An Essay on the Esse
The Esse was the heart of the house. To cast it thus is neither accurate – beyond a few rough similarities – nor original, but it's the best way I can think of to convey the role it played. The Esse's heat circulated invisibly, providing a background warmth in all the rooms, making them seem welcoming and lived in. It kept the water at the right temperature for baths, the gentle gurgling in the pipes that ran between it and the tank was companionable, like a softly spoken conversation between friends. When my mother became too frail to stoke it and the Esse was finally removed, it was almost as if the house had died. The whole place felt different. The rooms became icy and uninviting; the rumbling bass voice of the pipes fell silent, replaced by the periodic robotic whir of an electric immersion heater. Without the Esse an unlived in mustiness took hold. Putting in less labor-intensive devices for cooking and water heating was like major surgery that hadn't worked. The patient survived, but only as a shadow of who they'd been before. Arteries were left irreparably damaged, allowing the precious hemoglobin of the Esse's embers to seep away. As a result, despite the new prostheses, the place was starved of the oxygen of warmth on which it so depended. Soon an atmosphere of sepulchral airlessness descended and the house no longer felt like home.
The essay is at the heart of my life. To cast it thus may seem to put a perilous reliance upon words, but it conveys how much I value this peculiar genre. Of course I would survive without it – it is at the heart, not the heart itself – but its absence now would seem as serious a loss as the Esse's removal from the house. Essays provide the frames within which I can draw my pictures of the world. They offer parsing lenses which help me bring the grammar of experience into focus. Making these little fires of prose provides the psyche with the warmth of meaning that it craves. I know they're small-scale, tentative, unable to cast more than a flickering of heat and light. Essays don’t possess the incandescence of those great pyres and furnaces lit by science, art, religion (though they do steal many sparks from them); they’re more like campfires than conflagrations. Essays allow for individual articulation. They can be molded into any shape. The sticks they offer me to rub together allow the kindling of flames that fit the hearth of my particular being, where other fires might scorch it or just gutter and go out. Essays let me trace with words the contours of the mind’s invisible topography, without imposing the iron of disfiguring insistence. They eschew those molten certainties that cool into the deadweight of dogma. Conversational not analytic, essays are more akin to the Esse’s rumbling voice in the water pipes than the immersion heater’s bursts of clipped impersonal diction. Where the Esse’s squat iron presence exerted a kind of gravity, pulling domestic life into its daily rhythms, the gravitational pull of essays invites thoughts, memories, and reflections into new orbits, allowing them to crystallize into unexpected forms.
The Esse was the focal point in the kitchen at Whiteways, our family home near Belfast. The name referred to the white roughcast walls that set the house apart from the red brick of all the neighboring dwellings. The Esse occupied a made-to-measure tiled niche. Because of the kitchen’s small size, the niche wasn’t large enough for an Aga, my mother’s originally preferred make of stove – the type her mother had used and which her two sisters likewise favored. Once the Esse was installed, though, she had the convert’s enthusiasm and soon sang its praises over any Aga. The niche’s pale yellow tiles matched the color of the Esse’s front and sides. Its top was black, with a shiny silver bolster in the middle of the hob. Raising the bolster revealed the hotplate on which the kettle was boiled and saucepans were heated. On either side of the bolster were heavy circular metal lids, set flush with the stove’s surface. These could be lifted by hooking a special metal implement into indentations shaped to take it. It was like fitting a giant key into a hot, heavy plug and pulling it out. The left hand lid gave access to the burning embers held safely in the Esse’s core. It was opened twice a day to feed the fire with anthracite. The right hand lid led to a shallow empty chamber whose function I never discovered. At the front was a fire door and two heavy oven doors, thickly insulated to keep in the heat. The doors swung back on special hinges and their noise on opening and closing was an important theme in the signature tune of familiarity played out every day by the ensemble of object-instruments about the house. Their accustomed sounds were only noticed if some variation intruded, changing a repertoire recognized since infancy. It lulled me into that sense of belonging which the noises in all our encampments and habitations variously provide.
