« VorigeDoorgaan »
HISTORICAL AND BIOG
PREFACE TO THE SPECTATOR.
If we are allowed to consider the popular Essay as a new species of composition, we may without hesitation affirm, that it arrived nearly at perfection in the hands of the first inventors. In real value as well as in estimation with the public, no work has ever exceeded that of which we are now to trace the history. The irregularities, whether of plan or execution, which may be discovered in the Tatler, are excluded from its immediate successor, which, although not altogether faultless, is more uniform in all the valuable purposes of instruction, and all the excellences of style and invention. Steele and Addison appear to have used the Tatler as a kind of exercise, a trial of skill, to determine what they could produce, and what the public expected, "quid ferreant humeri quid recusant;" and having made suitable preparations, they entered conjointly on that structure which "should bear
the name of The Monument," a work on which praise has been exhausted, and which we shall find it difficult to characterise without the repetition of acknowledged truths. Succeeding Essayists have presented to the world labours of a similar kind both in purpose and accomplishment, which have justly entitled them to distinguished fame, but none of them have provoked, or wished to provoke, any comparison with the general merit of the Spectator. It has subsisted in the plenitude of its original popularity for nearly a century, and no composition, merely human, has been so frequently printed and read. It has been so universally the delight of every youth of taste or curiosity, that perhaps our fondness for this work might be ranked among the prejudices of education, had it not stood the test of maturer years and fastidious criticism.
When Steele had once secured the services of Addison, when he saw not only what they had produced, but what they might produce, he could not but review the imperfections and inequalities of the Tatler with a wish that his potent auxiliary had been called in sooner, and that, instead of improving an indigested plan, he had been invited to take a share in one concerted with more regularity. It cannot be rash to conjecture that such reflections might pass in Steele's mind, when he determined to conclude the Tatler, a measure which Swift ignorantly attributes to scantiness of materials, or want
* Preface to the Tatler, Life of Steele.
of public encouragement. It appears from many parts of Swift's private correspondence, that he looked with a jaundiced eye on the labours of Steele and Addison, and most probably envied a popularity gained by writings so remote from the genius of his own, and which, instead of promoting or opposing the turbulence of faction, instead of pulling down one ministry and setting up another, were calculated to lead the public mind to the cultivation of common duties and social manners.*
It is stated on the same authority, as well as on that of Tickell, that Addison was ignorant of the conclusion of the Tatler, which, if we allow, it appears to have been a circumstance of little importance; nor did the work "suffer much," says Johnson, "by his unconsciousness of its commencement, or his absence at its cessation, for he continued his assistance to Dec. 23, and the paper stopped on January 2." If Swift or others, therefore, affected to be surprised that Steele should conclude without giving Addison notice, it was a surprise that could not last long. It is indeed highly probable that Steele immediately communicated with Addison on the subject, unless we were to suppose, contrary to all evidence, and all sense of interest and propriety, that he disregarded Addison's services when chiefly he experienced the benefit arising from them, and discontinued the Tatler that he might begin another work without his aid.
* "I will not meddle with the Spectator, let him fair sex it to the world's end." Swift's Works, crown 8vo. vol. xxiii. p. 158.