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IV. DR. JOHNSON ON ADDISON.,
[Dr. Johnson's criticism of Addison is so full of interest and value that it may be well to reproduce it here. It should, however, be studied after the essays have been read, not before.]
"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.
"It is not uncommon for those who have grown wise through the labour of others to add a little of their own, and overlook their masters. Addison is now despised by some who perhaps would never have seen his defects, but by the lights which he afforded them. That he always wrote as he would think it necessary to write now, cannot be affirmed; his instructions were such as the characters of his readers made proper. 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.
'Dryden had, not many years before, scattered criticism over his prefaces with very little parsimony; but though he sometimes condescended to be somewhat familiar, his manner was in general too scholastic for those who had yet their rudiments to learn and found it not easy to understand their master. His observations were framed rather for those that were learning to write, than for those that read only to talk.
"An instructor like Addison was now wanting, whose remarks, being superficial, might be easily understood, and being just,
might prepare the mind for more attainments. Had he presented 'Paradise Lost' to the public with all the pomp of system and severity of science, the criticism would perhaps have been admired and the poem still have been neglected; but by the blandishments of gentleness and facility he has made Milton a universal favourite, with whom readers of every class think it necessary to be pleased.
"As a describer of life and manners, he must be allowed to stand perhaps the first of the first rank. His humour, 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.
"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 impracticably rigid. All the enchantment of fancy and all the cogency of argument are employed to recommend to the reader his real interest, the care of pleasing the Author of his being. Truth is shown sometimes as the phantom of a vision; sometimes appears half-veiled in an allegory; sometimes attracts regard in the robes of fancy; and sometimes steps forth in the confidence of reason. She wears a thousand dresses, and in all is pleasing.
Mille habet ornatus, mille decenter habet.
"His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not grovelling; pure without scrupulosity, and exact without apparent elaboration; always equable and always easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never deviates from his track to snatch a grace he seeks no ambitious ornaments and tries no hazardous innovations. His page is always luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendour.
It was apparently his principal
endeavour to avoid all harshness and severity of diction; he is therefore sometimes verbose in his transitions and connections, and sometimes descends too much to the language of conversation; yet if his language had been less idiomatical, it might What he have lost somewhat of its genuine Anglicism. attempted, he performed: he is never feeble, and he did not wish to be energetic; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences have neither studied amplitude nor affected brevity: his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. 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."
ESSAYS FROM ADDISON.
I. THE CHOICE OF HERCULES.
November 22, 1709.
Illud maxime rarum genus est eorum, qui aut excellente ingenii magnitudine, aut præclarâ eruditione atque doctrinâ, aut utrâque re ornati, spatium deliberandi habuerunt, quem potissimum vitæ cursum sequi vellent.-TUL. OFFIC.
Most rare of all are those men who, either from extraordinary genius or remarkable advantages of education or both causes, have found sufficient time to consider what particular course of life they wished to pursue.
From my own Apartment, November 21.
HAVING Swept away prodigious multitudes in one of my late papers, and brought a great destruction upon my own 10 species, I must endeavour in this to raise fresh recruits, and, if possible, to supply the places of the unborn and the deceased. It is said of Xerxes, that when he stood upon a hill, and saw the whole country round him covered with his army, he burst out in tears, to think that not one of that multitude would be alive a hundred years after. For my part, when I take a survey of this populous city, I can scarce forbear weeping, to see how few of its inhabitants are now living. It was with this thought that I drew up my last bill of mortality, and endeavoured to set out in it the great number of 20 persons who have perished by a distemper (commonly known by the name of idleness) which has long raged in the world,
and destroys more in every great town than the plague has done at Dantzic. To repair the mischief it has done, and stock the world with a better race of mortals, I have more hopes of bringing to life those that are young than of reviving those that are old. For which reason, I shall here set down that noble allegory which was written by an old author called Prodicus, but recommended and embellished by Socrates. It is the description of Virtue and Pleasure, making their court to Hercules under the appearances of two 10 beautiful women.
66 'When Hercules (says the divine moralist) was in that part of his youth in which it was natural for him to consider what course of life he ought to pursue, he one day retired into a desert, where the silence and solitude of the place very much favoured his meditations. As he was musing on his present condition, and very much perplexed in himself on the state of life he should choose, he saw two women of a larger stature than ordinary approaching towards him. One of them had a very noble air and graceful deportment; her 20 beauty was natural and easy, her person clean and unspotted, her eyes cast towards the ground with an agreeable reserve, her motion and behaviour full of modesty, and her raiment as white as snow. The other had a great deal of health and floridness in her countenance, which she had helped with an artificial white and red, and endeavoured to appear more graceful than ordinary in her mien, by a mixture of affectation in all her gestures. She had a wonderful confidence and assurance in her looks, and all the variety of colours in her dress that she thought were the most proper to show her 30 complexion to an advantage. She cast her eyes upon herself, then turned them on those that were present, to see how they liked her, and often looked on the figure she made in her own shadow. Upon her nearer approach to Hercules, she stepped before the other lady, (who came forward with a regular, composed carriage,) and running up to him, accosted him after the following manner: