« PreviousContinue »
contemporaries, I begin to feel myself " walking upon ashes under which " the fire is not extinguished," and coming to the time of which it will be proper rather to say “ nothing that is false, than all that is true.”
The end of this useful life was now approaching.--Addison had for some time been oppressed by shortness of breath, which was now aggravated by a dropsy; and, finding his danger pressing, he prepared to die conformably to his own precepts and professions.
During this lingering decay, he sent, as Pope relates *, a message by the earl of Warwick to Mr. Gay, desiring to see him. Gay, who had not visited him for some time before, obeyed the summons, and found himself received with great kindness. The purpose for which the interview had been solicited was then discovered. Addison told him that he had injured him ; but that, if he recovered, he would recompence him. What the ins jury was he did not explain; nor did Gay ever know; but supposed that some preferment designed for him had, by Addison's intervention, been with-held.
Lord Warwick was a young man of very irrregular life, and perhaps of loose opinions. Addison, for whom he did not want respect, had very diligently endeavoured to reclaim him; but his arguments and expostulations had no effect. One experiment, however, remained to be tried: when he found his life near its end, be directed the young lord to be called ; and when he desired, with great tenderness, to hear his last injunctions, told him, “I have sent for you that you may see how a Christian can die." What effect this awful scene had on the earl, I know not ; he likewise died himself in a short time.
In Tickell's excellent Elegy on his friend are these lines :
He taught us how to live ; and, oh! too high
In which he alludes, as he told Dr. Young, to this moving interview.
Having given directions to Mr. Tickell for the publication of bis works, and dedicated them on his death-bed to his friend Mr. Craggs, he died June 17, 1719, at Holland-house, leaving no child but a daughter.
Of his virtue it is a sufficient testimony, that the resentment of party has transmitted no charge of any crime. He was not one of those who are praised only after death; for his merit was so generally acknowledged, that Swift, having observed that his election passed without a contest, adds, that, if he proposed himself for king, he would hardly have been refused.
His zeal for his party did not extinguish his kindness for the merit of his opponents : when he was secretary in Ireland, he refused to intermit his acquaintance with Swift. * Spence.
Of his habits, or external manners, nothing is so often mentioned as that timorous or sullen taciturnity, which his friends called modesty by too mild a name. Steele mentions with great tenderness “ that remarkable bashful
ness, which is a cloak that hides and muffles metit ;' and tells us, that « his abilities were covered only by modesty, which doubles the beauties “ which are seen, and gives credit and esteem to all that are concealed.” Chesterfield affirms, that “ Addison was the most timorous and aukward
man that he ever saw.” And Addison, speaking of his own deficiency in conversation, used to say of himself, that, with respect to intellectual wealth, “ he could draw bills for a thousand pounds, though he had not a “ guinea in his pocket.”
That he wanted current coin for ready payment, and by that want was often obstructed and distressed ; that he was often oppressed by an improper and ungrateful timidity ; every testimony concurs to prove: but Chesterfield's representation is doubtless hyperbolical. That man cannot be supposed very unexpert in the arts of conversation and practice of life, who without fortune or alliance, by his usefulness and dexterity, became secretary of state ; and who died at forty-seven, after having not only stood long in the highest rank of wit and literature, but filled one of the most important offices of state.
The time in which he lived had reason to lament hiş obstinacy of silence ; “ for he was," says Steele, “ above all men in that talent called humour, to and enjoyed it in such perfection, that I have often reflected, after a “ night spent with him apart from all the world, that I had had the plea“ sure of conversing with an intimate acquaintance of Terence and Catullus, " who had all their wit and nature, heightened with humour more exqui“ site and delightful than any other man ever possessed." This is the fondness of a friend; let us hear what is told us by a rival. “Addison's conversa« tion *,” says Pope,“ had something in it more charming than 1 have so found in any other man. But this was only when fainiliar: before stran
gers, or perhaps a single stranger, he preserved his dignity by a stiff « silence."
This modesty was by no means inconsistent with a very high opinion of his own merit. He demanded to be the first name in modern wit; and with Steele to echoe him, used to depreciate Dryden, whom Pope and Congreve defended against them +. There is no reason to doubt that he suffered too much pain from the prevalence of Pope's poetical reputation ; nor is it without strong reason suspected, that by some disingenuous acts he endeavoured to obstruct it ; Pope tas not the only man whom he insiduously injured, though the only man of whom he could be afraid.
iť Tonson and Spence.
His own powers were such as might have satisfied him with conscioủs excellence. Of very extensive learning he has indeed given no proofs. He seems to have had small acquaintance with the sciences, and to have read little except Latin and French; but of the Latin poets his Dialogues on Medals shew that he had perused the works with great diligence and skill. The abundance of his own mind left him little indeed of adventitious sentiments; his wit always could suggest what the occasion demanded. He had read with eritical eyes the important volume of human life, and knew the heart of man from the depths of stratagem to the surface of affectation.
What he knew he could easily communicare.“ This," says Steele, was íc particular in this writer, that, when he had taken his resolution, or made « his plan for what he designed to write, he would walk about a room, and es dictate it into language with as much freedom and ease as any one could « write it down, and attend to the coherence and grammar of what he dicta
Pope #, who can be less suspected of favouring his memory, declares that he wrote very fluently, but was slow and scrupulous in correcting; that many of his Spectators were written very fast, and sent immediately to the press; and that it seemed to be for his advantage not to have time for much revisal.
