1. The Colonial Age
In its broadest denotation, the essay has existed in America almost from the arrival of the first English settlers in 1607. While 17th-century colonists had little or no leisure time in which to produce belles-lettres, there did exist what we might now call nonfictional literature, ranging from a paragraph or two of the almanac—short expositions that questioned natural phenomena—to the long chronicle histories. Growing out of the almanacs were early science essays, primarily on astronomical observations but also on other branches of science such as agriculture, zoology, botany, mineralogy, and meteorology. The clergy of the time, who were often the most educated of the colonists, generally adopted the belief that while God’s mysteries were forever unknowable to humans, it was still their duty to ponder those mysteries. Hence, the end aim of science was contemplation. This purpose meant that their scientific writings (which appeared not only in almanacs but also in journals and letters to members of England’s Royal Society) were not coldly scientific but tended toward moral interpretation.
The short prose works of the time, in fact, fell into definite literary types, including the “pamphlet of newes” (which described the new country), papers of timely interest on witchcraft and matters of immediate concern, the almanac (which contained short pieces of a moral or scientific nature), and the sermon—in which, apart from spiritual matters, ethics, manners, and social and national progress were also discussed—as well as its related form, the meditation, in which was displayed the most prolific and perhaps most creative prose of the time.
Cotton Mather (1663–1728) wrote what is considered the first verifiable book of American essays, Bonifacius (1710; the later edition was called Essays to Do Good). The book is divided into sections which are similar to 17th-century essays in being axiomatic and didactic philosophical reflections on abstract subjects, commentaries emerging from the wisdom and experience of the author. Nevertheless, the book is a departure from the writings of the early Puritans in that it contains no tedious laudatory biographies of ministers, no accusations of witchcraft, not even the display of pedantry and scriptural learning ordinarily associated with Mather. Instead it provides, in brief, simple, and forthright prose, a discussion of daily conduct, rules of behavior for ministers, doctors, and teachers, and objections to intemperance and corporal punishment. Each essay (and Mather uses the word literally, meaning “attempts to do good”) is complete in itself, and each is suggestive rather than exhaustive; the work is unique for its time in both spirit and method.
2. The 18th Century:
The Development of the Periodical and Serial Essays
The American essay began in earnest with the mushrooming of American periodicals in the early 18th century. It was modeled closely on the essays of the great contemporary British periodical essayists—Steele, Swift, Goldsmith, and especially Addison. Most early American essays were Addisonian in the sense that they were informal in tone, occasionally satiric, often humorous, most often brief. And like the British essays, American periodical essays were personal, always establishing a sociable intimacy between author and reader. The New England Courant, a Boston weekly established by Benjamin Franklin’s older brother James in 1721, was the first colonial newspaper to carry original essays. In his Autobiography (begun 1771 and published in full only in 1868), Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) recalled that his brother James “had some ingenious Men among his Friends who amus’d themselves by writing little Pieces for this Paper, which gained it Credit, and made it more in Demand.” The group, who called themselves the “Couranteers,” included Matthew Adams, John Checkley, Dr. William Douglass, and a mysterious Mr. Gardner. Initially unbeknownst to James was the fact that Benjamin himself was also a part of that group. Franklin submitted his earliest essays to his brother’s newspaper with the signature “Silence Dogood” (1722). In these 14 pieces, Franklin deliberately copied the style of Addison’s Spectator. However, he also took the Dogood papers beyond mere imitation, primarily because the Spectator claimed never to have “espoused any Party with Violence,” while Mrs. Silence Dogood is a frugal, industrious, prosaic widow, sworn mortal enemy “to arbitrary Government and unlimited Power.” Moreover, for all his English borrowings and choice of conventional subjects, Franklin succeeded in imparting to the Dogood essays a measure of originality and American coloration.
Mather Byles (1706–88), grandson of the clergyman Increase Mather, nephew of Cotton Mather, and lifelong friend of Franklin’s, was also an early periodical essayist. He joined former Couranteer Matthew Adams and his grandson John Adams (1704–40) to write a serial for the New-England Weekly Journal (1727–41). Called Proteus Echo, it contained essays and poems and appeared weekly for a year. It was more didactic and less diverting than the Dogood papers, containing moral essays on such deadly sins as avarice, idleness, envy, and pride, philosophical essays on the ardor for knowledge, the way love blinds man’s reason, and the love of country, and, finally, essays on manners and character. It was more nearly Addisonian than the Dogood papers, particularly because Proteus Echo is an old bachelor and widely traveled scholar like Mr. Spectator.
While Franklin’s Dogood papers are on balance the more successful of the two (Silence Dogood has more earthy vitality and dramatic energy, and the papers contain a sense of native idiom and environment that is almost wholly missing from Proteus Echo), the two serials firmly established the tradition of periodical essays in Boston, and led the way for others, which soon appeared in Philadelphia, Annapolis, Williamsburg, and Charleston.
Franklin left Boston for Philadelphia in 1723, and six years later launched a new essay serial in the American Weekly Mercury (1719–46) called The Busy-Body. He wrote the first four essays in the series and parts of two others, then withdrew; Joseph Breintnall finished the series, which when it ended in September 1729 contained 32 papers in all.
The Busy-Body papers range through all the conventional subjects for periodical essays except criticism: manners, morality, philosophical reflection, character, humor. The liveliest entries are those by Breintnall which focus on the battle of the sexes.
Later in the 18th century—during the two decades before the Revolution—the chief outlet for essay serials became the magazine rather than the newspaper, and it was in magazines that the most notable American literary serials appeared. One of these, called The Prattler, appeared in the American Magazine and Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies (1757–58), a magazine which promised that part of each issue would be “set aside for MONTHLY ESSAYS, in prose and verse” and that it would try to print every essay submitted “so far as they tend to promote peace and good government, industry and public spirit, a love of LIBERTY and our excellent constitution, and above all a veneration of our holy undefiled CHRISTIANITY.” The Prattler generally appeared over the name “Timothy Timbertoe,” but was probably the work of several hands. Timbertoe is a dilettante, most at home gossiping over tea tables or in coffeehouses and gathering scandal.
