Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

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, […]

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A Consideration Upon Cicero

One word more by way of comparison betwixt these two. There are to be gathered out of the writings of Cicero and the younger Pliny (but little, in my opinion, resembling his uncle in his humours) infinite testimonies of a beyond measure ambitious nature; and amongst others, this for one, that they both, in the […]

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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 […]

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Of Posting

I have been none of the least able in this exercise, which is proper for men of my pitch, well-knit and short; but I give it over; it shakes us too much to continue it long. I was at this moment reading, that King Cyrus, the better to have news brought him from all parts […]

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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.

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Of Vain Subtleties

There are a sort of little knacks and frivolous subtleties from which men sometimes expect to derive reputation and applause: as poets, who compose whole poems with every line beginning with the same letter; we see the shapes of eggs, globes, wings, and hatchets cut out by the ancient Greeks by the measure of their […]

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Of Drunkenness

The world is nothing but variety and disemblance, vices are all alike, as they are vices, and peradventure the Stoics understand them so; but although they are equally vices, yet they are not all equal vices; and he who has transgressed the ordinary bounds a hundred paces: “Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum,” [“Beyond or […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Of Age

I cannot allow of the way in which we settle for ourselves the duration of our life. I see that the sages contract it very much in comparison of the common opinion: “what,” said the younger Cato to those who would stay his hand from killing himself, “am I now of an age to be […]

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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 […]

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That We Laugh and Cry for the Same Thing

When we read in history that Antigonus was very much displeased with his son for presenting him the head of King Pyrrhus his enemy, but newly slain fighting against him, and that seeing it, he wept; and that Rene, Duke of Lorraine, also lamented the death of Charles, Duke of Burgundy, whom he had himself […]

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All Things Have Their Season

Such as compare Cato the Censor with the younger Cato, who killed himself, compare two beautiful natures, much resembling one another. The first acquired his reputation several ways, and excels in military exploits and the utility of his public employments; but the virtue of the younger, besides that it were blasphemy to compare any to […]

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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; […]

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That the Hour of Parley is Dangerous

I saw, notwithstanding, lately at Mussidan, a place not far from my house, that those who were driven out thence by our army, and others of their party, highly complained of treachery, for that during a treaty of accommodation, and in the very interim that their deputies were treating, they were surprised and cut to […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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.

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Of Giving the Lie

BRET LOTT is the bestselling author of fourteen books, most recently the nonfiction collection Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian (Crossway, 2013) and the novel Dead Low Tide (Random House, 2012). He has served as Fulbright Senior American Scholar and writer in residence at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, spoken on Flannery O’Connor at the White House, and been a member of the National Council on the Arts from 2006 to 2012. He teaches at the College of Charleston and lives in Hanahan, South Carolina.

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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 […]

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Of the Inconvenience of Greatness

AMY LEE SCOTT received an mfa from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. Her essays have appeared in various literary magazines, as well as on the Notable lists for The Best American Essays 2009 and 2013, and The Best American Travel Writing 2013. She lives in Dearborn, Michigan, where she is working on a collection of essays about loss, memory, and adoption. Her writing can be found at amyleescott.com.

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Of Prayers

I propose formless and undetermined fancies, like those who publish doubtful questions, to be after a disputed upon in the schools, not to establish truth but to seek it; and I submit them to the judgments of those whose office it is to regulate, not my writings and actions only, but moreover my very thoughts. […]

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That Men Are Not to Judge of Our Happiness Till After Death

[Charron has borrowed with unusual liberality from this and the succeeding chapter. See Nodier, Questions, p. 206.] “Scilicet ultima semper Exspectanda dies homini est; dicique beatus Ante obitum nemo supremaque funera debet.” [“We should all look forward to our last day: no one can be called happy till he is dead and buried.”—Ovid, Met, iii. […]

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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 […]

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That the Profit of One Man is the Damage of Another

Demades the Athenian—[Seneca, De Beneficiis, vi. 38, whence nearly the whole of this chapter is taken.]—condemned one of his city, whose trade it was to sell the necessaries for funeral ceremonies, upon pretence that he demanded unreasonable profit, and that that profit could not accrue to him, but by the death of a great number […]

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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 […]

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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).

