enlarge the images)

montaigne    montaigne