John Florio Montaigne Essays


Florio che fai? Vai cosi ardito di Monte?
    Al monte piu scoscese che Parnasso,
    Ardente piu che Mingibello?
    Plino qui muore prima, che qui monte.
Se'l Pegaso non hai, che cavi'l fonte,
    Ritirati dal preiglioso passo.
    L'hai fatto pur', andand' hor' alt' hor baffo:
    Ti so ben dir', tu sei Bellerophonte.
Tre corpi di Chimera di Montagna
    Hai trapassato, scosso, rinversato.
    Del' honorat' impres' anch' io mi glorio.
Premiar' to potess' io d'or' di Spagna,
    Di piu che Bianco-fior' saresti ornato.
        Ma del' hono' ti basti, che sei Florio.

Il Candido.

A reply upon Maister Florio's answere to the Lady of Bedfords
Invitation to this worke, in a Sonnet of like terminations. Anno. 1599.

 Thee to excite from Epileptic fits,
    Whose lethargie like frost benumming bindes
    Obstupefying sence with sencelesse kindes,
    Attend the vertue of Minervas wittes;
Colde sides are spurrd, hot muthes held-in with bittes;
    Say No, and grow more rude, then rudest hindes;
    Say No, and blow more rough, then roughest windes.
    Who never shootes, the marke he never hitt's.
To take such taske, a pleasure is no paine;
    Vertue and Honor (which immortalize)
    Not stepdame Iuno (who would wish thee slaine)
Calls thee to this thrice-honorable prize;
    Montaigne, no cragg'd Mountaine, but faire plaine.
    And who would resty rest, when SHEE bids rise?

Il Candido

To my deere friend M. Iohn Florio,
concerning his translation of Montaigne.

Bookes the amasse of humors, swolne with ease,
The Griefe of peace, the maladie of rest,
So stuffe the world, falne into this disease,
As it receives more than it can digest:
And doe so evercharge, as they confound
The apetite of skill with idle store:
There being no end of words, nor any bound
Set to conceipt, the Ocean without shore.
As if man labor'd with himself to be
As infinite in words, as in intents,
And draws his manifold incertaintie
In ev'ry figure, passion represents;
That these innumerable visages,
And strange shapes of opinions and discourse
Shadowed in leaves, may be the witnesses
Rather of our defects, then of our force.
And this proud frame of our presumption,
This Babel of our skill, this Towre of wit,
Seemes onely chekt with the confusion
Of our mistakings, that dissolveth it.
And well may make us of our knowledge doubt,
Seeing what uncertainties we build upon,
To be as weake within booke or without;
Or els that truth hath other shapes then one.
    But yet although we labor with this store
And with the presse of writings seeme opprest,
And have too many bookes, yet want we more,
Feeling great dearth and scarsenesse of the best;
Which cast in choiser shapes have bin produc'd,
To give the best proportions to the minde
To our confusion, and have introduc'd
The likeliest images frailtie can finde.
And wherein most the skill-desiring soule
Takes her delight, the best of all delight,
And where her motions evenest come to rowle
About this doubtful center of the right.
    Which to discover this great Potentate,
This Prince Montaigne (if he be not more)
Hath more adventur'd of his owne estate
Than ever man did of himselfe before:
And hath made such bolde sallies out upon
Custome, the mightie tyrant of the earth,
In whose Seraglio of subjection
We all seeme bred-up, from our tender birth;
As I admire his powres, and out of love,
Here at his gate do stand, and glad I stand
So neere to him whom I do so much love,
T'applaude his happie setling in our land:
And safe transpassage by his studious care
Who both of him and us doth merit much,
Having as sumptuously, as he is rare
plac'd him in the best lodging of our speach.
And made him now as free, as if borne here,
And as well ours as theirs, who may be proud
That he is theirs, though he he be every where
To have the franchise of his worth allow'd.
    It being the portion of a happie Pen,
Not to b'invassal'd to one Monarchie,
But dwells with all the better world of men
Whose spirits are all of one communitie.
Whom neither Ocean, Desarts, Rockes nor Sands
Can keepe from th'intertraffique of the minde,
But that it vents her treasure in all lands,
And doth a most secure commercement finde.
    Wrap Excellencie up never so much,
In Hierogliphicques, Ciphers, Caracters,
And let her speake nver so strange a speach,
Her Genius yet finds apt decipherers:
And never was she borne to dye obscure,
But guided by the Starres of her owne grace,
Makes her owne fortune, and is aever sure
In mans best hold, to hold the strongest place.
And let the Critic say the worst he can,
He cannot say but that Montaige yet,
Yeeldes most rich pieces and extracts of man;
Though in a troubled frame confus'dly set.
Which yet h'is blest that he hath ever seene,
And therefore as a guest in gratefulnesse,
For the great good the house yeelds him within
Might spare to taxe th'unapt convayances.
But this breath hurts not, for both worke and frame,
Whilst England English speakes, is of that store
And that choyse stuffe, as that without the same
The richest librarie can be but poore.
And they unblest who letters do professe
And have him not: whose owne fate beates their want
With more sound blowes, then Alcibiades
Did his pedante that did Homer want.



