Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

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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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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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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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 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 […]

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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 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 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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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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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 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 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 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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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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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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Publishers Weekly Review

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

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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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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 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 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 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 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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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 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 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 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 Presumption

There is another sort of glory, which is the having too good an opinion of our own worth. ‘Tis an inconsiderate affection with which we flatter ourselves, and that represents us to ourselves other than we truly are: like the passion of love, that lends beauties and graces to the object, and makes those who […]

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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 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 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 […]

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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 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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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.

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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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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 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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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 […]

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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 Coaches

It is very easy to verify, that great authors, when they write of causes, not only make use of those they think to be the true causes, but also of those they believe not to be so, provided they have in them some beauty and invention: they speak true and usefully enough, if it be […]

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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 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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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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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 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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