Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Joseph ADDISON was born on the 1st of May, 1672, at Milston, of which his father, Launcelot Addison, was then rector, near Ambrosebury, in Wiltshire, and appearing weak and unlikely to live, he was christened the same day m. After the usual domestick 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 Ambrosebury, 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

m Mr. Tyers says, he was actually laid out for dead, as soon as he was born. Addisoniana, ii. 218.'

A writer, who signs himself T. J. informed Dr. Birch, (Gen. Dict. i. 62.) that Mr. Addison's mother was Jane Gulstone, a circumstance that should not have been omitted. Dr. Launcelot Addison had by his wife six children : 1. Jane, born April 23, 1671. 2. Joseph, 1st May, 1672. 3. Gulstone, in April, 1673. 4. Dorothy, in May, 1674. 5. Anne, in April, 1676; and 6. Launcelot, in 1680. Both Gulstone and Launcelot, who was a fellow of Magdalen college, Oxford, were reputed to be very well skilled in the classicks, and in polite literature. Dr. Addison's living at Milston was 1201. per annum; and after his death his son Joseph was sued for dilapidations by the next incumbent. The writer abovementioned informed Dr. Birch, that “ there was a tradition at Milston, that when at school in the country, (probably at Ambrosebury,) having committed some slight fault, he was so afraid of being corrected for it, that he ran away from his father's house, and fed into the fields, where he lived upon fruits, and took up his lodging in a hollow tree, till, upon the publication of a reward to whoever should find him, he was discovered and restored to his parents." M.

interval bis 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 schoolboy, 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 inquired 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 of 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

n “ At the Charter-house (says Oldmixon, who was personally acquainted with Addison, and as a zealous whig, probably encouraged by him) he made acquaintance with two persons, for whom he had ever after an entire friendship, Stephen Clay, esq. of the Inner Temple, author of the epistle in verse, from the elector of Bavaria to nch king after the battle of Ramilies; and sir Richard Steele, whom he served both with his pen and purse.” Hist. of England, xi. 632. M.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Addison, whom he always mentioned with reverence, and
treated with obsequiousness.

Addison", who knew his own dignity, could not always
forbear to show 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 a
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 P.

In 1687 he was entered into Queen's college in Ox-
ford, where, in 1689, the accidental perusal of some Latin
verses gained him the patronage of Dr. Lancaster, after-
wards provost of Queen's college ; by whose recommen-
dation 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

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

p This fact was communicated to Jol son, in my hearing, by a person
questionable veracity, but whose name I am not at liberty to mention. He
had it, as he told us, from lady Primrose, to whom Steele related it with tears
in his eyes. The late Dr. Stinton confirmed it to me, by saying, that he had
heard it from Mr. Hooke, author of the Roman History; and he, from Mr.
Pope. H.

See in Steele’s Epistolary Correspondence, 1809, vol. i. pp. 208, 356, this
transaction somewhat differently related. N.

The compiler of Addisoniana is of opinion, that Addison's conduct on this occasion was dictated by the kindest motives; and that the step apparently so severe, was designed to awaken him, if possible, to a sense of the impropriety of his mode and habits of life. Ed.

4 He took the degree of M. A. Feb. 14, 1693. N.


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 Musa 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, ceived," 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 ou which, perhaps, he would not have ventured to have written in his own language. The Battle of the Pygmies 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 conveniencies; 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 showed 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 critick'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 shown by his version of a small part of Virgil's Georgicks, published in the Miscellanies; and a Latin Encomium on queen Mary, in the Musæ Anglicanæ. 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 reads. 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 exchequere: Addison was then learning the trade of a courtier, and subjoined Montague, as a poetical name to those of Cowley and 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 any injury but by withholding Addison from it.

Soon after, in 1695, he wrote a poem to king William, ' A letter which I found among Dr. Johnson's papers, dated in January, 1784, from a lady in Wiltshire, contains a discovery of some importance in literary history, viz. that by the initials H. S. prefixed to the poem, we are not to understand the famous Dr. Henry Sacheverell, whose trial is the most remarkable incident in his life. The information thus communicated is, that the verses in question were not an address to the famous Dr. Sacheverell, but to a very ingenious gentleman of the same name, who died young, supposed to be a Manksman, for that he wrote the history of the Isle of Man. That this person left his papers to Mr. Addison, and had formed a plan of a tragedy upon the death of Socrates. The lady says, she had this information from a Mr. Stephens, who was a fellow of Merton college, a contemporary and intimate with Mr. Addison in Oxford, who died near fifty years ago, a prebendary of Winchester. H.

s Spence. - A writer already mentioned, J. P. (Gen. Dict. ut supru,) asserts that his acquaintance with Montague commenced at Oxford: but for this there no foundation. Mr. Montague was bred at Trinity college, Cambridge.


« AnteriorContinuar »