Joseph Addison

(1672—1719) writer and politician

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was educated at Charterhouse with Steele. He was a distinguished classical scholar and attracted the attention of Dryden by his Latin poems. He travelled on the Continent (1699–1703), and in 1705 he published The Campaign, a poem in heroic couplets in celebration of the victory of Blenheim. He was appointed under‐secretary of state in 1706, and was MP from 1708 till his death. In 1709 he went to Ireland as chief secretary to Lord Wharton, the lord‐lieutenant. He formed a close friendship with Swift, Steele, and other writers and was a prominent member of the Kit‐Cat Club. Addison lost office on the fall of the Whigs in 1711. Between 1709 and 1711 he contributed a number of papers to Steele's Tatler and joined with him in the production of the Spectator in 1711–12. His neo‐classical tragedy Cato was produced in 1713. He contributed to the Guardian and to the revived Spectator; his Spectator essays (1712) on Paradise Lost are an important landmark in literary criticism. On the return of the Whigs to power, Addison was again appointed chief secretary for Ireland and started the Free‐holder (1715–16). In 1716 he became lord commissioner of trade, and married the countess of Warwick. He retired from office in 1718.

Addison was buried in Westminster Abbey, and lamented in an elegy by Tickell. He was satirized by Pope in the character of ‘Atticus’.

Addison's prose was acclaimed by Dr Johnson in his Life (1781) as ‘the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions not groveling…’. He admired Locke and did much to popularize his ideas. He attacked the coarseness of Restoration literature, and introduced new, essentially middle‐class, standards of taste and judgement. One of his most original and influential contributions to the history of literary taste was his reassessment of the popular ballad, previously neglected as a form, in essays in the Spectator on Chevy Chase and The Children in the Wood.

Subjects: Literature.

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