English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay.
The Harvard Classics

Life of Addison, 1672–1719


by Samuel Johnson


(This text is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.)



JOSEPH ADDISON was born on the first of May, 1672, at Milston, of which his father, Lancelot
Addison, was then rector, near Ambrosbury in Wiltshire, and appearing weak and unlikely to
live, he was christened the same day. After the usual domestic education, which, from the
character of his father, may be reasonably supposed to have given him strong impressions of
piety, he was committed to the care of Mr. Naish at Ambrosbury, and afterwards of Mr.
Taylor at Salisbury.

Not to name the school or the masters of men illustrious for literature is a kind of historical
fraud, by which honest fame is injuriously diminished: I would therefore trace him through the
whole process of his education. In 1683, in the beginning of his twelfth year, his father being
made Dean of Lichfield, naturally carried his family to his new residence, and, I believe, placed
him for some time, probably not long, under Mr. Shaw, then master of the school at Lichfield,
father of the late Dr. Peter Shaw. Of this interval his biographers have given no account, and I
know it only from a story of a barring-out, told me, when I was a boy, by Andrew Corbet of
Shropshire, who had heard it from Mr. Pigot his uncle.

The practice of barring-out, was a savage license practised in many schools to the end of
the last century, by which the boys, when the periodical vacation drew near, growing petulant
at the approach of liberty, some days before the time of regular recess, took possession of the
school, of which they barred the doors, and bade their master defiance from the windows. It is
not easy to suppose that on such occasions the master would do more than laugh; yet, if
tradition may be credited, he often struggled hard to force or surprise the garrison. The master,
when Pigot was a school-boy, was barred-out at Lichfield, and the whole operation, as he
said, was planned and conducted by Addison.

To judge better of the probability of this story, I have enquired when he was sent to the
Chartreux; but, as he was not one of those who enjoyed the founder’s benefaction, there is no
account preserved of his admission. At the school of the Chartreux, to which he was removed
either from that Salisbury or Lichfield, he pursued his juvenile studies under the care of Dr.
Ellis, and contracted that intimacy with Sir Richard Steele which their joint labours have so
effectually recorded.

Of this memorable friendship the greater praise must be given to Steele. It is not hard to love
those from whom nothing can be feared, and Addison never considered Steele as a rival; but
Steele lived, as he confesses, under an habitual subjection to the predominating genius of
Addison, whom he always mentioned with reverence, and treated with obsequiousness.

Addison, who knew his own dignity, could not always forbear to shew it, by playing a little
upon his admirer; but he was in no danger of retort: his jests were endured without resistance
or resentment.

But the sneer of jocularity was not the worst. Steele, whose imprudence of generosity, or
vanity of profusion, kept him always incurably necessitous, upon some pressing exigence, in an
evil hour borrowed a hundred pounds of his friend, probably without much purpose of
repayment; but Addison, who seems to have had other notions of an hundred pounds, grew
impatient of delay, and reclaimed his loan by an execution. Steele felt with great sensibility the
obduracy of his creditor; but with emotions of sorrow rather than of anger.

In 1687 he was entered into Queen’s College in Oxford, where, in 1689, the accidental
perusal of some Latin verses gained him the patronage of Dr. Lancaster, afterwards provost of
Queen’s College; by whose recommendation he was elected into Magdalen College as a
Demy, a term by which that society denominates those which are elsewhere called Scholars;
young men, who partake of the founder’s benefaction, and succeed in their order to vacant
fellowships.

Here he continued to cultivate poetry and criticism, and grew first eminent by his Latin
compositions, which are indeed entitled to particular praise. He has not confined himself to the
imitation of any ancient author, but has formed his style from the general language, such as a
diligent perusal of the productions of different ages happened to supply.

His Latin compositions seem to have had much of his fondness; for he collected a second
volume of the Musæ Anglicanæ, perhaps for a convenient receptacle, in which all his Latin
pieces are inserted, and where his Poem on the Peace has the first place. He afterwards
presented the collection to Boileau, who from that time conceived, says Tickell, an opinion of
the English genius for poetry
. Nothing is better known of Boileau, than that he had an
injudicious and peevish contempt of modern Latin, and therefore his profession of regard was
probably the effect of his civility rather than approbation.

Three of his Latin poems are upon subjects on which perhaps he would not have ventured to
have written in his own language. The Battle of the Pigmies and Cranes; The Barometer; and A
Bowling-green. When the matter is low or scanty, a dead language, in which nothing is mean
because nothing is familiar, affords great conveniences; and by the sonorous magnificence of
Roman syllables, the writer conceals penury of thought, and want of novelty, often from the
reader, and often from himself.

In his twenty-second year he first shewed his power of English poetry by some verses
addressed to Dryden; and soon afterwards published a translation of the greater part of the
Fourth Georgick upon Bees; after which, says Dryden, my latter swarm is hardly worth the
hiving
.

About the same time he composed the arguments prefixed to the several books of Dryden’s
Virgil; and produced an Essay on the Georgicks, juvenile, superficial, and uninstructive,
without much either of the scholar’s learning or the critic’s penetration.

His next paper of verses contained a character of the principal English poets, inscribed to
Henry Sacheverell, who was then, if not a poet, a writer of verses; as is shewn by his version
of a small part of Virgil’s Georgicks, published in the Miscellanies, and a Latin encomium on
Queen Mary, in the Musae Anglicanae. These verses exhibit all the fondness of friendship; but
on one side or the other, friendship was afterwards too weak for the malignity of faction.

In this poem is a very confident and discriminative character of Spenser, whose work he had
then never read. So little sometimes is criticism the effect of judgment. It is necessary to inform
the reader, that about this time he was introduced by Congreve to Montague, then Chancellor
of the Exchequer: Addison was then learning the trade of a courtier, and subjoined Montague
as a poetical name to those of Cowley and of Dryden.

By the influence of Mr. Montague, concurring, according to Tickell, with his natural modesty,
he was diverted from his original design of entering into holy orders. Montague alleged the
corruption of men who engaged in civil employments without liberal education; and declared,
that, though he was represented as an enemy to the Church, he would never do it an injury by
withholding Addison from it.

Soon after (in 1695) he wrote a poem to King William, with a rhyming introduction
addressed to Lord Somers. King William had no regard to elegance or literature; his study
was only war; yet by a choice of ministers, whose disposition was very different from his own,
he procured, without intention, a very liberal patronage to poetry. Addison was caressed both
by Somers and Montague.

In 1697 appeared his Latin verses on the Peace of Ryswick which he dedicated to
Montague, and which was afterwards called by Smith the best Latin poem since the Æneid.
Praise must not be too rigorously examined; but the performance cannot be denied to be
vigorous and elegant.

Having yet no public employment, he obtained (in 1699) a pension of three hundred pounds
a year, that he might be enabled to travel. He staid a year at Blois, probably to learn the
French language; and then proceeded in his journey to Italy, which he surveyed with the eyes
of a poet.

While he was travelling at leisure, he was far from being idle; for he not only collected his
observations on the country, but found time to write his Dialogues on Medals, and four Acts of
Cato. Such at least is the relation of Tickell. Perhaps he only collected his materials, and
formed his plan.

