Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

Of Ancient Customs

I should willingly pardon our people for admitting no other pattern or rule of perfection than their own peculiar manners and customs; for ’tis a common vice, not of the vulgar only, but almost of all men, to walk in the beaten road their ancestors have trod before them. I am content, when they see […]

Read More

We Can Savour Nothing Pure

MAGGIE NELSON is the author of five books of nonfiction, The Argonauts (Graywolf, 2015), from which her piece here is excerpted; The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (Norton, 2011); Bluets (Wave Books, 2009); Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (University of Iowa Press, 2007); and The Red Parts (Free Press, 2007), as well as four books of poetry, Something Bright, Then Holes (Soft Skull, 2007), Jane: A Murder (Soft Skull, 2005), The Latest Winter (Hanging Loose, 2003), and Shiner (Hanging Loose, 2001). Since 2005 she has been a member of the faculty of the School of Critical Studies at CalArts in Valencia, California. She lives in Los Angeles.

Read More

That Our Desires Are Augmented by Difficulty

There is no reason that has not its contrary, say the wisest of the philosophers. I was just now ruminating on the excellent saying one of the ancients alleges for the contempt of life: “No good can bring pleasure, unless it be that for the loss of which we are beforehand prepared.” “In aequo est […]

Read More

Of the Uncertainty of Our Judgment

Well says this verse: [“There is everywhere much liberty of speech.”—Iliad, xx. 249.] For example: [“Hannibal conquered, but knew not how to make the best use of his victorious venture.”—Petrarch, Son., 83.] Such as would improve this argument, and condemn the oversight of our leaders in not pushing home the victory at Moncontour, or accuse […]

Read More

Of One Defect in Our Government

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavouring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in […]

Read More

Of the Inequality Amoungst Us

Plutarch says somewhere that he does not find so great a difference betwixt beast and beast as he does betwixt man and man; which he says in reference to the internal qualities and perfections of the soul. And, in truth, I find so vast a distance betwixt Epaminondas, according to my judgment of him, and […]

Read More

Of Thumbs

MARY CAPPELLO’s four books of literary nonfiction include Awkward: A Detour (a Los Angeles Times best seller) and, following Maya Deren, a ritual in transfigured time titled Called Back. Her most recent book, Swallow, emerges from the Chevalier Jackson Foreign Body Collection in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. A recipient of the Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination, the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Cappello is a former Fulbright lecturer at the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow) and currently professor of English and creative writing at the University of Rhode Island. She is currently writing a book-length essay on mood.

Read More

Of Anger

Plutarch is admirable throughout, but especially where he judges of human actions. What fine things does he say in the comparison of Lycurgus and Numa upon the subject of our great folly in abandoning children to the care and government of their fathers? The most of our civil governments, as Aristotle says, “leave, after the […]

Read More

Of Practice

PATRICK MADDEN’s first book, Quotidiana (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), won an Independent Publisher Book of the Year award, and his essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies including The Best American Spiritual Writing and The Best Creative Nonfiction. Nebraska will publish his second book, Sublime Physick, in 2015. A two-time Fulbright Fellow to Uruguay, he teaches at Brigham Young University and Vermont College of Fine Arts and curates the online anthology of classical essays at quotidiana.org.

Read More

Of Custom, and that We Should Not Easily Change a Law Received

He seems to me to have had a right and true apprehension of the power of custom, who first invented the story of a country-woman who, having accustomed herself to play with and carry a young calf in her arms, and daily continuing to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that, […]

Read More

Of Repentance

Others form man; I only report him: and represent a particular one, ill fashioned enough, and whom, if I had to model him anew, I should certainly make something else than what he is but that’s past recalling. Now, though the features of my picture alter and change, ’tis not, however, unlike: the world eternally […]

Read More

Nine and Twenty Sonnets of Estienne de la Boitie

TO MADAME DE GRAMMONT, COMTESSE DE GUISSEN. [They scarce contain anything but amorous complaints, expressed in a very rough style, discovering the follies and outrages of a restless passion, overgorged, as it were, with jealousies, fears and suspicions.—Coste.] [These….contained in the edition of 1588 nine-and-twenty sonnets of La Boetie, accompanied by a dedicatory epistle to […]

Read More

Of Liars

E. J. LEVY’s debut story collection, Love, in Theory, won the 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award, a 2013 ForeWord Book of the Year Award, and the 2014 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and is being released in French by Éditions Payot & Rivages. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Best American Essays, the New York Times, and the Paris Review and have received a Pushcart Prize. Her anthology Tasting Life Twice: Literary Lesbian Fiction by New American Writers won a Lambda Literary Award.

