Joseph Addison Analysis

Other Literary Forms (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111206484-Addison.jpgJoseph Addison Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Joseph Addison wrote in almost every genre flourishing in British literature during the reigns of William III and Queen Anne. In addition to his three plays, Addison wrote verse in Latin and in English, a travel book, a scholarly account of ancient Roman coins, political pamphlets, and hundreds of essays for The Tatler, The Spectator, and other periodicals. This variety reflects the active literary culture of the time, Addison’s own wide learning, and his search for his proper niche.

Because of Addison’s varied canon, there has yet to be a satisfactory complete edition. The first attempt, by Thomas Tickell in 1721, omitted some embarrassing early works and many of the periodical essays. Another collected edition a century later restored some early works and offered a fuller selection of essays. Two good modern critical editions cover most of Addison’s corpus: A. C. Guthkelch’s The Miscellaneous Works (1914) includes the plays as well as the poetry and nonperiodical prose works, and Donald Bond’s The Spectator (1965) covers Addison’s essays for the most famous periodical to which he contributed. Essays written for other journals await modern editions. Addison’s Letters, an unrevealing collection, was published in 1941.

Joseph Addison Achievements (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Joseph Addison’s literary reputation has risen and fallen cyclically for reasons that have little to do with his artistic achievement. His contemporaries and the next generation praised Addison highly for expressing not only Whig political principles but also classical qualities that gave English literature a dignity it previously lacked. Readers and writers in the Romantic age, however, found Addison unoriginal and conventional. The Victorians restored Addison to the pedestal because he spoke well of virtue and painted the portrait of the Christian gentleman. Twentieth century critics often treat his work as a reflection of the values of the ascendant bourgeoisie; many dislike the man for accommodating himself to the class structure of eighteenth century England.

Although such judgments affect how often Addison is reprinted and how much he is read, his place in literary history rests firmly on two achievements: his role in the development of the periodical essay and his prose style. Through his collaboration with Richard Steele on The Tatler (1709-1711), The Spectator (1711-1712, 1714), and The Guardian (1713), Addison helped establish the periodical essay as a literary form. Seemingly informal and natural yet shaped by conscious art, Addison’s prose style became for the next two centuries a model for novice writers: Stylists as diverse as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Hardy began by imitating Addison. Samuel Johnson defined Addison’s style in an immortal assessment: “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.”

If Addison’s primary achievement was in periodical prose, his plays rank second, his scholarly prose third, and his poetry last. His plays do not have all the virtues of successful drama but do show that two qualities of his prose—a light comic touch and a skill at putting the best words in the best order—were partially transferable to another genre. There is a consistency to Addison’s drama: All three plays are quite competent and worth reading. Historically, the plays received varied reactions: Rosamond was a disaster, Cato was a huge success, and The Drummer was hardly noticed. The reactions to Rosamond and Cato had little to do with their literary merit, a fate common to other imaginative works in Augustan London, where politics, authorial popularity, and prejudice were often decisive.

Joseph Addison Other Literary Forms (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Joseph Addison first gained a literary reputation as a poet, writing at Oxford imitation classical poems in Latin and, later, heroic verse in praise of the English war against Louis XIV. His patriotic verse brought him to the attention of the Whig politicians and writers of the Kit-Cat Club. The politicians helped Addison’s career in government, and the writers, especially Richard Steele, helped Addison’s literary career by introducing him to the theater, political pamphleteering, and periodical journalism. His modern reputation rests mainly on essays he contributed to The Tatler, The Spectator, and other periodical papers.

