Obrázky stránek
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

WHEN Richard Steele, in number 555 of his Spectator, signed its last paper and named those who had most helped him to keep up the spirit of so long and approved a performance,' he gave chief honour to one who had on his page, as in his heart, no name but Friend. This was the gentleman of whose assistance I formerly boasted in the Preface 'and concluding Leaf of my Tatlers.) I am indeed much more proud of his long-continued Friendship, than I should be of the fame of being thought the author of any writings which he himself is capable of producing. I remember when I finished the Tender ' Husband, I told him there was nothing I so ardently wished, as that we might some time or other publish a work, written by us both, which should bear the name of THE

MONUMENT, in Memory of our Friendship.' Why he refers to such a wish, his next words show. The seven volumes of the Spectator, then complete, were to his mind The Monument, and of the Friendship it commemorates he wrote, “I heartily wish what I ' have done here were as honorary to that sacred name as learning, wit, and humanity render those pieces which I have taught the reader how to distinguish for his.' So wrote teele; and the Spectator will bear witness how religiously his friendship was returned. n number 453, when, paraphrasing David's Hymn on Gratitude, the “rising soul' of Addison surveyed the mercies of his God, was it not Steele whom he felt near to him at he Mercy-seat as he wrote

Thy bounteous hand with worldly bliss

Has made my cup run o'er,
And in a kind and faithful Friend

Has doubled all my store? The Spectator, Steele-and-Addison's Spectator, is a monument. befitting the most memoi uble friendship in our history. Steele was its projector, founder, editor, and he was writer of that part of it which took the widest grasp upon the hearts of men. His sympathies were with all England. Defoe and he, with eyes upon the future, were the truest leaders of their time. It was the firm hand of his friend Steele that helped Addison up to the place in literature which became him. It was Steele who caused the nice critical taste which Addison might have spent only in accordance with the fleeting fashions of his time, to be inspired with all Addison's religious earnestness, and to be enlivened with the free play of that sportive humour, delicately whimsical and gaily wise, which mnade his conversation the delight of the few men with whom he sat at ease.

It was Steele who drew his friend towards the days to come, and made his gifts the wealth of a na hole people. Steele said in one of the later numbers of his Spectator, No. 532, to which he prefixed a motto that assigned to himself only the part of whetstone to the wit of others, “I claim to myself the merit of having extorted excellent productions from a

person of the greatest abilities, who would not have let them appear by any other means." There were those who argued that he was too careless of his own fame in unselfish labour for the exaltation of his friend, and, no doubt, his rare generosity of temper has been often misinterpreted. But for that Addison is not answerable. And why should Steele have defined his own merits? He knew his countrymen, and was in too genuine accord with the spirit of a time then distant but now come, to doubt that, when he was dead, his whole life's work would speak truth for him to posterity.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

[The friendship of which this work is the monument remained unbroken from boyhood until death. Addison and Steele were schoolboys together at the Charterhouse. Addison was a dean's son, and a private boarder; Steele, fatherless, and a boy on the foundation. They were of like age. The register of Steele's baptism, corroborated by the entry made on his admission to the Charterhouse (which also implies that he was baptized on the day of his birth) is March 12, 1671, Old Style ; New Style, 1672. Addison was born on May-day, 1672. Thus there was a difference of only seven weeks.

Steele's father according to the register, also named Richard, was an attorney in Dublin.' Steele seems to draw from experience-although he is not writing as of himself or bound to any truth of personal detail—when in No. 181 of the Tatler he speaks of his father as having died when he was not quite five years of age, and of his mother as 'a very beautiful woman, of a noble spirit.' The first Duke of Ormond is referred to by Steele in his Dedication to the Lying Lover as the patron of his infancy; and it was by this nobleman that a place was found for him, when in his thirteenth year, among the foundation boys at the Charterhouse, where he first met with Joseph Addison. Addison, who was at school at Lichfield in 1683-4-5, went to the Charterhouse in 1686, and left in 1687, when he was entered of Queen's College, Oxford. Steele went to Oxford two years later, matriculating at Christ Church, March 13, 1689-90, the year in which Addison was elected a Demy of Magdalene. A letter of introduction from Steele, dated April 2, 1711, refers to the administration of the will of 'my uncle Gascoigne, to

whose bounty I owe a liberal education. This only representative of the family ties into which Steele was born, an uncle' whose surname is not that of Steele's mother before marriage, appears, therefore, to have died just before or at the time when th

