MONTAIGNE Michel de.

MONTAIGNE Michel de. Essayes .. done into English.

London, Melchior Bradwood for Edward Blount & William Barret, 1613


Folio, pp. (xii) 630 (ii). A-2L 2O-3I 3K . The second (R1r) and third books (2R5r) have separate dated title pages, pagination and register are continuous. Roman letter, some Italic. Fine woodcut headpieces and initials on tp and at start of each book, beautiful engraved portrait of Florio aged 58 by W. Hole on verso of A6, engraved armorial bookplate of Sir Robert Cotton on pastedown. Light age yellowing, title slightly dusty, rare marginal mark. A very good copy crisp and clean in handsome contemporary calf, covers bordered with a triple blind rule, spine with raised bands, gilt ruled, red morocco label gilt lettered, small repairs at head and lower outer joint, upper corners restored, all edges sprinkled blue.

A very good copy of the second edition of the first English translation of the Essays, by the remarkable John Florio, probably the most famous prose translation in Renaissance England. Montaigne (1533-92) devised the essay form in which to express his personal convictions and private meditations, “a form which he can hardly be said to have been anticipated. The most elaborate essay…. is second to no other modern writing in attacking fanaticism and intolerance. 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, cit. infr. 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 and the realisation that a golden age once more was just beyond mortal grasp. He was one of the few great writers not only to perfect but to invent his chosen literary form: the method of thinking crystallized in his Essays exercised the greatest influence on posterity, not least in England.

“There seems no doubt that Shakespeare read Florio’s version of Montaigne. The Tempest contains clear echoes of Montaigne’s essay ‘Of the Caniballes’. In Gonzalo’s description of his perfect natural commonwealth there is ‘no kind of traffic’, ‘no name of magistrate’, no ‘riches, poverty, And use of service’. The essay also raises key questions explored in the play through Shakespeare’s portrayal of Caliban and the Italians on the island. Inspired by reports into the exploration of Brazil, Montaigne celebrates the ‘puritie’ of societies governed by ‘the lawes of nature’. He challenges any clear division between civilised Europeans and so-called ‘savage’ nations, arguing that ‘we exceede them in all kinde of barbarisme’. In ‘prying so narrowly into their faults’, he says, we are ‘blinded’ to our own. As Shakespeare seems to suggest in the treachery of his Italian characters – Antonio, Sebastian, Trinculo and Stephano – barbarism is not inherent in one nation or another but a matter of individual behaviour.” British Library

Florio produced a masterpiece of translation and his version soon became a classic of English literature in its own right, and it remains a great and enduring influence on English literature and philosophy until this day. “In the dedication Florio explained that he sought ‘to repeate in true English what you reade in fine French’. Although he received assistance from his brother-in-law Samuel Daniel, his Welsh friend Dr Matthew Gwinne, and the Italian protestant Theodore Diodati, Florio’s style is clearly visible throughout the translation. His extraordinary skill in the use of alliteration, his ability to embroider and amplify the French original through the addition of English synonyms, his sense of rhythm, his art of turning French proverbs and expressions into idiomatic English equivalents, and his experimentation with new-formed English words (such as ‘conscientious’, ‘endeare’, ‘efface’, ‘facilitate’) made his Montaigne one of the great translations of the Elizabethan age. The work was a source of inspiration for such as Ben Jonson, Sir Walter Ralegh, John Webster, and Shakespeare.” ODNB.

From the library of the distinguished Whigg politician Sir Robert Cotton, 1st Bt. (c.1635-1712), of Combermere, Cheshire.

ESTC S111840. STC 18042. Lowdes IV 1588. Pforzheimer I 378. Printing and the mind of Man 95 (1st ed.). Grolier, Langland to Wither, 102.
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