You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
April 15, 2003
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· An English Style, Familiar But Not Coarse ·
Though Johnson's is hardly Addison's style, it marks the clear shape of the man's happy achievement. Together with Richard Steele, Addison of course virtually invented the daily journal essay. His Tatler and Spectator essays from 1709 to 1712 led readers through London coffee houses with "Starbuckian Wit" — to city wags, wits, and Whigs of interest. I've particular fondness for one Tatler piece, #158. Bookish Tom Folio therein abuses "those who talk of the fineness of style, and the justness of thought, or describe the brightness of any particular passages; nay, though they write themselves in the genius and spirit of the author they admire, Tom looks upon them as men of superficial learning, and flashy parts." There's nothing like getting to the nub of things fast.
To read Addison's Tatler-Spectator essays, you can find complete sets at The Spectator Project. Tatler requires the DjVu download, but you will be up and running soon. Check out #155 (v. 3, p. 221) for an early version of InstaPundit. Addison's Upholsterer always prompts a laugh.Permalink
For an alternate view, read Peter Riis's recent posting at The New Companion, Memoirs of cabinet ministers.
Given word of Police Chief Charles Moose's noted literary ambitions, perhaps consider retitling it Memoirs of chiefs of police.
Judge for yourself, of course, whether Chief Moose is a direct literary decendant of Joseph Addison.
Thank you so much for noticing my piece. I quoted Connolly on Addison with some mixed feelings — I think, in the end, his assessment is too harsh. Are you familiar with Connolly's Enemies of Promise? The first section, on the mandarin vs. the plain style, is fascinating, and particularly apposite to the subject matter of your wonderful site. Today the spectrum is shifted so far towards the plain style that you couldn't even have the same discussion. People like Walter Pater and late Henry James are, by today's standards, in the far ultra-violet. It makes writers like Nicholson Baker, who is an amazing stylist and mandarin (at least in spirit) that much more precious.
Now as for Inspector Moose — well, Richard Steele was some sort of Captain of the Guard, wasn't he? Maybe if Chief Moose wins his battle to make his voice heard, we'll all be pleasantly surprised.
Thanks for your kind note. Yes, Enemies of Promise is familiar, but Connolly's distinction may be off: Henry James's style — especially in dialogue — is often more plain than mandarin. But you are right: Connolly's distinction is mostly lost on us today.
As for Inspector Moose, like his Oxford counterpart Chief Inspector Morse, we may see him yet take a stoll down Addison's Walk — though we must "Steele" ourselves, of course, for a brief pub stop.
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