Addison, Joseph by Faye Huntington

When I was a little girl, I sat listening one day while several gentlemen who were visiting my father, talked together, and one of them told a queer story which interested me very much, and called forth bursts of laughter from the gentlemen. Then, one said, "That is almost equal to Addison's time."

Over this sentence I puzzled. The only person whom I knew by that name was an old lame man who lived at the lower end of a long straggling street, and who was not remarkable for anything but laziness. What could the gentlemen who were visiting my father know about him, and what did they mean by "Addison's time?" I hovered around my father for quite a while, looking for a chance to ask questions, but there was no break in the conversation, so I gave it up. Something recalled the matter to me during the afternoon, and I asked a boy who lived near us, and with whom I was on quite friendly terms, if old Joe Addison had a clock that was queer; explaining to him at the same time why I wanted to know. He replied that he had seen a very large and very ugly-looking watch hanging in the shoe shop by old Joe's bench, and that Joe called it his turnip, and could take the outside casing all off, just as one could take a thing out of a box. This then was the explanation, I thought, but though we talked it over very thoroughly, we failed to see any connection between the story that the gentlemen had laughed over, and old Joe Addison's watch.

Something else came up to interest us, and we forgot all about it. And it was more than a year afterwards that I learned that my father's friends did not refer to old Joe at all, but to another Joseph Addison who was quite a different character.

I want you all to become acquainted with the real Joseph Addison; enough to know what it means when you hear him mentioned.

So, if you please, set down his name in your alphabetical dictionary: Joseph Addison.

He was born on a May-day, so it will not be hard to remember so much of his birthday. But how shall we remember the date? Well, you know the first figure of course, for as we count time, it is always one. Now jump to six. Sixteen hundred? Yes; that's it. Two more figures. What is the next figure to six? Set it down. And the next figure to one? Set that down. Now what have you? Sixteen hundred and seventy-two. A little thinking will fix that date so you will not be likely to forget it, and it is really quite nice to know just when people lived. Now what was Addison, that people are remembering him for two hundred years? First a scholar. Then he must have studied hard. Also he was an author—a poet. When he was about twenty-one he wrote a poem addressed to Dryden. Just remember that man's name, will you? Some day we will make his acquaintance. Then he translated Latin poetry, and wrote several descriptive poems. People do not seem to have thought any of them remarkable, and for my part I don't know how he made his living.

We next hear of him as a traveller. His friends managed to get a pension for him from the king, which was to give him a chance to travel and qualify himself to serve his Majesty.

Imagine our government giving a young man a salary to travel around with, just so that he might get ready to work for it! Joseph went to France, and to Italy, and to Switzerland. Wait, did I tell you where he was born? In Wiltshire, England. His father was a minister. I don't think the government was so very good to him, though, for it forgot to pay his salary, after the first year, and he had to pay his own travelling expenses. He seems to have worked hard at his writing, and some of the poems which people read and admire to-day were written during these journeys. One named the "Letter From Italy." Some people think it is the very best of all his poems.

When he was thirty-eight years old his life began to grow brighter. His friends succeeded in getting him a government office, and there was a certain great duke about whose victories Addison made a poem for which he was paid a large price. From that time he steadily rose in power. He became secretary to Lord Halifax, and then entered Parliament. In this place he knew one thing which great men do not always learn. That was, how to keep still. He was spoken of as "the silent member." A good deal of his writing is in the form of plays which were acted in the theatres.

He had a friend named Richard Steele, with whom we must sometime get acquainted. This Mr. Steele was editor of a paper called The Tattler, for which Addison wrote a great deal. The paper which followed The Tattler was named The Spectator, and in these two papers are gathered some of the finest writings of the two men. Newspapers were not so plenty then as now, and The Spectator became famous. Everybody took it. Addison's essays which were written for it are still read and admired.

When he was about forty-six years old, he quarrelled with his old friend Steele, and they took to writing against each other in the papers, and calling one another names, like naughty children. At least Steele did; I am not sure that Addison ever stooped so low. He did not live long after that. In fact, he died in the June after he was forty-seven. He was buried in Westminster Abbey in the Poets' Corner.

Now you have been introduced to him, I hope as you grow older you will be interested to study his character.