TRY THIS experiment at your school or place of work: Rank order people by how much they gossip, putting the person who gossips the most on top. Then rank order by intelligence putting the person that you consider the smartest on top. One list will be the inverse of the other. I’m sorry to tell you this, but the more you gossip the stupider you are.

Pietro Arentino by Titian

I’ve discovered that an antidote to all the gossip you’re forced listen to at school or work is the essay, either to write them or to read them. I have this vision of perfect friends who exchange essays instead of exchanging gossip. Friends would do that during the Renaissance. Why can’t we bring that back? But if you insist on gossip you can read Arentino, the Renaissance guy who loved it so. If you must be interested in gossip at least it could be 500 years old and therefore cool.

New technology should lead to new knowledge. One of the best forms of literature that you can put on your new ereader is the essay. Then you can read one or two nuggets of prose when you have the chance.

There’s an authenticity to great essays as if they are purged of any spin. any falsity of expression, any slander masquerading as a thirst for truth. The essay is an enlightened form. The writer can’t lie or cheat in an essay. They would be found out. The false essay  sinks its author. It’s like you’re turning the camera on yourself. “I dare you to find anything wrong with me, reader!”

I’ve put the complete essays of Emerson, Bacon and Montaigne on my ereader. You have to be careful when you purchase classic ebooks. It’s like buying fish in the market. That talipia probably isn’t. So when a collection is advertised as “complete” it might not be. Do comparison shopping and make sure the edition you are buying has some scholarly credentials, even if you have to spend a few dollars more than nothing for it.

“We have broken every law and stand among ruins.” That’s a line from an Emerson essay that, once read, I never forgot. Emerson is an atomistic essayist. Even individual lines seem like miniature essays. There’s a whole essay compacted in that one line. It seems to me that’s how Emerson writes. Somehow the whole essay holds together but he composes by stringing one poetic line out after another. It’s as if he were fly fishing and making one cast after another into a stream. The stream is his essay.

Francis Bacon is quite different. His essays are as hard to crack as acorns. If anything they seem overwritten. It’s as if he were going over them and over them to get every line  exactly right for posterity or his post Elizabethan court. Of these three writers, his essays are the shortest, which is handy if you are pressed for time or if your attention is flagging after a long day. They read like Anglican homilies. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard any homilies but I have. Bacon’s essays are on subjects that you urgently need to hear about: Like the difference between dissimulation, where you are misled and simulation, where you are outright defrauded. To honor Bacon I have capped the first two words in my post as in his essays.

Montaigne is the mensch that is quoted by Bacon and Emerson. He’s their spiritual father as essayists. Montaigne’s essays are the longest but also the most human. He reports on his digestion, warns you off doctors and not only survives but thrives during an impossible time of French civil war. He wrote the most masterful essay on friendship even though he only had one friend.

Well, that’s my essay, guys. I hope it was okay even though it’s not as good as yours. But I’m just a blogger being inspired by your great work.

Readers, I wish you would offer me some suggestions on essays that I could add to my ereader.