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EDITED, WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES
WILLIAM FRANK BRYAN, Ph.D.
RONALD S. CRANE, PH.D.
OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH OF NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
GINN AND COMPANY
Probably no one will undertake to controvert the statement that a definition of the essay has not yet been made both inclusive enough to cover all the different kinds of prose to which the name has been given and still sufficiently restrictive to mark out any particular qualities which distinguish the essay from any other comparatively brief composition. An attempt to discover the characteristics common to Locke's " Essay on the Human Understanding,” Lamb's " Dissertation on Roast Pig,” Macaulay's "Warren Hastings,” Carlyle's " Essay on Burns,” and Arnold's "Sweetness and Light” would pretty surely demonstrate that these various pieces of literature do not belong to any single, unified genre. There are, however, a large number of writings commonly called " essays " which have traditionally been felt to constitute a distinct type. These are characterized by a personal, confidential attitude of the writers toward their subjects and their readers, by an informal, familiar style, and by a concern with everyday manners and morals or with individual emotions and experiences rather than with public affairs or the material of systematic thinking. It is with the essay of this more narrowly limited type — perhaps best called the Familiar Essay — that the present volume is exclusively concerned.
In treating the Familiar Essay the editors have designed not to furnish models for a course in English composition or to compile an anthology, but to present such a selection of texts as will exhibit clearly the development of the genre in England. The complete accomplishment of this purpose has made it necessary, of course, to begin outside of England with Montaigne, the originator of the type, and to include specimens of his essays. A similar consideration has led to the inclusion of a brief extract from La Bruyère. But with these exceptions only British writers are represented. However delightful or stimulating are the essays of Irving and Emerson and Lowell, they have not affected the development of the type; and regard for unity of purpose, combined with lack of space, compels their exclusion. Further, instead of presenting one or two essays each by a great number of writers, the collection is confined to the works of the most significant and influential essayists, in the belief that an adequate representation of their work is the truest way of making clear the evolution of the type. The selection of the individual essays, however, has been made with as much regard to their intrinsic interest and charm as to their historical significance.
As this collection is prepared not for the scholar-specialist but for the general reader and the college undergraduate, the spelling and the punctuation have been revised wherever adherence to earlier usage would baffle or seriously annoy the reader. The essays of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries have been modernized to this extent; those of the nineteenth century, in this respect, have been left almost wholly untouched. In every case the texts of the essays are those of standard editions, and they have been carefully collated wherever collation has seemed advisable.
The introduction tries to present in the briefest possible compass an ordered account of the historical development of the Familiar Essay in England; and for this sketch especial effort has been made to secure accuracy in matters of both fact and inference. For the section on Montaigne, and Bacon's relationship to Montaigne, the editors are deeply indebted to the careful and illuminating monographs of M. Pierre Villey; their obligations to other studies of the various essayists, though very considerable, do not demand here such particularization. A large part of the material for the introduction they have gathered from the original sources.
The notes, it is hoped, will contribute directly to an intelligent appreciation of the text. Quotations and allusions have been definitely placed, in order to throw light upon the extent and the character of the reading of the various essayists; and wherever it has appeared that an explanation or a statement of fact would really be of service to the reader, a note has been supplied. The notes, though full, are not compendiums of general information, but each concerns immediately the passage in the text to which it is related. All foreign words and phrases have been translated; the meaning of an English word, however, has been given only when the word is used in a sense not made clear in the sort of dictionary presumably owned by any person who wishes to read intelligently. The bibliographical essay, like the notes, is intended to be of practical utility to the general student and
reader. It includes the titles of only the most notable complete editions, of the most satisfactory inexpensive editions of the essays or of selections from them, and of a small number of studies which contain pertinent and valuable information on the development of the type or on the individual essayists, or which will be of definite assistance to the reader who desires fuller information than he can obtain from the necessarily compacted introduction and notes of this volume.
Throughout this work both editors have collaborated closely, and both are equally responsible for selection and arrangement; but each acknowledges a more definite accountability for certain sections. The preparation of the text for the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, with the accompanying notes and the corresponding section of the introduction, is the work of Dr. Crane; for the material of the nineteenth century Dr. Bryan is similarly responsible.
The editors desire to acknowledge gratefully their obligations to Charles Scribner's Sons for permission to reprint Stevenson's "The Lantern Bearers,” and to the Newberry Library and the libraries of Harvard University and of Northwestern University for services that have made the work possible. To their former colleague, Mr. Herbert K. Stone, now of the University of Illinois, and to their present colleagues and friends, Professor Keith Preston, Messrs. George B. Denton, J. B. McKinney, and Arthur H. Nethercot, they desire also to express their appreciation of assistance generously given. Almost every page of the introduction owes something to Mr. Denton's keen and thoughtful criticism.
W. F. B. Evanston, ILLINOIS
R. S. C.