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in his cabinet or study, dated on his thirty-eighth birthday
(February 28, 1 57 1), proclaims that weary of public life
{servitii aulici et munerum publicorum iamdudum pertaesus) he
had retired to the bosom of the learned virgins to spend there
the rest of his days in repose and freedom from all care {ubi
quietus et omnium securus \ijuan\tillum id tandem superabit. . .
exigat)*. The inscription is characteristic, for after all there
was nothing very remarkable in this retirement of Montaigne's
from public life. His judicial duties were distasteful to him
and he had his property to look after. And though he found
by experience that the management of an estate was no more
congenial to him than the work of a magistrate-, In- had
always taken seriously his position as a landed proprietor.

1 The printing was finished on Dec. 30, 156s.

- The letter of dedication is dated April 30, 1570.

3 For the whole inscription see Galy and Lapeyre, p. 36 I
exigat with istas sedes in the sense of ' to complete,' and in this th
by M. Bonnefon.


He might indeed have exchanged the gown for the sword, for
a soldier's life sometimes appealed strongly to him, but in
the present unhappy state of his country he was debarred by
his principles from taking a side. He would fight neither for
nor against the Protestants, so like Jean de la Taille 1 he
retired to his estates and his books, and tried to put in practice
those sentiments of

Beatus ille, qui procul negotiis,
Ut prisca gens mortalium,
Paterna rura bobus exercet suis,

which so many of his contemporaries were expressing in verse.
The main building of Montaigne's cJiatean after frequent
transformations was burnt down in 1885, but the famous
tower, in which he had his library and his study, is still
standing, and save for the gradual decay of the paintings and
the increasing defacement of the inscriptions, is practically
unchanged-. The library with the adjoining cabinet, assez
poly, is on the second story, and here in summer Montaigne
spent the greater part of the day. It is nearly circular in
shape, the longer diameter being nearly twenty-seven feet
and the shorter rather more than twenty-two feet 3 . From
three windows it commands a wide view of the adjacent
country in three different directions 4 . The books, which in
1588 numbered about a thousand, the greater part bound in
white vellum, were ranged in bookcases round the room, each
case containing five shelves. As we have seen, some of them
had been bequeathed to Montaigne by La Boetie, and it was
to La Boetie's memory that the whole collection was dedicated
in an inscription which formerly adorned the frieze 5 . The

1 See ante, p. 83.

2 The chateau, which was rebuilt after the fire, is a mile and a half from the
station of La Mothe-Montravel (36 miles from Bordeaux by rail and abont 20
from Bergerac). The present owner, the Marquise de Reverseau, inherited it
from her father M. Magne, the Finance Minister of Napoleon III.

3 See Galy and Lapeyre's plan ; also Payen n°. 4 for illustrations and plans
of the whole tower.

* Essais, in. 3.

8 It was transcribed in the 18th century; see Bonnefon, 1. 245.



presence of Montaigne's signature in from seventy to eighty
volumes which still exist enables us with the help of various
remarks in the Essais in some measure to reconstruct his
library 1 . Les historiens sont le way gibier de mon estnde-, and
in conformity with this remark we find that thirty-one out of
the surviving works relate to history. By far the most in-
teresting is a copy of Caesar's Commentaries, covered with
annotations in Montaigne's handwriting 3 . Among the modern
historians the Italians are naturally the best represented.
Montaigne also had a special liking for the Italian letter-
writers, of whom he tells us that he had a hundred volumes.
The best, he considered, was Annibale Caro, translator of the
JEneid, and secretary to Pierluigi Farnese, Duke of Parma 4 .

Thirteen of Montaigne's Italian books have survived,
among them being two which deal with the subject of spiritual
love, the Dialogld di aviore of Leo Hebraeus 3 and a translation
of the Spanish romance // carcel de amor 6 . There are thirty-
five Latin books and eight Greek ones, but a copy of the
Odyssey, covered with marginal notes, has unfortunately dis-
appeared 7 . Montaigne was not much of a Greek scholar,
and doubtless read his Greek authors, Plato and Aristotle,
Herodotus and Xenophon, in translations, as we know he read
his favourite Plutarch. But he had a copy of Froben's Greek
and Latin edition (1560) of the Lives.

The most remarkable feature in the library was the Greek
and Latin sentences painted on the beams of the ceiling 3 .
Ecclesiastes supplies twelve, the majority of these being
painted over earlier ones taken from other sources, the
Florilegium of Stobaeus (chiefly the discourse De superbia)

1 See P. Bonnefon, La Bibliotheque de Montaigne in Rev. iVliist. litt. 11. (1895)
313 ff. ; Montaigne et ses amis, I. 248 ff.

