A Century of English Essays - Lloyd Vaughan

A Century of English Essays

By Lloyd Vaughan

  • Release Date: 2010-05-05
  • Genre: Philosophy


The longer essays, especially those devoted to criticism and to literature, are put aside for another volume, as their different mode seems to require. But the development of the art in all its congenial variety has been kept in mind from the beginning; and any page in which the egoist has revealed a mood, or the gossip struck on a vein of real experience, or the wise vagabond sketched a bit of road or countryside, has been thought good enough, so long as it helped to complete the round. And any writer has been admitted who could add some more vivid touch or idiom to that personal half meditative, half colloquial style which gives this kind of writing its charm. We have generally been content to date the beginning of the Essay in English from Florio stranslation of Montaigne. That work appeared towards the end of Queen Elizabeths time, in 1603, and no doubt it had the effect of setting up the form as a recognized genre in prose. But as we go back behind Florio and Montaigne, and behind Francis Bacon who has been called our first essayist, we come upon various experiments as we might call them essays towards the essay, attempts to work that vein, discursively pertinent and richly reminiscent, out of which the essay was developed. Accordingly for a beginning the line has been carried back to the earliest point where any English prose occurs that is marked with the gossips seal. A leaf or two of Chaucers prose, a garrulous piece of the craftsmans delight in his work from Caxton, and one or two other detachable fragments of the same kind, may help us to realize that there was a predisposition to the essay, long before there was any conscious and repeated use of the form itself.