Essays of Our Times

Essays of Our Times

Essays of Our Times

Essays of Our Times

Excerpt

Essays and essayists--the two are inseparable. The personal essay, the essay en pantoufles, invites the reader to comfortable converse at the writer's fireside; the more formal essay may suggest the lecture room, the editorial page, or the pulpit, without foregoing altogether the presence of its creator, felt rather than seen. Both personal and formal essays are, in varying degrees, expressions of personality which bring us closer to their makers than any other form of prose.

At its most typical, which is its most personal, the essay is a lively document out of the thought and experience of a man's life, and gives free entry not merely to casual acquaintance with its author but often to such immediate and intimate understanding of his opinions, fancies, and emotions as the closest friendship can scarce afford. For the essay is, as Christopher Morley has excellently observed, "a mood rather than a form." In essence it is something between a lyric and a conversation: it has the lyric's clairvoyant power to reveal the truth in a flash of insight, and it has the mellow human quality of all good talk. As it tends away from these traits it tends toward the informational article in which the element of personality is suppressed. But unless the piece in question is an encyclopedia article, or a technical exposition, or a thesis, the stamp of the author's personality is discernible. Huxley, Ruskin, and Thoreau all wrote informing essays about nature, but with what wide differences! Carlyle and Newman both wrote formal reflective essays, but their books are as different as the two men.

Within the limits indicated above, the range of the essay is wide. Evidence of that fact is furnished by the pages of this . . .

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