Inventing a literary form is an honor bestowed upon few. We may speak of Don Quixote as the “first novel,” or Emerson as the “father” of American poetry, or Augustine’s Confessions as the earliest example of autobiography, and enjoy doing so because it exercises our desire to create ranks, build consensus and celebrate true originality, even if we know full well that American poetry didn’t begin at any one point, nor was there a first novel. Still, this hyperbole is fun, and lists need to be made. So when it comes to the essay, it should be said that the verdict is essentially unanimous: it belongs to Michel de Montaigne.
Jared Marcel Pollen on Montaigne.