JOSEPH ADDISON, son of Dr. Addison mentioned in the last article, and one of the most illustrious ornaments of his time, was born May 1, 1672, at Milston near Ambrosbury, Wiltshire, where his father was rector. Appearing weak and unlikely to live, he was christened the same day. Mr. Tyers says, that he was laid out for dead as soon as be was born. He received the first rudiments of his education at the place of his nativity, under the rev. Mr. Naish; but was soon removed to Salisbury, under the care of Mr. Taylor; and thence to Lichfield, where his father placed him for some time, probably not long, under Mr. Shaw, then master of the school there. From Lichfield he was sent to the Charter-house, where he pursued his juvenile studies under the care of Dr. Ellis, and contracted that intimacy with sir Rich. Steele, which their joint labours have so effectually recorded. In 1687 he was entered of Queen's college in Oxford; where, in 1689, the accidental perusal of some Latin verses gained him the patronage of Dr. Lancaster, by whose recommendation he was elected into Magdalen college as demy. Here he took the degree of M.A. Feb. 14, 1693; continued to cultivate poetry and criticism, and grew first eminent by his Latin compositions, which are entitled to particular praise, and seem to have had much of his fondness; for he collected a second volume of the Musae Anglicanae, perhaps for a convenient receptacle; in which all his Latin pieces are inserted, and where his poem on the Peace has the first place. He afterwards presented the collection to Boileau, who from that time conceived an opinion of the English genius for poetry. In his 22d year he first shewed his power of English poetry, by some verses addressed to Dryden; and soon afterwards published a translation of the greater part of the fourth Georgic upon Bees. About the same time he composed the arguments prefixed to the several books of Dryden's Virgil; and produced an essay on the Georgics, juvenile, superficial, and uninstructive, without much either of the scholar's learning or the critic's penetration. His next paper of verses contained a character of the principal English poets, inscribed to Henry Sacheverell, who was then, if not a poet, a writer of verses; as is shewn by his version of a small part of Virgil's Georgics, published in the Miscellanies, and a Latin encomium on queen Mary, in the Musae Anglicanae. At this time he was paying his addresses to Sacheverell's sister. These verses exhibit all the fondness of friendship; but, on one side or the other, friendship was too weak for the malignity of faction. In this poem is a very confident and discriminative character of Spenser, whose work he had then never read. It is necessary to inform the reader, that about this time he was introduced by Congreve to Montague, then chancellor of the exchequer: Addison was now learning the trade of a courtier, and subjoined Montague as a poetical name to those of Cowley and of Dryden. By the influence of Mr. Montague, concurring with his natural modesty, he was diverted from his original design of entering into holy orders. Montague alleged the corruption of men who engaged in civil employments without liberal education; and declared, that, though he was represented as an enemy to the church, he would never do it any injury but by withholding Addison from it. Soon after, in 1695, he wrote a poem to king William, with a kind of rhyming introduction addressed to lord Somers. King William had no regard to elegance or literature; his study was only war; yet by a choice of ministers whose disposition was very different from his own, he procured, without intention, a very liberal patronage to poetry. Addison was caressed both by Somers and Montague. In 1697 he wrote his poem on the peace of Ryswick, which he dedicated to Montague, and which was afterwards called by Smith "the best Latin poem since the Aeneid." Having yet no public employment, he obtained in 1699 a pension of £300 a year, that he might be enabled to travel. He staid a year at Blois, probably to learn the French language; and then proceeded in his journey to Italy, which he surveyed with the eyes of a poet. While he was travelling at leisure, he was far from being idle; for he not only collected his observations on the country, but found time to write his Dialogues on Medals, and four acts of Cato. Such is the relation of Tickell. Perhaps he only collected his materials, and formed his plan. Whatever were his other employments in Italy, he there wrote the letter to lord Halifax, which is justly considered as the most elegant, if not the most sublime, of his poetical productions. But in about two years he found it necessary to hasten home; being, as Swift informs us, "distressed by indigence, and compelled to become the tutor of a travelling squire." At his return he published his travels, with a dedication to lord Somers. This book, though a while neglected, is said in time to have become so much the favourite of the publick, that before it was reprinted it rose