Somehow or other, by dint of labor or bounty of nature, or both combined, the essay must be pure--pure like water or pure like wine, but pure from dullness, deadness, and deposits of extraneous matter.
Of all writers in the first volume, Walter Pater best achieves this arduous task, because before setting out to write his essay (' Notes on Leonardo da Vinci') he has somehow contrived to get his material fused.
And so, striding unconcernedly from one idea to the next, we traverse a large stretch of ground; observe that a wound in the solicitor is a very serious thing; that Mary Queen of Scots wears surgical boots and is subject to fits near the Horse Shoe in Tottenham Court Road; take it for granted that no one really cares about Aeschylus; and so, with many amusing anecdotes and some profound reflections, reach the peroration, which is that, as he had been told not to see more in Cheapside than he could get into twelve pages of the , he had better stop.
And yet obviously Butler is at least as careful of our pleasure as Stevenson, and to write like oneself and call it not writing is a much harder exercise in style than to write like Addison and call it writing well. It might even be said that there was a reversion to the classic type and that the essay by losing its size and something of its sonority was approaching more nearly the essay of Addison and Lamb. Birrell on Carlyle and the essay which one may suppose that Carlyle would have written upon Mr. There is little similarity between , by Leslie Stephen.
In her brief preface to the collection, Woolf distinguished the "common reader" (a phrase borrowed from Samuel Johnson) from "the critic and scholar": "He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously.
He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. ideas and opinions" about the nature of the English essay.It is admirably done, but we cannot help feeling anxious, as the essay proceeds, lest the material may give out under the craftsman's fingers.The ingot is so small, the manipulation so incessant.Hutton in the following passage: Add to this that his married life was brief, only seven years and a half, being unexpectedly cut short, and that his passionate reverence for his wife's memory and genius--in his own words, 'a religion'--was one which, as he must have been perfectly sensible, he could not make to appear otherwise than extravagant, not to say an hallucination, in the eyes of the rest of mankind, and yet that he was possessed by an irresistible yearning to attempt to embody it in all the tender and enthusiastic hyperbole of which it is so pathetic to find a man who gained his fame by his 'dry-light' a master, and it is impossible not to feel that the human incidents in Mr. A book could take that blow, but it sinks an essay.A biography in two volumes is indeed the proper depository, for there, where the licence is so much wider, and hints and glimpses of outside things make part of the feast (we refer to the old type of Victorian volume), these yawns and stretches hardly matter, and have indeed some positive value of their own.The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world.So great a feat is seldom accomplished, though the fault may well be as much on the reader's side as on the writer's. A novel has a story, a poem rhyme; but what art can the essayist use in these short lengths of prose to sting us wide awake and fix us in a trance which is not sleep but rather an intensification of life--a basking, with every faculty alert, in the sun of pleasure?But when Mark Pattison has to tell us, in the space of thirty-five little pages, about Montaigne, we feel that he had not previously assimilated M. Literal truth-telling and finding fault with a culprit for his good are out of place in an essay, where everything should be for our good and rather for eternity than for the March number of the .But if the voice of the scold should never be heard in this narrow plot, there is another voice which is as a plague of locusts--the voice of a man stumbling drowsily among loose words, clutching aimlessly at vague ideas, the voice, for example, of Mr.The principle which controls it is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure.Everything in an essay must be subdued to that end.