There is a third type of essay, originating in the Renaissance emphasis upon individualism, and confidently asserting itself upon the pages of Montaigne,〖H. C., xxxii, 5ff.〗 Addison, Hazlitt, De Quincey,〖H. C., xxvii, 78ff., 267ff., 319ff.〗 Emerson,〖H. C., v, 5ff.〗 Thoreau,〖H. C., xxviii, 395ff.〗 and a hundred other men. It is the autobiographic, “egotistic” essay—in which there is rarely any insolence of egotism, but only an insatiable curiosity about oneself, and an entire willingness to discuss that question in public. If you like the man who is talking, this kind of essay is the most delightful of all. But it betrays a great deal, and like lyric verse—the most intensely personalized mode of poetry—it sometimes betrays too much. When the right balance is struck between openness and conceit, or when, as with Emerson, the man is sweet and sound to the core, the self-revealing essay justifies itself. Indeed, it is thought by some critics that the subjective or lyrical quality of the essay is a part of its essential character. Thus Professor A. C. Bradley has asserted: “Brevity, simplicity, and singleness of presentation; the strong play of personality, the subjective charm, the delicate touch, the limited range of theme and of treatment, and the ordered beauty through exclusion of all disordered moods and fiercer passions—these flow directly from the presence and dominance of the lyrical element, and these are the constant features of the Essay.”

One should add, perhaps, that all three of the essay types here touched upon—the “critical,” the “ethical” or “philosophic,” and the “personal”—were strongly colored during the Renaissance, as they have been at intervals ever since, by the spirit of nationalism. French criticism, in the sixteenth century as in the nineteenth, is very French. English criticism, in Dryden and Arnold, is very English; the moralizing of Milton’s tractates and of Samuel Johnson’s “Lives of the Poets,” the personal assertiveness of Thoreau’s essay on “Walking,” and Lowell’s essay on “Democracy”〖H. C., xxviii, 451ff.〗 bear the unmistakable accents of England and of America. Blood tells, in the essay as elsewhere.

All Directories