Whatever were his other employments in Italy, he there wrote the Letter to Lord Halifax,
which is justly considered as the most elegant, if not the most sublime, of his poetical
productions. But in about two years he found it necessary to hasten home; being, as Swift
informs us, distressed by indigence, and compelled to become the tutor of a travelling Squire,
because his pension was not remitted.

At his return he published his Travels, with a dedication to Lord Somers. As his stay in
foreign countries was short, his observations are such as might be supplied by a hasty view,
and consist chiefly in comparisons of the present face of the country with the descriptions left
us by the Roman poets, from whom he made preparatory collections, though he might have
spared the trouble had he known that such collections had been made twice before by Italian
authors.

The most amusing passage of his book, is his account of the minute republic of San Marino;
of many parts it is not a very severe censure to say that they might have been written at home.
His elegance of language, and variegation of prose and verse, however, gains upon the reader;
and the book, though a while neglected, became in time so much the favourite of the public,
that before it was reprinted it rose to five times its price.

When he returned to England (in 1702), with a meanness of appearance which gave
testimony of the difficulties to which he had been reduced, he found his old patrons out of
power, and was therefore for a time at full leisure for the cultivation of his mind, and a mind so
cultivated gives reason to believe that little time was lost.

But he remained not long neglected or useless. The victory at Blenheim (1704) spread
triumph and confidence over the nation; and Lord Godolphin lamenting to Lord Halifax, that it
had not been celebrated in a manner equal to the subject, desired him to propose it to some
better poet. Halifax told him that there was no encouragement for genius; that worthless men
were unprofitably enriched with public money, without any care to find or employ those whose
appearance might do honour to their country. To this Godolphin replied, that such abuses
should in time be rectified; and that if a man could be found capable of the task then proposed,
he should not want an ample recompense. Halifax then named Addison; but required that the
Treasurer should apply to him in his own person. Godolphin sent the message by Mr. Boyle,
afterwards Lord Carleton; and Addison having undertaken the work, communicated it to the
Treasurer, while it was yet advanced no further than the simile of the Angel, and was
immediately rewarded by succeeding Mr. Locke in the place of Commissioner of Appeals.

In the following year he was at Hanover with Lord Halifax; and the year was made
under-secretary of state, first to Sir Charles Hedges, and in a few months more to the Earl of
Sunderland.

About this time the prevalent taste for Italian operas inclined him to try what would be the
effect of a musical Drama in our own language. He therefore wrote the opera of Rosamond,
which, when exhibited on the stage, was either hissed or neglected; but trusting that the readers
would do him more justice, he published it, with an inscription to the Duchess of Marlborough;
a woman without skill, or pretensions to skill, in poetry or literature. His dedication was
therefore an instance of servile absurdity, to be exceeded only by Joshua Barnes’ dedication of
a Greek Anacreon to the Duke.

His reputation had been somewhat advanced by The Tender Husband, a comedy which
Steele dedicated to him, with a confession that he owed to him several of the most successful
scenes. To this play Addison supplied a prologue.

When the Marquis of Wharton was appointed Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, Addison attended
him as his secretary; and was made keeper of the records in Birmingham’s Tower, with a
salary of three hundred pounds a year. The office was little more than nominal, and the salary
was augmented for his accommodation.

Interest and faction allow little to the operation of particular dispositions, or private opinions.
Two men of personal characters more opposite than those of Wharton and Addison could not
easily be brought together. Wharton was impious, profligate, and shameless, without regard, or
appearance of regard, to right and wrong: whatever is contrary to this, may be said of
Addison; but as agents of a party they were connected, and how they adjusted their other
sentiments we cannot know.

Addison must, however, not be too hastily condemned. It is not necessary to refuse benefits
from a bad man, when the acceptance implies no approbation of his crime; nor has the
subordinate officer any obligation to examine the opinions or conduct of those under whom he
acts, except that he may not be made the instrument of wickedness. It is reasonable to
suppose that Addison counteracted, as far as he was able, the malignant and blasting influence
of the Lieutenant, and that at least by his intervention some good was done, and some mischief
prevented.

When he was in office, he made a law to himself, as Swift has recorded, never to remit his
regular fees in civility to his friends: “For,” said he, “I may have a hundred friends; and, if my
fee be two guineas, I shall, by relinquishing my right lose two hundred guineas, and no friend
gain more than two; there is therefore no proportion between the good imparted and the evil
suffered.”

He was in Ireland when Steele, without any communication of his design, began the
publication of the Tatler; but he was not long concealed: by inserting a remark on Virgil, which
Addison had given him, he discovered himself. It is indeed not easy for any man to write upon
literature, or common life, so as not to make himself known to those with whom he familiarly
converses, and who are acquainted with his track of study, his favourite topics, his peculiar
notions, and his habitual phrases.

If Steele desired to write in secret, he was not lucky; a single month detected him. His first
Tatler was published April 22 (1709), and Addison’s contribution appeared May 26. Tickell
observes, that the Tatler began and was concluded without his concurrence. This is doubtless
literally true; but the work did not suffer much by his unconsciousness of its commencement, or
his absence at its cessation; for he continued his assistance to December 23, and the paper
stopped on January 2. He did not distinguish his pieces by any signature; and I know not
whether his name was not kept secret, till the papers were collected into volumes.

To the Tatler, in about two months, succeeded the Spectator; a series of essays of the same
kind, but written with less levity, upon a more regular plan, and published daily. Such an
undertaking shewed the writers not to distrust their own copiousness of materials or facility of
composition, and their performance justified their confidence. They found, however, in their
progress, many auxiliaries. To attempt a single paper was no terrifying labour: many pieces
were offered, and many were received.

Addison had enough of the zeal of party, but Steele had at that time almost nothing else. The
Spectator, in one of the first papers, shewed the political tenets of its authors; but a resolution
was soon taken, of courting general approbation by general topics, and subjects on which
faction had produced no diversity of sentiments; such as literature, morality, and familiar life.
To this practice they adhered with very few deviations. The ardour of Steele once broke out in
praise of Marlborough; and when Dr. Fleetwood prefixed to some sermons a preface,
overflowing with whiggish opinions, that it might be read by the Queen it was reprinted in the
Spectator.

To teach the minuter decencies and inferior duties, to regulate the practice of daily
conversation, to correct those depravities which are rather ridiculous than criminal, and remove
those grievances which, if they produce no lasting calamities, impress hourly vexation, was first
attempted by Casa in his book of Manners, and Castiglione in his Courtier; two books yet
celebrated in Italy for purity and elegance, and which, if they are now less read, are neglected
only because they have effected that reformation which their authors intended, and their
precepts now are no longer wanted. Their usefulness to the age in which they were written in
sufficiently attested by the translations which almost all the nations of Europe were in haste to
obtain.

This species of instruction was continued, and perhaps advanced, by the French; among
whom La Bruyere’s Manners of the Age, though, as Boileau remarked, it is written without
connection, certainly deserves great praise, for liveliness of description and justness of
observation.

Before the Tatler and Spectator, if the writers for the theatre are excepted, England had no
masters of common life. No writers had yet undertaken to reform either the savageness of
neglect, or the impertinence of civility; to shew when to speak, or to be silent; how to refuse,
or how to comply. We had many books to teach us our more important duties, and to settle
opinions in philosophy or politicks; but an Arbiter elegantiarum, a judge of propriety, was
yet wanting, who should survey the track of daily conversation, and free it from thorns and
prickles, which teaze the passer, though they do not wound him.

