« PreviousContinue »
It is not a little extraordinary, that the contemporaries of this illustrious writer should have left so few anecdotes of his private life and manners; and still more singular, that the person with whom he was most intimate, and to whom he entrusted the publication of his works, should relate no circumstance of his friend more remarkable than this, that “ his pulse was very irregular."
The industry, however, of succeeding biographers has, in a great measure, made up for this negligence, and the life of Addison has been detailed with considerable minuteness, and several anecdotes have been brought forward by various writers, at different times, which enable us to determine that he was equally excellent as a man and a writer.
His father was Dr. Lancelot Addison, rector of Milston, near Amesbury, in Wiltshire, and dean of Lichfield. He had been chaplain to the English garrison at Tangier, and on his return to England, he published two very curious and entertaining books, one “ An Account of West Barbary; or a short Narrative of the Revolutions of the Kingdonis of Fez and Morocco, with an Account of the present Customs, sacred, civil, and
domestick," 8vo, 1671. The other entituled, “The present State of the Jews (more particularly relating to those in Barbary) wherein is contained an exact account of their customs, secular and religious; to which is annexed a summary discourse on the Misna, Talmud, and Gemara." 8vo, 1675.
· The son was born at Milston in 1672; and Dr. Johnson relates, that at his birth he appeared so weak and unlikely to live, that he was christened the same day. Mr. Tyers adds to this, that he was actually laid out for dead, as soon as he was born. His early education he received at the free grammar school of Lichfield, and while there, having committed some slight fault, his fear of being corrected was so great, that he ran away into the fields, where he lived upon fruits, and took up his lodging in a hollow tree; till, upon the publication of a reward, to whoever should find him, he was discovered and restored to his pa. rents. From this school he was removed to the Charter-House, where he contracted a close intimacy with Steele, which lasted during life. In 1687 Addison went to Oxford, and was matriculated of Queen's College; but, at the age of seventeen, he obtained a demy's place at Magdalen. His improvements in this venerable seat of the muses were highly honourable to his genius and application. Several elegant productions of his pen appeared in the Musæ Anglicanæ, by which his future eminence might well be
2 A 2
augured. augured. In his twenty-second year he addressed a copy of verses to Dryden, who took great notice of the author. Mr. Addison also supplied that veteran poet with the arguments for the several books of his translation of Virgil, and the Essay on the Georgicks. His conduct at the university was agreeable to that by which he was ever afterwards distinguished, and his abilities were only exceeded by his modesty.
It is said indeed, that he contracted some debts there ; but it is also added, that at his return from his travels he very punctually discharged them all. .
It was his father's intention that he should enter into orders, and the design seems to have been perfectly agreeable to his own disposition, for thus he writes to a friend :
I've done at length, and now dear friend, receive
This plan, however, was overruled by the persuasions of Mr. Montague, who thought him, perhaps injudiciously, better adapted for the sphere of politicks, and the circle of a court. Let this be as it may, his advice prevailed, and his interest procured for Addison a pension of three hundred pounds a year, to enable him to make the grand tour. This was in 1699; and after