to five times its price. When he returned to England in 1702, with a meanness of appearance which gave testimony to the difficulties to which he had been reduced, he found his old patrons out of power; but he remained not long neglected or useless. The victory at Blenheim 1704 spread triumph and confidence over the nation; and lord Godolphin, lamenting to lord Halifax that it had not been celebrated in a manner equal to the subject, desired him to propose it to some better poet. Halifax named Addison; who, having undertaken the work, communicated it to the treasurer, while it was yet advanced no further than the simile of the angel, and was immediately rewarded by succeeding Mr. Locke in the place of commissioner of appeals. In the following year he was at Hanover with lord Halifax; and the year after was made undersecretary of state, first to sir Charles Hedges, and in a few months more to the earl of Sunderland. About this time the prevalent taste for Italian operas inclining him to try what would be the effect of a musical drama in our own language; he wrote the opera of Rosamond, which, when exhibited on the stage, was either hissed or neglected; but, trusting that the readers would do him more justice, he published it, with an inscription to the duchess of Marlborough. His reputation had been somewhat advanced by The Tender Husband, a comedy, which Steele dedicated to him, with a confession that he owed to him several of the most successful scenes. To this play Addison supplied a prologue. When the marquis of Wharton was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, Addison attended him as his secretary; and was made keeper of the records in Bermingham's tower, with a salary of £300 a year. The office was little more than nominal, and the salary was augmented for his accommodation. When he was in office, he made a law to himself, as Swift has recorded, never to remit his regular fees, in civility to his friends: — "I may have a hundred friends; and if my fee be two guineas, I shall by relinquishing my right lose 200 guineas, and no friend gain more than two." He was in Ireland when Steele, without any communication of his design, began the publication of the Tatler; but he was not long concealed: by inserting a remark on Virgil, which Addison had given him, he discovered himself. Steele's first Tatler was published April 22, 1709, and Addison's contribution appeared May 26. Tickell observes, that the Tatler began and was concluded without his concurrence. This is doubtless literally true; but the work did not suffer much by his unconsciousness of its commencement, or his absence at its cessation; for he continued his assistance to Dec. 23, and the paper stopped on Jan. 2. He did not distinguish his pieces by any signature.
To the Tatler, in about two months, succeeded the Spectator; a series of essays of the same kind, but written with less levity, upon a more regular plan, and published daily. Dr. Johnson's account of these essays, and of the rise of periodical papers is too valuable to be omitted here. "To teach the minuter decencies and inferior duties, to regulate the practice of daily conversation, to correct those depravities which are rather ridiculous than criminal, and remove those grievances which, if they produce no lasting calamities, impress hourly vexation, was first attempted in Italy by Casa in his Book of Manners, and Castiglione in his Courtier, two hooks yet celebrated in Italy for purity and elegance.
"This species of instruction was continued, and perhaps advanced, by the French; among whom La Bruyere's Manners of the Age, though written without connection, deserves great praise. Before the Tatter and Spectator, if the writers for the theatre are excepted, England had no masters of common life. No writers had yet undertaken to reform either the savageness of neglect, or the impertinence of civility; to teach when to speak, or to be silent; how to refuse, or how to comply. We wanted not books to teach us more important duties, and to settle opinions in philosophy or politics; but an 'arbiter elgantiarum,' a judge of propriety, was yet wanting, who should survey the track of daily conversation, and free it from thorns and prickles, which tease the passer, though they do not wound him. For this purpose nothing is so proper as the frequent publication of short papers, which we read not as study but amusement. If the subject be slight, the treatise likewise is short. The busy may find time, and the idle may find patience.
"The Tatler and Spectator reduced, like Casa, the unsettled practice of daily intercourse to propriety and politeness; and, like La Bruyere, exhibited the characters and manners of the age.
"But to say that they united the plans of two or three eminent writers, is to give them but a small part of their due praise; they superadded literature and criticism, and sometimes towered far above their predecessors, and taught, with great justness of argument and dignity of language, the most important duties and sublime truths."
