Addison, Joseph (1672–1719)

views updated May 23 2018

ADDISON, JOSEPH (16721719)

ADDISON, JOSEPH (16721719), English poet, essayist, and critic. Addison helped to elevate the literary status of English prose while holding important political offices for the Whig party. He was born in 1672 at Milston, Wiltshire. His father, the Reverend Launcelot Addison, was the dean of Lichfield, Staffordshire, and Addison attended Lichfield Grammar School and then, in 1686, Charterhouse School in London, where he met Richard Steele. Addison's study of classical poetry and his Latin poems at Queen's College, Oxford, won him a demy (scholarship) in the 1690s to Magdalen College, where he took his M.A. and was a fellow from 1697 to 1711. His classical scholarly knowledge, especially on the Roman idea of citizenship, informs the moral beliefs in his writing.

Addison's passionate interest in and deep knowledge of Roman poetry and history are evident in his early prose works evaluating the best Roman poets, his translations of such poets as Virgil and Ovid (1694 and 1717), and his own highly praised imitations of Latin poets such as Horace. He modeled his own prose style after the formal elegance and familiar diction of Latin poetry, which he praised. After writing a celebratory poem on John Dryden"To Mr. Dryden"he wrote an introductory essay on Virgil for Dryden's translation of the Georgics in 1697. Addison's own translations provided English readers with an accessible text through adding explanatory commentaries and replacing obscure allusions with familiar ones. Eight of Addison's Latin poems were included in an anthology he edited at Oxford in 1699, Musarum Anglicarum Analecta (An assembly of English muses).

One poem, "Pax Gulielmi Auspiciis Europae Reddita" (Peace returned to Europe under William's auspices), compliments William III's ability as a monarch and celebrates the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, which ended the War of the Grand Alliance. A partisan of Protestantism and the Whigs, Addison in his earliest poetry supported the Protestant succession of William of Orange and Mary. "Poem to his Majesty" was dedicated to John Somers, an important Whig, and "William's Peace" was dedicated to Charles Montagu, Lord Halifax, the Whig treasurer. Montagu became Addison's patron and secured him a pension of £200 to undertake a grand tour on the Continent between 1699 and 1704. Addison toured several countries and studied French neoclassical literary theorists; his itinerary, particularly to places of classical literary interest, is recorded in Remarks upon Several Parts of Italy, published in 1705.

Addison's eulogy on John Churchill, duke of Marlborough's victory over the French at Blenheim in his poem "The Campaign" in 1704 secured him a position as excise commissioner of appeals and brought him increasing popularity. His involvement with the Kit-Kat Club, a political and literary society for Whig writers and politicians, renewed his friendship with Steele, and he contributed to Steele's play The Tender Husband (1705). Commissioned to write an English opera to counter the trend for Italian opera, he produced the unsuccessful Rosamond in 1707. Meanwhile, the status of his politically administrative appointments increased because of his anti-Jacobite pamphlets such as "The Present State of the War." He became a prominent spokesman for the Whigs, progressing from undersecretary of state to Charles Spencer, earl of Sunderland, in 1706 to chief secretary to the earl of Wharton, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in 1709.

Assisting Steele in his editorship of the London Gazette in 1708, Addison then wrote forty-nine issues of The Tatler, the successful periodical established by Steele, moving between England and Ireland in 1709 and 1710. His essays focus on the classics, character types, and natural religion and oscillate between a witty, humorous tone and a moral seriousness, making reference to classical antecedents. His support of Whig policies continued with his writing five issues of the Whig Examiner during the elections of 1710, and becoming member of Parliament for Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Addison's essays in The Spectator, which appeared six days a week from March 1711 to December 1712, established his reputation for popularizing literary theory and new philosophies in a carefully poised, accessible, and sustained format. He wrote a series of essays on English tragedy, on the opera, on John Milton's poem Paradise Lost, and on the imagination, all designed to enlighten and improve the common reader. Addison later revived The Spectator briefly to support George I.

In 1713, his tragedy Cato ran for thirty nights at Drury Lane Theatre. A story of the struggle of a Roman republican, the play's political overtones ensured its success. It was praised by Voltaire as the first English "rational tragedy" and translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin. Awaiting the accession of Prince George of Hanover, Addison was appointed secretary of the Regency in 1714. He published the periodical The Freeholder, or Political Essays (17151716) supporting George I during the Jacobite rebellion. His most prestigious political appointment was secretary of state in 1717. His last play, the comedy The Drummer, in 1716, was a failure. The same year he married the Countess of Warwick and lived in Holland House in London. Along with his increasing ill health, Addison quarreled with former friends such as Alexander Pope, over a rival translation of the Iliad, and Richard Steele, over the restriction of hereditary peers in the peerage bill. Addison died, estranged from Steele, on 17 June 1719.