2 In the later editions sont ma droicte balle.

s Printed by Plantin, Antwerp, 1570; it was bought on the quais for
90 centimes, and is now at Chantilly. See Payen, n°. 3, -29 fT. ; Bonnefon, I. -•''.; ff.

4 Essais, 1. 39.

5 Venice, 1549. This and two other volumes have the motto Mentrt pi

6 Venice, 1546; see ante, 1. 51.

7 It belonged to the elder Mirabeau (Bonnefon, 1. 25?).

8 See Galy and Lapeyre.


eight, of which all except one are quotations from the Greek
dramatists, St Paul's Epistles five, the Old Testament three,
and Lucretius three. Only one modern writer has the
honour of furnishing a text, and that is Michel de l'Hospital
from whose epistle to Margaret, Duchesse de Berry, is taken

Nostra vagatur
In tenebris, nee caeca potest mens cernere verum 1 .
With hardly an exception— Terence's Homo sum, humani nil
a me alienum puto is one— all the texts repeat the same
burden, the vanity and ignorance of man. Finally in long
scrolls on the two main beams, as well as on four of the
shorter joists, are inscribed twelve Sceptic formulae, chiefly
taken from Sextus Empiricus.

During the years from 1571 to 1580 Montaigne lived for
the most part quietly at his chateau, reading his books and
writing his essays. He was occasionally absent from home
for some months at a time'-, and on one occasion at least
played a part in public affairs. In the spring of 1574 the
commander of the royalist army of Poitou, the Due de
Montpensier, had established his camp at Sainte-Hermine,
and Montaigne came there apparently for the purpose of
offering his services. At any rate Montpensier sent him on a
mission to Bordeaux to urge on the authorities the pressing
necessity of taking vigilant precautions against a possible
Huguenot attack 3 .

Towards the close of 1579 the writing of the First and
Second books of the Essays was completed and they were
sent to Bordeaux to be printed by Simon Millanges, a former
professor of the College of Guyenne. They appeared in the
spring of 1580 in two volumes of unequal thickness and
printed in different type 4 . Each book occupied a volume.

1 Epistolarum libri sex, 1585, p. 84 (lib. ii). Though the collected edition of
his poems was not published till 1585 several had appeared separately in his

2 Les occasions we tiennent ailleurs parfoisplusieurs mois [Essais, III. 37).

;i Montaigne refers to the mission, without mentioning its import, in his copy
of Beuther's Ephemerides, which he used as a diary. The Bordeaux Parliament
gave him audience on May 11 (Payen, n°. 2, p. 20). See also Bonnefon, I. 275 ff.

4 The avis an lecteur is dated in the original edition March 1 .


1 45

For the last two years Montaigne had suffered from
attacks of the stone and gravel, and it was chiefly from a
desire to try the effects of various foreign waters, though partly
also from his innate restlessness and love of travel, that he
left home on June 22, 1580, for a long absence. He was
present at the siege of La Fere in Picardy by the royalist
troops, when his friend Philibert de Gramont, the husband of
la belle Corisande, was struck by a cannon-ball and died
four days afterwards (August 6) 1 . After attending his friend's
funeral at Soissons he started on his tour in company with
his youngest brother, M. de Mattecoulon, then a lad of twenty,
M. de Cazalis (probably his brother-in-law), M. du Hautoy,
and a youth named Charles d'Estissac, doubtless the son of
the lady to whom one of the Essays is dedicated-, who was
especially intrusted to his care. The first halt of any length
was at Plombieres in the Vosges, where Montaigne drank the
waters for eleven days. From there the travellers passed through
Switzerland to Augsburg, and so by way of Munich, Innsbruck,
and the Brenner to Venice, which they reached on November 5.
Travelling by way of Bologna, Florence, and Siena they
arrived at Rome on November 30, and settled there for the
winter. They left Rome on April 19, 1581, and after paying
a visit to the famous Casa Santa at Loreto reached the
Baths of Lucca on May 8. Here, except for a seven weeks'
visit to Florence, Pisa and Lucca (June 21 — August 14).
Montaigne resided till September 12, taking the baths and
drinking the waters. On the 1st of October he was back
at Rome, where he found an official letter from the jurats of
Bordeaux informing him that he had been elected to the
office of Mayor on August 1, a piece of news of which he
had already heard in a letter from a friend. He at first
declined the honour, but he left Rome after only a short
stay, and returned to France by the Mont Cenis, reaching Ins
home on the 30th of November. Pressed to reconsider his
decision, and receiving a letter from the King which amounted

1 l'ayen n". 3 p. 15 ; Essais, III. 4.

