« VorigeDoorgaan »
HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL
THE project of writing the celebrated Essays that form these volumes is said to have originated with SIR RICHARD STEELE ; but the plan upon which such a work should be conducted was the result of much deliberate arrangement with his friend ADDISON, and it is highly probable that the scheme and opinion of ADDISON, to whom STEELE had ever been accustomed to pay great deference, exclusively operated in moulding what may be termed the fable and outline of the Spectator.
The first paper appeared on Thursday, March 1, 1710-11; in it ADDISON gives an account of the birth, education, &c. of the SPECTATOR, and sketches the silent character he was to preserve, with great felicity of humour. The second, by STEELE, delineates the characters of the Club, the principal of whom is IR ROGER DE COVERLEY.
The introduction of a club into this paper, whose characters, taken from the principal classes of society, and consistently supported, dramatize as it were the whole series of essays, was a contrivance admirably calculated to afford the requisite degree of unity. The character of the SPECATOR is never lost sight of; it is insinuated through the entire production, and renders it, in fact, a complete picture of the mind of an individual. By this means a very considerable portion of interest and curiosity is excited; we entertain an affection for the writer who has thus given us such a masterly portrait of himself, and we perceive with delight that through the medium of this minute delineation of his person and manners, and those of his associates, he has formed a common centre of attraction, round which the whole work turns with a correspondence and beauty of design
which have for ever established it as the best model of the periodical essay.
Many succeeding Essayists have approxi mated very closely to some of the acknowledged excellencies of ADDISON. Morality, imagery, wit and taste, are diffused with no sparing hand over their pages; but in the spirit and unity of their plan they have altogether failed, or fallen infinitely short of their celebrated prototype.
The artful and finished construction, indeed, of the design on which the Spectator is founded, is such, that the most perfect rules may be drawn from it for the regulation of this species of composition; and it is to be regretted that it has not more frequently met with liberal imitation from our numerous periodical writers. It must be obvious, that a mere series of detached essays, without any dependency of parts, without any organization which can constitute them a whole, can never make the impression, nor excite the lively interest, which the well-arranged scheme of ADDISON SO completely effects.
It is in the Spectator that the genius of our author beams with unclouded lustre. The essays most valuable for their humour, invention, and
precept, are the product of his pen; and it soon became, in consequence of his large contributions, the most popular work this country has produced. But we shall cease to enter into a detail of the merit and talent so conspicuous, and so universally acknowledged, and hasten to lay before our readers a biographical sketch of our author.
JOSEPH ADDISON was the son of the Rev. Lancelet Addison, dean of Litchfield, and Jane, daughter of Nathaniel Gulston, esq. He was born at Milston, near Ambrosbury, in Wiltshire, on May 1, 1672, at his father's rectory. After receiving the rudiments of education at Ambrosbury and Salisbury, he was removed for further improvement to the Charterhouse, under the tuition of Dr. Ellis; at which seminary he contracted an intimacy with Mr. Steele (afterwards Sir Richard), which continued through life.
At the early age of fifteen, Addison was entered of Queen's college, Oxford, where the facility with which he applied to classical literature, and particularly to Latin poetry, was soon taken notice of, and caused him to be elected a demy of Magdelen College, where he took the degrees of bachelor and master of arts. Such