Friday, March 20, 2009

The Oxford Book of Essays (1)

Ed. John Gross. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 1991. (1)

Why read it? This book contains many of the classical essays, well known essays that have become part of the literary canon. Essentially, there are two types of essays. The first, based on the model of Montaigne’s essays, is organized around the writer’s thoughts, moving from one thought to another as the mind moves. The second type of essay is found in Bacon’s and Addison’s essays, writing that is planned with a beginning, middle and end. As for topics: they can be about anything on which the writer chooses to write.

Enjoy the sample quotes from essays written over the years.

Essays. “Even more than most literary forms, the essay defies strict definition.” p. xix. ………. “…distinguishing marks of an essay by Montaigne are intimacy and informality.” p. xix. ………. “Montaigne…merely daring to tell us whatever passed through his mind.” p. xix. .......... “Essayists are masters of the art of talking on paper….” p. xx.

Revenge. “Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior….” p. 3. F. Bacon, 1625. ………. “You shall read…that we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends.” p. 3. F. Bacon, 1625. ………. “There is no man doth a wrong for the wrong’s sake: but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure or honor, or the like.” p. 3. F. Bacon, 1625. ………. “This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” p. 4. F. Bacon, 1625. ………. Innovations. “It were good therefore that men in their innovations would follow the example of time itself, which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be perceived.” p. 6. F. Bacon, 1621.

Old Age. “He looks over his former life [the good old man] as a danger well past, and would not hazard himself to begin again.” p. 13. John Earle, 1628. ………. “He [the good old man] has some old stories…but remembers…how oft he has told them.” p. 13. John Earle, 1628. ……….Fortune. “To see how the projectors of the world, like the spoke of the wheel of [a] chariot, are tumbled up and down, from beggary to worship, from worship to honor, from honor to baseness again.” p. 15. Owen Felltham, 1620.

Dreams. “Lamia was ridiculously unjust to sue a young man for a reward, who had confessed that pleasure from her in a dream which she had denied unto his waking senses.” p. 20. Sir Thomas Browne, 1650. [Browne had a habit of talking too much and obscuring his ideas. In this one, a young lady sues a young man because he said in his dream he had pleasure of her, pleasure she would never have given him when they were awake.] ………. Wrath. “Let not the sun go down on your wrath.” p. 22. Thomas Fuller, 1642. ………. “Had Narcissus himself seen his own face when he had been angry, he could never have fallen in love with himself.” p. 22. Thomas Fuller, 1642.

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