The necessary conceit of the essayist must be that in writing down what is obvious to him he is not wasting his reader’s time. The value of what he does will depend on the quality of his perception, not on the length of his manuscript. Too many dull books about literature would have been tolerably long essays; too many dull long essays would have been reasonably interesting short ones; too many short essays should have been letters to the editor. If the essayist has a literary personality his essay will add up to something all of a piece. If he has not, he may write fancily titled books until doomsday and do no good. Most of the criticism that matters at all has been written in essay form. This fact is no great mystery: what there is to say about literature is very important, but there just isn’t all that much of it. Literature says most things itself, when it is allowed to.
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