The year 1713, in which Cato came upon the stage, was the grand climacteric of Addison's reputation. Upon the death of Cato, he had, as is said, planned a tragedy in the time of his travels, and had for several years the four first acts finished, which were shewn to such as were likely to spread their admiration. By a request, which perhaps he wished to be denied, he desired Mr. Hughes to add a fifth act. Hughes supposed him serious; and, undertaking the supplement, brought in a few days some scenes for his examination; but he had in the mean time gone to work himself, and produced half an act, which he afterwards completed, but with brevity irregularly disproportionate to the foregoing parts. The great, the important day came on, when Addison was to stand the hazard of the theatre. That there might, however, he left as little to hazard as was possible, on the first night Steele, as himself relates, undertook to pack an audience. The danger was soon over. The whole nation was at that time on fire with faction. The whigs applauded every line in which liberty was mentioned, as a satire on the tories; and the tories echoed every clap, to shew that the satire was unfelt. When it was printed, notice was given that the queen would be pleased if it was dedicated to her; "but as he had designed that compliment elsewhere, he found himself obliged," says Tickell, "by his duty on the one hand, and his honour on the other, to send it into the world, without any dedication."
At the publication the wits seemed proud to pay their attendance with encomiastic verses. The best are from an unknown hand, which will perhaps lose somewhat of their praise when the author is known to be Jeffreys. Cato had yet other honours. It was censured as a party play by a scholar of Oxford, and defended in a favourable examitiation by Dr. Sewel. It was translated by Salvini into Italian, and acted at Florence; and by the jesuits of St. Omer's into Latin, and played by their pupils. While Cato was upon the stage, another daily paper, called the Guardian, was published by Steele; to which Addison gave great assistance. Of this paper nothing is necessary to he said, but that it found many contributors, and that it was a continuation of the Spectator, with the same elegance, and the same variety, till some unlucky spark from a Tory paper set Steele's politics on fire, and wit at once blazed into faction. He was soon too hot for neutral topics, and quitted the Guardian to write the Englishman. The papers of Addison are marked in the Spectator by one of the letters in the name of Clio, and in the Guardian by a hand. Many of these papers were written with powers truly comic, with nice discrimination of characters, an accurate observation of natural or accidental deviations from propriety; but it was not supposed that he tried a comedy on the stage, till Steele, after his death, declared him the author of "The Drummer;" this however he did not know to be true by any cogent testimony; for when Addison put the play into his hands, he only told him it was the work of a gentleman in the company; and when it was received, as is confessed, with cold disapprobation, he was probably less willing to claim it. Tickell omitted it in his collection; but the testimony of Steele, and the total silence of any other claimant, have determined the public to assign it to Addison, and it is now printed with his other poetry. Steele carried "The Drummer" to the playhouse, and afterwards to the press, and sold the copy for 50 guineas. To the opinion of Steele may be added the proof supplied by the play itself, of which the characters are such as Addison would have delineated, and the tendency such as Addison would have promoted. He was not all this time an indifferent spectator of public affairs. He wrote, as different exigencies required, in 1707, "The present state of the War, and the necessity of an augmentation;" which, however judicious, being written on temporary topics, and exhibiting no peculiar powers, has naturally sunk by its own weight into neglect. This cannot be said of the few papers intituled "The Whig Examiner," in which is exhibited all the force of gay malevolence and humorous satire. Of this paper, which just appeared and expired, Swift remarks, with exultation, that "it is now down among the dead men." His "Trial of count Tariff," written to expose the treaty of commerce with France, lived no longer than the question that produced it.
