Periodical Essay English Literature

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By the time it occurred to them to use these two words to describe the form of publication in which they were engaged, serial essays which shared a number of characteristics with the Connoisseur had been published (in England especially) for half a century.An important forerunner to the Spectator is John Dunton’s Athenian Mercury, which played a key role in the development of the periodical essay.(De Maria 529-530) The Athenian Mercury began publication in 1691 with the purpose of ‘resolving weekly all the most nice and curious questions propos’d by the ingenious.’ It did not publish essays.So numerous were these serials, so persistent a feature of the reading diet of people throughout English society during nearly the entire century, and so natural did it seem to an 18th-century author to develop a periodical essay series or at least to contribute a paper or two to a series established by another writer, that any discussion of the periodical essay is most appropriately situated in this period.The confluence of three separate cultural developments appears to have caused the emergence of the periodical essay form early in the 18th century.(Shevelow 27-29) The Tatler (1709-1711) and The Spectator (1711-1712) were the most successful and influential single-essay periodicals of the eighteenth century but there are other periodicals that helped shape this literary genre.While the periodical essay emerged during the eighteenth century and reached its peak in publications like the Tatler and the Spectator, its roots can be traced back to the late seventeenth century.Unlike their contemporary Defoe, whose Review of the Affairs of France (1704–13) moved to more general cultural topics from a central engagement with political issues, Addison and Steele devoted themselves to matters of style, fashion, behavior, opinion, and manners characteristic of middle-class life; it was this rapidly growing and prospering audience that established so solid a readership for periodical essays in several successive generations.A listing of the most successful and influential 18th-century periodical essays would be a very long one.Periodical essays typically appeared in affordable publications that came out regularly, usually two or three times a week, and were only one or two pages in length.Unlike other publications of the time that consisted of a medley of information and news, essay periodicals were comprised of a single essay on a specific topic or theme, usually having to do with the conduct or manners.


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