« PreviousContinue »
continue to be among the first books by which both sexes are initiated in the elegances 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 Manners of the Age. The personages introduced in these papers were not merely ideal; they were then known, and conspicuous in various stations. Of the Tatler this is told by Steele in his last paper, and of the Spectator by Budgell in the Preface to Theophrastus, a book which Addison has recommended, and which he was suspected to have sevised, if he did not write it. Of those portraits, which may be supposed to be sometimes embellished, and sometimes aggravated, the originals are pow.partly known, and partly forgorten.
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 raught, with great justness of argument and dignity of language, the most. important duties and sublime truths.
All these topicks were happily varied with elegant fictions and refined-allegories, and illuminated with different changes of style and felicities of invention.
It is recorded by Budgell, that of the characters feigned or exhibited in the Spectator, the favourite of Addison was Sir Roger de Coverley, of whom he had formed a very delicate and discriminated idea, which he would not suffer to be violated; and therefore when Steele had shewn him innocently picking up a girl in the Temple, and taking her to a tavern, he drew upon bimself so much of his friend's indignation, that he was forced to appease him by a promise of forbcaring Sir Roger for the time to come.
The reason which induced Cervantes to bring his hero to the grave, pure mi solu nacio Don Quixote, y yo para el, made Addison declare, with an 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
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 scem not so much the effects of a mind deviating from the beaten track of life, by the perpetual pressure of some overa helming idea, as of habitual rusticity, and that negligence which solitary grandeur naturally geperates.
The variable weather of the mind, the Aying 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 exprest, 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 scems 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 * an hospital for idle people ;" but at last he buys land, settles in the country, and builds not a manufactory, but an hospital for twelve old husbandmen, for men with whom a merchant has little acquaintance, and whom he commonly considers with little kindness,
Of essays thus elegant, thus instructive, and thus commodiously distributed, it is natural to suppose the approbation general, and the sale numerous. once heard it observed, that the sale may be caleulated by the product of the tax, related in the last number to produce more than twenty pounds a week, and therefore stated at one and twenty pounds, or three pounds ten shillings a day : this, at a half-penny a paper, will give sixteen hundred and eighty * for the daily number. - This sale is not great ; yet this, if Swist be credited, was likely to grow less; for he declares that the Spectator, whom he ridicules for his endless, mention of the fair sex, had before his recess wearied his readers. - The next year (1713), in which Cato came upon the stage, was the grand, climacterick 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 four first acts finished, which were shewn to such as were likely to spread their admiration. They were seen by Pope, and by Cibber, who relates that Steele, when he tock back the copy, told him, in the despicable cant of literary modesty, that, whatever spirit his friend had shewn 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 shew 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
* That this calculation is not exaggerated, that it is even much below the real aumber, sce the notes on the Tatler, ed. 1786, Vul. VI. p. 452. N.
to add a fifth act. llughes supposed 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 publick by any change of the author's purpose ; for Dennis charged bim 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 tyrani. 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 approbation of publick virtue. Addison was frighted, lest
he should be thought a promoter of insurrection, and the line was liquidated to “ Britons, attend."
Now, “ heavily in clouds came on the day, the great, the important
day," when Addison was to stand the hazard of the theatre. · That there might, however, be left as little hazard as was possible, on the first nighç Steele, as himself relates, undertook to pack an audience. This, says Pope*, had been tried for the first time in favoer of the Distrest Mother; and was now, with more efficacy, practised for Cato:
The danger was soon over. The whole nation was at that time on fire with faction. The Whigs applauded every line in which Liberty was mentioned, as a satire on the Tories; and the Tories echoed every elap, to shew that the satire was unfelt. The story of Bolingbroke is well known, He called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for defending the cause of Liberty so well against a perpetual dictator. The Whigs, saya Pope, design a second present, when they can accompany it with as good a sentence.
The play, supported thus by the emulation of factious praise, was acted: night after night a longer time than, I believe, the publick had allowed to any drama before ; and the author, as Mrs. Porter long afterwards related, wandered through the whole exhibition behind the scenes with restless and unappeasable solicitude.
