Humour in Addison’s essays is chiefly ironical and satirical. Humour and irony are related very closely in his essays. In most of the time, it is seen, where humour is expressed, he expresses that ironically. Moreover, his laughter is intended to mend, correct and rectify follies and absurdities. Irony in his essays is one of the best weapons of satire and it is a chief ingredient of humour. Courthope says, "The essence of Addison’s humour is irony." But he is more concerned with instructions and reforms than with pure entertainment. He attacks man's vices, follies which are found in his own speech. He says, "I would not willingly to laugh but in order to instruct", and accordingly, he produces laughter with the declared and avowed purpose of laughing men out of folly, vices and impertience. Even his humorous anecdotes have a satirical tone.
In his essays (especially in Coverley Papers), he presents a notable character named, Sir Roger de Coverley, a character possessing vice and virtues at the same time, who had no physical existence but symbolic existence. And in order to maintain the special technique, Addison sometime praises the character outwardly but inwardly these praises become ironic, satiric and humorous as well.
However, Sir Roger de Coverley essays, considering its subject and matter, can be called a eulogy of Sir Roger. But as we go deep and read it critically, we must find humoristic expressions of Addison about Sir Roger and Sir Roger is criticized ironically in many times. Addison shows that though Sir Roger is a lovable and honorable man, he has comic side. And everything is delineated very sharply in there essays.
But the irony in the De Coverley essays is not in the least offensive or hurtful. The oddities and eccentricities of Sir Roger are ironically conveyed to us, but irony is employee in a most humorous manner. We laugh at Sir Roger's absurd behaviour at the assize and at the church, but we also develop feelings of respect and love for him because of his humanity, charity and generosity. Ridicule (by means of irony) is combined wit respect in the portrayal of Sir Roger.
Humour is abound in "Sir Roger at Church". Here most of the time, humour is expressed in the form of irony. The follies, oddities of Sir roger are the chief elements of humour. His authoritative power sometimes leads him to become a funny man.
Addison shows that Sir Roger is eccentric to some extent. In this essay we find its full expression. In this essay his eccentricities and oddities are seen in which he exercises his authority. He wanted that his tenants should behave well in the church. He allows nobody to sleep in the church during sermon but he himself did so. Sometimes when everybody is upon their knees, he would stand up and start counting the number of the tenants. Here Addison says, "As Sir Roger is landlord to the whole congregation, he keeps them in good order and will suffer nobody to sleep in it besides himself". Moreover, he "sometime stands up when every body else is upon their knees, to count the congregation, or see if any of his tenants are missing". As he is the landlord, he doesn't care about anybody. It creates humour and we laugh at his peculiarities. And Addison presents these things ironically.
Then again Addison says about Sir Roger that when he is pleased with a matter, he pronounces the word "amen" for several times. Addison says. "...half a minute after the rest of the congregation have done with it; sometimes when he is pleased with a matter of his devotion, he pronounces amen three or four times to the same prayer".
People generally do not do any job during the time of congregation. But sometime Sir Roger gets asleep during that time and if by chance he sees anybody is dozing, he wakes him up or sends his servants to him. Sometime he shoughts to somebody and tells not to disturb the congregation. These eccentricities make us laugh. Even Sir Roger leaves the church first after finishing the congregation and no one dares leave the room before him. He goes out dividing the people into two rows and he follows the chancel between these two rows. These jobs of Sir Roger are humorous.
Apparently Addison tries to amuse the reader through the above humorous expressions but actually he satirizes the vices of Sir Roger , as sleeping in the church during sermons is a humiliation to the Christianity/church affairs.
Humour is also found in the essay "Sir Roger at Home". After getting invitation from Sir Roger for staying some days in his (Sir Roger’s) country house, Addison went to his country house. He village people went to see Addison, but Sir Roger thought it would be a disturbing act. So he forbids the country people not to get closer to Addison. Addison says,
"As I have been walking in his fields, I have observed them stealing a sight of me over a hedge, and have heard the knight desiring them not to let me see them, for that I hated to be stared at". His forbid was humorous.
Moreover, in this essay we meet with a character named Chaplain who "lives in the family (of Sir Roger) rather as a relation than a dependent". He has a great proficiency in Latin and Greek. Besides, he was good preacher possessing a clear voice. In brief, he was good person both intellectually and morally. But his master, Sir Roger was "afraid of being insulted with Latin and Greek it his own table", because he doesn't know these languages.
Then again he gives suggestion to the clergyman to be instructed by the books of other professors like St. Asaph, Dr. South etc. It is also humorous, because it is not the proper way to develop clergyman's creative faculties.
So, undoubtedly we can say that Addison's essays are abound with humour. And humour is expressed in the form of irony mostly. By the works and attitudes of Sir Roger, Addison expresses these humours. But his ultimate aim is not to make the readers laugh, rather to correct us and to instruct the society.