BY DIVERS MEANS A LIKE END IS ATTAINED
The earlier Essays of Montaigne, written before 1580, — especially those of the first book, — are much less interesting than the later ones; they are greatly inferior in substance and in form. Many of them, indeed, do not deserve the name of Essays, a title subsequently invented by Montaigne: they are only what had been called leçons by his literary precursors — short compilations on one or another subject, with little or no addition of original thought, and demanding no sustained effort on the part of the author or the reader.
That Montaigne placed this Essay at the opening of his volume does not indicate necessarily that it was the first he composed (some of those that follow are unquestionably earlier in date): its position may be due to a different cause. In its first form when published in 1580, this Essay was scarcely more than half as long as it became later; it concluded with the thought: “Truly man is a marvellously volatile, various, and wavering creature.” And another expression of this idea — which was a dominant conception in his mind at the time of his first making himself known to the public — is found at the conclusion of the last Essay of the edition of 1580 (Book II, chapter 37): C'est la plus générale forme que nature ait suiuv que la variété. This theme runs as a Leit-motif through the two books: and it is a not improbable hypothesis, suggested by M. Villey, that he intentionally opened and closed their pages with it.
It was perhaps ten years later that Montaigne returned to this Essay, preparing it for a new edition, and he inserted in the middle of it a personal sentence regarding his own tendency toward la miséricorde et le pardon, indicating by this personal touch confidence in his public, given him by the character of the reception of the Essays on their first appearance.
And this, the first expression in the Essays of Montaigne’s own nature, should not be passed over lightly. By this time — 1588 — he had seen much of the world and of the conditions of his own country. He had spent a year in Italy, he had been for four years mayor of Bordeaux, he was in relation with the chief personages of the day, and it is probable that he had served in the royalist army. The effect of all this experience of life and men had caused him to recognize that, in contrast to the pervading ferocity of the times, he had une merveilleuse lascheté vers la miséricorde et le pardon. The word lascheté is significant. It did not have in Montaigne’s mouth at all the modern sense of a lack of courage, but it did have the meaning of a lack of vigor, a certain mollesse of nature. He had read in Seneca’s De Clementia that “all good men will manifest clemency and gentleness, but they will avoid pity [misericordia], for it is the weakness of a small soul giving way at the sight of