The Seventeenth-Century English Essay

The Seventeenth-Century English Essay

The Seventeenth-Century English Essay

The Seventeenth-Century English Essay

Excerpt

This study of the English essay was begun several years ago, when the several chapters of my Literary Bypaths of the Renaissance (Yale University Press, 1914) was in course of composition, and was originally designed to form part of that volume. The essay, however, seemed far too important in the history of English literature to be included among its bypaths, and the material, furthermore, soon outgrew the space that could be allotted to it there. To understand Bacon rightly, it is impossible to neglect the relation of his essays either to the embryonic essays found scattered through early prose treatises and dialogues or to the Italian maxims of the sixteenth century. Various special forms of essay, also, have to be considered; for each offers interests of its own. The influence of the Boyles on the meditation, for example, and their consequent influence on Swift, is only one such consideration. Outgrowing, therefore, the place for which it was first designed, this study is here offered independently, in the hope that it will give some idea of the growth of the essay as a literary form and of the currents of thought that were disseminated by it through the English mind of the seventeenth century.

Much of the reading in preparation for this volume was done in the Bodleian Library, to the courtesy of whose officials the author owes a debt that is beyond repaying. The chapter on prose style owes much, too, to the scholarly articles of Professor Morris Croll, to which reference is made in the footnotes.

E. N. S. T.

December 14, 1926 . . .

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