- La Librairie de Montaigne: Proceedings of the Tenth Cambridge French Renaissance Colloquium, 1–4 September 2008 ed. by Philip Ford and Neil Kenny
Reconstituting the library of Michel de Montaigne has long been a fantasy for those working on the relentlessly referential essayist. This important set of essays comes out of a colloquium marking the gift to Cambridge University Library of the precious collection of books about and belonging to Montaigne that the bibliophile and financier Gilbert de Botton spent years assembling, and which the late Philip Ford was instrumental in securing for Cambridge. It includes editions of Montaigne’s Essais owned by Ben Jonson and Rousseau; works by contemporaries of Montaigne; and — sending a frisson down the spine of any Montaigniste — ten works (or possibly nine, depending on your stance on the attribution of an edition of Du Bellay’s Les Regrets) that we know belonged to the essayist. These include his annotated copy of Denis Lambin’s 1563 Lucretius edition, and copies of editions he is known to have possessed even if his personal copy remains elusive. The longed-for reconstitution of Montaigne’s library is today one step closer owing to the groundbreaking ‘Montaigne à l’œuvre’ project (http://www.bvh.univ-tours.fr/Montaigne.asp), which also acknowledges the role played by de Botton’s bequest and by the Librairie de Montaigne colloquium in the genesis of a hugely important resource for Montaigne scholars. Philip Ford and Neil Kenny state that the shared thread of the chapters is their investigation of ‘material traces, produced by hand or print, that can be interpreted to yield insights into how Montaigne read, thought, composed’ (p. xvi). The contributions are varied in topic and methodology. They range from enlightening accounts of how important Greek and Italian works were to Montaigne as a reader and writer (Philip Ford, Richard Cooper), to exquisite analysis of the role of a six-line borrowing from Catullus (Emily Butterworth); from Paul Nelles’s riveting scrutiny of a bookseller’s inventory, which vividly recreates Montaigne the young bibliophile scouring Bordeaux’s bookshops, to Philip Desan’s use of quantitative analysis to uncover Montaigne’s revisions; from André Tournon’s persuasive account of how the evidence of Montaigne’s annotations on his Lucretius point to an idiosyncratic, shifting, and far from binary reading of this most controversial of texts, to John O’Brien’s compelling investigation of the subversive nature of Montaigne’s reading of pseudo-Anacreon. The collection is particularly rich for its reflections, implicit and explicit, on methodology. O’Brien uses his account of Montaigne’s reading methods to reflect on our own, and to warn against a danger that is especially strong with the Essais: namely that Montaigne scholarship, spoilt by the countless proofs we have of his reading and writing, too easily overlooks potential intertexts that, in the case of any other author, would take pride of place in a study of sources. This is compounded in the cases, such as Montaigne’s annotated Lucretius, where material evidence converges with our own tastes, and can lead, as Cooper implies, to the relative neglect of works that might seem to us rebarbative but which were livres de chevet for sixteenth-century readers (p. 44). A further quality of this collection — which warrants an ex libris from any serious Montaigne scholar — is its effort to draw our attention to less-studied aspects of Montaigne’s reading, [End Page 239] of which Marie-Luce Demonet’s account of Montaigne’s use of contemporary French vernacular philosophy is a fine illustration.