The Spectator "We Are Always Doing Something For Posterity, But I Would Fain See Posterity Do Something For Us"

Joseph Addison, Richard Steele

"We Are Always Doing Something For Posterity, But I Would Fain See Posterity Do Something For Us"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As a forerunner of later newspapers and literary reviews, Joseph Addison, with Richard Steele (1672–1729), published a daily edition of The Spectator, of which Addison wrote 298 issues. For Number 583, dated Friday, August 20, 1714, he expressed his thoughts under the topic sentence: "Every station of life has duties which are proper to it." He complains that too many sons of Adam feel exempted from any labor which is either useful to themselves or beneficial to others. He expands the idea:

Many country gentlemen, seek diversion in the chase or other hunting, unlike one man who spent his leisure emulating Cyrus the Great in beautifying his estate which at the same time increased its value for his successors.
. . . I know when a man talks of posterity in matters of this nature, he is looked upon with an eye of ridicule by the cunning and selfish part of mankind. Most people are of the humor of an old fellow of a college who, when he was pressed by the society to come into something that might redound to the good of their successors, grew very peevish: "We are always doing (says he) something for posterity, but I would fain see posterity do something for us."