Read More

Of Solitude

CHRIS ARTHUR is author of five essay collections, most recently On the Shoreline of Knowledge (Iowa/Sightline, 2012). His work has appeared in a range of journals, including the American Scholar, Hotel Amerika, Irish Pages, North American Review, Orion, Southern Humanities Review, and Threepenny Review. A member of Irish pen, he has been the recipient of a number of awards, including the Akegarasu Haya International Essay Prize and the Theodore Christian Hoepfner Award. His work has been included in The Best American Essays (and frequently mentioned in the Notable Essays lists of this annual series). He has recently become a Fellow in the Royal Literary Fund’s Fellowships scheme and advises the Open College of the Arts on their creative writing degree course. For further information see www.chrisarthur.org.

Read More

Of Sex, Embarrassment, and the Miseries of Old Age [after “On Some Verses of Virgil”]

ROBERT ATWAN is the series editor of The Best American Essays, which he founded in 1985. He has edited numerous anthologies and written on a wide variety of subjects that include the interpretation of dreams in ancient literature, photography, Shakespeare, literary nonfiction, and the cultural history of American advertising. His essays, criticism, humor, reviews, and poetry have appeared in many periodicals, including the Atlantic Monthly, Denver Quarterly, Image, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, and New York Times.

Read More

To-Morrow’s a New Day

I give, as it seems to me, with good reason the palm to Jacques Amyot of all our French writers, not only for the simplicity and purity of his language, wherein he excels all others, nor for his constancy in going through so long a work, nor for the depth of his knowledge, having been […]

Read More

Of Friendship

VIVIAN GORNICK is an American critic, essayist, and memoirist. For many years she wrote for the Village Voice. Among her books are Fierce Attachments, Approaching Eye Level, The Situation and the Story, The End of the Novel of Love, and The Men in My Life (National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for criticism).

Read More

Of Books

I make no doubt but that I often happen to speak of things that are much better and more truly handled by those who are masters of the trade. You have here purely an essay of my natural parts, and not of those acquired: and whoever shall catch me tripping in ignorance, will not in […]

Read More

Of Experience

There is no desire more natural than that of knowledge. We try all ways that can lead us to it; where reason is wanting, we therein employ experience, “Per varios usus artem experientia fecit, Exemplo monstrante viam,” [“By various trials experience created art, example shewing the way.”—Manilius, i. 59.] which is a means much more […]

Read More

Of Idleness

As we see some grounds that have long lain idle and untilled, when grown rich and fertile by rest, to abound with and spend their virtue in the product of innumerable sorts of weeds and wild herbs that are unprofitable, and that to make them perform their true office, we are to cultivate and prepare […]

Read More

About the Book

Writers of the modern essay can trace their chosen genre all the way back to Michel de Montaigne (1533–92). But save for the recent notable best seller How to Live: A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell, Montaigne is largely ignored. After Montaigne—a collection of twenty-four new personal essays intended as tribute— aims to correct […]

Read More

Of Judging of the Death of Another

When we judge of another’s assurance in death, which, without doubt, is the most remarkable action of human life, we are to take heed of one thing, which is that men very hardly believe themselves to have arrived to that period. Few men come to die in the opinion that it is their latest hour; […]

Read More

Of Conscience

The Sieur de la Brousse, my brother, and I, travelling one day together during the time of our civil wars, met a gentleman of good sort. He was of the contrary party, though I did not know so much, for he pretended otherwise: and the mischief on’t is, that in this sort of war the […]

Read More

Of Wearing My Red Dress [after “Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes”]

BARRIE JEAN BORICH is the author of Body Geographic, published in the American Lives Series of the University of Nebraska Press and winner of a Lambda Literary Award in Memoir, an IPPY Gold Medal in Essay/Creative Nonfiction, and Foreword Review’s 2013 IndieFab Bronze Award for Essays. Her previous book, My Lesbian Husband, won the American Library Association Stonewall Book Award, and her work has been named Notable in The Best American Essays and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is a faculty member of the English Department and the ma in Writing & Publishing program at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she edits Slag Glass City, a creative nonfiction and new media journal focused on sustainability, identity, and art in urban environments. She teaches courses in creative nonfiction writing, literary journals, and the future of the book.

