The Nature of Literature

The Nature of Literature

The Nature of Literature

The Nature of Literature

Excerpt

During the last quarter of a century we have witnessed the death of the 'polite' essay. A hundred years ago, in the hands of Macaulay, it was the very voice of authority, solemn and orotund. A generation later Arnold and Bagehot gave the form its last refinement; with Pater it was already in decline, expressive and subtle, but overwrought and literary.

Since Pater's time there have been good essayists, but gradually the form has been sacrificed to the increasing tempo of the Press. The quarterly and monthly magazines, the only effective patrons of this kind of journalism, have given way to the weekly reviews and daily newspapers; and though two or three of the old magazines still survive, they are moribund in the sense that they no longer appeal to a vital public. The exceptions, in my own time, have been the Times Literary Supplement, which until recently published every week a leading article of essay length, and the Criterion. It was in these two journals that most of the essays now reprinted first appeared.

The essay length is from 3,500 to 5,000 words. Less than 3,500 becomes an article or sketch--and to meet the exigencies of the daily and weekly it is generally much less--1,000 to 1,500 words only. The upper limit of the essay is no doubt also determined by journalistic considerations: anything more . . .

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