In 1580 Montaigne had accounted for his book by saying that it was intended really as a record for his family and friends (II: xviii, 647a). If he published it, he claimed that it was in part only to save himself the trouble of recopying manuscripts (ibid., n. 5). Later, however, stimulated by the success of the first edition,1 he felt much less need to apologize for writing about himself. If nothing else, it had helped to occupy him; and it had made him a more meditative reader as he sought classical authorities to corroborate his opinions (II: xviii, 647–648c). Moreover, his study of himself had the surprising effect of stabilizing, perhaps even reshaping that very self. “Moulant sur moy cette figure, il m’a fallu si souvent dresser et composer pour m’extraire, que le patron s’en est fermy et aucunement formé soy-mesmes. Me peignant pour autruy je me suis peint en moy de couleurs plus nettes que n’estoyent les miennes premieres” (ibid.).


Human Nature Critical Reason Entire Form Early Essay Universal Reason 
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  1. 1.
    See Villey, Les Sources et l’évolution des Essais de Montaigne, II, 244–248, and Frame, Montaigne’s Discovery of Man, pp. 120–124.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    See supra, pp. 125–126. The difference between the attitudes of 1580 and later is pretty clearly that at first Montaigne sees in a humble life material enough to exercise one’s judgment; later he sees in it material enough to know all human nature and to lead a fully human life, even more full in some ways than a public life.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    For a recent exchange on Montaigne’s religious practices, see Henri Busson’s “La Pratique religieuse de Montaigne,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et de Renaissance, XVI (1954), 86–95, and Dreano’s answer, with comments by Busson, ibid., 212–217. Both believe in Montaigne’s religious sincerity, but differ as to how profoundly Christian he was.Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    Dreano lists at length the allusions to miraculous events, La Pensée religieuse de Montaigne, pp. 299–303.Google Scholar
  5. 1.
    See Villey’s Sources et évolution, I, 100–104 and II, 309–315. Villey concludes that Montaigne’s position shifts from Pyrrhonism to a belief in the “relativity” of our knowledge. The distinction is not entirely clear to me. Be that as it may, it is not the additions to the “Apologie” that provide evidence to confirm Villey’s opinion. Some of the strongest insertions are in the most Pyrrhonistic pages.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    Janssen maintains, correctly I believe, that Montaigne’s fideism never changes. Among other additions to the “Apologie” he cites a slight but significant change made after 1588. Where the text had read that we must not expect that human arguments can “parfaire” the divine knowledge of religion, Montaigne substituted “atteindre à” for “parfaire.” This eliminates any possible misunderstanding of his point. For the a text, see Supra, p. 70.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Zeitlin’s comments in his translation of the Essays, III, 407–416, give a good summary of the historical background of this essay; but they exaggerate Montaigne’s rationalism. Villey, too, it seems to me, has a tendency to misconstrue this essay: Sources et évolution, II, 344–353.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    In III: viii, 921–922b, Montaigne had agreed to accept the word of a respectable authority — here Tacitus — when it recounts a miraculous event. It is obvious that he finds it hard to credit everything Tacitus says and pleads as an excuse for his author that the role of historian required him to register popular beliefs about Vespasian, whether true or not. Montaigne is repeating his earlier admonition to give credence to certain authorities only (see supra, p. 44). At the same time, he is admitting that these authorities do not always guarantee the accuracy of reports they repeat.Google Scholar
  9. 1.
    Because Montaigne never denies the existence of miracles, but only advises that judgment be suspended, I would call this essay thoroughly Pyrrhonist in spirit. Others regard it as the culminating expression of the essayist’s critical reason. It is certainly an example of skepticism being used against superstition, but does that make it an example of critical reason? If so, is there any standard for distinguishing skepticism from critical reason? In I : xxvii, Montaigne used fideist and skeptical arguments to defend belief in miraculous or incomprehensible things. Here he uses them to attack excessive credulity. The conclusions are somewhat different (only somewhat). The arguments are the same. Pyrrhonism rejects both rationalism and credulity. Rationalists do not seem to understand this, and discount one half of the argument; after all, how can a man in his right mind reject their point of view?Google Scholar
  10. 1.
    In III: iii, 802b, the essayist had written that the goals of association with “honnestes et habiles hommes” were “la privauté, frequentation et conference: l’exercice des ames, sans autre fruit.”Google Scholar
  11. 2.
    Villey is tempted. See Sources et évolution, II, 367–375 and his article “La Place de Montaigne dans le mouvement philosophique,” Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Etranger, CI (1926), 338–359. Lanson, Les Essais de Montaigne, pp. 279–282, would have us see in the essayist the beginnings of both Descartes’s rationalism and Bacon’s empiricism, but particularly the second. Villey speaks of Montaigne’s positivism. Although each is careful not to exaggerate, I find it very dangerous methodologically to speak of precursors. It is no help to point out that Montaigne’s empiricism, such as it was, was too faint-hearted to develop into full-blown Baconian science. A very good case could be made that the essayist is a forerunner of Freudian psychology, probably as good a case as either Villey or Lanson makes out in the matter of Bacon. It would not increase our understanding of Montaigne very much.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    The succeeding passages have already been discussed, supra, pp. 125–126.Google Scholar
  13. 1.
    Montaigne uses the word “esprit” here. For a quotation using reason in the same sense, see supra, p. 51 and the discussion of III: xi.Google Scholar
  14. 2.
    See Frame, Montaigne’s Discovery of Man on the “happy paradox.” pp. 85–90.Google Scholar
  15. 1.
    “What is right” is, of course, one of the base meanings of “la raison” in French. Note that Montaigne has always felt that following the law, reasonable or unreasonable, was right. For a particularly strong statement of this in 1588, see III : ix, 934b.Google Scholar
  16. 2.
    A 1588 addition modifies this only slightly when it states that although they probably do exist, man cannot discover them (p. 564).Google Scholar
  17. 1.
    III: xii, 1035–37 gives a good picture of Montaigne’s variations in this matter. Among other things he specifically declares that unlike Socrates he, Montaigne, has not corrected his “complexion” by the force of his “raison.”Google Scholar
  18. 1.
    “Everything that is according to nature is worthy of esteem,” Cicero, De finibus, III, vi. Note how easily Montaigne’s mind moves from God to nature. (For other examples of God and nature used almost interchangeably see III : vi, 8786, supra, p. 46 and p. 114.)Google Scholar
  19. 2.
    These are the last French words of the Essais. III : v, 822b uses the terms “gaye et civile” to mean the same thing.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1966

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  • Craig B. Brush

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