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She comes ! she comes ! the sable throne behold
ADDISON AND STEELE.
Next to the prose of Swift and the poetry of Pope, perhaps the portion of the literature of the beginning of the last century that was both most influential at the time, and still lives most in the popular remembrance, is that connected with the names of Addison and Steele. These two writers were the chief boast of the Whig party, as Swift and Pope were of the Tories. Addison's poem, The Campaign, on the victory of Blenheim, his imposing but frigid tragedy of Cato, and some other dramatic productions,
besides various other writings in prose, have given him a reputation in many departments of literature; and Steele also holds a respectable rank among our comic dramatists as the author of the Tender Husband and the Conscious Lovers; but it is as the first, and on the whole the best, of our English essayists, the principal authors (in every sense) of the Tatler, the Spectator, and the Guardian, that these two writers have sent down their names with most honor to posterity, and have especially earned the love and gratitude of their countrymen. Steele was in his thirty-ninth, and his friend Addison in his thirty-eighth year, when the Tatler was started by the former in April, 1709. The paper, published thrice a week, had gone on for about six weeks before Addison took any part in it; but from that time he became, next to Steele, the chief contributor to it, till it was dropped in January, 1711. “I have only one gentleman,” says Steele in his preface to the collected papers,
" who will be nameless, to thank for any frequent assistance to me, which indeed it would have been barbarous in him to have denied to one with whom he has lived in an intimacy from childhood, considering the great ease with which he is able to dispatch the most entertaining pieces of this nature.” The person alluded to is Addison. “This good office,” Steele generously adds, “ 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 ; when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him.” By far the greater part of the Tatler, however, is Steele’s. Of 271 papers of which it consists, above 200 are attributed either entirely or in the greater part to him, while those believed to have been written by Addison are only about fifty. Among the other contributors Swift is the most frequent. The Spectator was begun within two months after the discontinuance of the Tatler, and was carried on at the rate of six papers a week till the 6th of December, 1712, on which day Number 555 was published. In these first seven volumes of the Spectator, Addison's papers are probably more numerous than Steele’s ; and between them they wrote perhaps four fifths of the whole work. The Guardian was commenced on the 12th of March, 1713, and, being also published six times a week, had extended to 175 numbers, when it was brought to a close on the 1st of October in the same year. There is only one paper by Addison in the first volume of the Guardian; but to the second
he was rather a more frequent contributor than Steele. This was the last work in which the two friends joined ; for Addison, we believe, wrote nothing in the Englishman, the fifty-seven numbers of which were published, at the rate of three a week, between the 6th of October, 1713, and the 15th of February following ; nor Steele any of the papers, eighty in number, forming the eighth volume of the Spectator, of which the first was published on the 18th of June, 1714, the last on the 20th of December in the same year, the rate of publication being also three times a week. Of these additional Spectators twenty-four are attributed to Addison. The friendship of nearly half a century which had united these two admirable writers was rent asunder by political differences some years before the death of Addison, in 1719: Steele survived till 1729.
Invented or introduced among us as the periodical essay may be said to have been by Steele and Addison, it is a species of writing, as already observed, in which perhaps they have never been surpassed, or on the whole equalled, by any one of their many follow
More elaboration and depth, and also more brilliancy, we may have had in some recent attempts of the same kind; but hardly so much genuine liveliness, ease, and cordiality, anything so thoroughly agreeable, so skilfully adapted to interest without demanding more attention than is naturally and spontaneously given to it. Perhaps so large an admixture of the speculative and didactic was never made so easy of apprehension and so entertaining, so like in the reading to the merely narrative. But, besides this constant atmosphere of the pleasurable arising simply from the lightness, variety, and urbanity of these delightful papers, the delicate imagination and exquisite humor of Addison, and the vivacity, warm-heartedness, and altogether generous nature of Steele, give a charm to the best of them, which is to be enjoyed, not described. We not only admire the writers, but soon come to love them, and to regard both them and the several fictitious personages that move about in the other little world they have created for us as among our best and best-known friends.1
1 By far the most elaborate tribute that has been paid to the genius of Addison, it need hardly be noticed, is Lord Macaulay's brilliant Essay originally published in the Edinburgh Review, for July, 1843.
