Joseph Addison

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Provide a summary of "Meditation in Westminster Abbey" by Joseph Addison.

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When he is in a serious mood, Addison says, he often walks round Westminster Abbey, which provokes feelings of melancholy or thoughtfulness which are not disagreeable. He sees the tombstones as a satire on mankind's ambitions, since all they tell him is the person's name and the dates of birth and death, with nothing of what happened in between.

Addison once tried digging inside the Abbey and kept turning up fragments of bone, which led him to reflect on what a great mass of people of many different types were all mixed up together underneath the ancient stones. He then looked at the epitaphs, some of which were extravagantly fulsome and others excessively modest. Some of the monuments, particularly one celebrating the life of an admiral, give a completely false idea of the life they are supposed to commemorate.

Finally, Addison reflects on the moral lessons to be drawn from inspecting the graves. He says that seeing the tombs of the great and gifted drives away envy, and even grief is quelled by reflecting on how soon we shall follow the dead. Looking at the tombs of those who died yesterday alongside the tombs of men who died centuries ago leads him to reflect that we shall all be contemporaries soon enough.

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