Michel de Montaigne
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- main Essays (Montaigne)
Montaigne is known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes and autobiography — and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as "Attempts") contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written.
Montaigne had a direct influence on writers the world over, from William Shakespeare to Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Montaigne is recognized as expressing, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the doubts and thoughts of his age. Remarkably modern even to readers today, Montaigne's attempt to examine the world through the lens of the only thing he can depend on implicitly — his own judgment — makes him more accessible than any other author of the Renaissance. Much of modern literary non-fiction owes its genesis to Montaigne, and writers of all kinds continue to read Montaigne for his masterful balance of intellectual knowledge and personal storytelling.
In his own time
In his own time, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author. His tendency in his essays to diverge into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as a detriment rather than an innovation, and his stated motto that "I am myself the matter of my book" was viewed by contemporary writers as self-indulgent.