For this purpose nothing is so proper as the frequent publication of short papers, which we
read not as study but amusement. If the subject be slight, the treatise likewise is short. The
busy may find time, and the idle may find patience.

This mode of conveying cheap and easy knowledge began among us in the Civil War, when it
was much the interest of either party to raise and fix the prejudices of the people. At that time
appeared Mercurius Aulicus, Mercurius Rusticus, and Mercurius Civicus. It is said, that when
any title grew popular, it was stolen by the antagonist, who by this stratagem conveyed his
notions to those who would not have received him had he not worn the appearance of a friend.
The tumult of those unhappy days left scarcely any man leisure to treasure up occasional
compositions; and so much were they neglected, that a complete collection is no where to be
found.

These Mercuries were succeeded by L’Estrange’s Observator, and that by Lesley’s
Rehearsal, and perhaps by others; but hitherto nothing had been conveyed to the people, in
this commodious manner, but controversy relating to the Church or State; of which they taught
many to talk, whom they could not teach to judge.

It has been suggested that the Royal Society was instituted soon after the Restoration, to
divert the attention of the people from public discontent. The Tatler and the Spectator had the
same tendency; they were published at a time when two parties, loud, restless, and violent,
each with plausible declarations, and each perhaps without any distinct termination of its views,
were agitating the nation; to minds heated with political contest, they supplied cooler and more
inoffensive reflections; and it is said by Addison, in a subsequent work, that they had a
perceptible influence upon the conversation of that time, and taught the frolic and the gay to
unite merriment with decency; an effect which they can never wholly lose, while they continue
to be among the first books by which both sexes are initiated in the elegances of knowledge.

The Tatler and Spectator adjusted, like Casa, the unsettled practice of daily intercourse by
propriety and politeness; and, like La Bruyere, exhibited the Characters and Manners of the
Age
. The persons introduced in these papers were not merely ideal; they were then known
and conspicuous in various stations. Of the Tatler this is told by Steele in his last paper, and of
the Spectator by Budgell in the Preface to Theophrastus; a book which Addison has
recommended, and which he was suspected to have revised, if he did not write it. Of those
portraits, which may be supposed to be sometimes embellished, and sometimes aggravated,
the originals are now partly known, and partly forgotten.

But to say that they united the plans of two or three eminent writers, is to give them but a
small part of their due praise; they superadded literature and criticism, and sometimes towered
far above their predecessors; and taught, with great justness of argument and dignity of
language, the most important duties and sublime truths.

All these topics were happily varied with elegant fictions and refined allegories, and
illuminated with different changes of style and felicities of invention.

It is recorded by Budgell, that of the characters feigned or exhibited in the Spectator, the
favourite of Addison was Sir Roger de Coverley, of whom he had formed a very delicate and
discriminated idea, which he would not suffer to be violated; and therefore when Steele had
shewn him innocently picking up a girl in the Temple and taking her to a tavern, he drew upon
himself so much of his friend’s indignation, that he was forced to appease him by a promise of
forbearing Sir Roger for the time to come.

The reason which induced Cervantes to bring his hero to the grave, para mi solo nacio Don
Quixote, y yo para el
, made Addison declare, with an undue vehemence of expression, that
he would kill Sir Roger; being of opinion that they were born for one another, and that any
other hand would do him wrong.

It may be doubted whether Addison ever filled up his original delineation. He describes his
Knight as having his imagination somewhat warped; but of this perversion he has made very
little use. The irregularities in Sir Roger’s conduct seem not so much the effects of a mind
deviating from the beaten track of life, by the perpetual pressure of some overwhelming idea,
as of habitual rusticity, and that negligence which solitary grandeur naturally generates.

The variable weather of the mind, the flying vapours of incipient madness, which from time to
time cloud reason, without eclipsing it, it requires so much nicety to exhibit, that Addison
seems to have been deterred from prosecuting his own design.

To Sir Roger, who, as a country gentleman, appears to be a Tory, or, as it is gently
expressed, an adherent to the landed interest, is opposed Sir Andrew Freeport, a new man, a
wealthy merchant, zealous for the moneyed interest, and a Whig. Of this contrariety of
opinions, it is probable more consequences were at first intended, than could be produced
when the resolution was taken to exclude party from the paper. Sir Andrew does but little, and
that little seems not to have pleased Addison, who, when he dismissed him from the club,
changed his opinions. Steele had made him, in the true spirit of unfeeling commerce, declare
that he would not build an hospital for idle people; but at last he buys land, settles in the
country, and builds not a manufactory, but an hospital for twelve old husbandmen, for men
with whom a merchant has little acquaintance, and whom he commonly considers with little
kindness.

Of essays thus elegant, thus instructive, and thus commodiously distributed, it is natural to
suppose the approbation general and the sale numerous. I once heard it observed, that the sale
may be calculated by the product of the tax, related in the last number to produce more than
twenty pounds a week, and therefore stated at one and twenty pounds, or three pounds ten
shillings a day: this, at a half-penny a paper, will give sixteen hundred and eighty for the daily
number.

This sale is not great; yet this, if Swift be credited, was likely to grow less; for he declares
that the Spectator, whom he ridicules for his endless mention of the fair sex, had before his
recess wearied his readers.

The next year (1713), in which Cato came upon the stage, was the grand climacterick of
Addison’s reputation. Upon the death of Cato, he had, as is said, planned a tragedy in the time
of his travels, and had for several years the four first acts finished, which were shewn to such
as were likely to spread their admiration. They were seen by Pope, and by Cibber; who
relates that Steele, when he took back the copy, told him, in the despicable cant of literary
modesty, that, whatever spirit his friend had shewn in the composition, he doubted whether he
would have courage sufficient to expose it to the censure of a British audience.

The time however was now come, when those who affected to think liberty in danger,
affected likewise to think that a stage-play might preserve it: and Addison was importuned, in
the name of the tutelary deities of Britain, to shew his courage and his zeal by finishing his
design.

To resume his work he seemed perversely and unaccountably unwilling; and by a request,
which perhaps he wished to be denied, desired Mr. Hughes to add a fifth act. Hughes
supposed him serious; and, undertaking the supplement, brought in a few days some scenes
for his examination; but he had in the mean time gone to work himself, and produced half an
act, which he afterward completed, but with brevity irregularly disproportionate to the
foregoing parts; like a task performed with reluctance, and hurried to its conclusion.

It may yet be doubted whether Cato was made public by any change of the author’s
purpose; for Dennis charged him with raising prejudices in his own favour by false positions of
preparatory criticism, and with poisoning the town by contradicting in the Spectator the
established rule of poetical justice, because his own hero, with all his virtues, was to fall before
a tyrant. The fact is certain; the motives we must guess.

Addison was, I believe, sufficiently disposed to bar all avenues against all danger. When
Pope brought him the prologue, which is properly accommodated to the play, there were these
words, Britons, arise, be worth like this approved; meaning nothing more than, Britons,
erect and exalt yourselves to the approbation of public virtue. Addison was frightened lest he
should be thought a promoter of insurrection, and the line was liquidated to Britons, attend.

