Famous Essays in History
submitted by Colin Brennare

Throughout history, there have been many famous essays that have influenced public opinion.

However, not all essays are time sensitive. Many of these insightful pieces have withstood the test of time. Even today, readers can glean bits of knowledge that can be applied to life.

Below are several essays that were influential in their time, yet still offer insight for this generation.

Famous Essays

Reflections on Healthy Living

In 1786, in one of his famous essays Benjamin Franklin shared his thoughts about healthy sleeping patterns in his essay The Art of Procuring Pleasant Dreams. As an American statesman and scientist, he had a surprisingly accurate interpretation of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, several of his tips can be applied to life today.

  • “Exercise should precede meals, not immediately follow them. If, after exercise, we feed sparingly, the digestion will be easy and good.”
  • “Observe, however, that the quantities of food and exercise are relative things: those who move much may…eat more; those who use little exercise should eat little.”
  • “A number of persons crowded into a small room thus spoil the air in a few minutes.”

However, not all of his suggestions would be looked upon with favor by all. Imagine your spouse’s reaction to the following behavior in the middle of the night:

“When you are awakened by this uneasiness [excessive perspiration] and find you cannot easily sleep again, get out of bed, beat up and turn your pillow, shake the bedclothes well, with at least twenty shakes, then throw the bed open and leave it to cool; in the mean while, continuing undressed, walk about your chamber till your skin has had time to discharge its load.”

He does share some very encouraging messages. This particular comment would be pleasing to dwell upon before slumbering: “If, while we sleep, we can have any pleasant dreams, it is…so much added to the pleasure of life.”

Reflections on Relationships

Charles Darwin embarked on a scientific expedition around South America. Later, he shared his famous essay in his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life in 1859. Some of his most famous thoughts can be found in chapter four, “Natural Selection.”

While Mr. Darwin was referring to evolution of the species, his words could be applied to other contexts of life today. Too often we take relationships for granted. We don’t appreciate the comradely, love, and compassion of those dearest to us until they are gone. Standing by a loved one’s death bed is perhaps one of the worst times to feel these sentiments:

“We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past…ages, that we only see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were.

Ironically, Charles Darwin’s second book was titled The Descent of Man.

Reflections on Business

Henry David Thoreau, the father of American nature writing, penned a book titled Walden in 1854. This piece of writing shared some of his observations of life at Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Chapter 12, “The Battle of the Ants,” tells a tale of a vicious combat of red and black ants upon his woodpile.

Those who are enthralled with nature can appreciate the complexity and wonder Mr. Thoreau describes in this chapter. However, those aren’t the only people who can benefit from his writing. His words can just as easily be applied to life in the business world. How many entrepreneurs can relate to the following?

“They fought with more pertinacity than bulldogs. Neither manifested the least disposition to retreat. It was evident that their battle-cry was ‘Conquer or die.’ ”

After an intense day on the employment battlefield, many of us share these same feelings:

“I never learned which party was victorious, nor the cause of the war; but I felt for the rest of the day as if I had had my feelings excited and harrowed by witnessing the struggle, the ferocity and carnage, of a human battle before my door.

Reflections on Cultural Awareness

Booker T. Washington was born a slave and later became a prominent spokesperson for African American citizens. In 1895, he shared a famous speech titled The Atlanta Compromise Address at the Cotton States and International Exposition.

At the time, his thoughts were revolutionary. Since delivering them over 100 years ago, the importance of his words hasn’t diminished in the slightest. Mr. Washington calls for cultural awareness and acceptance of the races.

“To those of my race who…underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: “Cast down your bucket where you are”—cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded…Cast down your bucket among my people…you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen.”

Reflections on Parenting

Mark Twain is unquestionably one of America’s greatest novelists. However, he might not have been the best parent! Would you want him instructing your young ones? Mr. Twain shared his Advice to Youth with a group of young girls in 1882.

“I have a few things in my mind which I have often longed to say for the instruction of the young.”

  • On obedience - “Always obey your parents, whey they are present.”
  • On forgiveness - “If a person offend[s] you…simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick.”
  • On productivity - “A lark is really the best thing to get up with…If you get the right kind of lark…you can easily train him to get up at half past nine.”
  • On lying - “The young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable.”

This speech came smack dab between the success of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Perhaps now we understand a bit more about the logic behind Tom and Huck’s behavior!

No matter what century the reader lived in, everyone can appreciate and learn from these famous essays.

Throughout history, there have been many famous essays that have influenced public opinion and that still impact modern society. Today, more famous essays will be written that will echo through the halls of history in years to come.

(Colin Brennare is a full-time freelance content writer at Freshessays. He provides professional paper writing service and help with research on topics related to writing tips, education, history and college life. In his free time he likes to spend time reading classics and working on his bike in a garage.)


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