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Art. XV.---The Life of Joseph Addison. By Lucy Aikin. 2
vols. Longman. Miss Aikin is favourably known as the author of “Memoirs of Charles the First,” of “ Elizabeth," and some other royal personages. But her name has not of late been pressed upon the notice of the public so often as it merits. Consequently we gladly hail her reappearance, for the strong the presumption is that she comes forward with a matured production, something that will abide and reward examination. Nor will the anticipation be over-stretched, if she is to be tried according to the merits of the present volumes; for they are the result of great care and research, of a predominating admiration and an able delineation of their celebrated subject. It adds to the attractiveness of the work that the author is Addison's warm and thorough apologist, however much this may detract from its historical value. She is in fact his zealous advocate, not unfrequently displaying the art of a special pleader. Still it is the completest life that has yet been published of the Essayist, not merely because it takes the fullest view of his character and career, but because of the new lights that have been brought to his history from sources not previously investigated or duly considered.
A few passages at the late period of the month that these volumes have come under our notice, with the slenderest connecting links possible, must suffice to indicate to our readers the abundance of the materials in them, and the way in which they are adjusted. Addison was born in 1672, on May-day, and was the eldest son of the Dean of Lichfield. He was at an early period of his life sent to the Charter-house, where he soon formed a friendly intimacy with Richard Steele. From being a private pupil at 'this institution Joseph passed to Oxford, where he distinguished himself, and was promoted accordingly. His Latin verses were the pieces which appear first to have attracted attention. But ere long he attempted poetry in his mother-tongue. Dryden's translations must have particularly captivated the youth, and similar performances would tend to equip him for ready composition in both languages. He dedicated to "glorious John” in 1693 what are considered to be amongst the very first of his English verses. And, we are told,
Soon afterwards, the ambition of emulating what he praised, engaged Addison himself in a translation of the second Georgic, of which the elder poet complaisantly remarked, after this, “my second swarm is scarce worth the hiving." This courtesy was again requited on the part of the younger, by the humble but welcome service of supplying arguments to most of the books of the Æneid, and by the present of a critical essay on the Georgics which Dryden printed as a preface to his own translations, but, by the specia, desire of the author, without his name.
By-and-by Addison gave tokens of critical judgment and taste ; but still, according to the fashion of the age, he indulged in dedications lavish of praise and of flattery, and addressed for the most part to illustrious persons, or prudently taking advantage of such public events for his themes as to obtain political countenance by the
powerful. The fruit of these efforts and opportune selections was high patronage, which ere long procured for him a pension from the crown of £300 a-year. The Whigs were at that time in power, and Addison was not slow to profess his adhesion to the party. The pension was granted on the condition that he should betake himself to foreign travel, in order to qualify him for office. Accordingly he undertook the grand tour. This was in 1699. Early after starting his letters indicate an observant spirit and turn. For example, he writes from Paris in the following terms :
As for the state of Learning; There is no Book comes out at present that has not something in it of an Air of Devotion. Dạcier has bin forc'd to prove his Plato a very good Christian before he ventures upon his Translation, and has so far comply'd with ye Tast of the Age that his whole book is over-run with Texts of Scripture, and ye notion of præ-existence supposed to be stol'n from two verses of the prophets. Nay ye Humour is grown so universal that it is got among ye Poets who are every day publishing Lives of Saints and Legends in Rhime.
He remained in France for a considerable time, in order to become conversant with the language of the country. His eye was beginning too to scan with critical nicety the beauties of scenery, affording means of pronouncing upon the gradual development of his mind and tastes. He thus writes of Fontainebleau :
It is situated among rocks and woods that give you a fine variety of Savage prospects. The King has Humour'd the Genius of the place, and only make use of so much art as is necessary to Help and regulate Nature without reforming her too much. The cascades seem to break through the Clefts and cracks of Rocks that are cover'd over with Moss, and look as if they were piled upon one one another by Accident. There is an Artificial Wild. ness in the Meadows, Walks, and Canals, and ye Garden instead of a Wall is Fenc'd on the Lower End by a Natural mound of Rock-work that strikes the Eye very Agreeably. For in my part I think there is something more charming in these rude heaps of Stone than in so many Statues, and wou'd as soon see a River winding through Woods and Meadows as when it is toss'd up in such a Variety of figures at Versailles.
