HyperEssays is a project to bring a complete hypertext edition of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays to the web.

Translations of the Essays are available online already, including John Florio’s 1603 translation and Charles Cotton’s 1686 translation. We are using Cotton’s version (available in many formats via Project Gutenberg) as a starting point to offer a well-established, base translation which we are slowly replacing with a new, contemporary one. We are also writing new notes and laying out the text for easy reading on portable electronic devices.

Our edition is not intended for scholars but for a general audience who may find literal or dated translations of the Essays off-putting. We aim to create a modern, legible, accessible, online version of Montaigne’s book.

What is the Essays about?

The Essays is not a single, cohesive book. It is a collection of short and long pieces, on a variety of subjects (religion, horses, friendship, sleep, law, Roman authors, etc.), which Montaigne wrote over more than twenty years. His goals for the book and the circumstances under which he worked on it changed over time.

The first edition, published in 1580, comprised two books. Eight years later, the fourth edition included hundreds of revisions and a new, third book. By the time of his death, in 1592, Montaigne had planned many more changes which were in­cor­po­rat­ed in the first posthumous edition of 1595.

So, while you can read the Essays from beginning to end, starting with Montaigne’s address To the Reader, you can also follow John Cage’s advice and “begin any­where.” Pick from a selection of some of the most well-known chapters, like That to Study Philosopy Is to Learn to Die, On the Education of Children, On Friendship, On Cannibals, On Books, Apology for Ray­mond Se­bond, On Some Verses of Virgil, On Physiognomy, On Experience, or take a look at the table of contents and let your curiosity guide you.

Who was Michel de Montaigne?

Michel de Montaigne, the author of the Essays, was a sixteenth-century French philosopher. That is the standard one-liner about him, at least. But was Montaigne actually a philosopher? And did he really retire from the world to write in solitude for years, as is often said?

In On Montaigne, we try to address these questions and provide some biographical context to better understand the Essays. The companion timeline provides a chronological overview of his life.

And if you want to read more about him, we recommend these four biographies of Montaigne (along with two modern translations of the Essays). Each one is engaging but written with a different audience in mind.

One More Thing…

Work on HyperEssays started on January 17, 2020 and likely won’t be completed for several years. We post updates on the project on Twitter, @hyperessays.

Send your questions and comments to m2m@hyperessays.net.


Take a look at what we’ve been working on recently. Updates in­clude translations, cor­rec­tions, typo fixes, metadata changes, etc.