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Case 1

Document from the inventory of Michel de Montaigne’s family
[Bordeaux?], 20 November 1529

This title-deed was part of a register of the estates of Montaigne’s father, Pierre Eyquem de Montaigne. The original manuscript covered 1527–1558; most of it is now at the Bibliothèque municipale, Bordeaux. Montaigne’s great-grandfather Ramond Eyquem, a wealthy merchant, bought the château and land of Montaigne in 1477 at the age of seventy-five. Pierre Eyquem built up the estates considerably; this interest would not be shared by his son (‘What would I not rather doe, then reade a contract?’, Essais III.9, trans. Florio), who nonetheless maintained the house after his father’s death. A fire destroyed most of the château in 1885, but the tower in which Montaigne’s library was located survived.

From the Montaigne Library


Document signed by Montaigne and his brother-in-law Richard de Lestonnac, and two witnesses
Bordeaux, 18 April 1570

The document concerns a dispute over a property said to have been given to Montaigne’s brother Arnaud, who had died in his twenties. The dispute was settled in an ecclesiastical court. Montaigne recounts his brother’s death in the Essais: ‘playing at tennis, [he] received a blow with a ball, that hit him a little above the right eare, without appearance of any contusion, bruse, or hurt, and never sitting or resting upon it, died within six houres after of an Apoplexie’ (Essais I.20, ‘To philosophise is to learn how to die’, trans. Florio).

From the Montaigne Library


Pierre-Michel Alix (1762–1817)
Portrait of Michel de Montaigne

Colour aquatint, 1792

The French printmaker Pierre-Michel Alix was well known for his colour aquatint portraits of famous figures of the French Revolution and Napoleonic era. This portrait was printed by Béchet for the Collection des grands hommes. The prints were sold for six francs each and could be had from ‘Drouhin, Editeur & propriétaire des Antiquités Nationales, Rue Christine No. 2’ in Paris. The Montaigne portrait is after one by Etienne Ficquet of 1772, itself modelled on a seventeenth-century painting in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, sometimes attributed (as here) to a member of the Dumonstier family.

From the Montaigne Library


Marc-Antoine Muret (1526–1585)
M. A. Mureti Juvenilia

Parisiis: Ex officina Viduæ Mauricii à Porta, 1552

In ‘Of the education of children’ (Essais I.26) Montaigne names Nicolas de Grouchy, Guillaume Guérente, George Buchanan and Marc-Antoine Muret as his tutors. After Muret’s death in 1585, Montaigne amended the Essais to add that he was acknowledged in both France and Italy as the best prose writer of his time. Montaigne played the leading roles in the Latin tragedies of Buchanan, Guérente and Muret at the Collège—most likely including Muret’s Julius Caesar, published here as part of his early works. Muret was on close terms with the poets of the ‘Pléiade’, and published a commentary on Pierre de Ronsard’s Amours the following year.

From the Montaigne Library


Nicolas de Grouchy (1520–1572)
Nicolai Gruchii Rotomagensis, De comitiis romanorum libri tres

Lutetiae [Paris]: Ex officina typographica Michaëlis Vascosani, 1555

This political work on the election of magistrates in the Roman republic is mentioned by Montaigne in the Essais: ‘Nicholas Grucchi, who hath written De comitiis Romanorum’ (‘Of the education of children’, I.26, trans. Florio). Grouchy came to the Collège de Guyenne around 1542, recruited by the principal Andreas Gouveia as professor of rhetoric. The abstract of his lectures on logic and Aristotelian dialectic was printed in 1563, and is listed in the 1583 prospectus of the Collège, also on display.



George Buchanan (1506–1582)
Georgii Buchanani Scoti Franciscanus et fratres. Elegiarum liber I. Silvarum liber I. Hendecasyllabōn liber I. Epigrammatōn libri III. De sphaera fragmentum
[Geneva: Petrus Sanctandreanus?], 1584

Buchanan, ‘that famous Scottish Poet’ (Essais I.26, trans. Florio), was another of Andreas Gouveia’s recruits to the Collège—one of many leading humanists attracted to this new centre of learning in Bordeaux. The Collège had been founded in 1533, the year of Montaigne’s birth, and Buchanan arrived in 1539, the year that Montaigne became a pupil. This collection of poetical works was published after Buchanan’s death. Montaigne is known to have owned a copy of one of Buchanan’s other works, his history of Scotland, Rerum Scoticarum historia (1582), now at the National Library of Scotland.


Case 2

Pierre Pichot
De animorum natura, morbis, vitiis, noxis, horumque curatione, ac medela, ratione medica ac philosophica
Burdigalæ [Bordeaux]: Ex officina Simonis Millangii Burdigalensium, 1574

Pichot was a doctor in Bordeaux, and dedicated to the Parlement this work on the nature and maladies of the soul, with philosophical and medical remedies. Montaigne owned a copy (now at the Bibliothèque nationale de France). It is an early and very rare work from the press of Simon Millanges, set up in Bordeaux in 1572. Whilst a number of printers had worked in Bordeaux before Millanges, their output was small by comparison, and it was Millanges’s press that established Bordeaux as a centre of printing.

