The Complete Essays of Montaigne Vol 1 Author:Donald Frame (Translator) 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 racke... more »t, 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 fact we are nothing; there is a disease in man, the opinion that he knows something; thought as the chief source of our woes; in man curiosity is an innate evil; only a fool is bound to his body by fear of death; nature needs little to be satisfied; there is only change; our absolute need for converse with others; how man should lay aside his imagined superiority; how reason is not a special unique gift of human beings, separating us off from the rest of Nature; of how we owe justice to men, and gentleness and kindness to animals, which like us have life and feelings, and even to trees and plants.
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 Taoist sage. But instead of fastening on the truly civilized pattern exemplified 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.« less
I've had this thing since the late 80s. Even then I was amazed by it. It should have been called "The Ultimate Montaigne," because unless you want to put the original text on the facing pages, I don't see how this could ever be improved.
If you're doing Montaigne in English, you will never find a reason to use another edition. All of Montaigne's essays complete, and all with Frame's useful and non-condescending footnotes right on the bottom of every page: translating the Latin, providing helpful historical or contextual information, etc.