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Classic British and American Essays and Speeches

English Prose From Francis Bacon to George Orwell


Classic British and American Essays and Speeches

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

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)

Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

George Ade (1866-1944)

  • Luxuries
    "About sixty-five per cent of all the people in the world think they are getting along great when they are not starving to death."

A. Bronson Alcott (1799-1888)

  • Exercise
    "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)

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

  • Culture
    "If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines."

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)

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 Parents and Children
    "The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears."

  • 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."

  • Of Youth and Age
    "The errors of young men are the ruin of business; but the errors of aged men amount but to this, that more might have been done, or sooner."

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877)

  • Boscastle
    "The principal harbour of Lilliput probably had just this look."

Max Beerbohm (1872-1956)

  • Arise, Sir--!
    "We have our Law-Lords--why not our Novel-Lords? It matters not what title he receive, so it be one which will perish, like his twaddle, with him."

  • 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."

  • Pretending
    "Every human creature weaves for himself and wears an elaborate vesture of illusion. All of us pretend."

  • 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!"

  • On Inaccuracy
    "Inaccuracy is a mighty mother of works."

  • On a Piece of Rope
    "As I looked at the rope I further considered how strange it was that ropes had never been worshipped."

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."

  • You!
    "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)

Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925)

  • Sincerity
    "The curious thing about English people is that they tend, if anything, to be hypocritical about their virtues rather than about their faults."

George Berkeley (1685-1753)

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?"

  • Disintroductions
    "What I am affirming is the horror of the characteristic American custom of promiscuous, unsought and unauthorized introductions."

  • For Brevity and Clarity
    "While reforming the language I crave leave to introduce an improvement in punctuation--the snigger point, or note of cachinnation."

  • The Gift o' Gab
    "Extinction of the orator I hold to be the most beneficent possibility of evolution."

Augustine Birrell (1850-1933)

  • Book-Buying
    "[U]ntil you have ten thousand volumes the less you say about your library the better."

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)

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)

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)

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)

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."

  • Out With the Dilettante
    "When the straight-from-the-shoulder American takes time to finish his thought, to mold his sentences, to brain his reader with a perfect expression of his tense emotion, then he makes literature."

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Joseph Dennie (1768-1812)

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."

  • On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth
    "[W]hen the deed is done, when the work of darkness is perfect, then the world of darkness passes away like a pageantry in the clouds."

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

  • Gin-Shops
    "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)

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

John Earle (1601-1665)

Max Eastman (1883-1969)

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849)

George Eliot (1819-1880)

  • A Fine Excess
    "Perhaps it is an implicit joy in the resources of our human nature which has stimulated admiration for acts of self-sacrifice which are vain as to their immediate end."

  • Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft
    "Men pay a heavy price for their reluctance to encourage self help and independent resources in women."

  • Story-Telling
    "What is the best way of telling a story?"

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1883)

  • Gifts
    "The only gift is a portion of thyself."

  • Self-Reliance
    "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)

Owen Felltham (1602-1668)

  • Of Travel
    "Some men, by travel, change in nothing: and some again, change too much."

Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)

  • Bits of London
    "Above all his London, his intimate London, will be the little bits of it that witnessed the great moments."

  • London From a Distance
    "[I]n the bulk the Londoner is anything rather than tolerant of a class not his own; the unfamiliar is almost inevitably the iniquitous."

E.M. Forster (1879-1970)

  • My Wood
    "Pray, does my wood belong to me or doesn't it?"

Glenn Frank (1887-1940)

  • A Successful Failure
    "[O]ur colleges must contrive to give to students a genuinely liberal education that will make them intelligent citizens of the world."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Continued on page two

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