AMONG the prose works of the early part of the last century which used to have the highest reputation for purity and elegance of style, is that by Lord Shaftesbury, entitled Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, and Things. Its author, Anthony Ashley Cooper, third Earl of Shaftesbury (grandson of the first Earl, the famous meteoric politician of the reign of Charles II.), was born in 1671 and died in 1713; and the Characteristics, which did not appear in its present form, or with that title, till after his death, consists of a collection of disquisitions on various questions in moral, metaphysical, and critical philosophy, most of which he had previously published separately. We have nothing to do here with the philosophical system of Lord Shaftesbury, of which, whatever may
be its defects, the spirit is at least pure, lofty, and tolerant; but as a specimen of his style we will transcribe a single short passage from the most considerable of the treatises that form his first volume, that which he calls Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author, first printed in 1710. The passage we have selected will also be found curious as a sample of Shakspearian criticism at that day, and for the remarks it contains on the tragedy of Hamlet, about which so much has been written in more recent times :
Let our authors or poets complain ever so much of the genius of our people, 'tis evident we are not altogether so barbarous or gothic as they pretend. We are naturally no ill soil, and have musical parts which might be cultivated with great advantage, if these gentlemen would use the art of masters in their composition. They have power to work upon our better inclinations, and may know by certain tokens that their audience is disposed to receive nobler subjects, and taste a better manner, than that which, through indulgence to themselves more than to the world, they are generally pleased to make their choice.
Besides some laudable attempts which have been made with tolerable success, of late years, towards a just manner of writing, both in the heroic and familiar style, we have older proofs of a right clisposition in our people towards the moral and instructive way. Our old dramatic poet' may witness for our good ear and manly relish. Notwithstanding his natural rudeness, his unpolished style, his antiquated phrase and wit, his want of method and coherence, and his deficiency in almost all the graces and ornaments of this kind of writings; yet by the justness of his
moral, the aptness of many of his descriptions, and the plain and natural turn of several of his characters, he pleases his audience, and often gains their
ear, without a single bribe from luxury or vice. That piece of his 1 which appears to have most affected English hearts, and has perhaps been oftenest acted of any which have come upon our stage, is almost one continued moral; a series of deep reflections, drawn from one mouth, upon the subject of one single accident and calamity, naturally fitted to move horror and compassion. It may be properly said of this play, if I mistake not, that it has only one character or principal part. It contains no adoration or flattery to the sex; no ranting at the gods; no blustering heroism ; nor anything of that curious mixture of the fierce and tender which makes the hinge of modern tragedy, and nicely varies it between the points of love and honour.
Upon the whole, since in the two great poetic stations, the epic and dramatic, we may observe the moral genius so naturally prevalent; since our most approved heroic poem 2 has neither the softness of language nor the fashionable turn of wit, but merely solid thought, strong reasoning, noble passion, and a continued thread of moral doctrine, piety, and virtue to recommend it; we may justly infer that it is not so much the public ear, as the ill hand and vicious manner of our poets, which needs redress.
And thus at last we are returned to our old article of advice; that main preliminary of self-study and inward converse, which we have found so much wanting in the authors of our time. They should add the wisdom of the heart to the talk and exercise of the brain, in order to bring proportion and beauty into their works. That their composition and vein of writing may be natural and free, they should settle matters in the first place with themselves. And, having gained a mastery here, they may easily, with the help of their genius, and a right use of art, command their audience, and establish a good taste.
But the most remarkable philosophical work of this time, at least in a literary point of view, is Mandeville's Fable of the Bees. Bernard de Mandeville was a native of Holland, in which country he was born about the year 1670; but, after having studied medicine and taken his doctor's degree, he came over to England about the end of that century, and he resided here till his death in 1733. 1 The tragedy of Hamlet.
2 Milton's Paradise Lost.