Essays From Addison edited by J H Fowler

NOBLE English prose, and even noble English essays, had been written long before Addison. But we are justified in regarding Addison and his friend Steele as the founders of the modern English essay and modern English prose ; and the larger share of the achievements was Addisons. It was he, more than any one else, who invented a "middle style," — something between the grave stately diction of formal writing and the free and easy speech of everyday ; a style suited, therefore, for addressing a wide circle of readers on a wide variety of subjects, unpretentious, admirably clear, dignified, but never stilted. This fact makes him still, as in Dr. Johnsons day, the best model for most of us. It is the "middle style" that is needed in almost all human intercourse — in the writing of essays, novels, histories, sermons, speeches, newspapers, letters and even as a model for conversation, to prevent it sinking into the merely trivial and slipshod, a petty exchange of personal remarks expressed in indifferent English eked out by slang. None can show us better than "the dear parson in the tye-wig" how social intercourse may be bright and sparkling, yet elevated and elevating, with a tendency to increase the happiness of those who take part in it, and to check unworthy thoughts and feelings.

But such influence is often best when it is most unconsciously given and received. It is good to read Addison first because he is full of charm; because we soon come to feel an affection for this silent, keen, kindly spectator of men; because he brings back to us vividly the vanished life of the early eighteenth century; because he created in Sir Roger de Coverley one of the most delightful characters in the whole range of English literature. If we sometimes seem to see the Spectator's eyes-grave, but with a twinkle in them — turned upon our own follies, and are willing to receive a playful rebuke or gentle hint from him, that will be another advantage to add to the rest.