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Home » » Write a note on the moral bias in Addison's essays
Addison's aim in writing the essays in Spectator was clearly to 'educate' , to teach and instruct and improve the society of his day. He wanted to banish vice from the country and he made it his aim to attack those vices which were below the cognizance of law and religion as he says in the essay "The Scope of Satire". He wanted to provide wholesome reading for his public which would improve them even while entertaining them. To this end, he would enliven morality with wit but wit would always be tempered or moderated with morality. He wanted to bring these two aspects together. He desired to use ridicule and irony and satire as a means of reform. He wanted to 'laugh' people out of their absurdities. He would describe the absurdities in an ironical manner so that people would realise their absurdities and reform themselves. Thus we see that all his satire is prompted by a desire to teach and reform and correct.

Educators role combined with satirist's:

He wanted people to cultivate a better taste, a sense of moderation and a good sense. He wanted to make the women direct their energies towards better things than dress a other trivialities and gossip. He says in The Aim of the Spectator that he would bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries to dwell in the coffee-houses and tea-tables. This shows his educative motive behind the satire. He wants to increase the number of women who were intelligent and could use this intelligence in witty conversation; women who were beautiful of mind as well as showing good sense of dressing. He would point out, he says, the defects of character 'in women so that all women may benefit from his exposure of those defects and avoid them.

In The Scope of Satire, he declares his aim of attacking vice and folly wherever they were to be found, specially if they were to be found in the high and prominent positions of society. Thus Addison would educate through his satire. By holding up the follies of society to ridicule, they would desist from these vices and follies once they realised their absurdity. But the satire would be general and attack the vice and not the person. We see the moral bias in all the essays.

Wit tempered by morality : examples

Sir Andrew Freeport is of the opinion that the Spectator papers have benefited the city people morally. The essays of Addison all have this moral note. Wit is used for the sake of making this instruction delightful. In Fans, an ironical representation of the "accomplishments" of the ladies in using their fans to best advantage, it is clear that Addison is criticising this kind of flirtatiousness. The description of the institution which teaches ladies how to use their fans, is most satirical. The ridicule is pungent----he attacks the vanities, the empty and shallow conduct of the ladies of the day. In the passage which speaks of all the different kinds of flutters, mockery, and fun reaches its climax but the purpose of the author is clear. He wants to reform the ladies of these silly and frivolous habits and customs. He uses ridicule for the purpose of curing. 

In the essay, Female Orators, once again we find admirable irony and sustained satire. Here the excessive volubility of women is ridiculed. With great wit, he relates the incident of an imaginary female who made an unhappy marriage the subject of a month's conversation. He quotes Ovid, Butler and Chaucer in support of his theory that women's tongues are remarkable for their capacity for talking. The apparently admiring tone makes the whole thing ironical and the intention is always clear----he wants the women to improve and stop talking so excessively. He wants them to stop gossiping maliciously ; he makes his moral purpose clear at the end of the essay when he says that he is charmed by this "little instru-ment" but he would like to remove the jarring notes from it by advising that it be tuned by good sense and truth.

In the de Coverley essays we have irony of character----the irony that arises from the absurdities and eccentricities of a character. But again this irony and humour is used for a moral instruction. The moral bias in the essay Sir Roger in Church is unmistakable. The author whole-heartedly approves of the Sunday gathering at Church in the countryside. It "clears away the rust of the whole week by refreshing people's notions of religion". Sir Roger's behaviour is amusing but we also realise that he is a good landlord and churchman, who is concerned about the spiritual welfare of his tenants. At the end of the essay comes an obvious homily. Addison holds up the relationship between Sir Roger and his chaplain as the ideal one between country squire and parson. He contrasts it with the condition in the next parish and says that discord between squire and parson was common in most rural areas of England and this had detrimental effects upon the parishoners. The description of the relationship between the hostile parson and his squire is quite amusing but the moral intention is clear, and it was a relevant moral lesson in those days.

In Meditations in the Abbey. We have, Addison reflecting upon death which brings all human beings to one level, however great they were when living. This is Addison's reflecting on a subject which is general and of universal interest. We see the moral bias when he says that the thought of death teaches him not to envy anyone or have inordinate desire for fame or anything else for what was the use of all this when in the end death would rub out everything. He is not afraid of contemplating the tombs of the Abbey, for they offer an opportunity to him of improving himself and his attitude. He realised how petty jealousies were and how transient beauty or riches were ! Contemplation of death taught one to be content with what one had and remove envy and jealousy from one's heart. In death, beauty, fame, richness, enmity, and friendliness, old age and youth all lay together in a "promiscuous heap". But wit is not totally absent from this essay though it is obviously so serious and moral in tone. We have witty observations like the term " registers of existence" for the epitaphs on the tombs which give the information of birth date and the date of death alone. He makes an amusing reference to the uninhabited tombs or monuments in the Abbey. He also gives wholesome advice on making sensible monuments.

In all these essays, we see that Addison was prompted by a desire to reform. The moral bias of the essays are unmistakable. None of the essays lack in wit or humour. But wit and humour, and irony, are made to teach ; they are used for the moral purpose of teaching and instruction. Addison's ambition was to have it said of him that he banished vice and folly from Great Britain. As such he aimed to make diversion "useful" ; he declared one of his aims to be the tempering of wit with morality and the enlivening of morality with wit. He does this in all the essays. If we laugh and are amused at the essays and the descriptions in them, we are never allowed to forget the that this laughter was meant to be "corrective".


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