When it was printed, notice was given that the Queen would be pleased if it was dedicated to her; “ but, as he had designed that compliment
« elsewhere, he found himself obliged,” says Tickell, “ by his duty on the “ one hand, and his honour on the other, to send it into the world without
Human happiness has always its abatements; the brightest sun-shine of success is not without a cloud. No sooner was Cato offered to the reader, than it was attacked by the acute malignity of Dennis, with all the violence
angry criticism. Dennis, though equally zealous, and probably by his temper more furious than Addison, for what they call liberty, and though a flatterer of the Whig ministry, could not sit quiet at a successful play, but was eager to tell friends and enemies that they had misplaced their admirations. The world was too stubborn for instruction; with the fate of the censurer of Corneille's Cid, his animadversions shewed his anger without effect, and Cato continued to be praised.
Pope had now an opportunity of courting the friendship of Addison, by vilifying his old enemy, and could give resentment its full play without appearing to revenge himself. He therefore published A Narrative of the madness of John Dennis ; a performance which left the objections to the play in their full force, and therefore discovered more desire of vexing the critick.. than of defending the poet.
Addison, who was no stranger to the world, probably saw the selfishness of Pope's friendship; and, resolving that he should have the consequences of his officiousness to himself, informed Dennis by Steele, that he was sorry for the insult ; and that, whenever he should think fit to answer his remarks, he would do it in a manner to which nothing could be ubjected.
The greatest weakness of the play is in the scenes of love, which are said by Pope * to have been added to the original plan upon a subsequent review, in compliance with the popular practice of the stage. Such an au-, thority it is hard to reject ; yet the love is so intimately mingled with the wrote action, that it cannot easily be thought extrinsick and adventitious; for if it were taken away, what would be left? or how were the four acts filled in the first draught?
At the publication the Wits seemed proud to pay their attendance with encomiastick verses. The best are from an unknown hand, which will perMaps lose somewhat of their praise when the author is known to be Jeffseys.
Cato had yet other honours. It was censured as a party-play by a Scholar of Oxford, and defended in a favourable examination by Dr. Sewel. It was translated by Salvini into Italian, and acted at Florence ; and by the Jesuits of St. Omer's into Latin, and played by their pupils. Of this version a copy was sent to Mr. Addison : it is to be wished that it could be found, for the sake of comparing their version of the soliloquy with that of Bland. "Sperce.
À tragedy was irritten on the same subject by Des Champs, a French poet, #hich was translated, with a criticism on the English play. But the translator and the critick are now forgotten.
Dennis lived on unanswered, and therefore little read; Addison knew the policy of literature too well to make his enemy important by drawing the attention of the public upon a criticism, which, though sometimes intempeTate, was often irrefragable.
While Cato was upon the stage, another daily paper, called The Guardian, was published by Steele. To this, Addison gave great assistance, whether occasionally or by previous engagement is not known.
The character of Guardian was too narrow and too serious: it might properly enough admit both the duties and the decencies of life, but seemed hot to include literary speculations, and was in some degree violated by merriment and burlesque. What had the Guardian of the Lizards to do with clubs of tall or of little men, with nests of ants, or with Strada's prolusions ?
Of this paper nothing is necessary to be said, but that it found inany contributors, and that it was a continuation of the Spectator, with the same elegance, and'the same variety, till some unlucky spai kle from a Tory paper set Steele's politicks on fire, and wit at once blazed into faction. He was soon too hot for neutral topicks, and quitted the Guardian to write the Englishman.
The papers of Addison are marked in the Spectator by one of the Letters in the name of Clio, and in the Guardian by a hand; whether it was, as Tickell pretends to think, that he was unwilling to usurp the praise of others, or as Steele, with far greater likelihood, insinuates, that he could not without discontent impart to others any of his own. I have heard that his avidity did not satisfy itself with the air of renown, but that with great ea-' gerhess he laid hold on his proportion of the profits.
Many of these papers were written with powers truly comick, with nice discrimination of characters, and accusare observations of natural or accidental deviations from propriety ; but it was not supposed that he had tried a comedy on the stage, till Steele, after his death, declared him the author of the Drummer ; this however Steele did not know to be true by any direct testimony; for when Addison put the play into his hands, he only told him, it was the work of a - Gentleman in the Company;" and when it was received, as is confessed, with cold disapprobation, he was probably less willing to claim it. Tickell omitted it in his collection ; but the testimony of Steele, and the total silence of any other claimant, has determined the public to assign it to Addison, and it is now printed with his other poetry. Steele carried the Drummer to the play-house and afterwards to the press, and sold the copy for fifty guineas. Vol. I Q.9