Spectator undertook to publish a sheetful of thoughts every morning, and-Addison here speaking for him-looked forward to ‘leaving his country, when he was summoned out of it; with

the secret satisfaction of thinking that he had not lived in vain.' To Steele's warm heart Addison's friendship stood for all home blessings he had missed. The sister's playful grace, the brother's love, the mother's sympathy and simple faith in God, the father's guidance, where were these for Steele, if not in his friend Addison ? ]

Addison's father was a dean ; his mother was the sister of a bishop ;- and his ambition as a schoolboy, or his father's ambition for him, was only that he should be one day a prosperous and pious dignitary of the Church. But there was in him, as in Steele, the genius which shaped their lives to its own uses, and made them both what they are to us now. Joseph Addison was born into a home which the steadfast labour of his father, Lancelot, had made prosperous and happy. Lancelot Addison had earned success. His father, Joseph's grandfather, had been also a clergyman, but he was one of those Westmoreland lergy of whose simplicity and poverty many a joke has been made. Lancelot got his education as a poor child in the Appleby Grammar School ; but he made his own way when at College ; was too avowed a Royalist to satisfy the Commonwealth, and got, for his zeal, at the Restoration, small reward in a chaplaincy to the garrison at Dunkirk. This was changed, for the worse, to a position of the same sort at Tangier, where he remained eight years. He lost that office by misadventure, and would have been left destitute if Mr. Joseph Williamson had not given him a living of £120 a-year at Milston in Wiltshire. Upon this Lancelot Addison married Jane Gulstone, who was the daughter of a Doctor of Divinity, and whose brother became Bishop of Bristol. In the little Wiltshire parsonage Joseph Addison and his younger brothers and sisters were born. The essayist was named Joseph after his father's patron, afterwards Sir Joseph Williamson, a friend high in office. While the children grew, the father worked. He showed his ability and loyalty in books on West Barbary, and Mahomet, and the State of the Jews ; and he became one of the King's chaplains in ordinary at a time when his patron Joseph Williamson was Secretary of State. Joseph Addison was then but three years old. Soon afterwards the busy father became Archdeacon of Salisbury, and he was made Dean of Lichfield in 1683, when his boy Joseph had reached the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

· Not counsellor-at-law, or secretary to the Duke of Ormond. This has been ascertained by Mr. W. H. Wills, who is about to publish in All the Year Round some of those results of a long special study, which it is the hope of his friends that he may have health and leisure to mature into a biography, as lasting as the honour due to Richard Steele.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

age of 11.

When Archdeacon of Salisbury, the Rev. Lancelot Addison sent Joseph to school at Salisbury; and when his father became Dean of Lichfield, Joseph was sent to school at Lichfield, as before said, in the years 1683-4-5. And then he was sent as a private pupil to the Charterhouse. The friendship he there formed with Steele was ratified by the approval of the Dean. The desolate boy with the warm heart, bright intellect, and noble aspirations, was carried home by his friend, at holiday times, into the Lichfield Deanery, where, Steele wrote afterwards to Congreve in a Dedication of the Drummer, ‘were things of this nature to be exposed to public view, I could show under the Dean's own hand, in the warmest terms, his blessing on the friendship between his son and me; nor had he a child who did not prefer me in the first place of kindness

and esteem, as their father loved me like one of them.' Addison had two brothers, of whom one traded and became Governor of Fort George in India, and the other became, like himself, a Fellow of Magdalene College, Oxford. Of his three sisters two died young, the other married twice, her first husband being a French refugee minister who became a Prebendary of Westminster. Of this sister of Addison's, Swift said she was a sort of wit, very like him. I was not fond of her.'

