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their own persons, would evidently have been to assume an authority beyond their years. In no one point does the fine humor which always preserved Addison from absurdity appear more plainly than in the assumption by these men in early middle life of an age which should give their utterances weight.
The age of the Spectator, as well as the sketch of his personal career in the first paper, was a deliberate fiction. The broader traits which he displayed through the whole career of his journal were very probably genuine. Addison certainly wrote the passage in which the Spectator introduces himself; with equal certainty he had no direct hand in more than half of the papers which followed. Very clearly, however, the character of the Spectator was generally maintained throughout the series with a consistency which has been less remarked than it deserves. One still hears much of the characters of Sir Roger de Coverley and of Will Honeycomb, but little concerning the personal character of the Spectator himself. As one reads his lucubrations, however, one grows insensibly to feel that he is as distinctly individualized as any personage in English fiction; his individuality is generally unrecognized only because it is so contemplatively unobtrusive.
As such it has much in common with Addison's own. Characteristic, too, of Addison as well as of the Spectator are the traits which define themselves for whoever reads paper after paper. The full effect of these papers may best be appreciated nowadays by a deliberate effort to revive the conditions under which they originally appeared. Keep your Spectator at hand. Turn to it once a day, and read, in the order of their appearance, one paper at a time. A fortnight of such daily intercourse with the Spectator as was the delight of London in the time of Queen Anne will teach you more about him than months of elaborate, detailed study. You will grow to know him as people knew John Leech thirty years ago, as more lately we
ourselves knew George du Maurier. You may not be able precisely to define what sort of personage this friendly old Spectator is; but you will know him much as you know real people. You will feel his constant good-breeding - a trait in which he has never been surpassed; you will learn to appreciate his peculiar humor, which never quite makes you laugh, but always engages your sympathy, and always keeps him from becoming ridiculous; you will feel his extremely English conventionality, his superficial philosophy, his avoidance of any. thing transcendental or passionate ; yet, for all his limits, you will by and by feel a dim regret that the gentlemen of to-day can never be quite what was incarnate in the gentlemen of the old school. You will find for yourselves, no doubt, other traits than these ; for each human being must find in every other whom he comes to know something peculiar to himself. Insensibly you will make for yourself a new and a lasting friend. And this friend will be Joseph Addison.
Through his eyes, meanwhile, you will have seen, with a vividness hardly before paralleled in English literature, what the actual surface of life was like in the days when he wrote. Earlier writers and later have seen much farther than he into the depths of human nature and of spiritual experience. None before him, and few since, have so admirably noted those things in human affairs which meet the eye, and which must give the data from which more profound philosophizing should start. Quietly approving simple virtues, quietly making fun of petty vices, generally gliding over the surface of deeper things, he will always put you in a temper that shall do you good. Nowadays, we presently see, such literature would surely take a more elaborate form. Between Addison's time and ours has grown, and flourished, and begun to decay that notable literary fact, the English novel. In those traits of the Spectator on which we have touched one may find the germs not only of the periodical literature which was to come but also of a great school of fiction.
Perry's English Literature in the Eighteenth Centuryadmi rably sets forth the general traits of Addison's criticism. Independent in motive, personally sincere, it is in substance limited by the conventional traditions of his time. His literary criti
was essentially Aristotelian : there were ideal standards with which whatever you should judge must be compared — to stand or fall accordingly. While Addison's own remarks are throughout of historic value, symbolizing with more than usual precision the conditions of life which produced them, Addison seems never to have dreamed that literature could be regarded as a phase of history, varying with the course of human affairs. To him literary merit was a positive, dogmatic thing. As much as any man, indeed, he reveals the historical limitations of his time. It was a time, as we have seen, when fervid passion had burned itself out. In seeking for transcendental perception, men had long neglected the plain facts of life. Now at last, even in philosophy and in religion, they were not only content but delighted with the simple facts of superficial, unspiritual good sense.
The style of Addison meanwhile was peculiarly agreeable. Dr. Johnson's criticism of it is masterly:
His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not grovelling ; pure without
scrupu losity, and exact without apparent elaboration ; always equable, and always easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never deviates from his track to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious ornaments, and tries no hazardous innovations. His page is always luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendour.
Chap. iv. See also Nathan Drake, Essays, II, 117-167; and A. S. Cook's preface to his edition of Addison's papers on Milton (Ginn & Company, Boston, 1892).
9 The most notable examples of this — the papers on Milton — have been thoroughly edited by Professor Cook of Yale University. They are therefore not included in this volume.
It was apparently his principal endeavour to avoid all harshness and severity of diction; he is therefore sometimes verbose in his transitions and connections, and sometimes descends too much to the language of conversation; yet if his language had been less idiomatical, it might have lost somewhat of its genuine Anglicism. What he attempted, he performed; he is never feeble, and he did not wish to be energetic; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and
easy. Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.
The better one knows Addison, the more exhaustive that celebrated criticism seems. In just two pages of the pocket volume in which it first appeared, it tells the whole truth about a style which has been traditionally held the standard model of English prose; and it tells that truth, too, with the judicial firmness involved in a studied effort to be scrupulously just to a writer with whom the critic could feel small personal sympathy. Like Addison himself, however, Johnson was a man of the eighteenth century; and to that century, from beginning to end, all ideals of artistic excellence remained positive. If classic architecture, for example, were excellent, it followed beyond peradventure that Gothic was barbarous. If Addison's style was excellent, it followed that throughout all time to come excellent style must resemble Addison's.
At this moment we happen to think otherwise. The essence of life in any language shows itself in the subtle, idiomatic changes which reveal themselves as generation succeeds generation. Only the disappearance from among mankind of living thinkers in Latin rendered possible that final precision of Latin style so faithfully exemplified in the Latin verses of Addison. To-day, accordingly, the style of Addison, in spite
1 Johnson's Lives, ed. Cunningham, II, 177-178.
of all its excellence, is a thing of the past; for to-day we who speak and write English must perforce speak and write the language not of Queen Anne but of Queen Victoria. In 1852 Thackeray published Henry Esmond, a novel which one sometimes inclines to believe the most beautiful in our language. In this Thackeray, than whom no English writer was ever more thoroughly a man of his time, deliberately endeavored to express himself in Addisonian manner. The result is full of charm; yet in every page you must surely feel that this English is a work of elaborate imitation. Simple, easy, idiomatic, fluent, it remains artificial. Such style as this is not a style in which any man of Thackeray's day would have expressed himself concerning contemporary life.
In reading Addison himself, on the other hand, one never has this feeling. Not the least charm of his style is that somehow it seems normal. For all their deliberate felicity, his simple, idiomatic words and phrases never seem laboriously studied. For all the elusive subtlety of their almost inimitable rhythm, his clauses, his sentences, his whole essays have the unmistakable grace of spontaneous ease. Really, of course, words and rhythm alike were studied with the faithful care of a literary artist trained for years in the exacting school of Latin versification. This studied care, however, seems a part of the man ; were he not deliberately polite in every detail, he could not have been completely the literary model of his time. Were he not this, he could not have been truly himself.
The true difference between Addison's time and ours, and so the true secret of the difference between Thackeray's English and his, lies in the change of artistic ideal on which we have more than once touched. In our time the ideal of style may perhaps be stated as those words and phrases which shall most exactly symbolize the immaterial reality of thought and emotion for which they stand. In the eighteenth century the ideal of style was rather those words and phrases which should most