Page images
PDF
EPUB

to the people to rise in rebellion, and therefore he earnestly entreated Pope to alter it, which he did to “ Britons attend."

At the time of the first representation of Cato, we are informed by Dr. Johnson, that Addison wandered through the whole exhibition, behind the scenes, with restless and unappeasable solicitude. This is confirmed by the following letter from Pope to Sir William Trumbull, dated August 30, 1713-

As for poetical affairs, I am content at present to be a bare looker-on, and from a practitioner, turn an admirer, which is (as the world goes) not very usual. Cato was not so much the wonder of Rome in his days, as he is of Britain in ours; and though all the foolish industry possible has been used to make it thought a party play, yet what the author once said of another, may the most properly in the world be applied to him on this occasion

Envy itself is dumb, in wonder lost, And factions strive who shall applaud him most.” “ The numerous and violent claps of the whig party on the one side of the theatre, were echoed back by the tories on the other; while the author sweated behind the scenes with concern, to find their applause proceeding more from the hand than the head. This was the case too of the author of the prologue, who was clapped into a stanch whig, at almost every two lines. I believe you have heard, that after all the applauses of the opposite faction, my Lord Bolingbroke sent for Booth, who played Cato, into the box, between one of the acts, and presented him with fifty guineas, in acknowledgment, (as he expressed it) for defending the cause of liberty so well against a perpetual dictator. The whigs are unwilling to be distanced this way, and therefore design a present to the same Cato, yery speedily; in the mean time they are getting ready as good a sentence as the former, on their side; so betwixt them

[ocr errors]

it is probable, that Cato (as Dr. Garth exprest it) may have something to live upon after he dies.”

It was thought some passages in the play glanced at the tory party then in administration, who very wisely avoided the effect of the application, by affecting to applaud the whole piece as much as their whig opponents, and thus the play went off between them with universal approbation.

It is related on respectable authority, that Cato was finished and performed by the persuasion of Mr. John Hughes, author of the Siege of Damascus. Hughes had read the four acts which were finished and thought it would be of service to the public to have it represented at the end of Queen Anne's reign, when the old English spirit of liberty was thought to be in danger. He endeavoured to bring Mr. Addison into his opinion, which he did, so far as to obtain his consent, that it should be played, if Mr. Hughes would write the last act: and he offered him the scenery for his assistance, excusing his not finishing it himself, on account of his many avocations. Addi. son pressed Mr. Hughes to do it so earnestly that he was prevailed upon, and actually set about it. But, a week after, Mr. Hughes, seeing Mr. Addison again, with an intention of communicating to hiin what he had thought of it, was agreeably · surprised at his producing some papers, wherein nearly half the act was written by the author himself, who, it is said, took fire at the hint that it would be serviceable, and upon a second reflection

went

went through with the fifth act; not that he was diffident of Mr. Hughes's ability, but knowing that no man could have so perfect an idea of his design as himself, who had been so long and so carefully thinking of it. “I was told this,” says Mr. Maynwaring, “ by Mr. Hughes, and I tell it to shew that it was not for the love scenes, that Mr. Addison consented to have his tragedy acted, but to support the old Roman and English pube lic spirit among his countrymen."*

Queen Anne was so well pleased with this tragedy, that she signified a wish of having it dedicated to her. Addison, however, had intended otherwise, and therefore it was sent from the press without any dedication, whereby, says Tickell, the author neither forfeited his duty nor his honour.

Upon the death of her majesty, the lords of the Regency appointed Mr. Addisson their secretary. His friend, on this occasion, was Lord Halifax, who informed him, that as he expected the white staff, he intended to recommend him to his majesty to be one of the secretaries of state. Mr. Addison replied, that he had not so high an aim, and desired him to remember that he was not a speaker in the House of Commons. Lord Halifax briskly replied, “ Come, prythee, Addison, no unseasonable modesty. I made thee secretary to the regency with this very view. Thou hast now the best right of any man in England to be secretary of state ; nay; it will be a sort of

[ocr errors]

* Arthur Maynwaring, Esq. author of “ The Medley,” &c.

displacing

displacing thee not to make thee so. If thou couldest but get over that silly sheepishness of thine that makes thee sit in the house, and hear a fellow prate for half an hour together, who bas not a tenth part of thy good sense, I should be glad to see it ; but since I believe that is impossible, we must contrive as well as we can. Thy pen hath already been an honour to thy country, and I dare say will be a credit to thy king.” .

This post, however, he at that time did decline, and accepted a second time that of secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who was the Earl of Sunderland, and the noble generosity and independence of Addison's disposition appeared very remarkable on this occasion. Party spirit never ran higher than at this time, insomuch that it was deemed heresy to be seen in company with men who were opposed to the adıninistration. When the Earl of Sunderland, who was well acquainted with Addison's friendship for Dean Swift, communicated to him the information of this appointment, he said to him, “There are some people in Ireland, who are not agreeable to me, with whom I hope you will not converse when you go thither.” Addison, who knew whom his Lordship meant, replied, “ He was much obliged for the honour intended him, but that he could not comply with his lordship's request, as he would not sacrifice his friendship for Dr. Swift to be made chief-governor of that kingdom." In 1715, he published the Freeholder, which is a kind of political Spectator, and was a very seasonable and serviceable paper at that critical period. The year following, he married the Countess Dowager of Warwick, after a very long courte ship, which did not, by any means terminate to his comfort. Addison had been tutor to her son, and two of his letters to his lordship, are too amusing to be omitted here. They were written when the earl was very young :

“ My dear Lord, “I have employed the whole neighbourhood in looking after bird's nests, and not altogether without success. My man found one last night; but it proved a hen's with fifteen eggs in it, covered with an old broody duck, which may satisfy your lordship’s curiosity a little, though I am afraid the eggs will be of little use to us. This morning I have news brought me of a nest that has abundance of little eggs, streaked with red and blue veins, that, by the description they give me, must make a very beautiful figure on a string. My neighbours are very much divided in their opinion upon them : Some say they are a sky-lark's, others will have them to be a canarybird's; but I am much mistaken in the turn and colour of the eggs, if they are not full of tom-tits. If your lordship does not make haste, I am afraid they will be birds before you see them; for, if the account they gave me of them be true, they can't have above two days more to reckon.

“ Since I am so near your lordship, methinks, after having passed the day among more severe studies, you may often take a trip hither, and relax yourself with these little curiosities of nature. I assure you, no less a man than Cicero commends the two great friends of his age, Scipio and Lælius, for entertaining themselves at their country houses, which stood on the sea-shore, with picking up cockle-shells, and looking after birds'-nests. For which reason I shall conclude

Зв

this

« PreviousContinue »