Essayist, poet, dramatist, and statesman, Joseph Addison successfully combined two careers in his short life. As a writer he produced one of the great tragedies of the 18th century in Cato and brought to perfection the art of the periodicals essay in his journal, The Spectator. As a civil servant he became an influential supporter of the Whigs (who sought to further the constitutional principles established by the Revolution of 1688) in a number of government posts, finally becoming secretary of state under George I.
He achieved early fame as a writer of Latin and English verse, but it was his poems on the battle of Blenheim that brought him to the attention of the Whig leaders and paved the way to government employment and literary fame. Dr. Johnson’s praise of The Spectator as a model of prose style established Addison as one of the most universally admired and influential masters of prose in the language.
Youth and early career. Addison was born in Milston, Wiltshire, on May 1, 1672, the eldest son of the Rev. Lancelot Addison, later archdeacon of Coventry and dean of Lichfield. After schooling in Amesbury and Salisbury and at Lichfield Grammar School, he was enrolled at the age of 14 in the Charterhouse in London. Here began his lifelong friendship with Richard Steele, who later became his literary collaborator. Both went on to Oxford, where Addison matriculates at Queen’s College in May 1687.
Through distinction in Latin verse he won election as Demy to Magdalen College on July 30, 1689, and took the degree of M.A. on February 14, 1693. At Magdalen he spent ten years as tutor in preparation for a career as a scholar and man of letters. In 1695 A Poem to his Majesty (William III), with a dedication to Lord Keeper Somers, the influential Whig statesman, brought favorable notice not only from Somers but also Charles Montague (later earl of Halifax), who saw in to the crown. (D.F.B)
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