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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)

An Assay of the Essay

An Assay of the Essay.

It has been said—or it hasn't been said—it really doesn't matter, that the test of an essayist is his ability to turn out a literary lark in the plumage of a peacock, to strike the spark of profundity from the anvil of inanity, and to make silk persiflage from sow's ears. Perhaps agility is more important than ability.

Lamb did the trick with roast pork, but it is not recorded whether Hogg did it with roast Lamb. That doesn't matter, either. All that matters is that the essay is a form of literary thimble-rigging that has brought out the gypsy in many an otherwise reputable author.

But what is an essay. The verb “to essay” means to try, to attempt, to make experiment. So the essayist is a tryer, at least, which puts him in the same class as punters and absconding cashiers. As a matter of fact, he is a desperate fellow who stops at nothing from soup to nuts, from winkle's eyes to whale's teeth, from rheumatism to Bolshevikism, and from one darned thing to another.