Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

JOSEPH ADDISON was born on the first of May, 1672, at Milston, of which his father, Lancelot Addison, was then rector, near Ambrosebury in Wiltshire, and appearing weak and unlikely to live, he was christened the same day. After the usual domestic education, which from the character of his father may be reasonably supposed to have given him strong impressions of piety, he was committed to the care of Mr. Naish, at Ambrosebury, and afterwards of Mr. Taylor, at Salisbury.

Not to name the school or the masters of men illustrious for literature is a kind of historical fraud, by which honest fame is injuriously diminished; I would therefore trace him through the whole process of his education. In 1693, in the beginning of his twelfth year, his father, being made dean of Lichfield, naturally carried his family to his new residence, and, I believe, placed him for some time, probably not long, under Mr. Shaw, then master of the school at Lichfield, father of the late Dr. Peter Shaw. Of this interval his biographers have given no account, and I know it only from a story of a barring-out, told me when I was a boy, by Andrew Corbet of Shropshire, who had heard it from Mr. Pigot, his uncle.

which is such as his contemporaries practised, without any attempt at innovation or improvement, seldom wants either melody or force. His author's sense is sometimes a little diluted by additional infusions, and sometimes weakened by too much expansion. But such faults are to be expected in all translations, from the constraint of measures and dissimilitude of languages. The "Pharsalia" of Rowe deserves more notice than it obtains, and as it is more read will be more esteemed.*

ADDISON.

The practice of barring-out was a savage license, practised in many schools at the end of the last century, by which the boys, when the periodical vacation drew near, growing petulant at the approach of liberty, some days before the time of regular recess, took possession of the school, of which they barred the doors, and bade their master defiance from the windows. It is not easy to suppose that on such occasions the master would do more than laugh; yet if tradition may be credited, he often struggled hard to force or surprise the garrison. The master, when Pigot was a school-boy, was barred-out at Lichfield; and the whole operation, as he said, was planned and conducted by Addison.

To judge better of the probability of this story, I have inquired when he was sent to the

The life of Rowe is a very remarkable instance of the uncommon strength of Dr. Johnson's memory. When I received from him the MS. he complacently obsidering that he had not seen Rowe's Works for thirty served, "that the criticism was tolerably well done, conyears."-N.

Chartreux; but, as he was not one of those who enjoyed the founder's benefaction, there is no account preserved of his admission. At the school of the Chartreux, to which he was removed either from that of Salisbury or Lichfield, he pursued his juvenile studies under the care of Dr. Ellis, and contracted that intimacy with Sir Richard Steele, which their joint labours have so effectually recorded.

Of this memorable friendship the greater praise must be given to Steele. It is not hard to love those from whom nothing can be feared; and Addison never considered Steele as a rival, but Steele lived, as he confesses, under an habitual subjection to the predominating genius of Addison, whom he always mentioned with reverence, and treated with obsequiousness.

Addison, who knew his own dignity, could not always forbear to show it, by playing a little upon his admirer; but he was in no danger of retort: his jests were endured without resistance or resentment.

But the sneer of jocularity was not the worst. Steele, whose imprudence of generosity, or vanity of profusion, kept him always incurably necessitous, upon some pressing exigence, in an evil hour, borrowed a hundred pounds of his friend, probably without much purpose of repayment; but Addison, who seems to have had other notions of a hundred pounds, grew impatient of delay, and reclaimed his loan by an execution. Steele felt with great sensibility the obduracy of his creditor, but with emotions of sorrow rather than of anger.f

* Spence.

This fact was communicated to Johnson in my hearname I am not at liberty to mention. He had it, as he ing by a person of unquestionable veracity, but whose told us, from Lady Primrose, to whom Steele related it with tears in his eyes. The late Dr. Stinton confirmed it to me, by saying, that he heard it from Mr. Hooke, au

thor of the Roman History; and he from Mr. Pope.-H.