The Esse’s fire door was opened to rake the grate. This was done using the same metal implement that lifted the fuel hatch. In fact we called it “the rake”, though it bore no similarity to the garden variety. It was more like a thick metal ruler, hooked at one end, narrowed to its key shape at the other. The keyed end used to lift the fuel hatch also fitted a slot in the grate. If you then pulled vigorously backward and forward the live coals were jostled, showering their ash into the ash-pan below and making room for fresh anthracite to keep the fire alight. The ash-pan was emptied first thing in the morning and last thing at night – pulling it out with the hooked end of the rake and using this as a handle to carry the burning load to the metal bin outside the kitchen door. A hod for fuel stood beside the bin. This was filled by using it like a giant scoop on the pile of anthracite kept in a nearby outhouse. Upending the hod, its blunt snout fitted into the Esse’s open fuel hatch, sent a load of anthracite sliding noisily into the stove’s dark innards. These days I rarely smell hot anthracite ash, but if I do it transports me to a vanished world as surely as any madeleine.
The essay became a focal point in my life seemingly by accident. In 1989, I bought a copy of that year’s Best American Essays, the annual collection that scours the literary magazines, harvesting a yearly crop of excellence. At that point I’d never heard of the series – then only in its fourth year – or of the series’ editor, Robert Atwan, who has done so much to assist in what he describes as the genre’s “remarkable literary comeback”. My knowledge of essays then was very slight. I’m not sure why I bought Best American Essays 1989. Its dowdy grey cover didn’t make it the sort of volume likely to stand out – although it’s possible, I suppose, that the brash cacophony of covers that’s become so commonplace in bookshops now meant the sated eye found its dullness interesting. Or maybe what appealed was the promise of Atwan’s opening words, that the gathered essays “are intimate, candid, revealing, close to the pulse of human experience”. For whatever reason, my browsing that day in an Edinburgh bookshop led me to a book that was to have a profound impact on my life. I read it avidly, almost at a sitting, then started to write essays and read about the form. It was as if discovering this clutch of brilliant exemplars acted to legitimate and release a reservoir of words that had been building up for years in some hidden nest inside. My first essay, “Ferrule”, seemed to emerge pre-formed, as if already laid. I had a crucial stroke of beginner’s luck with it – “Ferrule” was accepted for publication by the first journal to which I offered it, The American Scholar, then under the editorship of Joseph Epstein, one of the essayists included in Best American Essays 1989, and someone whose books of essays I subsequently went on to read and learn from. I published essays in a range of other journals and then in book form – Irish Nocturnes, Irish Willow, Irish Haiku, and now Irish Elegies. I’ve not stopped writing essays, or reading about them, since that defining moment in 1989 when I first encountered Atwan’s series.
Thinking about essays now, I remember the niche into which the Esse at Whiteways so snugly fitted. The essay seemed tailor-made to fill a niche that was waiting in my psyche. I’d tried my hand at poetry, fiction, academic prose, but despite some modest successes it had always felt as if I was cooking on stoves that didn’t fit my kitchen. It wasn’t until the essay fell into my lap, courtesy of that Best American Essays volume, that I found a genre in which I felt at home. The freedom and flexibility of essays appealed, as did their tradition of independent individuality, their scant regard for authority, their love of language. It’s a hard form to define – in fact I’d agree with G. Douglas Atkins that essays represent “an implicit critique of the drive towards definition” – and yet some characterizations do catch something of their elusive spirit. For example, Edward Hoagland suggests that essays “hang somewhere on a line between two sturdy poles: this is what I think, and this is what I am”; “luck and play”, says Theodor Adorno, “are essential to the essay”; comparing the forms of literature “with sunlight reflected in a prism”, Georg Lukács concludes that essays are like “the ultraviolet rays”.
