Essays

Every two weeks we publish a new long-form essay which seeks to offer insight and reflection upon public domain works and the oft overlooked histories which surround them. You’ll find pieces on a wide and eclectic range of subjects – from a history of the smile in portraiture to the case of the woman who claimed to give birth to rabbits. Our contributors are drawn from an equally varied pool, from leading writers and scholars – such as Julian Barnes and Jack Zipes – to history and literature PhD students working with fascinating material and seeking an outlet for their more unusual finds. If you’d like to submit (or if you simply have an idea for a good subject) then please visit our submissions page, we’d love to hear from you.

Want the essays off the screen and onto your bookshelf? Then look no further than our “Selected Essays” series.
See here for more info.

The Polyglot of Bologna

Michael Erard takes a look at The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, a book exploring the extraordinary talent of the 19th century Italian cardinal who was reported to be…more

Seeing Joyce

The “Bloomsday” of 2012 – 108 years after Leopold Bloom took his legendary walk around Dublin on the 16th June 1904 – was the first since the works of James…more

The Krakatoa Sunsets

When a volcano erupted on a small island in Indonesia in 1883, the evening skies of the world glowed for months with strange colours. Richard Hamblyn explores a lit…more

Lost Libraries

In the latter half of the 17th century the English polymath Thomas Browne wrote Musaeum Clausum, an imagined inventory of ‘remarkable books, antiquities, pictures a…more

The Mysteries of Nature and Art

Julie Gardham, Senior Assistant Librarian at University of Glasgow’s Special Collections Department, takes a look at the book that was said to have spurred a youn…more

The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

Andrew McConnell Stott, author of The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, introduces the life and memoirs of the most famous and celebrated of English clowns. Few bi…more

On Benjamin’s Public (Oeuvre)

On the run from the Nazis in 1940, the philosopher, literary critic and essayist Walter Benjamin committed suicide in the Spanish border town of Portbou. In 2011, o…more

Dog Stories from The Spectator

Dogs who shop, bury frogs, and take 800-mile solo round trips by rail – writer and broadcaster Frank Key gives a brief tour of the strange and delightful Dog Storie…more

Labillardière and his Relation

When the French explorer Lapérouse went missing, a search voyage was put together to retrace his course around the islands of Australasia. On the mission was the n…more

Bugs and Beasts Before the Law

Murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in Church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal – theoretical psy…more