Addison’s Satiric Approach

Addison is one of the greatest prose satirists of the golden age of satire, namely the era of Queen Anne. He was a great critic and social reformer and he was dissatisfied with the departure of the people from common sense, reason, and refinement, as was apparent from their manners of dress and behaviour. He tried his best in The Taller and The Spectator "to banish vice from the territories of Britain." This reformative intention found a very eligible weapon in satire. But Addison’s style and diction of satire is fundamentally different from his contemporaries like Pope, Dryden, Defoe and Swift - other great satirists. Unlike others, Addison (and Steele) wrote in an easy, conversational prose style, and he is never personal in his attack. His approach is much milder in tone, his intention being “to satirise the vanity of the society”, not to ridicule an individual.

Addison’s satire is neither too particular nor too general. He attacks neither individual men nor man but, to use his own expression, "multitudes." He ridicules the groups of people who patronise numerous follies, fopperies, and frivolities which offend good taste. He lashes the vice but "spares the man". He is basically critical not of people but the follies they patronise. It goes to the credit of Addison that as a satirist he never indulged in clashes of personalities.

The character of Sir Roger de Coverley was created by Addison and Steel. Through him, Addison launched his good natured satire at the Tory country gentleman stereotype of his age. While the healthy living and paternalistic communal relations demonstrated by Sir Roger are portrayed with subtle admiration, his dealings with the local church are highly satirized in “Sir Roger at Church”. Mr. Spectator could not suppress a hint of bemusement over Sir Roger’s complete authority in the church writing that, ‘As Sir Roger is Landlord to the whole Congregation; he keeps them in very good Order, and will suffer no body to sleep in it besides himself…’ The squire routinely caused disruptions such as lengthening the verses of psalms, standing while others were kneeling so as to note any absences and interrupting the sermon to tell people not to disturb the congregation with fidgeting or making noise. Mr. Spectator opines that the worthiness of his character made these behavioural oddities seem like foils rather than blemishes of his good qualities. He also notes that none of the other parishioners were polite or educated enough to recognise the ridiculousness of Sir Roger’s behaviour in and authority over the church. These observations of Sir Roger’s love of the high-Anglican church in the countryside are essential to the authors’ original purpose for creating the character, to mock the seemingly backwards rural Tory. During the decades following the writing of The Spectator, religious toleration gradually replaced strict conformity. Like the rest of the Tory party, Sir Roger de Coverley stubbornly resisted this change. Besides he had vested interest in Church’s authority.

In Sir Roger at Home, Fielding’s purpose is twofold. He focuses on what was good in the old order of things; at the same time he shows that such relations are things of the past. Sir Roger’s ruling his household and the village with a genial yet somewhat autocratic sway, is a relic to be adored, but impossible to emulate.

The idea that Sir Roger and the country were frozen in a previous era demonstrates why Sir Roger de Coverley received such satirical treatment. He had the ability to represent both the positives and negatives of England’s past, as evidenced by his paternalistic charity and derided etiquette. Despite being light-heartedly satirised as a symbol of a past way of life, Sir Roger was an admirable pastoral character with a nostalgic appeal. Nonetheless, Sir Roger de Coverley served as both the lovable outdated Tory and, more importantly, also the epitome of those Addison and Steele did not want governing the nation.

Two hallmarks of Addison's satire are "irony and urbanity". Most of Addison's satiric essays are ironical in tone. But, Addison is kind, gentle and generally tolerant. He satirises because he loves humanity. To sum up, Addison was a great satirist of his age who wanted to correct his society through mild satire.

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 July 2017, 1:44 PM