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APPEARANCE OF “THE SPECTATOR.” 261
King William's death, however, stopping his pension, cut short his travelled ease; and home he came, a poor yet cheerful scholar, to wait quietly for fortune in a shabby lodging up two pair of stairs in the Haymarket. While he lay thus under eclipse, the great battle of Blenheim was fought; and being employed by Treasurer Godolphin to write a poem in praise of the event, his performance of the task gave such satisfaction to the Ministry, that he was soon made Commissioner of Appeals. The lucky poem, known as The Campaign, chanted loudly the praises of Marlborough, who is compared, in a passage that took the whole town by storm, to an angel guiding the whirlwind. Mr. Commissioner Addison changed by-and-by into Mr. Under-Secretary of State; Mr. Under-Secretary, into the Secretary for Ireland; the Secretary for Ireland, into one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State (1717), the last being the greatest eminence reached by Addison in that most slippery profession of politics.
To mount so many rounds of the ladder took him a full dozen of years, during which his pen had been doing its finest work. Though he made his literary début as a poet, he achieved his highest fame as the writer of some of the sweetest and most artless prose that adorns our literature.
In the spring of 1709 his old school-fellow, Steele, started a triweekly sheet called The Tatler, which for a penny gave a short article and some scraps of news. Addison, who was then in Ireland, wrote occasionally for this leaf. But when the “Tatler,” after living for nearly two years, gave place to the more famous daily sheet, called The Spectator, Addison became 1711 a constant contributor, and by his prose papers exalted the A.D. periodical to the highest rank among the English classics. There, on the tray beside the delicate porcelain cups, from which beauty and beau sipped their fragrant chocolate or tea by the toilette-table in the late noonday, lay the welcome little sheet of sparkling wit or elegant criticism, giving a new zest to the morning meal, and suggesting fresh topics for the afternoon chat in the toyshops or on the Mall. Addison's papers were marked with one of the four letters, C. L. I. O. —taken either from the Muse's name,
262 THE TRAGEDY OF “CATO.”
or from the initial letters of Chelsea, London, Islington, and the Office, places where the papers were probably written. The Essays on Milton, the Vision of Mirza, and the account of Sir Roger de Coverley's Visit to London, may be taken as some of the finest specimens of what Addison's graceful pen could do. The “Spectator” lasted for 635 numbers, continuing to appear, with one break of eighteen months during which The Guardian ran its course, until the end of 1714. The first sketch of Sir Roger we owe to the pen of Steele; but it was a character such as the gentle Addison loved, and Addison is certainly the painter, in full length, of the good old bachelor baronet, full of whims and oddities, simple as a child and gentle as a woman, who lives in our hearts among the most prized of the friends we make in books, and whom we always honour as a true gentleman, though we sometimes steal a goodnatured laugh at his rustic softness. Since Addison's return from Italy, four acts of a Roman drama had been lying in his desk. Profiting by the temporary stoppage of the “Spectator,” upon the completion of the seventh volume in 1712, he set to work upon the unfinished play, and soon gave Cato to the stage. It was performed for the first time at Drury 1713 Lane in April 1713, to a house crammed from pit to ceiling A.D. with all the wits and statesmen of the capital. We, who live in days when Kean writes himself F.S.A., and every buckle and shoe-tie of the wardrobe, in our better theatres at least, must pass the scrutiny of men deeply skilled in all the fashions of antiquity, smile at the incongruity of Cato in a flowered dressing-gown and a black wig that cost fifty guineas; and the brocaded Marcia in that famous hoop of Queen Anne's time, which has revived in the crinoline of Victoria's gentle reign. But Cato, thus attired, was not laughed at; for it was the theatrical fashion of the day to dress all characters in wig and hoop, exactly like those worn by the people of quality, who took snuff or flirted the fan in the resplendent box-row. A similar anachronism was committed by the old Norman romancers, who turned every hero—no matter whether he was Abraham or Alexander—into a steel-clad knight of the Middle Ages. “Cato” was a great success. All
A cold, UNGENIAL SPLENDoUR. *263
Addison's friends were in ecstasies of delight; and even the Tories allowed that the author was a man of too pure and elevated genius to be mixed up with common political quarrels. People stood knocking at the theatre doors at noon, and for more than a month the play was performed every night. Time has greatly abated the reputation of this drama. Like Addison's own nature, it is calm and cold; undeniably excellent as a piece of literary sculpture, full of fine declamation and well-chiselled dialogue, but falling far below the natural greatness of “Macbeth” or “Julius Caesar.” We remember Addison chiefly as the kindly genius who wrote the most charming papers of the “Spectator;” his own generation idolized him as the author of “Cato.” Almost a year before his appointment as Secretary of State, he married the Countess-Dowager of Warwick, and took up his abode in Holland House. The union was not a happy one between the cold and polished scholar, and the gorgeous, dashing woman of rank, who probably never found out how sweet and pure a spirit burned beneath the ice of her husband's outward manner. The quiet, lonely man, loved to escape from the gilded saloons of Holland House into the city, where he wandered through the clubs, or sat with some old friend over a bottle of wine. And here it must be said—gladly would we avoid it if we could—that the great Joseph Addison was often in his lifetime the worse for wine. The same hand that wrote “Mirza,” and won for the “Spectator” its honoured place on English book-shelves, is found writing gleefully to a friend at Hamburg about the choice old hock that had set it shaking. Let us be gentle in our blame, for it was the vice of the age. The pity is, that so fair a reputation should suffer from this sorry stain. Addison's power lay in his pen; as a public speaker he broke down completely. This defect, coupled with the decay of his health, induced him to retire from office with a pension of £1500 a year. Asthma rapidly weakened him; symptoms of dropsy appeared; and he soon lay upon his death-bed. “See,” said he to his son-in-law, “how a Christian can die!” And then this gentle spirit, that, amid many faults and weaknesses, had ever
THACKERAY ON ADDISON'S STYLE.
