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The Montaigne Library is a remarkable collection of books connected with Montaigne's life and times, including ten volumes from Montaigne’s own library. It was assembled by the Montaigne scholar and financier Gilbert de Botton (1935–2000) and came to Cambridge University Library in 2008. De Botton first read Montaigne's 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’.*

The motivation behind his collection was a desire to recreate Montaigne’s library—either by buying Montaigne’s personal copies, where available, or other copies of works known to have belonged to or been read by him. De Botton's article on Montaigne's 'librairie'—written with another great collector of Montaigne, Francis Pottiée-Sperry—was published in the Bulletin du bibliophile in 1997. The Montaigne Library also has a fine set of early printed editions of Montaigne’s works, including copies owned by Ben Jonson (the first edition of 1580), Napoleon I (the 1608 edition) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (the 1652 edition), as well as modern editions and criticism, making this an outstanding resource for scholars of Montaigne.

The ten personal copies in the Library make this the third largest collection of Montaigne’s books after those of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Bibliothèque municipale, Bordeaux. They include Montaigne’s heavily annotated copy of Lucretius’ De rerum natura (1563), discovered as recently as 1989. The other nine volumes are editions of Terence (1541), Strabo (1549), and Appian (1551), the works of Sophocles (1553), Aimoin de Fleury's Historiæ Francorum (1567), Joannes Baptista Egnatius's De exemplis illustrium virorum Venetæ ciuitatis (1554), the Fatti memorabili d’alcuni papi of Girolamo Garimberto (1506–1575), the works of the neo-Latin poet Marco Girolamo Vida (1541), and Joachim Du Bellay's Les regrets (1565), although the authenticity of the signature on the Du Bellay has been the subject of some debate.

A selection of books from the Montaigne Library, including all ten books owned by Montaigne, have been fully digitised and are available in the Cambridge Digital LibrarySeveral books from the collection, including Montaigne's copy of Lucretius and Rousseau's copy of the 1652 edition of Montaigne, are also available as part of the 'Montaigne à l'œuvre' (MONLOE) strand of the online resource Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes.

An exhibition of books from the Montaigne Library was held at Cambridge University Library from 4 August to 23 December 2008. A catalogue of the exhibition is available as an appendix to the monograph on the Montaigne Library by Philip Ford.

*Foreword, in M. A. Screech, Montaigne’s annotated copy of Lucretius: a transcription and study of the manuscript, notes and pen-marks (Geneva, 1998), p. xvi.

References and further reading:

  • P. Ford, The Montaigne Library of Gilbert de Botton at Cambridge University Library (Cambridge, 2008). B151.MON.3
  • R. A. Sayce & D. Maskell, A descriptive bibliography of Montaigne's Essais, 1580–1700 (London, 1983). B151.MON.1
  • G. de Botton & F. Pottiée-Sperry, 'A la recherche de la "librairie" de Montaigne', Bulletin du bibliophile, 2 (1997), 254–298. P850.c.49
  • M. A. Screech, Montaigne's annotated copy of Lucretius: a transcription and study of the manuscript, notes and pen-marks (Genève, 1998). 533:01.b.1.295
  • A. Legros, Montaigne manuscrit (Paris, 2010), pp. 215–422, 739–742 + plates 37–42, 53–58. 739:27.c.201.5
  • A. Legros, 'Montaigne, annotateur de Lucrèce: dix notes "contre la religion"', in La renaissance de Lucrèce, Cahiers V. L. Saulnier, 27 (Paris, 2010), pp. 141–156 + plate IV
  • Michel de Montaigne et son temps: collection Francis Pottiée-Sperry (Paris, Sotheby's, 27 November 2003). B151.MON.2