Addison, Joseph (DNB00)
ADDISON, JOSEPH (1672–1719), essayist, poet, and statesman, son of Lancelot Addison [see Addison, Lancelot] by his first wife, was born 1 May 1672, at his father's rectory, Milston, near Amesbury, Wilts, and baptised the same day on account of his apparent delicacy. His father, on becoming dean of Lichfield (1683), sent the boy, who had already been at schools in Amesbury and Salisbury, to a school at Lichfield; and here, according to a story reported by Johnson, he was the leader of a ‘barring-out.’ He was soon transferred to the Charterhouse, though not placed upon the foundation, and there became the hero of Steele, his junior by three years. Steele saw Addison in his home circle, and long afterwards (Tatler, No. 235) commemorated its unique charm. The impartial tenderness of the father, he says, equally developed the mutual affection of his children and their respect for himself. In 1687, Addison was sent to his father's college, Queen's College, Oxford. His classical acquirements soon attracted notice, and Dr. Lancaster, then fellow and afterwards provost of Queen's, happening to see some of his Latin verses, obtained for him in 1689 one of the demyships at Magdalen, many of which were then vacant in consequence of the attack upon the privileges of the college by James II. Addison took his M.A. degree in 1693, and gained a probationary fellowship in 1697, and a fellowship in 1698, which he held till 1711. He took pupils, and rapidly acquired reputation for elegant scholarship, especially for his knowledge of Latin poetry. His own Latin poems are highly praised by Johnson, and Macaulay prefers him to all his British rivals except Milton and Buchanan. They include a poem on the Peace of Ryswick, on an altar-piece of the Resurrection at Magdalen, a description of a bowling-green, a barometer, and a puppet-show, addresses to Dr. Hannes and Burnet of the Charterhouse, and a mock-heroic war between the cranes and pigmies. In the last Macaulay notes an anticipation of Swift's description of the king of Lilliput, taller by the breadth of a nail than any of his courtiers. Addison's classical reputation soon extended to the literary circles of London. He wrote a poetical address, congratulating Dryden upon the translations from the classical poets by which the veteran ruler of English literature was eking out a scanty income. Dryden inserted this in the third part of the ‘Miscellany Poems’ (1693); and to the fourth part, which appeared in 1694, Addison contributed a translation of parts of the fourth Georgic, and a didactic ‘account of the greatest English poets.’ The last is dedicated to H. S., said to be Henry Sacheverell, who was Addison's contemporary at Magdalen, and destined afterwards to be conspicuous as a political opponent. (A correspondent of Johnson's, however, ascribes it to a Manxman of the same name; see, too, Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, i. 113.) In 1697, Addison contributed an anonymous essay upon the Georgics to Dryden's translation of Virgil; and in a ‘postscript to the Æneis’ Dryden repaid his services by a high compliment to the ‘ingenious Mr. Addison of Oxford.’ Referring to Addison's translation of the fourth Georgic, he declares that ‘after his “Bees” my latter swarm is scarce worth the hiving.’
Addison was thus taking a place amongst the professional authors. A correspondence with Tonson (published by Miss Aikin) shows that the bookseller had engaged him for a translation of Herodotus. His academical position might suggest the intention of taking orders, expressed in the conclusion of the poem to H. S. (3 April 1694). Tickell says that Addison was deterred from this step by his modesty; Steele attributes the change of intention to the favour of Charles Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax. Halifax, Pope's Bufo, had himself gained his first successes as a poet; he aspired to be a patron of letters; and in those days political patronage was beginning to descend upon the literary class. Halifax was already the patron of Congreve, the rising poet to whom Dryden was just bequeathing his reputation and his literary sceptre. Congreve, according to Steele (who appeals to Congreve himself in confirmation), introduced Addison to Montague, now chancellor of the exchequer. A poem ‘to the King,’ in 1695, introduced by a dedication to Lord Somers, testified to Addison's political orthodoxy and literary facility. It was followed (1697) by a Latin poem on the Peace of Ryswick, with a dedication to Montague. Montague obtained, through Somers, a pension of 300l. a year for the young poet; and declared at the same time, in a letter to the head of Magdalen, that, though represented as unfriendly to the church, he would never do it any other injury than by keeping Addison out of it. The pension was intended, it seems, to enable Addison to qualify himself for diplomatic employments by foreign travel. He left England in the autumn of 1699, and, after a short stay in Paris, settled for nearly a year at Blois to acquire the language. An abbé of Blois told Spence (Anecdotes, p. 184) that Addison lived there in great seclusion, studying and seeing no one except the masters—of French, presumably—who used to sup with him. In 1700 he returned to Paris, qualified to talk French and to converse with the famous authors Malebranche and Boileau. Boileau, as Tickell tells us, discovered for the first time that Englishmen were not incompetent for poetry by a perusal of Addison's Latin verses; and the influence of Boileau may be traced in Addison's later writings. He left France in December 1700 (misdated 1699 in his ‘Travels’) for a tour through Italy. He sailed from Marseilles; was driven by a storm into Savona; thence crossed the mountains to Genoa, and travelled through Milan to Venice, where his fancy was struck by a grotesque play upon the death of Cato. He visited the little republic of San Marino, passed hastily through Rome, and spent the Holy Week at Naples. He climbed Vesuvius, visited the island of Capri, and returned by Ostia to Rome, where he spent the autumn. Thence he reached Florence, and, crossing the Mont Cenis, reached Geneva in November 1701. Throughout, if we are to judge from his narrative, he seems to have considered the scenery as designed to illustrate his beloved poets. He delights to take Horace as a guide from Rome to Naples, and Virgil for a guide upon the return journey. At every turn his memory suggests fresh quotations from the whole range of Latin poetry. The works of ancient art preserved at Rome delight him specially by clearing up passages in Juvenal, Ovid, Manilius, and Seneca. He turns from the christian antiquities with the brief remark that they are so ‘embroiled with fable and legend that there is little satisfaction in searching into them.’ But Addison was no mere dilettante. His classical acquirements were but the appropriate accomplishment of a mind thoroughly imbued with the culture of his age, in which the classical spirit was regarded as the antithesis of Gothic obscurity. Though a sincere and even devout christian, he looked upon catholic observances with a contempt akin to that of the deistical Shaftesbury. He turns from poetry to point a moral against popery and arbitrary power. The peasants on the ‘savage mountain’ of San Marino are happy because free; whilst tyranny has converted the rich Campagna of Rome into a wilderness. These sentiments are expressed with great vigour in the best written of his poems, the ‘Letter from Italy,’ written as he was crossing the Alps, and addressed to Halifax, who had been driven from office soon after Addison's departure from England. He still had powerful friends. Manchester, now secretary of state, had been known to him in Paris; and Addison waited for some months at Geneva, expecting to receive an appointment to act as British agent in the camp of Eugene. Instead of this, he soon heard of the death of William III and the expulsion from power of his political friends. He had received only one year's payment of his pension, and had nothing but his fellowship to depend upon. He continued his travels, however, reaching Vienna in the summer of 1702, where he stayed whilst writing the graceful dialogues upon medals, composed chiefly of illustrations from Latin poetry, which he was too diffident to publish in his lifetime. He left Vienna in the winter, visited Hamburg, and in the summer reached Holland and heard of his father's death. He returned to England about September 1703.
Addison's finances are a mystery. Swift in the ‘Libel on Delany’ says that he was left in distress abroad and became ‘travelling tutor to a squire.’ Swift is pointing a sarcasm, and his statement is not corroborated. The bookseller Tonson, who met Addison in Holland, was authorised by the ‘proud’ Duke of Somerset to propose that he should become tutor to the duke's son. The negotiation failed, apparently because Addison offended the duke by intimating that the payment of expenses and a hundred guineas a year was insufficient. At any rate, Addison returned to England and remained for over a year without employment. He retained his old friendships, however, with the party leaders; and had made friends with distinguished Englishmen abroad, especially with Edward Wortley Montagu, afterwards husband of Lady Mary, and with Stepney, English envoy at Vienna and one of Halifax's friends. Addison became a member of the famous Kitcat Club, to which all the great whigs belonged, and wrote one of the toasts inscribed upon their glasses, in honour of the Duchess of Manchester. When the government began to incline towards the whigs, it was natural that Addison should come in for a reward. Godolphin, as Budgell tells us (Memoirs of the Boyles, 1732, p. 151), wished for a poet to celebrate the battle of Blenheim (13 Aug. 1704). He had a conversation with Halifax, reported with suspicious fulness by Budgell. Halifax said that he could mention a competent writer, if it were understood that he should be well rewarded. Godolphin thereupon sent Boyle, then chancellor of the exchequer, who found Addison in an indifferent lodging, and gave him by way of retaining fee a commissionership of appeals, vacated by the death of Locke. The success of his poem, the ‘Campaign,’ was rewarded by a further promotion to an under-secretaryship of state. Godolphin, according to Tickell, saw the poem when finished ‘as far as the applauded simile of the angel,’ and gave the commissionership in consequence. The anecdote has been coloured by the desire to represent Addison as a poor author raised from a garret to fortune by discerning patronage. Godolphin cared more for horse-racing than poetry, and was much less likely to reward the author of a set of verses than to gratify an important politician by advancing an adherent. In any case, the poem and the simile achieved a great success. The poem, like all Addison's performances of the kind, shows facility and poetic sensibility, stopping short of poetic genius. It is better than a similar poem of Halifax's on the battle of the Boyne, but does not stand out at any great elevation above the work of the time; and Macaulay's remark that it is not absurdly mythological is praise which might equally be applied to Halifax and others. Macaulay notes that the simile of the angel owed its great effect to its allusion to the famous storm of 1703; and Johnson quotes the remark of Dr. Madden that if he had proposed the same topic to ten schoolboys, he should not have been surprised if eight had brought him the angel. Warton unkindly calls the poem a ‘Gazette in rhyme’ (Essay on Pope, i. 29). We may be content to say that it was on the higher level of official poetry, and helped Addison's rise in literature and politics. His political preferments prove the esteem of powerful friends. In 1706 he received the under-secretaryship in the office of Sir Charles Hedges. He retained it when Hedges, a tory, made way (Dec. 1706) for Sunderland, one of the great whig junto. In 1707, Addison accompanied Halifax on a complimentary mission to invest the Elector of Hanover with the order of the Garter. In 1709 he became secretary to Wharton, the new lord-lieutenant of Ireland. An office, the keepership of the records, was found for him, and the salary raised to 400l. a year (see the fourth Drapier's Letter). The official duties, whatever they may have been, did not distract his attention from literature. His ‘Remarks on several Parts of Italy,’ published in 1705, became so popular that it rose to four and five times the original price before a second edition was brought out in 1718. He wrote the opera ‘Rosamond’ in conformity with a principle afterwards expounded in the eighteenth ‘Spectator.’ It seemed monstrous to the common sense of the time that music should induce people to listen to unintelligible Italian nonsense. Addison therefore composed an English poem, showing some lyrical facility and characteristic humour. It failed, however, on the stage, though it afterwards succeeded when set to new music by Arne. He helped Steele about the same time in the ‘Tender Husband,’ an obligation which Steele acknowledged with his usual warmth. He dedicated the play to Addison in affectionate terms; he declared afterwards (Spectator, No. 555) that many of the ‘most applauded strokes in it’ were Addison's; and said that the best comment upon his productions would be an account of the time when Addison was at home or abroad.