A more ambitious and successful serial was The Old Bachelor, which appeared in the Pennsylvania Magazine; or American Monthly Museum (1775–76). Thomas Paine (1737–1809) was a contributing editor to the magazine and also one of the principal authors of The Old Bachelor, though he seems to have contributed only to the early numbers, and left the rest to be written by Francis Hopkinson (1737–91), whose threevolume Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings (1792) includes not only his Old Bachelor contributions but essays published in other periodicals. The old bachelor had been a convention in the periodical essays of England, and Hopkinson’s creation—a character named George Sanby who is inconvenienced by being a bachelor but too chauvinistic to get married—is as good-natured, old-fashioned, and eccentric as any of his British predecessors or American followers (who would include Philip Freneau’s Hezekiah Salem, Joseph Dennie’s Lay Preacher, William Wirt’s Dr. Robert Cecil, and Washington Irving’s Jonathan Oldstyle).
The Maryland Gazette, established in Annapolis in 1727, carried one literary serial, The Plain-Dealer, though of its ten essays only two were original. Southern periodical essays got a surer foothold seven years later when the Virginia Gazette (1736–66) was established in Williamsburg. The serial in that newspaper, The Monitor (1736–37),
conformed closely in manner and matter to the English periodical essay. It managed the conventions and ranged through the traditional subjects in a lively way. As in other early American serial essays, there was heavy emphasis on manners, and the Monitor and his assistants discussed subjects such as French fashions, being in love, keeping one’s temper, and good nature. Maintaining the essentially lighthearted tone of The Monitor, the subject of morality was seldom broached.
The South-Carolina Gazette was established at Charleston in 1731–32, and ran, with occasional interruptions, until 1775. Individual essays began appearing as early as the second number, and in 1735 The Meddlers Club, a serial whose name calls to mind Franklin and Breintnall’s Busy-Body, ran for a short time. The only full-fledged literary serial in the SouthCarolina Gazette, however, appeared in Winter 1753–54, and was authored by “The Humourist.” This series again covered the conventional subjects, with special attention to manners and literary criticism. In fact, the relative lack of topicality in The Humourist and the emphasis on literary criticism reflect the influence of Samuel Johnson’s Rambler essays, which the South-Carolina Gazette began reprinting at the end of 1750.
With the rise of the magazine in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the essay became perhaps the most clearly defined and popular American literary form. Essayist Nathan Fiske (1733–99) remarked near the turn of the century that any periodical without an essay series was doomed. Dozens of anonymous contributors with names like “The Censor,” “The Hermit,” “Gentleman at Large,” and “The Lady’s Friend” filled the magazines with comments on fashion, education, manners, courtship, social life, and other topics common to the tradition of Addison, Steele, and the rest. In the rush to print, few essayists distinguished themselves.
One who did was John Trumbull (1750–1831) who, while a graduate student and tutor at Yale, produced two serials, The Meddler (published in the Boston Chronicle, 1769–70) and The Correspondent (published in two series in the Connecticut Journal, 1770 and 1773). The Meddler had the stated purpose (from the first number) of publishing “essays, chiefly of the moral, critical and poetical kinds, upon miscellaneous and mostly unconnected subjects…[which] carefully avoid all strokes of party spirit and personal satire, with everything that had the least tendency to immorality.” Indeed, The Meddler was noncontroversial—as well as frequently clumsy and amateurish—choosing instead to depict the coquette and fop so popular with 18th-century readers and to castigate false wit. The Correspondent, while also part of Trumbull’s apprenticeship as a serial essayist (he later found his literary calling more successfully in poetry), was a more ambitious serial than The Meddler, instructing the reader more and diverting him less than the Meddler had done. The Correspondent was a more contentious, less genial character than the Meddler, and he frequently attacked Church authority in Connecticut; there was even one essay against slavery, written at a time when almost the only anti-slavery advocates in America were Quakers.
Philip Freneau (1752–1832) was also best known as a poet, though he produced over 400 prose pieces in his career, publishing them in a variety of literary serials. The Pilgrim essays (1781–82) appeared in the Freeman’s Journal; six years later, in The Miscellaneous Works of Mr. Philip Freneau (1788), the series was extended and renamed The Philosopher of the Forest. In both incarnations, the speaker resembled Addison’s Mr. Spectator in being an old bachelor who wished simply to observe life, though there were partisan essays Freneau was strongly anti-Tory—in which the angry voice of the author was clear and unmistakable. His serial Tomo Cheeki (1795) appeared in the Jersey Chronicle with a grave and melancholy title character based on an historical figure.
Freneau had him visit Philadelphia, where he made observations on manners and morality and offered philosophical reflections, all tending to elevate the Native American above the white population. In general, it was a more relaxed and conversational series of essays than The Pilgrim. Hezekiah Salem (1797) is a wholly whimsical series of seven essays with titles such as “On the Culture of Pumpkins” and “A Few Words on Duelling.” Freneau’s most extensive and impressive serial was Robert Slender (1799– 1801), published in the Aurora (1794–1822, 1834–35), the foremost Republican newspaper of the day. The Slender letters were the most steadily partisan of Freneau’s literary serials, though the character of Robert Slender and his Philadelphia milieu were full bodied and alive. It was a series in the British coffeehouse tradition—witty and filled with strong opinions.
In 1794 Joseph Dennie (1768–1812) characterized American essays as having been “hitherto unmarked except for flimsy expression & jejune ideas, they have allowed me the praise of reviving in some degree the Goldsmith vivacity in thought & the Addisonian sweetness in expression.” He was at the time writing his first literary serial, The Farrago (1792–95), and in the first number of that series, he commented on the continuing popularity of essays: “To a lover of abstruse science, desultory essays may appear a minor species of literature. But the majority of mankind are not scholars… They content themselves with the simplest dishes of the literary banquet. Hence the currency of Essays…” Dennie’s essays were widely popular, but his unsuccessful attempts to have them published in book form contributed to the literary eclipse into which he was to fall after his death.
Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820) produced two concurrent serials from 1792 to 1794: The Repository, 27 short moralistic essays, and The Gleaner. Both appeared in the Massachusetts Magazine (1789–96). Murray was married to John Murray, the founder of universalism in America, and was eventually accused of using her essays to propagate universalism; this led to her serials for the Massachusetts Magazine ending in 1794.
