Shelf Lives

Four Centuries of Collectors and their Books

The Design of Friendship: The Montaigne Library of Gilbert de Botton


Portrait of Montaigne from the Journal du Voyage de Michel de Montaigne en Italie, par la Suisse et l'Allemagne en 1580 et 1581, Rome and Paris, 1774. Montaigne.2.4.18.

The financier and Montaigne scholar Gilbert de Botton (1935–2000) first read the Essais in his mother’s Pléiade edition: ‘A most unstuffy great … who would draw me in deeply, as he has countless unwavering admirers since 1580’. In 1981 he bought his first Montaigne from the antiquarian booksellers Bernard Quaritch, and soon filled this 1595 edition with his annotations, engaging with Montaigne as Montaigne himself had engaged with the authors he had read four centuries earlier. It was the beginning of an extraordinary collection, motivated by the desire to recreate Montaigne’s library—either by buying Montaigne’s personal copies, where available, or other copies of works known to have been owned or read by him. The collection also has a fine set of early editions of Montaigne’s works as well as modern editions and criticism. It came to the Library in 2008 and is an outstanding resource for scholars of Montaigne.

Gilbert de Botton

Montaigne’s copy of Lucretius’ De rerum natura (1563). From the Montaigne Library. [This opening not on display]