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As a form of literature, the essay is a composition of moderate length, usually in prose, which deals in an easy, cursory way with the external conditions of a subject, and, in strictness, with that subject, only as it affects the writer.
This original meaning, namely that these pieces were attempts or endeavours, feeling their way towards the expression of what would need a far wider space to exhaust, was lost in England in the course of the eighteenth century. This is seen by the various attempts made in the nineteenth century to coin a word which should express a still smaller work, as distinctive in comparison with the essay as the essay is by the side of the monograph; none of these linguistic experiments, such as essayette, essaykin Thackeray and essaylet Helps have taken hold of the language.
Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding is not an essay at all, or cluster of essays, in this technical sense, but refers to the experimental and tentative nature of the inquiry which the philosopher was undertaking.
Of the curious use of the word so repeatedly made by Pope mention will be made below. The essay, as a species of literature, was invented by Montaigne, who had probably little suspicion of the far-reaching importance of what he had created.
He was perfectly aware that he had devised a new thing; that he had invented a The most profound essayist wielding a pen of communicating himself to the world as a type of human nature.
He designed it to carry out his peculiar object, which was to produce an accurate portrait of his own soul, not as it was yesterday or will be to-morrow, but as it is to-day.
It is not often that we can date with any approach to accuracy the arrival of a new class of literature into the world, but it was in the month of March that the essay was invented. It was started in the second story of the old tower of the castle of Montaigne, in a study to which the philosopher withdrew for that purpose, surrounded by his books, close to his chapel, sheltered from the excesses of a fatiguing world.
He wrote slowly, not systematically; it took nine years to finish the two first books of the essays. In the manuscript of the work, so far as it was then completed, was nearly lost, for it was confiscated by the pontifical police in Rome, where Montaigne was residing, and was not returned to the author for four months.
The earliest imprint saw the light inat Bordeaux, and the Paris edition ofwhich is the fifth, contains the final text of the great author. These dates are not negligible in the briefest history of the essay, for they are those of its revelation to the world of readers.
It was in the delightful chapters of his new, strange book that Montaigne introduced the fashion of writing briefly, irregularly, with constant digressions and interruptions, about the world as it appears to the individual who writes.
The Essais were instantly welcomed, and few writers of the Renaissance had so instant and so vast a popularity as Montaigne. But while the philosophy, and above all the graceful stoicism, of the great master were admired and copied in France, the exact shape in which he had put down his thoughts, in the exquisite negligence of a series of essays, was too delicate to tempt an imitator.
It is to be noted that neither Charron, nor Mlle de Gournay, his most immediate disciples, tried to write essays.
He was early read in England, and certainly by Bacon, whose is the second great name connected with this form of literature. It was inonly five years after the death of Montaigne, that Bacon published in a small octavo the first ten of his essays.
These he increased to 38 in and to 58 in In their first form, the essays of Bacon had nothing of the fulness or grace of Montaigne's; they are meagre notes, scarcely more than the headings for discourses.
It is possible that when he wrote them he was not yet familiar with the style of his predecessor, which was first made popular in England, inwhen Florio published that translation of the Essais which Shakespeare unquestionably read. In the later editions Bacon greatly expanded his theme, but he never reached, or but seldom, the freedom and ease, the seeming formlessness held in by an invisible chain, which are the glory of Montaigne, and distinguish the typical essayist.
It would seem that at first, in England, as in France, no lesser writer was willing to adopt a title which belonged to so great a presence as that of Bacon or Montaigne. The one exception was Sir William Cornwallis d.
He interspersed with his prose, translations and original pieces in verse, but in other respects Cowley keeps much nearer than Bacon to the form of Montaigne.
The name of Bacon inspires awe, but it is really not he, but Cowley, who is the father of the English essay, and it is remarkable that he has had no warmer panegyrists than his great successors, Charles Lamb and Macaulay.
Towards the end of the century, Sir George Mackenzie — wrote witty moral discourses, which were, however, essays rather in name than form. Whenever, however, we reach the eighteenth century, we find the essay suddenly became a dominant force in English literature.
It made its appearance almost as a new thing, and in combination with the earliest developments of journalism.Most Perceptive Presentation of My Thinking - Ever Friday, February 12, at PM Christopher Hitchens once called Perry Anderson, the British Marxian historian who presently teaches at UCLA, both "the West’s most influential Marxist" and "the most profound essayist wielding a pen.”.
In the most recent issue of the London Review of Books, Thomas Meaney reviews Perry Anderson's recently published analysis of the ways in which the creation of the US state and its imperial ambitions have interacted, American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers.
Read an extract here. Christopher Hitchens once called Perry Anderson, the British Marxian historian who presently teaches at UCLA, both "the West’s most influential Marxist" and "the most profound essayist wielding a pen.” I've always viewed him as D'Artagnan to the three musketeers of English school of Marxism – namely, E.P.
Thompson, Christopher Hill, and Eric Hobsbawn (now all deceased). Hard scientific evidence that 9/11 was an inside job.
World Trade Center towers destroyed by controlled demolitions using Nano-thermite - investigate Thermate Superthermite Red Thermite chips found. The PEN Ten is PEN America’s weekly interview leslutinsduphoenix.com week, guest editor Nicole Sealey speaks with Martín Espada, a poet, editor, essayist, and translator who has published more than 15 books.
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