Rise Of Periodical Essay In The 18th Century

Rise Of Periodical Essay In The 18th Century-15
In 1764, when William King published as The Dreamer a group of essays (infused with all the qualities of the periodical essay form) which had never been published serially, the serial form may be said to have reached historical closure.Wonderful essays continued to be written—by gifted new writers such as Charles Lamb and by others who perpetuated the stylistic and topical qualities that had made the periodical essay so important.

In 1764, when William King published as The Dreamer a group of essays (infused with all the qualities of the periodical essay form) which had never been published serially, the serial form may be said to have reached historical closure.Wonderful essays continued to be written—by gifted new writers such as Charles Lamb and by others who perpetuated the stylistic and topical qualities that had made the periodical essay so important.

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Ephraim Chambers’ entry on the essay in his Cyclopaedia (1728) refers to “sudden, occasional Reflexions, which are to be wrote much at the Rate, and in the Manner a Man thinks…” A third factor contributing to the popularity of this form was the 18th-century fondness for pseudonymous writing—the adoption of fictitious personae appropriate to the expression of particular views.

Jonathan Swift and Richard Steele are only two of the most visible practitioners of this technique; it is also to be found employed with similar energy by hundreds of other writers.

Daniel Defoe estimated the total national weekly circulation of such periodicals at 200,000 in 1711, and the sharing of papers at coffeehouses and within families doubtless created a larger audience even then.

The second development was the rise of the informal essay at the same time, undoubtedly influenced by the writings of Montaigne as well as by the recognition that particular kinds of prose style might be more appropriate to some discourses than to others.The first of these was the rise of publications that conveyed news, commentary, and (frequently) political propaganda to the general reading public.Governmental licensing controls over publishing had been allowed to lapse in the latter years of the 17th century, and by the end of the first decade of the 18th a variety of publications, most appearing weekly or two to three times per week, were serving a wide reading audience.So numerous were these serials, so persistent a feature of the reading diet of people throughout English society during nearly the entire century, and so natural did it seem to an 18th-century author to develop a periodical essay series or at least to contribute a paper or two to a series established by another writer, that any discussion of the periodical essay is most appropriately situated in this period.The confluence of three separate cultural developments appears to have caused the emergence of the periodical essay form early in the 18th century. There were personal essays written before 1700, of course, most significantly by Montaigne, Bacon, and Browne.Eighteenth-century periodical essays were influenced by these seventeenth-century models and used the authority of personal opinion both to reflect and to influence the supposed sensibilities of a large group of readers.In a general sense, the term “periodical essays” may be applied to any grouping of essays that appear serially.Charles Dickens once referred to himself as a “periodical essayist,” and various 20th-century columnists whose syndicated work appears with some frequency might be given this designation.The term “periodical essay” appears to have been first used by George Colman the Elder and Bonnell Thornton in their magazine the Connoisseur (1754–56).By the time it occurred to them to use these two words to describe the form of publication in which they were engaged, serial essays which shared a number of characteristics with the Connoisseur had been published (in England especially) for half a century.

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