The Great Age of the English Essay
From the pens of spectators, ramblers, idlers, tattlers, hypochondriacs, connoisseurs, and loungers, a new literary genre emerged in eighteenth-century England: the periodical essay. Situated between classical rhetoric and the novel, the English essay challenged the borders between fiction and nonfiction prose and helped forge the tastes and values of an emerging middle class.
This authoritative anthology is the first to gather in one volume the consummate periodical essays of the period. Included are theSpectator cofounders Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, literary lion Samuel Johnson, and Romantic recluse Thomas De Quincey, addressing a wide variety of topics from the oddities of virtuosos to the private lives of parrots and the fantastic horrors of opium dreams.
In a lively and informative introduction, Denise Gigante situates the essayists in the context of the contemporary Republic of Letters and highlights the stylistic innovations and conventions that distinguish the periodical essay as a literary form. Critical notes on the essays, a chronology, descriptions and a map of key London sites, and a glossary of eighteenth-century English terms complete the anthology—a uniquely pleasurable survey of the golden era of British essays.
About the Author
Denise Gigante teaches British Romantic literature, and poetry over a longer tradition. Her interests include poetic form and aesthetics, bibliomania and literary antiquarianism, gastronomy, the history and form of the essay, material print culture, and the mixed-media work of William Blake.
She is currently completing work on The Cambridge History of the British Essay, a monumental history the development of the essay genre by a global network of authors that includes her own chapter, “On Books: The Bibliographical Essay” She is also working to complete The Mental Traveller: William Blake, a study of Blake’s illuminated poetry in relation late Medieval and Renaissance Christian iconography and the literary tradition of Pilgrimage, in a heavily illustrated volume to be published as part of the Clarendon Lecture Series by Oxford University Press.
Her most recently published book is Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America (Yale University Press, 2023), a narrative experiment in literary history that explores different pockets of book collecting in mid-nineteenth-century America. The story is based on the sale of Charles Lamb’s antiquarian books—a quintessential book lover’s library—in New York in 1848.
She is also the author of The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George, (Harvard UP, 2011), Life: Organic Form and Romanticism (Yale UP, 2009), Taste: A Literary History (Yale UP, 2005), and two anthologies: The Great Age of the English Essay (Yale UP, 2008) and Gusto: Essential Writings in Nineteenth-Century Gastronomy (Routledge, 2005) as well as numerous articles and book chapters on topics of interest from taste and gastronomy to book collecting and poetic form