Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON ON ADDISON.

As a describer of life and manners Addison must be allowed to stand perhaps the first of the first rank. His humor, which, as Steele observes, is peculiar to himself, is so happily diffused as to give the grace of novelty to domestic scenes and daily occurrences. He never "o'ersteps the modesty of nature," nor raises merriment or wonder by the violation of truth. His figures neither divert by distortion nor amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so much fidelity that he can be hardly said to invent; yet his exhibitions have an air so original that it is difficult to suppose them not merely the product of imagination.

As a teacher of wisdom he may be confidently followed. His religion has nothing in it enthusiastic or superstitious; he appears neither weakly credulous nor wantonly sceptical; his morality is neither dangerously lax nor impracticably rigid. All the enchantment of fancy and all the cogency of argument are employed to recommend to the reader his real interest, the care of pleasing the Author of his being. Truth is shown sometimes as the phantom of a vision; sometimes appears half-veiled in an allegory; sometimes attracts regard in the robes of fancy; and sometimes steps forth in the confidence of reason. She wears a thousand dresses, and in all is pleasing.

"Mille habet ornatus, mille decenter habet."

His prose is tne model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not grovelling; pure without scrupulosity, and exact without apparent elaboration; always equable and always easy, without glowing words and pointed sentences. Addison never deviates from his track. to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious ornaments and tries no hazardous innovations. His page is always luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendor.

It was apparently his principal endeavor to avoid all harshness and severity of diction; he is therefore sometimes verbose in his

transitions and connections, and sometimes descends too much to the language of conversation; yet if his language had been less idiomatical it might have lost somewhat of its genuine Anglicism. What he attempted he performed; he is not feeble, and he did not wish to be energetic; he is never rapid and he never stagnates. His sentences have neither studied amplitude nor affected brevity; his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.

FROM TAINE'S HISTOIRE DE LA LITTÉRATURE ANGLAISE.

QUE d'art il faut pour plaire! D'abord l'art de se faire entendre, du premier coup, toujours, jusqu'au fond, sans peine pour le lecteur, sans réflexion, sans attention! Figurez-vous des hommes du monde qui lisent une page entre deux bouchées de gâteaux, des dames qui interrompent une phrase pour demander l'heure du bal: trois mots spéciaux ou savants leur feraient jeter le journal. Ils ne veulent que des termes clairs, de l'usage commun, où l'esprit entre de primesaut comme dans les sentiers de la causerie ordinaire; en effet, pour eux, la lecture n'est qu'une causerie et meilleure que l'autre. Car le monde choisi raffine le langage. Il ne souffre point les hasards ni les à-peu-près de l'improvisation et de l'inexpérience. Il exige la science du style comme la science des façons. Il veut des mots exacts qui expriment les fines nuances de la pensée, et des mots mesurés qui écartent les impressions choquantes ou extrêmes. Il souhaite des phrases développées qui, lui présentant la même idée sous plusieurs faces, l'impriment aisément dans son esprit distrait. Il demande des alliances de mots qui, présentant une idée comme sous une forme piquante, l'enfoncent vivement dans son imagination distraite. Addison lui donne tout ce qu'il désire; ses écrits sont la pure source du style classique; jamais en Angleterre on n'a parlé de meilleur ton. Les ornements y abondent, et jamais la rhétorique n'y a part. Partout de justes oppositions qui ne servent qu'à la clarté et ne sont point trop prolongées; d'heureuses expressions aisément trouvées qui donnent aux choses un tour

ingénieux et nouveau; des périodes harmonieuses où les sons coulent les uns dans les autres avec la diversité et la douceur d'un ruisseau calme; une veine féconde d'inventions et d'images où luit la plus aimable ironie.

FROM BELJAME'S LE PUBLIC ET LES HOMMES DE
LETTRES EN ANGLETERRE AU XVIIIME SIÈCLE.

