Lives of the Poets, Vol. 1
Part 9 out of 10
does but little, and that little seems not to have pleased Addison, who,
when he dismissed him from the club, changed his opinions. Steele had
made him, in the true spirit of unfeeling commerce, declare that he
"would not build an hospital for idle people;" but at last he buys land,
settles in the country, and builds not a manufactory, but an hospital
for twelve old husbandmen, for men with whom a merchant has little
acquaintance, and whom he commonly considers with little kindness.
Of essays thus elegant, thus instructive, and thus commodiously
distributed, it is natural to suppose the approbation general, and the
sale numerous. I once heard it observed, that the sale may be calculated
by the product of the tax, related in the last number to produce more
than twenty pounds a week, and, therefore, stated at one-and-twenty
pounds, or three pounds ten shillings a day: this, at a half-penny a
paper, will give sixteen hundred and eighty for the daily number.
This sale is not great; yet this, if Swift be credited, was likely to
grow less; for he declares that the Spectator, whom he ridicules for his
endless mention of the _fair sex,_ had, before his recess, wearied his
readers. The next year, 1713, in which Cato came upon the stage, was the
grand climacterick of Addison's reputation. Upon the death of Cato, he
had, as is said, planned a tragedy in the time of his travels, and
had, for several years, the first four acts finished, which were shown to
such as were likely to spread their admiration. They were seen by Pope,
and by Cibber, who relates that Steele, when he took back the copy, told
him, in the despicable cant of literary modesty, that, whatever spirit
his friend had shown in the composition, he doubted whether he would have
courage sufficient to expose it to the censure of a British audience.
The time, however, was now come, when those, who affected to think
liberty in danger, affected, likewise, to think that a stage-play might
preserve it; and Addison was importuned, in the name of the tutelary
deities of Britain, to show his courage and his zeal by finishing his
To resume his work he seemed perversely and unaccountably unwilling; and
by a request, which, perhaps, he wished to be denied, desired Mr. Hughes
to add a fifth act. Hughes supposed him serious; and, undertaking
the supplement, brought, in a few days, some scenes for his examination;
but he had, in the mean time, gone to work himself, and produced half
an act, which he afterwards completed, but with brevity irregularly
disproportionate to the foregoing parts, like a task performed with
reluctance, and hurried to its conclusion.
It may yet be doubted whether Cato was made publick by any change of the
author's purpose; for Dennis charged him with raising prejudices in
his own favour by false positions of preparatory criticism, and with
"poisoning the town" by contradicting, in the Spectator, the established
rule of poetical justice, because his own hero, with all his virtues, was
to fall before a tyrant. The fact is certain; the motives we must guess.
Addison was, I believe, sufficiently disposed to bar all avenues against
all danger. When Pope brought him the prologue, which is properly
accommodated to the play, there were these words, "Britons, arise, be
worth like this approved;" meaning nothing more than, Britons, erect
and exalt yourselves to the approbation of publick virtue. Addison was
frighted lest he should be thought a promoter of insurrection, and the
line was liquidated to "Britons, attend."
Now "heavily in clouds came on the day, the great, the important day,"
when Addison was to stand the hazard of the theatre. That there might,
however, be left as little hazard as was possible, on the first night
Steele, as himself relates, undertook to pack an audience. This, says
Pope, had been tried, for the first time, in favour of the Distrest
Mother; and was now, with more efficacy, practised for Cato.
The danger was soon over. The whole nation was, at that time, on fire
with faction. The whigs applauded every line in which liberty was
mentioned, as a satire on the tories; and the tories echoed every clap,
to show that the satire was unfelt. The story of Bolingbroke is well
known. He called Booth to his box, and gave him fifty guineas for
defending the cause of liberty so well against a perpetual dictator.
The whigs, says Pope, design a second present, when they can accompany it
with as good a sentence.
The play, supported thus by the emulation of factious praise, was acted,
night after night for a longer time than, I believe, the publick had
allowed to any drama before; and the author, as Mrs. Porter long
afterwards related, wandered through the whole exhibition behind the
scenes with restless and unappeasable solicitude.
When it was printed, notice was given that the queen would be pleased
if it was dedicated to her; "but, as he had designed that compliment
elsewhere, he found himself obliged," says Tickell, "by his duty on the
one hand, and his honour on the other, to send it into the world without
Human happiness has always its abatements; the brightest sunshine of
success is not without a cloud. No sooner was Cato offered to the reader,
than it was attacked by the acute malignity of Dennis, with all the
violence of angry criticism. Dennis, though equally zealous, and probably
by his temper more furious, than Addison, for what they called liberty,
and though a flatterer of the whig ministry, could not sit quiet at a
successful play; but was eager to tell friends and enemies, that they had
misplaced their admirations. The world was too stubborn for instruction;
with the fate of the censurer of Corneille's Cid, his animadversions
showed his anger without effect, and Cato continued to be praised.
Pope had now an opportunity of courting the friendship of Addison, by
vilifying his old enemy, and could give resentment its full play, without
appearing to revenge himself. He, therefore, published a Narrative of the
Madness of John Dennis; a performance which left the objections to the
play in their full force, and, therefore, discovered more desire of
vexing the critick than of defending the poet.