The history of the Esse is easily told. It begins with a nineteenth-century Edinburgh-born entrepreneur, James Smith, who emigrated to America and settled in Jackson, Mississippi. There, he established a successful hardware business, specializing in cooking ranges and stoves. Business flourished, but Mississippi’s climate had a detrimental effect on his wife’s health, so they returned to Scotland. James’s business acumen and the pool of wealthy customers in Victorian Edinburgh soon spelled success on that side of the Atlantic too. In 1858 he went into partnership with an old friend, Stephen Wellstood, and in 1890 Smith & Wellstood amalgamated with George Ure’s Colombian Stove Works at Bonnybridge in Stirlingshire, from whose foundry finished stoves were shipped down the Forth-Clyde canal to warehouses in Glasgow. Soon the business grew beyond Scotland. Outlets opened in Liverpool, Dublin and London. The first closed, anthracite-burning stoves were introduced to the British market in 1900. This was the type of stove to which the brand name “Esse” was given. According to documents in the National Library of Scotland, Smith & Wellstood were “the driving force in persuading the British public to invest in efficient, slow burning stoves in place of open fires”. It’s easy to think of history in terms of a few set-piece dramatic instances, to chart human progress by focusing on its violently eye-catching upheavals – wars, plagues, famines. But think how big a revolution was brokered by the Esse as people moved from open hearth to ironclad fire. The rhythms of everyday life for countless families were profoundly altered. Smith & Wellstood became a limited company in 1949. In 1973 they became part of Newman Industries. When this business collapsed in 1984 it was bought by Ouzledale Foundry. Esses are still made today at their foundry in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, a town that can trace its history back to the Vikings.
It pleases me to think that James Smith would have walked along the same Edinburgh street as I did, years later, carrying my copy of Best American Essays 1989. This book played as foundational a role in the development of my writing as Smith did in the development of the Esse. The bookshop where I bought it was on Princes Street, Edinburgh’s famous main thoroughfare, so it’s almost certain Smith would have been there. This kind of coincidence fascinates me. For either of us to arrive at that particular node of time and space, each bearing the unique particularities of our histories, results from a maze of interconnections and possibilities so complex that mapping it beyond the crudest cartography defies the imagination. I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s “all eternity was needed to make this one moment.” This applies to every moment. Existence juggles with so many possible outcomes that it seems incredible the threads of the actual are ever spun, or that we become part of their fabric. Alternatives are always possible, ready to be woven up instead of us. Our precariousness comes into sharpest focus when we almost lose our place upon the unlikely brocade of being. What new pattern would have resulted if I’d stopped to tie a shoelace thirty years ago on the day a terrorist bomb exploded in a building I’d just walked past? James Smith was shipwrecked on a return trip to America in September 1854. How would the threads of history have changed if he’d not been rescued after three days perilously adrift in the Atlantic? “Esse” means “actual existence”, from the Latin “to be”. Our actual existence is about as far from being cast-iron as you can get. Our lives have much more about them of the Esse’s shifting embers than of the stove itself. We are raked by circumstance, drawn into uncertain alignments as our brief embers touch and collide, face outcomes dictated by the unpredictable draft of time that governs the temperature of being.
The history of the essay is not so simple. Today’s essays stem from a confluence of many tributaries. Their sources are not always clear, nor is it easy to map their meanderings or determine where one river of words merged with another in the great watercourse of prose in which our wordy species swims. From a Western perspective, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is usually presented as the inventor of this form, with Francis Bacon (1561-1626) named as its originator in English – leading on to that famous duo of periodical essayists, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Richard Steele (1672-1729) – and from them, in various leaps and bounds (Johnson, Goldsmith, Lamb, Hazlitt, Carlyle, Thackeray, Stevenson, Belloc, Chesterton), to Woolf and Orwell, with whose contributions histories of this particular vein too often stop, as if the genre was now of merely historical interest. In fact this genealogy, whose rosary of famous names I’ve listed, is of dubious legitimacy. As Terence Cave has recently argued, there’s a world of difference between Montaigne’s “essais” and Lamb’s “essays”. I’m not at all convinced that the contemporary essay could trace its bloodline back to Addison and Steele, or that it would want to. I happily leave the detailed plotting of such family histories to others; I’m. more interested in writing essays than in tracing their ancestry. Like any family history, though, it will no doubt contain surprises – such as the fact that the so-called father of modern journalism and doyen of the English essay, Richard Steele, was an Irishman. His last earthly remains, coincidentally, lie not far from where I’m writing these words in rural, Welsh-speaking Wales.
