extant of a literary creed; while All Fools' Day and the New Year's Coming of Age depict him in his most fantastic mood, toying with his subject, and wresting from it innumerable pleasantries. Lamb can scarcely be classed along with any other essayist; the archness and piquancy of his humour, if they sometimes remind one of Sterne, had for the most part an ancestry older than Addison and Steele, and it is only by going back to the writers of the seventeenth century that one fully detects the atavism of his style. "There is an inward unction, a marrowy vein both in the thought and feeling, an intuition deep and lively of his subject, that carries off any quaintness or awkwardness arising from an antiquated style and dress." these happy words Hazlitt has pointed out the most indefinable feature in Lamb's essays-the rich marrowiness of their style. With their extraordinary nimbleness of fancy and grace of expression the Essays of Elia are indeed "a paradise of dainty devices", redolent of the sweetness and old-world air of Cowley. His quaint paradoxes, too, seem to rise naturally from the subject and do not grate on the ear with the metallic ring of modern epigram. The obliquity of Lamb's genius precluded in his own day, as it still precludes, the possibility of successful imitation; he created no new school of essayists, and he left no abiding mark on the development of English prose; but he is within certain well-defined limits one of the most artistic exponents of the essay, and the power of fully appreciating the delicacy of his work is one of the surest indications of a literary epicure.

In the case of a continuous development, as that of the essay must necessarily be, it is inevitable that one of the boundaries of the field surveyed should be arbitrarily imposed. The latter half of this century has shown little regard for the older style of essays on abstract subjects; the essay has more and more become associated with literary criticism; and it might almost be said that fiction has again entered into combat with it, and in the form of the short story has ousted it from popular regard. Yet, in spite of powerful rivals, the essay is still a vital literary form. What the sonnet is to the poet, the same and more is the essay to the prose artist, requiring similar compression of thought, and affording similar scope for brilliancy of execution. It would be hazardous to suppose that criticism of the future will regard the present age as marking a revival in the history of the development; but it is tolerably certain that no future collection of the best British essayists will ignore the work of Robert Louis Stevenson. For the purpose, however, of the present volume it is scarcely necessary to extend the survey beyond Leigh Hunt and Lamb. By that time the essay had reached its full maturity, and had furnished examples of all its possible forms. The real history of the essay coincides with the period of a century and a half which elapsed between the appearance of the Tatler and the year of Leigh Hunt's death. During that time its progress was more than once arrested, and it is a gain to clearness with small sacrifice of accuracy to regard the three critical periods in the essay's history as being the begin

ning, the middle, and the end of the eighteenth century periods connected with the names of Steele and Addison, Johnson and Goldsmith, Hazlitt and Lamb. If not the greatest, the essay is certainly the most characteristic literary form of the eighteenth century. It owed its origin to the club-life of Queen Anne society, and true to its original purpose, it faithfully mirrored the manners of the day, when fiction presented nothing but ideals, and artificial comedy only caricature. It may be doubted, too, if any other literary development has been so prolific of results. No doubt the essay's greatest secondary achievement was the fillip it gave to the inauguration of the novel, but it founded, also, a requisite medium for literary criticism and created the miscellaneous magazine. Not, however, that the fame of the essay requires to be propped up by that of its various descendants. It has been the favourite medium of many of the greatest masters of English prose, who have lavished on it the best of their artistic skill and all the resources of their wisdom and humour. There is no end to the variety of subjects which the English essayists have handled; no foible escaped their laughter, no abuse their scorn; for their motto has been, as it must continue to be, that which Steele selected for the first English periodical—

“Quicquid agunt homines

nostri est farrago libelli".






T hath been an opinion, that the French are wiser than they seem, and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are; but howsoever it be between nations, certainly it is so between man and man. For, as the Apostle saith of godliness, 'having a show of godliness, but denying the power thereof', so certainly there are, in points of wisdom and sufficiency1, that do nothing or little very solemnly; Magno conatu nugas. It is a ridiculous thing and fit for a satire to persons of judgment, to see what shifts these formalists have, and what prospectives to make superficies to seem body that hath depth and bulk. Some are so close and reserved, as they will not show their wares but by a dark light, and seem always to keep back somewhat: and when they know within themselves they speak of that they do not well know, would nevertheless seem to others to know of that which they may not well speak. Some help themselves with countenance and gesture, and are wise by signs; as Cicero saith of Piso, that when he answered him he fetched one of his brows up to his forehead, and bent the other down to his chin; Respondes, altero ad frontem sublato, altero ad mentum depresso supercilio, crudelitatem tibi non placere. 3i.e. the seeming wise.

1 ability.

2 Terence, Heaut. iv. 1. 8.

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