Literary Criticism on The Spectator

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Select Literary Criticism on The Spectator

      1. J.H. Lobban on irony and urbanity: His irony and urbanity are the two most prominent traits in the essays of Addison. The former is of a kind sui generis. To define its specific difference, it is needful to remember that irony literally means dissembling.

      2. K. Deighton on Addison’s humour: Of the various gifts that fitted him for his self-imposed task, the most perfect was his sense of humour; humour that while free from all bitterness was yet exquisitely penetrative, a humour, like Jaques’ melancholy, compounded from many simples, extracted from many objects. Amiable and urbane, laughing at his fellow-men but laughing with no scorn— rather as one who understands and sympathizes—with gentle pressure he puts his fingers on their foibles, and cajoles as much as argues them out of their propensities. Popular superstitions, personal whims, caprices, idiosyncrasies, social manners, pursuits, fashions, in their turn find themselves within this hold, to be examined, handled, caressed, rebuked, sentenced. Irony, all-delicious in its gravity, forms a large, perhaps the largest, constituent of his humor; pathos of the truest ring is seldom far-off. Argument is pointed by analogy and a sprightly cheerfulness quickens what is serious. Pervading everything we have an imaginative faculty such as belongs to the poetic mind alone; an appreciation of the ludicrous that must have demanded constant self-restraint, a delicacy of feeling that made coarseness as impossible to his use as it was painful to his own sensitive organization, an absolute purity of object, a far-seeing philanthropy, a serene dignity of soul and conduct.

      3. J.B. Macaulay on Addison’s humor: But that which chiefly distinguishes Addison, from Swift, from Voltaire, from almost all other great masters of ridicule is the grace, the nobleness, the moral purity, which we find even in his merriment. Severity, gradually hardening and darkening into misanthropy, characterizes the works of Swift.

      4. J.H. Lobban on ‘comedy of manners’: In the trues! sense of the words, the term ‘comedy of manners’ is ludicrously inapplicable to the post-Restoration drama, but it would be difficult to find a better title for this section of the work of Steele and Addison. Using entirely different weapons they have the same object in view—to combat ignorance and affectation and folly and impurity.

      5. Johnson on Addison’s depiction of life: As a describer of life and manners, he must be allowed to stand perhaps the first of the first rank. His humor, which, as Steele observes, is peculiar to himself, is so happily diffused as to give the grace of novelty to domestic scenes and daily occurrences. He never ‘outsteps’ the modesty of nature, nor raises merriment or wonder by the violation of truth. His figures neither divert by distortion nor amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so much fidelity that he can be hardly said to invent; yet his exhibitions have an air so much original that it is difficult to suppose them not merely the product of imagination.

      6. J.H. Fowler on Addison’s and Steele’s contribution to English prose: Noble English prose had even noble English essays, had been written long before Addison. But we are justified in regarding Addison, his friend Steele as the founders of the modern English essay and modern English prose; and the larger share of the achievement was that of Addison’s......It is good to read Addison first because he is full of charm; because we soon come to feel an affection of this silent, keen, kindly spectator of men; because he brings back to us vividly the vanished life of the early eighteenth century; because he creates in Sir Roger de Coverley one of me most delightful characters in the whole range of English literature. If we sometimes seem to see the Spectator’s eyes—grave but with a twinkle in them—turned upon our own follies and are willing to receive a playful rebuke or gentle hint from him, that will be another advantage to add to the rest.

      7. J.B. Macaulay on precursor of the novel: It must be remembered that at that time no novel, giving a lively and powerful of the common life and manners of England, had appeared. Richardson was working as a compositor. Fielding was robbing bird’s nests. Smollett was not yet born. The narrative, therefore, which connects together the Spectator essays, and given to the times their first taste of an exquisite and untried pleasure. That narrative was indeed constructed with no art or labor.

      8. J. B. Macaulay on the Spectator: The Spectator himself was conceived and drawn by Addison. The Spectator is a gentleman, who, after passing a studious youth at the university, has traveled on classic ground, and has bestowed much attention on curious points of antiquity.

      9. Louis Cazamian on Mr. Spectator: At the center of this life, and of its most active focus, the capital, stands a supposed Spectator; at work with observant eyes, carefully noting the very details, and the external aspects, of the comedy of human relations; with a mind that studies, penetrates, interprets, thoughts and hearts alike; with a moral sensibility, supple and delicate, that reacts according to the wishes of conscience.

      10. K. Deighton “Spectator”: The Spectator, brought out three months after the Tatler's disappearance, followed closely
its later shape. The plan of the Spectator is undoubtedly Addison’s and the portrait of its guiding spirit drawn by him in the first number is in a measure a portrait of the painter.

      11. K. Deighton on Sir Roger’s character: To Steele, as has often been pointed out, is due to the suggestion of Sir Roger’s character; and his paper ‘Of the Club’ shadows forth almost all those traits which Addison afterward expanded and developed with such happy skill.

