he pitied, the follies and vices of men. He touches their wounds and weaknesses with the kind and gentle hand of a friend, not with the ferocity of Swift, who tears and racks and scourges them with the ingenuity of a fiend. Listen to Addison's sweet singing-how much love and reverence of the creature for the Creator does it not contain:

“Soon as the evening shades prevail,

The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth ;
And all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
What though in solenn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball;
What though no real voice nor sound
Among their radiant orbs be found;
In reason's ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
For ever singing, as they shine,

The hand that made them is divine." Addison commenced his literary career by publishing several Latin poems, in imitation of Virgil, which were greatly admired at the proud seats of English learningOxford and Cambridge—but they are now seldom read. He next turned his attention to English poetry; he addressed some verses to King William, and published a translation of part of the fourth Georgic, which had the good fortune to attract the favorable notice of Dryden, who, at that time (1695), occupied, without a rival, the poetical throne of England. Encouraged by his success, Addison addressed a highly complimentary poem to the Lord-keeper Somers, and dedicated a Latin poem on the Peace of Ryswick to Montague, the chancellor of the exchequer. The whigs were anxious to enlist in their party the rising talent of the nation ; a pension of £300 a year was bestowed upon the young poet, and

, he was allowed to travel. Addison spent four years on the continent. He remained a year in France, in order to perfect himself in the French language. Thence he passed to Italy, and lingered for months in those beautiful cities hallowed by religion, art, learning, genius, and song-Kome, Florence, Venice, Naples, Genoa. In 1701 his pension was stopped by the death of King William, and he was under the . necessity of supporting himself. He became tutor to a young English traveller, with whom he journeyed through SwitzerVOL. XI.-NO. XXII.


land and Germany, and, after passing a short time in Holland, returned to England in 1703.

Addison was now in his thirty-second year, without a profession and without an income, and for several months this most accomplished gentleman and scholar was compelled to hide his poverty and distress in a garret. A brighter day, however, was soon to dawn upon the fortunes of the poet. Marlborough gained the splendid victory of Blenheim. A poet was wanted who could properly celebrate this great event. Godolphin, the lord-treasurer, did not know where to find such a poet. He applied to Addison's friend and former patron, Montague, now Lord Halifax, and Halifax recommended Addison. The neerly poet was very glad of such an opportunity to improve bis condition, and readily undertook the proposed task. He wrote The Campaign, and his fortune was made; he was immediately rewarded by being made commissioner of appeals, with the promise of greater favors.

As a poet, Addison does not occupy a place in the first, or even in the second rank. Some of his poetical compositions, “ The Campaign,” for instance, contains fine. passages and striking similes, and his poetry, like all his other writings, is pure and polished, but it wants vigor and fervor; it is too cold, too correctly classic; he loved the ancient poets too well, and imitated them too closely. Posterity has not bestowed upon his poetry the same meed of praise that it received during his life, and if he had written nothing but poems, the name of Addison would be scarcely remembered at the present day.

Soon after " The Campaign " appeared, he published the Narrative of his Travels through Italy. Like that of all his writings, the style is easy and elegant, but the book is overloaded with quotations from the Roman poets, · and crowded with allusions to classical fables unknown except to the learned few, and, therefore, uninteresting to the unlearned many. Addison was now rapidly mounting the ladder of fame and fortune. In 1708 the whigs obtained the entire control of the government, and Addison came in for a share of the spoils. He entered parliament, and in less than ten years became successively under secretary of state, chief secretary for Ireland, and secretary of state. In 1709, when he was in Ireland, an event occurred which was destined in the end to establish his reputation as one of the most delightful writers of all time. In the spring of this year Steele started the Tattler. The aim of the latter, in the publication of this paper, was to amuse the town with the fashionable gossip, compliments to noted beauties, criticisms on popular preachers, foreign news, accounts of new plays, and the literary gossip of Will's and the Grecian coffee-houses, which at that time were most frequented by the wits. Steele was well qualified to conduct such a paper. He knew the world much better than books. He had lived familiarly with all sorts of people--soldiers, authors, actors, courtiers, wits, men and women of fashion, lords and ladies. He was at home everywhere —in the queen's palace and in the club-house; in my lady's drawingroom and in the guard-room ; in the coffee-house and in the spongeing-house. He paid dear for his knowledge. He was always sinning and always repenting. He was always in debt, and always promising to pay his debts. He loved his wife with the tenderest affection, yet he would often desert her to spend the night with his wild friends at the tavern. He wrote beautifully in praise of virtue, but seldom practised his own teachings. He published a book called “The Christian Hero,” full of the prettiest precepts of morality, while his boon companions were the fastest fellows of the day-officers of the guards, gay young lords, and men of pleasure of every kind and degree.

