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From: The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats
Volume 45, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 177-225 | 10.1353/scb.2013.0017

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Jost, Jacob Sider. “The Afterlife and The Spectator,” SEL, 51 (Summer 2011), 605–624.

Mr. Jost takes issue with those critics who have seen the Spectator papers as primarily secular in their orientation. Many of the papers, he argues, show affinities with late-Stuart Latitudinarian thought, particularly in their treatment of the human afterlife.

The Spectator, as everyone knows, tended to recommend to its readers moral improvement as a daily goal, and it was not far-fetched to suppose that the accumulation of its papers day by day would over time promote not just good deeds, but also good habits that would last. Addison and Steele simply extended this thought to include the afterlife: virtuous thoughts and good deeds in the present would surely shape future character, quite possibly everlastingly. Mr. Jost quotes Addison’s Spectator No. 93: “. . . consider further that the Exercise of Virtue is not only an Amusement for the time it lasts, but that its Influence extends to those Parts of our Existence which lie beyond the Grave, and that our whole Eternity is to take its Colour from those Hours which we here employ in Virtue or in Vice. . . .”

Of course, such a view significantly revises traditional Christian ideas of an upward heaven and a downward hell. Addison and Steele think in more horizontal terms: life after death continues the trajectory of life before death, and the good habits acquired in one life carry over into the next. Interestingly, this thought would not have seemed foreign to an observer as august as John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, who wrote: “Our souls will continue forever what we make them in the world. Such a temper and disposition of mind as a man carries with him out of this life he will retain in the next.”

Mr. Jost’s adventitious conclusion carries the notion of afterlife into a wholly different context: the Spectator’s long afterlife in British culture as a collected publication shows that there is no sharp division between life and afterlife for essays or for authors.

Sandner, David. “The Sublime and the Fantastic: Joseph Addison, Longinus, Edmund Burke,” Critical Discourses of the Fantastic, 1712–1831. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. 33–45.

Mr. Sandner’s study extends the literary fantastic back beyond its supposed genesis in English Romanticism. For him, Addison in particular is an important precursor: his “Pleasures of the Imagination” anticipates later developments by linking the fantastic to the sublime.

The sublime and the fantastic have in common an unboundedness, which made them appealing, but also difficult to formulate clearly and consistently. Cautious eighteenth-century thinkers associate both with the unreal, unreasonable, or primitive and, thus, dismiss them. But not Addison. Mr. Sandner’s sharp eye finds small hesitations or inconsistencies among Addison’s theoretical arguments and in those uncertain moments, the richness of his thinking.

Consider the relative priority of nature and art. Addison initially supposed that the variety of nature was the highest “entertainment of the mind” and therefore the greatest source of pleasure. Yet he hesitated: the artful mind had a “strange” power to alter and compound images drawn from the natural world to form ideas more beautiful than anything in nature. Addison evinced a similar double attitude toward language. A faithful reflection of the experienced world, language should aspire to clarity—and yet images and rhetorical figures are often independent from nature and greatly affect readers.

The combination of these two hesitations allowed Addison to formulate a rhetorical approach to the sublime: literary sublimity is a happy result of a grand subject and language artfully deployed. And the “strange” power of art to fabricate new images and entities apart from nature opens the way toward a theoretical basis for the fantastic. Borrowing from Dryden, Addison praised “The Fairie Way of Writing” as a high point of imaginative expression, a rich resource from the past, still available to his contemporaries. Make way for the Sylphs!


Kim, Elizabeth S. “Penelope Aubin’s Novels Reconsidered: The Barbary Captivity Narrative and Christian Ecumenism in Early Eighteenth-Century Britain,” EighteenthCN, 8 (2011), 1–29.

Ms. Kim’s essay explains an eighteenth-century literary oddity—a writer who portrays Catholics and Catholicism positively. At...

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