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morning had cost me three coffee-dishes, and a clean pipe. He seemed concerned at that, and told me he was a dancing-master, and had been reading a dance or two before he went out, which had been written by one who taught at an academy in France. He observed me at a stand, and went on to inform me, that now articulate motions, as well as sounds, were expressed by proper characters; and that there is nothing so common, as to communicate a dance by a letter. I besought him hereafter to meditate in a groundroom, for that otherwise it would be impossible for an artist of any other kind to live near him ; and that I was sure several of his thoughts this morning would have shaken my spectacles off my nose, had I been myself at study.
“ I then took my leave of this virtuoso, and returned to my chamber, meditating on the various occupations of rational creatures *.”
In this extract there are a few inaccuracies common to every writer of a period, when systematic grammar had not yet been established ; as, for instance, got for gotten, shaked for shaken, and writ for written. There is one error, however, of greater consequence in this passage, more especially as it militates against perspicuity. Our author observes, that the person he is de
* Tatler, No 88.
scribing appeared to be an enthusiast,“ who possibly had his first education in the Peripatetic way, which was a sect of philosophers.” Sense and precision are here violated, the dogmata of a system being confounded with the persons who professed them. It should have been “the Peripatetic way, which was founded or established by a sect of philosophers.” This is a solecism, however, not frequent in the writings of Addison, and though glaring to the critic of the nineteenth century, was little liable to detection when he offered his compositions to the public.
On subjects of a dignified and serious cast, or which are decorated with the magic hues of fancy, the style of Addison is uncommonly beautiful. It is metaphorical and rich, without losing any portion of its sweetness and simplicity; it is clear, graceful, and pure, and charms the more durably as it is free from antithesis, point, and forced construction.
Innumerable are the passages which present themselves for selection, as instances of a style which on topics of this nature has probably never been surpassed. With what exquisite propriety and beauty our author could adapt his diction to his subject, the following extracts, taken from his Essay on Westminster Abbey, will abun
dantly prove. The theme is of the highest import, and the language correspondently solemn and impressive.
“Upon my going into the church,” he remarks,“ I entertained myself with the digging of a grave, and saw in every shovelful of it that was thrown up, the fragment of a bone or skull, intermixt with a kind of fresh mouldering earth, that some time or other had a place in the composition of a human body. Upon this, I began to consider with myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another, and blended together in the same common mass; how beauty, strength, and youth, with old age, weakness, and deformity, lay undistinguished in the same promiscuous heap of matter.--
“ I know that entertainments of this nature are apt to raise dark and dismal thoughts in tis morous minds and gloomy imaginations; but for my own part, though I am always serious, I do not know what it is to be melancholy, and can therefore take a view of Nature in her deep and solemn scenes, with the same pleasure as in her most gay and delightful ones. By this means I can improve myself with those objects which others consider with terror. When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow. When I see kings lying by those who deposed them; when I consider rival wits placed side by side; or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes; I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day, when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together *."
Equally striking and appropriate is the style of Addison, when employed on subjects whose gaiety and beauty call for diction of the greatest sweetness, vivacity, and elegance. Expatiating on the pleasures of a winter-garden, the picture he has drawn is rendered still more lovely by the powers of contrast. “When nature,” he ob
* Spectator, No 26.
serves, " is in her desolation, and presents us with nothing but bleak and barren prospects, there is something unspeakably cheerful in a spot of ground which is covered with trees that smile amidst all the rigour of winter, and give us a view of the most gay season in the midst of that which is the most dead and melancholy. I have so far indulged myself in this thought, that I have set apart a whole acre of ground for the executing of it. The walls are covered with ivy instead of vines. The laurel, the horn-beam, and the holly, with many other trees and plants of the same nature, grow so thick in it that you cannot imagine a more lively scene. The glowing redness of the berries, with which they are hung at this time, vies with the verdure of their leaves, and is apt to inspire the heart of the beholder with that vernal delight which you have somewhere taken notice of in your former papers. It is very pleasant, at the same time, to see the several kinds of birds retiring into this little green spot, and enjoying themselves among the branches and foliage, when my great garden, which I have before mentioned to you, does not afford a single leaf for their shelter *.”
On no topic, however, has he exhibited greater amenity and harmony of language than when he
* Spectator, No 477.