Ed. John Gross. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 1991. (3)
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.
Laws. “The end of all civil regulations is to secure private happiness from private malignity; to keep individuals from the power of one another.” p. 76. Samuel Johnson. 1758. ………. Ambiguity. “We find few disputes that are not founded on some ambiguity in the expression.” p. 82. David Hume. 1741. ………. National Stereotypes. “…declared that the Dutch were a parcel of avaricious wretches; the French a set of flattering sycophants; that the Germans were drunken sots, and beastly gluttons; and the Spanish proud, haughty and surly tyrants, but that, in bravery, generosity, clemency, and in every other virtue, the English excelled all the world.” p. 94. Oliver Goldsmith, “On National Prejudices.” 1763.
Life’s Purpose. “…unless we take refuge in the intolerable paradox that the mass of men are created for nothing and are meant to leave life as they entered it.” p. 169. John Henry Newman. 1841. ………. Conservatism and Liberalism. “The two parties which divide the state, the party of conservatism and that of innovation, are very old and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made.” p. 171. Emerson. 1841. ………. “The conservative party in the universe concedes that the radical would talk sufficiently to the purpose if he were still in the garden of Eden; he legislates for man as he ought to be; his theory is right but he makes no allowance for friction; and this omission makes his whole doctrine false.” p. 183. Emerson. p. 1841.
Education. “It has been well said that the highest aim in education is analogous to the highest aim in mathematics, namely to obtain not results but powers; not particular solutions, but the means by which endless solutions may be wrought.” p. 239. George Eliot. 1855. ………. The French. “…means that the French, as a people, have shown more accessibility to ideas than any other people; that prescription and routine have had less hold upon them than upon any other people; that they have shown most readiness to move and to alter at the bidding…of reason.” p. 265. Matthew Arnold. 1863. ………. The English. “Heine: I might settle in England…if it were not that I should find there two things, coal-smoke and Englishmen; I cannot abide either.” p. 245. Matthew Arnold. 1863.
Restraint. “It is needful only to look around us to see that the greatest restrainer of the anti-social tendencies of men is fear, not of the law, but of the opinion of their fellows.” p. 249. T.H. Huxley. 1894. ………. Golden Rule. “…the followers of the ‘golden rule’ may indulge in hopes of heaven, but they must reckon with the certainty that other people will be masters of the earth.” p. 250. T.H. Huxley. 1894. ………. “What would become of the garden if the gardener treated all the weeds and slugs and birds and trespassers as he would like to be treated…?” p. 251. T.H. Huxley. 1894.
Complaints. “…we should be very careful for our own sake not to speak much about what distresses us; expression is apt to carry with it exaggeration, and this exaggerated form becomes henceforth that under which we represent our miseries to ourselves, so that they are thereby increased.” p. 257. Mark Rutherford. 1900. ………. “By perpetually asking for sympathy an end is put to real friendship. p. 258. Mark Rutherford. 1900. [That’s a dangling modifier; but you get the point. RayS.] ………. Fear. “Fright is often prior to an object; that is to say, the fright comes first….” p. 258. Mark Rutherford. 1900.