Addison, who was no stranger to the world, probably saw the selfishness
of Pope's friendship; and, resolving that he should have the consequences
of his officiousness to himself, informed Dennis, by Steele, that he was
sorry for the insult; and that, whenever he should think fit to answer
his remarks, he would do it in a manner to which nothing could be
The greatest weakness of the play is in the scenes of love, which are
said, by Pope, to have been added to the original plan upon a
subsequent review, in compliance with the popular practice of the stage.
Such an authority it is hard to reject; yet the love is so intimately
mingled with the whole action, that it cannot easily be thought
extrinsick and adventitious; for, if it were taken away, what would be
left? or how were the four acts filled in the first draught?
At the publication the wits seemed proud to pay their attendance with
encomiastick verses. The best are from an unknown hand, which will,
perhaps, lose somewhat of their praise when the author is known to be
Cato had yet other honours. It was censured as a party-play by a scholar
of Oxford; and defended in a favourable examination by Dr. Sewel. It was
translated by Salvini into Italian, and acted at Florence; and by the
Jesuits of St. Omer's into Latin, and played by their pupils. Of this
version a copy was sent to Mr. Addison: it is to be wished that it could
be found, for the sake of comparing their version of the soliloquy with
that of Bland.
A tragedy was written on the same subject by Deschamps, a French poet,
which was translated with a criticism on the English play. But the
translator and the critick are now forgotten.
Dennis lived on unanswered, and, therefore, little read. Addison knew the
policy of literature too well to make his enemy important by drawing
the attention of the publick upon a criticism, which, though sometimes
intemperate, was often irrefragable.
While Cato was upon the stage, another daily paper, called the Guardian,
was published by Steele. To this Addison gave great assistance,
whether occasionally, or by previous engagement, is not known.
The character of guardian was too narrow and too serious: it might
properly enough admit both the duties and the decencies of life, but
seemed not to include literary speculations, and was, in some degree,
violated by merriment and burlesque. What had the guardian of the Lizards
to do with clubs of tall or of little men, with nests of ants, or with
Of this paper nothing is necessary to be said, but that it found many
contributors, and that it was a continuation of the Spectator, with the
same elegance, and the same variety, till some unlucky sparkle, from a
tory paper, set Steele's politicks on fire, and wit at once blazed
into faction. He was soon too hot for neutral topicks, and quitted the
Guardian to write the Englishman.
The papers of Addison are marked in the Spectator by one of the letters
in the name of Clio, and in the Guardian by a hand; whether it was, as
Tickell pretends to think, that he was unwilling to usurp the praise of
others, or, as Steele, with far greater likelihood, insinuates, that he
could not, without discontent, impart to others any of his own. I have
heard that his avidity did not satisfy itself with the air of renown, but
that with great eagerness he laid hold on his proportion of the profits.
Many of these papers were written with powers truly comick, with nice
discrimination of characters, and accurate observation of natural or
accidental deviations from propriety; but it was not supposed that he had
tried a comedy on the stage, till Steele, after his death, declared him
the author of the Drummer. This, however, Steele did not know to be true
by any direct testimony; for, when Addison put the play into his hands,
he only told him, it was the work of a "gentleman in the company;" and
when it was received, as is confessed, with cold disapprobation, he was
probably less willing to claim it. Tickell omitted it in his collection;
but the testimony of Steele, and the total silence of any other claimant,
has determined the publick to assign it to Addison, and it is now printed
with his other poetry. Steele carried the Drummer to the playhouse, and
afterwards to the press, and sold the copy for fifty guineas.
To the opinion of Steele may be added the proof supplied by the
play itself, of which the characters are such as Addison would have
delineated, and the tendency such as Addison would have promoted. That it
should have been ill received would raise wonder, did we not daily see
the capricious distribution of theatrical praise.
He was not all this time an indifferent spectator of publick affairs. He
wrote, as different exigencies required, in 1707, the present State of
the War, and the Necessity of an Augmentation; which, however judicious,
being written on temporary topicks, and exhibiting no peculiar powers,
laid hold on no attention, and has naturally sunk by its own weight
into neglect. This cannot be said of the few papers entitled the Whig
Examiner, in which is employed all the force of gay malevolence and
humorous satire. Of this paper, which just appeared and expired, Swift
remarks, with exultation, that "it is now down among the dead men."
He might well rejoice at the death of that which he could not have
killed. Every reader of every party, since personal malice is past, and
the papers which once inflamed the nation are read only as effusions of
wit, must wish for more of the Whig Examiners; for on no occasion was
the genius of Addison more vigorously exerted, and on none did the
superiority of his powers more evidently appear. His Trial of Count
Tariff, written to expose the treaty of commerce with France, lived no
longer than the question that produced it.
Not long afterwards, an attempt was made to revive the Spectator, at a
time, indeed, by no means favourable to literature, when the succession
of a new family to the throne filled the nation with anxiety, discord,
and confusion; and either the turbulence of the times, or the satiety of
the readers, put a stop to the publication, after an experiment of eighty
numbers, which were afterwards collected into an eighth volume, perhaps
more valuable than any of those that went before it. Addison produced
more than a fourth part; and the other contributors are, by no
means, unworthy of appearing as his associates. The time that had passed
during the suspension of the Spectator, though it had not lessened his
power of humour, seems to have increased his disposition to seriousness:
the proportion of his religious, to his comick papers, is greater than in
the former series.