- 11. 8. De F affection de* peres aux enfant*.

T. II.


to a command, he changed his mind and accepted the

office 1 .

In quiet times it was a responsible rather than a laborious
post, and did not necessitate continual residence in the town.
For the ordinary municipal duties were performed by the
jurats, and it was only on special occasions that the inter-
vention of the Mayor in person was required. The outgoing
Mayor, the well-known Marechal de Biron, who had also
held the post of Lieutenant-general of Guyenne, had shewn
more zeal than discretion, and had been generally un-
popular. Montaigne's election was no doubt as much due
to his known good sense and moderation as to the fact
that his father had been Mayor before him. The new
Lieutenant-general of the province was the Marechal de
Matignon, a man of conciliatory measures, whose capacity
was equal to his tact 2 . France, as we have seen, had had a
respite from civil war since the close of the year 1580, and
the two years' term of Montaigne's office passed uneventful ly,
but with such satisfaction to the citizens of Bordeaux that on
August 1, 1583, he was re-elected for a second term of office.

One of his first duties after re-election was to approve the
statutes of his old college of Guyenne, which had recently
been printed. But more troubled times were impending. The
death of the Due d'Alencon, the King's only brother, in June,
1584, left a heretic next in the succession to the crown, and
at the close of the year the League was revived with a new
and more efficient organisation for the express purpose of
excluding that heretic from the throne. Even before this there
had been some infractions of the peace. In December, 1583, the

1 ye trCen excusay. Mais on vCapprint que j'avois tort ; le commemdemeni du
Roy s , y interposant aussi. Essais, III. to. It is not quite clear when Montaigne
changed his mind. It would appear from the yournal die Voyage (ill. 370) that
he left Rome sooner than he had intended. But the King's letter is only dated
November 25, and was addressed to Rome under the impression that Montaigne
was still there (Bonnefon, II. 45). It is quite likely however that at Lyons the
bearer of the letter, having heard of Montaigne's presence there on Nov. 15, sent
it direct to his home, in which case he would have got it very soon after his

2 Brantome describes him as tin tres-fin et trinquat normand, et qui battoit
froid d aidant que t autre (Biron) battoit cliaud (CEuvres, v. 159).



King of Navarre had seized the town of Mont-de-Marsan in
Gascony, which formed part of the government of Guyenne,
and Du Plessis-Mornay had written several letters to Montaigne
on the subject, assuring him of his master's peaceful intentions 1 .
A year later, on the 19th of December, 1584, the King of
Navarre paid a memorable visit to Montaigne's chateau ac-
companied by some of the leading Protestant nobles, including
Conde, Rohan, Turenne (the future Due de Bouillon), Sully
and Lesdiguieres. It was a special mark of the King's con-
fidence that he slept in his host's bed and ate his food without
allowing the usual precautions against poison to be taken.
The next morning they hunted in Montaigne's forest. The
stag, Montaigne records with pride, was a good one'-.

On March 31, 1585, the Cardinal of Bourbon and other
Catholic princes and nobles issued their manifesto, which was
a prelude to war. About the same time the supporters of the
League at Bordeaux began to conspire under the leadership
of M. de Vaillac, but thanks to the energy of Matignon, ably
seconded by Montaigne, the town remained unshaken in its
loyalty". The last two months of Montaigne's term of office
were signalised by a terrible outbreak of the plague at
Bordeaux and elsewhere in Guyenne 4 . There was a panic at
Bordeaux, and some modern critics of Montaigne have de-
clared that he should have set an example of devotion and
courage by taking up his residence in the town. But he had
his own family to look after, for the contagion had spread to
the neighbourhood of his chateau, and it was necessary to
establish them in a place of safety, which he found apparently
at Libourne 5 . On the 31st of July his term of office expired.

1 Bonnefon, II. 79 — 90.

- // n'y sonffrait ny essai ny convert, et dormit dans won lit hi partir de

ceans je luifis eslamer un cerfen maforetquilepromena 2 jours. Payen 11 '. 3 |>. 16.

:i See two letters of Montaigne to Matignon written in May, 1585 ■' '
iv. 349 ft'. ; Bonnefon, 11. 119 ff.). And cf. J. Dussieux, Lettres intimes de Ilairi
IV, pp. 56—66.

4 40,000 persons died at Bordeaux from June to December. Sec Montaigne's
touching description of the plague in his neighbourhood, Essais, ill. 1 :.

