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Home » » Addison's claim was that he " assaulted the vice without hurting the person" Examine the truth of this claim with reference to Addison's essays

 assaulted the vice without hurting the person

It is in the essay The Scope of Satire that Addison puts forward his intentions and mode of satirising society and its follies. The members of the Spectator club agree that Addison as Spectator is free to carry his " war" into any field he pleased provided that he would "combat with criminals in a body, and........ assault vice without hurting the person". It is agreed that he should continue in his noble task of scourging vice and folly as they appeared in a multitude and it is approved that he left alone the publishing of particular intrigues. Addison, thus encouraged by his fellow members, had taken upon himself the task of attacking vice in any quarter that he found it, that he would " make an example " of anything "that shocks modesty or good manners". But, he says, be careful not to indulge in any personal satire. He requests his readers not to feel that the satire is particularly aimed at him or any of their particular friends. He assures the reader that he would "never draw a faulty character which...... not fit at least a thousand people, or publish a single paper that not written in the spirit of benevolence and with a love of mankind".
Addison's claim assaulted  vice hurting person

We notice that in none of his essays does Addison break this assurance of indulging in satire for the good of mankind in general and never to stoop to particular and personal satire.

Benevolence towards all and malice towards none   

Addison's urbanity and refinement have been recognised by all critics and readers. He was prompted to write in a mildly satirical note because he wanted to correct mankind, to make society improve itself and discard all the frivolities and follies that it followed. It was his feeling of love towards mankind that made him want to correct it and make it better. Wit and ridicule were abused, he says, if they were employed for the purposes of denigrating virtue or with the intention of hurting particular individuals. It is in his use of satire and ridicule that we find the difference between Addison, on one hand, and Pope and Swift, and even Dryden, on the other. Pope and Dryden often attack particular individuals in their satires under thin disguises which are easily penetrated and the person recognised. Swift hits out savagely at all and sundry, at mankind in general and in particular with a violent force that makes readers feel that he is prompted more by a hatred of man than by a desire to reform. But, as Macaulay says, "of Addison it may be confidently affirmed that has blackened no man's character, nay, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find in all the volumes he has left us a single taunt which can be called ungenerous or unkind."

Examples of this general satire    

Addison criticises the follies and vices prevalent in the society of his times freely. But these are the trivial vices and follies, the breach of good manners and good taste. And the satire is always mild and humorous, never biting and savage. He makes his target of attack the vices common to a class as a whole, general follies which were not followed by one individual but by society in general. The ridicule he pours on the stage conventions is directed towards the taste of people in general. If he attacks the silly attempts of "realism" on stage, he is attacking a trend and not a person. If he attacks the trivialities that occupy people in essays like The Grinning Match he is attacking the folly and not the individual who practises it particularly. We cannot identify the people in his essays as real persons. He attacks the gossips of the day who indulge in a lot of talking politics without really knowing anything, in the essay Coffee-houses Politicians but again it is the vice which is attacked ; it is the general type which is ridiculed and not a particular person. He criticises "men of no tastes or learning", the " false critics" in periodical Essays but once again the ridicule is aimed at a type and not at an individual.

Follies and foibles of women

The Spectator was very much concerned with the upliftment of the status of women and their education. As such Addison was strongly critical of the frivolities that occupied the females. He is pungently ironical about their "accomplishment" with their fans. He is apparently disapproving of their empty occupations, their inclination to consider their toilet and dressing up their most useful employment and their coquetry, and their shallow heart and head. But in all the essays he deals with these vices in a general fashion. Nowhere does he ridicule a particular person. In Fans, there is sustained irony but there is no spitefulness or malice against particular women. He attacks the vice, the folly and the flirtatious women in general. If in the essay Female Orators, he talks of a certain woman who made an unhappy marriage the subject of a conversation for a month we know that he is giving an example of a particular 'type' of female volubility rather than attacking some real individual. Similarly, when he mentions Sempronia, Cornelia or Mrs. Fiddle-Faddle, we realise they are names given to different types which Addison is satirising rather than representing actual individuals.

De Coverley papers

The essays in which one can clearly see the "benevolence" of Addison is in the Dr Coverley papers. Sir Roger obviously represents the country squire---he is a type, though Addison's characterization still makes him realistic. But he does not stand for any one individual country squire as has been shown by the failure of all attempts to pin a particular identity on him. Addison apparently did not satirise any individual in his Sir Roger, he merely ridicules the eccentricities of a type in general. The Tory land holder who is a benevolent tyrant of his parish, can be silly as a magistrate but his eccentricities are often shown to spring from his good sense and benevolence. He is really the best of the feudal system. Addison combines his mockery with praise so that the reader never loses respect for Sir Roger even; while laughing at his behaviour. We see urbanity and kindness of Addison's satire in the portrayal of Sir Roger, Will Wimble and the other characters of the Spectator Club.

We see that Addison kept his promise of attacking the vice without hurting the person. His satire is general, never is it intended to ridicule particular individuals. He makes fun of the absurdities without hurting the person. He satirises types and not individuals. He is prompted by a desire to reform ! He loves mankind and wants it to become better in its behaviour and taste. To this "benevolent" end, he satirises the follies and holds them up to ridicule so that his readers may see the absurdities of society's behaviour and "laugh" themselves out of their follies and vices.


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