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Joseph Addison Biography

by New Gresham Encyclopedia

Joseph Addison, an eminent English essayist, son of the Rev. Lancelot Addison, afterwards Dean of Lichfield, born at Milston, Wiltshire, 1st May, 1672, died 17th June, 1719. He was educated at the Charterhouse, where he became acquainted with Steele, and afterwards at Oxford. He held a fellowship from 1697 till 1711, and gained much praise for his Latin verse. He secured as his earliest patron the poet Dryden, who inserted some of his verses in his Miscellanies in 1693. A translation of the fourth Georgic, with the exception of the story of Aristæus, by Addison, appeared in the same collection in 1694, and he subsequently translated for it two and a half books of Ovid. Dryden also prefixed his prose essay on Virgil's Georgics to his own translation of that poem, which appeared in 1697. An early patron of his was Charles Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax; another was Lord Somers, who procured him a pension of £300 a year to enable him to qualify for diplomatic employments by foreign travels. He spent from the autumn of 1699 to that of 1703 on the Continent, where he became acquainted with Malebranche, Boileau, &c. During his residence abroad his tragedy of Cato is supposed to have been written. During his journey across Mont Cenis he wrote his Letter from Italy, esteemed the best of his poems, and in Germany his Dialogues on Medals, which was not published till after his death. His Remarks on Several Parts of Italy in the Years 1701-3 was published in 1705. His political friends lost power on the death of William III, but The Campaign, a poem on the battle of Blenheim, procured him an appointment as a commissioner of appeal on excise. In 1706 he received an under-secretaryship, in 1707 accompanied Halifax on a mission to Hanover, in 1709 became secretary to the Viceroy of Ireland, and keeper of the records. In 1708 he was elected Member of Parliament for Lostwithiel, a seat he exchanged in 1710 for Malmesbury, which place he continued to represent till his death. From Oct., 1709, to Jan., 1711, he contributed 75 papers to the Tatler, either wholly by himself or in conjunction with Steele, thus founding the new literary school of the Essayists. For the Spectator (2nd Jan., 1711, to 6th Dec., 1712) he wrote 274 papers, all signed by one of the four letters C., L., I., O. His tragedy of Cato, produced April, 1713, ran for twenty nights, and was translated into French, Italian, German, and Latin. His other contributions to periodicals included 51 papers to the Guardian (May to Sept., 1713), 24 papers to a revived Spectator conducted by Budgell, and 2 papers to Steele's Lover. On the death of Queen Anne he successively became secretary to the lords justices, secretary to the Irish viceroy, and one of the lords commissioners of trade. He published the Freeholder (23rd Dec., 1715, to 9th June, 1716), a political Spectator. In August, 1716, he married the Countess of Warwick, a marriage which did not increase his happiness. He retired from public life, March, 1718, with a pension of £1500 a year. He formed a close friendship with Swift, and was chief of a distinguished literary circle. He had literary quarrels with Pope and Gay, the former of whom in revenge wrote the satire contained in his lines on Atticus in the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. He also had a paltry quarrel over politics with his old friend Steele. His death took place at Holland House, its cause being dropsy and asthma. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. Of his style as a writer so much has been said that nothing remains to say but to quote the dictum of Johnson: "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". He had great conversational powers, and his intimates speak in the strongest terms of the enjoyment derived from his society, but he was extremely reserved before strangers. His Dialogues on Medals and Evidences of the Christian Religion were published posthumously in Tickell's collected edition of his works.—Bibliography: W. J. Courthope, Addison (English Men of Letters Series); Essays from the Spectator, edited by Henry Morley.