      12. William Minto on Addison as a critic: In criticizing polite literature, he gave opinions on the Opera, on Tragedy, on True and False Wit, on Sappho, on Ovid, On Milton, and the Pleasures of the Imagination. He decided by taste rather than by principle; and the taste of such a man, while elegant in the highest degree, had a tendency to be narrow and captious.

      13. Dr. Johnson on Addison as a critic: Addison is now to be considered as a critic; a name which the present generation is scarcely willing to allow, him. His criticism is condemned as tentative or experimental, rather than scientific; and he is considered as deciding by taste rather than by principles.

      14. Louis Cazamian on Addison’s philosophy of life: Like Steele he has a desire, and feels the urgent need, for a reform in morals, he agrees with the deep-felt longing after a more decorous order of things, after a better regulated conduct, which is being evidenced since the time of Collier, and while he does not, like Steele, reap the knowledge of human weakness from his own inward frailty; he has a natural leniency, a tolerant gentleness of soul, which temper a rather Puritanic severity of principle. It is greatly to Addison’s credit that where he might have judged life above all from books, he showed himself an informed observer, a judicious critic of manners and characters. This he owes to a natural finesse, and a tact of thought; the habit of analyzing, which his literary studies had developed, here finds itself directed, through a rare and felicitous harmony, towards the intelligence of soul; Addison fully realizes the doctrine of classicism because he possesses a lucid and exact notion of the matter which is henceforth to be his: the humours, the moral shades of human beings living in company; within certain limits, but with precision and safety, he is a psychologist.

      15. Dr. Samuel Johnson on Addison's wisdom: As a teacher of wisdom, he may be confidently followed. His religion has nothing in it enthusiastic or superstitious, he appears neither weakly credulous, nor wantonly Sceptical; his morality is neither dangerously lax, nor impractically rigid.

      16. Dr. Johnson on Addison’s various qualities: That general knowledge which now circulates in common talk was in his time rarely to be found. Men not professing learning were not ashamed of ignorance; and in the female world any acquaintance with books was distinguished only to be censured. His purpose was to infuse literary curiosity, by gentle and unsuspected conveyance, into the gay, the idle, and the wealthy he therefore presented knowledge in the most alluring form, not lofty and austere, but accessible and familiar. When he showed them their defects, he showed them likewise that they might be easily supplied. His attempt succeeded; inquiry was awakened, and comprehension expanded. An emulation of intellectual elegance was excited; and from this time to our own, life has been gradually exalted and conversation purified and enlarged.

      17. J. B. Macaulay on Addison’s morality: Of the service which his essays rendered to morality it is difficult to speak too highly. So, effectually did he retort on vice the mockery which had recently been directed against virtue, that, since his time, the open violation of decency has always been considered as the mark of a fool. And this revolution, the greatest and most salutary ever effected by any satirist, he accomplished without writing one personal lampoon.

      18. K. Deighton on the Spectator’s popularity: The success of the Spectator was immediate and permanent. The number of copies daily distributed was at first three thousand. It subsequently increased, and had risen to near four thousand when the Stamp Tax was imposed. The tax was fatal to a crowd of journals. The Spectator, however, stood its ground, doubled its price, and, though its circulation fell off, still yielded a large revenue to the state and to its authors.

      19. K. Deighton on the Coverley Papers’ themes: With these and such-like themes for his discourse, Addison loves to disport himself, drawing from each topic some quaint lesson of morality, some material for playful satire, some occasion for depicting the occupations, pursuits, and social doings of a class of men even then fast passing away: This delicacy of feeling no doubt influenced his coadjutors, and if his richness of fancy and exquisite, touch of his raillery have given to the original outline a finish that was beyond their powers, they have at least not unworthily followed the master hand in their share of the Coverley Papers.

      20. K. Deighton on Addison’s style: As regards Addison’s style, of no one could it more truly be said that the style is the man. He has a manner but no mannerisms. That manner may have striven to make their own, but have striven in vain.

      21. J.H. Fowler on Addison’s qualities of his style: (i) Clearness was a virtue which Addison esteemed highly, and in which his own writing excels, (ii) The ease of Addison’s manner has been mentioned: Professor Courthope calls it that ‘perfection of well-bred ease which arises from a complete understanding between an author and his audience’, (iii) The delicious humor of the Coverley Papers, and of others that describe contemporary manner, has contributed more than anything else to Addison’s permanent popularity (iv) A special feature of this humor is the irony with which absurdities, are gravely related as if they were quite natural and reasonable (v) The rich and delicate fancy of the loftier allegories, of the best Coverley Papers, of “The Adventures of Shilling”, is closely akin to poetic imagination, (vi) Pathos he uses with great effect; thought with admirable restraint.

      22. Dr. Johnson on Addison’s style: His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not groveling; pure without scrupulosity, and exact without apparent elaboration; always equable and always easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Whoever wishes to
attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.

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