Addison’s Essays—The greatest of Addison’s Essays appeared in The Spectator and charmed many readers in Queen Anne’s age. The subject matter of these Essays is extremely varied. On one day there is a pleasant paper on witches; on another, a chat about the new woman; on another, a discourse on clubs. Addison is properly a moral satirist, and his pen did much more than the pulpit to civilize the age and make virtue the fashion. In The Spectator, he says: “If I meet with anything in city, court, or country, that shocks modesty or good manners, I shall use my utmost endeavors to make an example of it.” He accomplished his purpose, not by heated denunciations of vice, but by holding it up to kindly ridicule. He remembered the fable of the different methods employed by the north wind and the sun to make a man lay aside an ugly cloak.
Addison stated also that one of his objects was to bring “philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea tables and coffeehouses.” His papers on Milton did much to diminish that great poet’s unpopularity in an age that loved form rather than matter, art rather than natural strength.
The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers.—The most famous of Addison’s productions are his papers that appeared in The Spectator, describing a typical country gentleman, Sir Roger de Coverley, and his friends and servants. Taine says that Addison here invented the novel without suspecting it. This is an overstatement; but these papers certainly have the interest of a novel from the moment Sir Roger appears until his death, and the delineation of character is far in advance of that shown in the majority of modern novels. We find ourselves rereading the De Coverley Papers more than once, a statement that can be made of but few novels.
[Illustration: SIR ROGER IN CHURCH. From a drawing by B. Westmacott.]
General Characteristics.—Addison ranks among the greatest of English essayists. Some of his essays, like the series on Paradise Lost, deal with literary criticism; but most people to-day read little from his pen except the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, which give interesting pictures of eighteenth-century life and manners.
Before we have read many of Addison’s essays, we shall discover that he is a humorist of high rank. His humor is of the kind that makes one smile, rather than laugh aloud. Our countenance relaxes when we discover that his rules for an eighteenth-century club prescribe a fine for absence except in case of sickness or imprisonment. We are quietly amused at such touches as this in the delineation of Sir Roger:—