While in publication, though, her essays distinguished themselves in several ways from the great bulk of other serials of the late 18th century. The Gleaner, which in some of its numbers had a mildly partisan flavor, biased toward Federalism, also showed Murray’s concern for the future of American drama. These essays stood out because they appeared at a time when American writers were uncertain of how to develop an American tradition (an uncertainty that would, in fact, last for at least another century). Perhaps The Gleaner’s most important contribution to American literature was a sentimental novel— The Story of Margaretta—embedded within the framework of a series of moral essays, allowing Murray not only to tell the story as if it were true (a favored method of making a sentimental novel respectable), but also to make observations on the proper role of the novel in American life.
Another essayist who made it his concern that the new nation have a literature of its own was William Wirt (1772–1834), a Virginian who published three serials, first in local newspapers, then in book form: The Letters of the British Spy (1803), The Rainbow (1804–05), and The Old Bachelor (1810–11). The British Spy provided evidence that the Addisonian essay had all but run its course in America, since Wirt employed only one Addisonian convention (the foreign visitor). Instead, the series contained elements of the travel essay then coming into vogue, especially in its descriptions of the Virginia landscape. The Old Bachelor was undeniably a literary serial, more Addisonian in its manner and matter than The British Spy. It was a series devoted to morals: “virtuously to instruct, or innocently to amuse,” as Wirt phrased it. The Old Bachelor sought, as he said in 1811, “to awaken the taste of the body of the people for literary attainments” and to “see whether a group of statesmen, scholars, orators, and patriots, as enlightened and illustrious as their father, cannot be produced without the aid of such another bloody and fatal stimulant [as the Revolutionary War].” Publication of the series in book form in 1814 helped solidify the reputation of The Old Bachelor. Wirt himself confessed, “I am afraid that both the Old Bachelor and the British Spy will be considered by the world as rather too light and bagatellish for a mind pretending either to stability or vigor,” but critics well into the 19thcentury highly regarded The Old Bachelor.
Also of note in the last part of the 18th century were the writers who adopted the essay form largely for political purposes. Its most significant practitioners included Thomas Paine (1737–1809), who achieved instant success and lasting fame with his pamphlet Common Sense (1776), and Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804), James Madison (1751– 1836), and John Jay (1745–1829), who together anonymously published in 1787–88 a series of political essays called The Federalist Papers in support of the proposed U.S.
Constitution. Later collected in book form and called The Federalist, they provide a classic exposition of the U.S. federal system.
3. The 19th Century:
The Familiar Essay and Other Essay Types Washington Irving (1783–1859) provided the last link in American essay writing to the periodical essay which had dominated the 18th century. Irving began his career as a serial essayist and only later moved into writing familiar essays along the lines of the great English Romantic essayists Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt. Irving made his first foray into essay writing with the Oldstyle letters he published in his brother Peter’s Morning Chronicle (1802–03). The nine letters from Jonathan Oldstyle were highly conventional—three of the letters focusing on manners, the other six on theatrical criticism. Despite their popularity, Irving quickly distanced himself from the essay serial altogether by parodying it in Salmagundi (1807–08), a periodical published irregularly by Irving and a group of young New Yorkers, including the other principal writer, James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860). The work quickly became a bestseller and remained in print throughout the 19th century.
After the War of 1812, the didacticism of the “morals and manners” type of essay gave way to the kind of subjectivity more common to the familiar essay. Irving matured as a familiar essayist with The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819–20), then all but abandoned the essay for the tale, travel romance, history, and biography. Still, through his choice of subject and the development of his own style, he gave the familiar essay a particularly American feel, and is considered by many to be the first American essayist.
If any essay form is particularly indigenous to American soil it is the nature essay.
French-American J.Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735–1813) wrote Letters from an American Farmer (1782), which are concerned with the plight of the colonial farmer, politics, and economics, but also closely scrutinize phenomena as disparate as snakes, hummingbirds, snowstorms, and anthills. The essays are seasoned with an antipathy toward urban life and industrialism, and give vivid, idealistic pictures of the emergent New World. William Bartram (1739–1823), a more skillful observer of plants and flowers, wrote of his travels in Georgia and Florida. John James Audubon (1785–1851) interrupted the technical descriptions of his ornithological biography to insert charming vignettes of southwestern life, which ranged in subject matter from Mississippi squatters and Kentucky deer to scenes of bird life on the Florida Keys. The American nature essay would later in the century reach a high point in the work of John Burroughs (1837– 1921), who wrote over 100 essays devoted chiefly to the birds and flowers and forest paths of the Adirondacks. A contemporary of Burroughs, John Muir (1838–1914), had his own significant influence on American attitudes toward ecology by writing vigorous essays in support of forest conservation, many of them detailing his walking journeys through the northwest United States and Alaska.
Earlier, however, at the same time as the familiar essay was gaining popularity in America, the founding of the great American magazines and quarterlies—the North American Review (1815–1940), the Western Review (1819–21), the American Quarterly Review (1827–37), the Southern Review (1818–32), and others—was encouraging the production of longer, more serious, philosophical or critical essays. Many of the most important and influential of these essays were written by the transcendentalists— including Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–81), Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), Margaret Fuller (1810–50), and Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888). Emerson and Thoreau exerted frequently acknowledged influence on American literature, but Fuller was also a fixture in the transcendentalist scene, as editor of the Dial (1840–44) and writer of both critical essays and longer personal nonfiction such as Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (1844). Alcott left his impression on the essay with his Concord Days (1872) and Table Talk (1877).
Emerson was an agitating and fermentative force, a liberator from convention and timidity, a questioner and an instigator to valor. He did more than any other man, said John Jay Chapman, “to rescue the youth of the next generation and fit them for the fierce times to follow. It will not be denied that he sent ten thousand sons to war.” The form in which he spread his original beliefs was not always the essay: his earliest compositions were sermons, and he turned from the sermon to the lecture. His essays grew out of this form of public speech, but it was only with the appearance of his second published volume, Essays: First Series (1841), that he placed himself before his readers explicitly in the role of essayist. Once there, his work constituted a new kind of American essay— abstract and aphoristic in a way that probably no writer since has been able to match.
Emerson pieced together his essays from his journals, often leaving out explicit transitions from one sentence or one paragraph to the next, for he was willing to leave some of the work of thinking to his readers; he thought of continuity not as a logical but as a superlogical principle. His essays do, however, have a compositional wholeness, and a more orderly one than that in the essays of one of his true influences, Montaigne. As an essayist, Emerson was a masterful rhetorician, not only gifted in crafting the single sentences or phrases that can be lifted from their contexts and quoted with delight, but also blessed with a strong and delicate talent for ail the rhythms of English prose.
Thoreau’s fascination with nature gave rise to almost all his most important works, including A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866). An exacting sense of detail marks Thoreau’s writing about nature, and he wrote in a style deliberately meant to awaken his readers—through surprising plays on language, arresting turns of speech, unusual images or metaphors. He became and remains one of the strongest influences on American nature writers. His influence also extends into politics. In 1845 he refused to pay his poll tax as a form of protest against the Mexican War and against slavery. He was jailed, an experience which led him to write “Civil Disobedience” (1849), one of his most famous essays. It became a guiding document for eminent 20th-century proponents of passive resistance such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Even with the dominance of transcendentalism among the best American essayists of the early to mid-19th century, the conversational essay practiced earlier by Washington Irving did not die. In fact, it flourished so much in the works of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
(1809–1894) that his collections became the most popular American works in England since Irving’s Sketch Book. Holmes, a physician who wrote many controversial and ground-breaking medical essays, gained his greatest popularity beginning in 1857 with his Breakfast-Table essays, which were published monthly in the new Atlantic Monthly (1857–). They were often poetic essays filled with wise and witty observations, and threaded through with narratives. Different incarnations of the Breakfast-Table essays ran until 1890.
The greatest American poet of the second half of the 19th century, Walt Whitman (1819–92), published in 1870 a small book called Democratic Vistas, intended to explain the role of the poet in the success and failure of, on the one hand, American civilization and, on the other, civilization as a whole. “Above all previous lands, a great original literature is surely to become the justification and reliance (in some respects the sole reliance) of American democracy,” he wrote. The essays contained the pragmatic idea that democracy is not so much a political institution as a “training school” in character formation. Whitman’s other prose publication was Specimen Days and Collect (1882), the title essay of which is based on diary notes of Whitman’s observations during the Civil War. To fill out the book, he added “Democratic Vistas” and a “Collect” of his prefaces and literary essays.
The humorous essay had many practitioners in the second half of the 19th century— including the popular Artemus Ward (1834–67) and David Ross Locke (1833–88), both of whom wrote primarily for newspapers—but few of their works hold up today anywhere near as well as do those of
Mark Twain (1835–1910). Twain was of course a popular novelist and a lecturer, but his essays—which often combined fictional and nonfictional elements, and so are sometimes difficult to categorize—displayed his deep talent as a humorist just as well as his other work did. Never limiting himself to short pieces, Twain engaged instead in a broad range of essay forms, from travel letters to memoirs to social and political commentary. Though some of his pieces Were journalistic and ephemeral, and others—especially later in his career—were polemical and pessimistic, what characterized almost all of his nonfiction work was not only humor but an interest in storytelling, whether a brief anecdote or a full-fledged account. Such a style complemented his skills as a lecturer—though they were much different skills from those of other popular American essayist-lecturers such as, for example, Emerson. For Twain, essays were about the “high and delicate art” or “how a story ought to be told.”
Literary essays by lesser-known writers had also taken their place in the American essay tradition in the early to mid-19th century, many of them under the intangible influence of Washington Irving. Soon after his success, American writers began to develop a faculty for the criticism of literature as well as its creation.
Longfellow (1807–82), whose volume of essays Outre-Mer was published in 1835 after he had traveled for three years in Europe, was one of the most prominent critical essayists, despite the fact that his criticism was chiefly appreciative rather than analytical.
He succeeded, as far as the essay is concerned, in conveying instruction at the same time as he imbued his writing with his personality, never overstepping the bounds of the familiar essay and veering into didactic formality.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49) made his most famous contributions to the field of critical essays with “The Poetic Principle,” “The Rationale of Verse,” and “Philosophy of Composition”—all careful and brilliant studies in the art and aesthetics of authorship. One of the few essayists of the 19th century who made criticism his life’s work to the exclusion of all other forms of literary creation was Edwin Percy Whipple (1819–86). He wrote finished, formal essays distinctively American in that they emphasized grit and determination and were filled with moral earnestness. James Russell Lowell (1819–91) wrote both critical and personal essays.
His first prose work, Conversations on Some of the Old Poets (1845), revived the neglected dialogue essay, and among his later books of criticism was Political Essays (1888). Other writers of both critical and personal essays include George William Curtis (1824–92), who collected his writings for Harper’s (1850–) in two volumes called Essays from the Easy Chair (1892, 1897), and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823–
1911), who wrote reminiscences of great 19th-century writers. Higginson’s tendency to look backwards was perhaps prescient, since the next stage in the life of the American essay would have as its focus the essay’s impending death.
4. The “Death” of the Essay
The titles and dates tell the tale: “The Passing of the Essay” (1894), “Once and for All” (1919), “A Little Old Lady Passes Away” (1933), “A Disappearing Art” (1933), “The Lost Art of the Essay” (1935), “On Burying the Essay” (1948), “No Essays, Please!” (1951), “A Gentle Dirge for the Familiar Essay” (1955), and “The Essay Lives—in Disguise” (1984). The story of the modern American essay has been the story of its “death,” a death that like Mark Twain’s has been greatly exaggerated, for even as critics declared it dead, the essay thrived by taking up new subjects, reworking old forms, and accommodating new voices.
What was actually dying was not the essay, but a particular kind of essay and the age and essayist associated with it. This type of essay was variously described as the genteel, light, or Lambian essay, and for at least the first four decades of the century American essayists were preoccupied with whether the essay could be anything but light. The alternatives, it was argued, were the column or the article, both of which were largely seen as less literary and more journalistic than the essay. Their ascendancy marked the death of the essay. What at least a few astute critics and some of the practitioners of these new forms recognized was that many columns or articles were actually essays: they were personal in subject matter and familiar in style in the way that the essay has always been.
What has changed during the 20th century is that the essay has become increasingly political, revealing, and weighty.
5. The Turn of the Century and the Genteel Tradition
The genteel tradition held sway in American letters at least until World War I. Promoted by an interlocking network of literary critics, magazine editors, and Ivy League English professors, this tradition argued for art that reflected uppermiddle-class American values, Christian morality, the classical unity of truth and beauty, and a belief in the progress of (Anglo-American) civilization. Many, if not most, of the leading figures of the genteel tradition were essayists, and much of the tradition’s cultural work was done in that genre.
