A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Addison, Joseph

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Addison, Joseph (1672-1719).—Poet, essayist and statesman, was the s. of Lancelot Addison, Dean of Lichfield. B. near Amesbury, Wilts., A. went to the Charterhouse where he made the acquaintance of Steele (q.v.), and then at the age of fifteen to Oxford, where he had a distinguished career, being specially noted for his Latin verse. Intended at first for the Church, various circumstances combined to lead him towards literature and politics. His first attempts in English verse took the form of complimentary addresses, and were so successful as to obtain for him the friendship and interest of Dryden, and of Lord Somers, by whose means he received, in 1699, a pension of £300 to enable him to travel on the continent with a view to diplomatic employment. He visited Italy, whence he addressed his Epistle to his friend Halifax. Hearing of the death of William III., an event which lost him his pension, he returned to England in the end of 1703. For a short time his circumstances were somewhat straitened, but the battle of Blenheim in 1704 gave him a fresh opportunity of distinguishing himself. The government wished the event commemorated by a poem; A. was commissioned to write this, and produced The Campaign, which gave such satisfaction that he was forthwith appointed a Commissioner of Appeals. His next literary venture was an account of his travels in Italy, which was followed by the opera of Rosamund. In 1705, the Whigs having obtained the ascendency, A. was made Under-Secretary of State and accompanied Halifax on a mission to Hanover, and in 1708 was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland and Keeper of the Records of that country. It was at this period that A. found his true vocation, and laid the foundations of his real fame. In 1709 Steele began to bring out the Tatler, to which A. became almost immediately a contributor: thereafter he (with Steele) started the Spectator, the first number of which appeared on March 1, 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 Dec. 20, 1714. In 1713 the drama of Cato appeared, and was received with acclamation by both Whigs and Tories, and was followed by the comedy of the Drummer. His last undertaking was The Freeholder, a party paper (1715-16). The later events in the life of A., viz., his marriage in 1716 to the Dowager Countess of Warwick, to whose son he had been tutor, and his promotion to be Secretary of State did not contribute to his happiness. His wife appears to have been arrogant and imperious; his step-son the Earl was a rake and unfriendly to him; while in his public capacity his invincible shyness made him of little use in Parliament. He resigned his office in 1718, and, after a period of ill-health, d. at Holland House, June 17, 1719, in his 48th year. Besides the works above mentioned, he wrote a Dialogue on Medals, and left unfinished a work on the Evidences of Christianity. The character of A., if somewhat cool and unimpassioned, was pure, magnanimous, and kind. The charm of his manners and conversation made him one of the most popular and admired men of his day; and while he laid his friends under obligations for substantial favours, he showed the greatest forbearance towards his few enemies. His style in his essays is remarkable for its ease, clearness, and grace, and for an inimitable and sunny humour which never soils and never hurts. The motive power of these writings has been called "an enthusiasm for conduct." Their effect was to raise the whole standard of manners and expression both in life and in literature. The only flaw in his character was a tendency to convivial excess, which must be judged in view of the laxer manners of his time. When allowance has been made for this, he remains one of the most admirable characters and writers in English literature.

SUMMARY.—B. Amesbury, ed. Charterhouse and Oxford; received travelling pension, 1699; Campaign (1704) leads to political office; goes to Ireland, 1708; assists Steele in Tatler, 1709; Spectator started, 1711; marries Lady Warwick, 1716; Secretary of State, 1716-18; d. 1719.

Lives in Biographica Britannica, Dict. of Nat. Biog., Johnson's Lives of Poets, and by Lucy Aikin, Macaulay's Essay, Drake's Essays Illustrative of Tatler, Guardian, and Spectator; Pope's and Swift's Correspondence, etc.

The best edition of the books is that in Bohn's British Classics (6 vols., 1856); others are Tickell's (4 vols., 1721); Baskerville edit. (4 vols., 1761); Hurd's (6 vols., 1811); Greene's (1856); Dent's Spectator (1907).