English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

Joseph Addison

JOSEPH ADDISON (1672–1719) divided his energies between literature and politics. He was educated at the Charterhouse and at Oxford with a view to holy orders, but the Earl of Halifax saw in him valuable political material, obtained for him a pension, and sent him abroad to prepare for a diplomatic career. His travels in France and Italy confirmed his classical tastes, and his critical writings show abundant traces of French influence.

On his return to England he published his “Campaign,” which laid the foundation of his career. He entered Parliament, and finally rose to be Secretary of State. In spite of the bitterness of political feeling in his time, Addison kept the esteem of men of all parties, and enjoyed a universal popularity such as has been bestowed on few men of letters and fewer politicians.

Addison’s fame to-day rests mainly on his writings in the “Tatler” and the “Spectator.” In the essays and articles published in these two periodicals, he not only produced a succession of pieces unsurpassed in their kind, but exerted an influence as wholesome as it was powerful upon the manners and morals of society in the London of Queen Anne. His style remains the great classic example of that combination of ease and elegance which is the characteristic merit of the prose of the period; and the imaginative moralizing which is exemplified in “The Vision of Mirza” and “Westminster Abbey” reveals something of the gentle persuasiveness with which he sought to lead his generation to higher levels of living and thinking.

A more detailed account of the life and work of Addison will be found in the “Life” by Dr. Johnson in the present volume.