Essay L Amitie

Gordon 1595_M65b. Click on the call number to access the digital facsimile of this volume.

Les essais de Michel seigneur de Montaigne. Edition nouuelle, / trouuee après le deceds de l'autheur, reueuë & augmentée par luy d'vn tiers plus qu'aux precedentes impressions.

Paris: Michel Sonnius, 1595.

There is currently no print facsimile of this edition, so the University of Virginia Library is pleased to make the digital facsimile available to the public via the Gordon Project.

Gordon 1588 M.65 . Click on the call number to access the digital facsimile of this volume.

Essais de Michel Seigneur de Montaigne. Cinquiesme edition, / augment'ee d'un troisiesme liure: et de six cens additions aux deux premiers.

Paris: Abel L’Angelier, 1588.

Que sçay-je? Montaigne and the essai

Learn more about the sixteenth-century editions of the Essais in the Gordon Collection.

Lire les Essais dans une édition du seizième siècle(Tips for reading an original edition of the Essais and dealing with sixteenth-century language, spelling, punctuation and typography).

Read more about the essay on cannibals, and the travel narratives of Jean de Léry and André Thevet.

Read the entries for Montaigne in the Bibliothèquesof La Croix du Maine (1584) and Antoine du Verdier (1585).

Internet Resources

Que sçay-je?: Montaigne and the essai

Que sçay-je? (“What do I know?”) was Montaigne’s motto, and he chose the image of the balance (scale) to represent his effort to weigh knowledge against his personal experience. The scale is in constant motion, and movement therefore characterizes his ongoing attempt to express the self, ondoyant et divers, in writing.

Montaigne was the first to use the term “essay” to refer to a short discussion of a topic in prose. In Renaissance France, an essai indicated a “trial” or an “attempt”; the verb essayer meant apprendre, connaître par expérience, éprouver (to learn, to learn from experience, to try out or undergo). Montaigne intended to use this short prose form to try out, or weigh, his own views on life and to attempt to learn more about himself, while sharing his experiences with others in the process.

from p. 203, Livre Troisiesme, “De l’Experience"

Montaigne covers a wide range of topics, each of which is illustrated with anecdotes, proverbs, sayings and quotations from classical authors in his library. His essays interweave the philosophical and the personal, and each in some way conveys Montaigne’s own experience, often reflecting his desire to know and express the constantly changing self. Montaigne’s essays exhibit a rambling rather than a fixed formal style, choosing to follow the workings of the human mind rather than the traditional rules of rhetoric.

In the search for answers to his central question, Que sçay-je?, Montaigne discovers that reason alone cannot bring him to the truth. Despite the limits of man’s reason, however, Montaigne ultimately expresses faith in the human condition and underscores the need to seek to know oneself, however difficult the journey. For Montaigne, happiness is only possible through personal experience and self-knowledge, by finding the balance between knowledge and living.

from p. 193, Livre Troisiesme, "De l'Experience"

Montaigne believed his search for self-knowledge was representative of the universal human condition. He chose to publish his Essais to serve as a reflection of the human condition, rather than to paint an ideal or exemplary figure.

"Ie veux qu’on m’y voye en ma façon simple, naturelle & ordinaire,
sans estude & artifice: car c’est moy que ie peins."

from the preface, “Au lecteur,” which is missing in most of the Sonnius copies, but occurs in the majority of the l’Angelier copies. (See bibliographical information below, and Sayce and Maskell p. 29.)

Montaigne’s Essais knew immediate success in France, following the publication of the first edition (2 volumes) in 1580.Click on the link below to read the text of contemporary accounts of Montaigne and his work in the Bibliothèques of Antoine du Verdier and La Croix du Maine, published after the first edition of the Essais, and before the second.

Entries for Montaigne in the Bibliothèquesof La Croix du Maine (1584) and Antoine du Verdier (1585)

Montaigne’s Life
Page 105, livre premier, chapitre XXVII, De l’Amitié.

Montaigne was born near Bordeaux, on the family property where he eventually wrote his Essais. As a young child, Montaigne’s first language was Latin, his father having hired a tutor with no knowledge of French. Montaigne attended the Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, then studied law. As a magistrate in Bordeaux, he met Etienne de la Boëtie, whose friendship (perfect, in Montaigne’s eyes) is the main topic of the essay on friendship, “De l’Amitié.” Montaigne married and had six children, only one of whom survived to adulthood.

In 1571, Montaigne left behind his active legal career and retreated to the calm of the Château de Montaigne. Retiring to his tower, he wished to spend the rest of his life reading and writing his life’s thoughts and experiences. He kept largely to that plan, but did embark on a journey to Italy in 1580 to 1581. He kept a detailed journal of his travels to Italy, which was not published until 1774 (Gordon 1774 .M65). He also returned to serve as Mayor of Bordeaux from 1581 to 1585. Other than those forays back into the world, Montaigne remained at home and devoted himself to his project of writing the self.

"Des Cannibales" (livre premier, chapitre XXX).