Now, heavily in clouds came on the day, the great, the important day, when Addison
was to stand the hazard of the theatre. That there might, however, be left as little to hazard as
was possible, on the first night Steele, as himself relates, undertook to pack an audience. This,
says Pope, had been tried for the first time in favour of the Distrest Mother; and was now, with
more efficacy, practised for Cato.

The danger was soon over. The whole nation was at that time on fire with faction. The Whigs
applauded every line in which Liberty was mentioned, as a satire on the Tories; and the Tories
echoed every clap, to shew that the satire was unfelt. The story of Bolingbroke is well known.
He called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for defending the cause of Liberty so
well against a perpetual dictator. The Wings, says Pope, design a second present, when they
can accompany it with as good a sentence.

The play, supported thus by the emulation of factious praise, was acted night after night for a
longer time than, I believe, the public had allowed to any drama before; and the author, as
Mrs. Potter long afterwards related, wandered through the whole exhibition behind the scenes
with restless and unappeasable solicitude.

When it was printed, notice was given that the Queen would be pleased if it was dedicated to
her; but as he had designed that compliment elsewhere, he found himself obliged, says
Tickell, by his duty on the one hand, and his honour on the other, to send it into the
world without any dedication
.

Human happiness has always its abatements; the brightest sunshine of success is not without a
cloud. No sooner was Cato offered to the reader, than it was attacked by the acute malignity
of Dennis, with all the violence of angry criticism. Dennis, though equally zealous, and probably
by his temper more furious than Addison, for what they called Liberty, and though a flatterer of
the Whig ministry, could not sit quiet at a successful play; but was eager to tell friends and
enemies, that they had misplaced their admirations. The world was too stubborn for
instruction; with the fate of the censurer of Corneille’s Cid, his animadversions shewed his
anger without effect, and Cato continued to be praised.

Pope had now an opportunity of courting the friendship of Addison, by vilifying his old
enemy, and could give resentment its full play without appearing to revenge himself. He
therefore published A Narrative of the Madness of John Dennis; a performance which left the
objections to the play in their full force, and therefore discovered more desire of vexing the
critic than of defending the poet.

Addison, who was no stranger to the world, probably saw the selfishness of Pope’s
friendship; and, resolving that he should have the consequences of his officiousness to himself,
informed Dennis by Steele, that he was sorry for the insult; and that whenever he should think
fit to answer his remarks, he would do it in a manner to which nothing could be objected.

The greatest weakness of the play is in the scenes of love, which are said by Pope to have
been added to the original plan upon a subsequent review, in compliance with the popular
practice of the stage. Such an authority it is hard to reject; yet the love is so intimately mingled
with the whole action that it cannot easily be thought extrinsic and adventitious; for if it were
taken away, what would be left? or how were the four acts filled in the first draught?

At the publication the Wits seemed proud to pay their attendance with encomiastic verses.
The best are from an unknown hand, which will perhaps lose somewhat of their praise when
the author is known to be Jeffreys.

Cato had yet other honours. It was censured as a party-play by a Scholar of Oxford, and
defended in a favourable examination by Dr. Sewel. It was translated by Salvini into Italian,
and acted at Florence; and by the Jesuits of St. Omer’s into Latin, and played by their pupils.
Of this version a copy was sent to Mr. Addison: it is to be wished that it could be found, for
the sake of comparing their version of the soliloquy with that of Bland.

A tragedy was written on the same subject by Des Champs, a French poet, which was
translated, with a criticism on the English play. But the translator and the critic are now
forgotten.

Dennis lived on unanswered, and therefore little read: Addison knew the policy of literature
too well to make his enemy important, by drawing the attention of the public upon a criticism,
which, though sometimes intemperate, was often irrefragable.

While Cato was upon the stage, another daily paper, called The Guardian, was published by
Steele. To this Addison gave great assistance, whether occasionally or by previous
engagement is not known.

The character of Guardian was too narrow and to serious: it might properly enough admit
both the duties and the decencies of life, but seemed not to include literary speculations, and
was in some degree violated by merriment and burlesque. What had the Guardian of the
Lizards to do with clubs of tall or of little men, with nests of ants, or with Strada’s prolusions?

Of this paper nothing is necessary to be said, but that it found many contributors, and that it
was a continuation of the Spectator, with the same elegance, and the same variety, till some
unlucky sparkle from a Tory paper set Steele’s politics on fire, and wit at once blazed into
faction. He was soon too hot for neutral topics, and quitted the Guardian to write the
Englishman.

The papers of Addison are marked in the Spectator by one of the Letters in the name of
Clio, and in the Guardian by a hand; whether it was, as Tickell pretends to think, that he was
unwilling to usurp the praise of others, or as Steele, with far greater likelihood, insinuates, that
he could not without discontent impart to others any of his own. I have heard that his avidity
did not satisfy itself with the air of renown, but that with great eagerness he laid hold on his
proportion of the profits.

Many of these papers were written with powers truly comic, with nice discrimination of
characters, and accurate observation of natural or accidental deviations from propriety; but it
was not supposed that he had tried a comedy on the stage, till Steele, after his death, declared
him the author of The Drummer; this, however, Steele did not know to be true by any direct
testimony; for when Addison put the play into his hands, he only told him, it was the work of a
Gentleman in the Company
; and when it was received, as is confessed, with cold
approbation, he was probably less willing to claim it. Tickell omitted it in his collection; but the
testimony of Steele, and the total silence of any other claimant, has determined the public to
assign it to Addison, and it is now printed with his other poetry. Steele carried The Drummer
to the playhouse, and afterwards to the press, and sold the copy for fifty guineas.

To the opinion of Steele may be added the proof supplied by the play itself, of which the
characters are such as Addison would have delineated, and the tendency such as Addison
would have promoted. That it should have been ill received would raise wonder, did we not
daily see the capricious distribution of theatrical praise.

He was not all this time an indifferent spectator of public affairs. He wrote, as different
exigencies required (in 1707), The Present State of the War, and the Necessity of an
Augmentation; which, however judicious, being written on temporary topics, and exhibiting no
peculiar powers, laid hold on no attention, and has naturally sunk by its own weight into
neglect. This cannot be said of the few papers entitled The Whig Examiner, in which is
employed all the force of gay malevolence and humorous satire. Of this paper, which just
appeared and expired, Swift remarks, with exultation, that it is now down among the dead
men
. He might well rejoice at the death of that which he could not have killed. Every reader of
every party, since personal malice is past, and the papers which once inflamed the nation are
read only as effusions of wit, must wish for more of the Whig Examiners; for on no occasion
was the genius of Addison more vigorously exerted, and on none did the superiority of his
powers more evidently appear. His Trial of Count Tariff, written to expose the Treaty of
Commerce with France, lived no longer than the question that produced it.

Not long afterwards an attempt was made to revive the Spectator, at a time indeed by no
means favourable to literature, when the succession of a new family to the throne filled the
nation with anxiety, discord, and confusion; and either the turbulence of the times, or the satiety
of the readers, put a stop to the publication, after an experiment of eighty numbers, which were
afterwards collected into an eighth volume, perhaps more valuable than any one of those that
went before it. Addison produced more than a fourth part, and the other contributors are by
no means unworthy of appearing as his associates. The time that had passed during the
suspension of the Spectator, though it had not lessened his power of humour, seems to have
increased his disposition to seriousness: the proportion of his religious to his comic papers is
greater than in the former series.

