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of decency has always been considered amongst us the sure mark of a fool."
Joseph Addison was born in Wiltshire in 1672, his father, a man of some eminence, being dean of Lichfield. Though there is a tradition that he once took a leading part in barring out his teacher, and on another occasion played truant, his youthful scholarship proves him to have been a diligent student.
From the school at Lichfield he passed to Charter House. Here he made the friendship of Steele, which, as we shall see, was not without influence upon his subsequent career and fame.
At the age of fifteen he entered Oxford with a scholarship far in advance of his years, attracted attention by his superior Latin verses, and was elected a scholar of Magdalen College, where he took his degree of Master of Arts in 1693. He was held in high regard for his ability and learning. His portrait now hangs in the college hall, and his favorite walk on the banks of the Cherwell is still pointed out.
After writing a number of Latin poems, which secured the praise of the great French critic Boileau, he made his first attempt in English verse in some lines addressed to Dryden, at that time pre-eminent among men of letters. This maiden effort had the good fortune to please the great author, and led to an interchange of civilities.
At this time Addison's mind seemed inclined to poetry; and he published some lines to King William, a translation of Virgil's fourth Georgic, and "An Account of the Greatest English Poets," all of which have but little to commend them except correct versification. The last poem is remarkable for having a discriminating criticism of Spenser, whose works the author at that time had not read. "So little sometimes," comments Dr. Johnson, "is criticism the effect of judgment.”
Addison was a moderate Whig in politics, and by his poems had conciliated the favor of Somers and Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax. In conformity with the wishes of his father and his own inclinations, he contemplated taking orders in the
Anglican Church; but through the influence of Montague, who was unwilling to spare him to the church, he was led to prepare himself for the public service.
He was granted a pension of three hundred pounds, and spent the next several years in travel on the Continent, visiting France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. He improved his opportunities in perfecting his knowledge of the French language, in visiting localities of historic interest, and in making the acquaintance of illustrious scholars and statesmen. His observations on the French people, as given in a letter to Montague, are worth reading: "Truly, by what I have yet seen, they are the happiest nation in the world. 'Tis not in the power of want or slavery to make them miserable. There is nothing to be met with in the country but mirth and poverty. Every one sings, laughs, and starves. Their conversation is generally agreeable; for if they have any wit or sense they are sure to show it. They never mend upon a second meeting, but use all the freedom and familiarity at first sight that a long intimacy or abundance of wine can scarce draw from an Englishman. Their women are perfect mistresses in this art of showing themselves to the best advantage. They are always gay and sprightly, and set off the worst faces in Europe with the best airs." In general his remarks upon the French character are not complimentary.
The immediate literary fruits of his travels were a poetical epistle to Lord Halifax, which ranks among his best verses, and "Remarks on Italy," in which his observations are made to illustrate the Roman poets. In his "Letter to Lord Halifax," he gives expression to his delight and enthusiasm in finding himself in the midst of scenes associated with his favorite authors:
"Poetic fields encompass me around,
And still I seem to tread on classic ground;
Here should be mentioned also one of his best hymns. While sailing along the Italian coast, he encountered a fierce storm. The captain of the ship lost all hope, and confessed his sins to a Capuchin friar who happened to be on board. But the young English traveller solaced himself with the reflections embodied in the famous hymn :
"When all thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Towards the close of 1703 Addison returned to England, and was cordially received by his friends. He was enrolled at the Kit-Kat Club, and thus brought into contact with the chief lights of the Whig party. The way was soon opened to a public office.
The battle of Blenheim was fought in 1704; and Godolphin, the Lord Treasurer, wished to have the great victory worthily celebrated in verse. He was referred by Halifax to Addison. The result was "The Campaign," which was received with extraordinary applause both by the minister and the public. Its chief merit is the rejection of extravagant fiction, according to which heroes are represented as mowing down whole squadrons with their single arm, and a recognition of those qualities -energy, sagacity, and coolness in the hour of dangerwhich made Marlborough really a great commander. One passage in the poem has become famous ;
"'Twas then great Marlbro's mighty soul was proved
In peaceful thought the field of death surveyed,
So when an angel by divine command
This simile of the angel the Tatler pronounced the noblest thoughts that ever entered into the heart of man." From this time on the career of Addison was a brilliant one. In 1704, in grateful recognition of his poem, he received the Excise Commissionership, made vacant by the death of the celebrated John Locke. In 1706 he became one of the UnderSecretaries of State; and two years later he entered Parliament, where, however, his natural timidity kept him from participating in the debates. In 1709 he was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland; and, while residing in that country, he entered upon that department of literature upon which his fame chiefly rests, and in which he stands without a rival.
This was in connection with the Tatler, a periodical begun by Steele in 1709. Sir Richard Steele, who was born in Dublin in 1671, had led a somewhat wayward life. He left Oxford without taking his degree, and enlisted in the Horse Guards — an imprudence that cost him an inheritance. rank of captain, but was gay, reckless, and dissipated. His naturally tender heart was constantly overcome by his imperious appetites, and his life presents a series of alternate repentance and dissipation.
He rose to the
In 1701 he wrote the "Christian Hero" for the purpose of impressing the principles of virtue upon his own heart. filled with lofty sentiment, but remained without serious effect upon the author's irregular life. Then followed in annual succession several moderate comedies.
The literary ability evinced in his writings secured him the appointment of Gazetteer. This position gave him a monopoly of official news, and no doubt suggested the scheme of publishing a periodical. Accordingly he began the Tatler. Addison
had not been consulted about the scheme, but promptly gave it his support.
In a few weeks after its first issue he began a series of contributions. The result may be best expressed in Steele's own words. “I fared," he said, "like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbor to his aid. I was undone by my auxiliary. When I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him." Steele's own contributions, however, were of a high order, inferior only to those of his illustrious coadjutor. The Tatler was published three times a week, and, after reaching two hundred and seventy-one numbers, was discontinued Jan. 2, 1711.
It was succeeded by the Spectator, which appeared six times a week. The first number was issued March 1, 1711 - two months after the discontinuance of the Tatler. It was considered at the time a bold undertaking; but the result more than justified the confidence of Steele and Addison, its promoters.
It is made up of an incomparable series of short essays, which have all the interest of fiction and the value of philosophy. They are represented as the productions of an imaginary spectator of the world, a description of whom in the first paper we recognize as a caricature of Addison himself. "Thus I live in the world," it is said, "rather as a spectator of mankind, than as one of the species, by which means I have made myself a speculative statesman, soldier, merchant, and artisan, without. ever meddling with any practical part in life. I am very well versed in the theory of a husband or a father, and can discern the errors in the economy, business, and diversions of others, better than those who are engaged in them; as standers-by discover blots, which are apt to escape those who are in the game. I never espoused any party with violence, and am resolved to observe an exact neutrality between the Whigs and Tories, unless I shall be forced to declare myself by the hostilities of either side. In short, I have acted in all the parts of my life as a looker-on, which is the character I intend to preserve in this paper."