From the works of Francis Bacon and Daniel Defoe to those of Virginia Woolf and Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 300 of the greatest essays and speeches composed by British and American writers over the past four centuries.
- Henry Adams to Benjamin Franklin (below)
- Margaret Fuller to H.L. Mencken (page two)
- Alice Meynell to W.B. Yeats (page three)
Henry Adams (1838-1918)
- A Law of Acceleration
"The new American would need to think in contradictions."
Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
- The Cries of London
"The Post I would aim at, is to be Comptroller General of the London Cries."
- Defence and Happiness of Married Life
"For my own part, I was born in Wedlock, and I don't care who knows it."
- False and True Humour
"It is, indeed, much easier to describe what is not Humour, than what is."
"Man is the merriest Species of the Creation."
- On Giving Advice
"Upon the reading of a fable, we are made to believe we advise ourselves."
- Reflections in Westminster Abbey
"I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow."
A. Bronson Alcott (1799-1888)
"Each moment offers the full cup. Drink, drink deep, drink it off while you may!"
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)
- Death of a Soldier
"Even in his solitary grave in the 'Government Lot,' he would not be without some token of the love which makes life beautiful and outlives death."
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
- On Women's Right to Vote
"The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons?"
John James Audubon (1785-1851)
- The Hurricane
"Some of the largest trees were seen bending and writhing under the gale."
- The Passenger Pigeon
"I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions, when a Hawk chanced to press upon the rear of a flock."
Mary Austin (1868-1934)
- The Land of Little Rain
"Void of life it never is, however dry the air and villainous the soil."
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
- Of Discourse
"The honourablest part of talk is to give the occasion; and again to moderate and pass to somewhat else, for then a man leads the dance."
- Of Marriage and Single Life
"He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune."
- Of Revenge
"A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well."
- Of Studies
"Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man."
- Of Travel
"When a traveller returneth home, let him not leave the countries where he hath travelled altogether behind him."
- Of Truth
"A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure."
Max Beerbohm (1872-1956)
- Going Out for a Walk
"I never go out of my way, as it were, to avoid exercise."
- How Shall I Word It?
"The not perfect reader begins to crave some little outburst of wrath."
- A Relic
"It had occurred to me that I might be a writer."
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)
- A Conversation With a Cat
"There is in your complacency no foreknowledge of death nor even of separation."
- Crooked Streets
"How much better are not the beauties of a town seen from Crooked Streets!"
Robert Benchley (1889-1945)
- Advice to Writers
"A terrible plague of insufferably artificial and affected authors"
- Business Letters
"As it stands now things are pretty black for the boy."
- Christmas Afternoon
"Done in the Manner, If Not the Spirit, of Dickens"
- Do Insects Think?
"It really was more like a child of our own than a wasp, except that it looked more like a wasp than a child of our own."
- The Most Popular Book of the Month
"In practice, the book is not flawless. There are five hundred thousand names, each with a corresponding telephone number."
"A homely virtue such as was taught us . . . in a dozen or so simple words, is taken and blown up into a book in which it is stated very impressively in a series of short, snappy sentences, all saying the same thing."
Arnold Bennett (1867-1931)
- Why a Classic Is a Classic
"A classic does not survive . . . because it conforms to certain canons."
George Berkeley (1685-1753)
- Pleasures Natural and Fantastical
"He is the true possessor of a thing who enjoys it, and not he that owns it without the enjoyment of it."
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)
- The Art of Controversy
"I know not if there is another life, but if there is I do hope that to obtain it all will have to pass a rigid examination in logic and the art of not being a fool."
- Christmas and the New Year
"Christmas is to some extent a day of meaningless ceremonies, false sentiment and hollow compliments endlessly iterated and misapplied."
- The Clothing of Ghosts
"Who ever heard of a naked ghost?"
"What I am affirming is the horror of the characteristic American custom of promiscuous, unsought and unauthorized introductions."
