Michel de Montaigne
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Considered the inventor of the essay itself, Michel de Montaigne published Essays (Essais, literally "Attempts") in 1850. Known for his skill at merging serious intellectual debate with personal anecdotes, his vast work collects together some of the most influential essays the world has ever seen, shaping the thoughts Blaise Pascal, René Descartes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Stefan Zweig, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Isaac Asimov among others. Montaigne stated that his aim in writing these works was to describe humankind, including himself, with complete frankness.
have been cudgelled— (The original has eschauldex—scalded) "Haud ignarus . . . . quantum nova gloria in armis, Et praedulce decus, primo certamine possit." ("Not ignorant how much power the fresh glory of arms and sweetest honour possess in the first contest."—AEneid, xi. 154) For this reason it is that, when we judge of a particular action, we are to consider the circumstances, and the whole man by whom it is performed, before we give it a name. To instance in myself: I have sometimes known
do it? all the right and interest I have in reputation will then cease. I content myself with a death involved within itself, quiet, solitary, and all my own, suitable to my retired and private life; quite contrary to the Roman superstition, where a man was looked upon as unhappy who died without speaking, and who had not his nearest relations to close his eyes. I have enough to do to comfort myself, without having to console others; thoughts enough in my head, not to need that circumstances
them the greatest room to play in, is the obscure, ambiguous, and fantastic gibberish of the prophetic canting, where their authors deliver nothing of clear sense, but shroud all in riddle, to the end that posterity may interpret and apply it according to its own fancy. Socrates demon might, perhaps, be no other but a certain impulsion of the will, which obtruded itself upon him without the advice or consent of his judgment; and in a soul so enlightened as his was, and so prepared by a continual
that stirs from its place my neighbours still find their seasons of sowing and reaping, the opportunities of doing their business, the hurtful and propitious days, dust at the same time where they had, time out of mind, assigned them; there was no more error perceived in our old use, than there is amendment found in the alteration; so great an uncertainty there is throughout; so gross, obscure, and obtuse is our perception. 'Tis said that this regulation might have been carried on with less
mechanic, and violated the dignity of his art, of which these performances of his he accounted but trivial experiments and playthings so they, whenever they have been put upon the proof of action, have been seen to fly to so high a pitch, as made it very well appear, their souls were marvellously elevated, and enriched by the knowledge of things. But some of them, seeing the reins of government in the hands of incapable men, have avoided all management of political affairs; and he who demanded of