In the latter years of the seventeenth century, when Steele and Addison were students at Oxford, most English writers were submissive to the new strength of the critical genius of France. But the English nation had then newly accomplished the great Revolution that secured its liberties, was thinking for itself, and calling forth the energies of writers who spoke for the people and looked to the people for approval and support. A new period was then opening, of popular influence on English literature. They were the young days of the influence now full grown, then slowly getting strength and winning the best minds away from an imported Latin style adapted to the taste of patrons who sought credit for nice critical discrimination. În 1690 Addison had been three years, Steele one year, at Oxford. Boileau was then living, fifty-four years old ; and Western Europe was submissive to his sway as the great monarch of literary criticism. Boileau was still living when Steele published his Tatler, and died in the year of the establishment of the Spectator. Boileau, a true-hearted man, of genius and sense, advanced his countrymen from the nice weighing of words by the Précieuses and the grammarians, and by the French Academy, child of the intercourse between those ladies and gentlemen. He brought ridicule on the inane politeness of a style then in its decrepitude, and bade the writers of his time find models in the Latin writers who, like Virgil and Horace, had brought natural thought and speech to their perfection. In the preceding labour for the rectifying of the language, preference had been giv to French words of Latin origin. French being one of those languages in which Latin is the chief constituent, this was but a fair following of the desire to make it run pure from its source. If the English critics who, in Charles the Second's time, submitted to French law, had seen its spirit, instead of paying blind obedience to the letter, they also would have looked back to the chief source of their language. Finding this to be not Latin but Saxon, they would have sought to give it strength and harmony, by doing then what, in the course of nature, we have learnt again to do, now that the patronage of literature has gone from the cultivated noble who appreciates in much accordance with the fashion of his time, and passed into the holding of the English people. Addison and Steele lived in the transition time between these periods. They were born into one of them and—Steele immediately, Addison through Steele's influence upon him--they were trusty guides into the other. Thus the Spectator is not merely the best example of their skill. It represents also, perhaps best represents, a wholesome Revolution in our Literature. The essential character of English Literature was no more changed than characters of Englishmen were altered by the Declaration of Right which Prince William of Orange had accepted with the English Crown, when Addison had lately ieft and Steele was leaving Charterhouse for Oxford. Yet change there was, and Steele saw to the heart of it, even in his College days.

Oxford, in times not long past, had inclined to faith in divine right of kings. Addison's father, a church dignitary who had been a Royalist during the Civil War, laid stress upon obedience to authority in Church and State. When modern literature was discussed or studied at Oxford there would be the strongest disposition to maintain the

commonly accepted authority of French critics, who were really men of great ability, correcting bad taste in their predecessors, and conciliating scholars by their own devout acceptance of the purest Latin authors as the types of a good style or proper method in the treatment of a subject. Young Addison found nothing new to him in the temper of his University, and was influenced, as in his youth every one must and should be, by the prevalent tone of opinion in cultivated men. But he had, and felt that he had, wit and genius of his own. His sensitive mind was simply and thoroughly religious ; generous in its instincts, and strengthened in its nobler part by close communion with the mind of his friend Steele. May we not think of the two friends together in a College chamber, Addison of slender frame, with features wanting neither in dignity nor in refinement, Steele of robust make, with the radiant 'short face' of the Spectator, by right of which he claimed for that worthy his admission to the Ugly Club. Addison reads Dryden, in praise of whom he wrote his earliest known verse; or reads endeavours of his own, which his friend Steele warmly applauds. They dream together of the future ; Addison sage, but speculative, and Steele practical, if rash. Each is disposed to find God in the ways of life, and both avoid that outward show of irreligion, which, after the recent Civil Wars, remains yet common in the country, as reaction from an ostentatious piety which laid on burdens of restraint ; a natural reaction which had been intensified by the base influence of a profligate King. Addison, bred among the preachers, has a little of the preacher's abstract tone, when talk between the friends draws them at times into direct expression of the sacred sense of life which made them one. Apart also from the mere accidents of his childhood, a speculative turn in Addison is naturally stronger than in Steele. He relishes analysis of thought. Steele came as a boy from the rough world of shame and sorrow ; his great, kindly heart is most open to the realities of life, the state and prospects of his country, direct personal sympathies ; actual wrongs, actual remedies. Addison is sensitive, and has among strangers the reserve of speech and aspect which will pass often for coldness and pride, but is, indeed, the shape taken by modesty in thoughtful men whose instinct it is to speculate and analyze, and who become selfconscious, not through conccit, but because they cannot help turning their speculations also on themselves. Steele wholly comes out of himself as his heart hastens to meet his friend. He lives in his surroundings, and, in friendly intercourse, fixes his whole thought on the worth of his companion. Never abating a jot of his ideal of a true and perfect life, or ceasing to uphold the good because he cannot live to the full height of his own argument, he is too frank to conceal the least or greatest of his own shortcomings. Delight and strength of a friendship like that between Steele and Addison are to be found, as many find them, in the charm and use of a compact where characters differ so much that one lays open as it were a fresh we ld to the other, and each draws from the other aid of forces which the friendship makes his own. But the deep foundations of this friendship were laid in the religious earnestness that was alike in both; and in religious earnestness are laid also the foundations of this book, its Monument.)

