Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

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 […]

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Of the Roman Grandeur

I will only say a word or two of this infinite argument, to show the simplicity of those who compare the pitiful greatness of these times with that of Rome. In the seventh book of Cicero’s Familiar Epistles (and let the grammarians put out that surname of familiar if they please, for in truth it […]

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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 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 […]

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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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Defence of Seneca and Plutarch

The familiarity I have with these two authors, and the assistance they have lent to my age and to my book, wholly compiled of what I have borrowed from them, oblige me to stand up for their honour. As to Seneca, amongst a million of little pamphlets that those of the so-called reformed religion disperse […]

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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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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 Mind Hinders Itself

‘Tis a pleasant imagination to fancy a mind exactly balanced betwixt two equal desires: for, doubtless, it can never pitch upon either, forasmuch as the choice and application would manifest an inequality of esteem; and were we set betwixt the bottle and the ham, with an equal appetite to drink and eat, there would doubtless […]

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Of the Affection of Fathers for Their Children

ROBIN HEMLEY directs the Writing Program at Yale-nus College in Singapore and is the author of eleven books of nonfiction and fiction and the winner of many awards including a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as three Pushcart Prizes in both fiction and nonfiction, an Independent Press Book of the Year Award, the American Library Association’s Editor’s Choice Award, and the Washington State Book Award. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and directed the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa from 2004 to 2013. His memoir NOLA: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness was reissued by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. He is the founder and organizer of NonfictioNow, a biennial conference that will convene next at Northern Arizona University in October of 2015.

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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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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 […]

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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.

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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 Democritus and Heraclitus

The judgment is an utensil proper for all subjects, and will have an oar in everything: which is the reason, that in these Essays I take hold of all occasions where, though it happen to be a subject I do not very well understand, I try, however, sounding it at a distance, and finding it […]

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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 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 Diversion

I was once employed in consoling a lady truly afflicted. Most of their mournings are artificial and ceremonious: “Uberibus semper lacrymis, semperque paratis, In statione subatque expectantibus illam, Quo jubeat manare modo.” [“A woman has ever a fountain of tears ready to gush up whenever she requires to make use of them.”—Juvenal, vi. 272.] A […]

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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 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 […]

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Of the Vanity of Words

A rhetorician of times past said, that to make little things appear great was his profession. This was a shoemaker, who can make a great shoe for a little foot.—[A saying of Agesilaus.]—They would in Sparta have sent such a fellow to be whipped for making profession of a tricky and deceitful act; and I […]

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Cowardice the Mother of Cruelty

I have often heard it said that cowardice is the mother of cruelty; and I have found by experience that malicious and inhuman animosity and fierceness are usually accompanied with feminine weakness. I have seen the most cruel people, and upon frivolous occasions, apt to cry. Alexander, the tyrant of Pheres, durst not be a […]

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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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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 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 […]

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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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That the Intention is Judge of Our Actions

‘Tis a saying, “That death discharges us of all our obligations.” I know some who have taken it in another sense. Henry VII., King of England, articled with Don Philip, son to Maximilian the emperor, or (to place him more honourably) father to the Emperor Charles V., that the said Philip should deliver up the […]

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Publishers Weekly Review

After Montaigne gets its first pre-publication review, from Publishers Weekly.

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Various Events from the Same Counsel

Jacques Amiot, grand almoner of France, one day related to me this story, much to the honour of a prince of ours (and ours he was upon several very good accounts, though originally of foreign extraction),—[The Duc de Guise, surnamed Le Balafre.]—that in the time of our first commotions, at the siege of Rouen,—[In 1562]—this […]

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How the Soul Discharges Its Emotions Against False Objects When Lacking Real Ones

DANIELLE CADENA DEULEN is an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. Her poetry collection Lovely Asunder (University of Arkansas Press) won the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize, the Utah Book Award, and an Ohio Arts Council Award. Her memoir The Riots (University of Georgia Press) won the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the GLCA New Writers Award. Her poetry chapbook American Libretto will be published by Sow’s Ear Press in 2015. Her second poetry collection, Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, won the Barrow Street Press Book Contest award and will also appear in 2015. She was a 2007 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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Of the Battle of Dreux

[December 19, 1562, in which the Catholics, under the command of the Duc de Guise and the Constable de Montmorenci, defeated the Protestants, commanded by the Prince de Conde. See Sismondi, Hist. des Francais, vol. xviii., p. 354.] Our battle of Dreux is remarkable for several extraordinary incidents; but such as have no great kindness […]

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The Ceremony of the Interview of Princes

There is no subject so frivolous that does not merit a place in this rhapsody. According to our common rule of civility, it would be a notable affront to an equal, and much more to a superior, to fail being at home when he has given you notice he will come to visit you. Nay, […]

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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 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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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 Fear

“Obstupui, steteruntque comae et vox faucibus haesit.” [“I was amazed, my hair stood on end, and my voice stuck in my throat.” Virgil, AEneid, ii. 774.] I am not so good a naturalist (as they call it) as to discern by what secret springs fear has its motion in us; but, be this as it […]

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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, […]

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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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Of Pedantry

I was often, when a boy, wonderfully concerned to see, in the Italian farces, a pedant always brought in for the fool of the play, and that the title of Magister was in no greater reverence amongst us: for being delivered up to their tuition, what could I do less than be jealous of their […]

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Against Idleness

KRISTEN RADTKE’s first book, a graphic memoir, is forthcoming from Pantheon Books. She is the marketing and publicity director for Sarabande Books and the film and video editor of TriQuarterly magazine. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.

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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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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).

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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 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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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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That the Relish for Good and Evil Depends in Great Measure Upon the Opinion We Have of Them

Men (says an ancient Greek sentence)—[Manual of Epictetus, c. 10.]— are tormented with the opinions they have of things and not by the things themselves. It were a great victory obtained for the relief of our miserable human condition, could this proposition be established for certain and true throughout. For if evils have no admission […]

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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 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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