Ed. John Gross. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 1991. (8)
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.
Prejudice: “…my father, who having taken his own conversion too literally, never, at bottom, forgave the white world…for having saddled him with a Christ in whom, to judge at least from their treatment of him, they themselves no longer believed.” p. 624. James Baldwin, 1953. ………. Language. “…the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it.” p. 626. James Baldwin. 1953. ………. Prejudice. “At the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American white man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself.” p. 630. James Baldwin. 1953.
Prejudice. “…American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocence of returning to a state in which black men do not exist…one of the greatest errors Americans can make.” p. 632. James Baldwin. 1953. ………. Power. “Yet what, finally, was the effect of absolute power on twelve representative men [the twelve Caesars]? …Suetonius makes it quite plain: disastrous.” p. 637. Gore Vidal. 1959. ………. Personality. “But to deny the dark nature of human personality is not only fatuous but dangerous.” p. 639. Gore Vidal. 1959.
Algeria. “Sartre on Algeria: Anybody, at any time, may equally find himself victim or executioner.” p. 639. Gore Vidal. 1959. ………. Humans. “…half-tamed creatures whose great moral task it is to hold in balance the angel and the monster within—for we are both, and to ignore this duality is to invite disaster.” p. 640. Gore Vidal. 1959. ………. Fate. “Sometimes I think jokes are the only truly serious response to our absurd fates.” p. 654. PJ Kavanaugh. 1983.
“Power brings problems.” p. 659. VS Naipaul. 1967. ………. Faces. “To have stared at the damned thing [his face] so long and yet still not to know what it reveals is a true tribute to the difficulties of self analysis.” p. 666. Joseph Epstein. 1983. ………. “Yet read faces one must, for however unreliable a method it may be, none other exists for taking at least a rough measure of others.” p. 668. Joseph Epstein. 1983. ………. “I know I need to look at, if not deeply into, the eyes of someone with whom I am talking…find myself slightly resentful—perhaps irritated comes closer to it—at having to talk to someone wearing sunglasses.” p. 669. Joseph Epstein. 1983. ………. “Intelligence is more readily gauged in a face than is stupidity.” p. 672. Joseph Epstein. 1983.
Faces. “We read [the faces] most subtly of course of those people we know most closely: our friends, our known enemies, our families; in the faces of such people we can recognize shifting moods, hurt and pride, all the delicate shades of feeling.” p. 672. Joseph Epstein. 1983. ………. “But of that person we supposedly know most intimately, ourself, the project remains hopeless; study photographs of ourselves though we may, stare at our selves in mirrors though we do, our self-scrutiny comes to naught; if you don’t believe me, stop a moment and attempt to describe yourself to someone who has never seen you.” p. 672. Joseph Epstein. 1983.
Comment: And on that note, the inscrutability of our own faces, I bring to a close some of the memorable statements found in essays through the years. RayS.