- The Gift o' Gab
"Extinction of the orator I hold to be the most beneficent possibility of evolution."
James Boswell (1740-1795)
- On War
"My mind expanded itself in reflections upon the horrid irrationality of war."
Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)
- Niagara Falls
"Both men and nations are hurried onwards to their ruin or ending as inevitably as this dark flood."
Charles Brooks (1878-1934)
- On the Difference Between Wit and Humor
"Is there anything more melancholy than the wit of another generation?"
- On a Rainy Morning
"There is so much life on wet and windy days."
- The Writing of Essays
"He looks at the stars and, knowing in what a dim immensity we travel, he writes of little things beyond dispute."
Heywood Broune (1888-1939)
- The Young Pessimists
"Our young American pessimists see man at the moment he drops beside the road, and without further investigation decide that it is all up with him."
Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
- On Dreams
"A good part of our sleep is peered out with visions and fantastical objects, wherein we are confessedly deceived."
Eustace Budgell (1686-1737)
- On Friendship
"A friendship which makes the least noise is very often most useful."
Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873)
- Readers and Writers
"It is well to keep in practice the power to think for one's self."
Gelett Burgess (1866-1951)
- A Defense of Slang
"Slang in America . . . is a frothy compound, and the bubbles break when the necessity of the hour is past."
Thomas Burke (1886-1945)
- Nights in London
"You cannot have a bad night in London unless you are a bad Cockney--or a tourist."
John Burroughs (1837-1921)
- In Mammoth Cave
"Some of these pits are simply appalling."
Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947)
- The Revolt of the Unfit
"The plain fact is that man is not ruled by thinking. When man thinks he thinks, he usually merely feels . . .."
Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
- On Knowing What Gives Us Pleasure
"A man had better stick to known and proved pleasures."
Henry Seidel Canby (1878-1961)
- Coddling in Education
"I sometimes wonder if a moron could not be made into an Abraham Lincoln by such a system--if the system were sound."
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
- On Heroes and Hero-Worship
"This . . . is an age that as it were denies the existence of great men."
John Jay Chapman (1862-1933)
- Professorial Ethics
"[T]he professor is trampled upon, his interests are ignored, he is overworked and underpaid, he is of small social consequence, he is kept at menial employments, and the leisure to do good work is denied him."
- William James
"Now James was an illuminating ray, a dissolvent force. He looked freshly at life, and read books freshly."
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
- The Advantages of Having One Leg
"All pessimism has a secret optimism for its object."
- The New House
"We do not, I hope, dislike men and women; we only dislike their being made into a sort of jam."
- On Lying in Bed
"Our views change constantly; but our lunch does not change."
- A Piece of Chalk
"I was sitting on an immense warehouse of white chalk."
- The Superstition of School
"No man who worships education has got the best out of education."
William Cobbett (1763-1835)
- Rural Rides: Reigate
"When the old farm-houses are down (and down they must come in time) what a miserable thing the country will be!"
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
- Outside Literature
"A sea voyage would have done him good. But it was I who went to sea--this time bound to Calcutta."
Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894)
- Rural Hours
"Such open hill-sides . . . bear a kind of heaving, billowy character."
Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)
- Of Greatness
"Greatness . . . is a creature of the fancy."
William Cowper (1731-1800)
- On Conversation
"We should try to keep up conversation like a ball bandied to and fro from one to the other, rather than seize it all to ourselves, and drive it before us like a football."
- On Keeping a Secret
"That no man may betray the counsel of his friend, let every man keep his own."
Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
- An Experiment in Misery
"I sleep up there . . . when I've got the price."
Samuel McChord Crothers (1857-1927)
- The Spoiled Children of Civilization
"The real thinkers of any age do not remain long in a blue funk. . . . They cannot passively wait to see the future come. They are too busy making it."
Homer Croy (1883-1965)
- Bathing in a Borrowed Suit
"When I came up there was little on me besides the sea foam and a spirit of jollity. The latter was feigned."
