Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays
Publication Year: 2012
"A day, an hour, of virtuous liberty is worth a whole eternity in bondage."
-Joseph Addison, Cato 1713
Joseph Addison was born in 1672 in Milston, Wiltshire, England. He was educated in the classics at Oxford and became widely known as an essayist, playwright, poet, and statesman. First produced in 1713, Cato, A Tragedy inspired generations toward a pursuit of liberty. Liberty Fund’s new edition of Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays brings together Addison’s dramatic masterpiece along with a selection of his essays that develop key themes in the play.
Cato, A Tragedy is the account of the final hours of Marcus Porcius Cato (95–46 B.C.), a Stoic whose deeds, rhetoric, and resistance to the tyranny of Caesar made him an icon of republicanism, virtue, and liberty. By all accounts, Cato was an uncompromisingly principled man, deeply committed to liberty. He opposed Caesar’s tyrannical assertion of power and took arms against him. As Caesar’s forces closed in on Cato, he chose to take his life, preferring death by his own hand to a life of submission to Caesar.
Addison’s theatrical depiction of Cato enlivened the glorious image of a citizen ready to sacrifice everything in the cause of freedom, and it influenced friends of liberty on both sides of the Atlantic. Captain Nathan Hale’s last words before being hanged were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” a close paraphrase of Addison’s “What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country!” George Washington found Cato such a powerful statement of liberty, honor, virtue, and patriotism that he had it performed for his men at Valley Forge. And Forrest McDonald says in his Foreword that “Patrick Henry adapted his famous ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech directly from lines in Cato.”
Despite Cato’s enormous success, Addison was perhaps best-known as an essayist. In periodicals like the Spectator, Guardian, Tatler, and Freeholder, he sought to educate England’s developing middle class in the habits, morals, and manners he believed necessary for the preservation of a free society. Addison’s work in these periodicals helped to define the modern English essay form. Samuel Johnson said of his writing, “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison.”
Christine Dunn Henderson is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund. Prior to joining Liberty Fund in 2000, she was assistant professor of political science at Marshall University.
Mark E. Yellin, also a Fellow at Liberty Fund, received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University, has taught at North Carolina State University, and edited Douglass Adair’s Intellectual Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy.
Click here for a pdf of the Cato: A Tragedy brochure
Published by: Liberty Fund
Title Page, Copyright
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The formation of the American republic was such a farfetched undertaking that, when it was done, many could regard it as a heaven-sent miracle. The winning of independence on the field of battle was monumental enough, but that was just half the task. The...
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Joseph Addison’s Cato, A Tragedy captured the imaginations of eighteenth-century theatergoers throughout Great Britain, North America, and much of Europe. From its original performance on April 14, 1713, the play was a resounding success. Embraced by an...
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Our intention has been to present Addison’s Cato with a selection of his essays in order to illuminate some of the play’s key themes; we make no claims to having produced a truly critical edition of either the plays or the essays. This edition of Cato is based on...
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Acknowledgments typically begin with some statement to the effect of “it would be impossible to name everyone who helped us.” In this case, such a statement is especially appropriate, for Addison’s intellectual breadth led us far afield of our own areas of expertise...
Part I: Cato, A Tragedy
Part II: Selected Essays
Tatler 161 (April 20, 1710)
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I was walking two or three days ago in a very pleasing retirement, and amusing my self with the reading of that ancient and beautiful Allegory, called The Table of Cebes. I was at last so tired with my walk, that I sate down to rest my self upon a Bench that stood...
Tatler 162 (April 22, 1710)
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In my younger years I used many endeavours to get a place at Court, and indeed continued my pursuits till I arrived at my Grand Climacterick: but at length altogether despairing of success, whether it were for want of capacity, friends, or due application, I at last...
Whig Examiner 5 (October 12, 1710)
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We live in a nation where at present there is scarce a single head that does not teem with politicks. The whole Island is peopled with Statesmen, and not unlike Trinculo’s Kingdom of Vice-roys. Every man has contrived a scheme of government for the benefit of his...