The Spectator, from its recommencement, was published only three times a week; and no
discriminative marks were added to the papers. To Addison, Tickell has ascribed
twenty-three.

The Spectator had many contributors; and Steele, whose negligence kept him always in a
hurry, when it was his turn to furnish a paper, called loudly for the Letters, of which Addison,
whose materials were more, made little use; having recourse to sketches and hints, the product
of his former studies, which he now reviewed and completed: among these are named by
Tickell the Essays on Wit, those on the Pleasures of the Imagination, and the Criticism on
Milton.

When the House of Hanover took possession of the throne, it was reasonable to expect that
the zeal of Addison would be suitably rewarded. Before the arrival of King George, he was
made secretary to the regency, and was required by his office to send notice to Hanover that
the Queen was dead, and that the throne was vacant. To do this would not have been difficult
to any man but Addison, who was so overwhelmed with the greatness of the event, and so
distracted by choice of expression, that the Lords, who could not wait for the niceties of
criticism, called Mr. Southwell, a clerk in the house, and ordered him to dispatch the message.
Southwell readily told what was necessary, in the common style of business, and valued
himself upon having done what was too hard for Addison.

He was better qualified for the Freeholder, a paper which he published twice a week, from
Dec. 23, 1715, to the middle of the next year. This was undertaken in defence of the
established government, sometimes with argument, sometimes with mirth. In argument he had
many equals; but his humour was singular and matchless. Bigotry itself must be delighted with
the Tory-Foxhunter.

There are, however, some strokes less elegant, and less decent; such as the Pretender’s
Journal, in which one topic of ridicule is his poverty. This mode of abuse had been employed
by Milton against King Charles II. 

“— — — — — Jacobæi.
Centum éxulantis viscera Marsupii regis.”

And Oldmixon delights to tell of some alderman of London, that he had more money than the
exiled princes; but that which might be expected from Milton’s savageness, or Oldmixon’s
meanness, was not suitable to the delicacy of Addison.

Steele thought the humour of the Freeholder too nice and gentle for such noisy times; and is
reported to have said that the ministry made use of a lute, when they should have called for a
trumpet.

This year (1716) he married the Countess Dowager of Warwick, whom he had solicited by a
very long and anxious courtship, perhaps with behaviour not very unlike that of Sir Roger to
his disdainful widow: and who, I am afraid, diverted herself often by playing with his passion.
He is said to have first known her by becoming tutor to her son. “He formed,” said Tonson,
“the design of getting that lady, from the time when he was first recommended into the family.”
In what part of his life he obtained the recommendation, or how long, and in what manner he
lived in the family, I know not. His advances at first were certainly timorous, but grew bolder
as his reputation and influence increased; till at last the lady was persuaded to marry him, on
terms much like those on which a Turkish princess is espoused, to whom the Sultan is reported
to pronounce, “Daughter, I give thee this man for thy slave.” The marriage, if uncontradicted
report can be credited, made no addition to his happiness; it neither found them nor made
them equal. She always remembered her own rank, and thought herself entitled to treat with
very little ceremony the tutor of her son. Rowe’s ballad of the Despairing Shepherd is said to
have been written, either before or after marriage, upon this memorable pair; and it is certain
that Addison has left behind him no encouragement for ambitious love.

The year after (1717) he rose to his highest elevation, being made secretary of state. For this
employment he might be justly supposed qualified by long practice of business, and by his
regular ascent through other offices; but expectation is often disappointed; it is universally
confessed that he was unequal to the duties of his place. In the House of Commons he could
not speak, and therefore was useless to the defence of the Government. In the office, says
Pope, he could not issue an order without losing his time in quest of fine expressions. What he
gained in rank, he lost in credit; and, finding by experience his own inability, was forced to
solicit his dismission, with a pension of fifteen hundred pounds a year. His friends palliated this
relinquishment, of which both friends and enemies knew the true reason, with an account of
declining health, and the necessity of recess and quiet.

He now returned to his vocation, and began to plan literary occupations for his future life. He
purposed a tragedy on the death of Socrates; a story of which, as Tickell remarks, the basis is
narrow, and to which I know not how love could have been appended. There would,
however, have been no want either of virtue in the sentiments, or elegance in the language.

He engaged in a nobler work, a defence of the Christian Religion, of which part was
published after his death; and he designed to have made a new poetical version of the Psalms.

These pious compositions Pope imputed to a selfish motive, upon the credit, as he owns, of
Tonson; who having quarelled with Addison, and not loving him, said, that, when he laid down
the secretary’s office, he intended to take orders, and obtain a bishopric; for, said he, I
always thought him a priest in his heart.
 

That Pope should have thought this conjecture of Tonson worth remembrance is a proof, but
indeed so far as I have found, the only proof, that he retained some malignity from their ancient
rivalry. Tonson pretended but to guess it; no other mortal ever suspected it; and Pope might
have reflected, that a man who had been secretary of state, in the ministry of Sunderland,
knew a nearer way to a bishopric than by defending Religion, or translating the Psalms.

It is related that he had once a design to make an English Dictionary, and that he considered
Dr. Tillotson as the writer of highest authority. There was formerly sent to me by Mr. Locker,
clerk of the Leathersellers’ Company, who was eminent for curiosity and literature, a collection
of examples selected from Tillotson’s works, as Locker said, by Addison. It came too late to
be of use, so I inspected it but slightly, and remember it in distinctly. I thought the passages too
short.

Addison, however, did not conclude his life in peaceful studies; but relapsed, when he was
near his end, to a political dispute.

It so happened that (1718–19) a controversy was agitated, with great vehemence, between
those friends of long continuance, Addison and Steele. It may be asked, in the language of
Homer, what power or what cause could set them at variance. The subject of their dispute
was of great importance. The Earl of Sunderland proposed an act called the Peerage Bill, by
which the number of peers should be fixed, and the King restrained from any new creation of
nobility, unless when an old family should be extinct. To this the Lords would naturally agree;
and the King, who was yet little acquainted with his own prerogative, and, as is now well
known, almost indifferent to the possession of the Crown, had been persuaded to consent.
The only difficulty was found among the Commons, who were not likely to approve the
perpetual exclusion of themselves and their posterity. The bill therefore was eagerly opposed,
and among others by Sir Robert Walpole, whose speech was published.

The Lords might think their dignity diminished by improper advancements, and particularly by
the introduction of twelve new peers at once, to produce a majority of Tories in the last reign;
an act of authority violent enough, yet certainly legal, and by no means to be compared with
that contempt of national right, with which some time afterwards, by the instigation of
Whiggism, the Commons, chosen by the people for three years, chose themselves for seven.
But, whatever might be the disposition of the Lords, the people had no wish to increase their
power. The tendency of the bill, as Steele observed in a letter to the Earl of Oxford, was to
introduce an Aristocracy; for a majority in the House of Lords, so limited, would have been
despotic and irresistible.