These “custodians of culture,” as Henry May labeled them in his The End of American Innocence (1959), were troubled by the industrialization of America during the Gilded Age and sought to ameliorate the accompanying materialism by holding tight to Christian traditions and British literary conventions. They distrusted the new waves of immigration, the new rich, and America’s new role as a leader in international affairs.
These essayists produced work that was generally sentimental, idealistic, nostalgic, and sometimes pious. They often sported three names and were sometimes more “English” than their English counterparts. They adopted a tone that was decidedly conversational and sometimes even chatty, and cultivated a view of the essayist as a “friend.” In order to maintain this chumminess they kept their subject matter light and noncontroversial. If politics or religion was broached, it was discussed matterof-factly, with the assumption that the reader would agree with what “we,” all right-thinking people, thought. More often, however, their essays took as their subjects gardening, reading, Christmas dinner, or the family pet. Some representative titles suggest the standard tone and subjects— Reveries of a Bachelor (1850) by Donald Grant Mitchell (1822–1908), My Summer in a Garden (1871) by Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900), Days Off, and Other Digressions (1907) by Henry Van Dyke (1852–1933), Among Friends (1910) by Samuel McChord Crothers (1857–1927), Days Out, and Other Papers (1917) by Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris (1870–1964), and Like Summer’s Cloud (1925) by Charles Brooks (1878–1934). The work of these essayists was tremendously popular and influential; Reveries of a Bachelor, for example, led Scribner’s list for 50 years.
These writers sometimes published in other genres, usually poetry or the short story, and often worked as academics or book reviewers. Some were regular critics for outlets of “higher journalism”—Paul Elmer More (1864–1937) and Stuart Pratt Sherman (1881– 1926) in the Nation, Hamilton Wright Mabie (1846–1916) in the Outlook (and later, the Ladies Home Journal), Bliss Perry (1860–1954) in the Atlantic Monthly, and Robert Underwood Johnson (1853–1937) in the Century. Their review essays were generally conservative and prescriptive, often enforcing what was called “the parlor table” or “young girl” standard, which specified what reading material was fit to appear on a family’s parlor table and, more particularly, to be read aloud by a father to his daughter.
6. The 1920s and 1930s: The Rise of the Columnists and Other Developments
The relatively settled world of the late Victorians, which had allowed the whimsical dalliance with the everyday as well as the enforcement of a strict understanding of good manners, may never have been quite as ordered and sedate as it sometimes appeared, but certainly by the turn of the century it was being challenged by the revelations of the muckrakers, the flood of new immigrants, the rise of the “New Woman,” and the gathering war clouds in Europe. In literature, naturalism and imagism were shaking up fiction and poetry respectively, but the essay was slower to change. Soon, however, World War I began to force essayists out of their libraries and gardens. As Agnes Repplier (1855–1950) put it in a 1918 piece entitled “The American Essay in Wartime,” “The personal essay, the little bit of sentiment or observation, the lightly offered commentary which aims to appear the artless thing it isn’t,—this exotic, of which Lamb was a rare exponent, has withered in the blasts of war.”
Repplier’s lament may have been a bit hyperbolic, but things were changing. In 1911, Harvard philosopher and cultural critic George Santayana (1863–1952) had named the genteel tradition and argued that it was an outmoded form of New England parochialism.
Randolph Bourne (1886–1918), along with Van Wyck Brooks (1886–1963) and H.L.Mencken (1880–1956), built on Santayana’s analysis in their critique of “Puritanism” and search for what Brooks called a “usable past.” Bourne died early and Brooks focused on literary criticism, but Mencken, in a prodigious outpouring of personal commentary and cultural criticism, did more than anyone during the immediate prewar and postwar periods to redefine the American essay. His sarcasm and irony poked fun at the genial tone of the light essay, and his love for, knowledge of, and talent at employing a distinctly American idiom helped do for the American essay what Twain had done for fiction and Whitman for poetry—Mencken took the essay from the hands of the Anglophiles who had dominated it and showed that it could be written in American.
The work of Mencken and other new essayists during the 1920s to modernize the essay was undertaken in a rapidly changing social and cultural climate. Thousands of soldiers, including midwestern farm boys and African American sharecroppers from the South, had traveled through New York and other eastern ports on their way to and from war.
After the war many of them returned to the cities and stayed on, often working in the fastgrowing automobile industry. All of the cities of the North and East were growing, but it was New York that was the center of modern culture. Motion pictures, radio, and mass circulation magazines told New York’s story, but so too did the many new syndicated newspaper columns.
Columns or departments had already begun to appear in American newspapers— Eugene Field’s (1850–95) “Sharps and Flats” ran in the Chicago Daily News from 1883 to 1895, and Bert Leston Taylor’s (1866–1921) “A Line o’ Type or Two” appeared in the Chicago Tribune between 1901 and 1920– but the 1920s and 1930s marked the heyday of the column. Not all of the new columns were strictly in the essay tradition. Some were editorials or political commentary, others were a hodgepodge of jokes and jingles sent in by readers. Sunday editions often offered a dozen or more columns on specialized topics such as gossip, sports, movies, fashion, radio, and books, as well as how-to columns on subjects as varied as cooking, bridge, and grammar.
There were also “essay” columns that were more personal, familiar, and discursive.
These columns might indulge in gossip, review a book, or tender some light verse, but they consisted mainly of the author’s thoughts and stories about everyday life. The popularity of these columns led to versions of them appearing as well in newly established magazines like the New Yorker (1925–) and the Saturday Review of Literature (1924–86). As such, they were more modern, somewhat less bookish versions of departments like “The Editor’s Study” and “The Easy Chair” in Harper’s or “The Contributor’s Club” in the Atlantic Monthly.
Many major critics of the period, including Henry Seidel Canby (1878–1961) in “Out with the Dilettante” (1922), Burton Rascoe (1892–1957) in “What of Our Essayists?” (1922), Carl Van Doren (1885–1950) in “Day In and Day Out: Manhattan Wits” (1923), Stuart Sherman (1881–1926) in “Apology for Essayists of the Press” (1924), and Simeon Strunsky (1879–1948) in “The Essay of Today” (1928), argued that several of these columnists were negotiating their daily deadlines successfully enough to have begun to create a new kind of American essay, one that observed life in the American cities, especially New York, and evoked the idiom of city streets. They praised, in particular, Heywood Broun (1888–1939), Robert Cortes Holliday (1880– 1947), Christopher Morley (1890–1957), Robert Benchley (1889–1945), Frank Moore Colby (1865–1925), Don Marquis (1878–1937), and Franklin P.Adams (1881–1960).
