History

Joseph Addison

History

In Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey is a white marble statue of Joseph Addison, poet and essayist, by the sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott, erected in 1809. He is dressed in classical drapery (although Macaulay thought it looked more like a dressing gown), holding a scroll in his left hand. At his feet is an open scroll and several books. Around the pedestal are depicted the nine Muses, together with their symbols. Lord Bradford, who inherited the property of Joseph’s daughter, paid for the statue. There had apparently been a proposal to erect the statue in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor on the grave of Thomas of Woodstock but fortunately this did not go ahead. The Latin inscription can be translated:

“Whoever thou art who lookest upon this marble respect the memory of Joseph Addison; whom Christian piety, whom virtue and politeness, have ever found their indefatigable patron. His genius in poetry as well as in every other kind of exquisite writing, by which he has bequeathed to posterity the finest example of a pure style of composition, and learnedly developed the discipline of an upright life – stands sacred, and sacred must remain. In argument he happily blended gravity with mildness and in judgment, tempered its severity with urbanity: he upheld the good, and roused the imprudent, and, by a peculiar charm, turned even the guilty round to virtue. He was born in the year of Our Lord 1672, and augmenting his fortune by moderate degrees, at length arrived at the highest honours of the State. He died, in the 48th year of his age, the charm and ornament of Britain”.

Burial

Addison is actually buried in a vault in the north aisle of Henry VII’s chapel, to be near the monument of his patron Charles Montague, Earl of Halifax. The gravestone was not inscribed until 1849, at the instigation of the Earl of Ellesmere, poet and Privy Councillor. The lines are taken from a longer poem about the burial by Thomas Tickell, who attended the funeral:

“Addison ne’er to these chambers where the mighty rest since their foundation, came a nobler guest, nor e’er was to the bowers of bliss conveyed a fairer spirit, or more welcome shade. Oh, gone for ever! take this long adieu, and sleep in peace next thy Lord Montague. Egerton Earl of Ellesmere P.C. [Privy Councillor]1849. Born 1672. Died 1719”.

Joseph was born on 1 Mary 1672 in Wiltshire, son of Lancelot Addison, later Dean of Lichfield, and his wife Jane (Gulston). His brothers were Gulston and Lancelot. He was educated at Lichfield, Charterhouse in London and at Oxford. His Latin verses attracted the attention of poet John Dryden and in 1704 he published a poem on the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim. He became a Member of Parliament and Chief Secretary in Ireland. With a few close friends he produced the Spectator. In 1711 he contributed an essay about the Abbey to this journal describing a melancholy walk among the monuments. He was one of the first to refer to the south transept as the “poetical quarter”. He married Charlotte, Countess of Warwick on 9 August 1716 and they had a daughter Charlotte, who died unmarried in 1797. He died on 17 June 1719 and the body lay in the Jerusalem Chamber (part of the Deanery) before his burial “at dead of night” on 26 June. The torchlight procession was led by Dean Atterbury and the choirboys stood round the grave holding tapers.

His sister Dorothy was buried in the south transept on 10 March 1750 and left money for a monument to be erected for Joseph. She married the Revd.James Sartre, prebendary of Westminster, and secondly Daniel Coombes.

A photograph of the monument and grave can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.