From the Montaigne Library

Hermes Trismegistus
Le pimandre de Mercure Trismegiste de la philosophie chrestienne, cognoissance du verbe divin, & de l’excellence des œuvres de Dieu
A Bourdeaux: Par S. Millanges, Imprimeur ordinaire du Roy, 1579

The first French edition of the Pimander, a collection of works of ‘secret wisdom’ which was hugely influential in the Renaissance. The translation and extensive commentary are by François de Foix-Candale (1512–1594), who in 1572 had published the original Greek with a Latin translation. Montaigne mentions him in ‘Of the education of children’ as the uncle of its dedicatee Diane de Foix, and may have visited his Bordeaux château, where Foix-Candale conducted alchemical experiments. He also translated Euclid’s Elements into Latin (1566), and established a chair of geometry at the Collège de Guyenne. The book has the same woodcut initials as the Essais printed by Millanges the following year.

From the Montaigne Library


[Elie Vinet, 1509–1587]
Schola aquitanica
Burdigalæ [Bordeaux]: Apud S. Millangium, Typographum Regium, 1583

This rare prospectus details the curriculum at the Collège de Guyenne and the authors to be studied by each class. Vinet had arrived at the Collège in 1539, the same year as Montaigne, and later became its principal. He explains how the pupils in the first class were taught Latin by repeating letters and syllables to build up words: ‘M, i, Mir, e, re, Miserêre’.

This copy was formerly owned by Jacques Auguste de Thou (1553–1617) and Charles Nodier (1780–1844), and is bound with four pamphlets including three by the humanist and educational reformer Petrus Ramus (1515–1572).

From the Montaigne Library


Case 3

Plutarchi Chæroni eroticus, interprete Arnoldo Ferrono Burdigalensi
Lugduni [Lyons]: Apud Joan. Tornaesium, 1557

This translation by Arnauld de Ferron (1515–1563) of Plutarch’s dialogue on love is supplemented by annotations by Etienne de La Boétie, his only appearance in print during his lifetime. La Boétie’s contribution went unnoticed until 1868, when it was published by the Montaigne scholar Reinhold Dezeimeris. La Boétie also translated Plutarch’s Rules of marriage—its publication was overseen by Montaigne after his friend’s death.

Ferron was a colleague of La Boétie and Montaigne in the Bordeaux Parlement. His other works include an account of the customs of Bordeaux, often reprinted.


La mesnagerie de Xenophon. Les règles de mariage, de Plutarque. Lettre de consolation, de Plutarque à sa femme. Le tout traduict de Grec en François par feu M. Estienne De la Boëtie Conseiller du Roy en sa court de Parlement à Bordeaux. Ensemble quelques vers latins & françois, de son invention. Item, un Discours sur la mort dudit Seigneur De la Boëtie, par M. de Montaigne
A Paris: De l’Imprimerie de Federic Morel, 1571

La Boétie’s translations from the Greek were edited by Montaigne, who added an account of his friend’s death in the form of a letter to Montaigne’s father, as well as six prefatory letters. La Boétie’s death had a lasting effect on Montaigne: ‘I was so accustomed to be ever two, and so enured to be never single, that mee thinkes I am but halfe my selfe’ (I.28, ‘Of friendship’, trans. Florio).

The title also calls for Latin and French poems by La Boétie, but of these the book includes only a long Latin poem, addressed to Montaigne. The Versfrançois were published the following year.

From the Montaigne Library

Etienne de La Boétie (1530–1563)
Vers françois de feu Estienne De la Boëtie Conseiller du Roy en sa Cour de Parlement à Bordeaux
A Paris: Par Federic Morel Imprimeur du Roy, 1572

These French poems include twenty-five of the twenty-nine sonnets that were later printed as part of the Essais, following ‘Of friendship’. Montaigne prefaces the work with a letter to the French ambassador at Venice, Paul de Foix, in which he says their printing was deferred because it was thought the sonnets might not be worthy of publication. However, he adds that he has heard others say they are of equal merit to other poems in the French language.

From the library of the bibliographer E. Gordon Duff (Sotheby’s sale 17 March 1925, lot 497).

From the Montaigne Library

Etienne de La Boétie (1530–1563)
De la servitude volontaire ou le contr’un
Paris: Jou & Bosviel éditeurs, 1922

La Boétie’s famous political treatise asserts that subjects are not obliged to accept a leader who proves to be a tyrant, but do so out of ‘voluntary servitude’. Montaigne had planned to include it in the Essais, but Simon Goulart appropriated it as Huguenot propaganda for Memoires de l’estat de France, sous Charles neufiesme (1576–1577), compiled in the aftermath of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572.

This modern edition is by the Spanish-born master of the book arts Louis Jou (1882–1968), in a binding by Pierre Legrain.

From the Montaigne Library

Case 4

Titus Lucretius Carus
Titi Lucretii Cari De rerum natura libri sex
Parisiis, et Lugduni habentur [Paris & Lyons]: In Gulielmi Rouillii, et Philippi G. Rouillii Nep. ædibus, via Jacobæ sub concordia, 1563 [i.e. 1564?]*

This copy was identified as Montaigne’s by Paul Quarrie, then librarian of Eton College, and Professor M. A. Screech. Montaigne’s signature on the title-page has been more or less obliterated by that of a subsequent owner, ‘Despagnet’, who also owned at least three other books of Montaigne’s. This was most likely Jean Despagnet, a counsellor in the Bordeaux Parlement and its president from 1600 to 1611. Montaigne’s notes take the form of marginal comments (mostly in French), marked passages and extensive Latin annotations on the eight flyleaves, keyed to pages in the text.

