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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On the Pleasure of Hating (The Plain Speaker)

by William Hazlitt

1826

Hazlitt’s antipathy for a spider prompts reflection on how we can suppress violent actions but not instincts. This quickly escalates to an attack on the religious pretexts for wa...

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On the Lame (Book III, Essay 11, 1580-95)

by Michel de Montaigne

1595

An essay that combines Montaigne’s review of what it was like to have sex with a lame woman with the profound theme of mankind’s tendency to self-deception. It begins,...

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On the Cannibals (Book I, Essay 31, 1580-95)

by Michel de Montaigne

1595

Montaigne’s relativism recognizes that ‘every man calls barbarous anything he is not accustomed to’; if the Tupinambá tribesmen of Brazil are ‘savages’, so are European ...

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On Poetry and Our Relish for the Beauties of Nature (Titled ‘Artificial Taste’ in Monthly Magazine, April 1797, and reprinted under the present title in her Posthumous Works, ed. William Godwin, 1798)

by Mary Wollstonecraft

1797

A year before Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’, Wollstonecraft defines the Romantic Poet. Beginning like a periodical piece, laughing at how city people go to the country but don...

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On Old Age (De Senectute)

by Cicero

-45

The 84-year-old author, using Marcus Cato as narrator, and playing wittily with the allowances made for elderly garrulity and digression, advises us to trust Nature’s wisdom, ada...

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On Marionette Theatre

by Heinrich Von Kleist

1810

Dramatised as a dialogue between friends on a park bench in 1801, this essay is about far more than puppets, though they are discussed with more seriousness than a mere starting-po...

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On Lying Fallow: An Aspect of Leisure (International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Vol. 6, 1977)

by Masud Khan

1977

A clinical paper that reads as an elegant essay despite its professional vocabulary, relevant to every writer or artist who claims that staring out the window is working. ...

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On Keeping a Notebook (1966, and collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968)

by Joan Didion

1966

Full of puzzlement at cryptic jottings in her old notebooks, and the film-clip memories they eventually trigger, Didion’s essay is a meditation on modern consciousness, how to ha...

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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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On Being an American (Prejudices, Third Series)

by H.L. Mencken

1922

The ‘Sage of Baltimore’ begins with hyperbolic condemnation of the American government, courts, foreign policy and people. Yet unlike ‘fugitive Young Intellectuals’, he ask...

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Of Superstition (Essay XVII, 1625 edition)

by Francis Bacon

1625

A radical comparison (for its time) between the relative evils of atheism and zealous, materialistic, bigoted, petty religion (‘superstition’). Bacon finds in favour...

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Of Going a Journey (January 1822, New Monthly Magazine, and reprinted in Table Talk, Vol. II)

by William Hazlitt

1822

This commences with bald Romanticism – declaring the pleasure of a solitary tromp through nature – but then qualifies itself. Unlike Coleridge, the prickly Hazlitt cannot walk ...

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