Spectator 55 (May 3, 1711)
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Most of the Trades, Professions, and Ways of Living among Mankind, take their Original either from the Love of Pleasure or the Fear of Want. The former, when it becomes too violent, degenerates into Luxury, and the latter into Avarice. As these two Principles of...
Spectator 125 ( July 24, 1711)
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My worthy Friend Sir Roger, when we are talking of the Malice of Parties, very frequently tells us an Accident that happened to him when he was a School-boy, which was at a time when the Feuds ran high between the Round-heads and Cavaliers. This worthy...
Spectator 169 (September 13, 1711)
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Man is subject to innumerable Pains and Sorrows by the very Condition of Humanity, and yet, as if Nature had not sown Evils enough in Life, we are continually adding Grief to Grief, and aggravating the common Calamity by our cruel Treatment of one another. Every...
Spectator 215 (November 6, 1711)
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I consider an Human Soul without Education like Marble in the Quarry, which shews none of its inherent Beauties, till the Skill of the Polisher fetches out the Colours, makes the Surface shine, and discovers every ornamental Cloud, Spot and Vein that runs through...
Spectator 219 (November 10, 1711)
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There are but few Men who are not Ambitious of distinguishing themselves in the Nation or Country where they live, and of growing Considerable among those with whom they converse. There is a kind of Grandeur and Respect, which the meanest and most...
Spectator 231 (November 24, 1711)
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Looking over the Letters, which I have lately received from my Correspondents, I met with the following one, which is written with such a Spirit of Politeness, that I could not but be very much pleased with it my self, and question not but it will be as acceptable to the...
Spectator 237 (December 1, 1711)
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It is very reasonable to believe, that part of the Pleasure which happy Minds shall enjoy in a future State, will arise from an enlarged Contemplation of the Divine Wisdom in the Government of the World, and a Discovery of the secret and amazing Steps of Providence, from...
Spectator 243 (December 8, 1711)
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I do not remember to have read any Discourse written expresly upon the Beauty and Loveliness of Virtue, without considering it as a Duty, and as the Means of making us happy both now and hereafter. I design therefore this Speculation as an Essay upon that Subject, in...
Spectator 255 (December 22, 1711)
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The Soul, considered abstractedly from its Passions, is of a remiss and sedentary Nature, slow in its Resolves, and languishing in its Executions. The use therefore of the Passions, is to stir it up and put it upon Action, to awaken the Understanding, to enforce the...
Spectator 256 (December 24, 1711)
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There are many Passions and Tempers of Mind which naturally dispose us to depress and vilify the Merit of one rising in the Esteem of Mankind. All those who made their Entrance into the World with the same Advantages, and were once looked on as his Equals, are apt...
Spectator 257 (December 25, 1711)
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That I might not lose my self upon a Subject of so great Extent as that of Fame, I have treated it in a particular Order and Method. I have first of all considered the Reasons why Providence may have implanted in our Minds such a Principle of Action. I have in the...
Spectator 287 ( January 29, 1712)
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I look upon it as a peculiar Happiness, that were I to chuse of what Religion I would be, and under what Government I would live, I should most certainly give the Preference to that form of Religion and Government which is established in my own Country. In this...
Spectator 293 (February 5, 1712)
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The Famous Gratian, in his little Book wherein he lays down Maxims for a Man’s advancing himself at Court, advises his Reader to associate himself with the Fortunate, and to shun the Company of the Unfortunate; which, notwithstanding the Baseness of the Precept to...
Spectator 349 (April 10, 1712)
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I am very much pleased with a Consolatory Letter of Phalaris, to one who had lost a Son that was a young Man of great Merit. The Thought with which he comforts the afflicted Father is, to the best of my Memory, as follows; That he should consider Death, had set...
Spectator 446 (August 1, 1712)
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Since two or three Writers of Comedy who are now living have taken their Farewell of the Stage, those who succeed them finding themselves incapable of rising up to their Wit, Humour and good Sense, have only imitated them in some of those loose unguarded...
