1719 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Addison

Giles Jacob, in Poetical Register: or the Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets (1719) 1-3.



This shining Ornament of Literature, is the Son of the Reverend and Learned Doctor LANCELOT ADDISON, late Dean of Lichfield. He was early plac'd to the Charter-house School, from whence he was remov'd to St. Mary Magdalen's College, Oxford, for the finishing of his Education. Mr. Addison was first known to the World by the Excellency of his Latin Poetry, which he dedicated to that great Patron and Encourager of polite Learning, the late Earl of Halifax. His first Attempt in English Verse, of a publick nature, was a Poem to his Majesty King William III. presented to the Lord Keeper Somers, in the Year 1695. And his Lordship, out of a due regard to Mr. Addison's great Merit, procur'd him to Travel into Italy, and other polite Parts of the World, for the polishing of his Talents, and refining of his Literature. This qualified Mr. Addison, to serve his Country in several eminent Employments, for he succeeded Mr. Locke as one of the Commissioners of Appeals in the Excise, was Under Secretary of State in Ireland under Two Lords Lieutenants. Upon the Death of the late Queen he was made Secretary to the Regency; and since his Majesties Accession to the Throne, he was one of the Lords Commissioners of Trade, from whence he was advanc'd to be One of his Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State.

To pass by Encomiums on the personal Merit of this great and modest Man; I proceed to his Talents. In the Writings of Mr. Addison there appears an uncommon Beauty; an Elegance of Style; an Improvement of Diction; a Strength of Reason; an Excellency of Wit; and a Nobleness and Sublimity of Thought, equall'd by few, if any of our Modern Poets.

Besides his excellent Composures of Latin and English Poetry, his Criticisms upon Milton, and the large share he had in the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, he has honour'd the Stage with two Dramatick Productions in a different way.

I. ROSAMOND: an Opera, perform'd at the Queen's Theatre in the Hay-Market, 1702. Inscrib'd to her Grace the Dutchess of Marlborough. 'Tis observ'd that this Opera, for the Beauty of its Diction, exceeds any English Performance of the Kind; but being very ill set to Musick, it had not the Success due to its Merit.

II. CATO; a Tragedy, acted at the Theatre Royal, in Drury-lane 1712. This Play was acted with the greatest Approbation of any that has been represented on the Theatre, in this or any preceding Age; yet did not its Success exceed its Deserts. The Pretenders to Criticism charge Mr. Addison with an Extravagancy of Zeal in the Cause of Liberty; and an Irregularity of Drama in not bringing Cato on the Stage till the middle of the Second Act.

These are Mr. Addison's Dramatick Performances; and the Beauties of the former are finely express'd in the following Lines, by Mr. Tickell.

No Charms are wanting to thy artful Song,
Soft as Corelli, and as Virgil Strong.
From Words so sweet, new Grace the Notes receive,
And Music borrows Helps, she us'd to give.

Who reads thy Work, shall own the sweet Surprize,
And view thy Rosamond with Henry's Eyes.

As for the latter, I think it modestly recommended by the same Gentleman, in a Copy of Verses written to Mr. Addison from Queen's College, Oxon.

Thy Oxford smiles this glorious Work to see,
And fondly triumphs in a Son like thee.
The Senates, Consuls, and the Gods of Rome,
Like old Acquaintance at their native Home,
In Thee we find; each Deed, each Word exprest,
And ev'ry Thought that swell'd a Roman Breast.
We trace each Hint, that could thy Soul inspire,
With Virgil's Judgment, and with Lucan's Fire;
We know thy Worth, and — give us leave to boast,
We most admire, because we know thee most.

For gentle Isis claims the Ivy Crown,
To bind th' immortal Brows of Addison.