The dashing Joseph Addison, Man of Letters



Hence, the word which sounds without is a sign of the word that shines within, to which the name of word more properly belongs. For that which is produced by the mouth of the flesh is the sound of the word, and is itself also called the word, because that inner word assumed it in order that it might appear outwardly.

Whoever, then, desires to arrive at some kind of a likeness to the Word of God, although unlike it in many things, let him not behold our word which sounds in the ears, either when it is brought forth in sound, or when it is thought in silence. For all words, no matter in what language they may sound, are also thought in silence; and hymns run through our mind, even when the mouth of the body is silent; not only the numbers of the syllables, but also the melodies of the hymns, since they are corporeal and belong to that sense of the body called hearing, are present by their own kind of incorporeal images to those who think of them, and silently turn all of them over in their minds.




Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was not before possessed. We are, indeed, so often conversant with one set of  objects, and tired out with so many repeated shows of the same things, that whatever is new or uncommon contributes a little to vary human life, and to divert our minds, for a while, with the strangeness of its appearance; it serves us for a kind of refreshment, and takes off from that satiety we are apt to complain of in our usual and ordinary entertainments. It is this that bestows charms on a monster, and makes even the imperfections of nature please us.


The weighty thoughts of our philosophical predecessors are sometimes more accessible in small doses—the imagination of the reader fills in, as with a poem, the wider philosophical implications—or not.

Every philosopher, like every poet, trembles before the flighty mind of the reader.  A tower of philosophical strength before the frailest ignorance may fall.

The philosophy of Faith certainly has scientific elements, and if God is a metaphor, poetic elements as well, even for the most faithless—if we are allowed to use that word.

Augustine, the preacher, seems to want to say more, but the Madness format forces him to hold his tongue; we are left to wonder how a silent song may reside corporeally within the human frame.

Team Addison seeks to please with a simple idea, perhaps the most profound of all: what pleases us?  “It is this that bestows charms on a monster” has to fill a hearer with the greatest wonder.

No real winner, here, but for reasons of the merest secularist practicality…




  1. powersjq said,

    April 7, 2014 at 3:20 pm


    I find it interesting that both contenders articulate rhetorical commonplaces. Augustine seems to me to be extending the rhetorical distinction between res and verba—between the “matter” of a speech or text and its particular verbiage. His inquiry is quite to the point: when a word is stripped of its phenomenal vestments, what is left? And when the word in question is “God,” certainly nothing so a pedestrian as an “intention” (as the phenomenologists have it) can be a satisfactory answer. How can we know God except through the poetic faculty that is the basis for the poet’s _choice_ between different ways of saying the “same” thing?

    As for Addison, the rhetorical values of novel and monstrous images are well-documented pillars of our literary tradition. Varietas is the stand-by remedy for taedium, and the alliance between the strange and the memorable was a rhetorical truism. Interestingly, Addison is leaning on Augustine’s authority here, for it was the latter that explicitly formulated the goals of rhetoric as to delight, to instruct, and to move. Unless he intends to defend poetry on strictly hedonistic grounds, Addison’s remarks are only valuable insofar as they can plausibly claim to link mere pleasure (which is a good, but a small one) to a more spiritually nutritious end.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm


      Thanks. I love Augustine’s “the word that shines within.” You seem to be saying Augustine should have won, and you are right, but the Norton (this says more about that book than about Augustine, I know) offers so little.

      • powersjq said,

        April 8, 2014 at 11:13 am


        I know better than to quarrel with the judge. I’m just adding color commentary.

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