Joseph Addison son of the Rev. Lancelot Addison, dean of Lichfield, was born on May 1st, 1672, at Milston, Wiltshire. He was educated at Lichfield, and afterwards at Charterhouse, where Steele, whose name was in later years to be associated so closely with his, was a younger schoolfellow. Steele visited him at Lichfleld, and has commemorated the charm of his home circle in the Tatler (No. 25).
" The boys behaved themselves very early with a manly friendship; and their sister, instead of the gross familiarities and impertinent freedoms in behaviour usual in other houses, was always treated by them with as much complaisance as any other young lady of their acquaintance. It was an unspeakable pleasure to visit or sit at a meal in that family. I have often seen the old man's heart flow at his eyes with joy upon occasions which would appear indifferent to such as were strangers to the turn of his mind; but a very slight accident, wherein he saw his children's good-will to one another, created in him the godlike pleasure of loving them because they loved each other."
In 1687 Addison went to Oxford. At first he was a commoner of Queen's College, but he was given a demyship (i.e. scholarship) at Magdalen for his classical attainments, and in due course proceeded to a fellowship. He won a reputation which extended beyond Oxford for his Latin verses.
In his twenty-eighth year Addison went abroad to perfect his education for political life by a prolonged continental tour. He visited France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, and remained away from England for more than four years.
Soon after his return he wrote his poem of the Campaign to celebrate Marlborough's victory at Blenheim, August 1704, and was rewarded by the Whig Prime Minister, Godolphin, with a commissionership. Shortly afterwards he received an Under-Secretaryship of State, and in 1708 the Irish Secretaryship, which he held for two years.
In 1709 Steele began the publication of a periodical, The Tatler, which was to appear three times a week. It was published in the name of "Isaac Bickerstaff, Esquire, Astrologer," an imaginary character invented by Swift. Addison contributed essays, which Steele, with characteristic generosity, admitted to be superior to his own. He humorously described the way in which he was outshone. "I fared like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbour to his aid; I was undone by my own auxiliary; when I had once called him in I could not subsist without dependence on him."
With the fall of the Whigs Addison lost his secretaryship and much of his income. But he had saved a good deal, and he was now a successful literary man. Steele discontinued the Tatler early in 1711, and on March 1st of that year he and Addison brought out the first number of the Spectator, which appeared daily until Dec. 6, 1712. In 1713 Addison produced at Drury Lane Theatre his tragedy of Cato, which had a great success at the time, though it is now almost forgotten. Steele began another newspaper in that year, the Guardian, to which Addison contributed. In 1714 the Spectator was revived for a time. Addison was married in 1716 to the Countess of Warwick: the marriage has been generally supposed, but on insufficient evidence, to have been an unhappy one. His last years were clouded by a quarrel with Pope and an estrangement from his old friend Steele. He died of asthma and dropsy, June 17, 1719.