Whatever conclusions we reach about the provenance of the essay, when we ponder its origin and development we need to remember that the Western perspective is only one, and the English essay is not its sole representative. In The Chinese Essay (2000), David Pollard includes examples from the work of essayists who lived centuries before Montaigne. Looking to the Classical world, we can also point to proto-essayists in figures like Cicero, Plutarch and Seneca. There are many national traditions of essay writing. The French essay, the English essay and the American essay are particularly rich seams in the deposits of this genre, but they are by no means the only ones. Scholars can identify key figures along the way and plot out how they’ve influenced each other, they can categorize essays into types – the personal essay, the nature essay, the medical essay and so on – but it’s impossible to be sure in any overarching sense that’s valid beyond the welter of subtraditions, when or where this form first emerged. It surely existed before it was so named, and did so simultaneously in different places in different forms. This is not a genre with any single point of origin. Though there are some crucially important wellsprings, most obviously Montaigne, who’s to say which shard of prose, in which language, in which century constitutes the original ur-essay that set the standard for its descendants to follow? Following a set pattern is, in any case, alien to this genre. R. Lane Kauffmann refers to the “skewed path” that essays follow, and to their “unmethodical method”. In the Preface to the Encyclopedia of the Essay (1997), edited by Tracy Chevalier, Graham Good talks about “the essay’s multiplicity of forms”, its “spontaneity, its unpredictability, its very lack of a system”. He admits the impossibility of mapping it. This is a fugitive and unpredictable genre. It prefers the margins to the mainstream; it eschews conformity. It is more inclined to skepticism, dissent and heresy than to any literary orthodoxy. But always, “at the heart of the essay”, as Graham Good stresses, “is the voice of the individual.”
As an essayist, not an historian of the essay, still less a literary critic expert in this genre, I have two main concerns in any account given of it. First, that it makes clear how vigorous and varied the contemporary essay is, as evidenced, for example, in the now twenty volumes of Robert Atwan’s Best American Essays. Secondly, that it dismisses the Edwardian stereotype in whose deathly grip essays too often languish even now. As Graham Good puts it – in his The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay (1988) – ”essay” and “essayist” are terms that still act to:
Conjure up the image of a middle-aged man in a worn tweed jacket in an armchair smoking a pipe by a fire in his private library in a country house somewhere in southern England, about 1910, maundering on about the delights of idleness, country walks, old wine and old books, blissfully unaware that he and his entire civilization are about to be swept away.
This type of essay – miles removed from the kind of writing being done in the genre today-is characterized by Ian Hamilton as the “something-about-next-to-nothing school” involving “virtuoso feats of pointless eloquence”. These quaint period pieces should not be allowed to mask the possibilities such writing offers today. Unless the deadwood of these outmoded connotations can be got rid of, “essay” just sounds tedious.
The origin of the name “Esse” is unclear. No one seems to know who bestowed it, or why it was thought this palindrome would suit a cast iron kitchen stove. It was written in italic script in raised silver letters on a red triangular nameplate affixed to the front of our Esse at Whiteways. Describing a rare 1888 edition of Smith & Wellstood’s catalogue, librarians at Edinburgh’s National Library of Scotland note that the company’s anthracite-burning stoves “were modeled on a French design”. The history section on the website of the current manufacturer of Esses, Ouzledale Foundry, suggests that “the French sounding name reflected the fashion at the time for continental style stoves.” There are meanings for “esse” in Latin, German, Italian and Portuguese – but so far as I know it has no meaning in French. I’m not sure why Esses were so called. Perhaps James Smith or Stephen Wellstood remembered the Latin they would have learned at any nineteenth-century Scottish school and thought the existential resonance of “to be” fitted well with the elemental function of their stoves – for think how much of being human involves clustering around fires, as we warm ourselves, cook our meals, light the dark, listen to each other’s stories.
The origin of the name “essay” is clear enough. Here, there’s no doubt about the French connection. Montaigne’s great work, first published in 1580, was entitled Essais de Michel Montaigne and constitutes the first use of “essai” to describe a mode of writing. O. B. Hardison puts things into useful context in his contribution to Alexander Butrym’s excellent collection, Essays on the Essay (1989). According to Hardison:
The word “essay” comes from the Old French “essai,” defined by Partridge as “a trial, an attempt.” From this meaning comes English “to essay” in the sense of “to make a trial or attempt.” ... The word also comes into English via the Norman French “assaier,” “to assay,” meaning to try or test, as in testing the quality of mineral ore.
