Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

one would think that Nature had laid it out into such a variety of styles and governments as one finds in it *.”

“ The wisest of men are sometimes acted by such unaccountable motives, as the life of the fool, and the superstitious is guided by nothing else f.”

I have already given my reader an account of a set of merry fellows, who are passing their summer together in the country, being provided of a great house t."

This last solecism frequently occurs in the writings of Sir Philip Sidney, an example of which may be seen in the commencement of the first quotation that we have given from this author.

The defects, however, which an accurate research may discover in the pages of Addison, are almost forgotten, when we take into consideration the many excellencies which have so justly given celebrity to his style and composition. These have been amply acknowledged, and by some of the first authors in our language, during the course of the last sixty years.

Mr. Melmoth thus admirably takes the lead in appreciating the merits of our author's diction and manner: “ I know not,” says he, “ whether Sir Wile * Travels.

+ Spectator, No 191. | Spectator, No 440.

liam Temple may not be considered as the first of our prose authors, who introduced a graceful manner into our language; at least that quality does not seem to have appeared early, or spread far amongst us. But wheresoever we may look for its origin, it is certain to be found in its highest perfection in the essays of a gentleman, whose writinge will be distinguished so long politeness and good sense have any admirers, That becoming air which Tully esteemed the criterion of fine composition; and which every reader, he says, imagines so easy to be imitated, yet will find so difficult to attain; is the prevailing characteristic of all that excellent author's most elegant performances. In a word, one may justly apply to him what Plato, in his allegorical language, says of Aristophanes, that the Graces having searched all the world for a temple wherein they might for ever dwell, settled at last in the breast of Mr. Addison *.”

Nor is DR. Young less striking and emphatic in expressing his idea of Addisonian excellence :

“ Addison,” he remarks, "wrote little in verse, much in sweet, elegant, Virgilian prose; so let me call it, since Longinus calls Herodotus most Homeric; and Thucydides is said to have formed his style on Pindar. Addison's compositions are

* Fitzosborne's Letters, Letter 29th, dated 1746.

built with the finest materials, in the taste of the ancients; and (to speak his own language) on truly classic ground : and though they are the delight of the present age, yet I am persuaded that they will receive more justice from posterity. I never read him, but I am struck with such a disheartening idea of perfection, that I drop my pen. And, indeed, far superior writers should forget his compositions, if they would be greatly pleased with their own *.”

The opinion of DR. BLAIR is equally favourable, and, at the same time, more determinate and clear.

Of the highest, most correct, and ornamented degree of the simple manner," he observes, “Mr. Addison is, beyond doubt, in the English language, the most perfect example : and, there. fore, though not without some faults, he is, on the whole, the safest model for imitation, and the freest from considerable defects, which the language affords. Perspicuous and pure he is in the highest degree; his precision, indeed, not very great; yet nearly as great as the subjects which he treats of require: the construction of his sentences easy, agreeable, and commonly very musical; carrying a character of smooth

* Vide Observations on Original Composition; published in 1759.

ness, more than of strength. In figurative language, he is rich : particularly in similies and metaphors; which are so employed as to render his style splendid without being gaudy. There is not the least affectation in his manner; we see ño marks of labour; nothing forced or constrained; but great elegance.joined with great ease and simplicity *.”

DR. KNOX, likewise, a very learned and competent judge, has, in many parts of his elegant and interesting Essays, very happily characterised the numerous beauties which so remarkably distinguish the style of the chief author of the Spectator.

“ Though the French," says he, "are disposed to deny the English the praise of taste, we have writers who can rival them in their pretensions to every excellence which can adorn composition. Our Addison, like some of the most celebrated ancients, possesses that sweetness, that delicacy, and that grace, which is formed to please the human mind, under all the revolutions of time, of fashion, and of capricious taste. It is not only the excellent matter which produces the effect of gently composing our passions while we are reading Addison; but it is also that

* Lectures on Belles Lettres, vol. ij. p. 37, first delivered in the year 1761.

sweet style, which cannot be read and tasted without communicating to the mind something of its own equability. The great charm of his diction, which has delighted readers of every class, appears to me to be a certain natural sweetness, ease, and delicacy, which no affectation can attain. Truths of all kinds, the sublime and the familiar, the serious and the comic, are taught in that peculiar style, which raises in the mind a placid and equable flow of emotions; that placidness and equability, which are in a particular manner adapted to give permanency to pleasurable sensation. A work, which warms our passions, and hurries us on with the rapid vehemence of its style, may be read once or twice with pleasure; but it is the more tranquil style which is most frequently in unison with our minds, and which therefore, on the tenth repeti. tion, as Horace says, will afford fresh plea

ور

sure *

Lastly DR. JOHNSON, in his usual nervous and pointed diction, has thus judiciously discriminated the peculiarities and excellencies of our author's composition.

“ His prose is the model of the middle style ; on grave subjects not formal, on light occa

* Vide Essays Moral and Literary, first published, anonymously, I believe, in 1777, No 28, and 106, 14th edition,

« VorigeDoorgaan »