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Home » » Discuss Addison's prose style with reference to the essays prescribed for you?
Addison's contribution to the development of English prose can not be overestimated. He perfected English prose as an instrument for the expression of social thought. Addison's prose style is what Dr. Johnson termed as the 'middle style'. A style which is not too informal, it is not rigidly formal either. A style which is free of levity and vulgarism, and at the same time easy and friendly, without elaborate flourishes of metaphor and involved comparisons. In Dr. Johnson's words, Addison is the master of "middle style" familiar but not coarse, elegant but not ostentatious on grave subjects not formal; on light occasion not grovelling, pure without scrupulosity, and exact without apparent elaboration; and always equable, and always easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences." Addison's style is the picture of moderation, elegant, clear and fluent.

Clarity and fluent expression,  never slip-shod  

The most striking feature of the style of Addison is its clarity. Addison was writing for a popular audience which, he wanted, should understand his works for he aimed at their moral improvement. Thus we find that he never spared any pains to make his writing easily understood. But at the same time he wanted no slip-shod writing for the sake of informality. He was always clear, fluent and chose his words carefully and used them well. Even his long sentences present little difficulty to the reader's understanding. Such an example of a long sentence which is fluently put across occurs at the very beginning of Mea tation in the Abby: 

when I am in a serious humour, I very often walk by myself in the Westminster Abbey : where the gloominess of the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind o melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness that is not disagreeable."

We have another instance of his skilful handling of the long sentence in the same essay : 

"Upon this I began to consider with myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral ; how men and women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another ; and blended together in the same common mass ; how beauty, strength, and youth, with old age, weakness and deformity, lay undistinguished in the same promiscuous heap of matter

These sentences have a number of commas, are long and not obscure. The thought is clearly understood and each sentence shows Addison's firm command over the language.

Short sentence: Addison equally effective   

It is not only in the long sentences that Addison shows his mastery. There are a number of short sentences in his essays which show his capacity for expressing his thought in neat and compact sentences which are also brief. In the essay The Aim of the Spectator, we have the following two sentences which serve as examples of the short and lucid sentenes:

"The mind that lies fallow for a single day, sprouts up in follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture." "I shall endeavour to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality, that my readers may, if possible, both ways find their account in the speculation of day."

A sentence which exemplifies his ability to write in a short and compact style occurs in the essay, The Scope of Satire :

 "That vice and folly ought to be attacked wherever they could be met with, and especially when they were placed in high and conspicuous stations of life."

In Fans, we have yet another example of this short and neatly compact sentence:

"Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them.
Polished elegance and refinement of expression
Clarity of thought is accompanied by a seemingly effortless of expression. Addison is a master in the art of careful choice of words and in the careful arrangement of these words to produce the correct effect. His careful choice of words seems spontaneous because of his control over the language. His sentence shows a flowing grace and rhythm which must have come with considerable revision and effort but the credit goes to him that this style is not laboured. He does not use slang or coarse expressions, colloquial words or words of common domestic association. This led to the elegance which one has come to associate with the name of Addison.He is selective in his use of words which are dignified and refined. Thus we read about a common hand fan being referred to as " that little modish machine" and "weapon", in the essay Fans. This also enhances the ironic effect. He calls the tongue of the female, " this little instrument of loquacity " in Female Orators. The inscriptions on the tombstones of Westminster Abbey are "registers of existence". The Abbey and its graves is " the great magazine of morality ", in the essay Meditations in the Abbey.In Meditations in the Abbey, there is a passage which serves as an excellent example of Addison's felicity in the choice of words. He talks of the "innumerable multitudes" who were "confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral." He could easily have said that many people were buried in the Abbey. But his choice of words makes the passage beautiful and refined even while it loses none of its clarity. What is more striking is that this elegance of expression enhances the ironic effect wherever he wants it.

Metaphors and similes 

Addison mostly uses metaphors and similes for humorous effect. He is very successful in this. Thus in the essay Fans we have a comparison between the fan in the hand of a lady and the sword in the hand of a soldier. This military metaphor is continued throughout the essay and this adds to the delectable satire. Words such as 'discharge', 'array'. 'words of command', etc., in connection with the 'weapon' called "fan" enhance the humour. Sometimes he borrows a simile from other writers so as to enhance the humour and pointed satire of his essay, Thus in the essay Female Orators he borrows the simile of the tongue, being compared to a race horse from Butlers Hudibras, "the tongue is like a race-horse, which runs the faster the lesser weight it carries." On the whole, however, Addison uses metaphors and similes sparingly and only when necessary. There are no unnecessary and involved comparisons which decorate the writing.

