Addison As A Writer
Essays From Addison edited by J H Fowler

1. Vocabulary. — There are more Latin derivatives than are in common use at the present day, but not so many as we meet with in Dr. Johnson and other writers of the middle and later parts of the eighteenth century. Addison does not avoid homely expressions when they suit his purpose e.g. "Our preachers stand stock-still" (p. 84). "He had better have let it alone" (p. 86). In grave passages — the Vision of Mirza or the Reflections in Westminster Abbey — the diction is naturally more ornate. Everywhere one is impressed with the writer's easy mastery of language: he chooses words from a full store, and is careful not to weary the ear by repetition of the same sound.

2. Sentences . — The construction of these is loose, not periodic; i.e. the qualifying clauses are not, as a rule, included within the sentence, but are "tacked on" afterwards. The periodic style has its own advantages over the loose; but the loose manner suggests the case of conversation, and is better adapted to informal arguments and descriptions.

3. Paragraphs . — In careful prose-writing each paragraph forms a separate whole: it has a central thought which gives it unity. It will be a good exercise to test our grasp of some of these essays by trying whether we can compress into a single sentence the main substance of each paragraph. But we must remember that Addison's method was deliberately discursive — to imitate the freedom with which conversation plays round and about a subject — and we must not expect to condense as successfully as we might if we applied the same process to a formal treatise.

4. Ornaments of Style . — These are apt to draw away attention from the matter to the manner, and the "middle style," which aims at simple and clear expression, uses them sparingly. Addison was fully alive to the beauty of Metaphor.

"A noble metaphor," he said, "when it is placed to an advantage, casts a kind of glory round it, and darts a lustre through a whole sentence."

A good example of a simple metaphor finely used occurs on p. 65, line 27:

"it is very unhappy for a man to be born in such a stormy amid tempestuous season."

Metaphors are most frequent in such allegorical essays as "Wisdom and Riches" No. 23.). Very noticeable is his humorous use of Similes:Whigs and Tories "engage when they meet as naturally as the elephant and the rhinoceros" (p. 46, 1. 32); cp. No. 3. throughout. The poetical use of Abstract for Concrete occurs appropriately in the elevated paragraph on p. 42:

"How beauty, strength and youth, with old age, weakness and deformity, lay undistinguished in the same promiscuous heap of matter."

Without being learned, or making pretensions to learning, Addison adds to the value and beauty of his essays by his wonderfuly apt Quotations from and Allusions to noble passages in literature. Homer, Virgil, Xenophon, Plutarch, Cicero (for "an old Greek or Latin author weighed down a whole library of moderns," p. 93) are laid under contribution; and of English writers Milton, Bacon, and Dryden. He makes many quotations from the Apocrypha.

5. Qualities of Style . — (l) Clearness was a virtue which Addison esteemed highly, and in which his own writing excels. No doubt his lucidity is partly due to the absence of profound, difficult, or complex thought. When a writer is struggling to express what has never been expressed in words before, obscurity is sometimes unavoidable. (2) The ease of Addison's manner has been mentioned: Prof. Courthope calls it "that perfection of well-bred ease which arises from a complete understanding between an author and his audience." It is this quality that makes Addison so perfect a model for the writing of essays. But the ease does not imply carelessness : there is evidence that it was achieved by considerable pains. (3) The delicious humour of the Coverley papers, and of others that describe contemporary manners, has contributed more than anything else to Addison's permanent popularity. (4) A special feature of this humour is the irony with which absurdities are gravely related as if they were quite natural and reasonable: e.g. the paper on Opera Lions, or the attribution of the writing of Greek and Hebrew epitaphs to modesty (p. 42, 1. 29). (5) The "rich and delicate fancy" of the loftier allegories, of the best Coverley papers, of the 'Adventures of a Shilling', is closely akin to poetic imagination. (6) Pathos he uses with great effect, though with admirable restraint. He does not "wear his heart upon the sleeve"; yet few meditations are more touching than the reflections in the Abbey, few pages in English literature more genuinely moving than that which records Sir Roger's death.

7. Addison's Aim in his Essays . — This is best described in Essay No. 7. Addison used the new literary form of the newspaper to educate the society of his day — to improve the morals of the upper class and the manners of the middle class. The dramatic fiction of the Spectator's Club assisted him in his design to criticise the life of the metropolis, to show how the coffee-houses of the day — there were three thousand of them in London alone — might become centres of an ideal social intercourse, and how women, too, might learn to despise frivolity and "join the beauties of the mind to the ornaments of dress."