The Essays of Michel de Montaigne

HyperEssays is a project to create a modern and accessible online version of the Essays of Michel de Montaigne.

English translations of Montaigne’s book are available on the web already, including “Shakespeare’s Montaigne,” John Florio’s 1603 translation, and Charles Cotton’s 1686 translation.

My goals with HyperEssays are to provide context and tools for first-time readers of the Essays and to design a lasting resource for all interested in Montaigne’s work.

I’m using W. Carew Hazlitt’s edited version of Cotton’s text as a starting point to offer a well-established, base translation. I’m slowly replacing it with a new, contemporary one as well as writing new notes, creating chapter PDFs, and laying out the text for easy reading on smartphones and tablets.

You can help make HyperEssays a reliable online resource by supporting this project. With your contribution, this site can continue to grow and remain free and accessible to all.

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, suicide, 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 To Philosophize 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, I address these questions and provide some biographical context to better understand the Essays. The companion timeline provides a chronological overview of his life.

If you want to read more about him, I 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 many years. I post updates on the project on Mastodon @HyperEssays.

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


Take a look at what I’ve been working on recently. Updates in­clude copyediting, translations, annotations, and metadata changes.