Joseph Addison

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For the 20th-century British ambassador, see Joseph Addison (diplomat).
Not to be confused with Joseph Addison (Scottish writer).
Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt.jpg
Joseph Addison, the "Kit-cat portrait", circa 1703–1712, by Godfrey Kneller
Born 1 May 1672
Milston, Wiltshire
Died 17 June 1719 (aged 48)
London
Occupation Writer and politician

Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 – 17 June 1719) was an English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician. He was the eldest son of The Reverend Lancelot Addison. His name is usually remembered alongside that of his long-standing friend, Richard Steele, with whom he founded The Spectator magazine.

Life and writing[edit]

Background[edit]

Addison was born in Milston, Wiltshire, but soon after his birth his father, Lancelot Addison, was appointed Dean of Lichfield and the Addison family moved into the cathedral close. He was educated at Charterhouse School, where he first met Richard Steele, and at The Queen's College, Oxford.[1] He excelled in classics, being specially noted for his Latin verse, and became a Fellow of Magdalen College. In 1693, he addressed a poem to John Dryden, and his first major work, a book of the lives of English poets, was published in 1694. His translation of Virgil's Georgics was published the same year. Dryden, Lord Somers and Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, took an interest in Addison's work and obtained for him a pension of £300 to enable him to travel to Europe with a view to diplomatic employment, all the time writing and studying politics. While in Switzerland in 1702, he heard of the death of William III, an event which lost him his pension, as his influential contacts, Halifax and Somers, had lost their employment with the Crown.

Political career[edit]

He returned to England at the end of 1703. For more than a year he remained without employment, but the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 gave him a fresh opportunity of distinguishing himself. The government, more specifically Lord Treasurer Godolphin, commissioned Addison to write a commemorative poem, and he produced The Campaign, which gave such satisfaction that he was forthwith appointed a Commissioner of Appeals in Halifax's government.[2] His next literary venture was an account of his travels in Italy, which was followed by an opera libretto titled Rosamund. In 1705, with the Whigs in political power, Addison was made Under-Secretary of State and accompanied Halifax on a mission to Hanover. Addison's biographer states: "In the field of his foreign responsibilities Addison's views were those of a good Whig. He had always believed that England's power depended upon her wealth, her wealth upon her commerce, and her commerce upon the freedom of the seas and the checking of the power of France and Spain."[3]

From 1708 to 1709 he was MP for the rotten borough of Lostwithiel. Addison was shortly afterwards appointed secretary to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wharton, and Keeper of the Records of that country. Under the influence of Wharton, he was Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons for Cavan Borough from 1709 until 1713. From 1710, he represented Malmesbury, in his home county of Wiltshire, holding the seat until his death.

Magazine founder[edit]

Joseph Addison: engraving after the Kneller portrait

He encountered Jonathan Swift in Ireland and remained there for a year. Subsequently, he helped found the Kitcat Club and renewed his association with Richard Steele. In 1709 Steele began to bring out Tatler, to which Addison became almost immediately a contributor: thereafter he (with Steele) started The Spectator, the first number of which appeared on 1 March 1711. This paper, which at first appeared daily, was kept up (with a break of about a year and a half when The Guardian took its place) until 20 December 1714. His last undertaking was The Freeholder, a political paper, 1715–16.

Plays[edit]

He wrote the libretto for Thomas Clayton's opera Rosamond, which had a disastrous premiere in London in 1707.[4] In 1713 Addison's tragedy Cato was produced, and was received with acclamation by both Whigs and Tories. He followed this effort with a comedic play, The Drummer (1716).

Cato[edit]

The actor John Kemble in the role of Cato in Addison's play, which he revived at Covent Garden in 1816, drawn by George Cruikshank.
Main article: Cato, a Tragedy

In 1712, Addison wrote his most famous work of fiction, Cato, a Tragedy. Based on the last days of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, it deals with such themes as individual liberty versus government tyranny, Republicanism versus Monarchism, logic versus emotion, and Cato's personal struggle to cleave to his beliefs in the face of death. It has a prologue written by Alexander Pope and an epilogue by Dr. Garth.[5]

The play was a success throughout Britain and its possessions in the New World, as well as Ireland. It continued to grow in popularity, especially in the American colonies, for several generations. Indeed, it was almost certainly literary inspiration for the American Revolution, being well known to many of the Founding Fathers. In fact, George Washington had it performed for the Continental Army while they were encamped at Valley Forge. Among the founders, according to John J. Miller, "no single work of literature may have been more important than Cato".[6]

