Joseph Addison as an Essayist: The Social Documents of the Eighteenth Century English Life of Middle-class People

Most of Joseph Addison’s essays are the social documents of the eighteenth century English life of middle-class people. He wrote elaborately on religion, politics, death, woman and other contemporary issues. Myres, in this connection, says- “It is necessary to study the work of Joseph Addison in close relation to the time in which he lived, for he was a true child of his century…..” Addison adopted the ‘middle style’. It was associated with the graceful rhythm. Once Sr. Johnson praised the style of Addison- ;Give nights and days, sir, to the study of Addison if you mean to be a good writer, or , what is more worth, an honest man.” Dr. Johnson again said-“His(Addison’s)prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not grovelling; pure without  scrupulosity, and extra without apparent elaboration; always equable, and always tempter, he performed; he is never feebler, and he did not wish to be energetic; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences have nether not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy.”

Addison used the language of the clubs and the coffee-houses. He too wished to refine the English language and to write with well-bred ease. But at the same time he saw a danger in common speech- “Since it often happens that the most obvious phrases, and those which are used in ordinary conversation, become too familiar to the ear , and contract a kind of meanness by passing through the mouths of the vulgar, a poet should take particular care to guard himself against idiomatic ways of speaking………The great masters in composition know very well that many an elegant phrase becomes improper for a poet or an orator, when it has been debased by common use.”  (The Spectator, No.285.)

Mr. Addison wanted to avoid vulgarity. As a consequence, according to his sentiment, he created Sir Roger. He felt ease at the home of Sir Roger –“I am the more at ease in Sir Roger’s family, because it consists of sober and staid persons: for as the knight is the best master in the world, he seldom changes his servants; and as he is beloved by all about him, his servants never care for leaving him; by this means his domestics are all  in years, and grown old with their master.” (SirRoger at home).

Mr. Addison was religious-minded. Naturally his essay was reflected with that ideology –“I am always very well pleased with a country. Sunday, and think, if keeping holy the seventh day were only a human institution, it would be the best method that could have been thought of for  the polishing and civilizing of mankind.” (Sir Roger at Church). In this essay he upholded the observance of Sunday on account of its social in influences rather than for its religious meaning-“Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week.”

‘The Drama-an allegory’ is an excellent essay of Addison’s style. Though this essay Addison tried to organize his humour-“Her name was Fancy. She led up every mortal to the appointed place, after having very officiously assisted him in making up his pack, and laying it upon his shoulders. My heart melted within me to see my fellow- creatures groaning under their respective burdens, and to consider that prodigious bulk of human calamities which lay before me.”

Again in his Mischiefs of Party Spirit, he says Party spirit is harmful to man’s morals and understanding. It may even lead to civil war and blood-shed –“A furious party –spirit, when it rages in its violence, exerts itself in civil war and blood-shed; and when it its under its greatest restraints, naturally breaks out in falsehood, detraction, calumny, and a partial administration of justice. In a world, it fills a nation with spleen, rancour, and exercise an exit of all the seeds of good-nature, compassion, and humanity”.

Addison’s style is marked for fantastic blending of humour and satire. There is no mannerism in his prose-style. He wrote without any effort. He also used irony and wit to mark his essay didactic. His essays were not ‘art for the sake of art’. Critical investigation observes a mind approach of puritanical propaganda in his essays. Addison’s aim and endeavour was “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality.”

Reference: Encarta, Wiki, Internet Archive


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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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