Michel de Montaigne
The French politician, philosopher and pioneering essayist Michel de Montaigne was born on 28th February 1533 in Château de Montaigne (Departement Dordogne), the son of a wealthy businessman and judge. Alongside Rabelais, he is now regarded one of the most important French authors of the 16th century.
Michel de Montaigne attended the Collége de Guyenne where he received a comprehensive humanist education. Between 1546 and 1553, he studied law in Bordeaux and Toulouse, and subsequently became a judge at a tax court in Périgueux. From 1568, he was employed as a judge in the Bordeaux parliament. In 1570, after inheriting much of his father’s estate two years previously, Michel de Montaigne sold his magistracy, and removed himself from the world of politics, working as a private teacher, and living at his chateaux as a member of the landed nobility. During this period, de Montaigne completed the translation of Raimundus Sebundus’ "Theologia naturalis", which his father had begun.
In 1571, Michel de Montaigne began composing his main work, the "Essais", and published the first two volumes as "Les Essais de messir Michel, seigneur de Montaigne" in 1580. This groundbreaking work made the essay into a literary art form, and was one of the first European examples of a this literary form, which became particularly popular in England. Michel de Montaigne then undertook a long trip, taking in Paris, various southern German and Italian states, and Rome. During the trip, he kept a diary, entitled "Journal du voyage de Michel de Montaigne en Italie, par la Suisse et l’Alemagne". This was not published until 1774.
Whilst in Italy, Michel de Montaigne was elected mayor of Bordeaux in his absence, and kept the position until 1585. De Montaigne then published second edition of "Essais", which included a third volume. Three years after his death, de Montaigne’s friend, the early women’s rights campaigner and philosopher Marie de Gournay (1565–1645) published the third edition of "Essais", in significiantly re-worked form. Montaigne had also delegated the administration of his literary estate to de Gournay. During the last years of his life, Michel de Montaigne led a very reclusive existence, occasionally making trips abroad.
Michel de Montaigne died on 13th September in 1592, in Château de Montaigne.