Famous Briton Essayists

People may pass off essays as elaborate and extensive but ask reading aficionados and they would tell you that essays are the greatest pedigree of English literature – the real jewel in the crown. Essays are written to amuse, entertain and educate readers about a subject or an issue close to the heart of the essayists. Though they aren’t as much read as short stories, book lovers would confirm that no amount of reading can give a sense of gratification as an essay reading. Essays are mostly written in varying genres, right from comedy, fiction, history or current events. Furthermore, they may either be written as stand-alone pieces or grouped together in collections.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 George Orwell

George Orwell
6
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: June 25, 1903
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Motihari, Bihar, India
Died: January 21, 1950

The king of dystopia and satire, George Orwell, the pen name adopted by Eric Arthur Blair, was a well-known novelist and critic of the 20th century. A man with a strong mind of his own, Orwell never backed down from stating his views on the socio-political climate he lived in, which he expressed profusely through his influential essays and novels.

 2 T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot
4
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: September 26, 1888
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died: January 4, 1965
American-born British poet T. S. Eliot is best remembered for his poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, and Ash Wednesday, and his plays such as Murder in the Cathedral. He won the Nobel Prize for literature and became a prominent figure of Modernist poetry.  

 3 Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie
4
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: June 19, 1947
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Salman Rushdie is a British Indian novelist whose work Midnight's Children is widely considered the best novel of all Booker Prize winners. In 2007, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to literature. In 2008, he was ranked 13th in the 50 greatest British writers since 1945 list published by The Times.

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 4 Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson
5
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 18, 1709
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lichfield, England
Died: December 13, 1784

Essayist, biographer, lexicographer, and literary critic Samuel Johnson, or Dr. Johnson, is remembered for his A Dictionary of the English Language and Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. He was also a poet, a playwright, and a staunch Tory. His mannerisms indicated he had Tourette syndrome.

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 5 W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden
4
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 21, 1907
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: York, England
Died: September 28, 1973

W. H. Auden was an Anglo-American poet. His poetry was noted for its technical achievement and versatility. He wrote poems on love, political and social themes, and cultural and psychological themes. Throughout his career, Auden was both influential and controversial. His personal life also attracted attention as he had sexual relationships with men, which was unusual at the time.

 6 P B Shelley

P B Shelley
4
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 4, 1792
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Horsham, Sussex, England
Died: July 8, 1822
Legendary English Romantic poetry P.B. Shelley is remembered for his masterpieces such as Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, and Prometheus Unbound. He was known for his poetic imagery, and his popularity soared after his premature death due to drowning while boating at age 29. 

 7 Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: December 3, 1857
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Berdychiv, Ukraine
Died: August 3, 1924

Joseph Conrad was a Polish-British writer. Considered one of the greatest English-language novelists of all time, Conrad is credited with bringing a non-English sensibility into English-language literature. Many of his works have inspired several films, TV series, and video games. His anti-heroic characters and narrative style have influenced many authors like Salman Rushdie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Eliot.

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 8 Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: March 11, 1952
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cambridge, England
Died: May 11, 2001

English author, screenwriter, and essayist, Douglas Adams, is most remembered for his comedy science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As a screenwriter, he wrote two stories for the TV series Doctor Who. He advocated for environmentalism and spoke about environmental issues in his non-fiction radio series Last Chance to See.

 9 Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift
4
Famous As: Satirist & Essayist
Birthdate: November 30, 1667
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Dublin, Ireland
Died: October 19, 1745

Eighteenth-century essayist, poet, and pamphleteer Jonathan Swift is remembered for his iconic works such as A Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, and Gulliver's Travels. One of the world’s greatest satirists, he gave rise to the deadpan Swiftian style. He had also been the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

 10 John Ruskin

John Ruskin
4
Famous As: Art Critic and Painter
Birthdate: February 8, 1819
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: England
Died: January 20, 1900

The leading English art critic of the Victorian era, John Ruskin was a hugely influential figure in the latter half of the 19th century. Also a philosopher and prominent social thinker, he wrote on varied subjects like geology, architecture, education, botany, myth, ornithology, literature, and political economy. He founded the charitable trust Guild of St George.

 11 E. M. Forster

E. M. Forster
6
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 1, 1879
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Marylebone, London, England
Died: June 7, 1970

Best known for his iconic novels Howard’s End and A Passage to India, British author E. M. Forster dealt with themes such as class division and gender. Born in England and educated at Cambridge, he had also spent some time as a secretary to Maharaja Tukojirao III of India.

 12 Gilbert K. Chesterton

Gilbert K. Chesterton
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: May 29, 1874
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Kensington, England
Died: June 14, 1936

Gilbert K. Chesterton was an English writer, philosopher, and art critic. A prolific writer, he composed around 80 books, hundreds of poems, around 200 short stories, and 4,000 essays. Often referred to as the "prince of paradox", he had as many detractors as he had admirers. He is considered a successor to Victorian authors like Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin.