Addison's social qualities helped his rise. His high character, modesty, and sweetness of temper won for him the esteem of his patrons and of many literary friends, of whom he was the equal or the patron. He early formed a close friendship with Swift, to whom he presented (1705) a copy of his Italian travels (now in the Forster Library) inscribed ‘to the most agreeable companion, the truest friend, and the greatest genius of his age.’ Steele was his most ardent admirer. Less famous men, especially Tickell, Ambrose Philips, Eustace Budgell (a cousin), Davenant, Colonel Brett, and Carey, formed a little circle united by a common veneration for their chief. Addison, according to Pope's account, generally spent much of his time with these friends at coffee-houses; and Pope found their prolonged sittings too much for his health (Spence, pp. 199, 286). The statement, if accurate, refers chiefly to the period of the ‘Spectator;’ and these social meetings are placed at Button's, which succeeded Will's as the resort of the wits; Button being an old servant of Addison's or Lady Warwick's who set up his coffee-house under Addison's patronage about 1711. It is generally said that Addison gave in too much to the ordinary drinking habits of the time; and indications in his letters and elsewhere confirm this solitary imputation upon his moral propriety. The annotator to the ‘Tatler’ (vol. iv. p. 300, ed. 1797) gives a report that Addison shortened his life by an excessive use of ‘Canary wine and Barbadoes water,’ and says that Tonson boasted of paying his court to the great man by giving him excuses for such indulgence. Steele seems to suggest the truth in the ‘Tatler’ (No. 252). Speaking obviously of Addison, he says that ‘you can seldom get him to the tavern; but when once he is arrived to his pint and begins to look about and like his company, you admire a thousand things in him which before lay buried.’ Addison, in fact, though not intemperate according to the standard of his time, sometimes resorted to stimulants to overcome bashfulness or depression of spirits. The charm of his conversation when once the ice was broken is attested by observers less partial than Steele. Swift, who never mentions him without praise, declares that, often as they spent their evenings together, they never wished for a third person (Delany, Observations, p. 32). Lady Mary Wortley Montagu declared that Addison was the best company in the world; Dr. Young speaks of his ‘noble stream of thought and language’ when once he had overcome his diffidence; and even Pope admitted the unequalled charm of his conversation (Spence, Anecdotes, pp. 232, 335, 350). The most characteristic touch is preserved in Swift's ‘character of Mrs. Johnson,’ where he notices her admiration of Addison's practice of agreeing with people who were ‘very warm in a wrong opinion.’ The unfavourable view of the practice is given in Pope's lines:
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering teach the rest to sneer.
Addison's sensitive modesty disqualified him for the rough give-and-take of mixed society, but gave incomparable charm to his talk with a single congenial friend, or to the ironical acquiescence under which he took refuge in large gatherings.
The charm may be inferred from the writings in which he revealed his true power. Addison had taken his share of political warfare. In November 1707 he had published an anonymous pamphlet on the ‘Present State of the War,’ exhorting his countrymen to seize the opportunity of finally separating France from Spain, and insisting upon the poverty and misery of the French people to encourage the hope of finally overwhelming them. He came into parliament in Nov. 1708 for Lostwithiel; and that election being set aside 20 Dec. 1709, he was elected for Malmesbury by the influence of Wharton (Spence, p. 350) or his colleague Sir J. Rushout, to whose brother he had been tutor at Oxford (Aikin). He held the seat during his life; Swift notes upon his re-election in 1710 that it ‘passed easy and undisputed,’ and that ‘if he had a mind to be chosen king, he would hardly be refused’ (Journal to Stella, 8 Oct. 1710); but his modesty prevented him from ever speaking. In the autumn of 1710, when the whig ministry was falling, he defended them in the ‘Whig Examiner,’ of which five papers only appeared (14, 21, 28 Sept., 5, 12 Oct. 1710). They contain a spirited and, for Addison, a bitter attack upon the ‘Examiner,’ then the organ of Harley and St. John, but not yet committed to Swift. Addison, however, was to withdraw for a time from active political exertion and to achieve his greatest success. The fall of the whigs involved his loss of office. He tells Wortley Montagu (21 July 1711) that he has lost within twelve months a place of 2,000l. a year, an estate in the Indies of 14,000l., and his mistress (Aikin, ii. 44). Nothing is known of the last misfortune. It is singular, however, that in the same year (1711) he bought the estate of Bilton in Warwickshire for 10,000l. (Ireland, Beauties of the Avon, p. 70). In 1735 it was valued at about 600l. a year (Egerton MS. 1973, f. 107). It has been generally said that he was enabled to make this purchase by inheriting the fortune of his brother Gulston, who, through Addison's influence (Wentworth Papers, 75, 6), had been appointed to succeed ‘Diamond’ Pitt as governor of Fort St. George. A correspondence preserved in the British Museum (Egerton MS. 1972) shows this to be a mistake. Gulston, who died 10 Oct. 1709, made Addison an executor and residuary legatee. The difficulty, however, of realising an estate left in great confusion and in so distant a country, was very great. The trustees were neglectful, and Addison declares that one of them deserved the pillory, and that he longs to tell him so ‘by word of mouth.’ It was not till 1716 that a final liquidation was reached; and the sum due to Addison, after deducting bad debts and legacies, was less than a tenth part of the whole estate, originally valued at 35,000 pagodas, or 14,000l.: the sum, doubtless, to which Addison's letter refers. Addison, however, was not poor. He had, besides his lodgings, a ‘retirement near Chelsea,’ where Swift dined with him (Journal to Stella, 18 Sept. 1710), which had once belonged to Nell Gwyn, and whence he could stroll through fields to Holland House, then occupied by Lady Warwick. He abandoned the large profits of ‘Cato’ in 1713, and had resigned his fellowship in 1711.