5 His letter to the jurats of July 30 is dated from Libourne. [CEttvt
Courbet and Royer, iv. 354.)


[ 4 8


It was not till the close of the year that the cessation of
the plague allowed Montaigne to return to his home. Here
for the next two years he seems to have occupied himself
chiefly with his books and his Essays, the only noteworthy
incident being that Henry of Navarre dined with him on
October 24, 1587, on his way to Sainte-Foy 1 , four days after
his victory at Coutras, the first victory gained by the Pro-
testants since the outbreak of the civil war. By February,
158s, he had completed the Third book of his Essays and
had made considerable additions to the First and Second
books. Accordingly he set out for Paris to see about the
publication of a new edition 2 . It appeared about the middle
of June 3 . In the following month, Paris being now completely
in the hands of the League, he made acquaintance with the
inside of the Bastille, but was released before nightfall through
the intervention of Catharine de' Medici 4 . Soon after this
incident he paid a visit of some duration to Gournay-sur-
Aronde in Picardy, the home of Marie de Gournay, a young
lady whose enthusiastic admiration for the Essays, which she
had read two or three years before, had led her to make the
author's acquaintance at Paris*. Montaigne was at Blois when
the Estates-General opened on October 15, having followed
the Court there, as he had already followed it to Chartres
and Rouen. Pasquier and De Thou have both left a record
of conversations which they had with him at this time 6 .

J Henri IV, Lettres missives, II. 602.

- It was on this journey that he was attacked by a band of Leaguers and
stripped of his money and papers, but speedily changing their minds they let him
go free and gave him back all his possessions. Sec his letter to Matignorj
[CEuvres, IV. 357) and Essais, III. 12.

3 The privilege is dated June 4, and the preface June 1 2.

4 Payen n°. 3 p. 17.

She was the daughter of Guillaume de Jars and was born in October, 1565.
See Essais, 11. 17. Montaigne paid two or three visits to Gournay, spending in all
three months there (Pasquier, Lettres, xviii. 1) ; M lle de Gournay recorded her
reminiscences of the visit in a romance entitled Le Pronmenoir de M. de Montaigne
which she sent to him in manuscript at the end of November, 15S8. and which
was published in 1594. For an account of her see Bonnefon, II. 315 ff.

,; Pasquier, loc. (it.; De Thou, Meinoires, in Michaud and Poujoulat,
xi. 330.

x -^l] MONTAIGNE I49

Montaigne returned home in October or November and
tried to forget in reading and writing the frequent pain
which his malady now caused him. Though he wrote no
fresh Essays he was constantly adding to the old ones. From
the numerous citations from Plato which appear for the first
time in the posthumous edition 1 we may conclude that he
read some of his dialogues at this period. In 1589 he carried
on a correspondence with Lipsius, in whose praise he had
introduced a passage in the last edition of the Essays-. A
greater interest attaches to his correspondence with Henry IV,
whose succession to the throne (Aug. 2, 1589) must have been
medicine to his pains. Two of his letters to the King have
been preserved. Both are models of manly frankness. The
first, dated January 8, 1590, is of some length, and shews a
statesmanlike appreciation of the political condition". The
second, dated September, 1590, is much shorter, being evi-
dently an answer to an offer from the King of some post or
other pecuniary reward 4 . His proud refusal reminds one of
the famous passage in the King's letter to M. De Launay,
(i Argent 11 est pas pdture pour des gentilshotinnes commc vans et
moi" " Quand fauray e'puisc ma bourse aupres de Votre
Majeste\je prendray la hardiesse de le luy dire" says Montaigne,
and the words ring truer from one who is refusing money
than from one who is asking for it.

Unfortunately Montaigne did not live to see the complete
triumph of that royalist cause to which he had adhered with
such singleness of heart and purpose. He died of quinsy on
the 13th of September, 1592, in his sixtieth year'.

Montaigne and his Essays have been judged with remark-

1 Especially in I. xxiv and xxv.

'-' Lc pins scavant homme qui nans reste, d'un esprit trcs-poiy et Judidcux,
vrayment germain & mon Turnebus, 11. 12.

