Oil painting portrair Michel de Montaigne in red robes and white collar

Michel de Montaigne

(1533 - 1592)

At the age of thirty-seven in 1570, Michel de Montaigne sold his seat in the Bordeaux parliament, and around two years later, working in the tower of his chateau, began composing essays. He published the first of three books in 1580 with a prefatory “To the Reader” that included the observation, “I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.” While in Italy in the fall of 1581, Montaigne learned that he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux, a position he reluctantly accepted at the behest of Henry III.

All Writing

One man’s loss is another man’s profit.

—Michel de Montaigne, c. 1580


John Florio’s 1603 translation of Michel de Montaigne’s essays contains an early instance of the word emotion being used to refer to feelings distinct from reasoning. Unsure of the word’s merits, Florio included it on a list of “uncouth termes” he apologized to readers for introducing into English from the French.


Michel de Montaigne’s father believed “it disorders the tender brains of children to awake them by surprise in the morning, and suddenly and violently to snatch them from sleep”; he preferred to rouse his son from slumber “by the sound of some instrument of music,” likely an early form of harpsichord called an epinette. Montaigne recalled later that he “was never without a musician for that purpose.”

One should always have one’s boots on and be ready to leave.

—Michel de Montaigne, 1580

There is not much less vexation in the government of a private family than in the managing of an entire state.

—Michel de Montaigne, 1580

On the loftiest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own rump.

—Michel de Montaigne, 1580

The pleasure we hold in esteem for the course of our lives ought to have a greater share of our time dedicated to it; we should refuse no occasion nor omit any opportunity of drinking, and always have it in our minds.

—Michel de Montaigne, 1580

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