In Montaigne's final essay he expounds upon the results of his long search for self knowledge via life experience. He uses disease, health, medicine and doctors as prime arenas for demonstration of what he has learned from living. On physicians: to be a "right" physician, one must have experienced every illness, accident or mishap one seeks to treat. On going to stool: to have a right bowel movement, one must have peace, quiet, punctuality and privacy to avoid unruliness of the belly. On treatment: "I hate remedies that are more troublesome than the disease itself." On the most preferable ailments: here the essayist writes of the advantages of stone: that is, the agony always ends, the disease does not portend death or worse, the sufferer spends more time feeling well than hurting, and it has political advantages for allowing a show of stoicism. And there is more.


As a study in fine style, clear and lively, none is better than Montaigne's essays. Although he is concerned with all things, his final, and in the opinion of many, finest of essays, is heavily laced with allusions to disease and doctors. Since Montaigne sets out to encourage man in the careful study of himself in order to understand life and the world around him, much of this essay on experience relys on the writer's own life events. He uses these personal vignettes, or anecdotes, to illustrate larger truths about man and his behaviors, his strengths and his weaknesses.

For the modern medical reader, this essay reminds us of the status of medicine as "profession" in the late 16th century and relates a patient experience with kidney (or? bladder) stone that is precise and classic. He helps us to appreciate that it is possible to "live through" and emerge even healthier from certain pathologic events without professional intervention.


First published: 1588

Primary Source

The Great Books


Encyclopaedia Britannica

Place Published





W. Carew Hazlitt