To prevent this subversion of the ancient establishment, Steele, whose pen readily seconded
his political passions, endeavoured to alarm the nation by a pamphlet called The Plebeian; to
this an answer was published by Addison, under the title of The Old Whig, in which it is not
discovered that Steele was then known to be the advocate for the Commons. Steele replied
by a second Plebeian; and, whether by ignorance or by courtesy, confined himself to his
question, without any personal notice of his opponent. Nothing hitherto was committed against
the laws of friendship, or proprieties of decency; but controvertists cannot long retain their
kindness for each other. The Old Whig answered the Plebeian, and could not forbear some
contempt of “little Dicky, whose trade it was to write pamphlets.” Dicky, however, did not
lose his settled veneration for his friend; but contented himself with quoting some lines of Cato,
which were at once detection and reproof. The bill was laid aside during that session, and
Addison died before the next, in which its commitment was rejected by two hundred and
sixty-five to one hundred and seventy-seven.

Every reader surely must regret that these two illustrious friends, after so many years past in
confidence and endearment, in unity of interest, conformity of opinion, and fellowship of study,
should finally part in acrimonious opposition. Such a controversy was Bellum plusquam
civile
, as Lucan expresses it. Why could not faction find other advocates? But, among the
uncertainties of the human state, we are doomed to number the instability of friendship.

Of this dispute I have little knowledge but from the Biographia Britannica. The Old Whig is
not inserted in Addison’s works, nor is it mentioned by Tickell in his Life; why it was omitted
the biographers doubtless give the true reason; the fact was too recent, and those who had
been heated in the contention were not yet cool.

The necessity of complying with times, and of sparing persons, is the great impediment of
biography. History may be formed from permanent monuments and records; but Lives can
only be written from personal knowledge, which is growing every day less, and in a short time
is lost for ever. What is known can seldom be immediately told; and when it might be told, it is
no longer known. The delicate features of the mind, the nice discriminations of character, and
the minute peculiarities of conduct, are soon obliterated; and it is surely better that caprice,
obstinacy, frolic, and folly, however they might delight in the description, should be silently
forgotten, than that, by wanton merriment and unseasonable detection, a pang should be given
to a widow, a daughter, a brother or a friend. As the process of these narratives is now
bringing me among my 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 recompense him. What the injury was he did not explain, nor did Gay
ever know; but supposed that some preferment designed for him, had, by Addison’s
intervention, been withheld.

Lord Warwick was a young man of very irregular 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, he 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
The price of knowledge, taught us how to die.

In which he alludes, as he told Dr. Young, to this moving interview.

Having given directions to Mr. Tickell for the publication of his 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 had 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.

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 bashfulness, 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 awkward man that he ever saw.” And Addison,
speaking of his own deficience 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 oppressed by an improper and ungraceful 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 his obstinacy of silence; “for he was,” says
Steele, “above all men in that talent called humour, 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
pleasure of conversing with an intimate acquaintance of Terence and Catullus, who had all their
wit and nature, heightened with humour more exquisite 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
conversation,” says Pope, “had something in it more charming than I have found in any other
man. But this was only when familiar: before strangers 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 echo 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
was not the only man whom he insidiously injured, though the only man of whom he could be
afraid.

His own powers were such as might have satisfied him with conscious 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 need 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 what he dictated.”

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.

“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. He studied 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-house on the south side of Russell-street, about two doors from
Covent-garden. Here it was that the wits of that time used to assemble. It is said, that 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 succor from Bacchus, was able to
preserve himself from being enslaved by his auxiliary?

Among those friends it was that Addison displayed she 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 public 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 unwilling to expose it.
There are, says Steele, in his writings many oblique 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 excellence. 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 not 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 all Greek, above all Roman 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 is 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 of 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 reaches supreme excellence, he rarely sinks into dulness, and is still more
rarely entangled in absurdity. He did not trust his powers enough to be negligent. 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 Somers, 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 has said, not very judiciously, in his character of Waller: 

Thy verse could shew ev’n Cromwell’s innocence,
And compliment the storms that bore him hence.
O! had thy Muse not come an age too soon,
But seen great Nassau on the British throne,
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 praised 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—
I bridle in my struggling Muse with pain,
That longs to launch into a nobler strain.

To bridle a goddess is no very delicate idea; 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 good-nature 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 described it with more justness and force. Many of our own writers tried their powers
upon this year of victory, yet Addison’s is confessedly 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
, but deliberate intrepidity, a calm command of his passions, and the power of consulting
his own mind in the midst of danger. The rejection and contempt of fiction is rational and
manly.

It may be observed that the last line is imitated by Pope: 

Marlb’rough’s exploits appear divinely bright—
Rais’d of themselves, their genuine charms they boast,
And those that paint them truest, praise them most.

This Pope had in his thoughts; but, not knowing how to use what was not his own, he spoiled
the thought when he had borrowed it. 

The well-sung woes shall soothe my ghost;
He best can paint them who shall feel them most.

Martial exploits may be painted; perhaps woes may be painted; but they are surely not
painted by being well-sung: it is not easy to paint in song, or to sing in colours.

No passage in the Campaign has been more often mentioned than the simile of the Angel,
which is said in the Tatler to be one of the noblest thoughts that ever entered into the
heart of man
, and is therefore worthy of attentive consideration. Let it be first enquired
whether it be a simile. A poetical simile is the discovery of likeness between two actions in
their general nature dissimilar, or of causes terminating by different operations in some
resemblance of effect. But the mention of another like consequence from a like cause, or of a
like performance by a like agency, is not a simile, but an exemplification. It is not a simile to
say that the Thames waters fields, as the Po waters fields; or that as Hecla vomits flames in
Iceland, so Ætna vomits flames in Sicily. When Horace says of Pindar, that he pours his
violence and rapidity of verse, as a river swollen with rain rushes from the mountain; or of
himself, that his genius wanders in quest of poetical decorations, as the bee wanders to collect
honey; he, in either case, produces a simile; the mind is impressed with the resemblance of
things generally unlike, as unlike as intellect and body. But if Pindar had been described as
writing with the copiousness and grandeur of Homer, or Horace had told that he reviewed and
finished his own poetry with the same care as Isocrates polished his orations, instead of
similitude he would have exhibited almost identity; he would have given the same portraits with
different names. In the poem now examined, when the English are represented as gaining a
fortified pass, by repetition of attack and perseverance of resolution; their obstinacy of
courage, and vigour of onset, is well illustrated by the sea that breaks, with incessant battery,
the dikes of Holland. This is a simile: but when Addison, having celebrated the beauty of
Marlborough’s person, tells us that Achilles thus was formed with every grace, here is no
simile, but a mere exemplification. A simile may be compared to lines converging at a point,
and is more excellent as the lines approach from greater distance: an exemplification may be
considered as two parallel lines which run on together without approximation, never far
separated, and never joined.

Marlborough is so like the angel in the poem, that the action of both is almost the same, and
performed by both in the same manner. Marlborough teaches the battle to rage; the angel
directs the storm: Marlborough is unmoved in peaceful thought; the angel is calm and
serene
: Marlborough stands unmoved amidst the shock of hosts; the angel rides calm in
the whirlwind
. The lines on Marlborough are just and noble; but the simile gives almost
the same images a second time.

But perhaps this thought, though hardly a simile, was remote from vulgar conceptions, and
required great labour of research, or dexterity of application. Of this, Dr. Madden, a name
which Ireland ought to honour, once gave me his opinion. If I had set, said he, ten
school-boys to write on the battle of Blenheim, and eight had brought me the Angel, I
should not have been surprised
.

