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  Its Literary Criticism: Addison on Paradise Lost, and On the Pleasures of the Imagination Cato  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

II. Steele and Addison.

§ 21. Addison on Religion.


Although Addison varied these dissertations with humorous and satirical essays, 166  the tone of The Spectator became more and more serious as the numbers continued to appear. At the outset, he had declared, in two papers, 167  that his practice was to put his thoughts together without premeditation; but, towards the close, he admitted the need of methodical discourses. 168  He had other things to teach besides the appreciation of literature and art. In the latter half of the seventeenth century, England had exchanged a civilisation of war for a civilisation of peace and needed a religion to match. Martial patriotism, of course, still ran high; but the typical man of culture was a peaceful Londoner, busy with his family and his profession, and the only battles which he fought were those with himself. As has been shown, the votaries of the old régime continued the tradition of atheism. But the middle classes were still devout and only needed to bring into their worship that cult of urbanity at which they aimed in their daily lives. No one could be more susceptible to this tendency than a man of Addison’s character, and, when he set himself to lead a social reform, it was inevitable that he should write on religion. He is no more original on this theme than on others. Humanised Christianity is to be found, in all its sweetness, in Jeremy Taylor and had already proved itself in John Webster’s great book 169  of sufficient power to end the witch persecution. But, though Addison was not the first to proclaim the gospel of peace and goodwill, he was the first who could bring it into the hearts and homes of London citizens. Like the earlier puritans, he held that religion should govern every thought and action, but not to the exclusion of the world. His creed was one of acquiescence and inward piety. Zeal was often a cloak for pride, self-interest or ill-nature; enthusiasm led to bigotry and superstition. A Christian’s devotion should be self-contained, with just enough fervour to prevent religion from becoming a mere philosophy. 170  Addison held, also, to the need of self-examination, but not of despondency or self-contempt. To him, everything was under the direction of a Supreme Being, 171  who, as the Stoics and Juvenal had long before taught, knew better than man what was good for him. 172  The duty of human beings was to be reconciled to their lot, to forget the differences and humiliations of this life in the expectation of eternity, and to seek a sober happiness in a sense of doing right. 173  These lay sermons are accompanied by a few verse paraphrases of the Psalms, rendered with polished simplicity, and are varied by allegories, among which The First Vision of Mirza is justly celebrated for its tranquil, lofty style.   39

Note 166E.g. nos. 81 (party patches), 102 (the use of the fan), 205 (the woman of fashion in church), 247 (women as talkers), 265 (the head dress), 275 (a beau’s head), 281 (a coquette’s heart), 343 (the Pythagorean monkey), 361 (catcalls), 377 (bill of mortality through love). [ back ]
Note 167. Nos. 46, 124. [ back ]
Note 168. No. 476. [ back ]
Note 169The Displaying of supposed Witchcraft, 1677. See ante, Vol. VII, Chap. XVI, pp. 449–451. [ back ]
Note 170. Nos. 185, 201, 483. [ back ]
Note 171. Nos. 120, 121, 387, 489, 494, 495, 531, 543. [ back ]
Note 172. Nos. 207, 237, 391, 441. [ back ]
Note 173. Nos. 186, 213, 219, 381, 483. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Its Literary Criticism: Addison on Paradise Lost, and On the Pleasures of the Imagination Cato  
 
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