Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

through his former papers, appears nearly exhausted; the Two Sexes * being the only production of this kind, as flowing from his pen, that I can recollect in the work; it is, however, worthy of his talents, and exhibits no small portion of his accustomed ingenuity and fertility of fancy.

* Guardian, No 152.

PART III.

ESSAY VI.

ON THE MORAL TENDENCY OF THE PERIO

DICAL WRITINGS OF ADDISON.

The great object which Addison ever steadily held in view, and to which his style, his criticism, his humour and imagination are alike subservient, was the increase of religious, moral, and social virtue. Perhaps to the writings of no individual, of any age or nation, if we except the result of inspiration, have morality and rational piety been more indebted than to those which form the periodical labours of our author.

That he was enabled to effect so much improvement, and to acquire a kind of moral dominion over his countrymen, must be ascribed, in a great measure, to that suavity of disposition and goodness of heart so visible throughout all his compositions, and which give to his reproof

his

precepts and admonitions, the

and censure,

air of parental affection and monitory kind. ness.

The frequent failure of those who have attempted to correct the follies and vices of man. kind, has been owing to harshness of temper and personality of reproach. It is probable, indeed, that no man was ever benefited or reformed by invective or exposure; though the welfare of society and the atrocity of crime may occasionally demand the utmost publicity of punishment.

To attack the vice but spare the individual has been the constant and salutary aim of the Spectator. “If I attack the vicious," says Addison, “ I shall only set upon them in a body; and will not be provoked by the worst usage

I receive from others, to make an example of any particular criminal.-It is not Lais or Silenus, but the harlot and the drunkard, whom I shall endeavour to expose; and shall consider the crime as it appears in a species, not as it is circumstanced in an individual *.”

Upon this principle are all the moral and critical essays of our author conducted, whether they assume the severer features of preceptive wisdom, or beam with the smiles of gaiety and humour. He has consequently reprobated in

* Spectator, vol. i. N° 16.

can

strong terms that spirit of defamation and revenge, of recrimination and abuse, which sullies and destroys all the beneficial effect of satire, and converts the man who has recourse to such wea. pons into little better than an assassin *.

With equal consistency and propriety he exposes that false zeal which, whether in the cause of religion or politics, hesitates not to employ the basest means for the supposed sanctity or importance of the end in view. The two papers that he has written on these subjects t, exhibit his knowledge of mankind, his good sense and purity of principle, in a full and very striking light. Without a certain species of enthusiasm or zeal, indeed, it is probable nothing great or good can be effected in society; but when this passes beyond due bounds, owing either to vicious motives or a mistaken sense of virtue, it is productive of great and incalculable mischief. “ I love to see a man zealous in a good matter," says our amiable author, “and especially when his zeal shows itself for advancing morality, and promoting the happiness of mankind. But when I find the instruments he works with are racks and gibbets, gallies and dungeons; when he imprisous men's

* See Spectator, vol. i. N° 23, on Defamation, and vol. v. N° 355, on Lampoons.

+ Ibid. vol. iii, NO 185, and vol, vij. N° 507. VOL. 11.

Y

persons, confiscates their estates, ruins their families, and burns the body to save the soul, I cannot stick to pronounce of such a one, that (whatever he may think of his faith and religion) his faith is vain, and his religion unprofitable *.”

Like Steele, Addison was attentive to that great modulator of the public opinion and manners, the Theatre ; and in No 4-16 of the Spectator, he has very justly chastised it for the grossness and obscenity which, at that period, formed its chief defects, and became so notorious as to warrant, in a great degree, the assertion of the Spectator, that cuckoldom formed the basis of nearly all its productions. “ If an alderman,” says Addison,

appears upon the stage, you may be sure it is in order to be cuckolded. An husband that is a little grave or elderly, generally meets with the same fate. Knights and baronets, country squires, and justices of the quorum, come up to town for no other purpose."

On education and the domestic virtues, and on the duties incumbent on father, husband, wife,and child, the precepts of our author are numerous, just, and cogent, and delivered in that sweet in. sinuating style and manner, which have rendered him beyond comparison the most useful moralist this country ever possessed. The imagery

* Spectator, No 185.

« VorigeDoorgaan »