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From: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

 Es·say n.; pl. Essays
 1. An effort made, or exertion of body or mind, for the performance of anything; a trial; attempt; as, to make an essay to benefit a friend. “The essay at organization.”
 2. Lit. A composition treating of any particular subject; -- usually shorter and less methodical than a formal, finished treatise; as, an essay on the life and writings of Homer; an essay on fossils, or on commerce.
 3. An assay. See Assay, n. [Obs.]
 Syn: -- Attempt; trial; endeavor; effort; tract; treatise; dissertation; disquisition.