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History teaches us so much. When we look back at the influential people, such as artists, writers, or leaders who marked a period in history, we can see that their standpoints are something we should understand and respect even today. The same goes for essay writers of the 18th century. 

The best essayist of the 18th century can inspire us and teach us even today. Their work, their life stories, and their ideas are admirable and valuable. That’s why we should be reading them and their work today. If you’re interested in learning more about the best 18th-century essayist, just keep reading. Here are the 8 best ones we’ve selected for you.

1.Charles Lamb (1775-1834)

Charles Lamb was an English essayist, poet, and antiquarian. Although he first appeared as a poet, he gained fame and recognition as an essayist.

He started publishing his essays under the pseudonym Elia, in London Magazine, in 1820. These personal essays were collected as Essays of Elia (1823) and The Last Essays of Elia (1833).

The essays are deep but humorous, dealing with different aspects of human life. The bittersweet tone and the witty style of writing is what made Charles Lamb one of the most influential essayists of the 18th century.

2.Voltaire (1694-1778)

Voltaire was a French writer who produced work in all forms and shapes. He wrote essays, plays, poems, novels, pamphlets, and letters. He played a singular role in defining the eighteenth-century movement called the Enlightenment. (“Voltaire.”).  He’s considered to be one of the greatest French writers.

His work expressed criticism of:

  • Christianity
  • tyranny
  • cruelty of any kind

He was an advocate for freedom of speech and believed that authority of any kind, political or religious, should be questioned and challenged. His most famous work includes Lettres philosophiques (1734) and the satirical novel Candide (1759).

3.Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)

Thomas De Quincey was an English essayist and another remarkable person who marked 18th-century literature.

De Quincey was an active opium-user, with this addiction dating back from his college days, in the early 1800s. He worked as an editor and a translator but became widely famous for his Confessions of the English Opium-Eater.

Confessions were first published in the London Magazine in 1821 as an account of his personal struggles and experience with opium. In 1822, they were published as a book. It is still considered to be one of the masterpieces of English literature.

4.Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

Denis Diderot is the next 18th-century writer on our list. He was a French philosopher known for his art critic, writer, translator, and co-creating the Encyclopédie with Jean le Rond d'Alembert (“Denis Diderot | Biography, Philosophy, Works, Beliefs, Enlightenment, & Facts.”)

Mariah Pearson, a literature professor and editor at Get Good Grade, says, “Denis Diderot’s Letter on the Blind was published in 1749 but is still relevant today. The work exposed his doctrine of atheism, which led to his three-month incarceration.”

5.Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Samuel Johnson, also known as Dr. Johnson, was an English critic, biographer, essayist, poet, and lexicographer, regarded as one of the greatest figures of 18th-century life and letters. ("Samuel Johnson")

Johnson started contributing poetry and prose to The Gentlemen's Magazine in 1738. He published a series of satiric works that attacked the government of Sir Robert Walpole, who’s considered the first British prime minister.

He’s widely recognized for his most famous achievement, the poem London (1738), published anonymously. He’s also recognized for compiling the A Dictionary of the English Language.

Today, according to The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Johnson is the second most-quoted Englishman.

6.Washington Irving (1783-1859)

 Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat. His first published work was a collection of observational letters, published under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon in 1802.

The work that got him famous was The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (1819-1820). It’s a collection of 34 essays and short stories.  Still, his most famous work is two short stories found in this collection:

  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow(1820)
  • Rip Van Winkle(1819)

He was one of the first American writers to gain fame and recognition in Europe.

7.Hannah More (1745-1833)

Hannah More was a successful poet, playwright, and campaigner, she was a champion of social reform, female education, and the abolition of slavery. (“Who Was Hannah More?”)

She was born in Bristol and was a teacher at her father's school for girls. She soon became a part of the London literary elite and became a distinguished member of the Bluestockings group. It was an elite group of intelligent and educated women.

Slavery, a Poem (1788) is one of her most famous works. It deals with the slave trade and gives the abolition movement a public voice. 

8.William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

William Hazlitt was an English essayist, poet, literary critic, philosopher, and social commentator. He is best known for his humanistic essays. Today, he is considered to be one of the greatest critics and essayists in the history of English Literature.

Hazlitt's first book was published in 1805, under the title An Essay On the Principles of Human Action. As a journalist and essayist, he contributed to numerous magazines, such as The Times, The Examiner, The Edinburgh Review, the Yellow Dwarf, and the London Magazine.

In his essays, he wrote about politics, art, literature, and social responsibilities. He also wrote several books on literature, including Characters of Shakespeare (1817), A View of the English Stage (1818), English Poets (1818), and English Comic Writers (1819). (“William Hazlitt”)

Final Thoughts

As you can see, 18th-century essayists were remarkable, influential people who left a trace in the history of literature and made changes in society during their time. Their work can teach us about the 18th century social, political, and literature circumstances.

Hopefully, the list above will inspire you to start reading some of the 18th-century works that can change your perspective and serve as an educational tool. Use this list as a starting point and do additional research and reading on your own.

About the author:

Dorian Martin is a professional writer and blogger with years of experience covering topics that range from professional to personal improvement. He works as an editor and proofreader at get good grade service. His main goal and motivation is to help his readers achieve their life goals and find the key to their happiness.In his spare time, Dorian writes for his own business blog.

 

References

  1. Shank, J.B. “Voltaire.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 29 May 2020, plato.stanford.edu/entries/voltaire/.
  2. Folkenflik, Robert. "Samuel Johnson." Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 Dec. 2020,www.britannica.com/biography/Samuel-Johnson.
  3. Niklaus, Robert. “Denis Diderot | Biography, Philosophy, Works, Beliefs, Enlightenment, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Dec. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Denis-Diderot.
  4. “Who Was Hannah More?” National Trust, 18 Apr. 2018, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/tyntesfield/features/who-was-hannah-more.
  5. Simkin, John. “William Hazlitt.” Spartacus Educational, 1997, spartacus-educational.com/PRhazlitt.htm.