65. He would alter," says Pope; " any thing to please his friends, before ** publication; but would not retouch his pieces afterwards : and I believe not
one word in Cato, to which I made an objection, was suffered to stand." The last line of Cato is Pope's, having been originally written
And oh! 'twas this that ended Cato's life.
Pope might have made more objections to the six concluding lines. In the first couplet the words “ from hence" are improper; and the second line is taken from Dryden's Virgil. Of the next couplet, the first verse, being included in the second, is therefore useless, and in the third Discord is made to produce Strife.
Of the course of Addison's familiar day *, before his marriage, Pope has given a detail. He had in the house with him Budgell, and perhaps Philips. His chief companions were Steele, Budgell, Philips, Carey, Davenant, and colonel Brett. With one or other of these he always breakfasted. Hestudied all morning ; then dined at a tavern ; and went afterwards to Button's. · Button had been a servant in the countess of Warwick's family, who, under the patronage of Addison, kept a coffee-bouse on tbe south side of RusselStreet, about two doors from Covent-garden. Here it was that the wiss
of that time used to assemble. It is said, when Addison had suffered any vexation from the countess, he withdrew the company from Button's house.
From the coffee-house he went again to a tavern, where he often sat late, and drank too much wine. In the bottle, discontent seeks for comfort, cowardice for courage, and bashfulness for confidence. It is not unlikely that Addison was first seduced to excess by the manumission which he obtained from the servile timidity of his sober hours. He that feels oppression from the presence of those to whom he knows himself superior, will desire to set loose his powers of conversation ; and who, that ever asked succours from Bacchus, was able to preserve himself from being enslaved by his auxiliaries?
Among those friends it was that Addison displayed the elegance of his colloquial accomplishments, which may easily be supposed such as Pope represents them. The remark of Mandeville, who, when he had passed an evening in his company, declared that he was a parson in a tye-wig, can detract little from his character ; he was always reserved to strangers, and was not incited to uncommon freedom by a character like that of Mandeville.
From any minute knowledge of his familiar manners, the intervention of sixty years has now debarred us. Steele once promised Congreve and the publick a complete description of his character ; but the promises of authors are like the vows of lovers. Steele thought no more on his design, or thought on it with anxiety that at last disgusted him, and left his friend in the hands of Tickell.
One slight lineament of his character Swift has preserved. It was his practice, when he found any man invincibly wrong, to flatter his opinions by acquiescence, and sink him yer deeper in absurdity. This artifice of mischief was admired by Stella ; and Swift seems to approve her admiration.
His works will supply some information. It appears from his various pictures of the world, that, with all his bashfulness, he had conversed with many distinct classes of men, had surveyed their ways with very diligent observation, and marked with great acuteness the effects of different modes of life. He was a man in whose presence nothing reprehensible was out of danger; quick in discerning whatever was wrong or ridiculous, and not unwil ding to expose it. “ There are," says Steele, “ in his writings, many ob" lique strokes upon some of the wittiest men of the age.". His delight was more to excite merriment than detestation ; and he detects follies rather shan crimes.
If any judgment be made, from his books, of his moral character, nothing will be found but purity and excellence. Knowledge of mankind indeed, less extensive than that of Addison, will shew, that to write, and to
live, live, are yery different. Many who praise virtue, do no more than praise it. 'Yet it is reasonable to believe that Addison's professions and practice were at nó great variance, since, amidst that storm of faction in which inost of his life was passed, though his station made him conspicuous, and his activity made him formidable, the character given him by his friends was never contradicted by his enemies : of those with whom interest or opinion united him, he had not only the esteem, but the kindness ; and of others, whom the violence of opposition drove against him, though he might lose the love, he retained the reverence.
It is justly observed by Tickell, that he employed wit on the side of virtue and religion. He not only made the proper use of wit himself, but taught it to others; and from his time it has been generally subservient to the cause of reason and of truth. He has dissipated the prejudice that had long connected gaiety with vice, and casiness of manners with laxity of principles. He has restored virtue to its dignity, and taught innocence not to be ashamed. This is an elevation of literary character, “ above all Greek, above all Ro
man fame." No greater felicity can genius attain than that of having purified intellectual pleasure, separated mirth from indecency, and wit from licentiousness; of having taught a succession of writers to bring elegance and gaiety to the aid of goodness; and, if I may use expressions yet more awful, of having “ turned many to righteousness.”
ADDISON, in his life, and for some time afterwards, was considered by the greater part of readers as supremely excelling both in poetry and criticism. Part of his reputation may be probably ascribed to the advancement of his fortune ; when, as Swift observes, he became a statesman, and saw poets waiting at his levee, it was no wonder that praise was accumulated upon him. Much likewise may be more honourably ascribed to his personal character : he who, if he had claimed it, might have obtained the diadem, was not likely to be denied the laurel.
But time quickly puts an end to artificial and accidental fame ; and Addison is to pass through futurity protected only by his genius. Every name which kindness or interest once raised too high is in danger, lest the next age should, by the vengeance of criticism, sink it in the same proportion. A great writer has lately styled him “ an indifferent poet, and a worse critick."
His poetry is first to be considered; of which it must be confessed that it has not often those felicities of diction which give lustre to sentiments, or that vigour of sentiment that animates diction : there is little of ardour, vehemence, or transport; there is very rarely the awfulness of grandeur, and not very often the splendour of elegance. He thinks justly ; but he thinks faintly. This is his general character ; to which, doubtless, many single passages will furnish exceptions. Rr 2