* See M. A. Screech, Montaigne’s annotated copy of Lucretius (Geneva, 1998), p. 10.

From the Montaigne Library

Reading Lucretius

Montaigne’s close reading can be illustrated by his comments on p. 251 on Lucretius’ argument against the fear of death. Montaigne notes on a flyleaf (see image on panel): ‘Thus death does not matter to us: what happens after this life no more touches us than what went on before’.* Then comes a revealingly personal gloss that helped identify the book as Montaigne’s: ‘Since the movements of the atoms are varied, it is not unbelievable that atoms once came together—or will come together again in the future—so that another Montaigne be born’. Montaigne read Lucretius the year after La Boétie’s death, so it is perhaps not surprising to find him remarking on these passages. But the thought of a future ‘Montaigne’ provides no consolation: ‘That does not touch me personally, because of oblivion and the interruption of life’.

*Translations from M. A. Screech, Montaigne’s annotated copy of Lucretius (Geneva, 1998), pp. 134–136.

Lucretius in the Essais

Montaigne drew heavily on Lucretius when writing and revising the Essais. In the 1588 edition, he added a quotation from p. 251 to ‘A custom of the Isle of Cea’ (II.3), to illustrate the pointlessness of wishing to be other than we are, because a changed self would mean that we no longer exist to appreciate the difference:

Debet enim, miserè cui fortè, ægréque futurum est,
Ipse quoque esse in eo tum tempore, cum malè possit

(‘If anyone must perhaps be wretched and suffer pain in the future, then he himself must exist in that future when such evil occurs’)*

Montaigne builds this into his argument on the futility of suicide as a release from pain: ‘The securitie, indolencie, impassibilitie, and privation of this lives-evilles, which wee purchase at the price of death, bring us no commoditie at all’ (trans. Florio).

*The complete essays (trans. & ed. M. A. Screech) (London, 1991), p. 397.

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne
Cinquiesme édition, augmentée d’un troisiesme livre et de six cens additions aux deux premiers
A Paris: Chez Abel l’Angelier, 1588

The quotation from p. 251 of Montaigne’s Lucretius is shown here on f. 145. The first half of this copy of the Essais includes marked passages and occasional annotations in at least two contemporary hands. On f. 38, one of these provides corroborative evidence for Montaigne’s account of ‘a little man, who at Nantes, was borne without armes, and hath so well fashioned his feete to those services, his hands should have done him’ (I.23, ‘Of custom’, trans. Florio), writing in the margin: ‘Je l’ay aussi veu’ (‘I too have seen him’).

From the Montaigne Library

Case 5

Raymond Sebond (d. 1436)
La theologie naturelle de Raymond Sebond

A Paris: Chez Michel Sonnius, 1569

Raymond Sebond was born in Barcelona. A Franciscan, he taught medicine and philosophy, and eventually became professor of theology at Toulouse. In ‘An apology for Raymond Sebond’, Montaigne gives a fuller explanation of how he came to translate the work. His father had been given a copy of Sebond’s Theologia naturalis by the scholar Pierre Bunel (dedicatee of Book V of Lambin’s edition of Lucretius), and later gave this to his son to put into French. Montaigne was unable to refuse ‘the best father that ever was’, and accepted this ‘strange taske, and new occupation’ (II.12, trans. Florio). The translation is dedicated to his father, dated 18 June 1568, the day of his father’s death. The translation was reprinted in 1581.

From the Montaigne Library

Guy de Bruès (fl. 1554–1562)
Les dialogues de Guy de Bruès, contre les nouveaux academiciens, que tout ne consiste point en opinion
A Paris: Chez Guillaume Cavellat, 1557

Bruès’s rare philosophical work takes the form of a dialogue between the poet Pierre de Ronsard and three of his friends. Ronsard was friends with Bruès, and dedicated two poems to him. The work ‘against the new academics’ has Ronsard and the diplomat and lexicographer Jean Nicot defending human reason and traditional morality, whilst the poets Jean-Antoine de Baïf and Guillaume Aubert speak in favour of scepticism and instinct. Montaigne owned a copy of the work and reproduced some extracts from it almost word for word in the ‘Apology’.

From the Montaigne Library

Sextus Empiricus
Sexti Philosophi Pyrrhoniarum hypotypωseωn libri III
[Geneva]: Excudebat idem Henricus Stephanus, illustris viri Huldrici Fuggeri typographus, 1562

Henri Estienne’s translation of this outline of Pyrrhonist scepticism was the first printing in any language of this key text for sixteenth-century French thought. Montaigne used it widely in the ‘Apology’ and had a number of sceptical phrases painted on the beams in his study, including epecho (‘I suspend my judgement’). He also used this word on one side of the medallion he had made around this time, along with the image of a pair of evenly balanced scales.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Apologia di Raimondo di Sebonda saggio di Michiel Signor di Montagna, nel quale si tratta della debolezza, & incertitudine del discorso humano
In Venetia: Appresso Marco Ginammi, 1634

Montaigne was asked to write a defence of Sebond, most likely by Marguerite de Valois, sister of Henry III and Catholic wife of the Protestant Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV, who converted to Catholicism in 1593). Henry of Navarre visited Montaigne at his château in 1584 and 1587.

