Addison and Europe / Addison et l’Europe

by Claire Boulard (Volume editor) Klaus-Dieter Ertler (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 180 Pages
Series: Die Aufklärung in der Romania, Volume 15


In 1719, the former secretary of State and famous English writer Joseph Addison passed away and was burried in Westminster Abbey among the great national poets. A few decades later, the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson defined Joseph Addison’s prose style as the quintessence of Englishness in his Lives of the English Poets. This selection of essays ambitions to celebrate the tercentenary of his death by showing that Addison was part of the European as much as the English Enlightenment. It explores how European countries and cultures played a decisive, if somewhat ambiguous role in his career and writing. It finally offers insights of Addison’s huge literary and journalistic legacy in Europe.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements / Remerciements
  • Contents
  • List of Contributors
  • Introduction
  • Avant-propos
  • Europe’s influence on Addison’s writings/L’influence de l’Europe sur l’écriture addisonienne
  • A moment in Amsterdam—Joseph Addison and Jacob Tonson in 1703 (Amélie Junqua)
  • The Jesuit thread in Joseph Addison’s aesthetics (Endre Szécsényi)
  • Still on classic ground: Joseph Addison’s Italy (Dan Poston)
  • “Misguided by the tuneful throng”: Addison at the Rubicon (Paul Davis)
  • Addison, lecteur de Bayle (Klaus-Dieter Ertler)
  • Addison’s legacy to Europe/L’héritage addisonien en Europe
  • “Varying life”: The idea of fiction in the Spanish version of Joseph Addison’s The Pleasures of the Imagination1 (María José Rodríguez Sánchez de León)
  • How Mr. Spectator became the father of the Polish essay (Klara Leszczynska)
  • La Spectatrice (1728–1729): scènes de lecture ? (Carmen García Cela)
  • Joseph Addison in Lausanne: Reading Addison’s works at the Société du Comte de la Lippe (Claire Boulard-Jouslin)
  • Series index

List of Contributors

Amélie Junqua

Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens

Endre Szécsényi

University of Aberdeen

Dan Poston

University of Tübingen

Paul Davis

University College London

Klaus-Dieter Ertler

University of Graz

María José Rodríguez Sánchez de León

University of Salamanca

Klara Leszczynska

University of Warsaw

Carmen García Cela

Université de Salamanque

Claire Boulard-Jouslin

University Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle

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French readers perusing the June issue of the monthly magazine Le Nouveau Mercure in 1719 were informed that “Joseph Addison, the English Secretary of State had passed away yesterday, June 28th, 1719”.1 This announcement, which reminds the readers that 2019 is the tercentenary of Addison’s death, is somewhat puzzling to the scholars who have long been taught that Joseph Addison (1672–1719) was one of the few English men of letters to be famous across the Channel in the early eighteenth century.2 Such a bare piece of news, which highlights Addison’s political career and ignores his literary achievement, suggests that Addison’s literary reputation was rather parochial and considered negligible by the French intellectual elite. But was it really the case on the continent?

Le Nouveau Mercure’s short notice is misleading for several reasons. Firstly, in a periodical whose readership was well-off and well-born, and which devoted a regular section to the English political news and to the carnet mondain, the announcement of Addison’s death is confirmation that he was considered a great political figure in France.

Secondly, despite the silence over his literary contribution, the writers and the readers of Le Nouveau Mercure were far from being ignorant of Addison’s literary career. In 1715, the March issue of the Nouveau Mercure Galant3 had compared at length Addison’s tragedy Cato with Michel Deschamps’s imitation Caton d’Utique.4 It argued that the French play was superior to the original because it respected classical rules of tragedy better than Addison’s. The Nouveau Mercure Galant thus contradicted the praise that Abel Boyer had lavished in the preface ←11 | 12→to his 1713 translation of Cato into French.5 It also launched a controversy over Addison’s dramatic merits and the English incapacity to write perfect tragedies, a ‘querelle’ that was to be prolonged well into the eighteenth century.6

Finally, the very short notice and the absence of any obituary might also be a sign of the Nouveau Mercure’s chauvinistic bias and subtle revenge upon Addison who had attacked the Mercure Galant in The Spectator, describing it as the best example of the superficial French modern taste for acrostiches and ‘bout rimez’.7

