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WHEN Addison returned from the Continent with a head much better furnished with classic thoughts and elegant scholarship than was his purse with guineas, foremost among the few faces that presented themselves at the door of his dingy lodging in the Haymarket, was the round good-humoured countenance of an old schoolfellow and college friend, formerly Dicky Steele of the Charterhouse, but now rollicking Captain Richard Steele of Lucas's Fusiliers. The two names-Addison and Steele—are inseparably linked together, from the partnership of the two men in those periodical essays out of which have grown our Blackwoods and our Cornhills, our Edinburghs and our Quarterlys.
Steele, the son of a man who acted as Secretary to the Duke of Ormond, then Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, was born about 1675 in Dublin. During his school-days at the Charter-house in London, he was the admiring junior of Addison, whom he afterwards joined at Oxford, being entered at Merton College in 1692. Leaving Oxford without a degree, he enlisted, much against the wishes of all his friends, as a private in the Horse Guards, dazzled by the splendour of the richly laced scarlet coats and the white waving plumes of that gallant corps. This rash step cost him'a fortune; for a wealthy Irish relative, indignant at the news, cut the name of the reckless fellow out of his will. But his agreeable manners, and frank, open jovialty, won him many friends. Ormond, in
STEELE'S LETTERS TO HIS WIFE.
whose troop he rode, obtained a cornetcy for him; he became secretary to Colonel Lord Cutts; and ultimately was made a captain in Lucas's Fusiliers.
During the wild life he spent about town with his brother officers, stung sometimes by his upbraiding conscience, he wrote and published a devotional work, called The Christian Hero, by which he intended to correct his errors and force himself to pull up in time. But his only reward was the laughter of the town; for the idea of a fast-living soldier, who could never resist the attractions of the Rose Tavern or the delight of beating the watch at midnight, appearing in print as a religious character, seemed to have in it something irresistibly comic. Yet for the time Steele was sincere in his intentions of reform. He soon, however, appeared as an author in a different line. Three comedies from his penThe Funeral, The Tender Husband, and The Lying Lover—were performed in 1702, and the two following years. The sober tone of the last having drawn down a storm of hisses from the audience, Steele in disgust withdrew from dramatic authorship. A greater task than the writing of second-rate plays was in store for his genial pen. Between the failure of the “ Lying Lover” and the first issue of
the “Tatler,” Steele married his second wife, Prue, Miss 1707 Scurlock of Caermarthenshire, who, by preserving some
four hundred letters from her husband, written chiefly in
taverns and coffee-houses, has enabled us to form truer ideas of the man Dick Steele than we could get from any other
There we have displayed the inner life of the improvident rake, whose dissipation does not sour the sweetness of his nature, who is often detained from home by some mythical business, and softens his announcement of delay by a little present to his wife of tea or walnuts, or a guinea or two, when his purse is not in its normal condition of emptiness. He held at this time the appointment of Gazetteer, which he afterwards exchanged for the post of Commissioner of Stamps. The former office, by giving him an carly command of foreign news, enabled him to commence the publication of the “ Tatler” in 1709.
The 12th of April in that year marks the opening of a great era in English literature,--the birth of the first English periodical worthy of the name. Three times a week, on 1709 the post-days, this penny sheet came out, and was scattered through town and country. After a while Addison lent his aid to his old school-fellow, and, when The Tatler had told his tale to a second New Year, after a short silence of two months, the greater Spectator arose to fill the vacant space. Here it was that Addison's genius shone in its fullest lustre; and, though Steele's good-natured wit welled out as fresh and natural as ever in the papers of the “Spectator,” he suffers somewhat by contrast with his greater friend. Among other gems of this favourite classic, we owe to Steele's pen the first sketch of the members who composed the Spectator Club. Addison has made Sir Roger all his own, yet Steele certainly first placed the portrait upon canvas.
We have already called Steele’s wit fresh and natural. It came with no stinted flow. He wrote as he lived, freely and carelessly, scattering the coinage of his brain, as he did his guineas, with an unsparing hand. All who read his papers, or his letters to Prue, cannot help seeing the good heart of the rattle-brain shining out in every line. We can forgive, or at least forget, his tippling in taverns and his unthinking extravagance, bad as these were, in consideration of the loving touch with which he handles the foibles of his neighbours, and the mirth without bitterness that flows from his gentle pen.
