My essay project is taking off in unexpected directions, which isn’t a bad thing, not at all, but it means the project gets a little bigger every time I give it a little thought. I feel like Tristram Shandy, who is trying to tell his life story but who has so much to tell that every day of his life he falls a little more behind. Every day I find myself backing up and adding more to my reading list.
I originally wanted to focus my essay-reading on John Gross’s Oxford Book of Essays, which I chose not because it’s wonderful, but because I hadn’t yet read it. And I still will use that one. But I realized that Gross’s book has only essays written originally in English — which explains the otherwise inexplicable absence of Montaigne — and I prefer to include some essays in translation. So I got out Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay to give it another look-through and I realized that there are many essays in there I haven’t yet read. So I’m going to read essays from that book too.
Then I discovered that Lopate begins his essay survey with some essays from classical writers such as Seneca and Plutarch, and I decided I’d better back up and begin not with Bacon, but with these early writers. And then I read the first selection from Seneca and loved it, and so now I’ve got Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic on order from Amazon — and if you’re wondering why I’m ordering letters for an essay project, it’s because Lopate calls the letters “essays in disguise.” So, I’m now planning on reading the Seneca book, Montaigne’s complete essays, and then Bacon’s essays. And who knows where I’ll go from there, or if I’ll even get that far before I discover a new author whose work I need to read more fully.
This is fun, but will I ever actually make any progress? Who knows.