Chiding Tacitus for undue modesty, Montaigne remarked that “not to dare to talk roundly of yourself betrays a defect of thought.” This, clearly, was not Montaigne’s defect.
Montaigne not only believed in the importance of knowing himself but thought there was scarcely anything better, or even else, worth knowing.
“I would rather be an expert on me than on Cicero,” he writes in his essay “On Experience,” and in “On Physiognomy” he writes, “I am wandering off the point when I write about anything else, cheating my subject of me.” But the more important point is that he made of the study of himself an epistemology: from knowledge of himself, he believed, all other knowledge flowed.
“Essay,” it is generally noted, comes from the French verb : to try, to attempt.
In bringing up this etymology most people wish to underscore the tentativeness of the form.