Joseph Addison

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Analyze Joseph Addison's "Pleasures of the Imagination".

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Addison's "Pleasures of the Imagination" makes a case for such imaginative pleasures as reading, looking at art, and remembering. His essay is written in simple prose and reflects an Enlightenment sensibility that values the real and the rational, even in imaginative pursuits.

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In this 1712 essay in The Spectator, Joseph Addison makes a case for the pleasures of the imagination. He first isolates sight as the "most delightful" of the senses and the source of most imaginative pleasure. From here, he distinguishes between the imagination and the fancy. The imagination is fed by those objects we can actually see in real life, as well as our imaginative musings on what we remember.

Addison states that understanding, what we might call knowledge, is more valuable than imagination but nevertheless defends imagination as more accessible than hard-won knowledge. As he writes:

A beautiful prospect delights the soul, as much as a demonstration; and a description in Homer has charmed more readers than a chapter in Aristotle.

Addison states that a "polite" imagination separates a person of education and taste from the "vulgar" masses, and provides great pleasure. The pleasure of remembering a landscape of great beauty, for example, conveys a sense of ownership that can be more innocent and pleasurable than actually owning a property.

Finally, Addison finds the imagination a healthy outlet. When we have nothing to do, we can often fall into destructive activities to alleviate boredom. However, if we have imaginations, we can innocently pass the time in pleasures, such as reading, looking at art, or remembering, that don't take a huge amount of energy but still edify us.

Imagination is healthy, too, in that it can cheer us:

Delightful scenes, whether in nature, painting, or poetry, have a kindly influence on the body, as well as the mind, and not only serve to clear and brighten the imagination, but are able to disperse grief and melancholy, and to set the animal spirits in pleasing and agreeable motions.

Addison's essay is written in simple prose and is analytical in the way of Francis Bacon, an essayist he cites. Addison's essay reflects an Enlightenment sensibility in its emphasis on the real rather than the fantastic (imagination over fancy) and on exalting the rational activities of the mind rather than those that invite "vice or folly."

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