It remains uncertain how close a connection it’s legitimate to draw between Montaigne’s endeavors and those of later essayists. But it is undoubtedly the experimental nature of the genre that gives it much of its appeal, the way it allows one to try things out. It offers no set procedure. It is, rather, a style of wondering and wandering in prose that tolerates massive variation in length, in language and in subject matter. As Carl Klaus puts it, “The essay is an open form” which “gives a writer the freedom to travel in any direction.”
Two thick black pipes, each the circumference of a thigh, led from the back of the Esse and disappeared into the kitchen ceiling. From here they connected with a flue which ran to one of two chimneys on Whiteways’ red-tiled roof. When the wind was in a certain direction and blowing hard, the draft that allowed the fire to burn could become so magnified that, on rare occasions, the hotplate glowed red hot. A silver towel rail ran across the front of the Esse. Just behind it, above the ovens, was a thermometer. Its thread of mercury was broken into several bits which never moved – the result of the stove once over-heating in a gale. Below the ovens was a shiny silver spout of unknown purpose. Whenever a dribble of water escaped from it – I only recall this happening a couple of times in all those years – it caused a level of consternation in my mother that seemed disproportionate to the tiny amount of liquid on the floor. Sometimes it seemed as if she – the chief tender of the stove and the person who cooked on it – was so attuned to its moods that her own were affected by it. Damp, windless days, when the draught was poor and the ovens slow, seemed to occasion similar lassitude in her; high temperatures on windy days made fiery outbursts likely.
The Esse had something of the nature of one of those massive iron bollards found in harbors to which ships are moored, holding them securely at the quayside. It was a heavy punctuation mark of the familiar, a potent ingredient in the sense of home. On those occasions when the whole family was away all day, my mother worried about getting back “for the Esse”, so that its tending would not suffer interruption. The only time its fire was allowed to go out was when we were on holiday – our annual fortnight’s stay in Donegal. When we got back, lighting the Esse was a priority. Until it was successfully done – a fiddly, smoky, uncertain business – it didn’t feel as if we’d properly returned. The Esse’s steady heat, its regular stoking, raking, and ash-emptying rituals, re-established our domestic routines and warmed away that luminal state of being neither away nor yet securely home.
Compared to the practical function of the Esse, the essay’s usefulness may seem remote, even negligible. Though I like to think its wordy fires of meaning satisfy a need that’s as important, if less pressing, than those the Esse catered for, I know how easy it is to denigrate the abstract by laying it alongside the concrete. The poet’s calling can seem ridiculous indeed if set beside hunger and what a farmer does. The Esse kept us warm in those pre-central heating days, it heated our food, it allowed us to bathe in comfort. This was where my mother baked that inimitable Ulster wheaten bread whose smell and flavor was such a key component in the complicated machinery that generated our sense of belonging. Compared to such elemental things, essays may seem trifling distractions. What use is fiddling with words when a family is cold and hungry and needs hot food? Yet whilst it’s easy to divide things into such disparate priorities, it would be a poor existence that didn’t move beyond the satisfaction of our basic needs. Without the paths an essay can weave, the Esse – for all its usefulness – remains a mute, unsinging object.
Touch the Esse with the hand of the essay and all sorts of windows open up. It is cocooned in a delicate tracery of stories. Pull on one thread and it awakens the lives of those in foundry and warehouse, in canal barge and in shop, all the hands that touched this cube of iron. Pull on another thread and the ore from which the Esse was forged takes us back to the geological age when it was laid down in the earth. Or we can let its anthracite grow ancient forests in the mind and spark pictures of the vanished creatures whose tread fell upon the embryonic wood which, eons later, became the Esse’s fuel. An essay can make the Esse transparent, its solidity can be changed into water as we feel the surge of the Atlantic swell that so nearly cost James Smith his life – three hundred people perished when the ship he was on, the US mail steamer Arctic, collided with another vessel in fog off Newfoundland. Or, closer to home than that icy Atlantic water, an essay can conjure the water of Boomer’s Dam, only a mile or two from Whiteways, and the trout fished from there and cooked to sizzling perfection in the Esse’s oven. Essays allow us to find portals of meaning and mystery in the objects that surround us. Going through them we can feel the pulse of being sounding beyond the accustomed heartbeat of the quotidian. Looking at how Northern Ireland descended into its dark “Troubles”, shattering the mercury of tolerance as the temperature of sectarian hatred soared beyond anything reason was calibrated to measure, the essay lets us see the Esse as the reassuring face of normality. It can remind us that in the maelstrom of violence that sometimes made it seem as if all of Ulster was a war zone, ordinary life continued, people baked and ate and sat in comfortable rooms decrying the barbarity burgeoning around them.