Read More

Of Profit and Honesty

No man is free from speaking foolish things; but the worst on’t is, when a man labours to play the fool: “Nae iste magno conatu magnas nugas dixerit.” [“Truly he, with a great effort will shortly say a mighty trifle.” —-Terence, Heaut., act iii., s. 4.] This does not concern me; mine slip from me […]

Read More

Of Prognostications

For what concerns oracles, it is certain that a good while before the coming of Jesus Christ they had begun to lose their credit; for we see that Cicero troubled to find out the cause of their decay, and he has these words: “Cur isto modo jam oracula Delphis non eduntur, non modo nostro aetate, […]

Read More

Of a Monstrous Child

This story shall go by itself; for I will leave it to physicians to discourse of. Two days ago I saw a child that two men and a nurse, who said they were the father, the uncle, and the aunt of it, carried about to get money by showing it, by reason it was so […]

Read More

Of Diversion

SHANNON LAKANEN teaches nonfiction writing at Otterbein University. Her writing has been published in Tusculum Review, Fourth Genre, North Dakota Quarterly, Indiana Review, and Quarter After Eight, among other publications. She is currently writing a collection of essays evolving out of her travels through Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Read More

Of the Power of the Imagination

DESIRAE MATHERLY teaches writing at Tusculum College and serves as nonfiction editor for the Tusculum Review. Her most recent essays appear in Hotel Amerika, Descant, and Red Holler: An Anthology of Contemporary Appalachian Literature. Four of her essays have made the Notable list in The Best American Essays, and one essay was anthologized in The Best Creative Nonfiction. Desirae earned a PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University in 2004 and was a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago.

Read More

Of Idleness

STEVEN CHURCH is the author of The Guinness Book of Me: A Memoir of Record, Theoretical Killings: Essays and Accidents, and The Day after the Day After: My Atomic Angst. His fourth book, Ultrasonic: Soundings, a collection of essays, will be released in 2015 by Lavender Ink. His essays have been published recently in River Teeth, Brevity, Passages North, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Agni, Diagram, Salon.com, and the Rumpus. He is a founding editor of the literary magazine Normal School.

Read More

Of the Most Excellent Men

If I should be asked my choice among all the men who have come to my knowledge, I should make answer, that methinks I find three more excellent than all the rest. One of them Homer: not that Aristotle and Varro, for example, were not, peradventure, as learned as he; nor that possibly Virgil was […]

Read More

From Doodle to Design

University of Georgia Press’s Erin Kirk New talks briefly about her process of designing book covers, including a look at the cover of After Montaigne, about which she says, “For the cover of AFTER MONTAIGNE: CONTEMPORARY ESSAYISTS COVER THE ESSAYS, editors David Lazar and Patrick Madden suggested the idea of a ‘greatest hits’ album and […]

Read More

The Ceremony of the Interview of Princes

ELENA PASSARELLO is an actor, a writer, and the first female winner of the Stella! Shout-Out screaming contest in New Orleans. Her book Let Me Clear My Throat, a collection of essays on the voice in pop culture, won the gold medal for creative nonfiction at the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Her essays have appeared in the Oxford American, Slate, Iowa Review, Creative Nonfiction, the Normal School, and the music writing anthology Pop When the World Falls Apart. She teaches creative writing at Oregon State University.

Read More

That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die

Cicero says—[Tusc., i. 31.]—”that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one’s self to die.” The reason of which is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or, else, because […]

Read More

Of Prayers

LIA PURPURA is the author of seven collections of essays, poems, and translations, most recently Rough Likeness (essays) and King Baby (poems). Her honors include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, National Endowment for the Arts and Fulbright Fellowships, three Pushcart Prizes, the Associated Writing Programs Award in Nonfiction, and the Beatrice Hawley and Ohio State University Press awards in poetry. Recent work appears in The Best American Essays and in Agni, Field, Georgia Review, Orion, New Republic, New Yorker, Paris Review, and elsewhere. She is writer in residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Read More

Apology for Raimond Sebond

Learning is, indeed, a very great and a very material accomplishment; and those who despise it sufficiently discover their own want of understanding; but learning yet I do not prize it at the excessive rate that some others do, as Herillus, the philosopher, for one, who therein places the sovereign good, and maintained “That it […]