Steele, more impecunious, started the ‘Tatler’ on 12 April 1709. Addison, who was absorbed in his official duties, and had just started for Dublin, which he reached on 21 April (letter to Swift, 22 April 1709), was not concerned in the venture. He recognised Steele's hand by a remark, borrowed from himself, in the number of 23 April. He contributed a paper or two soon afterwards; but it was not till the 81st number (15 Oct.) that his papers became frequent and important. He wrote frequently during the following winter, which he spent in London, and again in the latter part of 1710, after an interruption caused by a residence at Dublin during the spring and summer. The effect of Addison's papers was very great. ‘I fared,’ said Steele in the preface to the final volume, ‘like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbour to his aid. I was undone by my auxiliary; when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him.’ Forty-one papers are attributed to Addison, and thirty-four to Addison and Steele in conjunction. The paper began by including articles of news, mixed with dramatic criticism and short essays and novels in the older sense of the word. With Addison's co-operation the essay became more important, and the article of news declined. Steele's acknowledgment in the last number seems to imply that the religious reflections in Addison's more serious papers and allegorical visions were popular at the time. Some of the purely humorous papers, such as the ‘Political Quidnuncs’ in No. 155, the ‘Virtuoso's Will,’ No. 216, and the ‘Frozen Words,’ No. 254, show the unrivalled vein of playful humour soon to be more brilliantly manifested.
The last ‘Tatler’ appeared 2 Jan. 1711. The first ‘Spectator’ appeared on the following March 1, and it was published daily till No. 555, 6 Dec. 1712. The ‘Spectator’ carefully abstained from politics in a time of violent party spirit. It consisted entirely of essays on the model gradually reached in the ‘Tatler,’ and it made an unprecedented success. The sale was lowered to a half by a stamp duty imposed 1 Aug. 1712, and Steele says in the last number that the duty paid weekly was over 20l. This would give a daily sale of only 1,600. Addison says in No. 10 that the sale already amounted to 3,000; and in the ‘Biographia Britannica’ it is said that of some numbers 20,000 were sold in a day. Steele tells us that the first collected edition was of 9,000 copies. From an agreement preserved in the British Museum (Add. MS. 21110), it seems that Addison and Steele sold their half-share of the ‘Spectator,’ when first collected in volumes, to a stationer named Buckley for 575l. Whatever the precise numbers, the ‘Spectator’ made a mark in English literature, and fixed a form which was adopted with servile fidelity by many succeeding periodicals till the end of the century.
Addison wrote 274 ‘Spectators,’ distinguished by a signature of one of the letters in CLIO. General opinion has attributed to him the greatest share of the triumph. Johnson observed (Boswell, 10 April 1776) that of the half not written by Addison, not half was good. Macaulay says that Addison's worst essay is as good as the best of any of his coadjutors. The judgment has been called in question by Mr. Forster (see Essay on Steele), and differs from that of Hazlitt (Round Table, No. 6, and Lect. V. on Comic Writers), who thought Steele more sympathetic than the urbane and decorous Addison. As a plain matter of fact, however, there can be no doubt that Addison's essays were those which achieved the widest popularity, which are still remembered when the old ‘Spectator’ is mentioned, and which were the admiration of all the critics of the eighteenth century. Johnson only expresses the opinion expressed with various modifications by Kames, Blair, Hurd, Beattie, and other judges of the period, when he pronounces Addison's to be ‘the model of the middle style,’ and ends his Life by declaring that ‘whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.’ The style of Addison, says Landor (letter to Mrs. Shelley, communicated by Mr. Garnett), ‘is admired; it is very lax and incorrect. But in his manner there is the shyness of the Loves: there is the graceful shyness of a beautiful girl not quite grown up. People feel the cool current of delight, and never look for its source.’ Addison's greatest achievement is universally admitted to be the character of Sir Roger de Coverley. Sir Roger is the incarnation of Addison's kindly tenderness, showing through a veil of delicate persiflage. Sir Roger was briefly sketched by Steele in the second ‘Spectator.’ He is portrayed most fully in a series of fifteen ‘Spectators’ by Addison, in July 1711, which describe a visit to his country-house. Six essays by Steele are interspersed, but only two of them, in which Addison permitted Steele to tell Sir Roger's love story, are of any significance. Budgell described a hunting-party in one number. Sir Roger then disappears till he comes to London to see Prince Eugene in January 1712. Addison takes him to the Abbey in another paper, 18 March; to Philips's ‘Distressed Mother’ in a third, 25 March; and to Vauxhall in a fourth, 20 May. After this, Steele introduced him (to Addison's vexation, it is said) to a woman of the town (20 June). On 23 Oct. Addison describes his death. ‘I killed him,’ he told Budgell, ‘that nobody else might murder him’ (Budgell's Bee, i. 27). The other papers contributed by Addison may be classified as humorous, critical, and serious. To the humorous belong a great variety of papers touching upon the various social follies of the day, often with exquisite felicity of gentle ridicule; and of these some of the most popular appear to have been those in which Addison, with an air of condescension hardly so pleasant as Steele's generous gallantry, touched the various