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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A Plea for Gas Lamps (1878, collected in Virginibus Puerisque, 1881)

by Robert Louis Stevenson

1878

A well-wrought ‘illumination’ on how our material environment determines culture, habits and happiness. Stevenson re-imagines the city before public lighting, each man...

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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 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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Notes on Camp (The Partisan Review, and collected in Against Interpretation)

by Susan Sontag

1964

Sontag modestly called this, her most influential essay, ‘jottings’ because it comprises numbered points, but it is certainly an essay in the experimental sense: testing what i...

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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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A Defence of Poetry (Written 1821, first published posthumously in Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, ed. Mary Shelley, 1840)

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

1821

Written in answer to his friend Thomas Love Peacock’s essay ‘The Four Ages of Poetry’ (1820), this begins as a treatise of ‘accurate philosophy’ but, aptly, evolves into ...

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On Clemency (De Clementia, 56AD, and reprinted with English translation and full scholarly paraphernalia in OUP edition, ed. Susanna Braund, 2009 )

by Lucius Annaeus Seneca - Seneca The Younger

56

Seneca’s profound understanding of the psychology of State terror makes this more than standard advice literature, going beyond ‘clemency’ strictly defined into a...

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Six to Eight Black Men (collected in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, 2004, and in Holidays on Ice, 1997 and 2008)

by David Sedaris

1997

America’s most popular living essayist, Sedaris begins this hilarious piece on cultural idiosyncrasies with the small-talk he makes in new places. One of his regular ope...

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On Thinking for Yourself (Parerga and Paralipomena: Kleine philosophische Schriften, 1851)

by Arthur Schopenhauer

1851

A sardonic essay in twelve short aphoristic sections, in which Schopenhauer emphasizes the differences between scholars and thinkers. Ultimately it is only our own ideas t...

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The Venetian Pariah (Le Séquestré de Venise, originally published in Les Temps Modernes, No.141, 1957, and reprinted in English in Situations, IV, trans. Benita Eisler, 1963)

by Jean-Paul Sartre

1957

De Beauvoir said this piece, at the aesthetic end of Sartre’s spectrum, was to be a book-length study of the Renaissance painter Tintoretto, foreshortened because Sartre disliked...

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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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The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (subtitled ‘Two Lectures delivered at the London Institution, February 4th and 11th, 1884’)

by John Ruskin

1884

The subject is literal: cloud phenomena Ruskin observed over the course of fifty years. This very peculiar essay begins by describing normal weather formations, then argues that th...

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