3 CEuvres, IV. 356.

4 ib- 363-

5 Pasquier loc. cit. gives an account of his last moments, how, while mass was
being said in his room, at the elevation of the Host ce pauvre gentilliotm

an mains mat quHl pent, commc it cops perdu, sur son lit, les mail

ce dernier acte rendit son esprit ii Dicit. But he was not an eyewitness "f the -

See also P. de Brach's letter to Lipsius (Bonnefon, n. [83).




able diversity of opinion, a result which would have given
peculiar satisfaction to Montaigne himself. The chief questions
which have been raised are the following. What was the
main object of his book? Was it the study of himself as an
epitome of mankind, or was it the teaching of a certain
philosophy? What was this philosophy? To what extent
was it sceptical ? Was it a complete system, or was it merely
the unformulated scepticism of a layman? Was it Montaigne's
final attitude towards life, or was it a phase through which he
passed to a more positive philosophy ? What was his position
with regard to the Christian religion ? Was he a believer or
a disbeliever, or was he simply indifferent? To answer all
these questions with any certainty is possible to no one but
Montaigne himself; but the most hopeful method of arriving
at the truth that suggests itself is to trace the developement
of the Essays from their first beginnings to their final stage.

It is important however to bear in mind at the outset that
Montaigne, like Rabelais, is in the first place a poet and an
artist, and not a philosopher or a moral teacher. As Ruel
has well said, " his philosophy is the servant of his imagina-
tion, or rather of his sensibility." He regards alike the great
world without him and the little world within him in an
imaginative spirit. Like Shakespeare and Rembrandt he is at
once a realist and an idealist ; he looks on the phenomena of
life curiously and dispassionately, but he interprets them by
the penetrating light of his own imagination 1 .

As we have seen, Montaigne began to write his Essays
either in 1571 or quite at the beginning of 1572. His first
'attempts' — such was the modest name he gave to them 2 —

1 The artistic side of Montaigne is admirably brought out in Ruel"s book,
Du sentiment artistique dans la morale de Montaigne.

- Cest icy purement Tessai de mes facultes naturelles (ll. 10 beginning). This
seems to justify De Thou's and Saint-Marthe's rendering of £ssai by Conatus.
G. Guizot (p. 69) thinks that Lipsius's Gustus expresses Montaigne's real meaning,
and some support is given to this view by the passage Le jugement est nn util a
tons subjects, et se mesle par tout. A cette cause aux Essais que fen fay ici j'y
employe toute sorle d'occasion. Si e'est un subject que je nentende point, a cela
mesmeje Vessaye, sondant le gut de Men loing (i. 50 beg.). A similar explanation
is given in the dictionary of Hatzfeld, Darmesteter, and Thomas.


were extremely short ; an anecdote or two, chiefly taken from
his favourite study, history, with a few remarks by way of
moral. Out of the first eighteen Essays, as they now stand.
the only one in which there is no anecdote is the eighth,
On Idleness 1 . All the anecdotes deal with the same subject.
and that subject is man. In the very first Essay we meet
with that estimate of him which Montaigne was never weary
of proclaiming : Cest un subject merveilleusement vain, divers
et ondoyant, que Fhomme. In the eighth Essay he refers for
the first time to himself, giving the reason for his retirement
from public life, and saying that idleness had bred such queer
fancies in his mind that in order to put it to shame he had
begun to keep a register of them. In another place he tells us
that he would have chosen the epistolary form for his fancies
{verves) had he found a suitable correspondent, but that he
could not write imaginary letters 2 .

In the nineteenth Essay, Que philosopher cest apprendrc a
mourir, which we learn he was writing on the 15th of March,
1572 3 , he attempts for the first time a higher flight. The
inevitability of death was, as we have seen, a favourite subject
with the poets of the Pleiad school, but their treatment of it
is at once less realistic and less imaginative than Montaigne's.
His description of the death chamber, which forms the
conclusion of the Essay, is one of the most striking passages
of his book, and the whole Essay shews the hand of a master.
Here too he gives us one or two personal details. He tells us
the day and hour of his birth, and that he was non melan-
cholique, mats songecreux.

Of the other Essays in the First book, which were already
of considerable length on their first appearance, some, such as

1 We may fairly assume that with some exceptions the Essays were written
more or less in the order in which they were printed. The few thai can be dated
support this view, but it would be unlike Montaigne never to have departed from
the chronological order. For instance the famous Es>ay on Education, which now
stands twenty-fifth in the First book, cannot have been written befon 1579, the
year in which M me de Gurson was married. Again the present 1. 40 was
numbered fourteen in the editions before 1595.

- I. 39 (added in 1588).

:i // ny a justement </iee quinze jonrs qitefayfratu In yj atts.

1 ?2


the twenty-second, the twenty-third, the thirty-eighth, the
forty-second and the forty-seventh, cannot be dated ; but the
thirtieth {On Cannibals) must have been written after the

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