Some scholars have identified the inspiration for several famous quotations from the American Revolution in Cato. These include:

  • Patrick Henry's famous ultimatum: "Give me liberty or give me death!"
(Supposed reference to Act II, Scene 4: "It is not now time to talk of aught/But chains or conquest, liberty or death.").[7]
  • Nathan Hale's valediction: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."
(Supposed reference to Act IV, Scene 4: "What a pity it is/That we can die but once to serve our country.").[7]
  • Washington's praise for Benedict Arnold in a letter to him: "It is not in the power of any man to command success; but you have done more—you have deserved it."
(Clear reference to Act I, Scene 2: "'Tis not in mortals to command success; but we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it.").

Not long after the American Revolution, Edmund Burke quotes the play as well in his Letter to Charles-Jean-François Depont (1789) in Further Reflections on the Revolution in France, saying the French may be yet be obliged to go through more transmigrations and "to pass, as one of our poets says, 'through great varieties of untried being'", before their state obtains its final form.[8] The poet in reference is of course Addison and the passage Burke quoted is from Cato (V.i. II): "Through what variety of untried being,/Through what new scenes and changes must we pass!"

Though the play has fallen from popularity and is now rarely performed, it was widely popular and often cited in the eighteenth century, with Cato as an exemplar of republican virtue and liberty. For example, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon were inspired by the play to write a series of letters, Cato's Letters on individual rights, using the name "Cato".[citation needed]

The action of the play involves the forces of Cato at Utica, awaiting the arrival of Caesar just after Caesar's victory at Thapsus (46 BC). The noble sons of Cato, Portius and Marcus, are both in love with Lucia, the daughter of Lucius, a senatorial ally of Cato. Juba, prince of Numidia, another fighting on Cato's side, loves Cato's daughter Marcia. Meanwhile, Sempronius, another senator, and Syphax, general of the Numidians, are conspiring secretly against Cato, hoping to draw off the Numidian army from supporting him. In the final act, Cato commits suicide, leaving his supporters to make their peace with the approaching Caesar—an easier task after Cato's death, since he has been Caesar's most implacable foe.

Joseph Addison by Kraemer

Marriage and death[edit]

The later events in the life of Addison did not contribute to his happiness. In 1716, he married the Dowager Countess of Warwick, to whose son he had been tutor, and his political career continued to flourish, as he served as Secretary of State for the Southern Department from 1717 to 1718. However, his political newspaper, The Freeholder, was much criticised, and Alexander Pope was among those who made him an object of derision, christening him "Atticus". His wife appears to have been arrogant and imperious; his stepson, the seventh Earl, was a rake and unfriendly to him; while in his public capacity his shyness made him of little use in Parliament. He eventually fell out with Steele over the Peerage Bill of 1719. In 1718, Addison was forced to resign as Secretary of State because of his poor health, but remained an MP until his death at Holland House, London, on 17 June 1719, in his 48th year, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

On 6 April 1808, after Addison's death, a town in upstate New York which had been originally organized as Middletown in March 1796 was changed to Addison, in honor of Joseph Addison.

Contribution[edit]

It is mostly as an essayist that Addison is remembered today. Addison began writing essays quite casually. In April 1709, his childhood friend, Richard Steele, started The Tatler. Addison inspired him to write this essay. Addison contributed 42 essays while Steele wrote 188. Of Addison's help, Steele remarked, "when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him".[9] On 2 January 1711, The Tatler was discontinued. On 1 March 1711, The Spectator was published, and it continued until 6 December 1712. The Spectator was issued daily and achieved great popularity. It exercised a great deal of influence over the reading public of the time. In The Spectator, Addison soon became the leading partner. He contributed 274 essays out a total of 555; Steele wrote 236 for this periodical. Addison also assisted Steele with the Guardian which Steele began in 1713.

The breezy, conversational style of the essays later elicited Bishop Hurd's reproving attribution of an "Addisonian Termination", for preposition stranding, the casual grammatical construction that ends a sentence with a preposition.[10]

Besides the works above mentioned, he wrote an essay, Dialogues on Medals, and left incomplete a work, Of the Christian Religion.

Timeline[edit]

Albin Schram letters[edit]

In 2005 an Austrian banker and collector named Albin Schram died and, in his laundry room, a collection of around 1000 letters from great historical figures was found.

One was written by Joseph Addison, reporting on the debate in the House of Commons over the grant to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and his heirs, following the Battle of Ramillies. The letter was written on the day of the debate, probably to George Stepney.

