Imágenes de páginas

best Latin pieces. In 1689, two years after he entered the University, Addison was appointed a demy, or one of those scholars who partake of the founder's benefaction, and are eligible in the order of succession to fellowships. In this position, which he won by his classical displays, he remained for several consecutive years, cultivating his mental powers with diligence, and making himself familiar with general literature.

A short copy of complimentary verses addressed to Dryden, and dated June 2, 1693, seems to have been the first avowed attempt of Addison in English poetry, and it was soon afterwards followed by a translation in verse of the Fourth Georgic of Virgil. Dryden spoke flatteringly of this production, and when he gave his own version of the Georgics to the public, he prefixed to it a critical discourse on these poems, which was sent to him by Addison. In 1694, the subject of our notice produced an original poem of considerable length, inscribed to Henry Sacheverell, and containing a critical sketch of all the preceding poets of Britain. In the closing lines of this piece, the author alludes to his purpose of entering the church, which his father was extremely anxious that he should do. But he himself, though of a serious and thoughtful temperament, was not particularly disposed to take orders, and this is in some measure ascribable to his having already formed views of distinction of a different kind. Congreve, the dramatist, had introduced him to Montague (afterwards Earl of Halifax), who was at that time Chancellor of Exchequer, and who encouraged him to hope for success in the characters of courtier and politician. Some passages in the poem to Sacheverell show that Addison knew and could adopt the tone necessary to obtain such success—the “ wit" and “humour” of the “ noble Montague” being there liberally lauded, while a still larger measure of praise is awarded to the “ godlike acts of Nassau”—to wit, King William. That sovereign, who, fortunately for the fame of the eulogist, possessed actual merits of no ordinary kind, bestowed the fitting reward in time, though not until the poet had sounded a still louder note of commendation, first in an English poem addressed to William personally, and secondly, in some excellent Latin verses

on the Peace of Ryswick. The first of these compositions, published in 1695, was dedicated to the Lord Keeper Somers; and the second, issued two years later, was prefaced by an inscription to the Chancellor Montague. By the influence of these two distinguished statesmen and patrons of literature, Addison was honoured with a pension from the crown of £300. He was thus enabled to gratify a desire for travelling, which he had long and ardently entertained.

In the latter end of the year 1699, he passed over to France, where he spent nearly twelve months, and then proceeded to Italy. Four acts of the tragedy of Cato (not published for many years afterwards), a poetical letter to (Montague) Lord Halifax, and a series of Dialogues on Medals, displaying much learning and research, were the fruits of his Italian studies. He returned home in 1702. Swift says that he was compelled to do so by pecuniary straits, while Tickell asserts that a government appointment recalled him to Britain. If the latter statement be correct, the death of King William, before Addison reached England, produced a change in the traveller's prospects. Receiving, no employment for some time from his ministerial friends, he occupied himself in drawing up an account of his travels, which was the first prose work of any consequence that came from his pen.

The description given of the little republic of San Marino has been generally thought the most entertaining part of this production, and in the sketch certainly, there may be found a lively foretaste of the peculiar humour which shone so brightly in later compositions of the author. In 1704, the services of Addison were at length put in requisition by the British government, though only in a poetical, not a political, capacity. The minister, Lord Godolphin, was anxious to have the recent victory of Blenheim celebrated in fitting verse; and the task was assigned, through the influence of Halifax, to the subject of our memoir. The result of his labours was the poem called the “Campaign.” In this case, as in that of King William's actions, the theme was one on which a British poet and patriot might voluntarily have enlarged with just pride, and therefore the task can scarcely be termed a venal one, although its performance was immediately and substantially rewarded by the appointment of the author to the post of Commissioner of Appeals.