The opera of Rosamond, though it is seldom mentioned, is one of the first of Addison’s
compositions. The subject is well-chosen, the fiction is pleasing, and the praise of
Marlborough, for which the scene gives an opportunity, is, what perhaps every human
excellence must be, the product of good-luck improved by genius. The thoughts are sometimes
great, and sometimes tender; the versification is easy and gay. There is doubtless some
advantage in the shortness of the lines, which there is little temptation to load with expletive
epithets. The dialogue seems commonly better than the songs. The two comic characters of Sir
Trusty and Grideline, though of no great value, are yet such as the poet intended. Sir Trusty’s
account of the death of Rosamond is, I think, too grossly absurd. The whole drama is airy and
elegant; engaging in its process, and pleasing in its conclusion. If Addison had cultivated the
lighter parts of poetry, he would probably have excelled.

The tragedy of Cato, which, contrary to the rule observed in selecting the works of other
poets, has by the weight of its character forced its way into the late collection, is
unquestionably the noblest production of Addison’s genius. Of a work so much read, it is
difficult to say any thing new. About things on which the public thinks long, it commonly attains
to think right; and of Cato it has been not unjustly determined, that it is rather a poem in
dialogue than a drama, rather a succession of just sentiments in elegant language, than a
representation of natural affections, or of any state probable or possible in human life. Nothing
here excites or asswages emotion; here is no magical power of raising phantastick terror
or wild anxiety
. The events are expected without solicitude, and are remembered without joy
or sorrow. Of the agents we have no care; we consider not what they are doing, or what they
are suffering; we wish only to know what they have to say. Cato is a being above our
solicitude; a man of whom the gods take care, and whom we leave to their care with heedless
confidence. To the rest, neither gods nor men can have much attention; for there is not one
amongst them that strongly attracts either affection or esteem. But they are made the vehicles
of such sentiments and such expression, that there is scarcely a scene in the play which the
reader does not wish to impress upon his memory.

When Cato was shewn to Pope, he advised the author to print it, without any theatrical
exhibition; supposing that it would be read more favourably than heard. Addison declared
himself of the same opinion; but urged the importunity of his friends for its appearance on the
stage. The emulation of parties made it successful beyond expectation, and its success has
introduced or confirmed among us the use of dialogue too declamatory, of unaffecting
elegance, and chill philosophy.

The universality of applause, however it might quell the censure of common mortals, had no
other effect than to harden Dennis in fixed dislike; but his dislike was not merely capricious. He
found and shewed many faults: he shewed them indeed with anger, but he found them with
acuteness, such as ought to rescue his criticism from oblivion; though, at last, it will have no
other life than it derives from the work which it endeavours to oppress.

Why he pays no regard to the opinion of the audience, he gives his reason, by remarking, that

“A deference is to be paid to a general applause, when it appears that that applause is natural
and spontaneous; but that little regard is to be had to it, when it is affected and artificial. Of all
the tragedies which in his memory have had vast and violent runs, not one has been excellent,
few have been tolerable, most have been scandalous. When a poet writes a tragedy, who
knows he has judgement, and who feels he has genius, that poet presumes upon his own merit,
and scorns to make a cabal. That people come coolly to the representation of such a tragedy,
without any violent expectation, or delusive imagination, or invincible prepossession; that such
an audience is liable to receive the impressions which the poem shall naturally make in them,
and to judge by their own reason, and their own judgements, and that reason and judgement
are calm and serene, not formed by nature to make proselytes, and to control and lord it over
the imaginations of others. But that when an author writes a tragedy, who knows he has neither
genius nor judgement, he has recourse to the making a party, and he endeavours to make up in
industry what is wanting in talent, and to supply by poetical craft the absence of poetical art;
that such an author is humbly contented to raise men’s passions by a plot without doors, since
he despairs of doing it by that which he brings upon the stage. That party, and passion, and
prepossession, are clamorous and tumultuous things, and so much the more clamorous and
tumultuous by how much the more erroneous: that they domineer and tyrannize over the
imaginations of persons who want judgement, and sometimes too of those who have it; and,
like a fierce and outrageous torrent, bear down all opposition before them.”

He then condemns the neglect of poetical justice; which is always one of his favourite
principles.

“’Tis certainly the duty of every tragic poet, by the exact distribution of poetical justice, to
imitate the Divine Dispensation, and to inculcate a particular Providence. ’Tis true, indeed,
upon the stage of the world, the wicked sometimes prosper, and the guiltless suffer. But that is
permitted by the Governor of the world, to shew, from the attribute of his infinite justice, that
there is a compensation in futurity, to prove the immortality of the human soul, and the certainty
of future rewards and punishments. But the poetical persons in tragedy exist no longer than the
reading, or the representation; the whole extent of their entity is circumscribed by those; and
therefore, during that reading or representation, according to their merits or demerits, they
must be punished or rewarded. If this is not done, there is no impartial distribution of poetical
justice, no instructive lecture of a particular Providence, and no imitation of the Divine
Dispensation. And yet the author of this tragedy does not only run counter to this, in the fate of
his principal character; but every where, throughout it, makes virtue suffer, and vice triumph:
for not only Cato is vanquished by Cæsar, but the treachery and perfidiousness of Syphax
prevails over the honest simplicity and the credulity of Juba; and the sly subtlety and
dissimulation of Portius over the generous frankness and open-heartedness of Marcus.”

Whatever pleasure there may be in seeing crimes punished and virtue rewarded, yet, since
wickedness often prospers in real life, the poet is certainly at liberty to give it prosperity on the
stage. For if poetry has an imitation of reality, how are its laws broken by exhibiting the world
in its true form? The stage may sometimes gratify our wishes; but, if it be truly the mirror of
life
, it ought to shew us sometimes what we are to expect.

Dennis objects to the characters that they are not natural, or reasonable; but as heroes and
heroines are not beings that are seen every day, it is hard to find upon what principles their
conduct shall be tried. It is, however, not useless to consider what he says of the manner in
which Cato receives the account of his son’s death.

“Nor is the grief of Cato, in the Fourth Act, one jot more in nature than that of his son and
Lucia in the third. Cato receives the news of his son’s death not only with dry eyes, but with a
sort of satisfaction; and in the same page sheds tears for the calamity of his country, and does
the same thing in the next page upon the bare apprehension of the danger of his friends. Now,
since the love of one’s country is the love of one’s countrymen, as I have shewn upon another
occasion, I desire to ask these questions: Of all our countrymen, which do we love most, those
whom we know, or those whom we know not? And of those whom we know, which do we
cherish most, our friends or our enemies? And of our friends, which are the dearest to us?
those who are related to us, or those who are not? And of all our relations, for which have we
most tenderness, for those who are near to us, or for those who are remote? And of our near
relations, which are the nearest, and consequently the dearest to us, our offspring or others?
Our offspring, most certainly; as nature, or in other words Providence, has wisely contrived for
the preservation of mankind. Now, does it not follow, from what has been said, that for a man
to receive the news of his son’s death with dry eyes, and to weep at the same time for the
calamities of his country, is a wretched affectation, and a miserable inconsistency? Is not that,
in plain English, to receive with dry eyes the news of the deaths of those for whose sake our
country is a name so dear to us, and at the same time to shed tears for those for whose sakes
our country is not a name so dear to us?”

