With the result that writing is made to seem boring and pointless. Dickens himself would be more interested in an essay about color or baseball. To answer that we have to go back almost a thousand years.Around 1100, Europe at last began to catch its breath after centuries of chaos, and once they had the luxury of curiosity they rediscovered what we call "the classics." The effect was rather as if we were visited by beings from another solar system. And after the lecture the most common form of discussion was the disputation.
But for obvious reasons no one wanted to give that answer. The first courses in English literature seem to have been offered by the newer colleges, particularly American ones.
The archaeological work being mostly done, it implied that those studying the classics were, if not wasting their time, at least working on problems of minor importance. Dartmouth, the University of Vermont, Amherst, and University College, London taught English literature in the 1820s.
The sort of writing that attempts to persuade may be a valid (or at least inevitable) form, but it's historically inaccurate to call it an essay. Trying To understand what a real essay is, we have to reach back into history again, though this time not so far. One can't have quite as little foresight as a river.
To Michel de Montaigne, who in 1580 published a book of what he called "essais." He was doing something quite different from what lawyers do, and the difference is embodied in the name. I always know generally what I want to write about.
That principle, like the idea that we ought to be writing about literature, turns out to be another intellectual hangover of long forgotten origins.
It's often mistakenly believed that medieval universities were mostly seminaries. And at least in our tradition lawyers are advocates, trained to take either side of an argument and make as good a case for it as they can.
Whether cause or effect, this spirit pervaded early universities.
The study of rhetoric, the art of arguing persuasively, was a third of the undergraduate curriculum.
Defending a position may be a necessary evil in a legal dispute, but it's not the best way to get at the truth, as I think lawyers would be the first to admit. The real problem is that you can't change the question.
And yet this principle is built into the very structure of the things they teach you to write in high school.