“THE UNFOLDING OF A MIND OF GENIUS IN DIALOGUE WITH ITSELF”: RARE 1613 SECOND EDITION IN ENGLISH OF MONTAIGNE’S ESSAYES
MONTAIGNE. Essayes Written In French… Done Into English, according to the last French edition, by John Florio. London: Melch, Bradwood for Edward Blount and William Barret, 1613. Folio (8 by 11-1/2 inches), contemporary full brown calf rebacked and recornered, gilt ornamental lozenges, raised bands, red morocco spine label. $16,000.
Second edition in English of Montaigne’s seminal masterpiece, with the important Elizabethan translation of John Florio used by Shakespeare as a source for The Tempest (circa 1611), a work profoundly influenced by Lucretius, who is quoted almost a hundred times in the work, a splendid folio volume in contemporary calf boards.
"Montaigne startles the common reader at each fresh encounter, if only because he is unlike any preconception we bring to him… His scope and capaciousness sometimes approach Shakespearean dimensions… Montaigne's [is]… the first personality ever put forward by a writer as the matter of his work. Walt Whitman and Norman Mailer are indirect descendants of Montaigne, even as Emerson and Nietzsche are his direct progeny… He represents—not everyman… but very nearly every man who has the desire, ability, and opportunity to think and to read" (Bloom, Western Canon, 147-151). "Montaigne devised the essay form in which to express his personal convictions and private meditations, a form in which he can hardly be said to have been anticipated… He finds a place in the present canon, however, chiefly for his consummate representation of the enlightened skepticism of the 16th century, to which Bacon, Descartes and Newton were to provide the answers in the next" (PMM 95). Here is "the unfolding of a mind of genius in dialogue with itself and with the world" (Hollier, 250). "It is generally accepted that Shakespeare used Florio's translation when writing the passage on the natural commonwealth in his Tempest" (Pforzheimer 378).
The influence on Montaigne of the Roman poet and philosopher is particularly strong and obvious. The Essays contain almost 100 direct quotations from Lucretius' Epicurian masterpiece De rerum natura; in the Essay "On Books," Montaigne lists Lucretius with Virgil, Horace and Catullus as the top poets. As the critic Stephen Greenblatt has commented, "beyond any particular passage, there is a profound affinity between Lucretius and Montaigne. Montaigne shared Lucretius' contempt for a morality enforced by nightmares of the afterlife; he clung to the importance of his own senses and the evidence of the material world; he intensely disliked ascetic self-punishment and violence against the flesh; he treasured inward freedom and contentment. In grappling with the fear of death, in particular, he was influenced by Lucretian materialism. He once saw a man die, he recalled, who complained bitterly in his last moments that destiny was preventing him from finishing the book he was writing. The absurdity of the regret, in Montaigne's view, is best conveyed by lines from Lucretius: 'But this they fail to add: that after you expire / Not one of all these things will fill you with desire.' As for himself, Montaigne wrote, 'I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but careless of death, and still more of my unfinished garden'" (Stephen Greenblatt, "The Answer Man," in The New Yorker, August 8, 2011). Initially published in French in 1580, Montaigne's Essayes were first published in English in 1603, with this translation. Frontispiece portrait of Florio by William Hole bound between Contents and first text leaf; containing general title page, separate title pages for the second and third books. With rear blank leaf, elaborate ornamental woodcut-engraved initials, headpieces throughout. Occasional mispagination as issued without loss of text. STC 18042. Lowndes, 1588. ESTC S111840. See Langland to Wither 102. Title page with contemporary owner signature dated 1614.
Interior quite fresh with only minor expert archival repair to edges of title page and and a few leaves not affecting text, lightest scattered foxing, faint rubbing to boards. A very handsome near-fine copy.