This is the first separately published edition of the ‘Apology’, translated into Italian by Marco Ginammi. His translation of the rest of the Essais had been printed the previous year. The two works together comprise the first complete Italian edition (an abridged version came out in 1590).

From the Montaigne Library

Cases 6-7

Aimoin de Fleury (c. 960–c. 1010)
Aimoini monachi, qui antea Annonii nomine editus est, Historiæ Francorum lib. V
Parisiis: Apud Andream Wechelum, 1567

Montaigne’s copy of Aimoin’s chronicle of the Franks. His signature at the bottom of the title-page is particularly clear and shows the characteristic bar over the ‘o’, which represents the first ‘n’ in his name, and the sloping line he used for the dot over the ‘i’.

Aimoin, a monk at the Benedictine abbey of Fleury, chronicled the history of the Franks from the earliest times to 653. Other writers continued the work, taking it up to the middle of the twelfth century.

From the Montaigne Library

Michael Beuther (1522–1587)
Michaelis Beutheri Carolopolitae Franci, Ephemeris historica
Parisiis: Ex officina Michaëlis Fezandat, & Roberti Granjon, 1551

Montaigne owned a copy of this calendar of history, in which each day of the year is given a separate page. Montaigne and other members of his family used the blank spaces at the bottom of each page to record family dates or contemporary events, such as the visit of Henry of Navarre to the château in 1584. In this copy, a sixteenth-century owner has made similar annotations, including a note of Calvin’s birth for 10 July 1509. The last addition is dated 1562.

From the Montaigne Library

Appianus of Alexandria
Αππιανου Αλεξανδρεως Ρωμαικων … Appiani Alexandrini Romanorum historiarum

Lutetiae [Paris]: Typis Regiis, cura ac diligentia Caroli Stephani, 1551

Montaigne’s copy of the editio princeps of Appian’s Roman history, printed by Charles Estienne from all three sizes of the celebrated grecs du roi type of Claude Garamond. Appian was a Greek historian with Roman citizenship. In ‘On not pretending to be ill’ (II.25, trans. Florio), Montaigne relates that ‘As farre as I remember I have read a like historie in some place of Appian’, of a man who disguised himself from his pursuers and pretended to be blind in one eye. When out of danger, he removed his eye patch, only to find that the eye had gone blind.

From the Montaigne Library

Σοφοκλεους τραγωδιαι ... Δημητριου του Τρικλινιου περι μετρων οις εχρησατο Σοφοκλης περι σχηματων σχολια

Parisiis: Apud Adrianum Turnebum typographum Regium, 1553

Montaigne’s copy of Sophocles’ tragedies, in the edition of Adrien Turnèbe (1512–1565), who was responsible for overseeing the printing of Greek books at the royal press. Montaigne refers to Turnèbe several times in the Essais. In ‘Of pedantism’ (I.25), Montaigne tells how he would ask Turnèbe for opinions on topics far from Turnèbe’s own experience, only to be given the most lucid and soundly judged answers. Elsewhere he states, ‘Adrianus Turnebus knew more and better, what he knewe, then any man in his age, or of many ages past’ (II.17, ‘Of presumption’, trans. Florio).

From the Montaigne Library

P. Terentii Comœdiæ sex
Parisiis: Ex officina Roberti Stephani typographi Regii, 1541

Montaigne’s signature on the title-page has been scored through. Underneath is what appears to be an earlier signature, ‘C. Surguierii et amicorum’. There was a Surguier family at Sarlat, the town of La Boétie’s birth. E. Leymarie, in notes facing the title-page, speculated that Montaigne may have acquired the book as part of La Boétie’s library in 1563, but there is no supporting evidence. Later, it belonged to the collector Lucius Wilmerding (1880–1949), along with Montaigne’s copy of Beuther’s Ephemeris.

Montaigne read Terence as a pupil and returned to him throughout his life: ‘I can never reade him so often, but still I discover some new grace and beautie in him’ (II.10, ‘Of books’, trans. Florio).

From the Montaigne Library

Marco Girolamo Vida (c. 1485–1566)
Marci Hieronymi Vidae Cremonensis, Albae episcopi, Opera

Lugduni [Lyons]: Apud Seb. Gryphium, 1541

The inscription facing the title-page tells us the book was ‘The gift of Nicolaus Sandrasius of Paris to Michel Eyquem Montaigne of Bordeaux’, and may be in Montaigne’s hand. Vida was the bishop of Alba. This collection of Latin verse includes the famous Scacchia ludus (‘The game of chess’). A passage is marked, possibly by Montaigne. It uses the lexicon of war to describe the formation of chess pieces at the start of play. The rook, for example, is likened to the military elephant with an armoured tower on its back—it is from this that the use of ‘castle’ for the rook is derived. Montaigne mentions the military elephant twice in the Essais.

