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day justly held forth to the candidates for literary fame as a model of elegant simplicity. It has, however, been more admired than imitated; and very few since the publication of the Spectator have been able to imbue their composition with any considerable portion of Addisonian sweetness and grace.
The taste of the literary world, indeed, has lately, through the seductive influence of some powerful writers, been thrown into a very different channel. The splendid and elaborated diction of Johnson, Burke, and Gibbon, though exhibiting great strength and richness, and therefore admirably adapted to sustain the tone of very lofty subjects, has been indiscriminately, and therefore generally very improperly, assumed as the garb for almost every theme which life and literature afford; whilst the clear, the unaffected yet graceful language of Addison, calculated to clothe with exquisite propriety by far the greater part of moral and literary topics, has been seldom adopted even in the very departments where it ought more especially to have been employed. Of those who have cultivated a diction emulating the chaste beauties which distinguish the style of Addison, I can enumerate but three or four. Hume and Goldsmith have in their Essays made the nearest approach to this model; some of the papers in the Mirror, likewise, are composed in a vein of great sweetness and delicacy, with regard both to selection and arrangement of language ; and the moral and critical writings of Dr. Aikin display a style which unites the rare qualities of great accuracy, simplicity, and taste.
If we now look back upon the period included in this Essay, involving not less than one hundred and thirty years, we shall find, that from the era of Sidney to the publication of the Spectator, the English language, with few exceptions, had been gradually and successively improving, and at length acquired, in the compositions of Addison, a high degree of classical elegance and purity. The steps by which this near approach to perfection became attainable, will be accurately seen through the medium of the quotations that I have given, and which it has been my endeavour to select with a view as well to the interest of the matter as the illustration of style.
The attentive reader will soon discern that Addison, who was assiduous in preserving as much of the idiom of our ancient writers as his subject and the progress of refinement would allow, has imbibed much of the flavour and colouring of the best authors of our first period, of Hooker, Raleigh, and Bacon; and, on the other
Mouring of the bed much of threfinement
hand, may be sometimes, though not often, traced in the lax and diffuse sentences of Sidney. Of the second era Cowley, Tillotson, and Temple, as hath already been observed, were his prototypes; and how much of sweetness, of beauty, and of grace, he has added to the improvements which they had already engrafted on composition, must be strongly felt by every person who contrasts their various productions.
It may, in short, without the least charge of partiality, be said, that, though with regard to the minutiæ of grammar and composition Addison may be found less accurate than the best writers of the present day,—in all the great qualities of style, in perspicuity, simplicity, and ease, in harmony, elegance, and amenity, he has been surpassed by none and equalled but by few.
ON THE CRITICAL ABILITIES AND TASTE OF
To discriminate with accuracy the beauties and defects of composition, and to establish laws for its conduct, consonant to the general feelings of nature, and the practice of the best writers, form the basis of an art which has ever been highly esteemed in proportion to the progress of civilization and refinement.
In the early stages of society, though genius o the first-rate quality may exist, its efforts, though brilliant, are seldom under the controul of taste and judgment. The mighty name of Homer is usually pointed out as an exception; but the assistance which this great poet derived from his predecessors or contemporaries, and the state of literature of the period in which he flourished, are still involved in almost impenetrable obscurity. The internal evidence of his works proves
that he was versed in all the knowledge of his times; and it is reasonable to suppose, that he availed himself to the utmost of what previous ages had accumulated in precept and example *. However assisted, or however independent of others, he has left the world two productions, whose execution and construction have been the admi.
* “ Homer,” observes the Editor of the Bibliographical Dictionary, "has been generally stiled the Father of Epic Poetry.--This has ever appeared to me very improper. It is true he is the oldest Greek poet we know. But as the Paradise Lost of Milton plainly supposed that other Epic poems existed prior to this, and that Milton had read them, so does that of Homer. It is contrary to all the phænomena of the human mind, that so finished a work should have been the first essay of the kind. There can be no room to doubt but many poets flourished before Homer, and perhaps not a few Epic poems were made ; and it would be rash to assert that even his is the best that ever was produced. As the Paradise Lost, necessarily supposes SPENSER'S Fairy Queen: that, tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata : that, VIRGIL'S Æneid; and the Æneid, the Iliad of HomeR; so the Iliad ita self may stand in reference to as many preceding poems as the Paradise Lost does. As the Æneid never could have existed bad not the Iliad gone before, on the plan of which it is all built; and, as the Jerusalem Delivered is a proceed from the Æneid, as the Fairy Queen is from the poem of Tasso, and the Paradise Lost from the whole ; so I conjecture the Iliad is from the works of preceding poets. And if this conjecture be well fouuded, we are left to deplore the irreparable loss of a vast mass of intellect in the destruction of the works which preceded and gave birth to those of Homer!"
Vol. 4th, p. 127, 128.