foibles and fashionable absurdities of women. The most important criticism is a series of seventeen papers on ‘Paradise Lost’ which appeared on Saturdays from 5 Jan. to 3 May 1712. Though the critical doctrines are obsolete and the judgments often worse than obselete, these papers may be said, not certainly to have originated, but to have set the stamp of the highest critical authority of the time upon, the lofty and what may be called the orthodox estimate of Milton's genius. Two papers on Chevy Chase on 21 and 25 May 1711, are noticeable as showing more decidedly a genuine poetical sensibility, and doing something to call general attention to a then despised branch of literature. Six papers upon ‘Wit’ in the same month, and a more ambitious series of eleven papers on the ‘Pleasures of the Imagination’ in June and July 1712, are the foundation of Addison's claim to be an æsthetic philosopher. The philosophy, indeed, is superficial; but the excellence of the style and the genuine taste gave them a high, though temporary, reputation. In 1864 Mr. Dykes Campbell printed (privately), at Glasgow, ‘Some portions of Essays contributed to the “Spectator” by Mr. Joseph Addison: Now first printed from his MS. note-book.’ The note-book was bought at a sale by Mr. Campbell in 1858. The internal evidence and the handwriting prove that it contains three essays—‘Of the Imagination,’ ‘Of Jealousy,’ and ‘Of Fame’—carefully written out in his own hand, and subsequently worked up into ‘Spectators’ on the same topics, viz. Nos. 170, 171 (on Jealousy), 233, 236, 237 (Love of Fame), 411–14, 416–18, 420, 421 (on the Pleasures of Imagination). The whole is a very interesting illustration of Addison's mode of composition. Of the graver papers the most remarkable are a series which appeared from Saturdays beginning Oct. 20, 1711. Some people guessed that they might have been originally intended for sermons, and they may illustrate the remark attributed to Mandeville (Hawkins, History of Music, v. 315, 316), that Addison was a ‘parson in a tyewig,’ or Tonson's saying that he ‘ever thought him a priest in his heart’ (Spence, p. 200). We may add that the ‘divine poems’ published in some of them during the autumn of 1712 (two of which have been erroneously attributed to Marvell) are not only excellent illustrations of the gentle piety which gives a charm to much of Addison's prose, but represent also his highest poetical achievements.
The ‘Spectator’ dropped in Dec. 1712. Addison, now at the height of his reputation, made a new experiment. Tonson (Spence, p. 46) and Cibber profess to have seen the first four acts of ‘Cato’ upon Addison's return from his travels in 1703. The play may have been suggested, as Macaulay observes, by the performance which he saw at Venice. Addison was now entreated to bring it upon the stage, and, after asking Hughes to write a fifth act, decided to write it himself, and finished it, according to Steele (Preface to ‘Drummer’), in a week. Steele further undertook to pack a house, a device which Addison's immense popularity may have rendered superfluous. The play was accordingly acted at Drury Lane (Genest, ii. 512) on 14 April 1713. Its dramatic weakness has never been denied. The love scenes are incongruous. It consists in great part of declamation, which Addison's taste restrained within limits, and polished into many still familiar quotations, but which remains commonplace. The success, however, at the time was unprecedented. Whigs and tories not only united in admiring Addison, but were equally anxious to claim a right to his fine phrases about liberty. Addison himself disclaimed party intention. Pope, the friend of the tory circle, wrote an eloquent prologue. Swift himself attended a rehearsal after a long period of estrangement from the author. Bolingbroke, as Pope told Caryll (30 April 1713), sent for Booth, the actor of Cato, and presented him with fifty guineas for ‘defending the cause of liberty so well against a perpetual dictator,’ innuendo Marlborough; and the whigs, says Pope, intend a similar present and are trying to invent as good a sentence. He afterwards (Ep. to Augustus, v. 215) sneered at Addison for appearing to claim some political merit in a copy of verses sent with ‘Cato’ (Nov. 1714) to the princess royal. No tories, however, could scruple at the political maxims of ‘Cato,’ and men of all parties applauded it to the echo. It ran for twenty nights, the last performance being on 9 May. A fourth edition appeared on 4 May, and eight were published in the year. The three managers gained each 1,350l. by the season; to which subsequent performances at Oxford enabled them to add 150l. more, a sum then unprecedented (Cibber's Apology, 377, 387). It was translated into French, Italian, and German; the Jesuits translated it into Latin, that it might be played by the scholars at St. Omer; and Voltaire praised it as the first reasonable English tragedy, and speaks of the sustained elegance and nobility of its language, though blaming its dramatic weakness, and observing that the barbarism and irregularity sanctioned by Shakespeare have left some traces even in Addison (Letters to Bolingbroke and Falkener prefixed to Brutus and Zaire; Life of Louis XIV; and 18th Letter on the English). ‘Cato’ marks in fact the nearest approach in the English theatre to an unreserved acceptance of the French canons, of which Philips's ‘Distressed Mother’—an adaptation of Racine's ‘Andromaque’—had given an example in the previous year (1712). The influence, however, of Shakespeare, though eclipsed, was not extinguished. Rowe was writing tragedies in imitation of his style; and Addison himself (though De Quincey strangely asserts the contrary in his ‘Life of Shakespeare’) frequently speaks of him with high praise (see Tatler, 41; Spectator, 25, 39, 40, 61, 160, 419, 592).
