Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

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 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 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 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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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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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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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 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 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 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 Three Commerces

We must not rivet ourselves so fast to our humours and complexions: our chiefest sufficiency is to know how to apply ourselves to divers employments. ‘Tis to be, but not to live, to keep a man’s self tied and bound by necessity to one only course; those are the bravest souls that have in them […]

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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 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 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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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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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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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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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 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 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 Giving the Lie

Well, but some one will say to me, this design of making a man’s self the subject of his writing, were indeed excusable in rare and famous men, who by their reputation had given others a curiosity to be fully informed of them. It is most true, I confess and know very well, that a […]

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Of the Power of the Imagination

DESIRAE MATHERLY teaches writing at Tusculum College and serves as nonfiction editor for the Tusculum Review. Her most recent essays appear in Hotel Amerika, Descant, and Red Holler: An Anthology of Contemporary Appalachian Literature. Four of her essays have made the Notable list in The Best American Essays, and one essay was anthologized in The Best Creative Nonfiction. Desirae earned a PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University in 2004 and was a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago.

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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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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 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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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 Constancy

The law of resolution and constancy does not imply that we ought not, as much as in us lies, to decline and secure ourselves from the mischiefs and inconveniences that threaten us; nor, consequently, that we shall not fear lest they should surprise us: on the contrary, all decent and honest ways and means of […]

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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 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 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 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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That the Soul Expends Its Passions Upon False Objects Where the True Are Wanting

A gentleman of my country, marvellously tormented with the gout, being importuned by his physicians totally to abstain from all manner of salt meats, was wont pleasantly to reply, that in the extremity of his fits he must needs have something to quarrel with, and that railing at and cursing, one while the Bologna sausages, […]

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Of One Defect in Our Government

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavouring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in […]

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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 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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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 Virtue

I find by experience, that there is a good deal to be said betwixt the flights and emotions of the soul or a resolute and constant habit; and very well perceive that there is nothing we may not do, nay, even to the surpassing the Divinity itself, says a certain person, forasmuch as it is […]

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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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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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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 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 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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Of the Education of Children

BRIAN DOYLE is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He is the author of many books of essays and fiction, most recently the “whopping sea novel” The Plover (St. Martin’s Press).

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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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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 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 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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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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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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