Alexander Smith

Biography

(1830-1867)

Essays by Alexander Smith

Books and gardens

In my garden I spend my days; in my library I spend my nights. My interests are divided between my geraniums and my books. With the flower I am in the present; with the book I am in the past.

Christmas

The face of Christmas glows all the brighter for the cold. The heart warms as the frost increases. Estrangements which have embittered the whole year, melt in to-night's hospitable smile.

Of death and the fear of dying

In our warm imaginative youth, death is far removed from us, and attains thereby a certain picturesqueness. The grim thought stands in the ideal world as a ruin stands in a blooming landscape.

On dreams and dreaming

If a man wishes to know his own secret opinion of himself, he had better take cognizance of his dreams.

Dreamthorp

This place suits my whim, and I like it better year after year. As with everything else, since I began to love it I find it gradually growing beautiful.

An essay on an old subject

Youth is a lyrical poet, middle age a quiet essayist, fond of recounting experiences and of appending a moral to every incident.

Essayists, old and new

A man’s power in literature, as in everything else, is best measured by his accomplishment, just as his stature is best measured by his coffin.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Chaucer is admitted on all hands to be a great poet, but, by the general public at least, he is not frequently read. He is like a cardinal virtue, a good deal talked about, a good deal praised, honoured by a vast amount of distant admiration, but with little practical acquaintance.

On the importance of a man to himself

Vanity, which really helps to keep the race alive, has been treated harshly by the moralists and satirists. It does not quite deserve the hard names it has been called.

A lark’s flight

To be publicly put to death, for whatever reason, must ever be a serious matter. It is always bitter, but there are degrees in its bitterness.

Men of letters

I am afraid that the profession of letters interferes with the elemental feelings of life; and I am afraid, too, that in the majority of cases this interference is not justified by its results.

A shelf in my bookcase

It may be said that the books of which I have been speaking attain to the highest literary excellence by favour of simplicity and unconsciousness.

On vagabonds

We lose a great deal by foolish hauteur. No man is worth much who has not a touch of the vagabond in him.

William Dunbar

He exists in a region to which rumour and conjecture have never penetrated. He was long neglected by his countrymen, and was brought to light as if by accident.

On the writing of essays

The essay-writer is a chartered libertine, and a law unto himself. A quick ear and eye, an ability to discern the infinite suggestiveness of common things, a brooding meditative spirit, are all that the essayist requires.
Patrick Madden's New Book
Quotidiana by Patrick Madden

Quotidiana site founder Patrick Madden has just published a book of his own personal essays, including pieces formerly published in the Best American Spiritual Writing and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies. If you enjoy the classical essays on this site, you'll enjoy these contemporary ruminations as well. Soon there'll be a web page here with further information, but for now, you can find out more (and perhaps purchase a copy) at Amazon.com.

"Patrick Madden is an essayist of verve, passion, wit, and dependable moral compass. Quotidiana drew me in powerfully, from page to page and from pleasure to pleasure." —Ian Frazier

2011 Symposium on the Essay
Welcome Table Press Symposium on the Essay

Friend of Quotidiana Kim Dana Kupperman's Welcome Table Press is hosting a one-day symposium at Fordham University on Saturday, October 15th, 2011. In Praise of the Essay: Practice & Form will feature talks and discussions by Phillip Lopate, Robin Hemley, Barbara Hurd, and more.

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