Critical Appreciation on the Theme and Style of Joseph Addison’s essay, “A vision of Justice”: Visionary Judgment of the Goddess of Justice


“In the mean time the world was in an alarm, and all the inhabitants of it gathered together upon a spacious plain; so that I seemed to have all the species before
my eyes. A voice was heard from the clouds, declaring the intention of this visit, which was to restore and appropriate to everyone living what was his due. The fear and hope, joy and sorrow, which appeared in that great assembly after this solemn declaration, are not to be expressed.” A Vision of Justice by Joseph Addison

A Vision of Justice by Joseph Addison is thematically complex, with much material to argue about. The most disputable theme or concept may be the implication of inevitability disclosed at the end of the essay: the reality of judgment.  A Vision of Justice, however, is a delightful essay which has neatness, lucidity and precision of expression. Its style is highly polished and cultivated. There is spontaneity and ease in it. It is written in a familiar and elegant manner. Here we observe delightful plasticity of language too. Its prose is smooth and elegant in manner and obviously highly refined. True to Joseph Addison’s style, A Vision of Justice is very delightful and pleasant. The sentences are embellished and polished. Their movement is smooth and brisk. Less ornamental and ornate, the ideas are expressed clearly and vividly. The essay reveals clarity of ideas. It has compact and dignified expression. The forceful, fluent and impressive essay has charm and freshness of its own.

A Vision of Justice is a concept essay in which the handling and development of a central idea is its principal attraction. When one sorts through its grand catastrophic dream ending and its social issues such as the use of justice in social research, one finds at the heart of the essay a speculation about the implications of an aspect of modern ideology long discussed in democratic institutions.   Addison deserves credit for being among the first few neo-classical writers to publish work that speculates about the human rights possibilities presented by ever social institutions, and in  A Vision of Justice he presents a noble idea and how it can go wrong.

Now coming to the essay, we find, the writer was taking a solitary walk in the garden of Lincoln’s Inn. He was repining at the sudden rise of many persons. He got lost in this thought as soon as he recovered from his usual temper and serenity of soul, he retired to his lodgings. The evening meditation enabled him to dream a sweet dream. He saw the goddess of justice holding a mirror in her hand. There streamed from it a light. As she moved it in her hand, it brightened the heavens, the air or the earth. Now the world was in an alarm. People gathered in a spacious plain. She declared the intention of her visit. She wished to restore and appropriate to everyone living what was his due. She pronounced the first edict. All titles and claims to sides and estates should he immediately vested in the rightful owner. A sign of rightful democracy! She moved the mirror of truth. The rays of the mirror set fire to all forgery and falsehood. A wonderful revolution among the people was seen. The spoils of extortion, fraud and robbery with all the fruits of bribery and corruption were thrown in a prodigious pile. It was called the mount of Restitution. All injured persons were invited to receive what belonged to them.

The next command was that all the Post of dignity and honour with universe should he conferred on persons of the greatest merit, abilities and perfection with the hell of the mirror, the select assembly was drawn up on all sides. They were drawn up in three bodies. In the firstly there were men of Virtue. In the second   there were men of knowledge. In the third, these were men of business. In order to fill up all the posts of honour, dignity, and profit, there was a draft made out of each column of men, the second draft was made out of such as were possessed of any two of the qualifications. Those who were left, and were endowed only with one of them, had their suitable post. Still their remained many places of trust and profit unfulfilled. So, fresh drafts were made out of the surrounding people. The writer filled his paper with the particulars of his vision.

Joseph Addison’s A vision of Justice defies both common sense and the scientific method by defining judicial democracy. Through this story telling method, the very nature of the judicial method demands controlled experimentation in which meticulously gathered data is scrutinized with great care before conclusions are painstakingly drawn. This also entails considering all eventualities that might spring from our social works, the potential ill consequences no less than the possible beneficial results. As primarily a thinker, Addison recognizes the dangers posed by our own foolishness, but he is like Shakespeare's Hamlet, thinking about something when he should be taking action.  Society shouldn’t be in a Hamlet’s dilemma in ascertaining democratic rights.

Now coming to the literary merits Joseph Addison’s A vision of Justice aims at a conversational style with simplicity of manner. It has ease of expression. Joseph reveals propriety in the choice of words. Its prose is precise and elegant. It has richness and delicacy of fancy. The language is beautiful and rhythmical. It is according to the interesting theme of the essay. Its style is familiar but not coarse, elegant hut not ostentations. It reveals how Addison was excessively fastidious in his choice of words. It shows how he kept on laboriously polishing and balancing his phrases until they presented the finest literary art at his disposal, until the rhythm was perfect, the sentence height and bright as possible.


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