Ed. John Gross. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 1991. (2)
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.
Possessions. “Somebody says of a virtuous and wise man, ‘that having nothing, he has all’ …his antipode, who, having all things, yet has nothing. p. 28. Abraham Cowley. 1665. ………. Dryden on Chaucer: “The matter and manner of their tales, and of their telling, are so suited to their different educations, humors, and callings that each of them would be improper in any other mouth.” p. 31. John Dryden. 1700. ………. Dryden on Chaucer: “We have our forefathers and great-grand-dames all before us, as they were in Chaucer’s days: Their general characters are still remaining in mankind, and even in England, though they are called by other names than those of Monks and Friars, and Canons and Lady Abbeses, and Nuns; for mankind is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature. p. 33. John Dryden. 1700.
Manners. “Good manners is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse.” p. 34. Jonathan Swift. 1714. ………. “I have seen a duchess fairly knocked down by the precipitancy of an officious coxcomb running to save her the trouble of opening a door.” p. 36. Jonathan Swift. 1714. ………. Tombstones. “Most of them [tombstones] recorded nothing else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day and died upon another; the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances, that are common to mankind….”p. 41. Joseph Addison. 1711.
Life and Death. “…I began to consider with myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another, and blended together in the same common mass; how beauty, strength and youth, with old age, weakness and deformity, lay undistinguished in the same promiscuous heap of matter.” p. 41. Joseph Addison. 1711. ………. “When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I meet with the griefs of parents upon a tombstone my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions and debates of mankind.” p. 43. Joseph Addison. 1711.
Life and Death. “Thus we groan under life, and bewail those who are relieved from it.” p, 55. Richard Steele. 1710. ………. Affectation. “…for there is nothing truer than the trite observation, ‘that people are never ridiculous for being what they really are, but for affecting what they are not.’ ”p. 57. Lord Chesterfield. 1755. ………. People. “We are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire, and seduced by pleasure.” p. 69. Samuel Johnson. 1750.
Character. “…more knowledge may be gained of a man’s real character by a short conversation with one of his servants than from a formal and studied narrative begun with his pedigree and ended with his funeral.” p. 70. Samuel Johnson. 1750. ………. Attractiveness. “Few are more frequently envied than those who have the power of forcing attention wherever they come, whose entrance is considered as a promise of felicity, and whose departure is lamented.” p. 72. Samuel Johnson. 1751. ………. Debtors’ Prison. “The confinement, therefore, of any man in the sloth and darkness of a debtors’ prison is a loss to the nation, and no gain to the creditor.” p. 75. Samuel Johnson. 1758.