The Essays, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


A survey of one of the giants of Renaissance thought, The Essays: A Selection collects some of Michel de Montaigne's most startling and original works, translated from the French and edited with an introduction and notes by M.A.

Screech in Penguin Classics.To overcome a crisis of melancholy after the death of his father, Montaigne withdrew to his country estates and began to write, and in the highly original essays that resulted he discussed themes such as fathers and children, conscience and cowardice, coaches and cannibals, and, above all, himself.

On Some Lines of Virgil opens out into a frank discussion of sexuality and makes a revolutionary case for the equality of the sexes.

In On Experience he superbly propounds his thoughts on the right way to live, while other essays touch on issues of an age struggling with religious and intellectual strife, with France torn apart by civil war.

These diverse subjects are united by Montaigne's distinctive voice - that of a tolerant man, sceptical, humane, often humorous and utterly honest in his pursuit of the truth.M.A.

Screech's distinguished translation fully retains the light-hearted and inquiring nature of the essays.

In his introduction, he examines Montaigne's life and times, and the remarkable self-portrait that emerges from his works.Michel de Montaigne (1533-1586) studied law and spent a number of years working as a counsellor before devoting his life to reading, writing and reflection.

If you enjoyed The Essays: A Selection, you might like Francis Bacon's The Essays, also available in Penguin Classics.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary essays
  • ISBN: 9780140446029

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

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If he had a more manageable name, there should be an equivalent to "Shakespearean" for Michel de Montaigne, and the label to refer to essayists of his level. As with Shakespearean, you have to pay attention lest the dense, meaningful sentences fly past. And frankly, there are times, and moods, when he's too dense for me to appreciate, or I'm too dense and have to put him aside.Like another wonderful essayist, William Hazlitt, Montaigne often takes a circuitous path, following the associations of his fertile, discursive mind, to touch upon all manner of things, before coming back to his point(s) with new, expanded insights. Or bringing up other, entirely unexpected points, altogether. Again, requiring an attentive reader, and one not looking for a point, but patiently waiting for the next rewarding chunk of writing to come, as it always does.In a frame of mind to focus and leave the world and its distractions behind, Montaigne is the most rewarding of writers. Take, for example, this (among so many other passages), from the essay "On Cruelty":"Virtue demands a rough and thorny road: she wants either external difficulties to struggle agains ... by means of which Fortune is pleased to break up the directness of her course for her, or else inward difficulties furnished by the disordered passions and imperfections of our condition."And this, from "On Repenting," capturing his straightforward honesty and self-assurance, without self-aggrandizing pride: "I have hardly cause to blame anyone but myself for my failures or misfortunes, for in practice I rarely ask anyone for advice save to honor them formally; the exception is when I need learned instruction or knowledge of the facts. But in matters where only my judgment is involved, the arguments of others rarely serve to deflect me, though they may well support me; I listen to them graciously and courteously--to all of them. But as far as I can recall, I have never yet trusted any but my own."

Review by

If I had only one book, this would be it.

Review by

What a wonderful book to have on the bookshelf. It took me about a year and half to read it, as I would leisurely consume an essay or two while between books, or if I was just looking for a pleasant respite from my other reading. Montaigne is every bit as readable, fascinating and wise as the judgment of history has deemed him.