Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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.

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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, […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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. […]

Read More

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.

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

From Doodle to Design

University of Georgia Press’s Erin Kirk New talks briefly about her process of designing book covers, including a look at the cover of After Montaigne, about which she says, “For the cover of AFTER MONTAIGNE: CONTEMPORARY ESSAYISTS COVER THE ESSAYS, editors David Lazar and Patrick Madden suggested the idea of a ‘greatest hits’ album and […]

Read More

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.

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More

Of Prayers

LIA PURPURA is the author of seven collections of essays, poems, and translations, most recently Rough Likeness (essays) and King Baby (poems). Her honors include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, National Endowment for the Arts and Fulbright Fellowships, three Pushcart Prizes, the Associated Writing Programs Award in Nonfiction, and the Beatrice Hawley and Ohio State University Press awards in poetry. Recent work appears in The Best American Essays and in Agni, Field, Georgia Review, Orion, New Republic, New Yorker, Paris Review, and elsewhere. She is writer in residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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.

Read More

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 […]

Read More

How the Soul Discharges Its Emotions Against False Objects When Lacking Real Ones

DANIELLE CADENA DEULEN is an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. Her poetry collection Lovely Asunder (University of Arkansas Press) won the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize, the Utah Book Award, and an Ohio Arts Council Award. Her memoir The Riots (University of Georgia Press) won the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the GLCA New Writers Award. Her poetry chapbook American Libretto will be published by Sow’s Ear Press in 2015. Her second poetry collection, Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, won the Barrow Street Press Book Contest award and will also appear in 2015. She was a 2007 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Read More

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 […]

Read More

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 […]

Read More