chapter  1
The essay as genre
Pages 25

The essay as knowledge Like the novel, the essay has no real precedent in the generic system of classical antiquity. The essay was not one of those Renaissance genres based on adesire to revive the literary models of antiquity. Its initial impulse was away from genre altogether, in the direction of formlessness. Bakhtin defines as a novel "whatever form of expression within a given literary system reveals the limits of that system as inadequate, imposed or arbitrary" (Holquist and Clark, 276), and the essay could easily be included here. The specific genre in relation and reaction to which Montaigne developed the essai was the compendium of sayings, like Erasmus's Adagia. Rosalie Colie states,

Montaigne's earliest essays seem designed to establish the truth about a given topic by collecting relevant quotations from classical and later writers. But the handling of these citations gradually changes, until in the later essays quotation becomes a way of bringing a new voice into a conversation, rather than of providing authoritative support. We can see a similar change from Bacon's early essays, which read like linked aphorisms, to his later versions, where his personal voice comes through more strongly, and there is more discussion and qualification of the quotations.