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Home » » 'The greatest English prose writers are great not only by virtue of their style, but also by virtue of the profundity of their outlook on the world ". Elaborate and discuss with reference to Addison?
The greatness of a literary artist, like the greatness of any other artist, does not depend merely upon style or the method by which he expresses himself. It has also to depend upon the matter or content------i.e., what he is expressing. The thought, the ideas, and feelings have to be profound and deep as well. Jeremy Taylor, Thomas, Dr. Johnson, Carlyle and Ruskin are a few names that occur when we think of truly great prose writers in English. These writers did not merely have 'great styles ; they also had profound and original thoughts and ideas and convictions which lend an added force to their style. Their thinking is what one can call deep.

Addison's merit is his style, not his matter:

When we read Addison's essays, we are at once impressed by the lucid and clear style of writing, simple and at once dignified, familiar and yet refined. But one can not deny the fact that he is not a very original thinker and he is also not a deep thinker. What he puts forward in the essays, are really superficial matters and nothing that requires profound thought. As he himself says, he is concerned with those trivial vices which were beyond the scope of law and religion. As such the content of his essays are "trivial" and even upon these he does not offer any original ideas or view-point. Thus we can justly say that Addison's merit lay in the developing of an elegant and fluent and simple prose style rather than in formulating and communica-ting an original and profound outlook on the world and life in general.

Addison's thinking is correct and just:

What Addison offers in his essays, is no doubt correct and just. What he says regarding the various follies of the fashionable females of his times, his remarks upon the drawbacks of the contemporary stage, etc., exhibit his rational and sane outlook. What he says, strikes us as the voice of rationality and moderation, as the outlook of a truly reasonable and sensible man. But no one can find in the essays an original or deeply philosophical thought or idea. He said in his essays what a certain section of society was feeling. He organised a public opinion. But what originality there is in the essays actually came from the inspiration of his collaborator, Steele. Addison is quite superficial as far as his thinking goes, though he is "just".

Satire limits the scope of any writer

Satire as a form of writing, has its limitations. Addison has been recognised to be a delectable, though a most humorous satirist. He has taken it upon himself to expose the absurdities of society in order to reform it. A satirist does build his reputation on the fact that he sees and exposes the absurdities of others by ridiculing them. Most often it does not give him an opportunity or need to think deeply or philosophically, though there have been satirists who have shown, in their satire, their originality and power of thinking. But Addison's satire is directed against minor lapses, trivial vices and follies, and this makes it even more superficial though we cannot depreciate its humour or its effectiveness in having brought about a social reform.

A look at the objects of his satire will prove the contention that while he thinks " correctly " and "justly" there is no depth to this thought ; his subject does not allow for this depth. In a set of essays, he attacks the absurdities of the contemporary stage. In another, the most ironical group, he attacks the foibles of women. He ridicules their dresses, volubility, and their coquettish use of fans. He satirises the trivialities that occupy people in general. He attacks immoderation in every field.

Unerring judgement, humour, but nothing profound:

Whatever he satirises, he shows clear and keen judgement. No one can find fault with his taste or his correct views. One also appreciates the keen and humane sense of humour that informs all the essays. We still enjoy the delectable irony which is the essence of this humour but we find nothing truly penetrating or of great profundity in the essays. Neither is the thought forceful and vigorous enough to affect us in an intellectual light. There is a "certain triteness" of thought even in an essay like Meditations in the Abbey, as Hugh Walker observes.

A lay preacher : not a prophet:

The didactic essays too show a certain lack of intellectual force which would be the driving energy behind the sayings of every great seer or prophet. Addison's moral lessons are commonplace and, though no one can deny their correctness and reasonableness, there is nothing original about them. One can merely appreciate the fact that what many thought Addison was able to put forward in elegant and fluent language. His moral lessons are made up of trite ideas like "Be cheerful", " Be steadfast and not inconstant ", " Ridicule should not hurt anyone particular", "Be content with what you have", and so on. There is really nothing in this to call profound or creative; it fully qualifies him for the title of 'lay preacher' and not for a seer or a prophet.


It is true that in the Dr Coverley essays we have some of the best characterization. Characters such as Will Wimble and Sir Roger and Sir Andrew Freeport are made to 'live' and not just represent a few set types or qualities. But again here it is Addison's skill which is commendable and not so much his greatness of thinking or his ideas. After all it was Steele who originally hit upon the idea of the Spectator club and made the initial sketches of the members. It is true, however, that it was Addison who took up these bare outlines and developed them, especially Sir Roger, into the figures as we have come to know. He does indeed exhibit a certain vitality and ability in his characterization but this is not of the class of deep thinking that we associate with a profound and deep writer. Addison is certainly no deep and serious philosophical thinker. His style is the " middle style " and Hugh Walker agrees with Dr. Johnson that Addison lacked that energy of thought, that "highest energy, intellectual and moral" which finds its expression in an energetic and forceful, and even violent style. We can not help but endorse the opinion of Dr. Samuel Johnson that Addison "thinks justly, but he thinks faintly".


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