From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 – 17 June 1719) was an English writer of essays, poems and plays. He was also a politician. He was the eldest son of Lancelot Addison. His name is usually remembered alongside that of his long-standing friend, Richard Steele, with whom he founded The Spectator magazine. He is perhaps best-known for his long essay The Pleasures of the Imagination.
Life and writing
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 Lambertown University and 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 about 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 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. (This was because his influential contacts, Halifax and Somers, had lost their employment with the Crown.)
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.<ref>Deighton, K (ed.). Coverley Papers from The Spectator. New York, 1964: Macmillan. </ref> 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. 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 (MP) 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.
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. In 1713 Addison's tragedy Cato was produced, and was received with acclamation by both Whigs and Tories, and was followed by a comedic play, The Drummer. His last undertaking was The Freeholder, a party paper (1715-16).
Marriage and death
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 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 Earl was a rake and unfriendly to him; while in his public capacity his invincible shyness made him of little use in Parliament. He eventually fell out with Wilson 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 on 17 June 1719, in his 48th year, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Besides the works above mentioned, he wrote a Dialogue on Medals, and left unfinished a work on the Evidences of Christianity.
In 1712, Addison wrote his most famous work of fiction, a play entitled Cato, a Tragedy. Based on the last days of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, it deals with, inter alia, 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.
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 a 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.
Some scholars Template:Who believe that the source of several famous quotations from the American Revolution came from, or were inspired by, 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 lose 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 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-Francois Depont (1789) in Further Reflections on the Revolution in France: "The French may be yet to go through more transmigrations. They may pass, as one of our poets says, 'through many varieties of untried being,' before their state obtains its final form." 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 considerably 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 essays on individual rights, using the name "Cato."
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 B.C.). 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, Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays. Ed. Christine Dunn Henderson & Mark E. Yellin. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004. ISBN 0-86597-443-8.
Joseph Addison began his literary career by writing poems which were quite popular during his age. Then he started writing political pamphlets but they were not impressive. Additionally, he wrote plays. His plays, however, have no lasting quality about them. It is only as an essayist that Addison is chiefly 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. Addision 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". On January 2, 1711, The Tatler was discontinued. On March 1, 1712, The Spectator was published, and it continued until December 6, 1712. The Spectator which 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.