The Spectator, from its recommencement, was published only three times a
week; and no discriminative marks were added to the papers. To Addison
Tickell has ascribed twenty-three.
The Spectator had many contributors; and Steele, whose negligence kept
him always in a hurry, when it was his turn to furnish a paper, called
loudly for the letters, of which Addison, whose materials were more, made
little use; having recourse to sketches and hints, the product of his
former studies, which he now reviewed and completed: among these are
named by Tickell, the essays on Wit, those on the Pleasures of the
Imagination, and the Criticism on Milton.
When the house of Hanover took possession of the throne, it was
reasonable to expect that the zeal of Addison would be suitably rewarded.
Before the arrival of king George, he was made secretary to the regency,
and was required, by his office, to send notice to Hanover that the queen
was dead, and that the throne was vacant. To do this would not have
been difficult to any man but Addison, who was so overwhelmed with the
greatness of the event, and so distracted by choice of expression, that
the lords, who could not wait for the niceties of criticism, called Mr.
Southwell, a clerk in the house, and ordered him to despatch the message.
Southwell readily told what was necessary in the common style of
business, and valued himself upon having done what was too hard for
He was better qualified for the Freeholder, a paper which he published
twice a week, from Dec. 23, 1715, to the middle of the next year. This
was undertaken in defence of the established government, sometimes with
argument, and sometimes with mirth. In argument he had many equals; but
his humour was singular and matchless. Bigotry itself must be delighted
with the Tory Fox-hunter.
There are, however, some strokes less elegant, and less decent; such as
the Pretender's Journal, in which one topick of ridicule is his poverty.
This mode of abuse had been employed by Milton against king Charles the
Centum, exulantis viscera marsupii regis.
And Oldmixon delights to tell of some alderman of London, that he had
more money than the exiled princes; but that which might be expected from
Milton's savageness, or Oldmixon's meanness, was not suitable to the
delicacy of Addison.
Steele thought the humour of the Freeholder too nice and gentle for such
noisy times; and is reported to have said, that the ministry made use of
a lute, when they should have called for a trumpet.
This year, 1716, he married the countess dowager of Warwick, whom
he had solicited by a very long and anxious courtship, perhaps with
behaviour not very unlike that of sir Roger to his disdainful widow; and
who, I am afraid, diverted herself often by playing with his passion. He
is said to have first known her by becoming tutor to her son . "He
formed," said Tonson, "the design of getting that lady from the time when
he was first recommended into the family." In what part of his life he
obtained the recommendation, or how long and in what manner he lived
in the family, I know not. His advances, at first, were certainly
timorous, but grew bolder as his reputation and influence increased;
till, at last, the lady was persuaded to marry him, on terms much like
those on which a Turkish princess is espoused, to whom the sultan is
reported to pronounce, "Daughter, I give thee this man for thy slave."
The marriage, if uncontradicted report can be credited, made no addition
to his happiness; it neither found them nor made them equal. She always
remembered her own rank, and thought herself entitled to treat with very
little ceremony the tutor of her son. Howe's ballad of the Despairing
Shepherd, is said to have been written, either before or after marriage,
upon this memorable pair; and it is certain that Addison has left behind
him no encouragement for ambitious love.
The year after, 1717, he rose to his highest elevation, being made
secretary of state. For this employment he might justly be supposed
qualified by long practice of business, and by his regular ascent through
other offices; but expectation is often disappointed; it is universally
confessed that he was unequal to the duties of his place. In the house of
commons he could not speak, and, therefore, was useless to the defence
of the government. In the office, says Pope, he could not issue
an order without losing his time in quest of fine expressions. What he
gained in rank he lost in credit; and, finding by experience his own
inability, was forced to solicit his dismission, with a pension of
fifteen hundred pounds a year. His friends palliated this relinquishment,
of which both friends and enemies knew the true reason, with an account
of declining health, and the necessity of recess and quiet.
He now returned to his vocation, and began to plan literary occupations
for his future life. He purposed a tragedy on the death of Socrates; a
story of which, as Tickell remarks, the basis is narrow, and to which I
know not how love could have been appended. There would, however, have
been no want either of virtue in the sentiments, or elegance in the
He engaged in a nobler work, a defence of the Christian religion, of
which part was published after his death; and he designed to have made a
new poetical version of the psalms.
These pious compositions Pope imputed to a selfish motive, upon the
credit, as he owns, of Tonson, who, having quarrelled with Addison,
and not loving him, said, that when he laid down the secretary's office,
he intended to take orders, and obtain a bishoprick; "For," said he, "I
always thought him a priest in his heart."
That Pope should have thought this conjecture of Tonson worth
remembrance, is a proof, but, indeed, so far as I have found, the only
proof, that he retained some malignity from their ancient rivalry. Tonson
pretended but to guess it; no other mortal ever suspected it; and Pope
might have reflected, that a man, who had been secretary of state in
the ministry of Sunderland, knew a nearer way to a bishoprick than by
defending religion, or translating the psalms.
