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.