The Essayes or Morall, Politike and Millitarie Discourses. .. done into English by … Iohn Florio.

London, Val. Sims for Edward Blount, 1603


FIRST EDITION thus. Folio, pp. (xx) 664 (iv). A⁸ [¶]² B-Q⁶, R⁴, S-2P⁶, 2Q-2R⁴, 2S-3I⁶, 3K⁴, [3L]². [2Q4 is blank]. Books 2 and 3 each has separate dated title page. First word of title is xylographic. Preliminaries include quire [¶.]² following A8. [¶]1 bears a poem to John Florio; [¶]2 bears errors and omissions; these 2 leaves are frequently lacking. Roman letter, some Italic and Greek. Dedications on verso of title within woodcut cartouches, floriated woodcut initials, grotesque head and tailpieces, woodcut cartouche at the end of the first book, large woodcut headpieces with royal arms in dedication of second book, small typeset slip reading “vyle” pasted over “towns” on B1r, line 25, Q3,4 and Kk 3,4 misbound (inverted). Later autograph ‘Davenport Talbot’ on front free endpaper, red morocco bookplate gilt of C.A. and V. Baldwin on front pastedown, Robert S. Pirie’ bookplate below. A fine copy, crisp and clean and unusually complete, in very handsome mid seventeenth century English tan calf, covers double blind ruled to a panel design, blind fleurons to inner and outer corners of central panel, outer panel lightly speckled, inner panel heavily so, darkly speckled spine with raised bands, gilt ruled in compartments, richly gilt with small scrolled tools and semée of pointillé tools, gilt lettered tan calf title label, very minor abrasions.

A lovely copy of the first edition of the first English translation of Montaigne, translated by the remarkable John Florio, and the most important Elizabethan translation of any contemporary text. This copy is complete with the rare commendatory verses by Samuel Daniel – according to Pforzheimer (cit inf.) the three British Library copies lack them. “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. The most elaborate essay, the Apologie de Raimonde Selonde, is second to no other modern writing in attacking fanaticism and pleading for toleration … he finds a place in the present canon, however, chiefly for his consummate representation of the enlightened scepticism of the sixteenth century, to which Bacon, Descartes and Newton were to provide the answers in the next” Printing and the Mind of Man 95 (1st edn.) There is hardly any other writer in whom the human comedy is treated with such completeness as it is in Montaigne. His humorous and sceptical (if haphazard) analysis of the vanities of human affairs and pleasures of life, typify the closing years of the renaissance. He was one of the few great writers not only to perfect but to invent his chosen literary form; the method of thinking crystallised in his Essays exercised the greatest influence on posterity.

Florio, working in his third language, produced a masterpiece of translation and his version soon became a classic of English literature in its own right. Shakespeare read this edition and used it eg. when writing a passage on the natural commonwealth in the Tempest and Burton, Milton, Hobbes and Locke all knew their Montaigne through Florio’s translation. It remained a great and enduring influence on English literature and philosophy even down to our own day.

ESTC S111839 .STC 18041. Lowndes III 1588. Pforzheimer I 378. Grolier I 102.


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