Posts Tagged ‘The Spectator


Joseph Addison (5 of 6)

Years of Tory dominance.  The year 1710 was marked by the overturn of the Whigs from power and a substantial Tory victory at the polls.  Although Addison easily retained his seat in the Commons—this time for Malmesbury in Wilshire—his old and powerful patrons were again out of favor, and for the first time since his appointment as undersecretary in 1705, Addison found himself without employment.  He was thus able to devote even more time to literary activity and to cultivation of personal friendships not only with Steele and other KitCats but, for a short period, with Jonathan Swift—until Swift’s shift of allegiance to the rising Tory leaders resulted in estrangement, Addison continued contributing to the final numbers of The Tatler, which Steel finally brought to a close on January 2, 1711.

Thanks to Addison’s help The Tatler was an undoubted success, although it had met with criticism because of Steele’s attacks on the new Tory government.  By the end of 1710 Steele had enough material for a collected edition of The Tatler; thereupon, he and Addison decided to make a fresh start with a new periodical.  The Spectator, appearing six days a week, from March 1, 1711, to December 6, 1712, offered a wide range of material to its renders, from discussion of the latest fashions to serious disquisitions on criticism and morality, including Addison’s weekly papers on Paradise Lost and the series on the “pleasures of the imagination.” 

The members of the Spectator Club, whose speculations the new paper professed to publish, were (beside Mr. Spectator himself) Sir Roger de Coverley, an eccentric and old-fashioned country squire;  Captain Sentry, a retired army officer; Sir Andrew Freeport, a merchant “of great eminence in the City”; a member of the Inner Temple and frequenter of playhouses;  Will Honeycomb, an elderly beau who fancied himself knowledgeable in the ways of women; and finally, a grave and learned clergyman.  In bringing learning “out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables, and in coffee-houses,”  The Spectator was eminently successful—as shown by the great variety of letters from readers and the steadily increasing number of advertisements printed.  -(D.F.B)


Joseph Addison (1 of 6)


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)

Photo courtesy:  harpers

July 2020

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