Another thread of meaning crackles into life if we look at the person who installed the Esse at Whiteways in 1949, shortly after the house was built. This thread loops back to the religious wars in France which were so potent a factor in Montaigne’s decision to retreat to the seclusion of his chateau and live quietly, away from the savagery of his times. Our Esse was fitted by a plumber called John Refaussé (we all pronounced it “Refossey”), a descendant of one of the Huguenot refugees who fled religious persecution in France to settle in this part of Ireland, bringing with them their knowledge of linen manufacture – knowledge that was to have a profound influence on so many Irish lives. The first Refaussé arrived with the Williamite army in 1689. John Refaussé’s hands were trained to the metal of pipes and stoves, not muskets and swords, but what they wrought had far more impact on us than the actions of any soldier or gunman. The “Boomer” of Boomer’s Dam sounds a second Huguenot note to set beside Refaussé. This stretch of water was named after another refugee family who settled in Lisburn’s environs. Their original name, “Boullmer”, was soon turned into “Boomer” on the no-nonsense local tongue, just as “Menuret” became “Menary”, “Le Bas” became “Bass”, “De Vaques” became “Devanny”, “Deyermond” became “Dorman” and so on, this settling of odd-sounding names into forms more easy on the indigenous ear marking an acculturation so successful it soon became almost invisible. These Huguenots of Lisburn are a reminder of the fact that sectarian conflict is far from being unique to modern Ulster. Its unreasoning hatred, its demonizing of “the other”, seems, alas, to be a characteristic of our species.
Linking Esse and essay may seem unwarranted, a spurious connection forged between two things that really have nothing to do with each other. Surely they are mere homonyms, words that just happen to share identical sounds without any coincidence of sense. To take such accidental twinning further is to court absurdity. There is, of course, an element of contrivance in looking at one through the lens of the other – but, in the circumstances, what essayist could resist some dalliance with such a pairing? Simple play comes into it. Richard Chadbourne talks of “the element of homo ludens in the essay”. Essaying the Esse is, in part, the otter-pleasure of swimming in an unexpected rill of language. The pooling of these words is an irresistible invitation to jump in. Beyond the fun of verbal splashing, though, the Esse-essay pairing has more serious dimensions, both in terms of opening portals and as a means of trying to understand some of the influences that have shaped me.
In Dreamthorp, Alexander Smith suggests that “the world is everywhere whispering essays.” I’m drawn to such whispering and the everyday epiphanies at which they seem to hint. Being an essayist is, to some extent, just a case of listening intently and transcribing what you hear – “one need only be the world’s amanuensis,” says Smith. But is it possible, I wonder, that a background of positive associations – the Esse’s benign presence throughout childhood – made me reach out to the essay, as if to an old and trusted friend, when I encountered it all those years later? Perhaps the genre held some subliminal allure as irresistible as the aroma of freshly baked wheaten bread. Posing the question of the Esse’s possible influence sparks a wider question. How far, really, do we understand what moves us, what leads to our choosing one path in life rather than another, what, in the end, makes us who we are? For all the rational reasons I can advance to account for my writing, I’m not sure why I write, or why, writing, I favor this particular form. The smell of hot ash and the sound of oven doors surface ambiguously in my mind as I contemplate these imponderables. All of us across the ages cluster around some fire, warming our bones and supping hot food, fearful of the encroaching night, of pain, of loneliness and death. Who knows, really, as we do so, what influences are laid down upon us and where we’ll turn as we look for answers?