It was a happy idea in furtherance of enviable introductions to lettered foreigners to carry with him a copy of his best Latin pieces, contained in one of the volumes of the “Musæ Anglicanæ. Boileau was of the celebrities whom these poems won over to the tourist. The following are some of the notices which Addison gives of this eminent writer :
Among other Learned 'men I had ye honour to be introduc'd to Mr. Boileau, who is now retouching his works and putting 'em out in a new Impression. He is old and a little Deaf but talks incomparably well in his own calling. He heartily hates an Ill poet and throws himself into a passion when he talks of any one that has not a high respect for Homer and Virgil. I don't know whether there is more of old Age or Tr
in his Censures on ye French writers, but he wonderfully decrys y present and extols very much his former contemporarys, especially his two intimate friends Arnaud and Racine. I askt him whether he thought Telemaque was not a good modern piece: he spoke of it with a great deal of esteem, and said that it gave us a better notion of Homer's way of writing you any translation of his works could do, but that it falls however infinitely short of ye Odyssee, for Mentor, says he, is eternally Preaching, but Ulysses shows us everything in his character and behaviour yt ye other is still pressing
on us by his precepts and Instructions. He said ye punishment of bad Kings was very well invented, and might compare with anything of that nature in ye 6th Eneid, and that ye deceit put on Telemaque's Pilot to make him misguide his master is more artful and poetical than ye Death of Palinurus.
He talk'd very much of Corneille, allowing him to be an excellent poet, but at ye same time none of ye best Traigique writers, for that he declaimed too frequently and made very fine Descriptions often when there was no occasion for 'em. Aristotle, says he, proposes two passions ye are proper to be rais'd by Tragedy, Terrour, and Pity, but Corneille endeavours at a new on wh is Admiration. He instanc'd in his Pompey (wh he told us ye late Duke of Condy thought ye best Tragedy yt was ever written) where in ye first scene ye King of Egypt runs into a very pompous and long description of ye battle of Pharsalia, tho' he was then in a great hurry of affairs and had not himself bin present at it.
A letter to Mr. Chamberlain Dashwood from Geneva will afford a specimen of the graceful wit, in which the traveller became such a proficient :
Dear Sir.—About three days ago, Mr. Bocher put a pretty snuff-box in my hand. I was not a little pleas'd to hear that it belonged to myself, and was much more so when I found it was a present from a Gentleman that I have so great an honour for. You did not probably foresee that it wou'd draw on you ye trouble of a Letter, but you must blame yourself for it. For my part I can no more accept of a Snuff-box without returning my acknowledgments, than I can take snuff without sneezing after it. This last I must own to you is so great an absurdity that I should be ashamed to confess it, were not I in hopes of correcting it very speedily. I am observ'd to have my Box oft'ner in my hand than those that have bin used to one these twenty years, for I cant forbear taking it out of my pocket whenever I think of Mr. Dashwood. You know Mr. Bays recommends Snuff as a great provocative to Wit, but you may produce this Letter as a standing Evidence against him. I have since ye beginning of it taken above a dozen pinches, and still find myself much more inclin’d to sneeze than to jest. From whence I conclude that Wit and Tobacco are not inseparable, or to make a Pun of it, tho' a Man may be master of a snuff-box,
“ Non cuicunque datum est habere Nasam.'
I should be afraid of being thought a Pedant for my Quotation did not I know that ye Gentleman I am writing to always carrys a Horace in his pocket. But whatever you may think me, Pray si do me ye Justice to esteem me.