Not long afterwards an attempt was made to revive the Spectator, at a time indeed by no means favourable to literature, when the succession of a new family to the throne filled the nation with anxiety, discord, and confusion; and either the turbulence of the times or the satiety of the readers put a stop to the publication, after an experiment of 80 numbers, which were afterwards collected into an eighth volume, perhaps more valuable than any one of those that went before it: Addison produced more than a fourth part, and the other contributors are by no means unworthy of appearing as his associates. The time that had passed during the suspension of the Spectator, though it had not lessened his power of humour, seems to have increased his disposition to seriousness: the proportion of his religious to his comic papers is greater than in the former series. The Spectator, from its recommencement, was published only three times a week, and no discriminative marks were added to the papers. To Addison Tickell has ascribed 23. The Spectator had many contributors; and Steele, whose negligence kept him always in a hurry, when it was his turn to furnish a paper, called loudly for the letters, of which Addison, whose materials were more, made little use; having recourse to sketches and hints, the product of his former studies, which he now reviewed and completed: among these are named by Tickell the "Essays on Wit," those on the "Pleasures of the Imagination,'' and the "Criticism on Milton."
When the house of Hanover took possession of the throne, it was reasonable to expect that the zeal of Addison would be suitably rewarded. Before the arrival of king George he was made secretary to the regency, and was required by his office to send notice to Hanover that the queen was dead, and that the throne was vacant. To do this would not have been difficult to any man but Addison, who was so overwhelmed with the greatness of the event, and so distracted by choice of expression, that the lords, who could not wait for the niceties of criticism, called Mr. Southwell, a clerk in the house, and ordered him to dispatch the message. Southwell readily told what was necessary, in the common style of business, and valued himself upon having done what was too hard for Addison. He was better qualified for the Freeholder, a paper which he published twice a week, from Dec. 23, 1715, to the middle of the next year. This was undertaken in defence of the established government, sometimes with argument, sometimes with mirth. In argument he had many equals; but his humour was singular and matchless.
On the 2d of August 1716, he married the countess dowager of Warwick, whom he had solicited by a very long and anxious courtship. He is said to have first known her by becoming tutor to her son. The marriage, if uncontradicted report can be credited, made no addition to his happiness; it neither found them nor made them equal. She always remembered her own rank, and thought herself intitled to treat with very little ceremony the tutor of her son. It is certain that Addison has left behind him no encouragement for ambitious love. The year after, 1717, he rose to his highest elevation: being made secretary of state: but it is universally confessed that he was unequal to the duties of his place. In the House of Commons he could not speak, and therefore was useless to the defence of the government. In the office he could not issue art order without losing his time in quest of fine expressions. What he gained in rank he lost in credit; and finding, by experience, his own inability, was forced to solicit his dismission, with a pension of £1500 a year. His friends palliated this relinquishment, of which both friends and enemies knew the true reason, with an account of declining health, and the necessity of recess and quiet. Be now returned to his vocation, and began to plan literary occupations for his future life. He proposed a tragedy on the death of Socrates; a story of which, as Tickell remarks, the basis is narrow, and to which love perhaps could not easily have been appended. He engaged in a noble work, a defence of the Christian religion, of which part was published after his death; and he designed to have made a new poetical version of the Psalms. It is related that he had once a design to make an English dictionary, and that he considered Dr. Tillotson as the writer of highest authority. Addison, however, did not conclude his life in peaceful studies; but relapsed, when he was near his end, to a political question. It happened that, in 1719, a controversy was agitated, with great vehemence, between those friends of long continuance, Addison and Steele. The subject of their dispute was the earl of Sunderland's memorable act, called "The Peerage bill," by which the number of peers should be fixed, and the king restrained from any new creation of nobility, unless when an old family should be extinct. Steele endeavoured to alarm the nation by a pamphlet called "The Plebeian:" to this an answer was published by Addison under the title of "The Old Whig." Steele was respectful to his old friend, though he was now his political adversary; but Addison could not avoid discovering a contempt of his opponent. to whom he gave the appellation of "Little Dicky." The bill was laid aside during that session, and Addison died before the next, in which its commitment was rejected. Every reader surely must regret that these two illustrious friends, after so many years passed in confidence and endearment, in unity of interest, conformity of opinion, and fellowship of study, should finally part in acrimonious opposition. — The end of this useful life was now approaching. Addison had for some time been oppressed by shortness of breath, which was now aggravated by a dropsy; and finding his danger pressing, he prepared to die conformably to his own precepts and professions. During this lingering decay., he sent, as Pope relates, a message by the earl of Warwick to Mr. Gay, desiring to see him. Gay, who had not visited him for some time before, obeyed the summons, and found himself received with great kindness. The purpose for which the interview had been solicited was then discovered: Addison told him, that he had injured him; but that, if he recovered, he would recompense him. What the injury was he did not explain, nor did Gay ever know; but supposed that some preferment designed for him had by Addison's intervention been withheld.