See also English Literature and Language ; Jacobitism ; Pope, Alexander ; Steele, Richard .


Primary Sources

Addison, Joseph. Cato. Edited by William Alan Landes. London, 1996.

. The Commerce of Everyday Life: Selections from "The Tatler" and "The Spectator." Edited by Erin Mackie. London, 1997.

. The Freeholder. Edited by James Lehemy. Oxford, 1980.

. The Spectator. Edited by Donald F. Bond. 5 vols. Oxford, 1965.

Secondary Sources

Bloom, Edward A., and Lillian D. Bloom. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele: The Critical Heritage. New York, 1995. A useful survey of the history of criticism and influence of Addison and Steele on English prose writers.

Maurer, Shawn Lisa. Proposing Men: Dialectics of Gender and Class in the Eighteenth Century English Periodical. Stanford, 1998. Examines the role of periodical publications like The Spectator, The Tatler, and others in constructing the domestic realm as an arena of masculine control.

Otten, Robert M. Joseph Addison. Boston, 1982. A useful introduction.

Smithers, Peter. The Life of Joseph Addison. 2nd ed. Oxford, 1968. The only complete biography of Addison to date.

Max Fincher

Addison, Joseph (1672–1719)

views updated Jun 27 2018


Joseph AddisonOxford scholar, poet, playwright, essayist, and politicianfigures in the history of philosophy chiefly on the strength of his Essay on the Pleasures of the Imagination, published in 1712 as numbers 411 through 421 of his and Richard Steele's journal The Spectator.

Addison defines "pleasures of the imagination" as "such [pleasures] as arise from visible objects" (no. 411). He calls "primary" those derived from things present to vision, "secondary" those derived from things merely called to mind. There are three qualities of objects from which the primary pleasures may arise: greatness, novelty, and beauty. Greatness is an extensiveness that throws the viewer into "a pleasing astonishment," as in, for example, the sight of a mountain range. Novelty includes what is new or unfamiliar to the viewer, as a fresh meadow in spring may be, as well as what continually changes its appearance, for example, a waterfall. Beauty includes, on the one hand, whatever appearances effect sexual attraction, and on the other, "the gaiety or variety of colors," "the symmetry and proportion of parts," and "the arrangement and disposition of bodies" (no. 412).

Addison's account of the secondary pleasures is more complex. Such pleasures may be produced by mere spontaneous imaginings, or by representational artifacts, such as sculptures, paintings, some pieces of music, and descriptions. In these cases, we derive pleasure not merely from the object imagined, but also from the comparison of that object with that which represents it (no. 416). Addison also invokes comparison to explain the pleasure that we take in fictional descriptions of terrible things and events: our pleasure derives from our awareness that we ourselves are not actually threatened by the evils about which we read (no. 418).

Addison's Essay has been taken to mark the beginning of modern aesthetics. There are several grounds for such a claim. Addison, in contrast to previous writers on his various topics, investigates pleasures that can be derived from art and nature equally, treats the beautiful as merely one among several pleasing visual qualities, and centers his account on the mental activity of the onlooker rather than on the character of the object viewed. In all these respects, his Essay sets the direction for subsequent work in aesthetics.

At the same time, there are considerable differences of purview between Addison's investigation and later aesthetic thought. The sources of the pleasures of the imagination include works of art only so far as these either please the eye or awaken visual images; they do not include nonprogrammatic music, or even the nonimagistic aspects of literature. Further, for Addison, works of history, natural philosophy, travel narrative, and even criticism, morals, and speculative philosophy (so far as these use visual figures of speech) may be sources of the pleasures of the imagination just as much as works of fiction (nos. 420421). Thus, for all the concerns and assumptions that Addison shares with subsequent writers on taste and the fine arts, the scope of his inquiry is distinctively his own.

See also Aesthetics, History of.


Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele. The Spectator. 5 vols, edited by Donald F. Bond. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965. Nos. 411421 are in vol. 3.

Hipple, Walter John, Jr. The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the Picturesque in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetic Theory. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1957. Chapter 1 is an exposition of Addison's Essay.

Rind, Miles. "The Concept of Disinterestedness in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetics." Journal of the History of Philosophy 40 (2002): 6787. A critique of Jerome Stolnitz's historiography of aesthetics.

Stolnitz, Jerome. "On the Origins of 'Aesthetic Disinterestedness.'" Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20 (1961): 131144. A highly influential study that credits Addison with originating the concept of "aesthetic perception."

Walker, William. "Ideology and Addison's Essays on the Pleasures of the Imagination." Eighteenth-Century Life 24 (2000): 6584. A critique of the widely held view that Addison's Essay is a work of "bourgeois ideology."