John Dennis made a splenetic, though not pointless, attack upon the awkward dramatic construction of ‘Cato,’ due chiefly to Addison's attempt to preserve the unities, from which full quotations are given in Johnson's Life of Addison. Pope defended Addison (or revenged grievances of his own) by a savage ‘Narrative of the Frenzy of John Dennis.’ Addison thereupon conveyed to Dennis a disavowal of any complicity in this attack, and a disapproval of its manner. Such a disavowal, though no more than due to Dennis and to Addison's own character, chagrined Pope. Pope was already involved in a bitter quarrel with Ambrose Philips, and became irritated against the whole clique who gathered round Addison at Button's. When he published the first four books of his Homer in 1715, a version of the first ‘Iliad’ by Tickell appeared simultaneously. Tickell indeed expressly disavowed any intention of rivalry, declaring that he had abandoned a task now fallen into abler hands, and that he published his fragment only to bespeak public favour for an intended translation of the ‘Odyssey.’ Pope, in a conversation reported by himself, admitted to Addison that he had no monopoly in Homer, and accepted Addison's proposal to read Pope's version of the second book as he had read Tickell's version of the first. Pope came, however, to believe in, or assert, the existence of a conspiracy against his fame. Addison had prompted Tickell to write, or corrected Tickell's verses, or written them himself in Tickell's name. Another proof of this plot, as he told Spence, was given to him by Warwick, soon to be Addison's stepson. Addison had encouraged Gildon to attack Pope in a pamphlet on Wycherley, and had afterwards paid the assailant ten guineas. Hereupon Pope wrote to Addison expressing his scorn for underhand dealings, and enclosing, as a proof of his own openness, a sketch of the famous lines finally incorporated in the ‘Epistle to Arbuthnot.’ Addison, he said, ever afterwards ‘used him very civilly.’ A complimentary reference to Pope's Homer in the ‘Freeholder’ is the only clear indication we have of Addison's later feeling.
The accusation has been fully discussed, and is the subject of a note by Blackstone in the ‘Biographia Britannica,’ arguing for Addison's innocence, which has been proved by later revelations. Tickell's manuscript has been preserved, and proves his authorship of the translation. All that can possibly be said is that Addison did not prevent Tickell from publishing what (on Pope's own admission) he had a perfect right to publish, and what could in no case seriously injure Pope. The Warwick story is a bit of gossip which Pope (if indeed he did not invent it) should have rejected with scorn. Pope's main desire in the whole affair was apparently to disprove a report that the satire on Addison had been written after its victim's death. There is independent evidence, indeed, to disprove this, though there is also a very strong presumption that it was never shown to Addison. Pope's evidence in his own case is that of a man who lied by preference; it is irreconcilable with dates, and it is the more suspicious because we now know that almost the whole correspondence with Addison was deliberately manufactured by Pope from other letters in order to give colour to his account of their relations. The satire itself must stand upon its own base. It shows Pope's feeling towards Addison, and has that amount of truth, whatever it may be, which is implied in its internal probability and coherence. We may see that a keen but hostile observer could plausibly attribute to Addison the faults characteristic of the head of a coterie—love of flattery and jealousy of outsiders—and may infer that he saw one, though a very unfavourable, aspect of the truth.
After ‘Cato,’ Addison returned to essay writing. He contributed fifty-one papers to the ‘Guardian’ (which Steele now edited in place of the ‘Spectator’) between 28 May and 22 Sept. 1713, and twenty-four papers to a revived ‘Spectator,’ probably conducted by Budgell, between 18 June and 29 Sept. 1714. In the earlier part of the same year he gave two papers to Steele's ‘Lover.’ It is enough to say that these generally display the old qualities, but with fewer conspicuous successes. His purely literary activity ends with the production of the ‘Drummer,’ a prose comedy founded on the story of the drummer of Tedworth, told in Glanvill's ‘Sadducismus Triumphatus.’ Addison gave it to Steele with an especial injunction of secrecy. It was represented without success in 1715, and then published by Steele, who thought that beauties too delicate for a theatre might please in the closet. Tickell slurred its authenticity by excluding it from his edition of Addison's works; Steele vehemently protested in a dedicatory letter to Congreve prefixed to a new edition; nor has any critic since that time doubted that it displays Addison's characteristic humour without the dramatic force which he did not possess.
The death of Queen Anne and the triumph of the whigs restored Addison to politics. He was appointed secretary to the lords justices, and, on Sunderland becoming lord-lieutenant, to his old secretaryship. On Sunderland's retirement from this office after ten months' tenure, Addison was appointed one of the lords commissioners of trade. During the same period he had published the ‘Freeholder’ (fifty-five papers, from 23 Dec. 1715, to 9 June 1716), a political ‘Spectator’ in defence of orthodox whig principles imperilled by the rebellion in Scotland, and now remarkable chiefly for two numbers devoted to the tory fox-hunter—an admirable portrait halfway between Sir Roger de Coverley and Squire Western.