These “colyumnists,” as they called themselves, took different approaches, but all were essentially essayists. Marquis parodied Modernist poetry by pretending his columns were written by a cockroach named Archy whose use of lowercase was not a choice (as it was for e. e. cummings) but a consequence of the fact that he could hop on only one key at a time and so was unable to hit the shift key at the same time. Morley, a more oldfashioned Anglophile, wrote largely about books in “The Bowling Green,” which ran first in the New York Post and then moved to the Saturday Review of Literature. Broun argued for various left-liberal political positions, but, like Benchley, also adopted a kind of bumbling “little man” persona in order to tell stories about himself. Adams began with a column called “A Little of Everything” in the Chicago Journal in 1903, but gained greater fame when he moved to New York and created the syndicated column “The Conning Tower,” which was a kind of potpourri of light verse and readers’ contributions, with occasional mock diaries in the manner of Samuel Pepys in which Adams revealed the goings-on of his Algonquin Round Table pals, a group of literary types who met regularly at the Algonquin Hotel to drink and talk.
On the whole, these men were highly educated: Benchley and Broun were Harvard graduates, Colby taught at Columbia and New York Universities, Morley was a Rhodes Scholar. And yet, as E.B.White remarked of Marquis, they were “never quite certified by intellectuals and serious critics of belles lettres.” Though considered hopelessly middlebrow by more academic critics, the “colyumnists” saw themselves as having sought popularity by choice, as having chosen to write for andv educate a broad readership. Their pieces retained some Victorian traits, but on the whole tended to emphasize the humorous and nostalgic over the prim and proper. In his defense of the New York wits, Sherman noted that these “busy newspaper men” had “blazed their way out to the new public” that was “truly democratic,” the “wide circle composed of every man and woman who reads a newspaper.” Van Doren agreed and added that these essayists were not a completely new phenomenon. “They are,” he said, “toWn wits, as Addison and Steele were in their merry London, as Irving and Paulding were in the New York of a hundred years ago.”
Perhaps the most important event in the development of the American essay during this period was the founding in 1925 of the New Yorker by Harold Ross (1892–1951).
Influenced by the columnists (Benchley was an early and frequent contributor), Ross’ magazine, especially in its “Talk of the Town” department, told the rest of the nation what was going on in New York even as it claimed (perhaps somewhat disingenuously) not to be for the “little old lady in Dubuque.” It was in the New Yorker that the most popular essayists of the 1930s and 1940s developed their styles. James Thurber (1894– 1961) built on Benchley’s little man persona in a number of comic autobiographical pieces (as well as short stories such as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”). E.B.White (1899–1985) developed his own mild-mannered, somewhat genteel, wellread man-onthe- street persona in “Notes and Comments.” Alexander Woollcott (1887–1943) poked fun at his own version of the effete urban dandy in a series of celebrity profiles and his back-page column, “Shouts and Murmurs.”
1925 also marked the publication of The New Negro, an anthology of essays and other work edited by Alain Locke (1886–1954) that launched the Harlem Renaissance and with it several African American poets and fiction writers who also wrote essays, especially Langston Hughes (1902–67), Richard Wright (1908–60), and Zora Neale Hurston (1891– 1960). These younger writers worked out of a tradition of African American autobiographical nonfiction in which the writer revealed a life in order to claim selfhood, but brought to it the new rhythms of black speech and music emerging from the growing black urban communities of the North, especially Harlem. These voices ranged from the angry polemics of Wright to the affirmative comedy of Hurston, but they were all more informal, less academic, and more likely to employ dialect than the previous generations of African American essayists, which included, besides Locke, the political conscience of freed slave Frederick Douglass (1818–95), antilynching crusader Ida B.Wells Barnett (1862–1931), and the magisterial voice of W.E.B.Du Bois (1868–1963).
The work of the columnists offered probably the most widely read kind of essay and the most important development in the form during the period between the wars, but essays were also put to other kinds of use during this period.
Many modern American novelists wrote essays, most notably Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) in his war dispatches and
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) in a series of pieces for Esquire about his mental breakdown. Leftist literary critics such as Edmund Wilson (1895–1972), Mike Gold (1894–1967), and Meridel Le Sueur (1900–96) wrote reviews and polemical essays that were only occasionally more personal. Finally, high Modernists such as William Carlos Williams (1883–1963), T.S.Eliot (1888–1965), Ezra Pound (1885–1972), and Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) used the essay mainly to explain and defend their
experiments in other genres.
Despite the use of the essay by writers primarily known for their work in fiction or poetry, and the popularity of the essays appearing in magazines and newspaper columns, the essay, especially the personal essay, remained under attack during the 1930s. As editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, Henry Seidel Canby tried to temper and control the debate over the death of the essay, but found this harder to do as the 1930s grew more and more politicized. Katharine Fullerton Gerould (1879–1944), along with Agnes Repplier, had long been leading the defense of the traditional light essay.
Throughout the 1920s Gerould had decried the rise of commercialism, the lowering of standards, and what she called “the plight of the genteel.” In 1934, Canby let Gerould call for a “plebiscite” on the essay in the pages of his magazine. “The perfect essayist,” she wrote, “could write a good essay on Hitler or on hogs, and I should be enchanted to read it—but he has not done it yet, and I am not yet enchanted.” Harking back to a distinction William Dean Howells (1837–1920) had noted as early as 1902, Gerould asked if readers wanted mere “articles,” or rather the leisure, the meditations, and the light touch of the genteel essay. Then, making her distinction into a dogmatic either/or, she asked if they wanted “news” or “truth.” Her appeal backfired: she and the essay were branded as retrograde. As one reader put it, “Mrs. Gerould is complacent, slightly irritating. My plebeian vote is in favor of the present and the future against the past.” The editor of Scribner’s got on the bandwagon as well, writing to Gerould that “this is not an age of polite letters, and writing has ceased to be the province of the cultured.” He polled his readers, proudly quantified the results, and notified Gerould that only three per cent wanted a return to her kind of essay. For the time, the debate seemed to be over. Gerould and the genteel essay had lost.
