Essay Library

There are currently 100 essays in the Library – please come in and browse.

Use the ‘additional suggestions’ box to tell us if your favourite essay or author is missing, or comment boxes on each essay’s page to discuss the selection, including where you feel we should have selected another essay by the same author. We will expand the Essay Library in future, using suggestions and comments received. Example intro length, with link to more if needed.

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The Spectator No.50 [on the visit of the Iroquois]

by Joseph Addison

1711

Based on an idea ‘stolen’ from conversation with Jonathan Swift and prefiguring Swift’s later satire – a kind of inverted Gulliver’s Travels. The previous April, four...

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The Spectator No.454 [on roving in London]

by Richard Steele

1712

After an opening declaration on the pleasures of detached, essayistic observation, or ‘spectating’, Steele describes coming from Richmond for a 24-hour ramble through central L...

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The Spectator No. 538 [on gastronomic antipathies]

by Joseph Addison

1712

Demonstrating the English periodical essay’s origins in clubbable conversation, and recurring concern with ‘good taste’, Addison describes friends discussing their food avers...

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The Soccer War (Wojna futbolowa, 1978, and trans. William Brand, Granta Books, 1990)

by Ryszard Kapuscinski

1978

Kapuscinski presents himself as a hapless ‘amateur’ reporting to Warsaw on Latin American politics, for whom the 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador, following an escalat...

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The Rights of History and the Rights of the Imagination (in Quarrel & Quandary)

by Cynthia Ozick

2000

An essay about how the ‘broken umbrella of contemporary relativism’ does not change the essentially different aims of history (that which is owed to reality) and imagination (p...

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The Rambler No.135 (on the folly of annual retreats to the country)

by Samuel Johnson

1751

Embarking from Aristotle’s observation that man is ‘an imitative being’, Johnson attacks the fashion for retiring to the country for the summer as either mindless imitation o...

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The Rambler No.117 (on the advantages of living in a garret)

by Samuel Johnson

1751

Referring to the bravery of bringing forward new ideas, Johnson makes the mock-heroic announcement that he is introducing new theories on ‘the garret’, mighty subject though it...

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The Privileges [of 10th April 1840] (Fragment inédit de Stendhal, 1861, and reprinted in Memoirs of an Egoist, trans. Andrew Brown, 2003)

by Stendhal

1861

Written at 57, two years before his death, this is the novelist’s fantasy wish-list in the format of an international treaty. Article 1 demands a good death, but, by Art...

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The Painter of Modern Life

by Charles Baudelaire

1863

A string of eleven mini-essays praising the artist Constantin Guys for seeking ‘the fugitive, fleeting beauty of present-day life’ in almost journalistic watercolour sketches, ...

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The Myth of Sisyphus (Le Mythe de Sisyphe, 1942, and trans. Justin O’Brien, 1955)

by Albert Camus

1942

A long essay with four chapters (and an appendix on Kafka), asking whether the realisation that life is meaningless requires suicide. Camus defines absurdity as man’s rationality...

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The Metropolis and Mental Life (Die Großstadt und das Geistesleben, 1903, and trans. Kurt H. Wolff in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, 1950)

by Georg Simmel

1903

This precursor of urban sociology analyses metropolitan life’s impact on the personality. Throughout history, Simmel sees people resisting ‘being leveled down and worn out by a...

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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (The London Review of Books, 1983, and collected in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, 1985)

by Oliver Sacks

1983

A neurological case-study of ‘visual agnosia’, written in the accessible, urbane style that made the book a bestseller. The reader journeys through Dr Sacks’ bizarre examinat...

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