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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Essay-Writing
By Richard Le Gallienne (1866–1947)
 
From ‘Retrospective Reviews’

THE NECESSITY of giving pleasure to the writer is paramount; for in no form of literature is it so true that both the sowing and the reaping must be in gladness. This is, of course, true more or less of all writing; but especially true of the essay. The essay-writer must be pleased with himself, his theme, and the world. The moment he loses his amour propre, his inspiration flags. “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” the poet is often stung to write his finest poems; but not so the essayist. The jug of wine, the loaf of bread, the volume of old verses, a garrulous fire (and metaphorically speaking, a cheering bundle from Romeike), are the necessary conditions of his art….  1
  Facts to the essayist are indeed but thin excuses for his covertly talking about himself. Few essayists have the courage to say outright, like Whitman, “Myself I sing,” or even with the French critic, “I propose to talk of myself, apropos of Shakespeare, Molière, Hugo, etc.”: they still keep up the decency of pretending that they are to talk about the trivial subject with which they label each new chapter of ‘The Story of My Heart.’…  2
  The essayist, though he need not be learned, must have read and generally picked up a good deal; his mind must be stored with a motley collection of recollections and associations, which before he makes magic of them may well seem the merest rubbish. His mind, in fact, is like a boy’s pocket, stuffed with discarded treasures of which his elders are not worthy: string, marbles, peg-tops, strange shells, bits of colored pebble, a few old coins of no value at the numismatist’s; treasures strictly personal to himself, a chaos of which—with glee he knows it—none can make a cosmos but himself…. It is not till it has been realized that in and for itself learning is merely absurd, and solely valuable so far as the writer is concerned for the artistic use to be made of it, does the essayist become possible. In short, the essayist’s great gift, whether playing on the surface like a merry flame, or operating beneath as an unseen leaven, is humor. Humor, more even than religion, will save us from ten thousand snares.  3
 
 
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