Addison returned to England towards the close of 1703, dispirited by the downfall of the administration that had dealt so handsomely towards him, and the suspension of the annual gift from the crown. He was thus more than ever induced to betake himself to literature. But good fortune was not pertinacious in her estrangement; for the field of Blenheim offered its triumphs to the pen of our man of letters ; and so highly to the satisfaction of persons in power did he acquit himself by - The Campaign,” that in a short time he obtained an under-secretaryship. He was now thirty-four years of age, and his fortunes made, both in respect of pecuniary independence and also of influence with the rich and the exalted in rank. We find him, for example, beginning to be on the familiar and playful terms with a member of the Warwick family, exhibited in the letter now to be cited :
My dearest Lord.— I can't forbear being troublesome to your Lordship whilst I am in your neighbourhood. The business of this is to invite you to a concert of music, which I have found out in a neighbouring wood. It begins precisely at six in the evening, and consists of a blackbird, a thrush, à robin-redbreast and a bullfinch. There is a lark that by way of overture sings and mounts till she is almost out of hearing; and afterwards, falling down leisurely, drops to the ground as soon as she has ended her song. The whole is concluded by a nightingale that has a much better voice than Mrs. Tofts, and something of the Italian manner in her divisions. If your Lordship will honour me with your company, I will promise to entertain you with much better music and more agreeable scenes, than ever you met with
at the opera.
The birth of the “Spectator" ere long followed, together with the renewal of intimacy with Steele, in spite of the wide difference between their habits and condition. Miss Aikin thus disposes of certain transactions between the friends, which have been left in such obscurity that very opposite inferences have been drawn from their supposed nature:
There are traces in these letters of some pecuniary transactions between the friends : Steele informs his wife, in August 1708, that he has " paid Mr. Addison the whole 10001.," and at a later period he says, “Mr. Addison's money you will have to-morrow noon." No part of the correspondence affords the slighest confirmation of the story willingly received by Johnson, but discredited by Thyer, of Addison's having put an execution into the house of his freind to recover a hundred pounds which he had lent him. Steele, in one account, is said to have told the circumstance with tears in his eyes ; another version of the story makes the debt 1000l., and represents
Addison as remitting to Steele the balance of the produce of the execution “ with a genteel letter," informing him that he had taken this step in order to awaken him to a sense of the inevitable ruin awaiting him from his habits of negligence and profusion ; Steele, it is added, took the warning in good part, and believed the proceeding designed to do him service. Tales thus contradictory carry their refutation with them; but when, at a later period, Steele, in one of his frequent exigencies, informs his wife that he has raised money elsewhere, “but was denied by his friend,” it is no improbable conjecture that Addison might be the person referred to. The accurate Dr. Birch had doubtless some grounds for the observation, that their friendship 'endured to the end, " with a few little bickerings on economical occasions.' When we consider the profligacy-almost the insanity-of Steele's profusion in contrast with the undeviating economy and prudence by which Addison preserved himself free from temptations to private dishonesty or political, baseness which might have proved too strong for his virtue, it will appear certain that his purse could not at all times have been opened so freely as we find that it had once been, to the selfish and unprincipled importunities of his reckless associate.
The development and career of Addison's authorship, and the peculiar traits of his literary triumphs, afford themes for elaborate and interesting discussion. The influence of the “Spectator" alone on life and manners, as well as in the department of criticism and letters, is a subject of no mean compass, and susceptible of nice disquisition. How powerful must have been the authority, and how much envied the praise of such a journal! Pope's joy and gratitude when his "Essay on Criticism' was flatteringly noticed, seem to have known no bounds, if one is to judge from the figurative terms, and the many strong expressions of the following document:
Sir, I have past part of this Xmas with some honest Country Gentlemen, who have Wit enough to be good natured, but no manner of Relish for Criticsm or polite writing, as you may easily conclude when I tell you they never read the Spectator. This was the Reason I did not see that of ye 28th till yesterday at my Return home, wherein tho' it be ye highest satisfaction to find myself commended by a Person whom all ye world commends, yet I am not more obliged to you for that, than for your Candour and Frankness in acquitting me with ye Errour I have been guilty of in speaking too freely of my Brother-Moderns. Tis indeed ye common method of all counterfeits in Wit, as well as in Physic, to begin with warning us of others? Cheats, in order to make ye more way for their own. But if ever this essay be thought worthy a second edition, I shall be very glad to strike out all such strokes which
shall be so kind as to point out to me: I shall really be proud of being corrected; for I believe 'tis with ye Errors of ye Mind, as with ye Weeds of a Field wh if they are consumed upon ye Place, enrich and improve it more, than if none had ever grown there. Some of ye Faults of that book, I myself have found, and more (I am confident) others have, enough at least to have made me very humble, had not you given this public