cherished a deep, reverential gratitude to God, passed at forty
eight from this troubled life, let us humbly trust, to that 1719
golden city of everlasting peace, which needs no sun to
light it, for the Lamb is the light thereof. No better close for this slight sketch could be found than the charming picture of Addison in his prime, which we owe to Thackeray's brilliant pen.*
“Addison wrote his papers as gaily as if he was going out for a holiday. When Steele’s ‘Tatler' first began his prattle, Addison, then in Ireland, caught at his friend's notion, poured in paper after paper, and contributed the stores of his mind, the sweet fruits of his reading, the delightful gleanings of his daily observation, with a wonderful profusion, and, as it seemed, an almost endless fecundity. He was six-and-thirty years old: full and ripe. He had not worked crop after crop from his brain, manuring hastily, subsoiling indifferently, cutting and sowing and cutting again, like other luckless cultivators of letters. He had not done much as yet; a few Latin poems-graceful prolusions; a polite book of travels; a dissertation on medals, not very deep; four acts of a tragedy, a great classical exercise; and the Campaign,' a large prize poem that won an enormous prize. But with his friend's discovery of the ‘Tatler,' Addison's calling was found, and the most delightful talker in the world began to speak. .... His writings do not show insight into or reverence for the love of women, which I take to be, one the consequence of the other. He walks about the world watching their pretty humours, fashions, follies, flirtations, rivalries; and noting them with the most charming archness. He sees them in public, in the theatre, or the assembly, or the puppet-show; or at the toy-shop, higgling for gloves and lace; or at the auction, battling together over a blue porcelain dragon, or a darling monster in japan; or at church, eyeing the width of their rivals' hoops, or the breadth of their laces, as they sweep down the aisles. Or he looks out of his window at the Garter in St. James's Street, at Ardelia’s coach, as she blazes to the drawing-room with her coronet and six footmen; and remem
* See English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century, Lecture ii.
SPECIMEN OF ADDISON'S PROSE.
bering that her father was a Turkey merchant in the city, calculates how many sponges went to purchase her ear-rings, and how many drums of figs to build her coach box; or he demurely watches behind a tree in Spring Garden as Saccharissa (whom he knows under her mask) trips out of her chair to the alley where Sir Fopling is waiting.”
SKETCH OF WILL WIMBLE.
(SPECTATOR, NO. 108.) As I was yesterday morning walking with Sir Roger before his house, a country fellow brought him a huge fish, which, he told him, Mr. William Wimble had caught that very morning; and that he presented it with his service to him, and intended to come and dine with him. At the same time he delivered a letter, which my friend read to me as soon as the messenger left him. “SIR ROGER,
"I desire you to accept of a jack, which is the best I have caught this season. I intend to come and stay with you a week, and see how the perch bite in the Black river. I observed with some concern, the last time I saw you upon the bowling-green, that your whip wanted a lash to it; I will bring half a dozen with me that I twisted last week, which I hope will serve you all the time you are in the country. I have not been out of the saddle for six days last past, having been at Eton with Sir John's eldest son. He takes to his learning hugely.
"I am, Sir, your humble servant,
“ WILL WIMBLE."
This extraordinary letter, and message that accompanied it, made me very curious to know the character and quality of the gentleman who sent them; which I found to be as follow:-Will Wimble is younger brother to a baronet, and descended of the ancient family of the Wimbles. He is now between forty and fifty; but being bred to no business and born to no estate, he generally lives with his eldest brother as superintendent of his game. He hunts a pack of dogs better than any man in the country, and is very famous for finding out a hare. He is extremely well versed in all the little handicrafts of an idle man. He makes a May-iy to a miracle; and furnishes the whole country with angle-rods. As he is a good-natured, officious fellow, and very much esteemed on account of his family, he is a welcome guest at every house, and keeps up a good correspondence among all the gentlemen about him. He carries a tulip root in his pocket from one to another, or exchanges a puppy between a couple of friends, that live perhaps in the opposite sides of the country. These gentleman-like manufactures and obliging little humours make Will the darling of the country,