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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Concerning the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany (Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland, first published in French in 1834 and then in censored German the following year. Recent English edition published by CUP, ed. Terry Pinkard, 2007)

by Heinrich Heine

1834

An exiled poet who knew the leading thinkers of his generation discusses the subject as labeled on the tin, though with more idiosyncrasy and a great deal more irony than that labe...

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Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, on the following interesting subjects

by Thomas Paine

1776

‘It would be difficult to name any human composition which has had an effect at once so instant, so extended and so lasting…’ (G.M.Trevelyan). This anonymous pamphlet’s rad...

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Circles

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

1841

Water’s concentric circles are ‘the highest emblem’ in the world’s ‘cipher’ since all life is, read rightly, cyclical. An affirmative essay, it contains one huge doubt:...

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Can the Devil be Saved? (Modernity on Endless Trial, 1990)

by Leszek Kolakowski

1990

The title catchily paraphrases: ‘Can the cosmic and historical drama be interpreted as a movement towards the ultimate reconciliation of all things?’ This is not simpl...

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Biathanatos (First published under the title ‘John Donne, Biathanatos’, Sur no.159, January 1948, and reprinted in Otras inquisiciones)

by Jorge Luis Borges

1948

Biathanatos is a treatise by the poet John Donne with the subtitle ‘That Self-homicide is not so Naturally Sin that it may never be otherwise’. Borges, following De Quince...

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At Table and In Bed (1971, and reprinted in Convergences, trans. Helen Lane, 1987)

by Octavio Paz

1971

Paz essays usually make historical approaches, but here he approaches the United States as subject through a Utopia, that of Fourier, involving perspectives of ‘Erotics and Gastr...

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An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’ (Beantwortung der Frage: ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’ 1784, and available in Penguin Great Ideas Series, No.68, translated by H.B. Nisbet)

by Immanuel Kant

1784

A prototype for bloggers philosophizing in their pyjamas, Kant’s influential essay responded to a question posed to ‘the public’ in a Berlin journal. Its first sent...

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An American in London (Partisan Review, 1949, and collected in the Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Essays)

by Cyril Connolly

1949

Connolly uses a fictional-hypothetical character, a young American novelist he calls Bisbee, to view post-war London and its ‘shabby’ yet seductive literary world through cold,...

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An Account of My Hut (Hojoki)

by Kamo No Chomei

1212

The pre-eminent example of Japanese ‘recluse literature’ and part of the ‘zuihitsu’ genre (personal essays and prose fragments, usually responding to the writer’s surro...

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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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A Piece of Chalk

by G.K. Chesterton

1908

Chesterton decides to sketch on the Sussex downs, prompting a lightly comic encounter with a housekeeper about obtaining brown paper and a digression on pocket contents. H...

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A Modest Proposal for Preventing Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public

by Jonathan Swift

1729

This is an anti-colonialist satire, in the style of Juvenal or Tertullian, sarcastically suggesting that the solution to Irish poverty is for the Catholics to sell their children a...

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