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 […]

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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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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 Thumbs

Tacitus reports, that amongst certain barbarian kings their manner was, when they would make a firm obligation, to join their right hands close to one another, and intertwist their thumbs; and when, by force of straining the blood, it appeared in the ends, they lightly pricked them with some sharp instrument, and mutually sucked them. […]

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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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Article about Desirae Matherly

Tusculum College, where Desirae Matherly teaches, has posted a brief article about her participation in After Montaigne.

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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 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 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 […]

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Of Liberty of Conscience

‘Tis usual to see good intentions, if carried on without moderation, push men on to very vicious effects. In this dispute which has at this time engaged France in a civil war, the better and the soundest cause no doubt is that which maintains the ancient religion and government of the kingdom. Nevertheless, amongst the […]

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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.

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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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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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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 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 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 the Resemblance of Children to Their Fathers

This faggoting up of so many divers pieces is so done that I never set pen to paper but when I have too much idle time, and never anywhere but at home; so that it is compiled after divers interruptions and intervals, occasions keeping me sometimes many months elsewhere. As to the rest, I never […]

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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 Cato the Younger

[“I am not possessed with this common errour, to judge of others according to what I am my selfe. I am easie to beleeve things differing from my selfe. Though I be engaged to one forme, I do not tie the world unto it, as every man doth. And I beleeve and conceive a thousand […]

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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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To the Reader

Reader, thou hast here an honest book; it doth at the outset forewarn thee that, in contriving the same, I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end: I have had no consideration at all either to thy service or to my glory. My powers are not capable of any such […]

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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 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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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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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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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.

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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 […]

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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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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 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, […]

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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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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 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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A Custom of the Isle of Cea

[Cos. Cea is the form of the name given by Pliny] If to philosophise be, as ’tis defined, to doubt, much more to write at random and play the fool, as I do, ought to be reputed doubting, for it is for novices and freshmen to inquire and to dispute, and for the chairman to […]

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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 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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That We Taste Nothing Pure

The feebleness of our condition is such that things cannot, in their natural simplicity and purity, fall into our use; the elements that we enjoy are changed, and so ’tis with metals; and gold must be debased with some other matter to fit it for our service. Neither has virtue, so simple as that which […]

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Of the Inconstancy of Our Actions

Such as make it their business to oversee human actions, do not find themselves in anything so much perplexed as to reconcile them and bring them into the world’s eye with the same lustre and reputation; for they commonly so strangely contradict one another that it seems impossible they should proceed from one and the […]

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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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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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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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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 […]

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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 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 […]

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