Addison explains that the motion was opposed by Mr Annesley, Ward, Caesar and Sir William Vevian, "One said that this was showing no honour to His Grace but to a posterity that he was not concern'd in. Casar ... hoped ye Duke tho he had ben Victorious over the Enemy would not think of being so over a House of Commons: wch was said in pursuance to a Motion made by some of the Craftier sort that would not oppose the proposition directly but turn it off by a Side-Wind pretending that it being a money affaire it should be refer'd to a Committee of the whole House wch in all probability would have defeated the whole affaire...."[citation needed]

Following the Duke of Marlborough's highly successful campaigns of 1706, he and George Stepney became the first English regents of the Anglo-Dutch condominium for governing the southern Netherlands. It was Stepney who formally took possession of the principality of Mindelheim in Marlborough's name on 26 May, following the Battle of Ramillies. On Marlborough's return to London in November, Parliament granted his request that his grant of £5,000 'out of ye Post-Office' be made in perpetuity for his heirs.

A second letter to his friend Sir Richard Steele was also found, concerning the Tatler and other matters.

'I very much liked your last paper upon the Courtship that is usually paid to the fair sex. I wish you had reserved the Letter in this days paper concerning Indecencies at Church for an entire piece. It wd have made as good a one as any you have published. Your Reflections upon Almanza are very good.' The letter concludes with references to impeachment proceedings against Addison's friend, Henry Sacheverell ('I am much obliged to you for yor Letters relating to Sackeverell'), and the Light House petition: 'I am something troubled that you have not sent away ye Letters received from Ireland to my Lord Lieutenant, particularly that from Mr Forster [the Attorney General] with the Enclosed petition about the Light House, which I hope will be delivered to the House before my Return'.

Analysis[edit]

Addison's character has been described as kind and magnanimous, albeit somewhat cool and unimpassioned. His appealing manners and conversation made him one of the most popular men of his day; and while he laid his friends under obligations for substantial favours, he showed great forbearance towards his few enemies. His essays are noted for their clarity and elegant style, as well as their cheerful and respectful humour. One flaw in Addison's character was a tendency to convivial excess, which nonetheless should be judged in view of the somewhat lax manners of his time.

Thackeray wrote Addison and his colleague Richard Steele into the novel The History of Henry Esmond as characters.

"As a man, he may not have deserved the adoration which he received from those who, bewitched by his fascinating society, and indebted for all the comforts of life to his generous and delicate friendship, worshipped him nightly, in his favourite temple at Button’s. But, after full inquiry and impartial reflection, we have long been convinced that he deserved as much love and esteem as can be justly claimed by any of our infirm and erring race. Some blemishes may undoubtedly be detected in his character; but the more carefully it is examined, the more it will appear, to use the phrase of the old anatomists, sound in the noble parts, free from all taint of perfidy, of cowardice, of cruelty, of ingratitude, of envy. Men may easily be named, in whom some particular good disposition has been more conspicuous than in Addison. But the just harmony of qualities, the exact temper between the stern and the humane virtues, the habitual observance of every law, not only of moral rectitude, but of moral grace and dignity, distinguish him from all men who have been tried by equally strong temptations, and about whose conduct we possess equally full information." – Lord Macaulay[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^  "Addison, Joseph". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  2. ^ Deighton, Ken (ed.). Coverley Papers from The Spectator. New York, 1964: Macmillan.
  3. ^ Peter Smithers, The Life of Joseph Addison (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 382.
  4. ^ McGeary, Thomas (1998). "Thomas Clayton and the Introduction of Italian Opera to England", Philological Quarterly, Vol. 77 (subscription required)
  5. ^ Joseph Addison, Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays. ed. Christine Dunn Henderson & Mark E. Yellin. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004. ISBN 0-86597-443-8.
  6. ^ John J. Miller, "On Life, Liberty, and Other Quotable Matters," Wall Street Journal, 2 July 2011.
  7. ^ a b Richard, Carl J. (2009). Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers, p. 151. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  8. ^ Burke, Edmund (1872) Reflections on the revolution in France, and on the proceedings of certain societies in London relative to that event, p. 232. Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday.
  9. ^ Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Richard Steele, p. 148. Haskell House Publishers, first published 1865.
  10. ^ William Rose Benet, The Reader's Encyclopedia, s.v. "Addisonian Termination".
  11. ^ Essay on the Life and Writings of Addison, Essays vol. V (1866) Hurd and Houghton


External links[edit]

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Parliament of Great Britain
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