The Essais in print

Authors communicate themselves unto the world by some speciall and strange marke; I the first, by my generall disposition; as Michell de Montaigne; not as a Grammarian, or a Poet, or a Lawyer. If the world complaine, I speake too much of my selfe, I complaine, it thinkes no more of it selfe. (Essais III.2, ‘Of repenting’, trans. Florio)

The Essais were printed in Bordeaux by Simon Millanges in 1580. Later that year, Montaigne embarked on a seventeen-month trip through France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria to Italy, where the Essais were examined by the papal censors and returned with only minor corrections. In September 1581 Montaigne received news that he had been elected Mayor of Bordeaux, and returned home in November.

A second edition was published the following year, with minor additions and revisions. In 1587 the Essais were printed in Paris; in 1588 a third book was added, as well as many substantial passages to the first two parts: ‘Were my minde setled, I would not essaye, but resolve my selfe. It is still a prentise and a probacioner’ (III.2). Whilst in Paris in 1588, Montaigne was sought out by the young Frenchwoman Marie le Jars de Gournay (1565–1645), an admirer of his work who became his ‘adoptive daughter’ and editor of posthumous editions of the Essais.

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