In chapter 30 of the first book, Montaigne questions what he and his fellow Frenchmen know in the light of contemporary accounts of cannibalism in the New World. The Gordon Collection includes the published travel narratives of Jean de Léry and André Thevet that both include firsthand accounts of the New World cannibalism that inspired Montaigne’s essay.

Read more about the essay on cannibals, and the travel narratives of Jean de Léry and André Thevet.

Editions of the Essais

Learn more about the sixteenth-century editions of the Essais in the Gordon Collection, and for other bibliographical information.

Lire les Essais dans une édition du seizième siècle

Tips on reading an original edition of the Essais, with sixteenth-century language, spelling, punctuation and typography).

Internet Resources

Société des Amis de Montaigne: Includes information on Montaigne’s life, the “sentences” in his library, the Bordeaux Copy of the Essais, a bibliography of recent scholarly publications about the Essais, as well as a comprehensive list of links to websites pertaining to Montaigne.

Ebauche de Bibliographie sur le Livre III des Essais, par André Tournon: Extensive bibliography of studies pertaining to the Essais, and to Book III in particular.

Montaigne Studies (U. of Chicago): Includes a portrait gallery, an article on the reproduction of the Bordeaux copy, a complete transcription of the Villey-Saulnier edition of the Essais, with a selection of corresponding high-quality image files from the Bordeaux Copy.

Trismegiste: Complete html transcription of the 1595 edition of the Essais.

Gallica: 20 different editions of the Essais and related works, available to download in pdf files from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Portail Multimédia de Listen to sound recordings of excerpts from a selection of essays.

Return to Gordon Project Home

How does the form of the essay relate to its content? How should one “read” the essay—in opposition to, or in conjunction with rhetoric, philosophy, and literature? Why does friendship appear as a recurring motif in so many notable essays? These are key questions that inform Kuisma Korhonen’s Textual Friendship: The Essay as Impossible Encounter—From Plato and Montaigne to Levinas and Derrida, a thorough and ambitious literary and philosophical analysis of the rhetorical and formal strategies that have been applied to the study of essayistic discourse. Korhonen centers this consideration around the thematic element of friendship: friendship as a recurring trope in the essay where the essayist is at various moments haunted by the memory of deceased friends and cognizant of future readers, and where the writer transcribes a living friendship or responds to a friend’s letters in the assumed privacy afforded by this literary form, as occurs to varying degrees in Plato’s Phaedrus, Montaigne’s Essais, and Derrida’s Politiques de l’amitié. Friendship also structures the author/reader pact at the heart of the reading experience and within the scope of rhetorical persuasion. However, as Korhonen reminds us, any notion of textual friendship, as inscribed within the framework of textual encounter is, in many ways, always already haunted by the possibility of rhetorical violence; thus, textual friendship necessarily implies the impossibility of friendship.

In the first part of this work, “The Essay and Textual Friendship,” Korhonen provides a comprehensive overview of the many ways in which the essay as a genre has been considered. As an “antigenre,” rather, the essay occupies a liminal status: neither philosophy nor literature, or, perhaps more precisely, both philosophy and literature. As such, the essay resounds with a polyphony of voices. Who speaks in an essay? The writer? The narrator? The real-life author? For the purposes of this analysis, Korhonen refers to the essay as the history of transition from the rhetorical violence implied by the collision of textual voices to the (im)possibility of textual friendship. Friendship, like the essay, remains situated at the problematic crossroads of Aristotle’s definition of secondary friendships: pleasurable on the one hand and useful on the other. Like the essay, friendship too is both/and and simultaneously [End Page 208] neither/nor useful and pleasurable. Alongside the cacophony of textual voices in the essay, the definition of reading and readership becomes equally blurred.

Korhonen considers three distinct reading strategies in the second part of this work, “An Ethical Genealogy of the Essay,” citing three traditions that have played an important role in the history of the essay: rhetorical composition, philosophical dialogue and the Pyrrhonian skeptical method. Korhonen notably cautions us to avoid considering one single method in our own analyses; rather, we might seek a reading in between these three approaches. To this end, Korhonen turns to the ethical relation between self (writer) and other (reader) and the potential for dialogue opened up within the space of the essay.

In the third part of this study, “From Plato to Derrida: Some Readings on Textual Friendship in the Essay,” Korhonen turns to specific and exemplary essayists and those essays (or, in the case of Cicero and Seneca, ethical writings and letters respectively) that explicitly address friendship: Plato’s Phaedrus, Lysis and Symposium, Cicero’s Laelium, Seneca’s Epistulae ad Lucilum, St. Augustine’s Confessiones, Montaigne’s Essais, Bacon’s Essays, Emerson’s writings, Saint-Évremond’s “Maxime qu’on ne doit jamais manquer à ses amis,” “L’amitié sans amitié” and “L’intérêt dans les personnes tout à fait corrompues. La vertu trop rigide. Les sentiments d’un honnête et habile courtisan sur cette vertu rigide et ce sale intérêt,” Madame de Lambert’s writings and Derrida’s Politiques de l’amitié: Suivi de l’oreille de Heidegger. It is refreshing that Korhonen includes female voices in this study as they shed light on questions of friendship between women as well as friendships between men and women; however, it is...

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