REPRÉSENTEZ-vous un homme du monde, poli sans recherche, grave sans raideur, instruit sans pédantisme, aimant et goûtant les plaisirs de l'esprit, avec cela chrétien, chrétien convaincu, mais ni rigide, ni bigot, ni intolérant, et de sa religion pratiquant surtout la charité; figurez-vous cet homme causant dans une société de gens distingués et cultivés, et leur communiquant, selon les hasards de la conversation, ses idées sur toutes les questions que peut agiter une réunion pareille, sur la littérature, sur les amusements ou les mœurs du jour, quelquefois sur des questions plus hautes touchant aux grands intérêts de cette vie ou de l'autre; dans ces causeries variées de sujets et de ton, il est aimable, spirituel, intéressant toujours, souvent élevé, mais jamais il ne prend le langage dogmatique et sentencieux; il se garde discrètement des longs développements monotones sur le même thème, car il est à ses yeux de mauvais goût et de mauvaise politique d'ennuyer ses auditeurs; ennemi de toute exagération, il n'emploie ni les grandes phrases, ni les grands gestes; il loue plus volontiers qu'il ne blâme, et s'il est forcé de blâmer, il ne se laisse pas aller aux paroles blessantes, auxquelles son savoir-vivre répugne autant que sa religion; il indique son blâme par un mot grave et calme, plus souvent par une intonation ironique, par un clignement de l'œil, par un plissement de la lèvre. Jamais sa conversation n'a le caractère apprêté et raide d'un enseignement, et cependant elle instruit, et l'on n'aura pas vécu dans le commerce de son esprit sans en retirer, en même temps que le plaisir le plus délicat, le plus sérieux profit intellectuel et moral. Tels sont les essais d'Addison: ce sont les causeries attrayantes d'un homme du monde chez qui l'esprit est élevé par le savoir et la raison, et tempéré par la bonté.

[ocr errors]

SELECT ESSAYS OF ADDISON.

Spectator No. I.

Thursday, March 1, 1711: introduces himself to the reader.

The Spectator

I HAVE observed that a reader seldom peruses a book with pleasure, until he knows whether the writer of it be a black or a fair man, of a mild or choleric disposition, married or a bachelor, with other particulars of the like nature, that conduce very much to the right understanding of an author. To gratify this curiosity, which is so natural to a reader, I design this paper, and my next, as prefatory discourses to my following writings, and shall give some account in them of the several persons that are engaged in this work. As the chief trouble of compiling, digesting, and correcting, will fall to my share, I must do myself the justice to open the work with my own history.

I was born to a small hereditary estate, which, according to the tradition of the village where it lies, was bounded by the same hedges and ditches in William the Conqueror's time that it is at present, and has been delivered down from father to son whole and entire, without the loss or acquisition of a single field or meadow, during the space of six hundred years. There runs a story in the family, that my mother dreamed that her child was destined to be a judge whether this might proceed from a law-suit which

1

was then depending in the family, or my father's being a justice of the peace, I cannot determine; for I am not so vain as to think it presaged any dignity that I should arrive at in my future life, though that was the interpretation which the neighborhood put upon it. The gravity of my behavior at my very first appearance in the world seemed to favor my mother's dream: for as she has often told me, I threw away my rattle before I was two months old, and would not make use of my coral until they had taken away the bells from it.

As for the rest of my infancy, there being nothing in it remarkable, I shall pass it over in silence. I find, that, during my nonage, I had the reputation of a very sullen youth, but was always a favorite of my schoolmaster, who used to say, that my parts were solid, and would wear well. I had not been long at the university, before I distinguished myself by a most profound silence; for, during the space of eight years, excepting in the public exercises of the college, I scarce uttered the quantity of an hundred words; and indeed do not remember that I ever spoke three sentences together in my whole life. Whilst I was in this learned body, I applied myself with so much diligence to my studies, that there are very few celebrated books, either in the learned or the modern tongues, which I am not acquainted with.

Upon the death of my father, I was resolved to travel into foreign countries, and therefore left the university, with the character of an odd unaccountable fellow, that had a great deal of learning, if I would but show it. An insatiable thirst after knowledge carried me into all the countries of Europe, in which there was any thing new or strange to be seen; nay, to such a degree was my curiosity raised, that having read the controversies of some great men concerning the antiquities of Egypt, I made a voyage to Grand Cairo, on purpose to take the measure of a

« НазадПродовжити »