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.
1 Life and writing
1.2 Political career
1.3 Magazine founder
2 Marriage and death
Albin Schram letters
7 See also
9 External links
Life and writing
Addison was born in Millstone, Wiltshire, but soon after his birth his
father, Lancelot Addison, was appointed
Dean of Lichfield
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. 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 in the same year.
Lord Somers and Charles Montague, 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.
Addison returned to England at the end of 1703. For more than a year
he remained unemployed, but the
Battle of Blenheim
Battle of Blenheim in 1704 gave him a
fresh opportunity to distinguish himself. The government, specifically
Lord Treasurer Godolphin, commissioned Addison to write a
commemorative poem about the battle, and he produced The Campaign,
which was received with such satisfaction that he was appointed
Commissioner of Appeals in Halifax's government. His next literary
venture was an account of his travels in Italy, Remarks on several
parts of Italy, &c., in the years 1701, 1702, 1703, published in
1705 by Jacob Tonson. In 1705, with the Whigs in power, Addison was
made Under-Secretary of State and accompanied Lord Halifax on a
diplomatic mission to Hanover, Germany. A biography of Addison 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."
In 1708 and 1709, Addison was a
Member of Parliament for the borough
of Lostwithiel. He was soon appointed secretary to the new Lord
Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wharton. Under the direction of Wharton,
he was an MP in the
Irish House of Commons
Irish House of Commons for Cavan Borough from 1709
until 1713. in 1710, he represented Malmesbury, in his home county of
Wiltshire, holding the seat until his death in 1719.
Joseph Addison: engraving after the Kneller portrait
Jonathan Swift in Ireland and remained there for a year. Later,
he helped form the
Kitcat Club and renewed his friendship with Richard
Steele. In 1709, Steele began to publish the Tatler, and Addison
became a regular contributor. In 1711 they started The Spectator. The
first issue appeared on 1 March 1711. This paper, which was
originally a daily, was published until 20 December 1714,
interrupted for a year by the publication of The Guardian in 1713. His
last publication was The Freeholder, a political paper, in 1715–16.
He wrote the libretto for Thomas Clayton's opera Rosamond, which had a
disastrous premiere in London in 1707. 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
The actor John Kemble, in the role of Cato, revived at Covent Garden
in 1816, drawn by George Cruikshank.
Main article: Cato, a Tragedy
In 1712, Addison wrote his most famous work, Cato, a Tragedy. Based on
the last days of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, it deals with
conflicts such as individual liberty versus government tyranny,
Republicanism versus Monarchism, logic versus emotion, and Cato's
personal struggle to retain his beliefs in the face of death. It has a
prologue written by
Alexander Pope and an epilogue by Samuel Garth.
The play was a success throughout the British Empire. It continued to
grow in popularity, especially in the America, for several
generations. It is cited by some historians as a literary inspiration
for the American Revolution, being known to many of the Founding
George Washington sponsored a performance of Cato for
Continental Army during the difficult winter of 1777-78 at Valley
Forge. According to John J. Miller, "no single work of literature may
have been more important than Cato" for the leaders of the American
Scholars have identified the inspiration for several famous quotations
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.").
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.").
Washington's praise for
Benedict Arnold in a letter: "It is not in the
power of any man to command success; but you have done more—you have
(Clear reference to Act I, Scene 2: "'Tis not in mortals to
command success; but we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it.").
Edmund Burke quoted the play in a letter to
Charles-Jean-François Depont entitled Reflections on the revolution
in France, saying that the French people may yet be obliged to go
through more changes and "to pass, as one of our poets says, 'through
great varieties of untried being,'" before their state obtains its
final form. The poet referred to is Addison and the passage 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 popular and often cited in the eighteenth century,
with Cato being an example of republican virtue and liberty. John
Trenchard and Thomas Gordon were inspired by the play to write an
epistolary exchange entitled, Cato's Letters, on individual rights,
using the name "Cato."
The action of the play involves the forces of Cato at Utica, awaiting
the attack of Caesar immediately following his victory at
BC). The noble sons of Cato, Portius and Marcus, are both in love with
Lucia, the daughter of Lucius, an ally of Cato. Juba, prince of
Numidia, one of Cato's warriors, loves Cato's daughter Marcia.
Meanwhile, Sempronius, a senator, and Syphax, a general of the
Numidians, are conspiring secretly against Cato, hoping to prevent the
Numidian army from supporting him. In the final act, Cato commits
suicide, leaving his followers to make their peace with the
approaching army of Caesar—an easier task after Cato's death, since
he was Caesar's most implacable enemy.
Addison wrote the popular church hymn "The Spacious Firmament on
High", publishing it in
The Spectator in 1712. It is sung either to
the tune known as "London (Addison's)" by John Sheeles, written c.
1720, or to "Creation" by Franz Haydn, 1798.
