Page images
PDF
EPUB

now placed under their proper heads. Portions of his correspondence, always the most faithful picture of a great man's heart, have been inserted at various times in different publications, particularly in the Addisoniana and in the life of Addison by Miss Aikin. These are now carefully collected and classed, as they deserve to be, among his works. The political tracts have been classed with the purely political essays ; and the “ Old Whig,” which was omitted in all the other editions, is given in this in its proper place. Many of Addison's writings originally possessed a local and temporary interest, which they have not only lost for the modern reader, but have lost with it somewhat of that charm which arises from a familiarity with the names and circumstances to which they allude. As far as notes can revive it, it is hoped that the charm is in some measure restored in the present edition.

The original orthography had been modernized by Hurd, whose system will be found, with a few exceptions, to correspond to the best usage of the present day. The American editor has not felt himself at liberty to reduce it to any cisatlantic standard. A list of the principal editions of Addison will be found in the fifth volume.

NEW-YORK, August 16, 1853.

LIFE AND WRITINGS OF ADDISON

1

BY THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY.

To Addison we are bound by a sentiment as much like affection as any sentiment can be which is inspired by one who has been sleeping a hundred and twenty years in Westminster Abbey.

We trust, however, that this feeling will not betray us into that abject idolatry which we have often had occasion to reprehend in others, and which seldom fails to make both the idolater and the idol ridiculous. A man of genius and virtue is but a man. All his powers cannot be equally developed ; nor can we expect from him perfect self-knowledge. We need not, therefore, hesitate to admit that Addison has left us some compositions that do not rise above mediocrity, some heroic poems hardly equal to Parnell's, some criticisms as superficial as Dr. Blair's, and a tragedy not very much better than Dr. Johnson's. It is praise enough to say of a writer, that, in a high department of literature, in which many

eminent writers have distinguished themselves, he has had no equal; and this may with strict justice be said of Addison.

As a man he may not have deserved the adoration which he received from those, who, bewitched by his fascinating society, and indebted for all the comforts of life to his generous and delicate friendship, worshipped him nightly in his favorite temple at Button's. But, after full inquiry and impartial reflection, we have long been convinced, that he deserved as much love and esteem as can be justly claimed by any of our infirm and erring race. Some blemishes may undoubtedly be detected in his

1 In selecting a critical review of the life and writings of Addison, there could be no hesitation in giving the preference to Macaulay's celebrated essay, one of the most elaborate of his brilliant collection. The introductory paragraph, which refers especially to Miss Aikin's life of Addison, has been omitted.-G.

character; but the more carefully it is examined, the more will it appear, to use the phrase of the old anatomists, sound in the noble parts ---free from all taint of perfidy, of cowardice, of cruelty, of ingratitude, of envy. Men may easily be named in whom some particular good disposition has been more conspicuous than in Addison. But the just harmony of qualities, the exact temper between the stern and the humane virtues, the habitual observance of every law, not only of moral rectitude, but of moral grace and dignity, distinguish him from all men who have been tried by equally full information.

His father was the Raverend Lancelot Addison, who, though eclipsed by his more celebrated son, made some figure in the world, and occupies with credit two folio pages in the " Biographia Britannica.” Lancelot was sent up, as a poor scholar, from Westmoreland to Queen's College, Oxford, in the time of the Commonwealth ; made some progress in learning ; became, like most of his fellow-students, a violent royalist; lampooned the heads of the university, and was forced to ask pardon on his bended knees. When he had left college, he earned an humble subsistence by reading the liturgy of the fallen church to the families of those sturdy squires whose manor-houses were scattered over the Wild of Sussex. After the restoration, his royalty was rewarded with the post of chaplain to the garrison of Dunkirk. When Dunkirk was sold to France, he lost his employment. But Tangier had been ceded by Portugal to England as part of the marriage portion of the Infanta Catharine; and to Tangier Lancelot Addison was sent. A more miserable situation can hardly be conceived. It was difficult to say whether the unfortunate settlers were more tormented by the heats or by the rains; by the soldiers within the wall or the Moors without it. One advantage the chaplain had. He enjoyed an excellent opportunity of studying the history and manners of the Jews and Mohammedans; and of this opportunity he appears to have made excellent use. On his return to England, after some years of banishment, he published an interesting volume on the polity and religion of Barbary; and another on the Hebrew customs, and the state of rabbinical learning. He rose to eminence in his profession, and became one of the royal chaplains, a doctor of divinity, archdeacon of Salisbury and dean of Litchfield. It is said that he would have been made a bishop after the Revolution, if he had not given offence to the government by strenuously opposing the convocation of 1689, the liberal policy of William and Tillotson.

In 1672, not long after Dr. Addison's return from Tangier, his son Joseph was born. Of Joseph's childhood we know little. He learned his rudiments at schools in his father's neighborhood, and was then sent

to the Charter House. The anecdotes which are popularly related about his boyish tricks do not harmonize very well with what we know of his riper years. There remains a tradition that he was the ringleader in a barring-out; and another tradition that he ran away from school, and hid himself in a wood, where he fed on berries and slept in a hollow tree, till after a long search he was discovered and brought home. If these stories be true, it would be curious to know by what moral discipline so mutinous and enterprising a lad was transformed into the gentlest and most modest of men.

We have abundant proof that, whatever Joseph's pranks may have been, he pursued his studies vigorously and successfully. At fifteen he was not only fit for the university, but carried thither a classical taste, and a stock of learning which would have done honor to a master of arts. He was entered at Queen's College, Oxford; but he had not been many months there, when some of his Latin verses fell by accident into the hands of Dr. Lancaster, dean of Magdalene College. The young scholar's diction and versification were already such as veteran professors might envy. Dr. Lancaster was desirous to serve a boy of such promise; nor was an opportunity long wanting. The Revolution had just taken place; and nowhere had it been hailed with more delight than at Magdalene College. That great and opulent corporation had been treated by Jarnes, and by his chancellor, with an insolence and injustice which, even in such a prince and in such a minister, may justly excite amazement; and which had done more than even the prosecution of the bishops to alienate the Church of England from the throne. A president, duly elected, had been violently expelled from his dwelling. A papist had been set over the society by a royal mandate: the Fellows, who, in conformity with their oaths, refused to submit to this usurper, had been driven forth from their quiet cloisters and gardens, to die of want or to live on charity. But the day of redress and retribution speedily came. The intruders were ejected; the venerable house was again inhabited by its old inmates : learning flourished under the rule of the wise and virtuous Hough; and with learning was united a mild and liberal spirit, too often wanting in the princely colleges of Oxford. In consequence of the troubles through which the society had passed, there had been no election of new members during the year 1688. In 1689, therefore, there was twice the ordinary number of vacancies ; and thus Dr. Lancaster found it easy to procure for his young friend admittance to the advantages of a foundation then generally esteemed the wealthiest in Europe.

At Magdalene, Addison resided during ten years. He was, at first,

« EelmineJätka »