Chapter 5. "Pleasures of the Imagination" by Joseph Addison

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from The Spectator
The Reading Selection from The Spectator
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Joseph Addison, (detail) portrait by Michael Dahl, Library of Congress

About the author…

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) studied classics at Queen's College, Oxford and subsequently became a Fellow of Magdalen College. During his life, he held several governmental posts but is perhaps best known for his founding of the daily The Spectator with Richard Steele. Addison's Cato, a play tracing the Roman statesman and stoic Cato's opposition to Cęsar, was immensely popular. In fact, George Washington had the play performed for his troops at Valley Forge. Addison's optimistic writing style constructed with gracious mannerisms is one reason for his abiding influence in English literature.

About the work…

In his and Richard Steele's The Spectator, [1] Addison developed an essay style which greatly influenced the writings in eighteenth-century periodicals. In the short well known passages in our readings on the pleasures of the imagination, Addison clearly notes some first suggestions towards an ęsthetic theory. His contribution represents a shift in emphasis from the creations of the artist to the pleasures of the connoisseur. Addison's essays had great appeal to the rising middle class seeking to improve their refinement and taste in the arts. Samuel Johnson praised his work, "Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison."

Ideas of Interest from The Spectator

  1. How does Addison distinguish among the pleasures of the imagination, the pleasures of the senses, and the pleasures of the understanding?

  2. What qualities of objects in the world does Addison list which occasion pleasures of the imagination?

  3. What two kinds of beauty does Addison describe?

  4. What, according to Addison, is a final cause of ęsthetic pleasure? Why has the Supreme Being created mankind with the capacity of experiencing pleasure from the greatness, novelty, humanness, and the sensation of objects in the world?

  5. How does Addison relate the beauty of art to the beauty of nature?



Joseph Addison, The Spectator. London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd. 1891. Letters 411-413.