But this formidable assailant is least resistible when he attacks the probability of the action,
and the reasonableness of the plan. Every critical reader must remark, that Addison has, with a
scrupulosity almost unexampled on the English stage, confined himself in time to a single day,
and in place to rigorous unity. The scene never changes and the whole action of the play
passes in the great hall of Cato’s house at Utica. Much therefore is done in the hall, for which
any other place had been more fit; and this impropriety affords Dennis many hints of
merriment, and opportunities of triumph. The passage is long; but as such disquisitions are not
common, and the objections are skilfully formed and vigorously urged, those who delight in
critical controversy will not think it tedious. . . . 

{TEDIOUS PASSAGE REMOVED AT THIS POINT}

Such is the censure of Dennis. There is, as Dryden expresses it, perhaps too much horse
play in his raillery
; but if his jests are coarse, his arguments are strong. Yet as we love better
to be pleased than to be taught, Cato is read, and the critic is neglected.

Flushed with consciousness of these detections of absurdity in the conduct, he afterwards
attacked the sentiments of Cato; but he then amused himself with petty cavils, and minute
objections.

Of Addison’s smaller poems, no particular mention is necessary; they have little that can
employ or require a critic. The parallel of the Princes and Gods, in his verses to Kneller, is
often happy, but is too well known to be quoted.

His translations, so far as I compared them, want the exactness of a scholar. That he
understood his authors cannot be doubted; but his versions will not teach others to understand
them, being too licentiously paraphrastical. They are, however, for the most part, smooth and
easy; and, what is the first excellence of a translator, such as may be read with pleasure by
those who do not know the originals.

His poetry is polished and pure; the product of a mind too judicious to commit faults, but not
sufficiently vigorous to attain excellence. He has sometimes a striking line, or a shining
paragraph; but in the whole he is warm rather than fervid, and shews more dexterity than
strength. He was, however, one of our earliest examples of correctness.

The versification which he had learned from Dryden, he debased rather than refined. His
rhymes are often dissonant; in his Georgic he admits broken lines. He uses both triplets and
alexandrines, but triplets more frequently in his translations than his other works. The mere
structure of verses seems never to have engaged much of his care. But his lines are very
smooth in Rosamond, and too smooth in Cato.

Addison is now to be considered as a critic; a name which the present generation is scarcely
willing to allow him. His criticism is condemned as tentative or experimental, rather than
scientific, and he is considered as deciding by taste rather than by principles.

It is not uncommon for those who have grown wise by the labour of others, to add a little of
their own, and overlook their masters. Addison is now despised by some who perhaps would
never have seen his defects, but by the lights which he afforded them. That he always wrote as
he would think it necessary to write now, cannot be affirmed; his instructions were such as the
character of his readers made proper. That general knowledge which now circulates in
common talk, was in his time rarely to be found. Men not professing learning were not
ashamed of ignorance; and in the female world, any acquaintance with books was
distinguished only to be censured. His purpose was to infuse literary curiosity, by gentle and
unsuspected conveyance, into the gay, the idle, and the wealthy; he therefore presented
knowledge in the most alluring form, not lofty and austere, but accessible and familiar. When
he shewed them their defects, he shewed them likewise that they might be easily supplied. His
attempt succeeded; enquiry was awakened, and comprehension expanded. An emulation of
intellectual elegance was excited, and from his time to our own, life has been gradually exalted,
and conversation purified and enlarged.

Dryden had, not many years before, scattered criticism over his Prefaces with very little
parsimony; but though he sometimes condescended to be somewhat familiar, his manner was
in general too scholastic for those who had yet their rudiments to learn, and found it not easy to
understand their master. His observations were framed rather for those that were learning to
write, than for those that read only to talk.

An instructor like Addison was now wanting, whose remarks being superficial, might be
easily understood, and being just, might prepare the mind for more attainments. Had he
presented Paradise Lost to the public with all the pomp of system and severity of science, the
criticism would perhaps have been admired, and the poem still have been neglected; but by the
blandishments of gentleness and facility, he has made Milton an universal favourite, with whom
readers of every class think it necessary to be pleased.

He descended now and then to lower disquisitions; and by a serious display of the beauties
of Chevy Chase, exposed himself to the ridicule of Wagstaff, who bestowed a like pompous
character on Tom Thumb, and to the contempt of Dennis, who, considering the fundamental
position of his criticism, that Chevy Chase pleases, and ought to please, because it is natural,
observes, “that there is a way of deviating from nature, by bombast or tumour, which soars
above nature, and enlarges images beyond their real bulk; by affectation, which forsakes
nature in quest of something unsuitable; and by imbecility, which degrades nature by faintness
and diminution, by obscuring its appearances, and weakening its effects.” In Chevy Chase
there is not much of either bombast or affectation; but there is chill and lifeless imbecility. The
story cannot possibly be told in a manner that shall make less impression on the mind.

Before the profound observers of the present race repose too securely on the consciousness
of their superiority to Addison, let them consider his Remarks on Ovid, in which may be found
specimens of criticism sufficiently subtle and refined; let them peruse likewise his Essays on
Wit, and on the Pleasures of Imagination, in which he founds art on the base of nature, and
draws the principles of invention from dispositions inherent in the mind of man, with skill and
elegance, such as his contemners will not easily attain.

As a describer of life and manners, he must be allowed to stand perhaps the first of the first
rank. His humour, which, as Steele observes, is peculiar to himself, is so happily diffused as to
give the grace of novelty to domestic scenes and daily occurrences. He never outsteps the
modesty of nature
, nor raises merriment or wonder by the violation of truth. His figures
neither divert by distortion, nor amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so much fidelity, that
he can be hardly said to invent; yet his exhibitions have an air so much original, that it is difficult
to suppose them not merely the product of imagination.

As a teacher of wisdom, he may be confidently followed. His religion has nothing in it
enthusiastic or superstitious: he appears neither weakly credulous nor wantonly sceptical; his
morality is neither dangerously lax, nor impracticably rigid. All the enchantment of fancy, and
all the cogency of argument, are employed to recommend to the reader his real interest, the
care of pleasing the Author of his being. Truth is shewn sometimes as the phantom of a vision,
sometimes appears half-veiled in an allegory; sometimes attracts regard in the robes of fancy,
and sometimes steps forth in the confidence of reason. She wears a thousand dresses, and in
all is pleasing.

Mille habet ornatus, mille decenter habet.

His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal, on light occasions
not groveling; pure without scrupulosity, and exact without apparent elaboration; always
equable, and always easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never
deviates from his track to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious ornaments, and tries no
hazardous innovations. His page is always luminous, but never blazes in unexpected splendour.

It was apparently his principal endeavour to avoid all harshness and severity of diction; he is
therefore sometimes verbose in his transitions and connections, and sometimes descends too
much to the language of conversation; yet if his language had been less idiomatical, it might
have lost somewhat of its genuine Anglicism. What he attempted, he performed; he is never
feeble, and he did not wish to be energetic; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His
sentences have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: his periods, though not diligently
rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not
coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of
Addison.


 

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