Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

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 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 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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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 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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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 Cannibals

LINA M. FERREIRA C.-V. graduated with both creative nonfiction writing and literary translation mfas from the University of Iowa. Her fiction, nonfiction, and translation work has been featured in journals including the Bellingham Review, Drunken Boat, and Rio Grande Review. Her 2015 book Don’t Come Back is published by Sarabande Books. She was the recipient of Best of the Net and Iron Horse Review’s Discovered Voices awards and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She currently lives in China; no one is quite sure why.

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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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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 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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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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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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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 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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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 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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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 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 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 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 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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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 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 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 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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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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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 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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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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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 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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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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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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