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Essays Paperback – Jul 1 1993
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From the Back Cover
Taken together, this selection of essays forms an exquisitely drawn portrait that depicts the strength and warmth of Montaigne's personality. And, as J.M. Cohen observes in his introduction, 'One sees, as one reads him, how broad his mind was, and how many of the ideas of the next two centuries he grasped by anticipation.'
About the Author
Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne, was born in 1533, the son and heir of Pierre, Seigneur de Montaigne (two previous children dying soon after birth). He was brought up to speak Latin as his mother tongue and always retained a Latin turn of mind; though he knew Greek, he preferred to use translations. After studying law he eventually became counselor to the Parlement of Bordeaux. He married in 1565. In 1569 he published his French version of the Natural Theology of Raymond Sebond; his Apology is only partly a defense of Sebond and sets skeptical limits to human reasoning about God, man and nature. He retired in 1571 to his lands at Montaigne, devoting himself to reading and reflection and to composing his Essays (first version, 1580). He loathed the fanaticism and cruelties of the religious wars of the period, but sided with Catholic orthodoxy and legitimate monarchy. He was twice elected Mayor of Bordeaux (1581 and 1583), a post he held for four years. He died at Montaigne (1592) while preparing the final, and richest, edition of his Essays.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book of Essays was one he worked on periodically throughout his life, issuing different editions, the first of which appeared in 1580. Montaigne's style of writing is sometimes stream-of-consciousness, sometimes structured in more formal styles.
Montaigne's stated task in his preface to the reader is for self-examination, but it becomes very clear that Montaigne sees himself as an 'everyman' character. He strives for full-disclosure; indeed, he writes that were he another culture 'which are said to live still in the sweet freedom of nature's first laws', then he might have appeared naked.
This is a complete set of the Essays, together with a helpful introduction and notes for reading. As Montaigne added to his essays periodically, they are not necessarily in the order he wrote them, but this collection has preserved their order according to his standards.
Montaigne's essays show a pessimism and skepticism, perhaps based on the kinds of conflicts between Catholics and Protestants going on, in France and elsewhere, as well as the periodic flare of plague. He was a humanist who saw cultures as having value internal to themselves and preferred to not universalise morals, laws and other ideas.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Seduced by the idea of having a complete set of all the Essays, I initially opted for the Screech translation, but found it wooden and pedantic. I moved to the Cohen translation, which does not include all of the Essays, but has all of the major ones and is far more enjoyable.
To start with Translation: Both major translations are excellent in their own way, but some differences are of note. When a translation is done, usually the translator will translate the major language of the text, French in this case, and leave quotes by the author from other languages, mostly Latin in this case, untranslated. The translator will provide a note with the translation of the quote, and preferably the source of the quote.
This is where Screech and Frame differ considerably. Screech does what should be done, and Frame just translates everything into English with no significant notations other than the person quoted. This means, however, that one may prefer one translation over the other based on this alone. For example, one that wishes to take a more scholarly look will likely use Screech (or the original), and one that simply wants to read for pleasure may have no problem using the translation by Frame. Also, Screech is British and Frame is American, so one may have other preferences for style.
As for the Physical Copy:
The physical copies of Frame's translation (Stanford and Everyman's) are vastly superior to the Penguin Classics Screech version. The Penguin paperback is thick, but in keeping with the generally small form factor, the print is terribly small, and the paper is of a horrible quality, which is the reason I also purchased the Kindle version.
As for the Kindle version:
The Penguin Classics Kindle file is much more pleasant to read and deal with than the paperback alternative. However, there are many errors in the Kindle version that are not present in the paperback version. It appears some items get corrected occasionally, but still, it is not nice to charge so much for the Kindle version, and not have it completely proofread and ready for primetime.
This actually lead me to have a conversation with a Penguin representative about the quality of the Kindle version, and in that conversation, I learned something I had not realized before. Penguin does not produce the Kindle version. Amazon does. So, all of the quality issues I have noticed in the past about Kindle versions essentially are the fault of Amazon rather than the publisher listed. I suppose the publisher only sells Amazon license to produce the Kindle file and sets price limitations, and Amazon does the rest. This needs to change, because there needs to be more quality control.
***EDIT 02/01/2016: SEE COMMENT BELOW BY RAFA. APPARENTLY, IT IS THE PUBLISHER'S FAULT, NOT AMAZON'S.***
However, because of the limitations of the Penguin paperback, I would still recommend the Kindle version if one is to read Screech.
