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BY THE AMERICAN EDITOR.
Few men have been more careful of their literary reputation than Addison. The last words that he wrote for the public eye, were a dedication of his works to his friend Mr. Craggs. At the same time he gave Tickell particular directions about collecting and publishing them, justly feeling that there was nothing in them which he could look back upon with regret, even from his death-bed. Two years afterwards, the first edition appeared in four handsome quartos, with an engraving from Kneller's portrait, an emblematical vignette, and a full list of subscribers. Tickell undoubtedly meant to do justice to the memory of his patron, but his jealousy of Steele prevented him from calling Addison's earliest and most intimate friend to his assistance, and with the exception of the papers from the Tatler, which were pointed out by Steele at Addison's request, there is nothing in this edition which any other editor might not have done equally well. The only inedited pieces were the Dialogues on Medals and the Treatise of the Christian religion, The Drummer was omitted, much to Steele’s mortification, who immediately republished it. with many bitter complaints of the editor's carelessness and malignity. But if Tickell did less than he might have done for the illustration of Addison's life and writings, he paid a noble tribute to his virtues in the 'verses to the Earl of Warwick,' which still continues, what Goldsmith pronounced it to be, nearly a hundred years ago, one of the finest elegies in our language.'
Many years passed before another edition appeared. Meanwhile Steele died without fulfilling his promise of making up for Tickell’s omissions; Tickell himself added nothing to his original edition; and all the members of that ‘little senate,' each of whom might have told us many things we should have been glad to know, passed away one by one, leaving us as much in the dark concerning some of the most interesting events of Addison's literary life, as if he had passed all his days among men who had no preten sions to scholarship. Particular works were reprinted from time to time; the Spectator oftenest of all; the letter from Italy retaining its place in miscellanies and collections ; and Cato never completely losing its hold upon the stage. Finally the whole works were republished by Baskerville, with that typographical elegance which has given his editions so high a value for the lovers of handsome books; and again in London in 1804; but merely as reprints of the original edition of 1721.
“At last Bishop Hurd, resting a while from polemics and his Boswellian. contemplation of Warburton, betook himself to a serious study of the great master of English prose. No two men could have been more unlike than Addison and Hurd. Addison mild, genial and independent; Hurd bitter, irascible and cringing; the one raising himself to the highest rank by the force of talent, without the sacrifice of a friendship or a principle; the other making his way by subtle servility, and eagerly grasping at every means of promotion.
Still Hurd possessed some qualifications for his task. He was an admirer of good writing, and though cold, was not deficient in taste. He came with the feelings of a grammarian of the old school, to weigh words and start questions of syntax; and Addison furnishes abundant materials for both. It is amusing to see with what a tone the learned prelate pronounces sentence upon offending particles, and how rigorously he keeps sense and sentiment out of sight. Now and then, it is true, he betrays an indistinct consciousness that there is something more in his text than mere specimens of style; but most of his raptures are reserved for some happy construction or a word of peculiar elegance. It is of no use to ask for the explanation of an historical allusion, for he has none to give you. Manners and customs he passes by as though they had no bearing upon the subject; and leaves you to deal with proper names as if every body could be his own biographical dictionary. Still his notes are not without their value for the minute study of language. You may read them as you do Blair's critical examination, and find yourself strengthened in verbal criticism; and though it is impossible not to feel that when the Bishop of Worcester took up his pen to commentate Addison, he ought to have taken a wider range; yet within the limits which he set himself the task is well done, and his commentary will always find its place in a variorum.
A little before Hurd began his grammatical commentary, a writer of vastly higher qualifications announced his intention of giving a new edition of Addison. This was Beattie, who had made the Spectator his model in prose, and who sympathized, both in prose and in verse, with the classic taste of his master. Unfortunately this design was never fully carried out ; other occupations and ill health compelling him to confine himself to a reprint and occasional commentary of the miscellaneous pieces. And it will ever continue a matter of surprise, that while Swift and Dryden found an editor like Scott; and Pope, already so loaded down with commentation, reappeared in two rival editions, no one should have felt that the best service that could be rendered to the cause of virtue and pure taste, would be an accurate edition of Addison.
The present edition, without pretending to contain all that might be done for the illustration of this eminent writer, claims to be, in some respects, superior to all its predecessors. The poems, which were carelessly thrown together in former editions, without any regard to their subject or their relative importance, have been accurately arranged, and, where the occasion required it, illustrated by notes. Several of Addison's finest poems were originally published in the Guardian and Spectator : these are