Addison’s Aim of Morality in The Spectator

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Aim of Addison

      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 realize their absurdities and reform themselves. Thus we see that all his satire is prompted by a desire to teach and reform and correct.

Educator’s 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 and 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 realized their absurdity. But the satire would be general and attack the vice and not the person. We see the moral bias in all the essay.

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 pave 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 criticizing 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, 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 instrument” 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 humor 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 behavior is amusing but we also realize 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 parishioners. 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 reflection 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 realized 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.

Aims and Objectives of the “Spectator”

      Addison and Steele had clear moral intentions behind the writing of the essays for the Spectator. They aimed at social reformation, an improvement in the manners and behavior of the people of their age and the removal of the rampant ignorance. In the essay The Aim of the Spectator, Addison sets out the objectives of the Spectator papers clearly. These were, firstly, to provide the readers with as much of reading material as possible which would help to dispel the rampant ignorance and promote tolerance, restraint and moderation, harmony and better understanding of their situation. Secondly, the aim of the Spectator was to give instruction in a pleasant manner. It was intended to keep up this instruction constantly so that the mind was not allowed to remain fallow. Constant moral teaching would dissipate folly and prevent ignorance from taking roots in the mind. The aim was obviously moral—it was the intention of the writer to criticize the follies and vices of the age so as to improve the mind and manners of the contemporary society.

      Thirdly, closely connected with the aim of teaching and instruction, Addison intended to moralize in a witty manner, and amuse or divert in a moral tone. In other words, he would enliven morality with wit and temper wit with morality. He would preach against the vices of the age while, at the same time, he would amuse and divert the readers.

      Further, the Spectator would try to bring the musty knowledge lying in the libraries and closets of the scholars out to the common. Addison would bring the philosophy out to the tea tables and the clubs and coffee houses. He aimed at making the reader more self-aware, and more knowledgeable. He would also endeavor to provide enough sound information and matter for shallow minds so that they might be able to talk in a rational and intelligent manner. There would also be matters to entertain as well as instruct the ‘fair sex’. This brings out an important aim of the Spectator papers—to improve the females of the society with respect to their status as well as their intellectual condition.

“The Scope of Satire”

      The moral intention of Addison is clear. He intended to achieve his objectives not through invective and fanatical ranting, but through the device of satire, humorous satire, specifically. He would ‘laugh’ the society out of its follies and vices. He would satirise the follies, hold up the vices as absurdities, so that the readers would see their ridiculous aspect and refrain from indulging in them. In the essay The Scope of Satire, Addison outlines the area of his satire and its range, as well as method. He would use all vices and follies as the target of his satire irrespective of where or in which class of people he found it. Indeed, he would attack it all the more if the vice was found in the higher and more prominent sections of society. He would expose to ridicule all extravagances, unreasonable conduct of folly. But, he says, he would make it a restrictive point not to attack individuals. He would only attack the general, the multitudes, and never a particular person. He would not draw a faulty character which would not fit at least a thousand people. Whatever he wrote, would be written in a spirit of benevolence and love of mankind. He would, further, attack the vice without hurting the person. This spirit of benevolence is an important aspect of Addison’s satire. He keeps this promise of general satire all through the essays.

The Aims as Realised in the Essays

      In the essay The Aim of Spectator itself, we see the aims of the Spectator being realized. Addison attacks the ‘blanks of society’ - those people who are empty-headed and shallow-minded and who have to look to others for a topic of conversation and tells them to read his paper so that they could get some information which would help them to converse intelligently. There is pungent wit in the phrase ‘blanks of society’ but the irony and ridicule is aimed at a class of men as a whole. No one particular is mentioned or hurt in the process. At the same time the point could not be missed by the readers. Again, the description of the ‘important’ activities of the females is witty and ironical. But the satire is directed at the class in general. Also, it is hitting out at the vice without hurting the person.

