Page images
[blocks in formation]



Joseph Addison was born on May 1, 1672, at Milston, near Amesbury, in Wiltshire. His father, the Reverend Lancelot Addison,1 was at that time rector of Milston. Earlier he had been, during the Commonwealth, a sort of secret chaplain to country families who adhered to the Church of England; and after the Restoration he had been chaplain to the garrisons first of Dunkirk and then of Tangier. He wrote several books, of which the most notable deal with Moorish affairs. He died Dean of Lichfield in 1703. Of Addison's mother, Jane Gulston, little is known beyond the fact that one of her brothers became Bishop of Bristol.

In 1686, after several years of country schooling, Addison went for a year to the Charterhouse, where Richard Steele was his fellow-student. In 1687 he went to Oxford, where in various capacities he remained for about twelve years, in 1698 becoming a Fellow of Magdalen College. Meanwhile he had

1 There are biographical notices of Lancelot Addison (1632-1703) in the Dict. Nat. Biog., I, 131-132; Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, IV, 517-519; Biographia Britannica, I, 43-44. His chief works are: West Barbary, or, A Short Narrative of the Revolutions of the Kingdoms of Fez and Morocco, 1671; The Present State of the Jews, 1675; The First State of Mahumedism, 1679; The Life and Death of Mahumed, 1679; The Moors Baffled, being a Discourse concerning Tangier, especially when it was under the Earl of Teviot, 1681. For further bibliographical details, see Watt, Bibliotheca Brit., I, 7 1-n. Lancelot Addison is supposed to be the "learned person " of the Spectator, 600. He is also spoken of in the Tatler, 235 and in Steele's letter prefatory to the second edition of Addison's Drummer.

distinguished himself as a writer of Latin verse,1 and had published a certain amount of verse in English, mostly laudatory of those in power. In return for this, which was held to prove him a promising candidate for public service, he was granted by the Crown, in 1699, a pension of £300, on which he might travel, to supplement his learned attainments by experience of the world. He remained abroad for some four years, chiefly in France and Italy. The death of William III in 1702 brought to a temporary end the fortunes of the Whig politicians who were Addison's patrons. For the following year he seems to have remained on the Continent in straitened circumstances. While his pension lasted, he had generally travelled like a gentleman, and lived in very good company. The change in his fortunes, while seriously limiting his means, seems to have affected neither his habits nor his temper.

In 1704 he returned to England. He was immediately elected to the celebrated Kit Cat Club,2 a select little body of clever Whigs, where men of all ranks met on equal terms. On August 2, 1704, Marlborough won the battle of Blenheim. The government wished a poem in celebration of this victory. At the suggestion of Lord Halifax, who was a constant friend of Addison, the Chancellor of the Exchequer personally called on the poet in his very plain lodgings, with a request that he undertake the literary work in question. The result of this invitation was The Campaign, which made Addison's political fortune. From that time forth, when the Whigs were in power, he had pretty much what places he wanted; and when they were out he seems to have been provided with money enough to live, on the whole, as he pleased.

He was an Under-Secretary of State for a time; he was in Parliament; he was Chief Secretary to the Marquis of Wharton,

1 For Addison's verse before 1698, Latin and English, see Bibliog raphy, pp. xlv-xlvii. เ

2 See Notes, p. 116, 1. 6.

Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; he was Keeper of the Irish Records; he was a Lord of Trade; and finally he became full Secretary of State. When he retired from public life in 1718, he was granted a retiring pension of 1600. So far as is known, too, he performed his public duties faithfully and well.


All the while he remained a man of letters. In 1705 he published an account of his travels on the Continent. 1707 he brought out an English opera, Rosamond. The failure of this is generally attributed to the badness of the music which was set to it; whoever has had the courage to read the lines, however, must have found their flat triviality quite enough to account for their reception. All along, too, he published more or less political writing, of which the interest, if any, is merely historical. The writings which have made his name permanent in English literature were wholly different from those yet mentioned.

In April, 1709, Steele began to publish the Tatler. Originally meant to be a newspaper, in the form of gossipy notes on whatever transpired, and purporting to emanate from one Isaac Bickerstaff, an astrologer, lately invented by Swift, the Tatler gradually developed into a series of periodical essays. Addison's first contribution to this series bears date of May 26, 1709. From that time until the last number of the Spectator, the periodical which succeeded the Tatler in 1711 and was published daily until December, 1712, Addison kept constantly producing essays, on all manner of topics, which

1 The music for Rosamond was composed by Thomas Clayton. For an account of his life, with further references to notices of him, see Dict. Nat. Biog., XI, 20-21. Hawkins (History of Music, V, 137 ff.) gives a technical criticism and some specimens of the score.

2 See Steele to Maynwaring, Steele's Letters, London, 1787, II, 293 ff., and also Steele's preface to the Tatler. On Swift's use of the name Bickerstaff and on the Swift-Partridge controversy, see Arber's English Garner, VI, 469-502; for John Partridge, see Dict. Nat. Biog., XLIII, 428.

« PreviousContinue »