See, Victor's Letters, vol. i. p. 325, this transaction somewhat differently related.-R.

In 1687 he was entered into Queen's College, in Oxford, where, in 1689, the accidental perusal of some Latin verses gained him the patronage of Dr. Lancaster, afterwards prevost of Queen's College; by whose recom:nendation he was elected into Magdalen College as a Demy, a term by which that society denominates those which are elsewhere called Scholars; young men who partake of the founder's benefaction, and succeed in their order to vacant fellowships.*

Here he continued to cultivate poetry and criticism, and grew first eminent by his Latin compositions, which are indeed entitled to particular praise. He has not confined himself to the imitation of any ancient author, but has formed his style from the general language, such as a diligent perusal of the productions of different ages happened to supply.

His Latin compositions seem to have had much of his fondness, for he collected a second volume of the "Muse Anglicana," perhaps for a convenient receptacle, in which all his Latin pieces are inserted, and where his poem on the peace has the first place. He afterwards presented the collection to Boileau, who, from that time, "conceived," says Tickell, "an opinion of the English genius for poetry." Nothing is better known of Boileau, than that he had an injudicious and peevish contempt of modern Latin, and therefore his profession of regard was probably the effect of his civility rather than approbation.

Three of his Latin poems are upon subjects on which perhaps he would not have ventured to have written in his own language. "The Battle of the Pigmies and Cranes;" "The Barometer;" and "A Bowling-green." When the matter is low or scanty, a dead language, in which nothing is mean because nothing is familiar, affords great conveniences; and, by the sonorous magnificence of Roman syllables, the writer conceals penury of thought, and want of novelty, often from the reader, and often from himself.

[blocks in formation]

of a small part of Virgil's "Georgics," published in the Miscellanies; and a Latin encomium on Queen Mary, in the "Musæ Anglicanæ." These verses exhibit all the fondness of friendship; but on one side or the other, friendship was afterwards too weak for the malignity of faction.

In this poem is a very confident and discriminate character of Spenser, whose work he had then never read. So little sometimes is criticism the effect of judgment. It is necessary to inform the reader, that about this time he was introduced by Congreve to Montague, then chancellor of the Exchequer: Addison was then learning the trade of a courtier, and subjoined Montague as a poetical name to those of Cowley and of Dryden.

By the influence of Mr. Montague, concurring, according to Tickell, with his natural modesty, he was diverted from his original design of entering into holy orders. Montague alleged the corruption of men who engaged in civil employments without liberal education; and declared, that, though he was represented as an enemy to the church, he would never do it any injury but by withholding Addison from it.

Soon after (in 1695) he wrote a poem to King William, with a rhyming introduction addressed to Lord Somers. King William had no regard to elegance or literature; his study was only wa r; yet by a choice of ministers, whose dispo sition was very different from his own, he procured, without intention, a very liberal patronage to poetry. Addison was caressed both by Somers and Montague.

In 1697 appeared his Latin verses on the peace of Ryswick, which he dedicated to Montague, and which was afterwards called by Smith, "the best Latin poem since the Æneid.'" Praise must not be too rigorously examined; but the performance cannot be denied to be vigorous and elegant.

Having yet no public employment, he obtained, (in 1699,) a pension of three hundred pounds a-year, that he might be enabled to travel. He stayed a year at Blois,§ probably to learn the French language; and then proceeded in his journey to Italy, which he surveyed with the eyes of a poet.

While he was travelling at leisure, he was far from being idle: for he not only collected his observations on the country, but found time to write his Dialogues on Medals, and four acts of "Cato." Such at least is the relation of Tickell. Perhaps he only collected his materials, and formed his plan.