“The Campaign,” like other poetical pieces from the pen of Mr Addison, was a correct, sensible production, yet withal but mediocre poetry. It sufficed, however, to increase his already rising reputation, and his political friends conferred on him, in succession, various important public offices. He accompanied Lord Halifax to Hanover in 1705, in the capacity of secretary, and in the following year was nominated under-secretary of state. His official avocations did not prevent him from still dedicating a portion of his time to poetry, and in 1707, a sort of lyrical opera from his pen, entitled “ Rosamond,” was produced on the London stage. Though there unfavourably received, the piece is easily and elegantly written, and possesses considerable humour. The next production of Mr Addison appears to have been a prologue for the comedy of the Tender Husband, which was inscribed to him by his old school-fellow of the Chartreux, Richard (afterwards Sir Richard) Steele, who also acknowledged himself indebted to Addison for considerable assistance in its composition. In 1709, Mr Addison went to Ireland as secretary to the Marquis of Wharton, and received at the same time the subsidiary office of Keeper of the Records of Bermingham's Tower, the salary of which was augmented to £300, purposely for his benefit. As regarded integrity and attention to the duties of office, he was a meritorious public servant, though in other respects, as will be noticed afterwards, he formed but an incompetent man of business. One of the official rules which he prescribed to himself has been recorded by Swift. Addison never remitted any of his regular fees on the score of friendship, and justified his adoption of this practice by saying, “I may have a hundred friends, each of whom owes me two guineas; if I relinquish my right to these monies, I lose two hundred guineas, while no friend gains more than two; there is therefore no proportion between the good imparted and the evil suffered.” During his friend's tenure of the Irish secretaryship, Steele commenced the publication of the Tatler in London. He at first desired to write anonymously, but the authorship of

[ocr errors]

these papers was soon discovered by Addison, who was much pleased with the idea, and became an important contributor. His first sketch appeared in the eighteenth number (20th May 1709), and consisted of an ironical account of the great feats of the London news-venders, who, in their reports on the continental war, took numerous towns that never were taken, and slew hosts that never were slain. This opening essay exhibits all the fine humour of his later effusions. He continued to transmit frequent contributions to the Tatler up nearly till the period of its discontinuance, which occurred on the 2d of January 1711. In the preface to the last volume, Steele most handsomely acknowledges his obligations to the Irish secretary, whose name, however, he seems not to have been permitted to mention. After adverting to his claims upon the aid of his “nameless " friend, Steele thus proceeds: “ This good office he performed with such force of genius, humour, wit, and learning, that I fared like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbour to his aid ; I was undone by my auxiliary; and when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence upon him.”

Sir Richard Steele had the entire merit of planning the Tatler, and, consequently, of originating a novel and interesting species of literature, intended and calculated to improve the morals, tastes, and manners of general society. Mr Addison was no party to the commencement of the Tatler, and it was brought to a close without his cognisance; but his share in it was well enough known to add largely to his reputation, and the work had served an important purpose, in permitting him to feel his strength as a prose essayist. He did not allow the newly discovered faculty to remain long uncultivated. On the Ist of March 1711, he commenced a new and daily periodical on the plan of the preceding one, giving to it the now famous name of the Spectator. This sheet was begun in concert with Steele, and, in the course of time, the aid of several other literary men was offered and accepted; but Addison was the main pillar on which the Spectator rested, and, fortunately, certain ministerial changes had occurred in 1710, by which he was deprived of office, and enabled to devote nearly his whole time to the production of his exquisite essays.

These are of a varied description, and alike admirable, whether grave, humorous, or critical. Their tone throughout is didactic, but such minor breaches of good taste and good breeding -such violations of the lesser moralities of life-as the Spectator proposed to expose and reform, called rather for the delicate touch of ridicule and irony than for solemn and severe reprehension; and the writings of Addison, in his character of public teacher, displayed precisely that rare union of seriousness and light satirical humour which the occasion demanded. The Spectator was highly popular, and had a daily sale which must be regarded as a very large one for the period, averaging, as it seems to have done, between 1600 and 3000. The work extended to 555 numbers, of which the last was published on the 6th of December 1712.

The career of Addison as an essayist, however, was not yet concluded. The circumstances which had caused the Spectator to be dropped, were not of a nature to prevent him from giving his aid to Steele in the conduct of a new periodical, to which the name of the Guardian was given, and which was kept up during a considerable part of the years 1713 and 1714. The subject of our notice contributed a number of valuable and characteristic papers to this work, though he exerted himself less than in the case of the Spectator. In 1713, his reputation, which now stood very high in the world of letters, received

a large increase by the performance and publication of his tragedy of Cato. The Whig party, to whom he had long been politically attached, created a strong degree of popular excitement respecting this play, which, previously to its production on the stage, was represented by them as a piece that was likely to be, in all time coming, a sort of literary palladium of liberty. When the tragedy came to be performed, its success was most brilliant. Fearing the violent opposition of the Tories, Steele, as he himself relates, had made an attempt to pack the house with a prepossessed audience, but he might have spared himself the trouble. The Whigs applauded every line where liberty was mentioned, as a covert satire on the Tories; and the Tories, on the other hand, anxious to show that they regarded such sentiments as not at all inconsistent with their own, poured forth still louder commendations.

« AnteriorContinuar »