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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 and censure, his precepts and admonitions, the air of parental affection and monitory kind. ness.
The frequent failure of those who have attempted to correct the follies and vices of mankind, 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 can 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.
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 weapons 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 imprisons men's persons, confiscates their estates, ruins their famia lies, 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 *.”
* See Spectator, vol. i. N° 23, on Defamation, and vol. v. N° 355, on Lampoons.
f Ibid. vol. iji. No 185, and vol. vii. N° 507. VOL. II.
Like Steele, Addison was attentive to that great modulator of the public opinion and manners, the Theatre; and in No 446 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.
by which he indicates the effect and force of education is singularly happy, and appropriate ; the hint is taken from Aristotle, who affirms that in a block of marble the statue which the sculptor ultimately produces is merely concealed, and that the effect of his art is only to remove the surrounding matter which hides the beauteous figure from the view. “What sculpture is to a block of marble,” says Addison, “education is to a human soul. We see it sometimes only begun to be chipped; sometimes rough-hewn, and but just sketched into an human figure; sometimes we see the man appearing distinctly in all his limbs and features, sometimes we find the figure wrought up to a great elegancyt; but seldom meet with any to which the hand of a Phidias or Praxiteles could not give several nice touches and finishings*.”
The relations, also, which subsist in general society, and to the due observance of which the state owes all its importance and prosperity, have attracted much of his attention; and the obligations of the minister, the citizen, the master, and the servant, are laid down with great strength and precision. No man performed the duties of a public station with more industry and integrity than Addison himself; we have seen that he
* Spectator, No 215.