The Essays of Michel de Montaigne

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

HyperEssays.net hosts four editions of the Essays:

  1. A 1598 edition, in middle French, edited by Marie de Gournay. This is a slightly revised version of Gournay’s original edition published in 1595.
  2. A complete and searchable edition of John Florio’s 1603 translation of the Essays, in early modern English.
  3. A 1686 translation by Charles Cotton, also in early modern English. Only some chapters of this edition have been copy edited and posted.
  4. A complete and searchable modern edition of the Essays based on W. Carew Hazlitt’s 1877 update of Charles Cotton’s translation. I am slowly replacing the Cotton/Hazlitt translation with a contemporary one and adding new notes.

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.

To that end, I copy edit, update, and annotate the original text and its translations. I tag them for indexing and searching. I lay them out for easy reading on smartphones, desktop computers, and tablets. I prepare and provide free chapter PDFs for offline reading.

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, an updated 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:

Or 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.

Recent updates

Copyediting, translating, writing notes, updating metadata … the work never ends. This is HyperEssays’s work log, a list of the chapters I’ve been working on:

Work on HyperEssays started on January 17, 2020 and likely won’t be completed for many years.