Of all forms of literature, however, the essay is the one which least calls for the use of long words. The principle which controls it is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure. Everything in an essay must be subdued to that end. It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed, with its last. In the interval we may pass through the most various experiences of amusement, surprise, interest, indignation; we may soar to the heights of fantasy with Lamb or plunge to the depths of wisdom with Bacon, but we must never be roused. The essay must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world.--Virginia Woolf "The Modern Essay"
I am sometimes told that what is distinctive of these Digressions is that as a philosophical essayist, I often mix autobiography and philosophy. These remarks conflate, I fear, perhaps necessarily, my personality with my biography. My second thought is that what's truly stylistically distinctive, in almost gimmicky fashion, about my Impressions is that nearly all of them are prompted by and in dialogue with other people's reflections.
Virginia Woolf (recall) suggests that the essayist is a kind of pleasing magician who produces intense experiences, but no action (we must never be roused). That is, an essayist either belongs to the company that divert (or entertain) or those that prompt contemplation (or both), but not, say, to the life of action (e.g., politics, engineering, gardening, etc.). So, an essayist can qua essayist be a theorist even a systematizing theorist (although not offer a completed system), but not a theoretician.
To be sure, the essay, while belonging to the realm of truth also is responsive to public opinion ("as the conditions change so the essayist, most sensitive of all plants to public opinion.") That is, the essay is always a non-autonomous response to factors beyond the essayist's control -- a crooked mirror, but a mirror nevertheless -- even if, as we can grant Seneca, that such limited starting points are turn-stiles toward the path of truth.
Most essays do not generate pleasing magic in their readers. Woolf notes, correctly, but imprudently that,
So great a feat is seldom accomplished, though the fault may well be as much on the reader's side as on the writer's.