Whatever were his other employments in Italy, he there wrote the Letter to Lord Halifax, which is justly considered as the most elegant, if not the most sublime, of his poetical productions. But in about two years he found it necessary to hasten home; being, as Swift informs us, dis

name, who died young, supposed to be a Manksman, for that he wrote the history of the Isle of Man.-That this person left his papers to Mr. Addison, and had formed a plan of a tragedy upon the death of Socrates. The lady says she had this information from a Mr. Stephens, who was a fellow of Merton College, a contemporary and intimate with Mr. Addison, in Oxford, who died near fifty years ago, a prebendary of Winchester.-H. + Spence.

Ibid.

tressed by indigence, and compelled to become | to be exceeded only by Joshua Barnes's dedicathe tutor of a travelling squire, because his pen- tion of a Greek Anacreon to the Duke. sion was not remitted.

His reputation had been somewhat advanced by "The Tender Husband," a comedy which Steele dedicated to him, with a confession that he owed to him several of the most successful scenes. To this play Addison supplied a prologue.

At his return he published his Travels, with a dedication to Lord Somers. As his stay in foreign countries was short, his observations are such as might be supplied by a hasty view, and consist chiefly in comparisons of the present face of the country with the descriptions left us by the Roman poets, from whom he made preparatory collections, though he might have spared the trouble, had he known that such collections had been made twice before by Italian authors.

The most amusing passage of his book is his account of the minute republic of San Marino; of many parts it is not a very severe censure to say, that they might have been written at home. His elegance of language, and variegation of prose and verse, however, gains upon the reader; and the book, though awhile neglected, became in time so much the favourite of the public, that before it was reprinted, it rose to five times its price.

When he returned to England (in 1702) with a meanness of appearance which gave testimony of the difficulties to which he had been reduced, he found his old patrons out of power, and was, therefore, for a time, at full leisure for the cultivation of his mind: and a mind so cultivated gives reason to believe that little time was lost.

But he remained not long neglected or useless. The victory at Blenheim (1704) spread triumph and confidence over the nation; and Lord Godolphin, lamenting to Lord Halifax, that it had not been celebrated in a manner equal to the subject, desired him to propose it to some better poet. Halifax told him, that there was no encouragement for genius; that worthless men were unprofitably enriched with public money, without any care to find or employ those whose appearance might do honour to their country. To this Godolphin replied, that such abuses should in time be rectified; and that, if a man could be found capable of the task then proposed, he should not want an ample recompense. Halifax then named Addison, but required that the treasurer should apply to him in his own person. Godolphin sent the message by Mr. Boyle, afterwards Lord Carlton; and Addison, having undertaken the work, communicated it to the treasurer, while it was yet advanced no farther than the simile of the angel, and was immediately rewarded by succeeding Mr. Locke in the place of commissioner of appeals.

In the following year he was at Hanover with Lord Halifax; and the year after he was made under secretary of state, first to Sir Charles Hedges, and in a few months more to the Earl of Sunderland.

When the Marquis of Wharton was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, Addison attended him as his secretary, and was made keeper of the records in Birmingham's Tower, with a salary of three hundred pounds a-year. The office was little more than nominal, and the salary was augmented for his accommodation.

Interest and faction allow little to the operation of particular dispositions or private opinions. Two men of personal characters more opposite than those of Wharton and Addison could not easily be brought together. Wharton was impious, profligate, and shameless, without regard, or appearance of regard, to right and wrong: whatever is contrary to this may be said of Addison: but as agents of a party they were connected, and how they adjusted their other sentiments we cannot know.

Addison must however not be too hastily condemned. It is not necessary to refuse benefits from a bad man, when the acceptance implies no approbation of his crimes; nor has the subordinate officer any obligation to examine the opinions or conduct of those under whom he acts, except that he may not be made the instrument of wickedness. It is reasonable to suppose that Addison counteracted, as far as he was able, the malignant and blasting influence of the Lieutenant; and that at least by his intervention some good was done and some mischief prevented.

When he was in office, he made a law to himself, as Swift has recorded, never to remit his regular fees in civility to his friends: "for," said he, "I may have a hundred friends; and if my fee be two guineas, I shall, by relinquishing my right, lose two hundred guineas, and no friend gain more than two: there is, therefore, no proportion between the good imparted and the evil suffered."