7. The 1940s: The Example of E.B.White
It was E.B.White, himself an Ivy League-educated son of the same Eastern genteel upper middle class that Gerould defended, who provided a way out of the dilemma that threatened to kill the essay. However, he had to leave the New Yorker and become haunted by the rise of fascism in order to do it. In 1938, tired of weekly deadlines and Ross’ insistence that he use the editorial “we,” White decided to leave New York for Maine and the New Yorker for Harper’s. For the next five years he wrote a monthly column entitled “One Man’s Meat.” In these pieces (collected in a book with the same title in 1942), he found a voice that was at once personal and public. He talked about everyday life on his saltwater farm but also attacked fascism, defended democracy, supported American intervention in Europe, and anticipated the United Nations by calling for world government, or what he called “supranationalism.”
White’s ability to talk about such politically charged issues in the quiet voice of a Yankee farmer (or at least New York writer playing Yankee farmer) set a precedent and did much to solve a problem that had been facing the American essay since the first challenges to the genteel tradition around the turn of the century. He added weight to the light essay, allowing it to take on controversial public issues while retaining the charm of its familiar style.
In 1943 White returned full-time to the New Yorker, and if he never burned with quite as blue a flame as he had during the period of “One Man’s Meat,” a period he referred to later as “one of those rare interludes that can never be repeated, a time of enchantment,” he would still write enough wonderful essays to remain the dominant voice in the field for at least another 20 years. White continued to write familiar, sometimes almost folksy, pieces, but the political commitment that had fueled “One Man’s Meat” remained a part of him; his essays of the 1950s and 1960s spoke eloquently to issues such as civil rights, nuclear testing, and the environment.
8. The 1950s: Political Voices in a Quiet Time
White was hardly the only essayist to take political stands during the 1950s. On the contrary, that decade, usually seen as quiet and complacent, witnessed the appearance of many strong, committed nonfiction writers. But White was the exception in the sense that his voice was generally more personal than those of Lionel Trilling (1905–75), Irving Howe (1920–93), Alfred Kazin (1915–), Mary McCarthy (1912–89), Harold Rosenberg (1906–78), Elizabeth Hardwick (1916–), Stanley Edgar Hyman (1919–70), and Leslie Fiedler (1917–). Primarily literary critics (or in Rosenberg’s case, art critic), these New York intellectuals had roots in 1930s radicalism, were associated with journals of cultural criticism such as Partisan Review (1934–) and Dissent, and were public intellectuals in the tradition of Edmund Wilson (himself still quite active in the 1950s) rather than personal essayists like White.
The decade also saw the emergence of three young writers who, though they saw themselves as novelists first, will perhaps be best remembered for their work in nonfiction—James Baldwin (1924–87), Norman Mailer (1923–), and Gore Vidal (1925–). All three brought deep political commitment (Mailer and Vidal both ran for public office) as well as their experience as fiction writers to their essay writing.
Sometimes, they also seemed to live their private lives in public: Baldwin and Vidal were openly gay even before the Stonewall Rebellion of 1968, and Vidal and Mailer acquired celebrity status through their work in films and on television. They used their essays create these well-defined, sometimes defiant public personae.
9. The 1960s and 1970s:
Social Upheaval and the New Journalism Mailer’s propensity for putting himself as a character into his narrative essays (and often referring to that self in the third person) made him a pioneer of the New Journalism, which has had a tremendous impact on the development of the personal essay at the end of the century. Many New Journalists used techniques similar to Mailer’s to challenge what they felt to be an impossible obsession with objectivity on the part of traditional journalism. Mailer, Tom Wolfe (1930–), Gay Talese (1932–), and others borrowed techniques from fiction such as the extensive use of dialogue, developed scenes, sensory details, experimental punctuation, colloquialisms, and neologisms, and in so doing made their magazine articles more essayistic. Many of these New Journalists focused on longer, book-length pieces, leading to their association (particularly in the case of Truman Capote [1924–84]) with the “non-fiction novel,” but even then their chapters sometimes had the feel of self-contained essays. All in all, they had a major influence on the essay by creatively blurring some of the old distinctions between journalism and belles-lettres that had long dogged the essay.
These and other practitioners of the New Journalism such as Pete Hamill (1935–), Dan Wakefield (1932–), Seymour Krim (1922–89), and Joan Didion (1934–) changed not only the form of creative nonfiction but also broadened its subject matter by reporting as participating observers from the turbulent centers of their times—Mailer marching on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, Krim hobnobbing with his fellow Beats, Didion mixing with the star culture of Los Angeles and Hollywood, and Wolfe spending extended periods with everyone from acid-dropping hippies to straitlaced astronauts.
Debates over the future of the novel, intersections with European culture (especially French critical theory after May 1968), the founding of the New York Review of Books (1963–), accounting for the boom in Latin American literature, and other developments in and out of the academy prompted much activity among more formal, intellectual essayists during this period. As with the New Journalism, much of this work was done by practicing novelists including Didion, William H.Gass (1924–), John Barth (1930–), Susan Sontag (1933–), Cynthia Ozick (1928–), and Stanley Elkin (1930–95). These writers wrote a personal, richly allusive, highly stylized kind of critical essay on subjects ranging from the nature of fiction to the role writers should or should not play in the political movements of the times.
10. The 1980s to the Present: The Revival of the Essay
The political movements of the 1960s and 1970s had a tremendous effect on the development of the essay. Through the experiments of the New Journalists, not only did they make the already loose form of the essay even more open than it had been since at least the 1920s, they also led to new voices using the essay to speak to new constituencies of readers. The result has been an explosion in the number of skilled essayists publishing in America at the century’s end.
The civil rights movement, for instance, forced much debate and discussion of issues of race, and the personal essay was a form particularly suited to testimony, witness, and stirring anecdote. During the 1960s leaders of the civil rights movement such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–68), Eldridge Cleaver (1935–), and George Jackson (1941–71) used the essay to advance the cause. The intersection of the women’s movement with the civil rights movement resulted in several new voices that focused on the interconnectedness of racism and sexism, among them Alice Walker (1944–), Angela Davis (1944–), Toni Morrison (1931–), and Audre Lorde (1934–92). Other struggles for democratic rights during this period have led to essays emerging from communities that had not normally been associated with the form in the past. Among these new voices are Maxine Hong Kingston (1940–), Richard Rodriguez (1944–), Judith Ortiz Cofer (1952–), Gary Soto (1952–), Leslie Marmon Silko (1948–), and Naomi Shihab Nye (1952–). The success of many of these movements has led to the establishment of new areas of specialization within the academy, the recovery of lost texts, and the insertion of new voices into the canon of Western literature. The backlash against these changes during the Reagan years led to the culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, during which a number of minority academics made names for themselves while using the personal essay to argue their case; these included Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1950–), Gerald Early (1952–), bell hooks (1955?–), and Shelby Steele (1946–).