Both Addison and Steele wrote verse at College. From each of them we have a poem written at nearly the same age, Addison's in April, 1694, Steele's early in 1695. Addison drew from literature a metrical Account of the Greatest English Poets.' Steele drew from life the grief of England at the death of William's Queen, which happened on the 28th of December, 1694. Addison, writing in that year, and at the age of about 23, for a College friend,

A short account of all the Muse-possest,
That, down from Chaucer's days to Dryden's times

Have spent their noble rage in British rhymes, was so far under the influence of French critical authority, as accepted by most cultivators of polite literature at Oxford and wherever authority was much respected, that from

An Account of the Greatest English Poets' he omitted Shakespeare. Of Chaucer he then knew no better than to say, what might have been said in France, that

-age has rusted what the Poet writ,
Worn out his language, and obscured his wit :
In vain he jests in his unpolish'd strain,
And tries to make his readers laugh in vain.

Old Spenser next, warm'd with poetic rage,
In ancient tales amused a barb'rous age ;
But now the mystic tale, that pleased of yore,

Can charm an understanding age no more. It cost Addison some trouble to break ioose from the critical cobweb of an age of periwigs and patches, that accounted itself understanding,' and the grand epoch of our Elizabethan literature, 'barbarous.' Rymer, one of its critics, had said, that in the neigh‘ing of an horse, or in the growling of a mastiff, there is a meaning, there is as lively 'expression, and, may I say, more humanity than many times in the tragical flights of 'Shakespeare.' Addison, with a genius of his own helped to free movement by the sympathies of Steele, did break through the cobwebs of the critics; but he carried off a little of their web upon his wings. We see it when in the Spectator he meets the prejudices of an

understanding age,' and partly satisfies his own, by finding reason for his admiration of Chevy Chase and the Babes in the Wood, in their great similarity to works of Virgil. We see it also in some of the criticisms which accompany his admirable working out of the resolve to justify his true natural admiration of the poetry of Milton, 'by showing that Paradise Lost was planned after the manner of the ancients, and supreme even in its obedience to the laws of Aristotle. In his Spectator papers on Imagination he but half escapes from the conventions of his time, which detested the wildness of a mountain pass, thought Salisbury Plain one of the finest prospects in England, planned parks with circles and straight lines of trees, despised our old cathedrals for their 'Gothic' art, and saw perfection in the Roman architecture, and the round dome of St. Paul's. Yet in these and all such papers of his we find that Addison had broken through the weaker prejudices of the day, opposing them with sound natural thought of his own. Among cultivated readers, lesser moulders of opinion, there can be no doubt that his genius was only the more serviceable in amendment of the tastes of his own time, for friendly understanding and a partial sharing of ideas for which it gave itself no little credit.]

It is noticeable, however, that in his Account of the Greatest English Poets, young Addison gave a fifth part of the piece to expression of the admiration he felt even then for Milton. That his appreciation became critical, and, although limited, based on a sense of poetry which brought him near to Milton, Addison proved in the Spectator by his eighteen Saturday papers upon Paradise Lost. But it was from the religious side that he first entered into the perception of its grandeur. His sympathy with its high purpose caused him to praise, in the same pages that commended Paradise Lost to his countrymen, another epic,' Blackmore's Creation, a dull metrical treatise against atheism, as a work which deserved to be looked upon as one of the most useful and 'noble productions of our English verse. The reader,' he added, of a piece which shared certainly with Salisbury Plain the charms of flatness and extent of space, 'the reader cannot but be pleased to find the depths of philosophy enlivened with all the charms of 'poetry, and to see so great a strength of reason amidst so beautiful a redundancy of the 'imagination. The same strong sympathy with Blackmore's purpose in it blinded Dr. Johnson also to the failure of this poem, which is Blackmore's best. From its religious side, then, it may be that Addison, when a student at Oxford, first took his impressions of the poetry of Milton. At Oxford he accepted the opinion of France on Milton's art, but honestly declared, in spite of that, unchecked enthusiasm :

Whate'er his pen describes I more than see,
Whilst every verse, arrayed in majesty,
Bold and sublime, my whole attention draws,

And seems above the critic's nicer laws. This chief place among English poets Addison assigned to Milton, with his mind fresh from the influences of a father who had openly contemned the Commonwealth, and by whom he had been trained so to regard Milton's service of it that of this he wrote :

Oh, had the Poet ne'er profaned his pen,
To varnish o'er the guilt of faithless men ;
His other works might have deserved applause !
But now the language can't support the cause.
While the clean current, tho' serene and bright,
Betrays a bottom odious to the sight.

« PředchozíPokračovat »