It is related, that he had once a design to make an English dictionary,
and that he considered Dr. Tillotson as the writer of highest authority.
There was formerly sent to me by Mr. Locker, clerk of the leathersellers'
company, who, was eminent for curiosity and literature, a collection of
examples selected from Tillotson's works, as Locker said, by Addison. It
came too late to be of use, so I inspected it but slightly, and remember
it indistinctly. I thought the passages too short.
Addison, however, did not conclude his life in peaceful studies; but
relapsed, when he was near his end, to a political dispute.
It so happened that, 1718-19, a controversy was agitated, with great
vehemence, between those friends of long continuance, Addison and Steele.
It may be asked, in the language of Homer, what power or what cause
could set them at variance. The subject of their dispute was of great
importance. The earl of Sunderland proposed an act, called the Peerage
Bill; by which the number of peers should be fixed, and the king
restrained from any new creation of nobility, unless when an old family
should be extinct. To this the lords would naturally agree; and the king,
who was yet little acquainted with his own prerogative, and, as is now
well known, almost indifferent to the possessions of the crown, had been
persuaded to consent. The only difficulty was found among the commons,
who were not likely to approve the perpetual exclusion of themselves and
their posterity. The bill, therefore, was eagerly opposed, and, among
others, by sir Robert Walpole, whose speech was published.
The lords might think their dignity diminished by improper advancements,
and particularly by the introduction of twelve new peers at once, to
produce a majority of tories in the last reign; an act of authority
violent enough, yet certainly legal, and by no means to be compared with
that contempt of national right with which, some time afterwards, by the
instigation of whiggism, the commons, chosen by the people for three
years, chose themselves for seven. But, whatever might be the disposition
of the lords, the people had no wish to increase their power. The
tendency of the bill, as Steele observed in a letter to the earl of
Oxford, was to introduce an aristocracy; for a majority in the house of
lords, so limited, would have been despotick and irresistible.
To prevent this subversion of the ancient establishment, Steele, whose
pen readily seconded his political passions, endeavoured to alarm the
nation by a pamphlet called the Plebeian. To this an answer was published
by Addison, under the title of the Old Whig, in which it is not
discovered that Steele was then known to be the advocate for the commons.
Steele replied by a second Plebeian; and, whether by ignorance or by
courtesy, confined himself to his question, without any personal notice
of his opponent.
Nothing, hitherto, was committed against the laws of friendship, or
proprieties of decency; but controvertists cannot long retain their
kindness for each other. The Old Whig answered the Plebeian, and could
not forbear some contempt of "little Dicky, whose trade it was to write
pamphlets." Dicky, however, did not lose his settled veneration for his
friend; but contented himself with quoting some lines of Cato, which
were at once detection and reproof. The bill was laid aside during that
session; and Addison died before the next, in which its commitment was
rejected by two hundred and sixty-five to one hundred and seventy-seven.
Every reader surely must regret that these two illustrious friends, after
so many years passed in confidence and endearment, in unity of interest,
conformity of opinion, and fellowship of study, should finally part
in acrimonious opposition. Such a controversy was "Bellum plusquam
_civile_," as Lucan expresses it. Why could not faction find other
advocates? But, among the uncertainties of the human state, we are doomed
to number the instability of friendship.
Of this dispute I have little knowledge but from the Biographica
Britannica. The Old Whig is not inserted in Addison's works; nor is it
mentioned by Tickell in his life; why it was omitted, the biographers,
doubtless, give the true reason; the fact was too recent, and those who
had been heated in the contention were not yet cool.
The necessity of complying with times, and of sparing persons, is the
great impediment of biography. History may be formed from permanent
monuments and records; but lives can only be written from personal
knowledge, which is growing every day less, and in a short time is lost
for ever. What is known can seldom be immediately told; and when it might
be told, it is no longer known. The delicate features of the mind, the
nice discriminations of character, and the minute peculiarities of
conduct, are soon obliterated; and it is surely better that caprice,
obstinacy, frolick, and folly, however they might delight in the
description, should be silently forgotten, than that, by wanton merriment
and unseasonable detection, a pang should be given to a widow, a
daughter, a brother, or a friend. As the process of these narratives is
now bringing me among my contemporaries, I begin to feel myself "walking
upon ashes under which the fire is not extinguished," and coming to the
time of which it will be proper rather to say "nothing that is false,
than all that is true."
The end of this useful life was now approaching. Addison had, for some
time, been oppressed by shortness of breath, which was now aggravated
by a dropsy; and, finding his danger pressing, he prepared to die
conformably to his own precepts and professions.
During this lingering decay, he sent, as Pope relates, a message by
the earl of Warwick to Mr. Gay, desiring to see him. Gay, who had not
visited him for some time before, obeyed the summons, and found himself
received with great kindness. The purpose for which the interview had
been solicited was then discovered. Addison told him, that he had injured
him; but that, if he recovered, he would recompense him. What the injury
was, he did not explain, nor did Gay ever know, but supposed that
some preferment designed for him had, by Addison's intervention, been
Lord Warwick was a young man of very irregular life, and, perhaps, of
loose opinions. Addison, for whom he did not want respect, had
very diligently endeavoured to reclaim him; but his arguments and
expostulations had no effect. One experiment, however, remained to be
tried: when he found his life near its end, he directed the young lord to
be called; and when he desired, with great tenderness, to hear his last
injunctions, told him: "I have sent for you, that you may see how a
Christian can die." What effect this awful scene had on the earl, I know
not: he, likewise, died himself in a short time, In Tickell's excellent
elegy on his friend are these lines:
He taught us how to live; and, oh! too high
The price of knowledge, taught us how to die.
