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Lecture the Twenty-Fifth.
JOSEPH ADDISON-AMBROSE PHILIPS-JOHN PHILIPS-THOMAS PARNELL-
HE authors with whom we are at present engaged, were considered, during the whole of the eighteenth century, the best that England ever produced. The reign of Queen Anne was styled the Augustine Era of English Literature, on account of its supposed resemblance, in intellectual opulence, to the reign of the Emperor Augustus. This opinion is not, however, followed in the present age. The praise due to good sense, and a correct and polished style, is allowed to the prose writers, and that due to a felicity in painting artificial life, is awarded to the poets; but modern critics seem to have agreed to pass over these qualities as of secondary moment, and to hold in greater estimation the writings of the times preceding the Restoration, as being more boldly original, both in style and in thought, more imaginative and more sentimental. The sentiment to which we here allude is stated in the Edinburgh Review in the following passage:-'Speaking generally of that generation of authors, it may be said that, as poets, they had no force or greatness of fancy, no pathos, and no enthusiasm; and as philosophers, no comprehensiveness, depth, or originality. They are sagacious, no doubt, and seasonable; but for the most part, cold, timid, and superficial. Writing with infinite good sense, and great grace and vivacity, and above all, writing for the first time in a tone that was peculiar to the upper ranks of society, and upon subjects that were almost exclusively interesting to them, they naturally figured as the most accomplished, fashionable, and perfect writers which the world had ever seen, and made the wild, luxuriant, and humble sweetness of our earlier authors appear rude and untutored in the comparison.'
While there is general truth in these remarks, it must, at the same time, be observed that the age produced several writers, who, each in his own line, may be called extraordinary. Satire, expressed in forcible and copious language, was certainly, as we have already observed, carried to its utmost height of excellence, by Swift. The art of describing the manners, and discussing the morals of the passing age, was practiced for the first time, with VOL. II.-B
unrivalled felicity, by Addison. The poetry of elegant and artificial life was
JOSEPH ADDISON was born at Milston, in Wiltshire, on the first of May, 1672, and was the son of the Reverend Lancelot Addison, rector of that parish. The rudiments of his education he received at home under his father's own immediate supervision; and in the tenth year of his age he was sent to Salisbury, and committed to the care of Mr. Taylor, master of the Salisbury grammar-school. In 1683, when Addison was in the twelfth year of his age, his father, being made dean of Litchfield, removed thither, and placed his son with a Mr. Shaw; from whose school, however, he soon after removed to the school of the Chartreux, where he remained until he had completed his preparation for the university. At Chartreux,' as Johnson observes, 'he contracted that intimacy with Sir Richard Steele, which their joint labors have so effectually recorded.'
In 1687, Addison entered Queen's College, Oxford, and immediately applied himself with such unremitting devotion to classical studies, that he soon far excelled all his classmates. Before he had been in college two years, he produced some Latin verses, which, by accident, fell into the hands of Dr. Lancaster, afterward provost of the college, and were by him regarded to be of such rare excellence, that he recommended the youthful author to a scholarship in Magdalen College, where he remained till he had taken both
the bachelor's and master's degree. As a writer of Latin poetry, Addison became eminent before he left Oxford; and the peculiar merit of his compositions in that language consisted in their entire originality. He did not confine himself to the imitation of any ancient author, but formed his style from the general language, such as a diligent perusal of the productions of different ages would naturally produce. His three principal pieces are, The Battle of the Pigmies and Cranes, The Barometer, and A Bowling-green.
In his twenty-second year, Addison produced his first English poem in the form of an address to Dryden; and soon after published a translation of the greater part of Virgil's Fourth Georgic, upon Bees, with which Dryden was so much pleased, that he paid the youthful poet the compliment to say, in allusion to his own translations, 'my latter swarm is hardly worth the hiving.' The address to Dryden opens with the following lines:
How long, great poet! shall thy sacred lays
Damp thy poetic heat, and quench thy rage?
Not so thy Ovid in his exile wrote;
Grief chill'd his breast, and check'd his rising thought;
Pensive and sad, his drooping muse betrays
The Roman genius in its last decays.
