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AUTHORS OF THE SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY PAPERS.
Richard Steele, who originated The Spectator, was born in Dublin in March, 1672. While a mere child he lost both father and mother, and fell to the charge of an uncle, by whom he was sent, in 1684, to the Charterhouse School, London. Of this period of his life there is little record, though we may suspect that vivid memories of the severe punishments inflicted for bad Latin and breaches of discipline had something to do with the fine essay in which, years later, he attacked the brutality then common in the great English schools.2 From the Charterhouse he went, in 1691, to Oxford, but his university career was prematurely closed by his enlistment in the Horse Guards. While still in the army, he “commenced author,” as the phrase then ran, with a curious little devotional manual, The Christian Hero, and a satiric comedy, The Funeral, or Grief à la Mode. Oddly contrasted as these productions may seem to be, there is really a point of ethical contact between them. The former, as he afterwards declared, was written for his private use, “ with a design principally to fix upon his own mind a strong impression of virtue and religion”; 8 while the latter was inspired by the moral purpose of making “virtue and
1 See his touching paper on his father's death, Tatler, No. 181.
vice appear just as they ought to do.” This play was followed by The Lying Lover (1703) and The Tender Husband (1705). In 1707, having, it is presumed, now left the army, he was appointed to the post of gazetteer. Then came nearly three years of regular work on The Tatler and The Spectator, 1710-1712. After closing his connection with the latter paper, he started, between 1713 and 1720, nine different periodicals; but some of these ran only for a few numbers, and none enjoyed any great success. Meanwhile, he became deeply immersed in public affairs, entered the field of controversy as a strong advocate of the Hanoverian succession, and with the establishment of the Whigs in power on the death of Queen Anne in 1714, practically abandoned letters for politics. His only remaining literary work of any importance was The Conscious Lovers, a comedy performed in 1722, while he was patentee of the Drury-Lane Theatre. In this, as in his former plays, he broke entirely away from the profligate traditions of the restoration drama, and kept close to what he conceived to be the high moral purpose of the stage. But in his earnestness he too often forgot that the first object of comedy is to amuse and not to preach; and his plays, though occasionally enlivened with humour, are on the whole dull and insipid.
Steele died in Wales, September 1, 1729, having, says Thackeray, “outlived his places, his schemes, his wife, his income, his health, and almost everything but his kind heart." 3
He had married twice. Many of his letters to his second wife, whom he affectionately nicknamed “ Prue,” are preserved, and to these spontaneous expressions of his
1 Mr. Steele's Apology for Himself and His Writings, 1714.
2 Overdoing the element of morality in his writings for the stage, Steele “became the real founder of that sentimental comedy which exercised so pernicious an influence upon the progress of our dramatic literature." Ward's History of English Dramatic Literature, II, 603.
English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century.
In that age
thoughts and feelings, we must still turn if we would gain at first-hand some clear idea of his character.
Steele was not cast in the heroic mould. He was a man of many weaknesses, inconsistencies careless, improvident, foolishly sanguine; an easy prey to the temptations of conviviality;
often reckless in word and deed. But his personality is none the less a singularly attractive one. He was full of the milk of human kindness. With the defects of his Irish blood, he had its good qualities as well — its warmth, sympathy, buoyant courage. Often as he fell short of his own ideals, he honestly loved what was true, pure, and good. He was a loyal friend and a devoted husband and father. But nowhere is his thorough manliness exhibited more fully than in his chivalrous treatment of women. of coarseness and frivolity, he spoke of them always with genuine admiration and respect; and were there no reason for it but this, we ought to hold his name in kindly remembrance. Other men of his time may make larger claims upon our attention; for none do we conceive so deep an affection. Perhaps our feeling toward him is best illustrated by the fact that, despite the dignity of knighthood bestowed upon him by George I., we still find ourselves constantly thinking and speaking of him as “Dick" Steele.
Joseph Addison, whose name is much more closely associated than Steele's with the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, was born May 1, 1672, and was therefore by a few weeks Steele's junior. He, too, was educated at the Charterhouse and at Oxford. ' At the university he early established a reputation for scholarship, particularly distinguishing himself by the grace and purity of his Latin verses. In 1693 he took his master's degree, and began his career as an English writer with a poetical address to Dryden. It seems to have been his original intention to follow his father in the clerical profession; but from this he was turned aside by powerful Whig friends, who wished him to enter political life. Obtaining a travelling pension, he left England in 1699 to qualify himself for the diplomatic service by seeing the world and mastering foreign tongues. He returned home in 1703, and the next year published the results of some of his experiences and observations abroad in his Remarks on Several Parts of Italy. But through political changes following the accession of Queen Anne, his former patrons were now unable to assist him, and Addison was thrown on his own resources. Fortune, however, did not long neglect him. The great battle of Blenheim had just been won; the government was anxious to have it properly celebrated; and Addison, at the request of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, produced his most famous poem The Campaign. His political advancement was now assured. He was appointed Commissioner of Appeals, in succession to John Locke, and not long afterwards Under Secretary of State; accompanied Lord Halifax on a mission to Hanover, in 1707 ; and in 1709 became Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. With the fall of the Whig ministry in 1710, Addison lost his position; but he was now wealthy enough to be independent of political employment.
Addison's literary output from 1711 on, is to be found mainly in the essays written first for The Spectator, and afterwards for The Guardian and The Freeholder. Apart from these his principal production was the tragedy of Cato, acted in 1713. This play still possesses a kind of faint historic significance as one of the best examples in English literature of the so-called "classic" form of drama. But this is all that can now be said in its favour. Its verse is stiff; its rhetoric cold; its characters lifeless and uninteresting.
On the return of the Whigs to power in 1714, Addison once more became Secretary for Ireland, and in 1717 Secretary of State. This position he resigned in less than a year, owing to failing health. He died on June 17, 1719. He had married in 1716, and his wife, Charlotte, Countess of Warwick, survived him.
Addison's individuality stands in striking contrast with that of his friend, Steele. He was a man of pure and noble character, of lofty ideals, and genuine piety; but we miss in him the fervour and spontaneity that make Steele, with all his errors and infirmities, so delightful and engaging a figure. He was proud, shy, reserved, intensely self-conscious, and thus often left with those about him an impression of coldness and austerity. But he was, in reality, one of the kindest and most sympathetic of men. In the annals of literature he may well bear “without abuse the grand old name of gentleman,” for along with exquisite breeding and urbanity he possessed masculine courage and feminine sensibility and grace.
Of Eustace Budgell a few words will suffice. He was born in 1685, and was a first cousin of Addison, from whom he received much kindness and assistance. He lived for a time in Ireland, where he had obtained an excellent political appointment; but his prospects were ruined by a bitter quarrel with the Lord Lieutenant. After Addison's death, he lost the greater part of his fortune in the South Sea Bubble ; became a virulent pamphleteer against the government; and took a share in the Deistic controversy on the infidel side. He was presently accused of having forged a will, purporting to be made in his favour by Matthew Tindal; but the charge was never formally proved against him. At length, harassed by poverty, surrounded by enemies, and rendered desperate by infamy and ill-health, the wretched man put an end to his life, in 1737, by throwing himself into the Thames. Besides his contribution to The Spectator and to a periodical, which he himself edited, called The Bee, Budgell published a translation of the Characters of Theophrastus, and some Memoirs of the Life and Character of the late Earl of Orrery, and of the Family of the Boyles.1
1 The authorship of the essays in The Spectator was marked by the letters R and T for Steele. C, L, I, or O, the letters of the name Clio, for Addison. Budgell used X as a rule, but occasionally 2.