He was in Ireland when Steele, without any communication of his design, began the publication of the "Tatler;" but he was not long concealed; by inserting a remark on Virgil, which Addison had given him, he discovered himself. It is indeed not easy for any man to write upon literature or common life, so as not to make himself known to those with whom he familiarly converses, and who are acquainted with his track of study, his favourite topic, his peculiar notions, and his habitual phrases.

If Steele desired to write in secret, he was not lucky; a single month detected him. His About this time the prevalent taste for Italian first Tatler was published April 22, (1709,) and operas inclined him to try what would be the Addison's contribution appeared May 26. Tickeffect of a musical drama in our own language. ell observes, that the "Tatler" began and was He therefore wrote the opera of "Rosamond," concluded without his concurrence. This is which, when exhibited on the stage, was either doubtless literally true; but the work did not hissed or neglected; but, trusting that the read-suffer much by his unconsciousness of its comers would do him more justice, he published it, mencement or his absence at its cessation; for with an inscription to the Dutchess of Marlbo- he continued his assistance to December 23, rough; a woman without skill, or pretensions to skill, in poetry or literature. His dedication

was therefore an instance of servile absurdity, of the Marquis with that of his son the Duke.-N Dr. Johnson appears to have blended the character

and the paper stopped on January 2. He did | daily conversation, and free it from thorns and not distinguish his pieces by any signature, prickles, which tease the passer, though they do and I know not whether his name was not kept not wound him. secret till the papers were collected into volumes. For this purpose nothing is so proper as the To the "Tatler," in about two months, suc-frequent publication of short papers, which we ceeded the "Spectator;" a series of essays of read not as study but amusement. If the subthe same kind, but written with less levity, upon ject be slight, the treatise is short. The busy a more regular plan, and published daily. Such may find time, and the idle may find patience. an undertaking showed the writers not to dis- This mode of conveying cheap and easy trust their own copiousness of materials, or knowledge, began among us in the civil war,t facility of composition; and their performance when it was much the interest of either party to justified their confidence. They found, how-raise and fix the prejudices of the people. At ever, in their progress, many auxiliaries. To that time appeared "Mercurius Aulicus," "Merattempt a single paper was no terrifying labour; curius Rusticus," and "Mercurius Civicus." It many pieces were offered, and many were re- is said that when any title grew popular, it was stolen by the antagonist, who by this stratageni conveyed his notions to those who would not have received him had he not worn the appearance of a friend. The tumult of those unhappy days left scarcely any man leisure to treasure up occasional compositions; and so much were they neglected, that a complete collection is no where to be found.

ceived.

Addison had enough of the zeal of party, but Steele had at that time almost nothing else. The "Spectator," in one of the first papers, showed the political tenets of its authors; but a resolution was soon taken, of courting general approbation by general topics and subjects on which faction had produced no diversity of sentiments, such as literature, morality, and familiar life. To this practice they adhered with few deviations. The ardour of Steele once broke out in praise of Marlborough; and when Dr. Fleetwood prefixed to some sermons a preface overflowing with whiggish opinions, that it might be read by the Queen, it was reprinted in the "Spectator."

To teach the minuter decencies and inferior duties, to regulate the practice of daily conversation, to correct those depravities which are rather ridiculous than criminal, and remove those grievances which, if they produce no lasting calamities, impress hourly vexation, was first attempted by Casa in his book of Manners, and Castiglione in his "Courtier;" two books yet celebrated in Italy for purity and elegance, and which, if they are now less read, are neglected only because they have effected that reformation which their authors intended, and their precepts now are no longer wanted. Their usefulness to the age in which they were written is sufficiently attested by the translations which almost all the nations of Europe were in haste to obtain.

This species of instruction was continued, and perhaps advanced, by the French; among whom La Bruyere's "Manners of the Age," though, as Boileau remarked, it is written without connexion, certainly deserves praise for liveliness of description and justness of obser

vation.