From the Montaigne Library

Les œuvres morales & meslées de Plutarque, translatées du grec en françois par Messire Jacques Amyot

A Paris: De l’imprimerie de Michel de Vascosan, 1572. 2 vols

The first edition of Jacques Amyot’s translation of the Moralia, one of the major influences on Montaigne. Amyot’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives had been printed in 1559. Montaigne praises Amyot for his achievement, and for choosing Plutarch to translate: ‘We that are in the number of the ignorant had bin utterly confounded, had not his booke raised us from out the dust of ignorance’ (II.4, ‘Tomorrow is a new day’, trans. Florio). Montaigne used the form of the Moralia as a model for the Essais, and quoted widely from Amyot’s translation. Amyot’s version of the Lives was itself translated by Sir Thomas North (1535–1603?) as the first English edition of 1579.

From the Montaigne Library. Vol. 1

Joachim du Bellay (c. 1522–1560)
Les regrets et autres œuvres poetiques de Joach. du Bellay, Ang.

A Paris: De l’imprimerie de Federic Morel, 1565

Montaigne says that since Ronsard and Du Bellay brought renown to French poetry, every man fancies himself a poet. But these apprentices ‘come … farre short in imitating the rich descriptions of the one, and rare inventions of the other’ (I.26, ‘Of the education of children’).

The wording and position of the inscription on the title-page are unique for Montaigne, and have occasioned doubt over its authenticity. Such a small proportion of Montaigne’s library has survived, however, that it is impossible to say he did not sign other books in the same way. The letter forms and stresses of the inscription may also support a verdict in favour of Montaigne.

From the Montaigne Library

Case 8

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Essais de Messire Michel Seigneur de Montaigne, Chevalier de l’ordre du Roy, & Gentil-homme ordinaire de sa chambre

A Bourdeaus: Par S. Millanges imprimeur ordinaire du Roy, 1580. 2 vols

The first edition of the Essais, with the inscription ‘Sum Ben: Jonsonij Liber’ at the foot of the title-page of the first volume, and the motto ‘Est Tanquam Explorator’ in the middle of the page. In vol. 2, the motto is at the top of the page and the inscription in the lower margin, reading ‘Sum Ben: Jonsonij’. There has been some doubt over their authenticity. David McPherson called them ‘controversial’ (Ben Jonson’s library and marginalia, Chapel Hill, 1974). Henry Woudhuysen, however, accepts the inscription in vol. 1 and the motto in vol. 2 as the normal form, and notes that the others are unusual—without implying that they are forgeries or sophistications, simply that they are unusual forms for Jonson’s books.

This is the ‘second state’ of the title-page, with Montaigne’s titles added.

From the Montaigne Library. Vol. 1

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne
Cinquiesme édition, augmentée d’un troisiesme livre et de six cens additions aux deux premiers
A Paris: Chez Abel l’Angelier, 1588

The third book of the Essais is printed here for the first time. This was the last edition to be printed in Montaigne’s lifetime. As well as the addition of a new book, there are numerous insertions and revisions to the first two parts. There are two ‘states’ of the engraved title-page—this is the first. In the second, the word ‘orand’ in the imprint has been corrected to ‘grand’. In many copies the engraving, which is larger than the printed leaves, has been cropped to fit the book, but here it is more or less untouched.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Les essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne
Edition nouvelle, trouvée après le deceds de l’autheur, reveuë & augmentée par luy d’un tiers plus qu’aux précédentes impressions
A Paris: Chez Abel l’Angelier, 1595

Marie de Gournay, Montaigne’s ‘adoptive daughter’ (fille d’alliance), prepared the text from a transcription of the 1588 edition marked up by Montaigne, known as the ‘Bordeaux copy’. Montaigne’s friend the poet Pierre de Brach assisted her. Gournay dealt scrupulously with printing errors, having some corrected during printing, and emending many others by hand afterwards.

This copy was presented to the English ambassador in Paris, Charles Talbot, Duke of Shrewsbury (1660–1718) by the poet and diplomat Matthew Prior (1664–1721). It contains the verse he composed for the occasion in its only known manuscript copy. Both Talbot and Prior were involved in negotiations leading to the Peace of Utrecht in 1713.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Les essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne

Edition nouvelle, prise sur l’exemplaire trouvé après le deceds de l’Autheur, reveu & augmenté d’un tiers outre les précédentes impressions
A Paris: Chez Abel l’Angelier, 1600

The third edition by Marie de Gournay, with her short preface first published in 1598. Her first edition of 1595 had included a long preface, which had been given a hostile reception. Gournay retracted it as the ill-advised product of her youth and grief. Instead, she handed over the matter of judging the Essais to the audience, asking ‘Que t’en semble donc Lecteur?’ (‘What do you think of this, Reader?’). The long preface was not reinstated in the Essais until 1617 (in revised form), but an abridged version was reprinted the following year in Gournay’s fictional Proumenoir de M. de Montaigne.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Les essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne

Edition nouvelle enrichie d’a[n]notations en marge
A Paris: [Chez Michel Nivelle or Jean Petit-pas or Claude Rigaud or  la veuve Dominique Salis or Charles Sevestre], 1608

Napoleon’s copy of the Essais, from his library on St Helena. The binding is decorated with a crowned initial ‘N’ and bees, one of Napoleon’s symbols. Five different versions of the engraved title-page are known to exist, with different booksellers’ names, but the title-page of this copy is wanting. The 1608 edition was the first to include the ‘Sommaire discours sur la vie de Michel, Seigneur de Montaigne’ and sidenotes summarising the text. Both these innovations were criticised by Marie de Gournay. This copy also lacks the portrait of Montaigne by Thomas de Leu, which appeared for the first time in this edition.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Les essais de Michel, Seigneur de Montaigne

Edition nouvelle. Exactement corrigée, selon le vray exemplaire
A Paris: Chez Pierre Rocolet, 1635

This is the last edition to be edited by Marie de Gournay, and was dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu. It returns to the 1595 text for many of its readings. In the forty years between the two, more than twenty other editions of the Essais had been printed. In her preface, Gournay assigns authority only to those printed by Abel l’Angelier.

