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SEVENTEENTH CENTURY ESSAYS THE MODERN STUDENT'S LIBRARY

EACH VOLUME EDITED BY A LEADING

AMERICAN AUTHORITY

This series is composed of such works as are conspicuous in the province of literature for their enduring influence. Every volume is recognized as essential to a liberal education and will tend to infuse a love for true literature and an appreciation of the qualities which cause it to endure.

A descriptive list of the volumes published in this series appears in the last pages

of this volume

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

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Undergraduate

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INTRODUCTION.

I

No definition of the essay has met with any degree of general assent for the very simple reason that the essay has assumed radically different forms in different periods. The word itself is in its primary meaning so elastic that it can be affixed to a volume of lyric poetry and to a metaphysical treatise with equal propriety. It is a tempting label for any piece of writing which does not easily come within any of the better defined categories. Montaigne gave the word its great currency, but it is a mistake to suppose that he provided the starting point or the original inspiration for all the volumes of general reflection which in the seventeenth century and later were published under the title of “Essays". The assumption used to be current, and it is still enjoying considerable vitality, that Bacon wrote his essays in imitation of Montaigne's. This view was maintained and reiterated in spite of the fact that there is very little similarity either in the ideas or the structure of their writings and regardless of Bacon's own indication, which should be given full weight, of his obligation to the Epistles of Seneca for a pattern. The essays of Montaigne and Bacon have no more in common than that they treat of a similar subject matter: They are both concerned with conduct. But they are poles apart in their moral attitudes

d, what is more important, in the literary treatment of their ideas. The element of introspection, which is

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