The reader who is interested in literary criticism will soon find that the essay has been a particularly convenient form for conveying literary theories from one mind or age to another. The “critical essay,” while conforming in general to the flexible laws of “the essay,” is used for a specific purpose. It deals with the emergence, continuance, and disappearance of critical opinions; it records, in an informal but none the less effective manner, the judgment of Europe upon books. Let us take a specific example. Charles Lamb’s “Essay on the Tragedies of Shakespeare”〖H. C., xxvii, 299.〗 is a singularly perfect specimen of “the essay” type. It is personal and casual. It opens with the sentence: “Taking a turn the other day in the Abbey, I was struck with the affected attitude of a figure, which I do not remember to have seen before, and which upon examination proved to be a whole-length of the celebrated Mr. Garrick”; and then Lamb passes, with apparent artlessness, from the affectations and tricks of actors to the profound question of the possibility of an adequate representation of the personalities of Hamlet and Lear upon the stage. This personal essay, with its odd whims and fancies, deepens page by page into a masterly critical essay, which makes a distinct phase of the attitude of the English mind toward England’s greatest poet.

In similar fashion, Victor Hugo’s preface to his drama “Cromwell”〖H. C., xxxix, 337ff.〗 is a capital example of a personal essay—an essay “rampant” in its defense of the author’s own literary creed. But that creed as it happens, becomes also the triumphant creed of the young French Romanticists. They rallied around the preface to “Cromwell” as soldiers rally around a flag, and the essay became a concrete embodiment of a new reaction against Classicism, a significant document in the literary history of modern Europe.

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