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BIOGRAPHICAL, CRITICAL, AND HISTORICAL.
ON THE PROGRESS AND MERITS OF ENGLISH STYLE,
AND ON THE STYLE OF ADDISON IN PARTICULAR.
Inawork, the chief purpose of which is to illustrate the periodical writings of the BRITISH CLASSICAL ESSAYISTS, the consideration of style must necessarily hold an important rank; and it is my wish that these volumes should include a satisfactory account of its progress, and its different stages. Without such a detail, and a series of quotations to define the actual state of style in successive periods, it will be impossible to appreciate the gradual improvements of the language, or to ascertain the peculiar merits, in this respect,
of those classics which more immediately fall within our province.
To carry this plan into effectual execution, it will be proper to commence at that era when composition assumed some degree of polish and grammatical precision; to trace it thence in all its ameliorations to the pages of Addison, and, after dwelling at some length upon this elegant author, to continue the research, in a succeeding volume, through that long chasm which occurs between the close of the Guardian and the appearance of the Rambler, a production which forms a new epoch in our style, and whence the series of our Essayists, and the chain of composition, remain uninterrupted and entire.
By the almost unanimous suffrage of criticism, the age
of Queen Elizabeth has been fixed upon as the period when our language, shaking off with gigantic strength the incumbrances of rude antiquity, first developed its powers, and asserted its pretensions to classical estimation. "From the authors which rose in the time of Elizabeth," observes Johnson, "a speech might be formed, adequate to all the purposes of use and elegance, If the language of theology were extracted from Hooker and the translation of the Bible; the terms of natural knowledge from Bacon; the phrases of policy, war, and navigation, from Ra