 13 Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith
5
Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Essayist
Birthdate: October 25, 1975
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: London

Author Zadie Smith was born in London to a British father and a Jamaican mother. Her bestselling debut novel, White Teeth, won numerous awards and catapulted her to fame, while her third novel, On Beauty, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She has also taught fiction at New York University.

 14 Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb
4
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: January 31, 1775
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Inner Temple, London, England
Died: December 27, 1834

Renowned British essayist Charles Lamb was a major figure of the Romantic period. He is best remembered for his Essays of Elia and his book of abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays, Tales from Shakespeare, which he co-wrote with his sister, Mary. He had also once spent time in a mental facility.

 15 Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold
4
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: December 24, 1822
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Laleham, United Kingdom
Died: April 15, 1888

Iconic Victorian poet and literary critic Matthew Arnold is best remembered for his classic essay Culture and Anarchy, which was a social critique of the Victorian era. He also penned poems such as Dover Beach and Sohrab and Rustum. He had also been a school inspector for over 3 decades.

 16 Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 25, 1917
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Harpurhey, Lancashire, England
Died: November 22, 1993

 17 Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb
8
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: 1960 AD
Birthplace: Amioun, Lebanon
Lebanese-American scholar and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb is known for his work on risk management through uncertainty and probability. His five-volume essay Incerto included his bestselling book The Black Swan. Named to Forbes’s Most Influential Management Gurus list, he is the co-editor-in-chief of the academic journal Risk and Decision Analysis.

 18 Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison
3
Famous As: Essayist & Poet
Birthdate: May 1, 1672
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Milston, United Kingdom
Died: June 17, 1719
Best known for his articles in the iconic 18th-century periodicals The Tatler and The Spectator, English essayist Joseph Addison had a lifelong collaboration with Richard Steele. Educated at Oxford, he excelled in Latin and classics. A prominent Whig, he mostly wrote on the social and cultural trends of his time.

 19 Maajid Nawaz

Maajid Nawaz
4
Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: November 2, 1977
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England

As a young boy, Maajid Nawaz had frequent clashes with the skinheads of Essex. Born in England, the SOAS and LSE alumnus had a 4-year stint in an Egyptian jail for his association with the Islamic extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. He now promotes secular Islam and has also advised David Cameron.

 20 China Miéville

China Miéville
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 6, 1972
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Norwich, England

 21 Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel
4
Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Essayist, Film critic, Poet lawyer, Literary critic
Birthdate: July 6, 1952
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Glossop

British author Hilary Mantel initially studied law at LSU and then concentrated on her writing career after moving to Botswana with her geologist husband. Her Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, later catapulted her to fame. She divorced and remarried her husband later.

 22 Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby
4
Famous As: Author & Editor
Birthdate: April 17, 1957
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Redhill

British author Nick Hornby is best known for his bestselling books Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, all of which were later made into movies. A Cambridge alumnus, he had begun as a freelance journalist for publications such as GQ. He is also known for his music reviews.

 23 Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 31, 1979
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Barking, Essex, England, UK

Daniel Tammet grew up having seizures and was later diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. A rare prodigious savant, he set a record by reciting the value of pi to 22,514 decimal places. He is best known for his memoir Born on a Blue Day and has also launched the language-learning site Optimnem.

 24 Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thomas Babington Macaulay
3
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: October 25, 1800
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Leicestershire, England
Died: December 28, 1859

A prominent Whig and essayist Thomas Babington Macaulay is best remembered for his 5-volume History of England. Though a qualified lawyer, he never took it up as a career. As part of his administrative work in India later, he introduced English as the chief medium of instruction in schools.

 25 Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 24, 1890
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Roseau, Dominica, British West Indies
Died: May 14, 1979

Born in Dominica, to a Welsh father and a Creole mother, Jean Rhys grew up to be a celebrated author. She soared to fame with her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which was inspired by the tale of Jane Eyre’s “madwoman in the attic.” She died before completing her memoir.

 26 William Hazlitt

William Hazlitt
6
Famous As: English Writer & Literary Critic
Birthdate: April 10, 1778
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Maidstone, Kent, England
Died: September 18, 1830

English essayist and critic William Hazlitt is remembered for his characteristic humanism in his works. Initially aspiring to be a painter, he traveled to Paris but later deviated to philosophy and metaphysics. Though he penned iconic works such as The Spirit of the Age, he spent his later life in oblivion.

 27 Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau
3
Famous As: First female sociologist
Birthdate: June 12, 1802
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Norwich, Norfolk, England
Died: June 27, 1876

Regarded by many as the first female sociologist, Harriet Martineau was a prominent 19th-century social theorist, classical economist, and intellectual who penned the iconic work The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. She was partially deaf and had lost her sense of taste and smell in childhood.

