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History of Vegetarianism - Europe: The Middle Ages to the 18th Century
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592)

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne by Daniel Dumonstier.

Montaigne - extracts

French writer. His life's work, the Essays (begun in 1571) established the essay as a literary genre and record the evolution of his moral ideas.


For my part I have never been able to see, without displeasure, an innocent and defenseless animal, from whom we receive no offense or harm, pursued and slaughtered . . . Plato, in his picture of the golden age under Saturn, reckons, among the chief advantages that a man then had, his communication with beasts, of whom, inquiring and informing himself, he knew the true qualities and differences of them all, by which he acquired a very perfect intelligence and prudence, and led his life more happily than we could do. Need we a better proof to condemn human imprudence in the concern of beasts? - An Apology of Raymond Sebond

extracts from 'The Essays':

Some mothers think it great sport to see a child wring off a chicken's necke, and strive to beat a dog or cat. And some fathers are so fond-foolish that they will construe as a good augur or fore-boding of a martiall mind to see their sons misuse a poor peasant, or tug a lackey that doth not defend himself. . . yet are they the true deeds or roots of cruclty, of tyranny, and of treason. In youth they bud, and afterwards grow to strength, and come to perfection by means of custom.

After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to the spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, to the gladiators.
... there is nevertheless a certain respect, a general duty to humanity, not only to beasts that have life and sense, but even to trees and plants. We owe justice to men, and graciousness and benignity to other creatures . . there is a certain commerce and mutual obligation betwixt them and us.

Let him [who holds all other life to be brought into being for man's sole use and pleasure] show me, by the most skilful argument, upon what foundation he has built these excessive prerogatives which he supposes himself to have over other existences . . . Is it possible to imagine anything so ridiculous as that this pitiful miserable creature, who is not even master of himself, exposed to injuries of every kind, should call itself master and lord of the universe, of which, so far from being lord of it, he knows but the smallest part? ... Who has given him this sealed charter? Let him show us the "letters patent" of this grand commission. Have they been issued in favour of the wise only? They affect but the few in that case. The fools and the wicked - are they worthy of so extraordinary a favour, and being the worst part of the world, do they deserve to be preferred to all the rest?
Presumption is our natural and original disease. The most calamitous and fragile of all creatures is man, and yet the most arrogant. It is through the vanity of this same imagination that he equals himself to a god, that he attributes to himself divine conditions, that he picks himself out and separates himself from the crowd of other creatures, curtails the just shares of other animals his brethren and companions, and assigns to them only such portions of faculties and forces as seems to him good. How does he know, by the effort of his intelligence, the interior and secret movements and impulses of other animals? By what comparison between them and us does he infer the stupidity which he attributes to them?

Of all creatures man is the most miserable and fraile, and therewithall the proudest and disdainfullest.. . How knoweth he by the vertue of his understanding the inward and secret motions of beasts? By what comparison from them to us doth he conclude the brutishnesse he aseribeth unto them? When I am playing with my Cat, who knowes whether she have more sport in dallying with me, than I have in gaming with her? We entertain one another with mutuall apish tricks. If I have my houre to begin or to refuse, so hath she hers. It is a matter of divination to guesse in whom the fault is, that we understand not one another. For we understaud them no more than they us. By the same reason may they as well esteeme us beasts, as we them.