This copy is the first issue of the 1635 edition. It belonged to Louis II de Bourbon, prince de Condé (1621–1686), who had a library of some 10,000 volumes. Another (post-Revolutionary?) owner has obliterated the fleurs-de-lys on the printer’s device on the title-page.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Les essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne

Nouvelle édition, faite sur les plus anciennes & les plus correctes … par Pierre Coste
A Londres: De l’imprimerie de J. Tonson & J. Watts, 1724. 3 vols

Coste’s edition returned to the 1595 text and may be seen as the beginning of modern Montaigne scholarship. Subscribers included Sir Hans Sloane, ‘Mr. Pope’ and Lady Mary Wortley Montague. The second edition of the following year was the first full edition to be printed in Paris since 1669 (the Essais had been placed on the Index in 1676, and was not taken off until 1854), and included some of Montaigne’s letters. Later editions added La Boétie’s  De la servitude volontaire (the first printing since 1576), and various critical opinions of Montaigne. Coste (1669–1747), a Huguenot refugee, also translated Newton’s Opticks (1720) at the author’s request and some works by John Locke.

From the Montaigne Library. Vol. 1

Case 9

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Journal du voyage de Michel de Montaigne en Italie, par la Suisse & l’Allemagne, en 1580 & 1581

A Rome, & se trouve à Paris: Chez Le Jay, 1774

Joseph Prunis discovered the manuscript in an old chest at the Château de Montaigne whilst researching the history of Périgord. The journal was edited by Meunier de Querlon, but the manuscript subsequently lost. William Hazlitt translated the journal into English for his edition of Montaigne’s works (1842).

In Rome Montaigne visited the Vatican Library. He remarks on many of the books, including manuscripts of Seneca and Plutarch’s Opuscula, and the ‘Polyglot Bible’ printed by Christophe Plantin in 1569. He also recounts a dinner-table conversation with, amongst others, the French ambassador and his former tutor Muret, in which he defended the merits of Amyot’s recent French translation of Plutarch.

From the Montaigne Library

Josias Simmler (1530–1576)
La Republique des Suisses … avec le pourtraict des villes des treize Cantons

A Paris: Pour Jacques du Puys, 1579

Montaigne owned a copy of Simmler’s book and took it with him on his travels. It was confiscated with his other books by the Vatican officials: ‘They kept back my copy of the history of the Swiss, the French translation, merely because the translator is a heretic’ (Journal du voyage, trans. Hazlitt). The Latin original of 1576 was published without illustrations, but this translation contains several, including the one of Basle on display. In Basle, Montaigne visited the physician Felix Platerus and saw his ‘book of simples’ (medicinal remedies). Instead of illustrating the herbs, Platerus found a way of pasting the plants onto the paper so that ‘the smallest leaves and fibres are clearly to be seen’.

From the Montaigne Library

Girolamo Garimberto (1506–1575)
La prime parte, delle vite, overo fatti memorabili d’alcuni papi, et di tutti i cardinali passati

In Vinegia [Venice]: Appresso Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, 1567

Montaigne’s copy of Garimberto’s history of popes and cardinals was one of several Italian books in his library. Montaigne stayed in Rome from November 1580 to April 1581, and heard mass at St Peter’s on Christmas day. He had an audience with Gregory XIII to kiss the Pope’s foot (Montaigne thought he slightly raised his red slipper), and the Pope later assisted him in his desire to be granted the title citizen of Rome: ‘’Tis an empty title; but yet I felt infinite delight in having obtained it’ (trans. Hazlitt).

Garimberto was Bishop of Gallese, and a noted collector of antiquities.

From the Montaigne Library

André Thevet (1502–1590)
Les singularitez de la France antarctique, autrement nommée Amérique: & de plusieurs terres & isles decouvertes de nostre temps

A Paris: Chez les heritiers de Maurice de la Porte, 1558

Thevet was chaplain to Catherine de Medici and Royal Cosmographer. He accompanied Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon in 1555 on the expedition to found the short-lived French colony in Brazil, which Thevet himself named ‘la France antarctique’. Poor health prompted Thevet to leave the following year. His account was one of a number of sources on the New World used by Montaigne in the Essais, in particular in the famous chapter ‘Of the cannibals’ (II.31). The illustrations to Thevet’s work include the scenes of cannibalism on display.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
The essayes or morall, politike and millitarie discourses … now done into English by … John Florio
Printed at London: By Val. Sims for Edward Blount, 1603

Montaigne met three native Americans from Brazil in 1562, and had a servant who had spent time in that country. These personal sources supplement the written accounts used in the Essais, especially ‘Of the cannibals’. Writing at a time when France was divided by wars of religion, Montaigne condemns his own countrymen rather than the ‘cannibals’: ‘We may then well call them barbarous, in regarde of reasons rules, but not in respect of us that exceede them in all kinde of barbarisme’ (I.31, trans. Florio).

