Page images

Exchequer : Addison was then learning the trade of a courtier, and subjoiás ed Montague as a poetical name to those of Cowley and of Dryden.

By the influence of Mr. Montague, concurring, according to Tickell, with }is natural modesty; he wás diverted from his original design of entering into holy orders. Montague alledged 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 with holding Addison from it.

Soon after (in 1695) he wrote a poem to king William, with a rhyming in troduction addressed to lord Sommers. King William had no regard to elegance or literature ; his study was only war; yet by a choice of ministers, whose disposition was very different from his own, he procured, without intention, a very liberal patronage to poetry. Addison was caressed both by Sommers and Montague.

In 1697 appeared his Larin verses on the peace of Ryswick, which he des dicated to Montague, and which was afterwards called by Smith “ the best " Latin poem since the Eneid.” 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 staid 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 be pot 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 subliine, of his poetical productions. But in about two years he found it necessary to hasten home; being, as Swift informs us, distressed by india gence, and compelled to become the tutor of a travelling Squire, because his pension was not remitted.

At his return he published his Travels, with a dedication to lord Sommers. As his stay in forcign countries was short, his observations are such as might be supplied by a hasty view, and consist chiefly in comparisons of the presepi 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.

• Spence.


The most amusing passage of his book is his account of the minute republick of San Maríno ; 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 readers and the book; though a while neglected, became in time so much the favourite of the publick, 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 as, 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.

Bat he remained not tong neglected or useless. The victory at Blenheim (1704) spread triumph and conndence 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 publick 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 further 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 withi 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.

About this time the prevalent taste for Italian operas inclined him to try What would be the effect of a musical Drama in cur own language. Ite therefore wrote the o, era of Rosamond, which, when exhibited on the stage, was either hissed or neglected; but trusting that the readers would do him more justice, he published it, with an inscription to the dutchess of Marlborough; a woman without skill, or pretentions to skill, in poetry, or literature. His dedication was therefore an instance of servile absurdity, to be exceeded only by Joshua Barnes's dedication of a Greek Anacreon to the Duke.

His reputation had been somewhat advanced by The Tender Husband, a comedy which Steele dedicated to him, with a confession that he owed to Vol. I.



him several of the most successful scenes. To this play Addison suppliedz prologue.

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 cffice 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, wiebout regard, or appearance of regard, to right or 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 be 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 topick, his peculiar notions, and his habitual phrases.

If Steele desired to write in secret, he was not lucky ; a single month de.' cecied him. His first Tatler was published April 22 (1709), and Addison's contribution appeared May 26. Tickell observes, that the Tatler began and was concluded without his concurrence. This is doubtless literally true; but the work did not suffer much by his unconsciousness of its commence


ment, or his absence at its cessation ; for he continued his assistance to Dea cember 23, and the paper stopped on January 2. He did not distinguish his pieces by any signature; and I know not whether his name was not kept secret, till the papers were collected into volumes.

To the Tatler, in about two months, succeeded the Spectator ; a series of essays of the same kind, but written with less levity, upon a more regular plan, and published daily. Such an undertaking shewed the writers not to distrust their own copiousness of materials or facility of composition, and their performance justified their confidence. They found, however, in their progressz many auxiliaries. To attempt a single paper was no terrifying labour ; many pieces were offered, and many were received. · 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, shewed the political tenets of its authors'; but a resolution was soon taken, of courting general approbation by general topicks, 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 opinia ons, that it might be read by the Queen *, it was reprinted in the Speca, tator. .

To teach the minuter decencies and inferior duties, to regulate the practice, of daily conversation, to correct those depravities which are rather ridiculous than criminad, 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 connection, certainly deserves praise, for liveliness of description, and justness of observation.

Before the Tatler and Spectator, if the writers for the theatre are excepted, England had no masters of common life. No writers had yet

* This particular number of the Spectator, it is sald, was not published till 12 o'clock, that it might come out preciselv at the hour of her Majesty's breakfast, and that no time might be left for deliberating about servin; it up with that meal, as usval. See edit. of tbTATLER with notes, vol. VI. No. 271, nolle p. 452. &c. N.


undertaken to reform either the savageness of neglect, or the impertinence of civility ; to shew when to speak, or to be silent; how to refuse or how to comply. We had many books to teach us our more important duties, and to settle opinions in philosophy or politicks; but an Arbiier elegantiarum, a judge of propriety, was yet wanting, who should survey the track of daily conversation, and free it from thorns and prựckles, which teaze the passer; though they do not wound him.

For this purpose nothing is so proper as the frequent publication of short papers, which we read not as study but amusement. If the subject be slight, the treatise likewise is short. The busy may find time, and the idle may find patience.

This mode of conveying cheap and casy knowledge began among us in the Civil War*, when it was much the interest of either party to raise and fix the prejudices of the people. At that that time appeared Mercurius Aulicus, Mercurius Rusticos, and Mercurius Civicus. It is said, that when any title grew popular, it was stolen by the antagonist, who by this stratagem 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 Jeft 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.

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 vievs, were agitating the nation ; to minds heated with political contest, they supplied cooler and inore 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 and the gay to unite merriment with decency an effect which they can never wholly lose, while they

[ocr errors]

* Newspapers appear to have had an earlier date than here assigned. Cleiveland, in his Character of a London Diurnal, says, " The original sivner of this kind was Dateh ; Gallo-Belgicus the Procoplas, and the Modern Mercuries but Hans en kelders," Some intelligence given by Diercurius Gallo-Belgicus is mentioned in Carew's Survey of Cornwall, p. 126. originally published in 10%. These vehicles of information are often mentioned in the plays of Jaśncs and Charles the


« PreviousContinue »