1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Addison

Anna Seward, January 1764; Poetical Works (1810) 1:lxxxiii-iv.



The language of Addison appears to me as only possessing distinguished excellence from comparing it with that of his contemporary writers; and even then we should except some of them, Bolingbroke and Swift for instance, who wrote prose at least as well; that, compared with the style of our present best essayists, it is neither remarkably perspicuous nor remarkably musical. He often uses more words than are necessary to express his sense, and that habit has always a tendency to confuse and enfeeble his diction. Then he frequently finishes his sentence with insignificant words, such as, "with," — "it," — "upon," — "against," &c., which produce the same effect upon the ear, as the eye perceives from a jerk, or sudden stop in motion. Such a paltry termination cuts the sentence off in a sharp angle, and utterly precludes that roundness, that majestic sweep of sound, in which the Johnsonian periods so generally close: periods that my ear finds of such full and satisfying harmony, as not to need either rhyme or measure to add more sweetness. In truth, rhyme and measure are but the body of poetry, not its spirit, and its spirit breathes through all the pages of the Rambler.