‘Of the cannibals’ was a source for Shakespeare in The tempest: Gonzalo’s speech on his perfect commonwealth shows closes verbal parallels with John Florio’s translation of 1603.

From the Montaigne Library

Jean de Léry (1534–1613)
Histoire d’un voyage fait en la terre du Bresil, autrement dite Amérique
A La Rochelle: Pour Antoine Chuppin, 1578

Montaigne also drew on Léry in ‘Of the cannibals’, along with André Thevet’s book. Léry accompanied a group of Calvinists to Villegagnon’s colony in Brazil in 1556. Relations between the Calvinists and Villegagnon soon deteriorated, and they settled on the mainland close to the Tupinamba for two months, awaiting passage home. Léry’s account was written many years later, partly as a response to Thevet’s Cosmographie universelle (1577), which held the Calvinists responsible for the failure of the colony. Léry’s detailed description of the Tupinamba and their customs is illustrated with several beautiful full-page woodcuts, including one depicting burial customs.

By kind permission of the Master, Fellows and Scholars of Clare College, Cambridge

Case 10

Francis Bacon (1561–1626)
Essayes. Religious meditations. Places of perswasion and disswasion. Seene and allowed
At London: Printed for Humfrey Hooper, 1597

Bacon’s work introduced the word ‘essay’ into the English language as a literary term. This first edition contains only ten short essays (along with other works), very different in style from Montaigne’s; the second (1612) increased the total to thirty-eight. The third edition (1625) included fifty-eight essays of varying lengths on a broad range of ‘civil and moral’ topics, including ‘Of truth’, in which Bacon cites Montaigne’s ‘Of giving the lie’ (II.18, ‘And therefore Mountaigny saith prettily …’).

It is likely that Bacon had first-hand knowledge of the French Essais. His brother Anthony had met Montaigne in Bordeaux, and received a letter from Montaigne’s friend Pierre de Brach in 1592 to tell him of Montaigne’s death.


William Conrwallis (c. 1579–1614)
Essayes … Newlie corrected

London: Printed by Thomas Harper for J[ohn] M[arriott], 1632

Cornwallis’s essays, first published in two parts in 1600–1601, are much in the manner of Montaigne. In ‘Of censuring’, Cornwallis says that he saw ‘divers of his peeces’ translated: ‘Montaigne speakes now good English’. Florio’s translation was not published until 1603, but Cornwallis may have seen a manuscript of part of it or another translation. Florio himself says in his Preface that ‘Seven or eight of great wit and worth’ have attempted the task without success. Cornwallis recommends Montaigne’s book for ‘profitable Recreation’: Montaigne ‘speakes nobly, honestly, and wisely, with little method, but with much judgement … hee hath made Morrall Philosophy speake couragiously, and in steede of her gowne, given her an Armour’.


Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Essayes written in French ... done into English … by John Florio
London: Printed by Melch. Bradwood for Edward Blount and William Barret, 1613

On 20 October 1595 the stationer and translator Edward Aggas entered at Stationers’ Hall ‘The Essais of Michaell Lord of Mountene’, but no money was paid and no translation by or under Aggas’s name appeared. Edward Blount entered a translation in 1600, and in 1603 published Florio’s work.

This copy of the second edition belonged to the writer Izaak Walton (1593–1683). In The compleat angler, Walton cites Montaigne’s observation: ‘When my Cat and I entertaine each other with mutuall apish tricks (as playing with a garter,) who knows but that I make her more sport then she makes me?’

From the Montaigne Library

Robert Burton (1577–1640)
The anatomy of melancholy, what it is

At Oxford: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, 1621

‘It is a melancholy humour, and consequently a hatefull enemy to my naturall complexion … that first put this humorous conceipt of writing into my head’ (Essais II.8, ‘Of the affection of fathers for their children’, trans. Florio). Burton read Montaigne in Florio’s translation and drew on him a number of times for his own great documentation of the self. He cites him almost verbatim from ‘An apology for Raymond Sebond’ in support of the theory that ‘to see a woman naked’ is a cure for love melancholy: ‘the skilfullest masters of amorous dalliances, appoint for a remedy of venereous passions a full survay of the bodie’.


Pierre Charron (1541–1603)
Of wisdome three bookes … Translated by Samson Lennard
At London: Printed [by George Millar] for Edward Blount & Will: Aspley, [1630]

Charron, a preacher and former advocate, became friends with Montaigne after he moved to Bordeaux in the 1580s. In his will, Montaigne conferred on him the right to bear his coat of arms. His work of moral philosophy De la sagesse (1601) borrowed heavily from Montaigne’s Essais. It was published in Bordeaux by Simon Millanges; the English translation by Lennard first appeared around 1608. Charron, an orthodox Catholic, was also a thorough-going sceptic and his work was placed on the Index in 1605. Of wisdome was popular in England, going through several editions in the seventeenth century.


Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Essays of Michael Seigneur de MontaigneNew rendred into English by Charles Cotton, Esq;
London: Printed for T. Basset … and M. Gilliflower and W. Hensman, 1685. 3 vols [vol. 2 dated, perhaps erroneously, 1686]

This translation by the poet Charles Cotton (1630–1687) immediately superseded that of Florio. Whilst Florio’s translation went out of print until the late nineteenth century, Cotton’s was still being reprinted throughout the twentieth. In his Preface, Cotton recounts the difficulty of his task: ‘[Montaigne’s] Language is such in many Places, as Grammar cannot reconcile, which renders it the hardest Book to make a justifiable version of that I yet ever saw … I have yet sometimes been forc’d to grope at his meaning’. Pierre Coste’s edition of the Essais was used to correct the seventh edition of the translation in 1759.

From the Montaigne Library. Vol. 1

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
An abstract of the most curious and excellent thoughts in Seigneur de Montaigne’s Essays: very useful for improving the mind, and forming the manners of men. Done into English from the French original

London: Printed for R. Smith, 1701

A translation of the Pensées de Montagne (1700), an abridgement of the Essais undertaken to present an acceptable version of the text (for a country in which the original was still on the Index, still controversial). The digression and personal anecdote that is so much the style of Montaigne is jettisoned. ‘Montaigne … has not wanted Censurers … I thought therefore it would be a good Design, to cull out and put together many of the good Maxims in Montaigne’s Works, where they are often spoild by a mixture of bad Things, or at least stifled under a confus’d heap of Rubbish’. Another abridged edition, L’esprit des Essais, had appeared in 1677.

From the Montaigne Library

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Essays, selected from Montaigne. With a sketch of the life of the author

London: Printed by Luke Hansard … for T. Cadell, Jun. & W. Davies, and E. Harding, 1800

The biographical sketch is enigmatically signed ‘Honoria’; however, the book advertises The female mentor as ‘Lately Published by the same Author’. Contemporary annotations in the Cambridge University Library copy of The female mentor identify many characters and name the author as Emilia Henrietta Coxe (sister of the historian Revd William Coxe, to whom this translation is dedicated). Coxe writes that in spite of the ‘wit, spirit, originality of sentiment, and excellent precepts of morality’ of the Essais, Montaigne’s ‘greatest admirers must confess that he has introduced many gross and indelicate allusions’, and it is ‘not possible to follow him through all his winding paths’. Her abridgement presented Montaigne in a form considered suitable for the female readers of the day.

From the Montaigne Library

Case 11

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)
Les essais de Michel, Seigneur de Montaigne

Nouvelle édition exactement purgée des defauts des précédentes
A Paris: Chez Edmé Cousterot, 1652

This annotated copy of the Essais belonged to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), one of only eighteen volumes left at his death (the others included an annotated copy of Plutarch). It was bequeathed to his friend Mme de Corancz, then passed to Hérault de Séchelles (guillotined on 5 April 1794). Subsequently its whereabouts were unknown until its sale at Christie’s in 1995. Montaigne’s influence on Rousseau—on his views on education, for example, or his confessional style—was profound and complex. There are pencil annotations on four pages, as well as several marked and underlined passages. On p. 282 Rousseau has noted a passage on the loss of friends and written ‘amitié’ in the margin.

From the Montaigne Library

Voltaire (1694–1778)
Autograph letter from Voltaire to the Comte du Tressan
21 August 1746

Voltaire expresses his admiration for Montaigne’s originality, but especially his capacity for doubt: ‘Toujours original dans la maniere donc il presente les objets, toujours plein d’imagination toujours peintre, et ce que jaime, toujours sachant douter’ (‘Always original in the presentation of his objects, always full of imagination, always a painter and, what I love, always capable of doubt’). Later, in his entry on the limits of the human mind for his Dictionnaire philosophique (1764), Voltaire would contrast the misplaced intellectual pride of the doctor of philosophy with Montaigne: ‘La devise de Montagne était, Que sai-je? & la tienne est, Que ne sai-je pas?’ (‘Montaigne’s motto was, “What do I know?” and yours is, “What do I know not?”’).

From the Montaigne Library

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)
The common reader
Second edition
London: Published by Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1925

For Woolf, Montaigne—along with Pepys and Rousseau—was one of the few masters of the self-portrait in writing. ‘But this talking of oneself, following one’s own vagaries, giving the whole map, weight, colour, and circumference of the soul in its confusion, its variety, its imperfection—this art belonged to one man only: to Montaigne ... We can never doubt for an instant that his book was himself’. The Woolfs visited Montaigne’s château on 25 April 1931.

Woolf’s essay on Montaigne was first published in the Times Literary Supplement as a review of a new edition of Charles Cotton’s translation of the Essais.

From the Montaigne Library

Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986)
Montaigne, Walt Whitman
Buenos Aires: [La publica para sus amigos Federico Vogelius ... en casa de D. Francisco A. Colombo], 1957

This rare book is no. 41 in a limited edition of 120 copies. Borges recounts Montaigne’s decision to write the Essais as one of the more quiet French revolutions, and compares Montaigne and Whitman as supreme writers of the self. Montaigne lost his friend La Boétie, but his book, Borges says, sought out friendship through space and time. In a late poem, ‘A Francia’, it was friendship again that came to mind when Borges spoke of Montaigne: ‘No diré … la amistad, sino Montaigne’ (‘I will not say … friendship, but Montaigne’).

From the Montaigne Library