On 3 Aug. 1716, Addison was married to the Countess of Warwick. He was an old family friend; his residence at Chelsea had made him a neighbour of Holland House; and he had taken an interest in the education of her son, a lad of seventeen, though the statement that he had actually been his tutor is inaccurate. The courtship had lasted for some time, as appears from a copy of verses addressed by Rowe to the countess on Addison's departure for Ireland in the previous year. The marriage is generally said to have been uncomfortable. Johnson says that it resembled the marriages in which a sultan gives his daughter a man to be her slave; and there is a report that Addison used to escape from his uncomfortable splendour at Holland House to a coffee-house at Kensington. Little value can be attached to such gossip. The match probably facilitated Addison's official elevation. Sunderland triumphed over Townshend in the spring of 1717, and brought in Addison as his fellow secretary of state. Addison's political success must be considered chiefly as a proof of his extreme personal popularity. He had neither the power derived from great social position, nor that of a vigorous debater. It has been added (Spence, p. 175) that he was too fastidious in his style to be capable of writing a common despatch. Macaulay argues that this could only apply to an ignorance of official forms. No proof, indeed, is required that he could write easily, though he could polish carefully. Steele says that when Addison had settled his plan, he could walk about and dictate—and Steele had often been his amanuensis—as easily and correctly as his words could be written down. Pope says that the ‘Spectators’ were often written quickly and sent to press at once, and that he wrote best when he had not too much time to correct. Warton had heard that Addison would stop the press, when almost the whole impression of a ‘Spectator’ had been worked off, to insert a new preposition or conjunction (Essay on Pope, i. 145). We can hardly say with confidence how far his nicety may have sometimes interfered with his official despatch writing.
Addison's health was meanwhile breaking. He retired in March 1718, with a pension of 1,500l. a year, and undertook some literary work never completed. A tragedy on the death of Socrates is mentioned; and he left behind a fragmentary and very superficial work on the evidences of the christian religion. He also meditated a paraphrase of the Psalms. His last published work was destined to be of a different character, and brought him into conflict with his old friend Steele.
Steele's boundless admiration for Addison has been noticed. When supplanted by his ally, he rejoiced, as he says, to be excelled, and proudly declared that, whatever Mr. Steele owed to Mr. Addison, the world owed Addison to Steele. The harmony, however, was disturbed. We learn from Steele's correspondence that he borrowed money occasionally from his richer friend. Johnson tells a story, upon apparently good authority, that Addison once put an execution into Steele's house for 100l., and that Steele was deeply hurt. The most authentic form of the anecdote comes from the actor, B. Victor (Original Letters, &c., vol. i. pp. 328–9), who knew Steele and gave the facts in a letter to Garrick. The statement is that Steele borrowed 1,000l. from Addison in order to build a house at Hampton Court; that Addison advanced the money through his lawyers with instructions to enforce the debt when due; and that upon Steele's failure to pay at the year's end, the house and furniture were sold and the balance paid to Steele, with a letter briefly telling him that the step had been taken to arouse him from his ‘lethargy.’ Steele, it is added, took the reproof with ‘philosophical composure,’ and was afterwards on good terms with Addison. Upon this showing, it was not a case of a friend suddenly converted by anger into a severe creditor, but a deliberate plan from the first to give a serious lesson. However well meant or well taken, such reproofs are severe tests of friendship. Steele, whose imprudent zeal made him the scapegoat of his party, was probably hurt when he received no office, and only a share in the patent of the playhouse, upon the triumph of the whigs. He was hurt, too, at being superseded by Tickell in Addison's favour, and at the appointment of the younger man as under-secretary to their common friend. Steele says to his wife in 1717 that he asks nothing from ‘Mr. Secretary Addison.’
Steele published a paper called the ‘Plebeian’ (14 March 1719), attacking the proposed measure for limiting the number of peers. Addison replied temperately in the ‘Old Whig’ (19 March), with a constitutional argument for a measure calculated, as he thought, to preserve the right balance of power. Steele replied in two more ‘Plebeians’ (29 and 30 March), and in one of them made an irrelevant and coarse allusion, harshly described by Macaulay as an ‘odious imputation’ upon the morals of his opponents. Addison made a severe and contemptuous reply in a second ‘Old Whig’ (2 April), ending, however, with an expression of his belief that the ‘Plebeian’ would write well in a good cause. Macaulay first pointed out that Addison did not, as Johnson says, call Steele ‘little Dicky.’ Steele had the last word in a ‘Plebeian’ (6 April) written with some bitterness about Addison's whiggism, but ending with a quotation from ‘Cato’ as expressive of sound nature. Some regret for the breach of their old alliance appears in the concluding sentences, but there is no trace of a reconciliation.
Addison was fast breaking. On his deathbed he sent for Gay, and begged forgiveness for some injury, presumably an interference with Gay's preferment, of which he accused himself. He sent also, as Young tells us (‘Conjectures on Original Composition,’ Works, p. 136), for his stepson Warwick, and said to him: ‘See in what peace a christian can die.’ The incident is supposed to be alluded to in Tickell's fine address to Warwick with Addison's words. He
taught us how to live, and (oh! too high
The price of knowledge) taught us how to die.
He left to Tickell the care of his works, which he bequeathed to Craggs in a touching letter; and died of asthma and dropsy, 17 June 1719. Lady Warwick died 7 July 1731.
