Tuesday, April 7, 2009


An essay is a technology, a device, a tool we have invented and developed in order to consider subjects thoughtfully. Without such a mechanism—which may be as simple as a sheet of paper and a pen in the hands of someone trained to write a language he knows well (all of which actions are techniques or technologies)—without such marvelous mechanisms, then consideration would prove more difficult to perform and more taxing to remember.

For one’s ideas to grow clear and distinct and then complex and qualified, subtle and sonorous, takes writing and rewriting to accomplish. To “consider” matters is to “sit with” them, as one does when writing probingly and reflectively. One “essays”—or attempts—so as to find out and then display to others, what one thinks about the matter being pondered. “Of Studies,” “Of Marriage and Single Life,” “Of Envy,” “Of Cunning,” “Of Seeming Wise”—such are some of the many subjects that Francis Bacon, Shakespeare’s contemporary and the Father of the English Essay, essayed to consider.

If you would cudgel your brains about some topic perplexing or fascinating to you, then you can do better than pace your room or toss in bed; rather, sit down, take pen in hand, draw up a tablet to write on, chew reflectively on your pen cap while waiting for ideas to materialize that then you can transcribe, line after line, as thought forms into phrases, then into sentences transfixed on your page, building toward paragraphs preserved for further rumination and revision.

So works this essay, this device, this modus scribendi, that turns attempts into deeds, makes hints and notions into well-wrought thoughts, and, deftly done, brings enduring delight to reader after reader.