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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
which is a cloak that hides and muffles merit ;” 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 be wanted current coin for really payment, and by that want was oftert obstructed and distressed ; that he was ofren 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 in lament his obstinacy of silence: “ for he was," says Steele, “ above all men in that talent called humour, “and enjoyed it in such perfection, tliat 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 lumour 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 I have “ found in any other man. But this was only when familiar: before stran
gers, or perhaps a single stranger, he preserved his dignity by a stiff 4 silence."
This modesty was by no means inconsistent with a very high opinion of his own merit. He deman.led to be the first name in modern wit; and with Steele to echoe him, used to depreciate Dryden, whom Pópe and Congreve defended against them t. There is no reason to doubt that he suffered too much pain from the prevalence of Pope's poetical reputation ; nor is it withcut strong reason suspected, that by some disingenuous acts he endeavoured to obstruct it ; Pope was not the only man whom he insiduously injured, though the only man of whom he could be afraid.
+ Tonson and Spence.
Ilis own powers were such as might have satisfied him with conscious exs ellence. Of very extensive learning he has indeed given 10 proofs. He Seems to have had small acquaintance with the sciences, and to have read little except Latin and French; but of the Litin poets his Dialogues on MeBals 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 critical 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 communicate. “This,” says Steele,“ was
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 * 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 wbat he dicta
Pope *, who can be kiss suspected of favouring his memory, declares that he wrote very fluently, but was slow and scrupulcus 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. “He would alter,” says Pope," any thing to please his friends, before publication; but would not retouch his pieces afterwards : and I believe not
word in Cato, to which I made an objection, tras 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 it, 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 Brért. With one or other of these lie alu ays breaklasted.
He studied all morning ; 'then dined at a tavern ; and went att«rwards to Button's.
Button had been a servant in the countess of Warwick's family, who, una der the patronage of Addison, kept a coffee-house on the south side of Russelstreet, about two doors from Covent-garden. Here it was that the wits
of that time used to assemble. It is said, when Addison had suffered any rex ation froin 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 froin 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 act 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 yet 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:ling 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 than crimes.
If any judgment be made, from his books, of his moral character, nothing will be found but purity and excellente. Knowledge of mankind indeed, less extensive than that of Addison, will shew, that to write, and to
live, are very 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 no great variance, since, amidst that storm of faction in which most 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 easiness 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 a!1 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 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.
Yet, if he seldom recches supreme excellence, he rarely sinks into dulle ness, and is still more rarely entangled in absurdity. He did not trust his powers enough to be nepligent. There is in most of his compositions a calmness and equability, deliberate and cautious, sometimes with little that delights, but seldom with any thing that offends.
Of this kind seem to be his poems to Dryden, to Sommers, and to the King. His ode on St. Cecilia has been imitated by Pope, and has something in it of Dryden's vigour. Of his Account of the English Poets, he used to speak as a poor thing*;" but it is not worse than his usual strain. He Las said, not very judiciously, in his character of Waller,
Thy verse could stew ev'n Cromwell's innocence,
How had his triumph glitter'd in thy page ! What is this but to say, that he who could compliment Cromwell had been the proper poet for king William ? Addison, however, never printed the piece.
The Letter from Italy has been always praised, but has never been piaised beyond its merit. It is more correct, with less appearance of labour, and more elegant, with less ambition of ornament, than any other of his poems. There is, however, 'one broken metaphor, of which notice may properly be taken:
Fir'd with that name
That longs to launch into a nobler strain. To bridle a goridess is no very delicate idca ; but why must she be bridled ? because she longs to launch ; an act which was never hindered by a bridle : and whither will she launch? into a nobler strain. She is in the first line a horse, in the second a boat; and the care of the poet is to keep his horse or his boat from singing,
The next composition is the far-famed Campaign, which Dr. Warton has termed a “ Gazette in Rhyme," with harshness not often used by the goodnature of his criticism. Before a censure so severe is admitted, let us consider that War is a frequent subject of Poetry, and then enquire who has çescribed it with more justress and force. Many of our own writers triet their powers upon this year of victory: yet Addison's is consessedly the best performance; his poem is the work of a man not blinded by the dust of learning; his images are not borrowed- merely from books. The superiority which he confers upon his hero is not personal prowess, and " mighty bone," * Spence.