The Contribution of Addison to the growth of English novel

In the early 18th century, English men realized the need to purify and fix the English tongue. They wanted to bring about a certain constancy in English prose which was still undeveloped. Men like Daniel Defoe, Addison and Steele etc. began to try their hands at ascertaining the English prose. But the novel, as distinct from fiction, is a very new genre of literature, coming into its own with the truth of the seventeenth century or with the commencement of the eighteenth, blossoming for the first time in the works of Richardson and Fielding. and it should be understood that the novel was not a rootless growth. It owed a good deal to the work of many a ‘non-novelist’. For instance, Addison and Steele exercised much of a shaping influence before the novel came to its own with Richardson and Fielding.

The Coverly Papers, particularly, foreboded the arrival of the novel and The Spectator as a whole one of its notable precursors, when The Spectator appeared, Fielding was busy in schoolboy exploits, and in schoolboy exploits, and in “robbing birds’ nest,” Richardson was working something like an amanuensis and Smollet and Sterne were not yet born. Under those circumstances, much credit goes to Addison for having held a mirror to the morals and manners of his age, which is the primary function of a novelist to do.

Very often, while reading a paper from The Spectator, especially a Coverly Paper, we have the feeling as if we have the feeling as if we were reading a page from a novel. Much of what we can legitimately expect in a novel we find in The Spectator. Macaulay is very explicit on this point when he says in his Essay on Addison:

“We have not the least doubt that Addison had written a novel………. He is entitled to be considered not only as the greatest of the English essayists but as the forerunner of the great English novelists.”

 Of course, it stands to reason whether Addison could have emerged as the greatest novelist and he tried his hand at writing “a novel on an extensive plan”. However, it is certain that The Spectator papers do have something of the interest of a novel. We cannot agree with Macaulay that Addison was a “forerunner of the great English novelists, but he was only a forerunner and not a pioneer.”

Addison’s Spectator papers, in quite a few ways, foreshadow the arrival of the novel, The Coverly Papers, in particular, have some elements of a novel paper.

Generally, a novel is expected to give us:

i) Character
ii) Incidents (loosely or well-knit into a “plot”)
iii) Some sort of narrative which carries forward the plot
iv) Artistic unity

Characters are the life breath of a novel. Even if some novels may be ‘plotless’ none can be without characters. The greatness of a novelist is measured, wrongly or rightly, by his success in the field of characterization. Addison’s success in creating viable and lifelike characters is too well-known to need any mention. One of the chief reasons for Addison’s greatness at characterization is that he can import surprising “life-likeness” to his characters.

Addison refers to but a few qualities of a character and our “picture of that character” is complete and satisfying. These qualities may not be well-arranged, but the total final impression is well-organized and simple. It is Addison’s vivid description that can make even a colorless character vivid and gripping and alive.

In all, we thus have from Addison’s pen nearly four hundred essays, which are of nearly uniform length, of almost unvarying excellence of style, and of a wide diversity of subject. They are a faithful reflection of the life of the time viewed with an aloof and dispassionate observation. His aim was to point out “those vices which are too trivial for the chastisement of the law, and too fantastical for the cognizance of the pulpit.”

In conclusion, it can be said that as a forerunner of the English novels. Addison uses the elegant and polished language of actual conversation. He has firm command over the language. Even in short sentences, he is able to express his ideas succinctly. So, we can agree with Macaulay that Addison was a forerunner of the great English novelists.

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