In some respect, this anecdote epitomizes the complex relationship Joseph Addison had with the French nation and, as this book aims to show, with some other European countries both in his lifetime and after his death. Indeed, his entire work reflects a critical attitude towards such continental practices as Catholicism and absolutism, which in turn solicited accusations that he was both chauvinistic and openly anti-Catholic.8

His childhood and youth may explain some of his opinions. Born in 1672 in a climate of strong anti-Catholicism in England,9 Addison reached his teenage years when the Edict de Nantes (1685) was repealed, opening an era of anti-Protestant persecution in France as well as fuelling the simmering English hostility to Catholic France. He matriculated at Queen’s college in 1687, when the University of Oxford was subject to King James II’s romanizing policies. After the Glorious Revolution, he made his Williamite sympathies clear by publishing several Latin poems (‘Tityrus et Mopse’ [1689]; ‘Gratulatio’ [1690], ‘Pax Gullielmi’ ←12 | 13→[1697]) in which he celebrated William III’s victories in Ireland and on the continent over France and over the supporters of the Stuart and Jacobite cause.10 One may, therefore, legitimately raise the question: Why celebrate Addison by addressing his ambiguous relationship to the continent?

A first answer would be that eighteenth-century Britain was not more isolated from the rest of Europe than today’s Brexit Britain. Addison’s training as a writer and a politician included many different sorts of contact with continental ideas and aesthetics. His political and religious beliefs and his style of writing were somehow shaped by his classical and modern readings at the Charter House, at Oxford and elsewhere. The sales catalogue of his library shows that the proportion of modern foreign books—especially French fiction, literary criticism and philosophy, although one finds a few Italian and Spanish books in translation—is as high as books by the Ancients. On his shelves, Fontenelle, Pascal, Boileau, Tasso and Guarini shoulder Motteux’s translation of the Quixote, Paterculus, Cicero and Horace.11 Such readings could only exercise some influence on his own production. Moreover, Addison completed the Grand Tour in his late 20s and travelled through Holland, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and the German states. In those countries, he observed the moors and habits of the people and drew subjects of inspiration from the different economic, religious and political systems. And he translated his observations into his poetry as well as in his various prose writings. We learn through Smither’s biography of Addison that he made a number of connections during his travels. He met such distinguished minds as the philosopher Malebranche and the poet Boileau in Paris and Jean Alphonse Turettini, the learned Rector of Geneva’s College.12 Bayle in Holland and Leibniz were also among his network of correspondents. In 1717, his secretaryship for the southern countries further led him to sharpen his knowledge of the countries with which he was to be in diplomatic contact. And he naturally had professional and personal contacts with the French, Portuguese and Spanish ambassadors. We may thus ask how such continental contacts shaped Addison’s writings.

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To this day, scholarly studies regarding Addison’s relationship to the European continent are both scarce and narrow. Quite predictably, early attention has been paid to assess the impact of a classical education on his works and to see how good a classicist he was.13 The way he digested Ovid, Virgil and Homer’s verses in his poetry and his tragedy Cato was also focused on.14 Next, Addison’s relationship to France has also triggered some scrutiny. The influences exercised by Molière,15 Pascal,16 La Bruyère,17 Boileau,18 the French critic Le Bossu19 as well as Descartes and Malebranche’s philosophies20 have led to several publications. By contrast, research on the way Addison was influenced by the literature and philosophy of modern Italy,21 Spain,22 Holland or Germany is quite limited.

←14 | 15→

However, one might suggest that the small number of studies related to Europe’s influence on Addison’s works is also the result of Addison’s own strategy. His bashfulness, his dead-pan humour, his nationalism, his endeavours to define the genre of the moral and literary essay into an intrinsically natural English genre whose elegance and literary superiority, he proclaimed, made it necessary to hide some forms of foreign influence and draw the readers’ attention elsewhere. It seems he was successful in this venture since the idea that Addison’s style was the epitome of the natural English style and that Addison was the quintessence of Englishness prevailed both in England and in Europe.23

One of the aims of this study is therefore to sketch a more balanced portrait of Addison, and to further explore the idea that the English Enlightenment, of which Addison was one distinguished representative, cannot be separated from continental trends. This volume is to help assessing the part played by the various European cultures in Addison’s writings and to uncover the way they were used to shape an emerging Englishness and some English patriotic discourse.24

Four of the studies included in the present volume give the readers a glimpse of some of the ways Addison was indebted to the European continent and how he interacted with his various contacts there. In her chapter titled “A moment in Amsterdam”, Amélie Junqua describes how Addison, still a young man and a budding author, spent his days at the center of the European book trade. It seems Addison made the most of his stay in the Netherlands to acquire new books and to help his London editor, the famous and powerful Jacob Tonson, complete a luxury edition of Caesar’s Commentaries. Amélie Junqua shows in particular how the book—the result of European collaboration and skills—was puffed up by Addison as the fruit of English intellect and work. Amélie Junqua highlights how Addison reappropriated the book by silencing the help and the debt he owed the European network he had used.