In which he alludes, as he told Dr. Young, to this moving interview.
Having given directions to Mr. Tickell for the publication of his works,
and dedicated them on his deathbed to his friend Mr. Craggs, he died June
17, 1719, at Holland-house, leaving no child but a daughter.
Of his virtue it is a sufficient testimony, that the resentment of party
has transmitted no charge of any crime. He was not one of those who are
praised only after death; for his merit was so generally acknowledged,
that Swift, having observed that his election passed without a contest,
adds, that, if he had proposed himself for king, he would hardly have
His zeal for his party did not extinguish his kindness for the merit of
his opponents: when he was secretary in Ireland, he refused to intermit
his acquaintance with Swift.
Of his habits, or external manners, nothing is so often mentioned as that
timorous or sullen taciturnity, which his friends called modesty, by too
mild a name. Steele mentions, with great tenderness, "that remarkable
bashfulness, which is a cloak that hides and muffles merit;" and tells
us, "that his abilities were covered only by modesty, which doubles the
beauties which are seen, and gives credit and esteem to all that are
concealed." Chesterfield affirms, that "Addison was the most timorous
and awkward man that he ever saw." And Addison, speaking of his own
deficiency in conversation, used to say of himself, that, with respect to
intellectual wealth, "he could draw bills for a thousand pounds, though
he had not a guinea in his pocket."
That he wanted current coin for ready payment, and, by that want, was
often obstructed and distressed; that he was oppressed by an improper and
ungraceful timidity; every testimony concurs to prove; but Chesterfield's
representation is, doubtless, hyperbolical. That man cannot be supposed
very unexpert in the arts of conversation and practice of life, who,
without fortune or alliance, by his usefulness and dexterity, became
secretary of state; and who died at forty-seven, after having not only
stood long in the highest rank of wit and literature, but filled one of
the most important offices of state.
The time in which he lived had reason to lament his obstinacy of silence;
"or he was," says Steele, "above all men in that talent called humour,
and enjoyed it in such perfection, that I have often reflected, after
a night spent with him apart from all the world, that I had had the
pleasure of conversing with an intimate acquaintance of Terence and
Catullus, who had all their wit and nature, heightened with humour more
exquisite and delightful than any other man ever possessed." This is the
fondness of a friend; let us hear what is told us by a rival: "Addison's
conversation," says Pope, "had something in it more charming than
I have found in any other man. But this was only when familiar; before
strangers, or, perhaps, a single stranger, he preserved his dignity by a
This modesty was by no means inconsistent with a very high opinion of
his own merit. He demanded to be the first name in modern wit; and, with
Steele to echo him, used to depreciate Dryden, whom Pope and Congreve
defended against them. There is no reason to doubt, that he suffered
too much pain from the prevalence of Pope's poetical reputation; nor is
it without strong reason suspected, that by some disingenuous acts he
endeavoured to obstruct it; Pope was not the only man whom he insidiously
injured, though the only man of whom he could be afraid.
His own powers were such as might have satisfied him with conscious
excellence. Of very extensive learning he has, indeed, given no proofs.
He seems to have had small acquaintance with the sciences, and to have
read little except Latin and French; but, of the Latin poets, his
Dialogues on Medals show that, he had perused the works with great
diligence and skill. The abundance of his own mind left him little
need of adventitious sentiments; his wit always could suggest what the
occasion demanded. He had read, with critical eyes, the important volume
of human life, and knew the heart of man from the depths of stratagem to
the surface of affectation.
What he knew he could easily communicate. "This," says Steele, "was
particular in this writer, that, when he had taken his resolution, or
made his plan for what he designed to write, he would walk about a room,
and dictate it into language, with as much freedom and ease as any one
could write it down, and attend to the coherence and grammar of what he
Pope, who can be less suspected of favouring his memory, declares
that he wrote very fluently, but was slow and scrupulous in correcting;
that many of his Spectators were written very fast, and sent immediately
to the press; and that it seemed to be for his advantage not to have time
for much revisal.
"He would alter," says Pope, "any thing to please his friends, before
publication; but would not retouch his pieces afterwards: and, I believe,
not one word in Cato, to which I made an objection, was suffered to
The last line of Cato is Pope's, having been originally written,
And, oh! 'twas this that ended Cato's life.
Pope might have made more objections to the six concluding lines. In the
first couplet the words, "from hence," are improper; and the second line
is taken from Dryden's Virgil. Of the next couplet, the first verse being
included in the second, is, therefore, useless; and in the third, discord
is made to produce strife.
Of the course of Addison's familiar day, before his marriage, Pope
has given a detail. He had in the house with him Budgell, and, perhaps,
Philips. His chief companions were Steele, Budgell, Philips, Carey,
Davenant, and colonel Brett. With one or other of these he always
breakfasted. He studied all morning; then dined at a tavern; and went
afterwards to Button's.
