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Joseph Addison
by [?]

Most of the frightful cruelties inflicted on mankind during the past have arisen out of a difference of opinion arising through a difference in temperament. The question is as live today as it was two thousand years ago–what expression is best? That is, what shall we do to be saved? And concrete absurdity consists in saying we must all do the same thing.

Whether the race will ever grow to a point where men will be willing to leave the matter of life-expression to the individual is a question. Most men are anxious to do what is best for themselves and least harmful for others. The average man now has intelligence enough! Utopia is not far off, if the self-appointed folk who govern us for a consideration would only be willing to do unto others as they would be done by, and cease coveting things that belong to other people. War among nations, and strife among individuals, is a result of the covetous spirit to possess either power or things, or both. A little more patience, a little more charity for all, a little more devotion, a little more love; with less bowing down to the past, a brave looking forward to the future, with more confidence in ourselves, and more faith in our fellows, and the race will be ripe for a great burst of light and life.

Macaulay has said that the Puritan did not condemn bear-baiting because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectator. The Puritan regarded beauty as a pitfall and a snare: that which gave pleasure was a sin; he found his gratification in doing without things. Puritanism was a violent oscillation of the pendulum of life to the other side. From the vanity, pretense, affectation and sensualism of a Church and State bitten by corruption, we find the recoil in Puritanism.

Asceticism to the verge of hardship, frankness bordering on rudeness, and a stolidity that was impolite; or soft, luxurious hypocrisy in a moth-eaten society–which shall it be? And Joseph Addison comes upon the scene and by the sincerity, graciousness and gentle excellence of his life and work, says, “Neither!”

* * * * *

The little village of Wiltshire is noted as the birthplace of Addison, who was the son of a clergyman, afterward the Dean of Lichfield. An erstwhile resident of Lichfield, Samuel Johnson by name, once said of Joseph Addison, “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.”

For elegance, simplicity, insight, and a wit that is sharp but which never wounds, Addison has no rival, although more than two hundred years have come and gone since he ceased to write.

Addison was a gentleman–the best example of a perfect gentleman that the history of English literature affords. And in letters it is much easier to find a genius than a gentleman. The field today is not at all over-worked; and those who wish to cultivate the art of being gentlemen will find no fearsome competition. In fact, the chief reason for not engaging in this line is the discomfort of isolation, and the lack of comradeship one is sure to suffer. To be gentle, generous, kind; to win by few words; and to disarm criticism and prejudice through the potency of a gracious presence, is a fine art. Books on etiquette will not serve the end, nor studious attempts to smile at the proper time, nor zealous efforts to avoid jostling the whims of those we meet; for to attempt to please is often to antagonize.

Sympathy, Knowledge and Poise seem the three ingredients most needed in forming the gentle man. I place these elements according to their value. No man is great who does not possess Sympathy plus, and the greatness of men can safely be gauged by their sympathies. Sympathy and imagination are twin sisters. Your heart must go out to all men, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, the good, the bad, the wise, the foolish–you must be one with them all, else you can never comprehend them. Sympathy! It is the touchstone to every secret, the key to all knowledge, the open sesame of all hearts. Put yourself in the other man’s place, and then you will know why he thinks certain thoughts and does certain deeds. Put yourself in his place, and your blame will dissolve itself into pity, and your tears will wipe out the record of his misdeeds. The saviors of the world have simply been men with wondrous Sympathy.