These Mercuries were succeeded by L'Estrange's "Observator;" and that by Lesley's "Rehearsal," and perhaps by others; but hitherto nothing had been conveyed to the people in this commodious manner but controversy relating to the church or state; of which they taught many to talk, whom they could not teach to judge.

It has been suggested, that the Royal Society was instituted soon after the Restoration, to divert the attention of the people from public discontent. The "Tatler" and "Spectator" had the same tendency; they were published at a time when two parties, loud, restless, and violent, each with plausible declarations, and each perhaps without any distinct termination of its views, were agitating the nation: to minds heated with political contest they supplied cooler and more inoffensive reflections; and it is said by Addison, in a subsequent work, that they had a perceptible influence upon the conversation of that time, and taught the frolick some and the gay to unite merriment with decency; an effect which they can never wholly lose, while they continue to be among the first books by which both sexes are initiated in the elegancies of knowledge.

The "Tatler" and "Spectator" adjusted, like Casa, the unsettled practice of daily intercourse by propriety and politeness; and, like La Bruyere, exhibited the Characters and ManBefore the "Tatler" and "Spectator," if the ners of the Age. The personages introduced in writers for the theatre are excepted, England these papers were not merely ideal; they were had no masters of common life. No writers had then known, and conspicuous in various stayet undertaken to reform either the savageness tions. Of the "Tatler" this is told by Steele in of neglect or the impertinence of civility; to his last paper; and of the "Spectator" by Budshow when to speak or to be silent; how to re-gell in the preface to "Theophrastus," a book fuse or how to comply. We had many books to which Addison has recommended, and which teach us our more important duties, and to set- he was suspected to have revised, if he did not tle opinions in philosophy or politics; but an write it. Of those portraits, which may be supArbiter Elegantiarum, a judge of propriety, was posed to be sometimes embellished and someyet wanting, who should survey the track of

This particular number of the "Spectator," it is said, was not published till twelve o'clock, that it might come out precisely at the hour of her Majesty's breakfast, and that no time might be left for deliberating about serving it up with that meal, as usual. See the edition of the "Tatler," with notes, vol. vi. No. 271, note p. 452, &c.-N.

Newspapers appear to have had an earlier date than here assigned. Cleiveland, in his character of a London diurnal, says, "The original sinner of this kind was Dutch; Gallo-Belgicus, the Protoplas, and the modern Mercuries but Hans en Kelders." Some intelligence given by Mercurius Gallo-Belgicus is mentioned in Carew's Survey of Cornwall," p. 126, originally published in 1602. These vehicles of information are often mentioned in the plays of James and Charles the First.-R.

[ocr errors]

times aggravated, the originals are now partly known and partly forgotten.

But to say that they united the plans of two or three eminent writers is to give them but a small part of their due praise; they superadded literature and criticism, and sometimes towered far above their predecessors, and taught, with great justness of argument and dignity of language, the most important duties and sublime truths.

Of essays thus elegant, thus instructive, and thus commodiously distributed, is natural to suppose the approbation general, and the sale numerous. I once heard it observed, that the sale may be calculated by the product of the tax, related in the last number to produce more than twenty pounds a week, and therefore All these topics were happily varied with stated at one and twenty pounds, or three elegant fictions and refined allegories, and illu- pounds ten shillings a day: this, at a halfpenny minated with different changes of style and fe-a paper, will give sixteen hundred and eighty† licities of invention. for the daily number.

It is recorded by Budgell, that, of the charac- This sale is not great; yet this, if Swift be ters feigned or exhibited in the "Spectator," the credited, was likely to grow less; for he defavourite of Addison was Sir Roger de Cover-clares that the "Spectator," whom he ridicules ley, of whom he had formed a very delicate and for his endless mention of the fair sex, had bediscriminate idea,* which he would not suffer to fore his recess wearied his readers. be violated; and, therefore, when Steele had shown him innocently picking up a girl in the Temple and taking her to a tavern, he drew upon himself so much of his friend's indignation, that he was forced to appease him by a promise of forbearing Sir Roger for the time to

come.