The second wave of feminism in the 1970s also swept in a number of new writers intent on breaking down barriers between the personal and the political. Besides the minority feminists listed above, other women who have found the essay particularly conducive to this goal are Adrienne Rich (1929–), Gloria Steinem (1934–), Katha Pollitt (1949–), and Nancy Mairs (1943–).
A final kind of essay which has attracted a considerable number of skilled practitioners in recent years is the nature essay. Working from a strong tradition that developed in the 19th century, and energized by the environmental movement, mid-20th-century greats such as Aldo Leopold (1886–1948), Loren Eiseley (1907–77), and Rachel Carson (1907–64) have been joined by a new generation of nature writers, including practicing scientists such as Lewis Thomas (1913–93), Edward O. Wilson (1929–), Stephen Jay Gould (1941–), and popularizers of science such as John McPhee (1931–) and David Quammen (1948–). A host of other writers produce both fiction and nonfiction, but in their nonfiction have often focused on nature and landscape; these include Edward Abbey (1927–89), Edward Hoagland (1932–), Annie Dillard (1945–), Barry Lopez (1945–), Gretel Ehrlich (1946–), and Scott Russell Sanders (1945–).
The view that the essay is inherently precious and irrelevant persists. In the preface to the most recent full-length study of the genre, The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay (1988), Graham Good admits that he launched his project with some trepidation because the word “essay” still “conjures 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, in about 1910, maundering on about the delights of idleness, country walks, tobacco, old wine, and old books…”
Despite Good’s concerns, the essay seems more alive than ever, even if it “lives in disguise,” as Phillip Lopate (1943–), an important contemporary American essayist and anthologist, put it in a 1984 essay. Whether it is labeled New Journalism, creative nonfiction, or just nature writing, the American essay has, at least since Fitzgerald’s pieces about his mental breakdown or E.B.White’s essays about Hitler and hogs in One Man’s Meat, been moving inexorably toward subjects that are at once more intimate and more public than the safe and chatty reveries of the genteel essayists of the late Victorian era. Today the most respected American essayists write uninhibitedly and skillfully about issues as personal as their own addictions and maladies and as public as women’s liberation and environmental awareness, often within the same essay.
DAN ROCHE (PARTS 1–3)
NED STUCKEY-FRENCH (PARTS 4–11)
The Art of the Essay, edited by Leslie Fiedler, New York: Crowell, 1969 (original edition, 1958)
Best American Essays series, edited by Robert Atwan and guest editors, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986–
The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Essays, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini, Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1989
Modern Essays, edited by Russel Nye and Arra M.Garab, Glenview, Illinois: Foresman, 1969 (original edition, 1953)
The Open Form: Essays for Our Time, edited by Alfred Kazin, New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1970 (original edition, 1961)
The Oxford Book of American Essays, edited by Brander Matthews, New York: Oxford University Press, 1914
The Penguin Book of Contemporary American Essays, edited by Maureen Howard, New York: Viking, 1984
Speech and Power: The African-American Essay and Its Cultural Content from Polemics to Pulpit, edited by Gerald Early, New York: Ecco Press, 2 vols., 1992–93
Anderson, Chris, editor, Literary Nonfiction: Theory, Practice, Pedagogy, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989
Atkins, G.Douglas, Estranging the Familiar: Toward a Revitalized Critical Writing, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992
Brodbeck, May, American Non-Fiction, 1900–1950, Chicago: Regnery, 1952
Butrym, Alexander J., editor, Essays on the Essay: Redefining the Genre, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989
Davis, Hallam Walker, The Column, New York: Knopf, 1926
Drew, Elizabeth, “The Lost Art of the Essay,” Saturday Review of Literature, 16 February 1935
Eaton, W.P., “On Burying the Essay,” Virginia Quarterly Review 24 (1948):574–83
Edson, C.L., The Gentle Art of Columning: A Treatise on Comic Journalism, New York: Brentano, 1920
Emerson, Everett, editor, Major Writers of Early American Literature, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972
Fadiman, Clifton, “A Gentle Dirge for the Familiar Essay,” in his Party of One, Cleveland: World, 1955:349–53
Flanagan, John T., “A Word for the American Essay,” American Scholar 14, no. 4 (October 1944): 459–66
Good, Graham, The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay, London and New York: Routledge, 1988
Granger, Bruce, American Essay Serials from Franklin to Irving, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1978
Howells, William Dean, “The Old-Fashioned Essay,” Harper’s (October 1902):802–03
Krutch, Joseph Wood, “No Essays, Please!,” Saturday Review of Literature, 10 March 1951:18–19+
Lopate, Phillip, “The Essay Lives—in Disguise,” New York Times Book Review, 18 November 1984
Loveman, Amy, “A Disappearing Art,” Saturday Review of Literature, 23 July 1932:1
McCord, David, “Once and for All,” Saturday Review of Literature, 5 October 1929:208
Piercy, Josephine K., Studies in Literary Types in Seventeenth Century America, 1607– 1710, Hamden, Connecticut: Archon, 1969 (original edition, 1939)
Rascoe, Burton, “What of Our Essayists?,” Booktnan 55 (1922): 74–75
Repplier, Agnes, “The Passing of the Essay,” in her In the Dozy Hours, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1894:226–35
Repplier, Agnes, “The American Essay in Wartime,” Yale Review 7, no. 2 (January 1918):249–59
Sherman, Stuart, “An Apology for Essayists of the Press,” in his Points of View, New York: Scribner, 1924:173–85
Strunsky, Simeon, “The Essay of Today,” English Journal 17, no. 1 (January 1928):8–16
Tanner, William, General Introduction, Essays and Essay-Writing, edited by Tanner, Boston: Little Brown, 1935 (original edition, 1918)
Van Doren, Carl, “Day In and Day Out: Manhattan Wits,” in his Many Minds, Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1966: 181–99 (original edition, 1924)
Waters, John P., “A Little Old Lady Passes Away,” Forum and Century 90, no. 1 (July 1933):27–29
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