In his great Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson famously described the essay as “a loose sally of the mind; an irregular indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition”. (“Sally” in this context means a leap, a setting forth, an excursion, an outburst of fancy, wit, etc.). Irish Elegies might be seen as a descendent of such loose sallies, representing one of the many styles into which this type of writing has evolved in the two and half centuries since Johnson formulated his definition. One of the characteristics of the essay is that it tends to avoid the scaffolding of scholarship – footnotes, bibliographies, technical jargon. These are more characteristic of the rigidities of academic articles than the free-ranging spirit of a “loose sally of the mind”. Despite this, given the particular focus of “An Essay on the Esse”, it seemed appropriate to include a bibliographic addendum listing works referred to. This might prove welcome to some readers; it is easily ignored by those who find it superfluous.
Writing in The Idler in 1759, four years after the first edition of his Dictionary, Johnson identified “the multiplication of books” as “one of the peculiarities which distinguish the present age”. He went on to speculate about whether, in the same way that a surfeit of laws can characterize a corrupt society, so an ignorant one might be marked by having many books. One hopes that the proliferation of books about the essay expresses a burgeoning of interest in this fascinating genre rather than any state of ignorance …
Adorno, T.W. “The Essay as Form,” translated by Bob Hullot-Kentor and Frederic Will. New German Critique, Vol. 32 (1984), pp. 151-171.
Atkins, G. Douglas. Estranging the Familial: Towards a Revitalized Critical Writing. University of Georgia Press, Athens: 1992.
Atwan, Robert (ed.). The Best American Essays (Published annually since 1986 with a different guest editor each year). Ticknor & Fields, New York: 1986-1993; Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1994-present.
Butrym, Alexander J. (ed.). Essays on the Essay. University of Georgia Press, Athens: 1989.
Cave, Terence. How to Read Montaigne. Granta Books, London: 2007.
Chadbourne, Richard. “A Puzzling Literary Genre: Comparative Views of the Essay.” Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 20, no. 1 (1983), pp. 131-153.
Chevalier, Tracy (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Essay. Fitzroy Dearborn, Chicago and London: 1997.
Fakundiny, Lydia (ed.). The Art of the Essay. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1991.
Good, Graham. The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay. Routledge, London: 1988.
Hamilton, Ian (ed.). The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Essays. Allen Lane/Penguin Press, London: 1999.
Hardison, O. B. “Binding Proteus: An Essay on the Essay,” in Alexander Butrym (ed.), Essays on the Essay. University of Georgia Press, Athens: 1989, pp. 11-28.
Hoagland, Edward. The Tugman ‘s Passage. Random House New York’ 1982 (“What I Think, What I Am” is also reprinted in Carl Klaus et al. (eds.), In Depth: Essayists for Our Time) .
Kauffmann, R. Lane. “The Skewed Path: Essaying as Un-methodical Method.” Diogenes, Vol. 143 (1988), pp. 66-92 (also reprinted in Alexander Butrym (ed.), Essays on the Essay).
Klaus, Carl, Chris Anderson, and Rebecca Blevins Faery (eds.). In Depth: Essayists for Our Time. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York: 1990.
Luckács, Georg. Soul and Form, translated by Anna Bostock (see in particular “On the Nature and Form of the Essay: A Letter to Leo Popper”). MIT Press, Cambridge, MA: 1974.
Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Works: Essays, Travel Journal, Letters, translated by Donald M. Frame and with an Introduction bv Stuart Hampshire. Everyman’s Library, London: 2003.
Pollard, David (tr. & ed.). The Chinese Essay. Hurst, London: 2000.
Smith, Alexander. Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country. Strahan, London: 1863.
ALSO OF POSSIBLE INTEREST
Atkins, G. Douglas. Tracing the Essay: Through Experience to Truth. University ofGeorgia Press, Athens: 2005.
Bates, Martha A. (ed.). 5 Years of the 4th Genre. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing: 2006.
D’Agata, John (cd.). The Next American Essay. GraywolfPress St Paul MN: 2003.
Gross, John (ed.). The Oxford Book of Essays. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1991.
Gutkind, Lee (ed.). In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction. W. W. Norton, New York: 2005.
Hall, Donald (ed.). The Contemporary Essay. Bedford St Martins, Boston: 1995.
Lopate, Phillip (ed.). The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Doubleday, New York: 1994.
Roorbach, Bill (ed.). Contemporary Creative N0nfiction: the Art of Truth. Oxford University Press, New York: 2001.
Root, Robert and Michael Steinberg (eds.). The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction. Longman, New York: 2001.
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