 28 Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: October 5, 1949
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: East Acton, West (London sub region) London, England, United Kingdom

English author and critic Peter Ackroyd is mostly known for his novels that depict the history of London. The Cambridge and Yale alumnus had initially worked at The Spectator. Apart from writing award-winning novels such as Hawksmoor, he has also penned biographies of T.S. Eliot and Dickens, among others.

 29 Walter Bagehot

Walter Bagehot
3
Famous As: Journalist, businessman, and essayist, who wrote extensively about government, economics, literature and race.
Birthdate: February 3, 1826
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Langport, Somerset, England
Died: March 24, 1877

Born to Stuckey's Bank MD Walter Bagehot was initially part of his father’s shipping and banking business. He later became the editor-in-chief of The Economist and married the publication’s founder James Wilson’s daughter. He penned path-breaking works such as Lombard Street and The English Constitution and co-established National Review.

 30 Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 3, 1878
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Lambeth, Surrey, England
Died: April 9, 1917

Educated at Oxford, poet Edward Thomas spent a considerable time working rather reluctantly as a journalist and penning nature studies and critiques of 19th-century authors. An encounter with Robert Frost inspired him to write poems. He was killed in action in Arras, France, during World War I.

 31 Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt
3
Famous As: English Essayist, Poet & Critic
Birthdate: October 19, 1784
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Southgate, London, England
Died: August 28, 1859

Known for poems such as Abou Ben Adhem, 19th-century English poet, critic, and essayist Leigh Hunt had founded the newspaper The Examiner, with his brother. Apart from critiquing the politics, theater, and art of his time, he also criticized Prince Regent George, an act that put him behind bars briefly.

 32 Walter Pater

Walter Pater
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 4, 1839
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Stepney, London, England
Died: July 30, 1894

Nineteenth-century critic and essayist Walter Pater redefined aestheticism with his idea of "art for art’s sake." Though initially interested in a church career, he later studied classics and began writing reviews on Renaissance art. Marius the Epicurean remains his most notable work. Some of his works reveal his homosexuality.

 33 James Wood

James Wood
3
Famous As: Writer, Literary critic, University teacher
Birthdate: November 1, 1965
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Durham, England

Harvard literary criticism professor and The New Yorker staff writer James Wood is known for his essay volumes such as The Broken Estate. He had started his career writing book reviews for The Guardian and slowly rose to be its chief literary critic. He was associated with The New Republic.

 34 Thomas De Quincey

Thomas De Quincey
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 15, 1785
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Manchester
Died: December 8, 1859

Essayist Thomas De Quincey is best remembered for his iconic book Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which initially appeared in the London Magazine. The work was an autobiographical account of his own addiction to opium, which he had begun consuming to help him deal with the pain of his facial neuralgia.

 35 Stephen Spender

Stephen Spender
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: February 28, 1909
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Kensington, London, England
Died: July 16, 1995

English poet and critic Stephen Spender mostly dealt with themes such as social issues and class struggle. He had also been an editor for Encounter and Horizon. He later taught at various institutes and also became the first non-American poetry consultant of the U.S. Library of Congress. He was knighted, too.

 36 Hannah More

Hannah More
3
Famous As: Writer, Poet, Essayist
Birthdate: February 2, 1745
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Fishponds
Died: September 7, 1833

English religious author Hannah More soared to literary fame with the release of Village Politics, penned under the pseudonym Will Chip. Its popularity made her write an entire series of tracts that educated the poor. She also established clubs and schools, apart from opposing slavery along with the Clapham Sect.

 37 Alan Garner

Alan Garner
3
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: October 17, 1934
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Congleton, United Kingdom

Best known for his children’s fantasy novels and retellings of British folk legends, Alan Garner grew up as a sickly child but was later drafted into the Royal Artillery. His best-known works include The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which led to a trilogy. He has also been awarded the OBE.

 38 Perry Anderson

Perry Anderson
3
Famous As: Intellectual, historian and essayist
Birthdate: September 11, 1938
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England

 39 Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti
3
Famous As: Former author who received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1981
Birthdate: July 25, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Ruse, Bulgaria
Died: August 14, 1994

Bulgarian-born author and Nobel laureate Elias Canetti interestingly became one of the greatest authors in German, his third language. Though equipped with a doctoral degree in chemistry, he gained fame for his iconic works such as The Tower of Babel and Crowds and Power, which focused on crowd psychology.

 40 Timothy Garton Ash

Timothy Garton Ash
3
Famous As: Journalist, Historian, Writer, Essayist
Birthdate: July 12, 1955
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: London

Contemporary historian and Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash dabbles in a variety of research interests, such as communism, free speech, and the EU’s dynamics with the rest of the world. He has penned works such as Facts Are Subversive and is a regular columnist at The Guardian.

