Of travel

So many goodly Citties ransacked and razed; so many nations destroyed and made desolate; so infinite millions of harmelesse people of all sexes, states and ages, massakred, ravaged and put to the sworde; and the richest, the fayrest and best parte of the worlde topsieturvied, ruined and defaced, for the trafficke of Pearles and Pepper. (Essais III.6, ‘Of coaches’, trans. Florio)

Montaigne travelled through France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria to Italy in 1580 to 1581, visiting various spas in search of relief from the painful kidney stones that had afflicted him since 1578. He kept an account of his journey, written first by his servant, then later by himself, often in Italian. The existence of the diary was unknown to the world until it was discovered in 1770 in a chest in Montaigne’s château.

The theme of travel, of encounters with peoples from other countries and continents, is an important one throughout the Essais. French expeditions to the New World during the sixteenth century brought back stories of the people and their customs, and in ‘Of the cannibals’, Montaigne tells of his own encounter with some native Americans from Brazil whilst in Rouen with the King’s army in 1562.

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