To the Right Ho-
norable and all praise-worthie Ladies,
Elizabeth Countesse of Rutland, and Ladie Penelope Rich

    Give me leave 


EADER, loe here a well-meaning Booke. It doth at the first entrance forewarne thee, that in contriving the same I have proposed unto my selfe no other than a familiar and private end: I have no respect or consideration at all, either to thy service, or to my glory: my forces are not capable of any such desseigne. I have vowed the same to the particular commodity of my kinsfolk and friends: to the end, that losing me (which they are likely to do ere long), they may therein find some lineaments of my conditions and humours, and by that meanes reserve more whole, and more lively foster the knowledge and acquaintance they have had of me. Had my intention beene to forestal and purchase the world's opinion and favour, I would surely have adorned myselfe more quaintly, or kept a more grave and solemne march. I desire thereun to be delineated in mine own genuine, simple and ordinarie fashion, without contention, art or study; for it is myselfe I pourtray. My imperfections shall thus be read to the life, and my naturall forme discerned, so farre-forth as publike reverence hath permitted me. For if my fortune had beene to have lived among those nations which yet are said to live under the sweet liberty of Nature's first and uncorrupted lawes, I assure thee, I would most willingly have pourtrayed myselfe fully and naked. Thus, gentle Reader, myselfe am the groundworke of my booke: it is then no reason thou shouldest employ thy time about so frivolous and vaine a subject. Therefore farewell,
    The First of March, 1580.

Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was born in Aquitaine, not far from Bordeaux, in the château of his wealthy aristocratic family. Educated by his father in Latin and Greek from an early age, Montaigne attended boarding school in Bordeaux before studying law in Toulouse. He then embarked on a distinguished public career, serving as a counselor of court in Périgueux and Bordeaux, becoming a courtier to Charles the IX, and receiving the collar of the Order of Saint Michael. After the death of his father in 1568, Montaigne succeeded to the title of Lord of Montaigne, and in 1571 he retired from public life in order to devote himself to reading and writing, publishing the first two volumes of his essays in 1580 and a third in 1588. From 1581 to 1585, he was the elected mayor of Bordeaux, confronting ongoing strife between Catholics and Protestants as well as an outbreak of the plague. Married to Françoise de Cassaigne, Montaigne was the father of six daughters, only one of whom survived into adulthood. He continued to write new essays and to add new material to the existing ones until the end of his life. The
complete essays appeared posthumously in 1595.

John Florio
(1553–1625) was born in London, the son of Michelangelo Florio, a Tuscan convert to Protestantism who had moved to England because of his religious beliefs and who served as a language tutor to several highborn English families. Raised in Italian-speaking Switzerland and Germany, where his father fled after the Catholic Queen Mary I came to the English throne, John Florio returned to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and followed in his father’s footsteps as an instructor of languages, teaching French and Italian at Magdalen College, Oxford, and, under King James I, working as a private tutor to the Crown Prince and the Queen Consort. Florio’s works include First Fruits, which yield Familiar Speech, Merry Proverbs, Witty Sentences, and Golden Sayings; A Perfect Induction to the Italian and English Tongues; Second Fruits, to be gathered of Twelve Trees, of divers but delightsome Tastes to the Tongues of Italian and English men; Garden of Recreation, yielding six thousand Italian Proverbs; an Italian–English dictionary, A World of Words (the second edition of which was entitled Queen Anna’s New World of Words); and his celebrated translation of Montaigne’s Essays.

Stephen Greenblatt is the author of, among other books, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare and The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the National Book Award, the James Russell Lowell Award, and the Pulitzer Prize). He is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard.

Peter G. Platt is a professor and chair of English at Barnard College. He is the author of Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox (2009) and Reason Diminished: Shakespeare and the Marvelous (1997), and the editor of Wonders, Marvels, and Monsters in Early Modern Culture (1999). He has written articles about Shakespeare, Renaissance poetics and rhetoric, and John Florio. He is currently writing a book about Shakespeare and Montaigne.

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