Button had been a servant in the countess of Warwick's family; who, under
the patronage of Addison, kept a coffee-house on the south side of Russel
street, about two doors from Covent garden. Here it was that the wits of
that time used to assemble. It is said, that when Addison had suffered
any vexation from the countess, he withdrew the company from Button's
From the coffee-house he went again to a tavern, where he often sat late,
and drank too much wine. In the bottle, discontent seeks for comfort,
cowardice for courage, and bashfulness tot confidence. It is not unlikely
that Addison was first seduced to excess by the manumission which he
obtained from the servile timidity of his sober hours. He that feels
oppression from the presence of those to whom he knows himself superiour,
will desire to set loose his powers of conversation; and who, that ever
asked succours from Bacchus, was able to preserve himself from being
enslaved by his auxiliary?
Among those friends it was that Addison displayed the elegance of his
colloquial accomplishments, which may easily be supposed such as Pope
represents them. The remark of Mandeville, who, when he had passed an
evening in his company, declared that he was a parson in a tie-wig, can
detract little from his character; he was always reserved to strangers,
and was not incited to uncommon freedom by a character like that of
From any minute knowledge of his familiar manners, the intervention of
sixty years has now debarred us. Steele once promised Congreve and the
publick a complete description of his character; but the promises of
authors are like the vows of lovers. Steele thought no more on his
design, or thought on it with anxiety that at last disgusted him, and
left his friend in the hands of Tickell.
One slight lineament of his character Swift has preserved. It was his
practice, when he found any man invincibly wrong, to flatter his opinions
by acquiescence, and sink him yet deeper in absurdity. This artifice
of mischief was admired by Stella; and Swift seems to approve her
His works will supply some information. It appears, from his various
pictures of the world, that, with all his bashfulness, he had conversed
with many distinct classes of men, had surveyed their ways with very
diligent observation, and marked, with great acuteness, the effects
of different modes of life. He was a man in whose presence nothing
reprehensible was out of danger; quick in discerning whatever was wrong
or ridiculous, and not unwilling to expose it. "There are," says Steele,
"in his writings many oblique strokes upon some of the wittiest paen of
the age." His delight was more to excite merriment than detestation; and
he detects follies rather than crimes.
If any judgment be made, from his books, of his moral character, nothing
will be found but purity and excellence. Knowledge of mankind, indeed,
less extensive than that of Addison, will show, that to write, and to
live, are very different. Many who praise virtue, do no more than praise
it. Yet it is reasonable to believe that Addison's professions and
practice were at no great variance, since, amidst that storm of faction
in which most of his life was passed, though his station made him
conspicuous, and his activity made him formidable, the character given
him by his friends was never contradicted by his enemies: of those, with
whom interest or opinion united him, he had not only the esteem, but the
kindness; and of others, whom the violence of opposition drove against
him, though he might lose the love, he retained the reverence.
It is justly observed by Tickell, that he employed wit on the side of
virtue and religion. He not only made the proper use of wit himself, but
taught it to others; and from his time it has been generally subservient
to the cause of reason and of truth. He has dissipated the prejudice that
had long connected gaiety with vice, and easiness of manners with
laxity of principles. He has restored virtue to its dignity, and taught
innocence not to be ashamed. This is an elevation of literary character,
"above all Greek, above all Roman fame." No greater felicity can genius
attain, than that of having purified intellectual pleasure, separated
mirth from indecency, and wit from licentiousness; of having taught
a succession of writers to bring elegance and gaiety to the aid of
goodness; and, if I may use expressions yet more awful, of having "turned
many to righteousness."
Addison, in his life, and for some time afterwards, was considered, by
the greater part of readers, as supremely excelling both in poetry
and criticism. Part of his reputation may be probably ascribed to
the advancement of his fortune: when, as Swift observes, he became a
statesman, and saw poets waiting at his levee, it is no wonder that
praise was accumulated upon him. Much, likewise, may be more honourably
ascribed to his personal character: he who, if he had claimed it, might
have obtained the diadem, was not likely to be denied the laurel.
But time quickly puts an end to artificial and accidental fame; and
Addison is to pass through futurity protected only by his genius. Every
name, which kindness or interest once raised too high, is in danger, lest
the next age should, by the vengeance of criticism, sink it in the same
proportion. A great writer has lately styled him "an indifferent poet,
and a worse critick."
His poetry is first to be considered; of which it must be confessed,
that it has not often those felicities of diction which give lustre to
sentiments, or that vigour of sentiment that animates diction; there
is little of ardour, vehemence, or transport; there is very rarely the
awfulness of grandeur, and not very often the splendour of elegance. He
thinks justly; but he thinks faintly. This is his general character; to
which, doubtless, many single passages will furnish exceptions.
Yet, if he seldom reaches supreme excellence, he rarely sinks into
dulness, and is still more rarely entangled in absurdity. He did not
trust his powers enough to be negligent. There is, in most of his
compositions, a calmness and equability, deliberate and cautious,
sometimes with little that delights, but seldom with any thing that
Of this kind seem to be his poems to Dryden, to Somers, and to the king.
