“Criticism and The Essay”

This month I’ve been reading from the “Lectures” book of my Harvard Classics set and I came across this gem.

“It is a very variable, highly personalized literary form: resembling now a dinner-table monologue or a dialogue, and now a letter to a friend. Here it is a mere sparkling fragment of some solid mass of philosophical theory, and there it is a tiny jewel of paradox, interrogation, or fancy; here an echo of some great historical debate over tragedy or comedy, and there the first faint stirring of some new, living idea, which by and by will be tossed about with all the winds of doctrine.”

The lecture is “Criticism and The Essay” and I about fell over thinking about how much it reminds be of blogging. Sometimes I wonder what blogging is all about. Is it just some fad that will pass away and all the writing out there will be forgotten in time? Or is it something new and exciting that will change the way we think? I know the idea has so many people excited and there is so much out there to read now that it is so very easy to publish your ideas to the world. And you can’t read any of it passively. You are compelled to cross check and research just about everything you come across. But it’s so worth it. I hope that some of those words will live on into the future as so many authors of the past have come to us.

Here’s another one that will blow your mind, speaking of the Renaissance.

“There was a new “weighing,” “assaying” of all things. The actual world was changing before men’s eyes, and the inner world changed no less. There was universal curiosity about individual capacities and opinions, experiences and tastes. The whole “undulating and various” scheme of things – to use a favorite expression of Montaigne – was a direct provocative of the essay state of mind; and the essay form, in turn, in its looseness, vagueness, and range, was singularly adapted to the intellectual spirit of the period.”

Right?! Does that not sound just like today? Did you know, dear blogging friend, that you were writing among the greats? That your words may project into the future and change the world like the Renaissance did?

“But the critical essay advances, albeit by zigzag lines. It is obliged to tack, ad the winds of doctrine shift and the tides of opinion ebb and flow, yet it is always steering, and not merely drifting.”

Speaking of Caxton, “Edification was assumed by him as by his age as the prime, if not the only, justification for writing and publishing.” That’s exactly why I write! To gather my thoughts into one place, make a point, and learn from what I’ve read or experienced, is why I’m here. I reach out in writing in the hopes of finding another person to bounce ideas off of and expand my own world. While doing that I would also hope someone might read what I’ve wrote and use it to expand their own ideas.

Here’s a link to the rest of the lecture if you’d like to read it for yourself. I’ve learned SO much by reading these books!

Harvard Classics – Criticism and The Essay


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