Michel de Montaigne / 1533–1592 / France / Essayist
Note: All quotations are taken from Montaigne’s Essays [Essais], first published in 1580 (with numerous later editions).
When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?II, 12.
Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known.I, 32.
It is more of a job to interpret the interpretations than to interpret the things, and there are more books about books than about any other subject: we do nothing but write glosses about eachIII, 13.
Brotherhood of Man
Not because Socrates said so, but because it is in truth my own disposition—and perchance to some excess—I look upon all men as my compatriots, and embrace a Pole as a Frenchman, making less account of the national than of the universal and common bond.III, 9.
I find that there is nothing barbarous and savage in this nation [of cannibals], by anything that I can gather, excepting, that every one gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country. . . . We may then call these people barbarous, in respect to the rules of reason: but not in respect to ourselves, who in all sorts of barbarity exceed them.I, 31.
Our wisdom and deliberation for the most part follow the lead of chance.III, 8.
I want death to find me planting my cabbages.I, 20.
Live as long as you please, you will strike nothing off the time you will have to spend dead.I, 20.
Wherever your life ends, it is all there. The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in the number of years, for you to have lived enough.I, 20.
Since I would rather make of him [the child] an able man than a learned man, I would also urge that care be taken to choose a guide [tutor] with a well-made rather than a well-filled head.I, 26.
The thing I fear most is fear.I,18.
If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because he was he and I was I.I, 28.
No matter that we may mount on stilts, we still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.III, 13.
The souls of emperors and cobblers are cast in the same mold. … The same reason that makes us bicker with a neighbor creates a war between princes.II, 12.
A man may be humble through vainglory.II, 17.
I find that the best goodness I have has some tincture of vice.II, 20.
Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition.III, 1.
There is no man so good that if he placed all his actions and thoughts under the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.III, 9.
We must reserve a back shop all our own, entirely free, in which to establish our real liberty and our principal retreat and solitude.I, 39.
The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.I, 39.
Truly man is a marvelously vain, diverse, and undulating object. It is hard to found any constantI,1.
and uniform judgment on him.
Man is certainly crazy. He could not make a mite, and he makes gods by the dozen.II, 12.
It [marriage] happens as with cages: the birds without despair to get in, and those within despair of getting out.III, 5.
I have seen no more evident monstrosity and miracle in the world than myself.III, 11.
Montaigne and the Essays
Everyone recognizes me in my book, and my book in me.III, 5.
I have here only made a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but theIII, 12.
thread that ties them together.
It is a thorny undertaking, and more so than it seems, to follow a movement so wandering as that of our mind, to penetrate the opaque depths of its innermost folds, to pick out and immobilize the innumerable flutterings that agitate it.II, 6.
Let us give Nature a chance; she knows her business better than we do.III, 13.
Our utmost endeavours cannot arrive at so much as to imitate the nest of the least of birds, its contexture, beauty, and convenience: not so much as the web of a poor spider. All things, says Plato, are produced either by nature, by fortune, or by art; the greatest and most beautiful by the one or the other of the former, the least and the most imperfect by the last.I, 31.
I do not speak the minds of others except to speak my own mind better.I, 26.
This notion [skepticism] is more clearly understood by asking “What do I know?”II, 12.
Subject of the Essays
Had I been seeking public attention, I would have made myself look better and presented myself more carefully. But I want you to see me as I am, in a plain, natural, and ordinary way, free of pretense and artifice. I am the one depicted here. My faults and my very self are exposed for all to see, at least as much as public conventions will let me. Had I lived among those nations, which (they say) still live under the sweet liberty of nature’s primitive laws, I assure you I would easily have painted myself quite fully and quite naked. So, reader, here I am, the subject of my book, and I see no reason why you should spend your free time on so unimportant and pointless a topic. Farewell, then!“To the Reader.”
I speak the truth, not my fill of it, but as much as I dare speak; and I dare to do so a little more as I grow old.III, 1.