Addison: His style of writing

Introduction: Joseph Addison is one of the greatest English essayists. His literary reputation rests upon the essays from The Spectator and The Tatler. As an essayist he earned wide acclaim. He is regarded as one of the greatest masters of English prose and as one of the greatest prose stylists.

Middle Style: Addison’s prose style has been praised as middle style. It is never slipshod or obscure or unmelodious. He chose the words carefully for their meaning and music. His style suits the subject matter. According to Dr. Johnson, Addison prose is the model of the middle style. It is pure without scrupulosity and exact without apparent elaboration. It is always equable and always easy. Here there is no room for glowing words or pointed sentences. The prose of Addison is thus suitable for miscellaneous purpose. It is suitable for newspaper and political work, for history and for biography. This style can be compared with the style of Swift and Defoe.

Sentence and Syntax: Addison does not use Latin words not loosely constructed sentences. His sentences are compact, simple and short. In this way Addison’s syntax was different from the Elizabethan way of writing. In the Elizabethan prose the syntax was loose and complex. This prose was dull and monotonous. To keep the grace of prose was the aim of Addison. Thus he made it natural, simple and nimble.

Lucidity and Precision: Addison’s syntax is rapid and spontaneous. He wrote with effortless ease. His essays have a quiet and sustained music. It is the result of a consistently arranged syntax. Addison is not deliberately autobiographical. But the sweetness of his temperament is reflected in the steady, fluent and tranquil flow of style. His prose bears the qualities of his temperament. In short, Addison taught the lesson of lucidity and precision.

Humour and Satire: The humour reflected in Addison’s writings is of rare order. It is mildly ironical, tolerant and urbane. He believed that humour and satire are essential for self correction. Addison is popular as the sanest satirist. He is essentially good natured. Thus there is no ferocity and savagery in his satire. His humour and satire was the product of his Catholic temperament. They are tinged with a generous and forgiving quality rather than tainted with personal malice. It is not a weapon to cause injury. But it is a means to cleanse the society to its follies. Addison’s laughter is humane. It is full of pity for the subject. Addison disdained personal satire. In the twenty third paper of The Spectator he says that satire stabs to man’s reputation. It gives an incurable wound. If is not tempered with virtue and humanity, it is destructive. Thus wherever Addison found affectation, he directed the rays of comic spirit on it. In him satire and humour run so close that they almost bend each other.

Characterisation: Addison’s art of characterization is conditioned by his wit and humour. It is visible in the character of Sir Roger. Sir Roger is his best attempt at character writing. The characters described in The Spectator represent a class of society. The Spectator is the central character. It is Addison himself who observes and interprets life around him. Thus Addison has become one of the forerunners of English novelists.

The Use of Metaphor: Addison’s use of metaphors is praiseworthy. He used it to impart clarity to his style. A good example of a simple metaphor is, ‘It is very unhappy for a man to be born in such stormy and tempestuous season.
Conclusion: The charge of mediocrity has often been brought against Addison’s prose. There may be some truth in such a charge. But Addison’s significance in the history of English prose can’t be denied. He saved it from the excess of his predecessors and imparted to it neatness, precision and lucidity. No doubt, he is one of the greatest makers of English prose style.


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