Spectator 557 ( June 21, 1714)
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Among all the Accounts which are given of Cato, I do not remember one that more redounds to his Honour than the following Passage related by Plutarch. As an Advocate was pleading the Cause of his Client before one of the Praetors, he could only produce...
Guardian 99 ( July 4, 1713)
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There is no virtue so truly great and godlike as Justice. Most of the other virtues are the virtues of created Beings, or accommodated to our nature as we are men. Justice is that which is practised by God himself, and to be practised in its perfection by none but him...
Guardian 161 (September 15, 1713)
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Every principle that is a motive to good actions, ought to be encouraged, since men are of so different a make, that the same principle does not work equally upon all minds. What some men are prompted to by conscience, duty, or religion, which are only...
Freeholder 1 (December 23, 1715)
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The arguments of an Author lose a great deal of their weight, when we are persuaded that he only writes for argument’s sake, and has no real concern in the cause which he espouses. This is the case of one, who draws his pen in the defence of property, without having...
Freeholder 2 (December 26, 1715)
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Having in my first paper set forth the happiness of my station as a Free-holder of Great Britain, and the nature of that property which is secured to me by the laws of my country; I cannot forbear considering, in the next place, that person who is entrusted with the...
Freeholder 5 ( January 6, 1716)
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There is no greater sign of a general decay of virtue in a nation, than a want of zeal in its inhabitants for the good of their country. This generous and publick-spirited passion has been observed of late years to languish and grow cold in this our Island; where a party...
Freeholder 10 ( January 23, 1716)
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One may venture to affirm, that all honest and disinterested Britons of what party soever, if they understood one another, are of the same opinion in points of Government: and that the gross of the people, who are imposed upon by terms which they do not comprehend...
Freeholder 12 ( January 30, 1716)
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This day having been set apart by publick authority to raise in us an abhorrence of the Great Rebellion, which involved this nation in so many calamities, and ended in the murder of their Sovereign; it may not be unseasonable to shew the guilt of rebellion in general, and of...
Freeholder 13 (February 3, 1716)
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The most common, and indeed the most natural division of all offences, is into those of omission and commission. We may make the same division of that particular set of crimes which regard human society. The greatest crime which can be committed against it is...
Freeholder 16 (February 13, 1716)
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It being the design of these papers to reconcile men to their own happiness, by removing those wrong notions and prejudices which hinder them from seeing the advantage of themselves and their posterity in the present establishment, I cannot but take notice of every...
Freeholder 29 (March 30, 1716)
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This being a day in which the thoughts of our countrymen are, or ought to be, employed on serious subjects, I shall take the opportunity of that disposition of mind in my Readers, to recommend to them the practice of those religious and moral virtues, without which...
Freeholder 34 (April 16, 1716)
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It is very justly, as well as frequently observed, that if our nation be ever ruined, it must be by itself. The parties and divisions which reign among us may several ways bring destruction upon our country, at the same time that our united force would be sufficient to...
Freeholder 39 (May 4, 1716)
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It often happens, that extirpating the love of glory, which is observed to take the deepest root in noble minds, tears up several virtues with it; and that suppressing the desire of fame, is apt to reduce men to a state of indolence and supineness. But when, without any incentive...
Freeholder 51 ( June 15, 1716)
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As there is nothing which more improves the mind of man, than the reading of ancient Authors, when it is done with judgment and discretion; so there is nothing which gives a more unlucky turn to the thoughts of a Reader, when he wants discernment, and loves and...
Appendix: Lewis Theobald’s The Life and Character of Marcus Portius Cato Uticensis (1713)
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This Gentleman was the Great Grandson of M. Portius Cato Major, who by his Virtue and Excellence gain’d a wonderful Reputation and Authority amongst the Romans, and transmitted a Grandeur and Nobility to his Family, which to that Time it wanted; and which his...
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Page Count: 308
Publication Year: 2012