S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
To write just treatises requireth time in the writer and leisure in the reader, which is the cause which hath made me choose to write certain brief notes, set down rather significantly than curiously, which I have called Essays. The word is late, but the thing is ancient.
In every period of English literary history, authors have sought to hold the mirror up to nature by means of essays describing the manners, opinions, and peculiarities of certain classes of the community. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, essays of this kind issued from the press in great profusion, and were more in demand than they have ever subsequently been: a circumstance to be explained with probability on two grounds: first, that the superficial differences separating class from class were then very marked and evident; secondly, that tales and novels had scarcely begun to exercise the ingenuity of writers. Indeed, contemporaneously with the appearance of Mrs. Behns romances there was a marked diminution in the number of character books given to the public,the loves of Oronooco and Imoinda, and the licentious drama of the Restoration, having effectually superseded, in the estimation of most readers, the grave, concise, and epigrammatic satires in which the essayists of a former generation had lashed the follies of mankind.