      In The Scope of Satire, there is the ironical and satirical description of the meeting of the Spectator Club. A humorous dig is made at the inclination of all class of human beings to try and defend their particular classes from any adverse comment. We see in this eassy, as well as in the others, Addison’s ability to achieve a happy combination of humor and instruction. Talking about the limitations and range of true satire, he brings in the humorous reference to the Roman triumvirate and its list of those who had to be executed, and earlier, the anecdote of the old man with two wives.
The important aim of the Spectator to improve the status of the women and their manners and fashions is brought out in the essays Fans and Female Orator. In Fans, we have a delectable satire on the contemporary fashion of fluttering a fan. The irony is sustained and most amusing. But once again it is not a particular woman who is attacked. It is the class of fashionable females in general which is brought under attack. The vice or folly is attacked without hurting anyone. Addison makes delightful fun of the habit of the ladies to use their fans like the soldiers used their swords. Describing the imaginary course of the imaginary institution which instructs ladies in the use of their fans, Addison says that there are different steps such as ‘handle your fans’, ‘unfurl your fans’, discharge your fans’, ‘Flutter your fans’, etc. There is an ironical description of the various types of flutters of the fans which indicate the moods of the lady who is using the fan. The essay ends with a reference to a book of instruction regarding the fan, The Passion of the Fan and the postscript that the correspondent was ready to teach young gentlemen the art of ‘gallanting’ a fan. The ironical humor of the whole essay is as delightful as it is impossible to miss. This is a true combination of humor and instruction, where morality is enlivened with wit and wit is tempered with morality. For, the irony and witty satire has purpose of teaching women not to follow such meaningless and absurd fashions. The aim is to correct the taste through satire, through the device of laughter. And the irony is general, though pointed and pungent. It does not hurt any individual, directed, as it is, at the general classification.

      Female Orators is another example of the supreme and delectable mixture of humor and moralizing that Addison is capable of. The irony is admirable; the essay is a string of ironical remarks. The purpose of the essay is obviously to teach women not to be garrulous and malicious gossips. He wants that women should stop this empty-headed talk and develop more intelligent attitudes. There is humor and a great fun in the description of Mrs. Fiddle-Faddle’s ability to describe all kinds of functions and happenings. It is funny to read of the coquette who loves and hates in the same breath (so as to enlarge the field of conversation,) and laughs when not merry and sighs when not sad. Addison shows the same sharp and pungent wit in analyzing the probable causes of this female loquacity. The wit and humor of the essay is clear and undeniable. But wit and humor are used in the cause of social reform. There is the moral and instructive purpose behind the essay which comes to be stated in the concluding lines of the essay. The object of ridiculing the female ‘orators’ was to induce the female sex to keep their tongues “tuned by good nature, truth, discretion, and sincerity”, and to discard malicious gossip and empty talk. Here too, there is no personal satire intended to hurt. The class and vice is attacked in general.

      Sir Roger at Church is no exception to the rule of this mixture of wit and morality. There is a delightful irony at the expense of the country squire as represented in Sir Roger. The simplicity of mind, however, is prompted by an innate desire to do good. If he does stand up while all the others are kneeling in church, it is only to count the congregation and make sure that all his tenants are there. The moral instruction is there when Addison exhorts all country squires to emulate Sir Roger in their relationship with their parsons. Once again folly and vice are attacked without hurting individuals. Sir Roger is an example of Addison’s ability to combine praise and mockery.

      In the essay Meditations in the Abbey, we have Addison fulfilling another aim of the Spectator, that of bringing philosophy out of closets to dwell at the tea-tables and coffee-houses. Here Addison becomes reflective and philosophical. Surveying the tombs reading their inscriptions makes him reflect upon death and on how death was a great leveler. Beauty, youth, riches or fame, were nothing in face of death. The great, the rich, the beautiful, the young the old and the deformed were all equal in the eyes of death. The sight of the tombs in the Abbey made him conscious of death and the uselessness of worldly fame and riches and desires. It brought about a moral improvement which he desired should take place in the readers as well. Contemplation of death made one less envious, and lessened one’s inordinate desires. The essay is in keeping with the avowed intentions of trying to make society morally conscious.


      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 that this laughter was meant to be “corrective”.

      The essays are all examples of how Addison set about achieving the aims and objectives of the Spectator. In each we see the combination of wit and morality; in each there is an attempt to improve the mind and conduct of society. There is complete eschewal of personal satire; vice and folly are attacked, but not the person. The papers could be said to have achieved a considerable success in the fulfillment of the aims and objectives set out by Addison.

University Questions

The aim of the Spectator was to combine instruction with diversion. How far do you think that Addison succeeded in this aim?
Addison wished to recover his readers ‘‘out of that desperate pit of vice and folly into which the age is fallen”. Discuss how far Addison was successful with particular reference to the essays you have read.
Write a note on the moral bias in Addison's essays.

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