An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper , an article , a pamphlet , and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner , humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc. Essays are commonly used as literary criticism , political manifestos , learned arguments , observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern essays are written in prose , but works in verse have been dubbed essays e. In some countries e. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams. The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other media beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions. The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer , "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne — was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing. Subsequently, essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse". Aldous Huxley , a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject. Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles or worlds in which the essay may exist are:. Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays " Montaigne's "attempts" grew out of his commonplacing. A third volume was published posthumously; together, their over examples are widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. While Montaigne's philosophy was admired and copied in France, none of his most immediate disciples tried to write essays. But Montaigne, who liked to fancy that his family the Eyquem line was of English extraction, had spoken of the English people as his "cousins", and he was early read in England, notably by Francis Bacon. Bacon's essays , published in book form in only five years after the death of Montaigne, containing the first ten of his essays ,  , and , were the first works in English that described themselves as essays. Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in , according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Other English essayists included Sir William Cornwallis , who published essays in and that were popular at the time,  Robert Burton — and Sir Thomas Browne — In England, during the Age of Enlightenment , essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature , as seen in the works of Joseph Addison , Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson. Addison and Steele used the journal Tatler founded in by Steele and its successors as storehouses of their work, and they became the most celebrated eighteenth-century essayists in England. Johnson's essays appear during the s in various similar publications. On the other hand, Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is not an essay at all, or cluster of essays, in the technical sense, but still it refers to the experimental and tentative nature of the inquiry which the philosopher was undertaking. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public. The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English— William Hazlitt , Charles Lamb , Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects, reviving the earlier graceful style. Later in the century, Robert Louis Stevenson also raised the form's literary level. Eliot , tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays. In France, several writers produced longer works with the title of essai that were not true examples of the form. However, by the midth century, the Causeries du lundi , newspaper columns by the critic Sainte-Beuve , are literary essays in the original sense. As with the novel , essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre.
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