Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

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 […]

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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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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 Cripples

‘Tis now two or three years ago that they made the year ten days shorter in France.—[By the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.]—How many changes may we expect should follow this reformation! it was really moving heaven and earth at once. Yet nothing for all that stirs from its place my neighbours still find their […]

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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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To the Reader, Sincerely

DAVID LAZAR’s most recent book is Occasional Desire: Essays (University of Nebraska Press). His other books include The Body of Brooklyn and Truth in Nonfiction (both University of Iowa Press), Michael Powell: Interviews and Conversations with M.F.K. Fisher (both University Press of Mississippi), and Powder Town (Pecan Grove). He has been awarded an Ohio Individual Artist Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction. He is the founding editor of Hotel Amerika and professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.

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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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Of Sleep

Reason directs that we should always go the same way, but not always at the same pace. And, consequently, though a wise man ought not so much to give the reins to human passions as to let him deviate from the right path, he may, notwithstanding, without prejudice to his duty, leave it to them […]

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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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That We Are to Avoid Pleasures, Even at the Expense of Life

I had long ago observed most of the opinions of the ancients to concur in this, that it is high time to die when there is more ill than good in living, and that to preserve life to our own torment and inconvenience is contrary to the very rules of nature, as these old laws […]

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That Our Mind Hinders Itself

JOSÉ ORDUÑA is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. He was born in Córdoba, Veracruz, and immigrated to Chicago with his mother at the age of one and a half. When he was in fourth grade, he and his parents traveled by bus from their home in Chicago to Ciudad Juárez in order to file for permanent residency under section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. In December of 2010, while in graduate school, he applied for naturalization, and he was sworn in as a United States citizen the following year. He currently lives in Iowa City, where he is at work on his forthcoming book from Beacon Press, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement.

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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 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 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.

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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 Books and Huecos

JUDITH ORTIZ COFER is the author of If I Could Fly (2011), a novel; the children’s books Animal Jamboree: Latino Folktales (2012), The Poet Upstairs (2012), and ¡A Bailar! (2011); Call Me Maria (2006), a young adult novel; A Love Story Beginning in Spanish: Poems (2005); The Meaning of Consuelo (2003), a novel; Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer (2000), a collection of essays; An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (1995), a collection of short stories; The Line of the Sun (1989), a novel; Silent Dancing (1990), a collection of essays and poetry; two books of poetry, Terms of Survival (1987) and Reaching for the Mainland (1987); and The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry (1993). The Cruel Country, a cultural memoir, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press in 2015. In 2010 Judith Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She is the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing, Emerita, at the University of Georgia. For further information see judithortizcofer.english.uga.edu.

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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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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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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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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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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 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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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 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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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 […]

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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 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 Smells

WAYNE KOESTENBAUM is a poet, critic, and artist. He has published nine books of nonfiction, on such subjects as hotels, Harpo Marx, humiliation, Jackie Onassis, opera, and Andy Warhol. His latest book of prose is My 1980s & Other Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013). His six books of poetry include Blue Stranger with Mosaic Background (Turtle Point, 2012) and Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films (Turtle Point, 2006). His first solo exhibition of paintings was at White Columns gallery in New York in 2012.

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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, […]

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Of Friendship

Having considered the proceedings of a painter that serves me, I had a mind to imitate his way. He chooses the fairest place and middle of any wall, or panel, wherein to draw a picture, which he finishes with his utmost care and art, and the vacuity about it he fills with grotesques, which are […]

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Against Idleness

The Emperor Vespasian, being sick of the disease whereof he died, did not for all that neglect to inquire after the state of the empire, and even in bed continually despatched very many affairs of great consequence; for which, being reproved by his physician, as a thing prejudicial to his health, “An emperor,” said he, […]

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Of Moderation

As if we had an infectious touch, we, by our manner of handling, corrupt things that in themselves are laudable and good: we may grasp virtue so that it becomes vicious, if we embrace it too stringently and with too violent a desire. Those who say, there is never any excess in virtue, forasmuch as […]

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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 […]

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Of Vanity

There is, peradventure, no more manifest vanity than to write of it so vainly. That which divinity has so divinely expressed to us—[“Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.”—Eccles., i. 2.]—ought to be carefully and continually meditated by men of understanding. Who does not see that I have taken a road, in which, incessantly and without […]

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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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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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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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Of Three Good Women

They are not by the dozen, as every one knows, and especially in the duties of marriage, for that is a bargain full of so many nice circumstances that ’tis hard a woman’s will should long endure such a restraint; men, though their condition be something better under that tie, have yet enough to do. […]

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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 the Punishment of Cowardice

I once heard of a prince, and a great captain, having a narration given him as he sat at table of the proceeding against Monsieur de Vervins, who was sentenced to death for having surrendered Boulogne to the English, —[To Henry VIII. in 1544]—openly maintaining that a soldier could not justly be put to death […]

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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 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 Physiognomy

Almost all the opinions we have are taken on authority and trust; and ’tis not amiss; we could not choose worse than by ourselves in so weak an age. That image of Socrates’ discourses, which his friends have transmitted to us, we approve upon no other account than a reverence to public sanction: ’tis not […]

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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 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 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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That Men Are Justly Punished for Being Obstinate in the Defense of a Fort that is Not in Reason to Be Defended

Valour has its bounds as well as other virtues, which, once transgressed, the next step is into the territories of vice; so that by having too large a proportion of this heroic virtue, unless a man be very perfect in its limits, which upon the confines are very hard to discern, he may very easily […]

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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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