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ADDISON, JOSEPH:

English essayist; born at Milston, in England, May 1, 1672; died June 17, 1719. He has been fittingly characterized as "the chief architect of English public opinion in the eighteenth century." For this reason his attitude toward Jews and Judaism is of importance.

Attitude Toward the Jews.

By his writings he greatly influenced the public estimate of the Jews in respect to their social and economic status; and for a century after he wrote, legislation and judge-made law both emanated from the classes who read and enjoyed the writings of the chief author of the "Spectator." An examination of Addison's writings discloses at least five distinct references to Jews and Judaism, in all of which he shows a sympathetic attitude and a comparatively intimate knowledge of the subject, considering the circumstances of the day. (See the "Spectator," Nos. 405, 495, 531; "The Freeholder," No. 5, and passages in his "Dialogue on Medals.") The only one of these references to which special attention needs be given here is an essay that appeared in the "Spectator," No. 495, September 27, 1712, which is devoted wholly to the subject of the Jews. The other essays show his recognition of the debt that the English language owes to the Hebrew tongue for the idioms it has absorbed, the influence upon English custom and law of Jewish veneration for the name of God, and the prevalence of patriotism and love of country among the ancient Jews while they still had a country. No. 495 of the "Spectator" contains an interesting characterization of the Jews, and deals with their dissemination throughout the trading world, their numbers, their adherence to their religion, and the natural and providential reasons that may be assigned for these facts. The most interesting and significant passages in this essay are those dealing with the economic value of the Jews, resulting from their dispersion throughout the world. As to this fact, he says:

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"They are, indeed, so disseminated through all the trading parts of the world, that they are become the instruments by which the most distant nations converse with one another, and by which mankind are knit together in a general correspondence. They are like the pegs and nails in a great building, which, though they are but little valued in themselves, are absolutely necessary to keep the whole frame together."

Addison and Shakespeare.

It would be a serious error to regard Addison as merely echoing prevailing popular views of his time in these utterances. On the contrary, much stress must be laid here on Addison's kindly interest and sympathy, his knowledge of his subject, his curiosity concerning Jews and Judaism, his acquaintanceship with Jews, formed both at home and abroad, his information gained through the official channels of the state and colonial departments, and his indebtedness to his father, Lancelot Addison, who published an appreciative volume on the Jews, a few years after his son's birth. When Addison's attitude toward the Jew is compared with that of Shakespeare in his "Merchant of Venice," one becomes impressed with the former's broad, as contrasted with the latter's seemingly narrow, point of view. That this liberal attitude was largely peculiar to Addison himself, even though it may have influenced English gentlefolk to the present day, becomes still more apparent from the fact that no such sympathetic treatment of the Jew as his appeared in English literature for approximately a century after Addison wrote.

Addison's reference to the Jews and international commerce is especially important, because it was a contemporary recognition of the great contribution to general civilization made by the Jews in the English possessions at that time.

Addison's "Ode on Gratitude" was translatedinto Hebrew by Shalom ben Jacob Cohen of Meseritz, under the title "Mizmor le-Todah," and published in "Bikkure ha-'Ittim," i. 104 (Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." col. 2513).

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Bibliography:
  • Dict. of National Biography, s.v.;
  • Spectator, No. 495;
  • Max J. Kohler, in Menorah Monthly, January, 1898.
M. J. K.
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