The collection of papers forming the present volume is selected from the celebrated Spectator and, with two exceptions, are written entirely by Addison. Joseph Addison, who is justly considered as one of the great authors of England, was born at Milston, Wiltshire, on May 1, 1672; and, after receiving an elementary education at various public schools, he entered the University of Oxford at the age of fifteen. His original intention was to study for the Church, but circumstances compelled him to abandon it, and he afterwards devoted himself exclusively to literature and politics. After several years of study and travel, he received various important political appointments, in all of which he acquitted himself with ability and honour.
After engaging in several minor literary efforts, Addison, in conjunction with his friend Sir Richard Steele, projected, in 1711, the Spectator, a daily paper, and the first number was published on the 1st of March. The "great and noble" objects of this publication - the most popular and elegant miscellany in English literature - as originally set forth, was to correct the vices, ridicule the follies, dissipate the ignorance, cultivate the understanding, and refine the taste of the public; and how ably the authors attained these objects is now a matter of history. This success was in a great measure due to Addison, whose essays on the circumstances, morals, and follies of the day have now become classic models of style, characterised by a strength and delicacy which has never been excelled.
Many of the papers in the Spectator were merely of a temporary interest, treating of the fashions of the day, the vices, rudenesses, and absurdities of the town and country of the period, now obsolete; but a large number of the papers are of a permanent and sterling nature, and well worthy of preservation. From the latter class the present selection has been made, and it contains, to quote the words of a recent writer on Addison, "many admirably written essays on subjects of abiding interest and importance, on characters, virtues, vices, and manners, which will chequer society while the human race endures; and a judicious selection of which can never fail to present indescribable charms to the man of taste, piety, philanthropy, and refinement."
In 1713 Addison published Cato, a Tragedy which, although never popular on the stage, still retains its place in English literature: and he also, at various periods of his life, published several treatises on educational and other subjects. In 1716 he contracted an injudicious marriage with the Dowager-Countess of Warwick; and in the following year was appointed Secretary of State, which office he resigned in 1718. At this time his health had been for some years in a precarious state; and, after a lingering but severe illness of several months' duration, he died at Holland House, Kensington, on the 17th of June 1719, in the 48th year of his age, leaving behind him, however, a name which will ever stand prominently forth in the annals of British literature.