He left a daughter, born 30 Jan. 1719, apparently of rather defective intellect (Gentleman's Magazine, March 1797 and May 1798; Lady Louisa Stewart's introduction to the Works of Lady M. W. Montagu, p. 15; and letters in Egerton MS. 1974), who lived many years at Bilton, dying unmarried in 1797. His library was sold in May 1799, bringing 456l. 2s. 9d.
There is a portrait of Addison in the National Portrait Gallery, two at Magdalen, and one (presented by his daughter in 1750) at the Bodleian. A so-called portrait in Holland House seems to be really the portrait of his friend Sir A. Fountaine (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. xii. 357, 5th ser. v. 488, vi. 94; Joseph Addison and Sir A. Fountaine, the Romance of a Portrait, London, 1858).
Addison's Latin poems appeared in the ‘Examen Poeticum Duplex,’ London, 1698, and the ‘Musarum Anglicanarum Analecta,’ vol. ii., Oxford, 1699. The latter collection includes two poems, on the Peace and to Dr. Hannes, not in the former. A poem on Skating attributed to P. Frowde in the last was published as Addison's by Curll in 1720.
The third part of the ‘Miscellany Poems’ (1693) includes the poem ‘To Mr. Dryden;’ the fourth part (1694), the translation of the fourth Georgic, an ‘Account of the Greatest English Poets,’ the ‘Song for St. Cecilia's Day,’ a translation of Ovid's ‘Salmacis;’ the fifth part (1704) contains the letter from Italy (already published), the Milton imitated in a translation from the third Æneid, and various translations from Ovid. Macaulay mentions (see note to article ‘Macaulay’ in Lowndes's Manual) that ‘Spectator’ Nos. 603 and 623 should be given to Addison.
A translation of an oration ‘in defence of the new philosophy,’ made in the schools at Oxford (7 July 1693), attributed to Addison, is appended to a translation by W. Gardiner of Fontenelle's ‘Plurality of Worlds’ (London, 1728). A ‘Discourse on Ancient and Modern Learning,’ published by Osborne in 1739, from a manuscript belonging to Somers and afterwards to Jekyl, is regarded by Hurd as a genuine, though early, piece, and is reprinted in Addison's works. A ‘Dissertatio de insignioribus Romanis Poetis’ was published in 1692, 1698, 1718, 1725, and 1750, and was regarded as valuable by Dr. Parr (Notes and Queries, 3rd series, ix. 312). An ‘Argument about the Alteration of the Triennial Election of Parliaments,’ attributed to Addison, was first published in Boyer's ‘Political State’ in 1716. It was afterwards claimed by De Foe (Notes and Queries, 1st series, v. 577), and, though admitted in Bohn's edition, is apparently not Addison's. Other publications are as follows:
1. ‘A Poem to His Majesty,’ presented by the Lord Keeper (Somers) 1695. 2. ‘Letter from Italy to the Right Hon. Charles Lord Halifax, in the year 1701.’ Printed 1703. 3. ‘Remarks on several Parts of Italy,’ 1705. Second edition, 1718. 4. ‘Fair Rosamond,’ an opera in three acts, and in verse (anonymous), 1707. 5. Papers in ‘The Tatler,’ 1709–10. 6. ‘The Whig Examiner,’ 1710. 7. Papers in ‘Spectator,’ 1711–12. (The papers on Milton, on the Imagination, and on Coverley have been published separately.) 8. ‘Cato,’ 1713. 9. Papers in ‘Guardian,’ 1713. 10. ‘The late Trial and Conviction of Count Tariff,’ 1713. 11. Papers in eighth volume of ‘Spectator,’ 1714. 12. ‘The Drummer’ (anonymous), 1716 (acted 1715). 13. ‘The Freeholder,’ 1716. 14. ‘The Old Whig,’ 1719. This (with the ‘Plebeian’) is included only in Greene's and Bohn's edition of his works. The ‘Dialogues on Medals’ and the ‘Evidences of the Christian Religion’ were published posthumously in Tickell's edition of his works.
Of collected editions we may mention Tickell's, in 4 vols., 1721; the Baskerville edition, in 4 vols. 4to, Birmingham, 1761; another collected edition, in 4 vols., London, 1765, often reprinted in 12mo; an edition (with grammatical notes) by Bishop Hurd, in 6 vols. 8vo, in 1811; a fuller edition, edited by G. W. Greene, New York, 1856; the most complete and convenient edition is that contained in Bohn's ‘British Classics,’ 6 vols. 1856.[Tickell's Preface to Addison's Works; Steele's Preface to the Drummer, in an Epistle Dedicatory to Mr. Congreve, occasioned by Mr. Tickell's Preface; Spence's Anecdotes (1820); Egerton MSS. 1971–4; life in Biographia Britannica; life in Johnson's Lives of the Poets; Addisoniana, a loose collection of anecdotes by Sir R. Phillips (1803), which contains fac-similes of letters to Wortley Montagu, then first published; life by Lucy Aikin (1843), and the review of this, which is one of Macaulay's best essays; Nathan Drake's Essays illustrative of the Tatler, Guardian, and Spectator (1805); Prefaces to Chalmers's British Essayists, vols. i., vi., and xvi.; Tyers's Historical Essay (1783), which is valueless; Swift's Works; Pope's Correspondence in Elwin's edition; Carruthers's Life of Pope.]