Writers of every era redefine the essay. In the eighteenth century, when essays were more important and entertaining as a genre than at any other time in our literary history, two major collections anchor the output of the many authors whom we can call "essayists"-The Spectator of Addison and Steele and The Rambler of Samuel Johnson. In this course, we will study the principal preparations for these two classic collections by reading selections from the essays of Montaigne and all of the Essays Civil and Moral of Sir Francis Bacon. We will also read selections from a number of other collections: Eliza Haywood's The Female Spectator, The Tatler, Johnson's Adventurer and Idler, Boswell's Hypochondriac, and the famous retrospective essays on the eighteenth century of the historians Thomas Babington Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle.
Essays are short, among the briefest of all genres; hence they are artistically wrought and benefit from close, prolonged study. One result of the appreciation of the essay will be learning about the range of this genre from Plutarch and Aulus Gellius to John Updike and Anthony Lane.