These performances created an intimacy between the veteran poet and the youthful aspirant, and the latter was accordingly induced to compose the arguments prefixed to the several books of the former's translation of Virgil, and also to write an essay on the Georgics. Neither of these productions though elegantly written, exhibit much of the scholar's learning, or the critic's penetration. In the following year, Addison published An Account of the Greatest English Poets, in a poem of about one hundred and fifty lines, addressed to Dr. Sacheverell, and containing sketches of Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Cowley, Waller, and others. The subdued and frigid character of Spenser in this Account,' plainly shows that Addison wanted both the fire and the fancy of the poet.
About this time Addison was introduced to Montague, then chancellor of the Exchequer; and through his influence, according to Tickell, he was diverted from his original design of entering into holy orders. Montague alleged as his reason the corruption of men who engaged in civil employments without liberal education; and declared, 'that though he was represented as an enemy to the church, he would never do it any injury but by withholding Addison from it.' In 1695, Addison addressed A Poem to His Majesty, Presented to the Lord Keeper. This must be confessed to be a tame and common-place production; but Lord Somers, then the keeper of the great seal, was gratified with the compliment, and thenceforth became one of the poet's steadiest patrons. Soon after appeared his Latin verses on the treaty of Ryewick, which he dedicated to Montague, and which is really a vigorous and elegant performance.
In 1699, Addison obtained, through the influence of Somers, an annual pension of three hundred pounds, to enable him to travel on the continent. Having spent a year at Blois, in order to learn the French language, he thence passed to Italy, which he surveyed with the eye of a poet. While he was travelling in the latter country, apparently at leisure, he was far from being idle; for he not only collected the observations which he afterward published, but found time to write his Dialogues on Medals, to store his mind with the materials which he afterward so beautifully elaborated in his Cato, and to address to Lord Halifax, A Letter from Italy, which is the most elegant and animated of all his poetical productions. The classic ruins of Rome, the heavenly figures of Raphael, the river Tiber, and the streams 'immortalized in song,' and all the golden groves and flowery meadows of Italy, seemed to have raised his fancy and brightened his expressions. There is, also, a strain of political thinking in the Letter, that was then new to English poetry. To sustain these remarks, we present the following extract :
For wheresoe'er I turn my ravish'd eyes,
Gay gilded scenes and shining prospects rise;
And still I seem to tread on classic ground;1
Her blooming mountains, and her sunny shores,
1 Malone states that this was the first time the phrase classic ground, since so common, was ever used. It was ridiculed by some contemporaries as very quaint and affected.
The poor inhabitant beholds in vain
The redd'ning orange, and the swelling grain:
O liberty, thou goddess heavenly bright,
Thee, goddess, thee, Britannia's isle adores;
The grape's soft juice, and mellow it to wine;
And the fat olive swell with floods of oil:
In ten degrees of more indulgent skies;
Though o'er our heads the frozen Pleiads shine:
'Tis liberty that crowns Britannia's isle,
And makes her barren rocks and her bleak mountains smile.
Addison returned to England in 1702, but by the death of King Wil liam, which had just previously occurred, he was deprived of his pension, and left entirely unprovided for. In 1705 he published his Travels in Italy, the first reception of which was any thing but flattering. The elegance of the language, and the pleasing alternation of prose and verse, soon, however, won for it so great favor with the public, that before it was reprinted it rose to five times the original price. The victory of Blenheim, in 1704, spread delight through every part of England; and the lord treasurer Godolphin, in order to perpetuate the fame of that great event, desired Addison to 'gazette it' in verse. Addison immediately entered upon the task, and when he had advanced as far as the simile of the angel, he communicated it to the treasurer, who was so much pleased with the work, that he at once appointed the poet to the place of commissioner of appeals, just then vacated by the promotion of Locke. This poem placed Addison upon the very pinnacle of fame; and the following extract will show that the performance is certainly not without merit:—
The fatal day its mighty course began,
That the griev'd world had long desir'd in vain;
States that their new captivity bemoan'd,
Armies of martyrs that in exile groan'd,