The Tattler was very well received. The court, the town, and the country hailed with delight 'the advent of so pleasant a visitor. Steele had not consulted his friend Addison about the matter, but as soon as Addison discovered that he was the editor, he determined to give it his assistance. Of this assistance Steele says: “I fared like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbor to his aid. I was undone by my auxiliary. When I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him.” This was partly true, for Addison's superior genius soon hid the lesser sight of Steele. The best papers in the Tattler, Spectator, and Guardian were written by Addison. To him we are indebted for those delightful creations, Sir Roger de Coverley and Will Honeycomb, so full of exquisite humor. To him we are indebted for those beautiful descriptions of death and immortality, the Visits to Westminster Abbey, the Vision of Mirza, and the Journal of the Retired Citizen. No preceding author had written the English language with such sweetness, grace, and ease. No succeeding author has excelled him in delicate wit, in charming humor, in happy but harmless satire. His writings display the easy, well-bred air of a gentleman, the elegance of a scholar, and the pure mor

[ocr errors]



ality of a Christian. As an essay writer, Addison has had many imitators, but no equals. This is high praise if we consider that such distinguished writers as Johnson, Goldsmith, Chesterfield, and Mackenzie have attempted this kind of literary composition. In the year 1713 the fame of Addi

. son was greatly increased by his play of “Cato."

“Envy itself was dumb-in wonder lost;

And factions strove who should applaud him most." Pope said : “ Cato was not so much the wonder of Rome in his days as he is of Britain in ours."'*

It was performed for a whole month to overflowing houses. The town was in raptures. The name of Addison, the great Mr. Addison as he was called, was in every mouth. Complimentary verses were addressed to him from the universities and by the wits of the city. This contemporary admiration has not been continued by posterity. Cato is now scarcely acted and seldom read. The lofty declamations of Cato, who would not survive the ruin of his country, sounded, no doubt, very grand in the mouth of the actor; “ the virtuous Márcia, towers above her sex,” but it is with the coldness of a vestal virgin, not with the fire and glow and passion of a Roman lady. The characters are Romans only in name. Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Massinger, and Beaumont, says a modern writer, † have shown us Roman passions, Roman patriotism, and Roman language; these frigid abstractions (in Cato) bear the same relation to the Romans of Shakespeare, or the Roman of Rome, as the waxen dolls in the 'window of a barber to the living, moving, thinking passengers who walk by them in the street. Only two or three quotations from this once famous play are familiar to the readers of the present day. The followiug are the most known:

Big with the fate
Of Cato and of Rome.”
"My voice is still for war.
“Plato, thou reasonest well.”
66 'Tis not in mortals to command success,

But we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it."
“When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,

The post of honor is a private statior.” In the reign of Queen Anne the coffee-houses were the favorite resorts of the wits. Here they met to discuss the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Letter to Sir W. Trumbull. + Thomas B. Shaw, English Literature, p. 242.

news of the court, the city, and the continent. Here the last poem was read and the last play criticised. When Addison became distinguished as an author and statesman, he established his literary court at Button's coffee-house. Here his “ little senate” of wits assembled, Steele, Budgell, Tickell, Phillips, and other devoted followers to do homage at the feet of their beloved sovereign. In this congenial society, Addison was perfectly at home, for he was not a lady's man, but, as Macaulay says, essentially a man’s-man. Surrounded thus by his favorite friends, he would open bis accumulated stores of wit, humor, and learning, and often, by his eloquent talk, hold them spell-bound until morning. Those who had listened to Addison's familiar conversation declared that it was even more delightful than his writings. Pope, with whom Addison was no great favorite, said there was a charm in his talk which could be found nowhere else. The celebrated Mary Wortley Montagu, who had known all the most brilliant wits of her time, said that Addison was the best company in the world. But Addison's extraordinary conversational powers were only displayed in the company of his intimate friends. In the presence of strangers, his eloquent lips were sealed, and his manners became constrained and embarrassed; no one who met him in large companies would have believed that he was the same man who bad often kept a few friends out of their beds until four o'clock in the morning by his fascinating conversation.

One of the acutest judges of literature of our time, who seldom bestows undeserved praise, says that we owe as much pleasure to Addison as to any human being that ever wrote. He came in that artificial age, and began to speak with his noble, natural voice. He came, the gentle satirist, who hit no unfair blow; the kind judge, who castigated only in smiling. Johnson concludes an elaborate criticism on Addison in the following words: “His sentences have peither studied amplitude nor affected brevity; his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.” There is no nam in the history of literature more enviable than Addison's—a prosperous and beautiful life, a happy death, and a glorious fame forever.

* Thackeray, “Humorists of the Eighteenth Century," lec., on Addison.

« VorigeDoorgaan »