Michel de Montaigne is widely appreciated as one of the most important figures in the late French Renaissance, both for his literary innovations as well as for his contributions to philosophy.
As a writer, he is credited with having developed a new form of literary expression, the essay, a brief and admittedly incomplete treatment of a topic germane to human life that blends philosophical insights with historical anecdotes and autobiographical details, all unapologetically presented from the author’s own personal perspective.
As a philosopher, he is best known for his skepticism, which profoundly influenced major figures in the history of philosophy such as Descartes and Pascal.
All of his literary and philosophical work is contained in his , which he began to write in 1572 and first published in 1580 in the form of two books.
Living, as he did, in the second half of the 16th century, Montaigne bore witness to the decline of the intellectual optimism that had marked the Renaissance.
The sense of immense human possibilities, stemming from the discoveries of the New World travelers, from the rediscovery of classical antiquity, and from the opening of scholarly horizons through the works of the humanists, was shattered in France when the advent of the Calvinistic Reformation was followed closely by religious persecution and by the Wars of Religion (1562–98).His grandfather and his father expanded their activities to the realm of public service and established the family in the As a young child Montaigne was tutored at home according to his father’s ideas of pedagogy, which included the creation of a cosseted ambience of gentle encouragement and the exclusive use of Latin, still the international language of educated people.As a result the boy did not learn French until he was six years old.He continued his education at the College of Guyenne, where he found the strict discipline abhorrent and the instruction only moderately interesting, and eventually at the University of Toulouse, where he studied law.Following in the public-service tradition begun by his grandfather, he entered into the magistrature, becoming a member of the Board of Excise, the new tax court of Périgueux, and, when that body was dissolved in 1557, of the Parliament of Bordeaux, one of the eight regional parliaments that constituted the French Parliament, the highest national court of justice.Curious by nature, interested in the smallest details of dailiness, geography, and regional idiosyncrasies, Montaigne was a born traveler. Reluctant to accept, because of the dismal political situation in France and because of ill health (he suffered from kidney stones, which had also plagued him on his trip), he nevertheless assumed the position at the request of Henry III and held it for two terms, until July 1585.While the beginning of his tenure was relatively tranquil, his second term was marked by an acceleration of hostilities between the warring factions, and Montaigne played a crucial role in preserving the equilibrium between the Catholic majority and the important .After having been interrupted again, by a renewed outbreak of the plague in the area that forced Montaigne and his family to seek refuge elsewhere, by military activity close to his estate, and by diplomatic duties, when Catherine de Médicis appealed to his abilities as a negotiator to mediate between herself and Henry of Navarre—a mission that turned out to be unsuccessful—Montaigne was able to finish the work in 1587.The year 1588 was marked by both political and literary events.Over the next twelve years leading up to his death, he made additions to the first two books and completed a third, bringing the work to a length of about one thousand pages.While Montaigne made numerous additions to the books over the years, he never deleted or removed any material previously published, in an effort to represent accurately the changes that he underwent both as a thinker and as a person over the twenty years during which he wrote.