 41 Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: February 11, 1957
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Oxford, England

A descendant of Indian Gujarati author, Mahipatram Nilkanth, British-born author and travel writer Pico Iyer was educated at the prestigious Eton, Oxford, and Harvard. He is known for his contribution to Time magazine and for his bestselling travel-themed books such as The Open Road and The Art of Stillness.

 42 Max Beerbohm

Max Beerbohm
3
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: August 24, 1872
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: May 20, 1956

Renowned caricaturist and essayist Max Beerbohm was the younger half-sibling of popular stage actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The Oxford alumnus succeeded George Bernard Shaw as a drama critic of the Saturday Review. Zuleika Dobson remains his only novel. He had been a radio broadcaster, too. Rumors claimed he was homosexual.

 43 Robert Faurisson

Robert Faurisson
3
Famous As: British-born French academic who became best known for Holocaust denial.
Birthdate: January 25, 1929
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Shepperton, England
Died: October 21, 2018

British-born Robert Faurisson was interested in classical languages since his early days and had taught French literature at the University of Lyon. He later gained notoriety as a chief Holocaust denier. He also raised questions on the authenticity of Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s memoir and was later banned from teaching.

 44 Auberon Alexander Waugh

Auberon Alexander Waugh
3
Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: November 17, 1939
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Dulverton, England
Died: January 16, 2001

Novelist Auberon Alexander Waugh was the second-born child and eldest son of author Evelyn Waugh. While working for the Royal Horse Guards in Cyprus, he almost died due to a gun accident. He had also worked for The Spectator and The Telegraph Group and gained fame for his Private Eye diaries.

 45 Benjamin Jowett

Benjamin Jowett
3
Famous As: Tutor
Birthdate: April 15, 1817
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Camberwell, London, England
Died: October 1, 1893

Proving himself to be a brilliant classical scholar in school, Benjamin Jowett gained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was eventually elected a master and vice-chancellor. The 19th-century academic and Anglican theologian is remembered for his translation of The Dialogues of Plato and other classical texts.

 46 Al Alvarez

Al Alvarez
3
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: August 5, 1929
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: September 23, 2019

Best known for works such as The Savage God, which spoke about suicide, and the psychological thriller Day of Atonement, Al Alvarez was educated at Oxford and later became the youngest Christian Gauss lecturer at Princeton. His poems and other works carried themes of love and loss.

 47 Keith Waterhouse

Keith Waterhouse
3
Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: February 6, 1929
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Hunslet, Leeds,, England, United Kingdom
Died: September 4, 2009

English novelist and playwright, Keith Spencer Waterhouse is noted for his ability to create comedies even out of unpleasant situations. Leaving school at fifteen, he eventually became a columnist in established London papers like Punch and Daily Mirror. He earned international fame with his second novel, Billy Liar. He is also known for his campaigning against color bar and  against decline in the standards of modern English.

 48 John Middleton Murry

John Middleton Murry
2
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: August 6, 1889
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: March 12, 1957

Author and essayist John Middleton Murry had penned countless essays and about 40 books in his lifetime. Better known as the husband of author Katherine Mansfield and a friend of D.H. Lawrence, he was inspired by both. He had also been an editor of Rhythm and had co-launched The Adelphi.

 49 Lionel Johnson

Lionel Johnson
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: March 15, 1867
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Broadstairs, England
Died: October 4, 1902

Poet and critic Lionel Johnson was part of the 1890s’ tragic generation, with themes of decadence prevailing in his works. Best known for his study on Thomas Hardy, he was a closeted homosexual and was plagued by alcoholism. It is believed he died after falling and suffering a skull fracture.

 50 Thomas Overbury

Thomas Overbury
2
Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: June 18, 1581
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Compton Scorpion, Warwickshire, England
Died: September 14, 1613

Sir Thomas Overbury, English poet and essayist, is probably best known for his 1614 poem Wife, which describes the virtues one should demand of the woman he is going to marry. Interpreted as an indirect attack on Lady Essex, a divorcee whom his mentor, Viscount Rochester, was to marry, it led to his imprisonment and ultimate murder by slow poisoning.

English literature has had a plethora of essayists who have only raised the standard of the language through their literary pieces. While Robert Burton and Sir Thomas Browne acted as torchbearers of the genre, the 19th century saw a proliferation of greatest like William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey. Interestingly, essayists used the power of the genre to express in varying themes, right from political confrontations to new movements in art and culture, light or fun-themed essays to literary criticisms. 20th century Britain saw the rise of greatest like TS Eliot, Virginia Woolfe and so on. Read this section to find in details about the life and works of famous Briton essayists.