The essay is a relatively modern genre, although its origins can be traced back to olden times. It’s developed importance to the modern ear. It’s possible that liberal thought and journalism have had a great influence in its development and hegemony.
Nowadays, the essay is defined as a literary genre, but the essay is actually reduced to a series of meanderings, most of the time in critical aspects where the author expresses his thoughts about determined subjects, or even without a specific subject.
What separates essays from other literary genres is a proper feature, and it’s suggested by its own name. The word essay comes from the Late Latin “exagium”, which means “act of thinking”. It’s also related to the origins of the word given to the testing of the quality of metals. Essaying is thinking, testing, recognizing and examining. So, the essay is a writing, usually brief, about diverse subjects. It’s not defined by its subject, but rather by the author’s attitude to it; deep down, it could be a hypothesis, an idea that’s being essayed. The essay is the product of long meditations and thoughts, and its sense of exploration, its audacity and originality are essential. The essay is the product of the mind’s adventures.
An essay is written in prose, it’s usually short, and expresses depth, maturity and sensitivity. It’s a personal interpretation of any subject, whether it’s philosophical, scientific, historical, literary, etc.
The way in which a subject is exposed and examined borders that of scientific work; didactic and critical. It doesn’t follow a rigorous and systematic order of exposition. The point of view taken by the author when dealing with the subject is predominant in the essay. The individual notes, the author’s feelings, tastes or aversions are what characterize an essay, coming close to lyrical poetry. What separates them is the language, which is more conceptual and expository in the essay, and more intuitive and lyrical in poetry.