George William Curtis (1824-1892)
- My Chateaux
"Bourne owns the dirt and fences; I own the beauty that makes the landscape, or otherwise how could I own castles in Spain?"
- The New Year
"Let our whitest vow be . . . that age shall no longer be measured by this arbitrary standard of years."
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
- Natural Selection
"Natural selection can act only through and for the good of each being."
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)
- The Education of Women
"To such whose genius would lead them to it, I would deny no sort of learning."
- The Worst Sort of Husband
"What is the worst sort of husband a sober woman can marry?"
Joseph Dennie (1768-1812)
- Jack and Gill: A Mock Criticism
"The subject is the fall of men, a subject, high, interesting, worthy of a poet."
Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
- A Happy Home
"I will here lay down an analysis of happiness; and . . . I will give it, not didactically, but wrapped up and involved in a picture of one evening."
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
"Drunken besotted men, and wretched broken-down miserable women"
- Lying Awake
"I devote this paper to my train of thoughts as I lay awake."
- Mr. Barlow
"Immortal Mr. Barlow, boring his way through the verdant freshness of ages!"
- Night Walks
"Houselessness would walk and walk and walk, seeing nothing but the interminable tangle of streets."
Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1862-1932)
- Red-Bloods and Mollycoddles
"The whole structure of civilisation rests on foundations laid by Mollycoddles; but all the building is done by Red-bloods."
Isaac D'Israeli (1766-1848)
- Review of the Memoirs of Percival Stockdale
"While he is forgotten faster than he writes, he still dreams of 'immortality.'"
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
- A Glorious Resurrection
"My long-crushed spirit rose."
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
- Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others
"Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission."
- Of the Passing of the First-Born
"He knew no color-line, poor dear--and the Veil, though it shadowed him, had not yet darkened half his sun."
John Earle (1601-1665)
- Three Characters: A Young Man, a Tedious Man, and a Good Old Man
"He is a ship without pilot or tackling, and only good fortune may steer him."
Max Eastman (1883-1969)
- What Is Patriotism and What Shall We Do With It?
"Not only does everybody like to fight, but everybody has an irresistible tendency to identify himself with a group."
Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849)
- Caroline's Letters on Marriage and Separation
"Take every precaution before you decide for life, because disappointment and restraint afterwards would be insupportable to your temper."
- An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification
"You will readily accede to my first and fundamental axiom--that a lady can do no wrong."
George Eliot (1819-1880)
- Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft
"Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self help and independent resources in women."
"What is the best way of telling a story?"
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1883)
"The only gift is a portion of thyself."
"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist."
Edward Everett (1794-1865)
- Shaking Hands
"I beg leave to offer a few remarks on the origin of the practice, and the various forms in which it is exercised."
William Faulkner (1897-1962)
- Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
"I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail."
Owen Felltham (1602-1668)
- Of Travel
"Some men, by travel, change in nothing: and some again, change too much."
Henry Fielding (1707-1754)
- On Reading for Amusement
"But as for the bulk of mankind, they are clearly void of any degree of taste."
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
- What I Think and Feel at 25
"The main thing is to be your own kind of a darn fool."
E.M. Forster (1879-1970)
- My Wood
"Pray, does my wood belong to me or doesn't it?"
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
- Advice on the Choice of a Mistress
"In all your amours you should prefer old women to young ones."
- The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams
"Mankind . . . eat about twice as much as nature requires."
- An Economical Project
"Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing."
- Imitating the Style of the Spectator
"I took some of the tales and turned them into verse."
- The Temple of Learning
"A great many . . . were little better than Dunces and Blockheads. Alas! Alas!"
- Thoughts on the Subject of Early Marriages
"Indeed, from the marriages that have fallen under my observation, I am rather inclined to think that early ones stand the best chance of happiness."
- The Whistle
"Alas!" say I, "he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle."
Continued on page two