Between the seventh and eighth volumes of the “Spectator" The Guardian appeared, Steele and Addison being still the chief contributors. Steele's entry upon parliamentary life, as member for Stockbridge, relaxed his efforts as an essayist. Though he was afterwards concerned in other periodicals,—the Englishman, the Reader, &c.,-neither his purse nor his reputation won much by them.
It was a stirring time in politics, and Steele was not the man to be behind hand in the fray. His pamphlet, The Crisis, raised so great a storm against him that he was expelled from the House
IMPROVIDENCE AND DEATH,
of Commons for libel. The death of Queen Anne, however, produced a change. Under the new dynasty Dick became Sir Richard Steele, Governor of the royal Comedians, Surveyor of the royal stables at Hampton Court, and Member of Parliament for Boroughbridge in Yorkshire. In the House he spoke often and well; at home in Bloomsbury or elsewhere he wrote spicy articles, yave splendid dinners,—of course running up heavy bills, which he always meant to pay, but somehow never did. Addison, who had lent his easy-going friend £1000, had to pay himself by selling Steele's country-house at Hampton, furniture and all, putting his own money in his pocket, and handing the balance to poor Dick, who, no doubt, was very glad to get a little ready cash for the duns that knocked daily at the door. Steele's very successful comedy, The Conscious Lovers, acted at Drury Lane in 1722, brought him a large sum; but even that could do little to melt the millstone of debt hanging round the unfortunate author's neck. His difficulties increased. Paralysis struck the haggard, anxious spendthrift. Giving up all he had to his creditors, he hid himself at Llangunnor in Wales, where he still had a shelter from the storm that his own improvidence had raised. There,
forgotten except by angry shopkeepers whom he could 1729 not pay, poor Steele breathed his last in 1729. His
dying years were dependent on the bounty of his credi
tors.—Let us learn the lesson of his life, grieving that the affectionate soul, who loved to make all around him happy, should, through his own easy negligence, have suffered so bitter pangs at the last.
ORIGINAL SKETCH OF SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY.
(SPECTATOR, NO. 2.) The first of our society is a gentleman of Worcestershire, of an ancient descent, a baronet, his name Sir Roger de Coverley. His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous country-dance which is called after him. All who know that shire are very well acquainted with the parts and merits of Sir Roger. He is a gentleman that is very singular in his behaviour; but his singularities proceed from his good sense, and are contradictions to the manners of the world only as he thinks the world is in the wrong. However, this humour creates him no enemies,
SPECIMEN OF STEELE'S PROSE.
for he does nothing with sourness or obstinacy; and his being unconfined to modes and forms makes him but the readier and more capable to please and oblige all who know him. When he is in town, he lives in Soho Square. It is said he keeps himself a bachelor by reason he was crossed in love by a perverse beautiful widow of the next county to him. Before this disappointment, Sir Roger was what you call a fine gentleman,-had often supped with my Lord Rochester and Sir George Etherege, fought a duel upon his first coming to town, and kicked bully Dawson in a public coffee-house for calling him youngster. But, being illused by the above-mentioned widow, he was very serious for a year and a half; and though, his temper being naturally jovial, he at last got over it, he grew careless of himself, and never dressed afterward. He continues to wear a coat and doublet of the same cut that were in fashion at the time of his repulse, which, in his merry humours, he tells us has been in and out twelve times since he first wore it. He is now in his fifty-sixth year, cheerful, gay, and hearty; keeps a good house both in town and country ; a great lover of mankind; but there is such a mirthful cast in his behaviour, that he is rather beloved than esteemed. His tenants grow rich, his servants look satisfied, all the young women profess love to him, and the young men are glad of his company. When he comes into a house he calls the servants by their names, and talks all the way up stairs to a visit. I must not omit, that Sir Roger is a justice of the quorum ; that he fills the chair at a quarter-session with great abilities, and three months ago gained universal applause by explaining a passage in the game Act.