Addison’s Prose Style

Question: Discuss Addison’s prose style.


Addison’s contribution to the development of English prose cannot be overestimated. He has perfected English prose as an instrument for the expression of social thought. That is why he has shown much concern for his style and eventually his position in the history of English prose is assured and high.

Addison’s prose style

As we know that Addison was not the first prose composer of his contemporary time and in the history of English literature. But his style has been designated because of English style based on sundry facets which are as follows:

The middle style

Critics after critics have talked about Addison’s prose style but Dr. Johnson was the first who referred to Addison’s prose style as the ‘middle style’. What he says regarding the style, is apt and clear. In his style, Addison is the picture of moderation that is a virtue that he has recommended to all his readers and has written in favor of. He avoids all coarse and ostentatious expressions. He is always elegant, clear, and fluent. This is a brief illustration of the ‘middle style’ from Johnson’s point of view.

Clarity and lucidity of expression

The striking feature of Addison’s prose style is clarity and lucidity. What he wants to say, he says clearly. There is no ambiguity which means that his expressions are free from obscurity, complexity, and superfluity. Even his long sentences do not present any difficulty to understand him. It is evident in the following sentence taken from the essay, “The Spectator’s Account of Himself”:

 “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.”

There is no difficulty in picking up the meaning of the above long sentence. However, Addison is equally capable of expressing himself in short and compact sentences. So, whatever the structure of his sentences, his expression possesses clarity and lucidity.

Absence of unnecessary ornamentation

The absence of unnecessary ornamentation is one of the winsome features of Addison’s style. He uses figures of speech such as similes, metaphors, antithesis, etc. but they are not employed to adorn the language. Rather they are to make his statement clearer and more effective. He mostly uses similes and metaphors for crating humor and has been very successful.

 “The tongue is like a race horse, which runs the faster the lesser weight it carries”.

Allusions and anecdotes

Allusions and anecdotes are prolific in Addison’s essays. He uses allusions from a variety of sources – historical, Biblical, literary, and mythological allusions. He uses them to illustrate, convince, to add force to his argument, and to enhance ironic and satirical effects. On the other hand, his anecdotes are very successful to multiply the effect of humor. He takes his anecdotes from older literature or popular stories. One of the stories is that an old man who had two wives. One of his wives liked the black and the other disliked grey hair. As a result, they pulled out all the hair of the old man who became bald. This story is used in a most humorous manner to illustrate the spectator’s position when the other club members demand the exclusion of their particular classes from Spectator’s satire in the essay, “The Scope of Satire”. The anecdotes of “The Coverley Papers” are mostly fictitious for the purpose of mild satire with solutions.

Humor and irony

As the most graceful satirist, Addison’s aim was to reform society out of its follies and foibles. He declared his method to be the combination of wit with morality. That is why humor and irony form a basic and striking foundation for most of his essays. But it is transparent that we do not always get the humor in his essays since some of his essays are starkly didactic. The essay “Sir Roger at Church” is a representative essay is packed with humor and irony.


Though Addison’s ‘middle style’ has the disadvantages of lack of energy and force, he has shown a perfect English prose style to the great extent. He freed it from the neoclassical tradition of extravagances and brought lucidity, clarity, and precision.

Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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