Allusions and quotations 

Addison does not shrink from the employment of allusions and quotations wherever needed. There is a wide variety of allusions : mythological, Biblical, historical, and literary. Each essay is headed by a quotation taken from classical or modern authors and each is apt for the subject being dealt with in the particular essay Female Orators from which we have the quotation, "Their untir'd lips a wordy torrent pour."As for allusions, we have in the essay The Aim of the Spectator references to Socrates and Francis Bacon. In Female Orators we have mention of Hudibras, the wife of Bath, and Ovid. In The Scope of Satire there are allusions to Horace, Juvenal, and Boileau. There is also the historical reference to the Roman triumvirate.


A striking part of Addison's prose style is his use of anecdotes. He uses these to bring a point, home to the reader, to illustrate or to enhance the humour of the situation. Sometimes these anecdotes are taken from older literature and popular stories. An instance of this occurs in The Scope of Satire where the Spectator compares himself with the old man in the story who had two wives. The old man becomes bald as both his wives pull out all his hair between them as one does not like black hair and the other dislikes white ! The anecdote is used to illustrate his own dilemmatic position and it also serves to add humour.But in most of the essays we have imaginary anecdotes, incidents about make-believe characters, which serve to illustrate and add poignance to a point. We have the story about the woman who made an unhappy marriage the subject of a month's conversation in the essay Female Orators, to illustrate one type of such 'orator.' Another special device used by Addison at times is the letter from an imaginary correspondent. This occurs in the essay, Fans. These allusions and anecdotes, as has been remarked before, contribute greatly to the humour and satire of the essays. That brings us to the most important aspect of Addison's style i.e., humour and irony.Humour and irony.

Humour and Irony  

Humour and irony are basic to the essays in the Spectator. Addison aimed at reforming the public out of its vices and follies and he intended to do this through satirising these vices and follies. But his satire is humorous, never bitter. Like all satirists he uses irony but in his hands it becomes 'gentle' because it is urban and general. The _ irony is closely connected with humour ; it is, in fact, the very essence of that humour. His laughter was intended to correct, not merely to amuse. The humour tones down the deadly effect of irony, makes it smooth even while it is pointed. In Female Orators we have a string of ironical remarks which cannot fail to amuse even while satirising the 'empty headed' loquacity of women. The ironical effect is enhanced through the tone of gravity and admiration employed by Addison. Thus he seems to be praising the volubility of women when he says,  

"With what fluency of invention, and copiousness of expression, will they enlarge upon every little slip in the behaviour of another ; With how many different circumstances, and with variety of phrases will they tell over the same story!"

whereas we know clearly enough that the whole passing is an ironical dig at the talkativeness of women and their tendency for malicious gossip. How seriously he describes the manoeuvres with the fan as if they were indeed a part of an elaborate drill. The whole essay, Fans, is a delightful satirical exposition of the contemporary fashion of fluttering a hand fan. Delicate irony and humour are at their best in the essays dealing with Sir Roger. Sir Roger at Church gives an affectionately ironical description of the old knight who does not let any one sleep in the congregation besides himself. He stands up while all the rest are keeping in order to see if all his tenants had come to church. We are told how the knight was in the habit of saying 'Amen' three or four times if he liked a particular prayer. All this is humorous as well as ironic. The allusions and anecdotes serve to enhance the humour. But Addison never allows this humour and irony to get out of control. Even in the essays which satirise the female foibles and fashions, and do so rather pungently, he never becomes virulent. The refinement of style and thought is always keeping a control and keeping the satire controlled and 'gentle'. The irony is always gentle and civilized. The humour is 'purposive' and never farcical.

There are some critics who charge that Addison's 'middle style' is a style of mediocrity. It is the external manifestation of a mediocre mind which had not the fierce and powerful intellectual and moral strength to produce the fiery and powerful style. This, to some extent, is true. Addison's style is always sedate, refined and careful. It never "blazes in unexpected splendour ;" there are no "glowing words or pointed sentences." But then Addison never wanted to be "energetic." Though the charge of mediocrity cannot be fully denied, there is no suppressing the importance of Addison's service to the development of an easy and modern English prose style. One has to admire the "free unaffected movement, graceful transitions, delicate harmonies, and appropriateness of tone" in his style. He brought clarity and fluency of expression to English prose style.
Addison's prose style with reference


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