Five stars for Montaigne's Complete Essays, regardless of which version one chooses to read.
Pascal struggled all his life with the example of Montaigne. The problem for Pascal was that he was only really concerned with one thing - God's grace - and he was scandalised that Montaigne didn't seem to find it that big a deal. MM will write as readily about theological disputes and poetry as he will about sex, forgetfulness and his own stupidity. Apart from anything else, he was perhaps the first person to observe that nobody can pretend that his s*** doesn't stink (I can't remember the exact page, but then there _are_ over a thousand.)
There's a lifetime's reading in here. For such a big fat classic of a book it reads like it was written yesterday, although if it _had_ been written yesterday, he'd've been all over Hello! magazine by now.
Wisdom is maybe underrated these days, but Montaigne isn't just spouting off. This is not a 16th century evening with Morrie. You can see him thinking. He _encourages_ you. (What a great word "encourage" is.) It's not that bad for about fourteen quid.
Those who discover Montaigne should count themselves very lucky. There are so many authors competing for our attention today, so many brilliant and less than brillliant men and women both contemporary and of the past, so many poets, novelists, philosophers, thinkers of every stripe, that Montaigne's voice can easily get lost in the general racket, like the voice of a single cricket on a noisy summer's night.
But Montaigne's voice is well worth singling out for special attention, like that one cricket whose song is especially musical, because there has never been anyone quite like him, nor anyone who has produced such a wealth of sensible observations on life and everything that goes to make it up.
We love Montaigne for his humanity, his wisdom, his clear insight into human nature, his tolerance of our weaknesses and failings, his love and compassion for all creatures whether man, animal, or plant, his calm, gentle and amiable voice, his stately and dignified progress as he conducts us through the vast repository of his mind. But above all we love him for his plain good sense.
Despite his distance in time, we can open these essays almost anywhere and immediately become engrossed. Some of what he says, particularly about our weaknesses and failings, may not be particularly welcome to some, though the open-minded will acknowledge its self-evident truth. Montaigne was not afraid to speak his mind, and as a man who was interested in almost everything, his observations range from the curious through to the truly profound.
At one time we find him, for example, discussing the best sexual position for conception, at others such deep notions as that "in truth we are but nothing" (p.555); "there is a plague on man, the opinion that he knows something" (p.543); thought as the chief source of our woes (p.514); "in man curiosity is an innate evil" (p.555); "only a fool is bound to his body by fear of death" (p.553); nature needs little to be satisfied" (p.526); there is only change (p.xvii); our absolute need for converse with others (p.421); how "if a ray of God's light touched us even slightly, it would be everywhere apparent : not only our words but our deeds would bear its lustre and its brightness. Everything emanating from us would be seen shining with that noble light" (p.493); how man should "lay aside that imaginary kingship over other creatures which is attributed to us" (p.487); how reason is not a special unique gift of human beings, marking us off from the rest of Nature" (p489); of how "we owe justice to men," and "gentleness and kindness" to "beasts, which have life and feelings [and] even to trees and plants" (p.488).
And so on through manifold topics, both weighty and light, his observations illustrated by stories contemporary and ancient, drawn not only from his incredibly wide learning, but also from his experience as man of the world.
The examples I've cited seem to me pitifully inadequate as describing or even suggesting the breadth of his thought - just a few examples selected at random that happen to appeal to me. Montaigne is too big to capture in a few words. His mind was as capacious as his enormous book, and he had something to say about almost everything. His is not so much a book as a companion for life.
Montaigne as that single special cricket singing away in the forest of learning along with thousands of others, is not only worth singling out because of his vast repertoire of songs, but even more because of the special way he sang them. What makes him so important and so valuable, especially to us today, is that he was characterized above all, not merely by reason, which is common enough, but by a REASONABLE, AND NOT EXCESSIVE, USE OF REASON. In other words, he knew that reason had its limits, that it was a tool limited in its applicability and useful only for certain purposes, and he had the good sense to know when we should stop.
There is in Montaigne a sanity, a balance, an affability, and a modesty and tolerance that is found in no other European thinker, and that reminds one more of the Chinese sage. But instead of fastening on the truly civilized pattern established by Montaigne, Europe instead chose Descartes, Apostle of the Excessive Use of Reason, and with what results we know.
The Cartesian ideology of Reason fueled and continues to fuel the relentless Juggernaut of Reason now underway that threatens to end up crushing everything beneath its wheels. Montaigne would have been appalled. He stood for something more human.
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