was a new "weighing," "assaying" of all things. The actual world was changing before men's eyes, and the inner world changed no less. There was universal curiosity about individual capacities and opinions, experiences and tastes. The whole "undulating and various" scheme of things—to use a favorite expression of Montaigne—was a direct provocative of the essay state of mind; and the essay form, in turn, in its looseness, vagueness, and range, was singularly adapted to the intellectual spirit of the period.
THE BOOKISH ESSAY
One type of Renaissance essay, for example, concerned itself with a casual survey of the fragments of the classical and mediæval world. Modern books like Taylor's "Classical Heritage of the Middle Ages," and "The Mediæval Mind," Einstein's "Italian Renaissance in England," Sir Sidney Lee's "French Renaissance in England," Spingarn's "Literary Criticism in the Renaissance," and Saintsbury's "History of Criticism" set before us, with abundance of detail, the kind and extent of knowledge of the past which was possessed by Renaissance essayists. Caxton's naïve Prologues and Epilogues to the popular classical and mediæval books which he issued in English, Sir Philip Sidney's chivalrous "Defense of Poesy," and Edmund Spenser's explanation to Sir Walter Raleigh of the purpose of "The Faerie Queene" are good illustrations of the attitude of typical Englishmen toward the imaginative life of the past. Gregory Smith's collection of "Elizabethan Critical Essays" affords a fairly complete view of the critical ideas which sixteenth-century England had inherited from Europe. The evolution of the English critical essay, during the three hundred years which have elapsed since then, is mainly the story of the preservation of these ideas and their modification or transformation under the successive impacts of new intellectual forces, and of differing social and literary conditions.
THE ESSAY AS EXPRESSIVE OF CURIOSITY ABOUT LIFE
Another type of essay, originating in the Renaissance, and a favorite with Montaigne, deals not so much with books as with life itself. The new culture, the novel intellectual perceptions, altered
- H. C., xxxix, 5ff.
- H. C., xxvii, 5ff.
- H. C.. xxxix, 61.