His ode on St. Cecilia has been imitated by Pope, and has something in it
of Dryden's vigour. Of his account of the English poets, he used to speak
as a "poor thing;" but it is not worse than his usual strain. He has
said, not very judiciously, in his character of Waller,
Thy verse could show ev'n Cromwell's innocence,
And compliment the storms that bore him hence.
O! had thy muse not come an age too soon,
But seen great Nassau on the British throne,
How had his triumph glitter'd in thy page!
What is this but to say, that he who could compliment Cromwell had been
the proper poet for king William; Addison, however, never printed the
The letter from Italy has been always praised, but has never been praised
beyond its merit. It is more correct, with less appearance of labour,
and more elegant, with less ambition of ornament, than any other of
his poems. There is, however, one broken metaphor, of which notice may
properly be taken:
Fir'd with that name--
I bridle in my struggling muse with pain,
That longs to launch into a nobler strain.
To _bridle a goddess_ is no very delicate idea; but why must she be
_bridled_? because she _longs to launch_; an act which was never hindered
by a _bridle_: and whither will she _launch_? into a _nobler strain_. She
is in the first line a _horse_, in the second a _boat_; and the care of
the poet is to keep his _horse_ or his _boat_ from _singing_.
The next composition is the far-famed Campaign, which Dr. Warton has
termed a "Gazette in rhyme," with harshness not often used by the
good-nature of his criticism. Before a censure so severe is admitted, let
us consider that war is a frequent subject of poetry, and then inquire
who has described it with more justness and force. Many of our own
writers tried their powers upon this year of victory; yet Addison's is
confessedly the best performance: his poem is the work of a man not
blinded by the dust of learning; his images are not borrowed merely from
books. The superiority which he confers upon his hero is not personal
prowess, and "mighty bone," but deliberate intrepidity, a calm command of
his passions, and the power of consulting his own mind in the midst of
danger. The rejection and contempt of fiction is rational and manly.
It may be observed that the last line is imitated by Pope:
Marlb'rough's exploits appear divinely bright--
Rais'd of themselves, their genuine charms they boast,
And those that paint them truest, praise them most.
This Pope had in his thoughts: but, not knowing how to use what was not
his own, he spoiled the thought when he had borrowed it:
The well-sung woes shall sooth my pensive ghost;
He best can paintthem who shall feel them most.
Martial exploits may be _painted_; perhaps _woes_ may be _painted_; but
they are surely not _painted_ by being _well-sung_: it is not easy to
paint in song, or to sing in colours.
No passage in the Campaign has been more often mentioned than the simile
of the angel, which is said, in the Tatler, to be "one of the noblest
thoughts that ever entered into the heart of man," and is, therefore,
worthy of attentive consideration. Let it be first inquired whether it
be a simile. A poetical simile is the discovery of likeness between two
actions, in their general nature dissimilar, or of causes terminating by
different operations in some resemblance of effect. But the mention of
another like consequence from a like cause, or of a like performance by a
like agency, is not a simile, but an exemplification. It is not a simile
to say that the Thames waters fields, as the Po waters fields; or that as
Hecla vomits flames in Iceland, so Aetna vomits flames in Sicily. When
Horace says of Pindar, that he pours his violence and rapidity of verse,
as a river swoln with rain rushes from the mountain; or of himself, that
his genius wanders in quest of poetical decorations, as the bee wanders
to collect honey; he, in either case, produces a simile; the mind is
impressed with the resemblance of things generally unlike, as unlike as
intellect and body. But if Pindar had been described as writing with the
copiousness and grandeur of Homer; or Horace had told that he reviewed
and finished his own poetry with the same care as Isocrates polished his
orations, instead of similitude he would have exhibited almost identity;
he would have given the same portraits with different names. In the poem
now examined, when the English are represented as gaining a fortified
pass, by repetition of attack and perseverance of resolution; their
obstinacy of courage, and vigour of onset, is well illustrated by the
sea that breaks, with incessant battery, the dikes of Holland. This is a
simile; but when Addison, having celebrated the beauty of Marlborough's
person, tells us, that "Achilles thus was form'd with ev'ry grace," here
is no simile, but a mere exemplification. A simile may be compared to
lines converging at a point, and is more excellent as the lines approach
from greater distance; an exemplification may be considered as two
parallel lines, which run on together without approximation, never far
separated, and never joined. Marlborough is so like the angel in the
poem, that the action of both is almost the same, and performed by both
in the same manner. Marlborough "teaches the battle to rage;" the angel
"directs the storm:" Marlborough is "unmoved in peaceful thought;" the
angel is "calm and serene:" Marlborough stands "unmoved amidst the
shock of hosts;" the angel rides "calm in the whirlwind." The lines on
Marlborough are just and noble; but the simile gives almost the same
images a second time.
But, perhaps, this thought, though hardly a simile, was remote from
vulgar conceptions, and required great labour of research, or dexterity
of application. Of this, Dr. Madden, a name which Ireland ought to
honour, once gave me his opinion. "If I had set," said he, "ten
schoolboys to write on the battle of Blenheim, and eight had brought me
the angel, I should not have been surprised."
