Development of the Essay


The essay took roots in the pen of a Frenchman named Michel Eyquiem de Montaigne. Montaigne wrote numerous compositions which are short, delightful, and informal in manner.

In 1580, he contributed his collection of varied, short, easy and charming compositions which numbered 107. He referred to his technique Essay, meaning an « attempt ». Today his works are more aptly called informal essays.

Development in England

The essay did not develop much earlier in Montaigne’s contemporary accepted his new technique.

His collection was, however, translated into English by John Florio in England. Montaigne’s works were widely read in England. Philosopher-writer Francis Bacon, who was fascinated by the literary device, pioneered in the new-found genre. Soon after, a lot of English writers started composing in the new form-the Essay.

Bacon, specifically, excelled in the balanced sentence structure. His works are described in his own philosophy, describing them as « counsels of civil and moral. » This is to earn the title « Father of the English Essay. » Bacon actually gives the literary world the formal essay.

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It was not until the 18th century that the essay developed into a dominant type of writing. This development is greatly influenced by the emergence of newspapers and magazines. Most notable among them is the Tatler, edited by Richard Steele. The essays were satirical, humorous or serious but alive and entertaining.

The Spectator took over when the Tatler ceased publication. The Guardian (1713) The Rambler (1750), The Adventurer (1752), and The Idler (1758).

The essay forms That Were published During this time Sir Thomas Browne ‘s philosophical essays and essays on ancient customs, John Dryden’ s Essays on Literature and the Arts, and the alter didactic essays that Were Meant to teach readers Rather than entertain ‘em.

In the early nineteenth century, the essay was published after a short slump. Charles Lamb, with pen name «  Elia » Elia » emerged as the foremost writer of the essay. Like Montaigne, Lamb wrote light, breezy, gentle, fanciful, and lively essays.

Reemergence in France and Spread in the US

Taking a cue from the British masters Francois de Rochefoucauld led them by writing his maxims, the type of essay in which the French excelled. After him, Voltaire, the « supreme mocker » wrote his philosophical and satirical essays disguised as tales. It was Voltaire who later ignited others in narrative writing, critical and satirical essays.

In the US, writers and poets have been producing literary pieces with British writing as model . In the essay, this was exemplified by Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote aphoristic essays like Bacon.

Other writers who wrote fresh and interesting pieces were John Burroughs and Henry David Thoreau. Edgar Allan Poe, James Russell, and Oliver Wendel Holmes, who excelled in literary criticism and a host of others who kept influencing readers.

The essay also evolved in the United States alongside journalism. The feature stories in magazines and magazines combine the timeliness of news with the important elements of the traditional essay. Check out over at

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