Lord Warwick was a young marl of very irregular life, and perhaps of loose opinions. Addison, for whom he did not want respect, had very diligently endeavoured to reclaim him; but his arguments and expostulations had no effect; one experiment, however, remained to be tried. When he found his life near its end, he directed the young lord to be called; and, when he desired, with great tenderness, to hear his last injunctions, told him, "I have sent for you that you may see how a Christian can die." What effect this awful scene had on the earl's behaviour is not known: he died himself in a short time. Having given directions to Mr. Tickell for the publication of his works, and dedicated them on his death-bed to his friend Mr. Craggs, he died June 17, 1719, at Holland-house, leaving no child but a daughter, who died in 1797, at Bilton, near Rugby, in Warwickshire.
Of the course of Addison's familiar day, before his marriage, Pope has given a detail. He had in the house with him Budgell, and perhaps Philips. His chief companions were Steele, Budgell, Philips, Carey, Davenant, and col. Brett. With one or other of these he always breakfasted. He studied all morning; then dined at a tavern, and went afterwards to Button's. From the coffeehouse he went again to the tavern, where he often sat late, and drank too much wine. Dr. Johnson's delineation of the character of Addison concludes by observing with Tickell, that he employed wit on the side of virtue and religion. He not only made the proper use of wit himself, but taught it to others; and from his time it has been generally subservient to the cause of reason and truth. He has dissipated the prejudice that had long connected gaiety with vice, and easiness of manners with laxity of principles. He has restored virtue to its dignity, and taught innocence not to be ashamed. This is an elevation of literary character, "above all Greek, above all Roman fame." No greater felicity can genius attain than that of having purified intellectual pleasure, separated mirth from indecency, and wit from licentiousness; of having taught a succession of writers to bring elegance and gaiety to the aid of goodness; and, to use expressions yet more awful, of having "turned many to righteousness." As a describer of life and manners, he must be allowed to stand perhaps the first of the foremost rank. His humour, which, as Steele observes, is peculiar to himself, is so happily diffused as to give the grace of novelty to domestic scenes and daily occurrences. He never "outsteps the modesty of nature," nor raises merriment or wonder by the violation of truth. His figures neither divert by distortion, nor amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so much fidelity, that he can be hardly said to invent: yet his exhibitions have an air so much original, that it is difficult to suppose them not merely the product of imagination. As a teacher of wisdom he maybe confidently followed. His religion has nothing in it enthusiastic or superstitious; he appears neither weakly credulous nor wantonly sceptical; his morality is neither dangerously lax, nor impracticably rigid. All the enchantment of fancy and all the cogency of argument are employed to recommend to the reader his real interest, the care of pleasing the Author of his being. Truth is shewn sometimes as the phantom of a vision, sometimes appears half-veiled in an allegory; sometimes attracts regard in the robes of fancy, and sometimes steps forth in the confidence of reason. She wears a thousand dresses, and in all is pleasing — "Mille habet ornatus, mille decenter habet."
His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not grovelling; pure without scrupulosity, and exact without apparent elaboration; always equable, and always easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never deviates from his track to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious ornaments, and tries no hazardous innovations. His page is always luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendour. It seems to have been his principal endeavour to avoid all harshness and severity of diction; he is therefore sometimes verbose in his transitions and connections, and sometimes descends too much to the language of conversation; yet if his language had been less idiomatical, it might have lost somewhat of its genuine Anglicism. What he attempted, he performed; he is never feeble, he did not wish to be energetic; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. 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.
* This life, which appeared in the preceding edition of this Dictionary, is an abridgment of that written by Dr. Johnson for the English Poets.