←15 | 16→

It is another—unexpected and somewhat ironical—debt for someone who was often very harsh on the Congregation of Jesus that Endre Szécsényi brings to light in his article titled “The Jesuit thread in Joseph Addison’s aesthetics”. Endre Szécsényi’s analysis shows that Addison had performed a close reading of the texts published by the two Jesuit fathers, the Frenchman Dominique Bouhours and the Spaniard, Baltazar Gracián. Their philosophy, he argues, was central to Addison’s aesthetic theory which he developed in his Spectator essays on the Pleasures of the imagination. Addison, he shows, did not only translate and adapt some passages from both authors but he also transferred such notion as the “je ne sais quoi”, which Bouhours and Gracián equated with divine grace, from the religious realm to the realm of aesthetic experience. Addison thus created a new transcendental aesthetics whose foundation as well as expression was much inspired by the Jesuit thinkers. Such a study, therefore, enables us to question the nature of Addison’s hostility and fascination he held towards the Jesuits, whom he dubbed as traitors to the English nation.25 It also helps us understand how Addison appropriated a Catholic aesthetics to transform it into an apologetical aesthetics, which became highly popular across eighteenth-century Europe because it transcended religious conflicts.

Dan Poston and Paul Davis for their part revise the portrait of Addison the classicist and the lover of Italian Antiquity. They analyse the mixed and complex feelings Addison expressed towards modern Italy and ancient culture in his epistolary poem “A Letter from Italy”, which he wrote while crossing the Alps. In his article “Still on classic ground: Joseph Addison’s Italy”, Dan Poston explores the poem’s ambivalence, showing that while he depicted the modern Italian sceneries in a style and with images borrowed from Virgil’s Georgics, Addison subtly undermined these Italian beauties to suggest that they were mere illusions. Dan Poston argues that the neo-classical frame of the poem serves as a reminder that classical beauties are shadows of the past which only highlight the solid attraction and the superiority of modern English liberties and of newtonianism over papism and absolutism. Dan Poston thus concurs with Paul Davis who denies Horace Walpole’s ironical comment that the poem was the result of a travel through the poets and not through Italy. In his study, “Misguided by a tuneful throng”, Paul Davis claims that far from being the source of inspiration for his ←16 | 17→neo-classical poem, his journey to Italy was the event that prompted his farewell to poetic writing. Paul Davis thus shows that Addison was acutely aware of the discrepancy between the landscapes that had been sung by the Latin poets—in particular the banks of the various Italian rivers—and what he actually observed. Paul Davis concludes that the poem epitomizes the denunciation and the rejection of poetic illusion which Addison defined as a slavish lie; and it proclaims his preference for modern and political Britishness which Addison considered as synonymous with truth. Paul Davis finally points out that the melancholy of the poem proves the choice to be a painful one to the poet since it means to renounce the comfortable shelter of dreamed Italy and of poetic illusion when faced with the harsh contemporary reality. These two studies, therefore, highlight the fact that the trip to Italy was a turning point in Addison’s career—Paul Davis calls it ‘the crossing of the Rubicon’—for it paved the way to his political engagement on the one hand and on the other hand, it enabled him to find his best literary voice: prose writing celebrating British modernity.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 180 pp., 2 fig. col.

Biographical notes

Claire Boulard (Volume editor) Klaus-Dieter Ertler (Volume editor)

Claire Boulard Jouslin is senior lecturer in British history in Université Sor-bonne Nouvelle-Paris3. Her research interest include various aspects of the English eighteenth-century society such as landscape gardening, the history of the periodical press, women’s journalistic writings and Franco-British cultural transfers. Klaus-Dieter Ertler is Professor of Romance Philology at the University of Graz (Austria). His main research interests include the "Spectators" in the Romance cultures and the francophone and hispanophone novel.


Title: Addison and Europe / Addison et l’Europe
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182 pages