A Political Biography of Joseph Addison

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2018-07-08
  • Publisher: Pickering & Chatto Ltd
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One of the most durable eighteenth-century writers, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) is best remembered for his sparkling and rangy entries in the Tatler (1709-11) and the Spectator (1711-12), both co-edited with Richard Steele. Indeed, the locution 'Addison and Steele' retains a corporate familiarity unrivaled in the British literary tradition. To his contemporaries, however, Addison had a strong individual identity at odds with the genial personae of his periodical writing. His career as a partisan began inauspiciously, with A Letter from Italy (1704), drafted during the period of whig dominance that would end with the death of William III in 1702 and the dismissal of prominent whigs like the poem's dedicatee, Lord Halifax. But Addison's membership in the whiggish Kit-Kat Club afforded fresh opportunities. The Campaign (1704), an encomium on the Duke of Marlborough's triumph at Blenheim, earned him an excise-commissionership; and the whig resurgence of 1705 brought an undersecretaryship of state and an unofficial liaisonship between the English throne and the Hanoverian court. Mindful of his obligations, Addison penned an apology for the Whig's troubled war-effort in 1707. He received a remunerative secretaryship the following year. By the early 1710s, when the tory ascendency prompted his turn to periodical writing, Addison was a political fixture. The celebrity ensured by his and Steele's joint enterprises, along with the success of his heroic drama Cato (1713), enabled him to flourish during a low ebb in his party's fortunes. He endured a surprisingly bumpy ride during the early years of George I's reign as his principal patrons died or fell from favor. From this period dates Pope's withering portrait of Addison as ‘Atticus', at which Addison took great offense. Addison's final political publication, the two-part Old Whig (1719), pitted its author against his old friend Steele in a squabble about a bill designed to restrict new peerages. This half-hearted and nasty effort is an unfortunate coda to a generally respectable career.

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