Marriage and death
Joseph Addison in 1719, the year he died.
The later part of Addison's life was not without its troubles.
In 1716, he married Charlotte, Dowager Countess of Warwick, after
working for a time as a tutor for her son. His political career
continued, and he served as Secretary of State for the Southern
Department from 1717 to 1718. His political newspaper, The Freeholder,
was much criticized, and Alexander Pope, in An Epistle to Dr
Arbuthnot, made him an object of derision, naming him "Atticus", and
comparing him to an adder, "willing to wound, and yet afraid to
strike." His wife was arrogant and imperious; his stepson, Edward
Rich, was an unfriendly rake. Addison's shyness in public limited his
effectiveness as a member of 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 he
remained an MP until his death at Holland House, London, on 17 June
1719 (age 48). Addison was buried in Westminster Abbey. After his
death, an apocryphal story circulated that Addison, on his deathbed,
had sent for his wastrel stepson to witness how a Christian man meets
On 6 April 1808, a town in upstate New York, (Middletown) was renamed
Addison, in his honor.
It is 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 contributed 42 essays to
the Tatler while Steele wrote 188. Regarding Addison's help,
Steele remarked, "when I had once called him in, I could not subsist
without dependence on him". 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 an influence over the reading
public of the time. Addison soon became the leading partner in The
Spectator. He contributed 274 essays out a total of 555; Steele wrote
236. Addison also assisted Steele with the Guardian which began in
The breezy, conversational style of the essays later prompted Bishop
Richard Hurd to reprove Addison for what he called an "Addisonian
Termination," or preposition stranding, a grammatical construction
that ends a sentence with a preposition.
He wrote an essay entitled Dialogues on Medals which was translated to
the French by eighteenth-century priest and journalist Simon-Jérôme
Bourlet de Vauxcelles (1733–1802). He also left an incomplete work,
Of the Christian Religion.
Joseph Addison by Kraemer
Albin Schram letters
In 2005, an Austrian banker and collector named
Albin Schram died, and
in his laundry room a collection of a thousand letters was found, some
of them of interest to historians. Two of them were written by Joseph
The first reported on a debate in the House of Commons about a 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 Misters Annesley,
Ward, and Casar, 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...."
Following the Duke of Marlborough's successful campaign of 1706, the
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 the Duke's name on 26 May, after the Battle of Ramillies. Upon
Marlborough's return to London in November, Parliament accepted the
Duke's request that a grant of £5,000 'out of ye Post-Office' be made
in perpetuity to his heirs.
A second letter, written to
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.'
Addison's character has been described as kind and magnanimous, albeit
somewhat cool and unimpassioned, with a tendency for convivial excess.
His appealing manners and conversation contributed to his general
popularity. He often put his friends under obligations for substantial
favours, but he showed great forbearance toward his few enemies. His
essays are noted for their clarity and elegant style, as well as their
cheerful and respectful humour.
William Thackeray portrayed Addison and
Richard Steele as characters
in his novel The History of Henry Esmond.
Thomas Macaulay wrote this generous tribute to Addison in 1866:
"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,
worshiped 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
^ "Addison, Joseph". Dictionary of National Biography. London:
Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
^ Deighton, Ken (ed.). Coverley Papers from The Spectator. New York,
^ Peter Smithers, The Life of
Joseph Addison (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1954), p. 382.
^ McGeary, Thomas (1998). "Thomas Clayton and the Introduction of
Italian Opera to England", Philological Quarterly, Vol. 77
^ Joseph Addison, Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays. ed. Christine
Dunn Henderson & Mark E. Yellin. Indianapolis:
Liberty Fund, 2004.
^ John J. Miller, "On Life, Liberty, and Other Quotable Matters," Wall
Street Journal, 2 July 2011.
^ a b Richard, Carl J. (2009). Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How
the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers, p. 151. Rowman &
^ 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.
^ "The Spacious Firmament on High".
Hymn Time. Retrieved 29 November
^ Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Richard Steele, p. 148.
Haskell House Publishers, first published 1865.
^ William Rose Benet, The Reader's Encyclopedia, s.v. "Addisonian
Essay on the Life and Writings of Addison, Essays vol. V (1866) Hurd
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical
Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.
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Chief Secretary for Ireland
Sir John Stanley
Chief Secretary for Ireland
Secretary of State for the Southern Department
James Craggs the Younger
Parliament of Great Britain
Member of Parliament for Lostwithiel
With: James Kendall
Member of Parliament for Malmesbury
With: Thomas Farrington 1710–1713
Sir John Rushout, Bt 1713–1719
Sir John Rushout, Bt
Parliament of Ireland
Member of Parliament for Cavan Borough
With: Thomas Ashe
ISNI: 0000 0001 2119 3313
BNF: cb12069747f (data)