If The Essays speak for themselves, then who or what does Montaigne speak for, yes, a question begotten not made of the inquiry into what an essay does, what the essays do, have done, can continue to do for those who read them, from among those who read, and the inference must be clear that there is a reading that amounts to a non-reading. The essayer of any essay? in any essay? What? What does the essayer do, accomplish in his or her essaying, trying, putting on trial, prosecuting ideas, is what we do—and now it is we, as many essayers in their I and I and I understand this, I am we; the I is we.
I have never had in my possession, a complete edition of The Essays, by Montaigne–of Montaigne? The only editions I have ever had have been editions published by reputable publishers of literature, Penguin, Signet, Oxford, Norton. They have always been selections, just as no one has ever read a complete edition of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. C’est la vie, c’est l’existence de la literature. Nonetheless, selection in lieu of complete edition has served its purpose and my intentions well enough.
Do we say father of the form? We can say so with greater security in our aim than we can be when we say George Washington is the father of his country, our country. Montaigne did create a literary genre, and he stands today still one of the best exemplars of the form to date. He is the exemplary model to follow; his is the literary essay, the personal essay at its finest. There may be some as good, but none really better.