Selected pages from copies of Montaigne’s Essays, from Will Hamlin.

Return to article: Privacy and the Words of the Dead 


From Privacy and the Words of the Dead, by Will Hamlin

…It’s very unlikely that these long-forgotten readers expected anyone to scrutinize their thoughts–anyone, that is, beyond their own immediate audience, which was often an audience of one. Yes, it’s true that the social construction of privacy varies tremendously from one culture to another, and it may be the case that seventeenth-century English readers felt that they were improving Montaigne when they filled his book with questions, clarifications, and anecdotes drawn from their lives. They may have felt that they were perfecting the Essays for future readers–accepting the author’s implicit challenge to move beyond social convention and explore what lies beneath. Perhaps. Or perhaps they were writing exclusively for themselves, never imagining that four centuries later someone might pore over their words, never condoning such a possibility because never dreaming it might happen.