Read More

That Men by Various Ways Arrive at the Same End

The most usual way of appeasing the indignation of such as we have any way offended, when we see them in possession of the power of revenge, and find that we absolutely lie at their mercy, is by submission, to move them to commiseration and pity; and yet bravery, constancy, and resolution, however quite contrary […]

Read More

The Story of Spurina

Philosophy thinks she has not ill employed her talent when she has given the sovereignty of the soul and the authority of restraining our appetites to reason. Amongst which, they who judge that there is none more violent than those which spring from love, have this opinion also, that they seize both body and soul, […]

Read More

Of the Arms of the Parthians

‘Tis an ill custom and unmanly that the gentlemen of our time have got, not to put on arms but just upon the point of the most extreme necessity, and to lay them by again, so soon as ever there is any show of the danger being over; hence many disorders arise; for every one […]

Read More

Of Recompenses of Honour

They who write the life of Augustus Caesar,—[Suetonius, Life of Augustus, c. 25.]—observe this in his military discipline, that he was wonderfully liberal of gifts to men of merit, but that as to the true recompenses of honour he was as sparing; yet he himself had been gratified by his uncle with all the military […]

Read More

Of the Education of Children

TO MADAME DIANE DE FOIX, Comtesse de Gurson I never yet saw that father, but let his son be never so decrepit or deformed, would not, notwithstanding, own him: not, nevertheless, if he were not totally besotted, and blinded with his paternal affection, that he did not well enough discern his defects; but that with […]

Read More

Of the Force of Imagination

“Fortis imaginatio generat casum,” say the schoolmen. [“A strong imagination begets the event itself.”—Axiom. Scholast.] I am one of those who are most sensible of the power of imagination: every one is jostled by it, but some are overthrown by it. It has a very piercing impression upon me; and I make it my business […]

Read More

That a Man Is Soberly to Judge of the Divine Ordinances

The true field and subject of imposture are things unknown, forasmuch as, in the first place, their very strangeness lends them credit, and moreover, by not being subjected to our ordinary reasons, they deprive us of the means to question and dispute them: For which reason, says Plato, —[In Critias.]—it is much more easy to […]

Read More

Experience Necessary

PHILLIP LOPATE is the author of five essay collections (Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, Portrait of My Body, Portrait Inside My Head, To Show and To Tell), the editor of the anthology The Art of the Personal Essay, and the director of graduate nonfiction at Columbia University. He has also written fiction (The Rug Merchant, Two Marriages) and poetry (At the End of the Day).

Read More

Observations on the Means to Carry On a War According to Julius Ceasar

‘Tis related of many great leaders that they have had certain books in particular esteem, as Alexander the Great, Homer; Scipio Africanus, Xenophon; Marcus Brutus, Polybius; Charles V., Philip’de Comines; and ’tis said that, in our times, Machiavelli is elsewhere still in repute; but the late Marshal Strozzi, who had taken Caesar for his man, […]

Read More

Use Makes Perfect

‘Tis not to be expected that argument and instruction, though we never so voluntarily surrender our belief to what is read to us, should be of force to lead us on so far as to action, if we do not, over and above, exercise and form the soul by experience to the course for which […]

Read More

Of Sorrow

No man living is more free from this passion than I, who yet neither like it in myself nor admire it in others, and yet generally the world, as a settled thing, is pleased to grace it with a particular esteem, clothing therewith wisdom, virtue, and conscience. Foolish and sordid guise! —[“No man is more […]

Read More

Of Ill Means Employed to a Good End

There is wonderful relation and correspondence in this universal government of the works of nature, which very well makes it appear that it is neither accidental nor carried on by divers masters. The diseases and conditions of our bodies are, in like manner, manifest in states and governments; kingdoms and republics are founded, flourish, and […]

Read More

Of Glory

There is the name and the thing: the name is a voice which denotes and signifies the thing; the name is no part of the thing, nor of the substance; ’tis a foreign piece joined to the thing, and outside it. God, who is all fulness in Himself and the height of all perfection, cannot […]

Read More

Of the Parsimony of the Ancients

Attilius Regulus, general of the Roman army in Africa, in the height of all his glory and victories over the Carthaginians, wrote to the Republic to acquaint them that a certain hind he had left in trust with his estate, which was in all but seven acres of land, had run away with all his […]

Read More