Spectator of Mankind
Joseph Addison was born into a clergyman's home in Milston, Wiltshire, England on May Day of 1672 that was surrounded by books and art. So it was no strange thing then to go to Queen's College in Oxford after his finishing at London's Charterhouse School. He flourished so notably at Oxford, mastering not only the study of English and Latin writing, but creating it as well; that he was awarded a Magdalen College Fellowship with which he stayed until 1699.
Man of Letters: Man for the Whigs
Addison was compensed with a steady pension around the turn of the decade for his perpetuity by the Whigs in consideration of his talented writing ability especially the Latin poem on the Peace of Ryswick. He had the means to further his educational horizons with opportunities abroad. He was requested by his benefactors on his return to Britain in 1704 to commemorate Marlborough after his great victory at Blenheim, thus his publishing of the widely accepted and acclaimed, The Campaign. Even though he was a wary, conservative personality, his reputation as a man of letters put him in the top literary circles socially.
Man of Papers
It was soon after in 1709 he began to write for Sir Richard Steele's more provoking paper, new that year, the Tatler that would surpass his previous employer, the government's Gazette. When Steele wanted to start another paper, in spite of the Tatler's success, one that emphasized promoting cleverly manners while blasting educational demagoguary, Addison joined him in this endeavor which became the Spectator. The terse, gently mocking satirical writing for this publication, containing topics still pertinent today, that Addison did was superior to submissions by it's founder, Steele, that the latter is sometimes relatively forgotten in comparison. The daily distribution of this promotion of common sense totalled well over 500 numbers; and it ceased about a year later in 1712.
One interesting example that gives insight to the times, and comments on them, is excerpted from his entry for March 12, 1711:
Non aliter quam aui adverso vix flumine lembum
Remigiis subigit, si brachia forte remisit,
Atque illum in praeceps prono rapit alveus amni*
It is with much satisfaction that I hear this great city inquiring day by day after these my papers, and receiving my morning lectures with a becoming seriousness and attention. My publisher tells me that there are already three thousand of them distributed every day. So that if I allow twenty readers to every paper, which I shall look upon as a modest computation, I may reckon about three-score thousand disciples in London and Westminister, who I hope will take care to distinguish themselves from the thoughtless herd of their ignorant and unattentive brethren. Since I have raised to myself so great an audience, I shll spare no pains to make their instruction agreeable, and their diversion useful. For which reasons I shall endeavor to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality, that my readers may, if possible, both ways find their account in the speculation of the day. And to the end that their virtue and discretion may not be short, transient, intermitting starts of thought, I have resolved to refresh their memories from day to day, till I have recovered them out of that desperate state of vice and folly into which the age is fallen. The mind that lies fallow but a single day, sprouts up in follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture. It is said of Socrates, that he brought philosophy out of closests and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses.
I would therefore in a very particular manner recommend these my speculations to all well-regulated families, that set apart an hour in every morning for tea and bread and butter; and would earnestly advise them for their god to order this paper to be punctually served up, and to be looked upon as a part of the tea-equipage.---
---In the next place, I would recommend this paper to the daily perusal of those gentlemen whom I cannot but consider as my good brothers and allies, I mean the fraternity of spectators, who live in the world without having anything to do in it; and either by the affluence of their fortunes, or laziness of their dispositions, have no other business with the rest of mankind, but to look upon them. ...in, short, everyone that considers the world as a theater...
There is another set of men that I must likewise lay a claim to, whom I have lately called the blanks of society, as being altogether unfurnished with ideas, till the business and conversation of the day has supplied them. ...I have heard them asking the first man they have met with, whether there was any news stirring? ...till about twelve o'clock in the morning; for about time they are pretty good judges of the whether, know which way the winds sits...
But there are none to whom this paper will be more useful, than to the female world. I have often thought there has not been sufficient pains taken in finding out proper employments and diversions for the fair ones. Their amusements seem contrived for them, rather as they are women, than as they are reasonable creatures; and are more adapted to the sex than to the species. The toilet is their great scene of business, and the right adjusting of their hair the principal employment of their lives. This sorting of ribbons is reckoned a very good morning's work; and if they make an excursion to a mercer's or a toy-shop, so great a fatigue makes them unfit for anything else all the day after. Their more serious occupations are sewing and embroidery, and their greatest drudgery the preparation of jellies and sweetmeats. This, I say is the state of ordinary women; though I know there are multitudes of those of a more elevated life and conversation, that move in an exalted sphere of knowledge and virtue, that join all the beauties of the mindto the ornament of dress, and inspire a kind of awe and respect, as well as love, into their male beholder. I hope to increase the number of these by publishing this daily paper, which I shall always endeavor to make an innocent if not an improving entertainment, and by that means at least divert the minds of my female readers from greater trifles.
* Like a man whose oars can barely force the boat upstream, and if he relaxes his arms the current carries it headlong down the river. (Virgil-Georgics, I, 201)
Political Perks/ Posts
Of his three plays, not of which are well known Cato, was a commercial success in 1713, but this was probably due to its Whig political correctness than its classic artistry. How convenient that the Whigs after taking power the next year apppointed him Chief Secretary for Ireland, followed by his promotion to Commissioner of for Trade and the Colonies. His final office was Secretary of State given him in 1717. A few months into this illustrous position he became so sick that he had to resign. He lived only a couple of more years dying at only 47 on June 17, 1719 and was honored by burial at Westminster Abbey.
Source: From Beowulf to Thomas Hardy; Robert Shafer: Odyssey Press, NY; 1939