The reason which induced Cervantes to bring his hero to the grave, para mi sola nacio Don Quixote, y yo para el, made Addison declare, with undue vehemence of expression, that he would kill Sir Roger; being of opinion that they were born for one another, and that any other hand would do him wrong.

It may be doubted whether Addison ever filled up his original delineation. He describes his Knight as having his imagination somewhat warped; but of this perversion he has made very little use. The irregularities in Sir Roger's conduct seem not so much the effects of a mind deviating from the beaten track of life, by the perpetual pressure of some overwhelming idea, as of habitual rusticity, and that negligence which solitary grandeur naturally generates.

The variable weather of the mind, the flying vapours of incipient madness, which from time to time cloud reason, without eclipsing it, it requires so much nicety to exhibit, that Addison seems to have been deterred from prosecuting his own design

To Sir Roger, who, as a country gentleman, appears to be a tory, or, as it is gently expressed, an adherent to the landed interest, is opposed Sir Andrew Freeport, a new man, a wealthy merchant, zealous for the moneyed interest, and a whig. Of this contrariety of opinions, it is probable more consequences were at first intended than could be produced, when the resolution was taken to exclude party from the paper. Sir Andrew does but little, and that little seems not to have pleased Addison, who, when he dismissed him from the club, changed his opinions. Steele had made him, in the true spirit of unfeeling commerce, declare that he "would not build a hospital for idle people;" but at last he buys land, settles in the country, and builds, not a manufactory, but a hospital for twelve old husbandmen; for men, with

whom a merchant has little acquaintance, and whom he commonly considers with little kindness.

The errors in this account are explained at considerable length in the preface to the "Spectator" prefixed to the edition in the "British Essayists." The original delineation of Sir Roger undoubtedly belongs to Steele.-C.

The next year (1713) in which "Cato" came upon the stage, was the grand climacteric of Addison's reputation. Upon the death of Cato, he had, as is said, planned a tragedy in the time of his travels, and had for several years the first four acts finished, which were shown to such as were likely to spread their admiration. They were seen by Pope, and by Cibber, who relates that Steele, when he took back the copy, told him, in the despicable cant of literary modesty, that, whatever spirit his friend had shown in the composition, he doubted whether he would have courage sufficient to expose it to the censure of a British audience.

The time however was now come, when those who affected to think liberty in danger, affected likewise to think that a stage play might preserve it; and Addison was importuned, in the name of the tutelary deities of Britain, to show his courage and his zeal by finishing his design.

To resume his work he seemed perversely and unaccountably unwilling; and by a request which perhaps he wished to be denied, desired Mr. Hughes to add a fifth act. Hughes sup posed him serious; and, undertaking the supplement, brought in a few days some scenes for his examination: but he had in the mean time gone to work himself, and produced half an act, which he afterwards completed, but with brevity irregularly disproportionate to the foregoing parts; like a task, performed with reluctance, and hurried to its conclusion.

It may yet be doubted whether "Cato" was made public by any change of the Author's purpose; for Dennis charged him with raising prejudices in his own favour, by false positions of preparatory criticism, and with poisoning the town by contradicting in the "Spectator" the established rule of poetical justice, because his own hero, with all his virtues, was to fall before a tyrant. The fact is certain; the motives we must guess.

Addison was, I believe, sufficiently disposed to bar all avenues against all danger. When Pope brought him the prologue, which is properly accommodated to the play, there were these words: "Britons, arise! be worth like this approved," meaning nothing more than Britons, erect and exalt yourselves to the ap

That this calculation is not exaggerated, that it is even much below the real number, see the notes on the "Tatler," ed. 1786, vol. vi. p. 452.-N.

« EelmineJätka »