A periodical essay is a type of prose non-fiction published in a periodical. A periodical is a type of serial publication such as a magazine or newspaper that appears at regular intervals. It often is compiled by a publisher or editor by assembling works commissioned from or submitted by several authors. In England, periodicals flourished from the 18th century on, and would run a wide mixture of works in different genres, including serialized fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, letters, and news. Essays were distinguished from other genres by being relatively long, reflective, and although perhaps -- although not always -- inspired by contemporary events, not straightforward reporting of those events but either opinion or analysis.
A periodical essay was a new literary piece that appeared in the 1700s. These essays appeared in documents that were readily available to the public. These essays were fairly short and dealt with topics such as manners. Many people could read these essays because they appeared in publications that most people could afford to purchase. Women were more likely to read them than men. These essays tended to appeal to middle-class people. These people valued learning but wouldn’t be called intellectuals or experts.
The development of the periodical essay can be traced to a publication known as The Athenian Mercury. In the beginning, The Athenian Mercury was more of a question and answer format. Later publications such as The Tatler and The Spectator had more periodical essays in them.