It is axiomatic that many of the intellectual accomplishments of life are the product of great personal troubles and tragedies. One of the best examples of this is Joseph Addison (1672-1719) who was an English essayist, poet, playwright and politician. He was educated at Charterhouse School, and at The Queen’s College, Oxford. He excelled in classics, being specially noted for his Latin verse, and became a Fellow of Magdalen College.
The later events in the life of Addison did not contribute to his happiness. In 1716, he married the Dowager Countess of Warwick to whose son he had been a tutor, and his political career continued to flourish, as he served Secretary of State for the Southern Department from 1717 to 1718. However, his political newspaper, The Freeholder, was much criticized, and Alexander Pope was among those who made him an object of derision, christening him “Atticus’. His wife appears to have been arrogant and imperious; his stepson the seventh Earl was a rake and unfriendly to him; while in his public capacity his invincible shyness made him of little use in Parliament.
In 1712, Addison wrote his most famous work of fiction, Cato, a Tragedy. Based on the last days of Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, it deals with such themes as idividual liberty verses government tyranny, Republicanism verses Monarchism, logic verses emotion, and Cato’s personal struggle to cleave to his beliefs in the face of death. It was almost certainly a literary inspiration for the American Revolution, being well known to many of the Founding Fathers. In fact, George Washington had it performed for the Continental Army while they were encamped at Valley Forge.
But it is to the matter of constancy of character that Addison most famously opined that:
“Without constancy, there is neither love, friendship, nor virtue in the world.”
Are we not surrounded daily by the visible signs of such constancy?