Here are the notes from which I delivered the Joseph Addison seminar:
Seminar Notes- Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison was a pamphleteer, a man of letters, and possibly the first man who today would be called a journalist. Before Joseph Addison, published writings usually had motives such as religion or art behind them. Addison was among the first to write purely for money. Entertainment often took precedent over fact , but it must be remembered that his works were largely designed to be read publicly as a form of entertainment. Without television or radio, groups of people would gather together in pubs and coffee houses to be entertained by his latest effort. At that time, printing presses were not capable of producing copies in their thousands; the days of a newspaper on every table were yet to come.
Addison was born in Wiltshire on 1st May, 1672 and obtain a degree at Oxford in 1691. His early work was mainly poetry, but in 1702 he began writing from the Tatler. After about two years Addison, along with Tatler’s editor, Richard Steele, founded and edited The Spectator. As well as editing, the pair wrote most of the content as well. They said that the wanted “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality… to bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses” (answers.com)
Addison holds humour very dearly. In “The Freeholder No. 45” he defends the idea that you can inform people while being humourous, citing Socrates as an example. Later, he says “Our nation are such lovers of mirth and humour, that it is impossible for detached papers, which come out on stated days, either to have a general run, or long continuance, if they are not diversified and enlivened from time to time” Humour was very important in that time; it must be remembered that the country was finally settling down after years of turmoil and revolution. Addison’s astute awareness of this may be among the reasons for his success. During the English Restoration which followed the end of Oliver Crowell’s reign, Puritanism was becoming an thing of the past: theatres reopened and the public were embracing the hitherto denied freedom to enjoy freer speech and comedy. Addision capitalized on this.
The Spectator, as its name suggested, was largely an observational publication. Alongside the political and social changes occurring in England, America was still a young country and trade and transport routes were allowing cultures to mix and change. It was an exciting time and Addison made it his business to observe and satirise the world. This is exemplified in The Royal Exchange; his description of London’s centre of international trade. He simultaneously delights in the coming together of the planet’s offerings while poking fun at the absurdity of it all.
A few years before the rise of Joseph Addison, Daniel Defoe was pilloried and jailed for his pamphlets criticizing the Church. J. R. Moore later said “no man in England but Defoe ever stood in the pillory and later rose to eminence among his fellow men.” Legend has it people threw flowers rather than fruit, but whether this was true or not, Defoe was surely something of a folk hero and Addison clearly hoped for a similar reputation.
“I am not at all mortified, when sometimes I see my Works thrown aside by Men of no Taste nor Learning. There is a kind of Heaviness and Ignorance that hangs upon the Minds of ordinary Men, which is too thick for Knowledge to break through. Their Souls are not to be enlightened.” While this may seem amusingly pompous, distribution of literature to the masses was still a fairly young idea. It served as an early link between the classes.
“Adventures of a Shilling” is a good example of his observation of political changes and turmoil which the country has gone through. It was inspired by Tom Swift’s assertion that a simple coin would lead a more exciting life than almost anyone. It seems to offer the view that focusing too hard on one thing (like one’s work) would cause their life to be more dull than it would if they were to allow themselves to be guided by the hand of fate. It also warns of the danger of missing out on the big picture by looking at one detail too intensely. A good lesson for journalists.
Links to Journalism
In ‘On the Essay Form’, he suggests that people who publish their works in small pieces are at a disadvantage when compared to those who publish in a single volume: “We must immediately fall into our Subject, and treat every Part of it in a lively Manner, or our Papers are thrown by as dull and insipid” This mantra is easily applied to modern journalism. “Had the Philosophers and great Men of Antiquity, who took so much Pains in order to instruct Mankind, and leave the World wiser and better than they found it; had they, I say, been possessed of the Art of Printing, there is no question but they would have made such an Advantage of it, in dealing out their Lectures to the Publick.” Here he sings the praises of the printing press as well as justifying his own enthusiasm to be published by suggesting the great thinkers and writers of the past would have done the same as him.