Miles Rind (2005)

Joseph Addison

views updated May 21 2018

Joseph Addison

The English essayist and politician Joseph Addison (1672-1719) founded the "Spectator" periodical with Sir Richard Steele.

Joseph Addison was born on May 1, 1672, the son of the rector of Milston, Wiltshire. He was educated at the Charterhouse, an important boarding school, and then at Oxford, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1691.

Addison used poetry to further his political ambitions; his earliest poems include flattering references to influential men. In 1699 Addison was rewarded with a grant of money which allowed him to make the grand tour, a series of visits to the main European capitals, which was a standard part of the education of the 18th-century gentleman. One record of his travels is his long poem Letter from Italy.

In 1703 Addison returned to England to find that the Whigs, the party with which he had allied himself, were out of power. But his poem on the Battle of Blenheim won him an appointment as commissioner of appeal in excise. Addison continued to combine literary with political success. He was elected to parliament in 1707, and in 1709 he went to Dublin as secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland. In 1710 he founded the Whig Examiner to counter the Tory views of the Examiner, a periodical managed by Jonathan Swift.

In 1709 Addison had begun to write for the Tatler, a magazine edited by his friend Sir Richard Steele; Addison contributed in all 42 essays. The last issue of this periodical was published in January 1711. Two months later, under the joint editorship of Addison and Steele, the first number of the Spectator appeared. Published every day, it ran for 555 numbers (the last issue appeared on Dec. 6, 1712). Although its circulation was small by modern standards, it was read by many important people and exercised a wide influence. Addison and Steele wrote 90 percent of the essays. Their purpose was, in their words, to bring "Philosophy out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-Tables, and in Coffee-Houses." Some of the essays are concerned with literary and philosophical questions; others comment on good manners and bad, life in the country and in the town. Addison and Steele invented characters who represent different types, notably the old-fashioned country gentleman, Sir Roger de Coverley.

In 1713 Addison wrote Cato: A Tragedy, a play in which he undertook to imitate and to improve upon classical Greek tragedy. The play was a success, probably because some of the audience took it to be a political allegory. Alexander Pope wrote the prologue, and Samuel Johnson later praised the play as Addison's noblest work.

In 1714 Queen Anne died, and Addison shared in the Whigs' rise to power. He was known as a temperate, conciliatory politician. In 1717 he was appointed secretary of state; he retired the next year with a generous pension. Addison died on June 17, 1719.

Further Reading

The best biography of Addison is Peter Smithers, The Life of Joseph Addison (1954; 2d ed. 1968). Addison was much admired by the Victorians, and there is a long biographical essay in Thomas Babington Macaulay, Essays: Critical and Miscellaneous (1843). For a more recent view see Bonamy Dobrée, Essays in Biography, 1680-1726 (1925). An invaluable guide to Addison's intellectual milieu is Alexandre Beljame, Men of Letters and the English Public in the Eighteenth Century: 1660-1744 (1881; 2d ed. 1897; trans. 1948).

Additional Sources

Addison and Steele, the critical heritage, London; Boston:Routledge & K. Paul, 1980.

Otten, Robert M., Joseph Addison, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. □

Addison, Joseph

views updated May 23 2018

Addison, Joseph (1672–1719). English writer and politician. Educated at Charterhouse, Queen's College, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he became a fellow, Addison found favour with the Whigs on account of The Campaign (1705), a poem celebrating Marlborough's victory at Blenheim. Appointed under-secretary of state in 1706, he was elected MP for Lostwithiel in 1708, accompanying the lord-lieutenant, Lord Wharton, to Ireland in 1709. Addison's close friendship with Richard Steele and Jonathan Swift led to his involvement in the Tatler (1709–10), but he is best known for his contributions to the Spectator, which included most of the ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’ papers and important essays on Milton and Locke. Addison was a crucial figure in the development of a ‘polite and commercial’ Whig ideology, and the morality propounded in the Spectator is the basis of his description as ‘The First Victorian’. Addison's other works included the seminal travel book Remarks on Several Parts of Italy (1705), a tragedy, Cato (1713), which was favourably compared to Shakespeare by his contemporaries, and the stridently anti-Jacobite periodical the Freeholder (1715–16). Returning to office on the accession of George I in 1714, Addison became secretary of state, marrying the countess of Warwick in 1716.

J. A. Downie

Addison, Joseph

views updated May 29 2018

Addison, Joseph (1672–1719) English essayist, poet, and politician. Addison's poetic celebration of Marlborough's victory at the Battle of Blenheim, The Campaign (1704), led to a government appointment. He is remembered as a brilliant essayist and his stylish articles were a major reason for the success of the newly established Tatler and Spectator periodicals. He was secretary of state (1717–18) and an MP (1708–19).

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