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Of Cannibals

When King Pyrrhus invaded Italy, having viewed and considered the order of the army the Romans sent out to meet him; “I know not,” said he, “what kind of barbarians” (for so the Greeks called all other nations) “these may be; but the disposition of this army that I see has nothing of barbarism in […]

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Of Solitude

Let us pretermit that long comparison betwixt the active and the solitary life; and as for the fine sayings with which ambition and avarice palliate their vices, that we are not born for ourselves but for the public,—[This is the eulogium passed by Lucan on Cato of Utica, ii. 383.]—let us boldly appeal to those […]

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Of Smells

It has been reported of some, as of Alexander the Great, that their sweat exhaled an odoriferous smell, occasioned by some rare and extraordinary constitution, of which Plutarch and others have been inquisitive into the cause. But the ordinary constitution of human bodies is quite otherwise, and their best and chiefest excellency is to be […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes

Whatever I shall say upon this subject, I am of necessity to invade some of the bounds of custom, so careful has she been to shut up all the avenues. I was disputing with myself in this shivering season, whether the fashion of going naked in those nations lately discovered is imposed upon them by […]

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Whether the Governor of a Place Besieged Ought Himself to Go Out to Parley

Quintus Marcius, the Roman legate in the war against Perseus, King of Macedon, to gain time wherein to reinforce his army, set on foot some overtures of accommodation, with which the king being lulled asleep, concluded a truce for some days, by this means giving his enemy opportunity and leisure to recruit his forces, which […]

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Of the Inconvenience of Greatness

Since we cannot attain unto it, let us revenge our selves by railing at it; and yet it is not absolutely railing against anything to proclaim its defects, because they are in all things to be found, how beautiful or how much to be coveted soever. Greatness has, in general, this manifest advantage, that it […]

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Not to Counterfeit Being Sick

There is an epigram in Martial, and one of the very good ones—for he has of all sorts—where he pleasantly tells the story of Caelius, who, to avoid making his court to some great men of Rome, to wait their rising, and to attend them abroad, pretended to have the gout; and the better to […]

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Of a Saying of Caesar

If we would sometimes bestow a little consideration upon ourselves, and employ the time we spend in prying into other men’s actions, and discovering things without us, in examining our own abilities we should soon perceive of how infirm and decaying material this fabric of ours is composed. Is it not a singular testimony of […]

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Of Managing the Will

Few things, in comparison of what commonly affect other men, move, or, to say better, possess me: for ’tis but reason they should concern a man, provided they do not possess him. I am very solicitous, both by study and argument, to enlarge this privilege of insensibility, which is in me naturally raised to a […]

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Of Names

What variety of herbs soever are shufed together in the dish, yet the whole mass is swallowed up under one name of a sallet. In like manner, under the consideration of names, I will make a hodge-podge of divers articles. Every nation has certain names, that, I know not why, are taken in no good […]

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Of the Art of Conference

‘Tis a custom of our justice to condemn some for a warning to others. To condemn them for having done amiss, were folly, as Plato says, [Diogenes Laertius, however, in his Life of Plato, iii. 181, says that Plato’s offence was the speaking too freely to the tyrant.] for what is done can never be […]

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Not to Communicate a Man’s Honour

Of all the follies of the world, that which is most universally received is the solicitude of reputation and glory; which we are fond of to that degree as to abandon riches, peace, life, and health, which are effectual and substantial goods, to pursue this vain phantom and empty word, that has neither body nor […]

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Of Sleep

JERALD WALKER is the author of Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, recipient of the 2011 pen New England/L. L. Winship Award for Nonfiction. His essays have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including four times in The Best American Essays, and his memoir about growing up in a doomsday cult will be published in 2015. Walker is an associate professor of creative writing at Emerson College.

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That It Is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by Our Own Capacity

‘Tis not, perhaps, without reason, that we attribute facility of belief and easiness of persuasion to simplicity and ignorance: for I fancy I have heard belief compared to the impression of a seal upon the soul, which by how much softer and of less resistance it is, is the more easy to be impressed upon. […]

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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 […]

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A Proceeding of Some Ambassadors

I observe in my travels this custom, ever to learn something from the information of those with whom I confer (which is the best school of all others), and to put my company upon those subjects they are the best able to speak of:— “Basti al nocchiero ragionar de’ venti, Al bifolco dei tori; et […]

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Of Constancy

NICOLE WALKER’s Quench Your Thirst with Salt won the Zone 3 Award for Creative Nonfiction and was released in June 2013. She is the author of a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street, 2010), and has edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction (Bloomsbury, 2013) and, with Rebecca Campbell, 7 Artists, 7 Rings—An Artist’s Game of Telephone for the Huffington Post. She is nonfiction editor at Diagram and associate professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

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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.

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Of Liars

There is not a man living whom it would so little become to speak from memory as myself, for I have scarcely any at all, and do not think that the world has another so marvellously treacherous as mine. My other faculties are all sufficiently ordinary and mean; but in this I think myself very […]

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Of Quick or Slow Speech

So we see in the gift of eloquence, wherein some have such a facility and promptness, and that which we call a present wit so easy, that they are ever ready upon all occasions, and never to be surprised; and others more heavy and slow, never venture to utter anything but what they have long premeditated, and taken great care and pains to fit and prepare.

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Of Cruelty

I fancy virtue to be something else, and something more noble, than good nature, and the mere propension to goodness, that we are born into the world withal. Well-disposed and well-descended souls pursue, indeed, the same methods, and represent in their actions the same face that virtue itself does: but the word virtue imports, I […]

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