Joseph Addison Achievements (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although he was a powerful man of letters and of politics in his own era, Joseph Addison is known more as a journalist and popularizer of neoclassical moral and philosophical trends. His conversational prose style, mild wit, and humor influenced the development of the informal essay. His poetry has been overshadowed by his collaboration with Richard Steele in the establishment of periodical literature for the new middle-class reading public, and these ventures also served in developing his reputation as a literary critic. His vivid portrayals of London life and his focus on middle-class mores were deliberate attempts to inculcate moral values in his audience, and they led in the direction of social commentary. Some judgments of his interest in the imagination and the natural world have designated him a pre-Romantic, while others have found in his promotion of upper-middle-class values a foreshadowing of the Victorians. A seat in Parliament, patronage, and political appointments secured him enough public presence to gain attention even for his less successful literary works, such as an opera that failed and a neoclassical tragedy that was popular in his lifetime but remains primarily a literary curiosity.

Joseph Addison Other literary forms (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Joseph Addison wrote in almost every genre common in British literature during the reigns of William III and Queen Anne. Besides poetry in Latin and English, Addison composed an opera, a tragedy, a comedy, a travel book, a scholarly account of ancient Roman coins, political pamphlets, and hundreds of essays contributed to The Tatler (1709-1711), The Spectator (1711-1712, 1714), and other periodicals. The variety of works he attempted is a reflection of the active literary culture of the time, a reflection of Addison’s wide learning, and the story of a writer in search of his proper niche. The numbers show that he found it in periodical journalism.

Because of Addison’s varied canon, there has yet to be a satisfactory complete edition. The first collection, edited by Thomas Tickell in 1721, omitted some embarrassing early works and many of the periodical essays. A new collected edition a century later restored some early works and offered a fuller selection of essays. Two good modern critical editions cover most of Addison’s corpus: The Miscellaneous Works (1914) includes everything but the essays, and Donald Bond’s The Spectator (1965) covers the most famous periodical to which Addison contributed. The other papers for which he wrote await modern editions. The Letters of Joseph Addison, an unrevealing collection, was published in 1941.

Joseph Addison Achievements (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Joseph Addison’s literary reputation has risen and fallen periodically, for reasons which have had little to do with his artistic achievement. His contemporaries and the next generation praised Addison highly for expressing not only Whig political principles but also classical qualities that gave English literature a dignity it had previously lacked. Readers and writers in the Romantic Age, however, found Addison unoriginal and conventional. The Victorians restored Addison to his pedestal because he spoke well of virtue and painted the picture of the Christian gentleman. Twentieth century critics often assail his work as only a historical reflection of growing bourgeois society; many personally dislike the man for accommodating himself to the class structure of eighteenth century England.

Although such judgments affect how often Addison is reprinted and how much he is read, his place in literary history rests firmly on two achievements: his role in the development of the periodical essay and his prose style. Through his collaboration with Sir Richard Steele on The Tatler, The Spectator, and The Guardian (1713), Addison helped establish the periodical essay as a permanent part of literature. These periodicals made the twin activities of reading and thinking about literary topics part of an educated person’s daily life. Although ostensibly essays, Addison’s and Steele’s works really constitute a fascinating variety of stories, sketches, sermons, and lectures. What won readers to the periodical essay was its resourcefulness and flexibility in both form and content.

Addison’s second lasting achievement was his prose style, seemingly informal and natural yet rhetorical and artistic, capable of handling a wide range of topics. Addison was one of several writers (including John Dryden and Jonathan Swift) whose innovations enabled prose to rival poetry as a fit medium for literary expression. For the next two centuries, writers literally went to school with Addison; stylists as diverse as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Hardy began by imitating Addison. Samuel Johnson defined Addison’s achievement in an immortal assessment: “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.”

Joseph Addison Bibliography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Addison, Joseph. The Letters of Joseph Addison. Edited by Walter Graham. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1941. Reprint. St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, 1976. About seven hundred of Addison’s letters are represented here, covering a twenty-year period from 1699 to 1719. Among the addressees are William Congreve, Jonathan Swift, and the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Forty letters to Addison are included.

Addison, Joseph, et al. The Spectator. Edited by Donald F. Bond. 5 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. This standard edition includes ample introductory material and notes that will not intrude on...

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