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Some years ago I picked up, from among some books thrown aside, an old copy of the “Spectator,” with leaves torn and cover half off, evidently deemed by the family too dilapidated to remain in the library.
Upon looking at the preface, I was attracted by what was said to be the object of the authors, namely : “To correct the vices, ridicule the follies, and dissipate the ignorance which too generally prevailed at the commencement of the Eighteenth Century."
This noble object naturally appealed to me, and led me to read the essays. By enlivening morality with wit, and tempering wit with morality, beyond doubt, Addison and Steele were most successful in attaining their object, and did more for the improvement of the morals and manners of their times than any other writers of their day.
Dr. Johnson, who was one of the warmest admirers of Addison, says : “As a describer of life and manners, he must be allowed to stand perhaps the first of the first rank. As a teacher of wisdom he may be confidently followed. 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.” The high and universal reputation of the “Spectator” was justly earned and deserved; and it only remains for me to say why I have made selections from it. As many essays were either local, obsolete, or too broad in language, and others dwelt too minutely upon certain subjects, I found that the work was read only by the few. It was with the hope of increasing its scope of usefulness, that I eliminated certain essays, and collected those which I deemed would be of greatest interest and instruction to the readers of the present time.
Joseph Addison, the eldest son of the Rev. Lancelot Addison, Dean of Lichfield, was born in 1672 at Milston, in Wiltshire, England, of which place his father was then Rector.
After leaving the Charterhouse, and when about fifteen years of age, he was entered of Queen's College, Oxford, and, two years later, was elected a scholar of Magdalen College, having, it is said, been recommended by his skill in Latin versification. He took his master's degree in 1693, and held a fellowship from 1699 to 1711. After leaving college, Addison devoted himself to literary work, and, though his writings at this time were inferior to those of his later days, they gained for him a high reputation. It was during this early period that he wrote his tragedy of “Cato" and the poem “ Letter from Italy,” said by many to be his best.