The Essayes Or Morall, Politike and Millitarie Discourses

Chrzanowski 1603mWidely considered to be the most influential writer of the French Renaissance, Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) studied law (probably at Toulouse), was appointed councellor of the Bordeaux Parlement in 1557, and served as a courtier at the Court of Charles IX from 1561 to 1563. These were unquiet times in France. Montaigne was present at the siege of Thionville in 1558, in troubled Paris in 1561, and at the siege in Rouen with the King in 1562. At the age of thirty-seven, he left the Bordeaux Parlement and retired to his inherited estate, Chateau de Montaigne. There he (re)invented a “new” literary form: the essay.

Montaigne used the short pieces to reveal his personal thoughts and opinions about subjects that seemingly span the gamut of human experience and interests. At times bordering on meditations, the essays reveal the inner man—his strengths and weaknesses, his prejudices and convictions, his great learning and intelligence, but most of all a trait widely referred to as “enlightened skepticism.” Montaigne was an admirer of Plutarch. Jacques Amyot’s French translation of Lives, which was the basis of Thomas North’s English version, was an importance influence on his style of writing.

John Florio (1553–1625), a royal language tutor at the Court of King James, translated Montaigne into English; the first edition appeared in 1603. Florio was born in London, son of Protestant pastor that fled Italy and became Italian tutor to Lady Jane Grey and Princess Elizabeth. In Europe while Queen Mary reigned, Florio returned to England in the 1570s. Well educated, he set about teaching English aristocrats languages and European manners. Florio was an acquaintance of Sir Philip Sidney and a friend of both William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. His translation of Montaigne’s Essays had an immense influence on 17th-century English writers and philosophers, including Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. Shakespeare, in particular, uses for the first time more than 100 new words in King Lear that are found in Florio, and passages in The Tempest and Montaigne’s essay on cannibals have striking similarities.

The three errata leaves are not included in the present copy; instead, this is one of six known copies where Florio made corrections by hand. The contemporary limp vellum binding is identical to that of a copy at the Huntington Library also corrected by Florio. At the end are two leaves of extensive manuscript notes in the same hand as a series of marginal notes. The dedicatory leaf of verses (often lacking) are absent.

Chrzanowski 1603m *

STC 18041

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675