They are also the direct antitheses to the scepticism of Montaigne and Pascal, to the materialism of Gassendi and Hobbes, and to the superstitious anthropomorphism which defaced the reawakening sciences of nature.
Like all the greatest writers except Shakespeare, Montaigne thoroughly and completely exhibits the intellectual and moral complexion of his own time.
On the other hand, they would certainly lose their hold on the laity, unless some kind of change were made; for many of the Church's rules were obsolete, and others far too severe to impose on the France of Montaigne or even the Spain of Cervantes.
But the gossip, not discouraged by Terence, lived and throve; it crops up in Cicero and Quintilian, and the ascription of the plays to Scipio had the honour to be accepted by Montaigne and rejected by Diderot.
The predisposing circumstances which affected Montaigne were thus likely to incline him to scepticism, to ethical musings on the vanity of life and the like.
An English biography of Montaigne by Bayle St John appeared in 1858, and Walter Pater's unfinished Gaston de Latour borrows from Montaigne and his story.
A dozen generations of men have rejoiced in the gentle irony with which Montaigne handles the ludicrum humani saeculi, in the quaint felicity of his selection of examples, and in the real though sometimes fantastic wisdom of his comment on his selections.
Finally, in 1571, as he tells us in an inscription still extant, he retired to Montaigne to take up his abode there, having given up his magistracy the year before.
Garrulous after a fashion as Montaigne is, he gives us no clear idea of any original or definite impulse leading him to write the famous Essays.
On first coming to live at Montaigne he edited the works of his deceased friend Etienne de la Boetie, who had been the comrade of his youth, who died early, and who, with poems of real promise, had composed a declamatory and school-boyish theme on republicanism, entitled the Contr' un, which is one of the most over-estimated books in literature.