Sometimes I feel stupidly illiterate because I know how much I don’t know about literature. Take, for example, Michel de Montaigne. I had no idea who he was until I clicked through (see previous post) to Maria Popova’s “discovery of Salvador Dalí’s little-known and lovely 1947 illustrations for the essays of Montaigne.” (Hat tip, again, to Lorna Wood for sharing the Brain Pickings link.)
As opposed to memoirists or diarists, Montaigne developed the genre of personal essay in the late 16th century.
Project Gutenberg has a complete 1877 Essays translated by Charles Cotton. The same is available on a free Kindle download from Popova’s post, which I did, but I like the Gutenberg link better because it’s easier to navigate.
I have to read Montaigne’s book from the beginning before I delve into his thought process. There’s an essay entitled “That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die” (Book The First, Chapter XIX) which Dalí either drew more pictures of than for other essays, or Popova just included more of them on her post.
Dalí’s depiction of death is a Dürer-esque apocalyptic horseman who is still in existence today. The Thinker sitting on a dodecahedron is perhaps pondering FOUR BOOKS ON MEASUREMENT — Dürer’s work on geometric proportions. Montaigne’s original publication included illustrations and the above may have been adapted from one of them (artist unknown.)
From the Preface of the 1877 edition, Edited by William Carew Hazlitt:
Of all egotists, Montaigne, if not the greatest, was the most fascinating, because, perhaps, he was the least affected and most truthful. What he did, and what he had professed to do, was to dissect his mind, and show us, as best he could, how it was made, and what relation it bore to external objects. He investigated his mental structure as a schoolboy pulls his watch to pieces, to examine the mechanism of the works; and the result, accompanied by illustrations abounding with originality and force, he delivered to his fellow-men in a book.