The Glorious Faculty: a Critical Analysis of Addison’s Theory of Imagination in ‘the Pleasures of Imagination’

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The Glorious Faculty: A Critical Analysis of Addison’s Theory of Imagination in ‘The Pleasures of Imagination’

Declaration: I declare that this is my original work and I have acknowledged indebtedness to authors I have consulted in the preparation of my paper.

(I) An auxilier light
Came from my mind which on the setting sun
Bestow’d new splendor …[1]

- William Wordsworth

(II) Ah ! from the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud![2]
- S. T. Coleridge

The synthesizing ‘essemplastic power’[3] of imagination that bestows ‘splendor’ on beauty, enabling the Romantic poet to transcreate reality in terms of an Ideal owes its origin much before the Romantics, nay, even the Pre-Romantics. In the 18th century literary and critical history of ideas, as espoused by contemporary litterateur Joseph Addison on whom the status of pioneering the theory of Imagination might be said truly rest upon. In fact despite his profound discussion of this theory in his noted Spectator papers, his ideas tended to be, by and large, subsumed under the weight of popular unconcern. The Spectator was principally looked upon as a manifesto of bourgeois issues and probably the nascent conception of Addison’s Imagination theory, along with the disinclination of the age, accounted for the gross neglect of the Addisonian theory of Imagination for years. It is only posthumously and in retrospect (with Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria having popularized the Imagination theory in more concise and scientific terms) that Addison’s contributions in opening up a new vista of criticism can be recognized. The intention of this term paper is to re-instate the critical relevance of Addison’s theory of Imagination not just in the light of other critiques of Imagination, in terms of its individualistic fervor also.

As a man of the Eighteenth century, the Age of Prose and Reason, Addison dared to go against the wind and delved into a different school of thought and criticism. While the others were busy in criticizing the social and political matters of that Manners’ dominated society, he absolved himself from that practice and shaped a new course of thought in his Spectator Paper No.10: ‘Whether it is not much better to be let into the knowledge of one’s self than to hear what passes in Muscory or Poland…and make enmities irreconcilable…’ [Humphreys 47]. Similarly in the essays on Imagination (Spectator Paper Nos.411-421) he focused on the moral and intellectual upliftment of the common people, generally the educated middle class of the 18th century society, who were less involved in the ‘confusion of counsels’[4] or in the division of the parties and shared a greater interest in the intellectual accomplishments.

In his treatment of imagination as a creative faculty of the mind he deviated from the then popular Hobbsian idea of imagination, that is, imagination is ‘nothing but a decaying sense’[5]. Even Matthew Arnold criticized him and dismissed his critical ability saying that Addison is a writer ‘whose range and force of thought are not considerable enough’ [Arnold 56] but as a matter of fact Addison was the first essayist who employed his pen in discovering a new arena of criticism in a mere public magazine, that is his theory of imagination and the pleasures derived from it. He first sowed the seed which grew as a tree in the hands of Coleridge, Wordsworth and the other notable Romantics.

Addison divides the pleasures of imagination into two groups – the Primary pleasures of Imagination and the Secondary pleasures of Imagination which readily refers to the two divisions of imagination– Primary Imagination and Secondary Imagination. Addison defines the ‘primary’ imagination as experience ‘which arises from an actual view and survey of outward objects’ [Addison 19] and which proceeds from...
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