Montaigne's Essays are the an honest and articulate exploration of character and personality, which is probably why we're still talking about them over 500 years later. As you read his epiphanies and moments of self-discovery you might often find yourself nodding in agreement. They're an exploration of his true character and I think it's safe to say that not much has changed about the human experience or psyche in 500 years. Montaigne seems so modern because he holds nothing back, which is very refreshing.
This quote from Montaigne sums up what each essay is like. He puts himself and all he stands for on trial and bares it for all to see - the best and the worst of who he is.
"Hardly anything stirs in me that is secret or hidden from my reason; hardly anything takes place that has not the consent of every part of me, without divisions and without inner rebellion. My judgment takes the complete credit or the complete blame for my actions; and once it takes the blame it keeps it forever."
One of the most famous essays in this collection is "To philosophize is to learn how to die". In this essay, Montaigne begins by referencing Cicero who himself was paraphrasing Socrates as he was presented by Plato in his dialogue, Phaedo. He quickly concludes that the purpose of philosophy "is to teach not to be afraid of dying." This, however, he immediately modifies this to say that "the labor of reason must be to make us live well, and at our ease," with a target of happiness, quoting scripture rather than Aristotle.
Montaigne goes on at length about the nature of virtue and how it abhors death. He also references common opinions about death but comes around to his own recommendations that death is part of the human condition. The answer, it seems, is to always have our death in mind so that we become used to it, and as such prepared for it. He provides quotes from his predecessors including the following, from Plutarch, that sounds just a bit fatalistic: "Believe that each day is the last to shine on you. If it comes, time not hoped for will be welcome indeed." He even invokes religion and its contempt for life: "why should we fear to lose something which, once lost, cannot be regretted? Death is inevitable, does it matter when it comes?"
He then turns to the works of Lucretius in the closing pages of the essay and lets Nature speak about how one should view death: "Leave this world,' she says, 'just as you entered it. The same journey from death to life, which you once mad without suffering or fear, make it again from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe; it is a part of the life of the world'" Thus he suggests living is like a project and one should not regret the unfinished project in anticipation of death.
Montaigne concludes his essay with an exhortation to seek happiness in the most natural way possible. This will dispel any interest in immortality; even as Nature claims that a life that lasted forever would be unbearable. We should be aware rather of the advantages of death and recognize that what bits of anguish this life may contain only serve to make death more palatable and our acceptance of it more reasonable. Lucretius painted a poetic vision of how natural death is for humans in his great poem, On the Nature of Things. In this essay Montaigne reasons with himself and with us as fellow humans toward that same end in his own philosophical way as an essayist.