Montaigne, who was the initiator of the modern essay (1580), laid stress upon its essentially autobiographic nature. He confesses that he writes “not to discover things, but to lay open myself.” He thinks that an essay should be spontaneous and free from every artificial trammel. It should have the characteristics of open, varied, wide-ranging talk: “I speak unto paper as unto the first man I meet.” Lord Bacon, whose first edition of essays appeared in 1597, is more orderly than Montaigne. He masses his material more closely, keeps to his topic, packs his sentences as full as they will hold. He is too austere for the leisurely, personal method of Montaigne; he imparts his concentrated worldly wisdom coolly, almost impassively; he loves the pregnant opening and close. “To write just treatises,” he says, “requireth time in the writer and leisure in the reader, which is the cause that hath made me choose to write certain brief notes, set down rather significantly than curiously, which I have called essays; the word is late, but the thing is ancient. For Seneca’s Epistles to Lucilius, if one mark them well, are but essays—that is, dispersed meditations.” And finally, Addison, whose essays sum up the early eighteenth century as completely as Montaigne and Bacon represent the late Renaissance, is quite as explicit as they are in emphasizing the informal character of this type of literature: “When I make choice of a subject that has not been treated on by others, I throw together my reflections on it without any order or method, so that they may appear rather in the looseness and freedom of an essay, than in the regularity of a set discourse.”

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