‘The full sight of all my bookes’
At home I betake me somwhat the oftner to my Librarie, whence all at once I command and survay all my houshold … There is my seate, that is my throne. I endevour to make my rule therein absolute, and to sequester that onely corner from the communitie of wife, of children and of acquaintance (Essais III.3, ‘Of three kinds of relationships’, trans. Florio)
In 1570 Montaigne resigned from the Parlement and went to Paris to publish La Boétie’s works. The following year, on his thirty-eighth birthday, he retired from public life. He spent most of his days in his library, a circular room on the third floor of a tower at the château, where he had inscribed on the rafters quotations from his favourite works. Around him were some thousand diverse volumes, of both ancient and modern writers. ‘There without order, without methode, and by piece-meales I turne-over and ransacke, now one booke and now another. Sometimes I muse and rave; and walking up and downe I endite and enregister these my humours, these my conceits’. It was here that the Essais took shape.
Around one hundred books from Montaigne’s library are known to survive, and from the numerous quotations and allusions in the Essais, it is also possible to form an impression of those that do not.
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