The opera of Rosamond, though it is seldom mentioned, is one of the first
of Addison's compositions. The subject is well chosen, the fiction is
pleasing, and the praise of Marlborough, for which the scene gives an
opportunity, is, what perhaps every human excellence must be, the product
of good luck, improved by genius. The thoughts are sometimes great, and
sometimes tender; the versification is easy and gay. There is, doubtless,
some advantage in the shortness of the lines, which there is little
temptation to load with expletive epithets. The dialogue seems commonly
better than the songs. The two comick characters of sir Trusty
and Grideline, though of no great value, are yet such as the poet
intended. Sir Trusty's account of the death of Rosamond is, I think,
too grossly absurd. The whole drama is airy and elegant; engaging in its
process, and pleasing in its conclusion. If Addison had cultivated the
lighter parts of poetry, he would, probably, have excelled.
The tragedy of Cato, which, contrary to the rule observed in selecting
the works of other poets, has, by the weight of its character, forced its
way into the late collection, is unquestionably the noblest production
of Addison's genius. Of a work so much read, it is difficult to say any
thing new. About things on which the publick thinks long, it commonly
attains to think right; and of Cato it has been not unjustly determined,
that it is rather a poem in dialogue than a drama, rather a succession
of just sentiments in elegant language, than a representation of natural
affections, or of any state probable or possible in human life. Nothing
here "excites or assuages emotion:" here is "no magical power of raising
phantastick terrour or wild anxiety." The events are expected without
solicitude, and are remembered without joy or sorrow. Of the agents we
have no care: we consider not what they are doing, or what they are
suffering; we wish only to know what they have to say. Cato is a being
above our solicitude; a man of whom the gods take care, and whom we leave
to their care with heedless confidence. To the rest, neither gods nor men
can have much attention; for there is not one amongst them that strongly
attracts either affection or esteem. But they are made the vehicles of
such sentiments and such expression, that there is scarcely a scene in
the play which the reader does not wish to impress upon his memory.
When Cato was shown to Pope, he advised the author to print it,
without any theatrical exhibition; supposing that it would be read more
favourably than heard. Addison declared himself of the same opinion; but
urged the importunity of his friends for its appearance on the stage.
The emulation of parties made it successful beyond expectation; and its
success has introduced or confirmed among us the use of dialogue too
declamatory, of unaffecting elegance, and chill philosophy.
The universality of applause, however it might quell the censure of
common mortals, had no other effect than to harden Dennis in fixed
dislike; but his dislike was not merely capricious. He found and showed
many faults: he showed them, indeed, with anger, but he found them with
acuteness, such as ought to rescue his criticism from oblivion; though,
at last, it will have no other life than it derives from the work which
it endeavours to oppress.
Why he pays no regard to the opinion of the audience, he gives his
reason, by remarking, that,
"A deference is to be paid to a general applause, when it appears that
that applause is natural and spontaneous; but that little regard is to
be had to it, when it is affected and artificial. Of all the tragedies
which, in his memory, have had vast and violent runs, not one has been
excellent; few have been tolerable; most have been scandalous. When a
poet writes a tragedy, who knows he has judgment, and who feels he has
genius, that poet presumes upon his own merit, and scorns to make a
cabal. That people come coolly to the representation of such a tragedy,
without any violent expectation, or delusive imagination, or invincible
prepossession; that such an audience is liable to receive the impressions
which the poem shall naturally make on them, and to judge by their own
reason, and their own judgments, and that reason and judgment are calm
and serene, not formed by nature to make proselytes, and to control and
lord it over the imaginations of others. But that when an author writes a
tragedy, who knows he has neither genius nor judgment, he has recourse
to the making a party, and he endeavours to make up in industry what
is wanting in talent, and to supply by poetical craft the absence of
poetical art; that such an author is humbly contented to raise men's
passions by a plot without doors, since he despairs of doing it by
that which he brings upon the stage. That party and passion, and
prepossession, are clamorous and tumultuous things, and so much the
more clamorous and tumultuous by how much the more erroneous: that
they domineer and tyrannise over the imaginations of persons who want
judgment, and sometimes too of those who have it; and, like a fierce
and outrageous torrent, bear down all opposition before them." He then
condemns the neglect of poetical justice; which is always one of his
"'Tis certainly the duty of every tragick poet, by the exact distribution
of poetical justice, to imitate the divine dispensation, and to inculcate
a particular providence. 'Tis true, indeed, upon the stage of the world,
the wicked sometimes prosper, and the guiltless suffer. But that is
permitted by the governor of the world, to show, from the attribute of
his infinite justice, that there is a compensation in futurity, to prove
the immortality of the human soul, and the certainty of future rewards
and punishments. But the poetical persons in tragedy exist no longer than
the reading, or the representation; the whole extent of their entity
is circumscribed by those; and, therefore, during that reading or
representation, according to their merits or demerits, they must be
punished or rewarded. If this is not done, there is no impartial
distribution of poetical justice, no instructive lecture of a particular
providence, and no imitation of the divine dispensation. And yet the
author of this tragedy does not only run counter to this, in the fate of
his principal character; but every where, throughout it, makes virtue
suffer, and vice triumph: for not only Cato is vanquished by Caesar,
but the treachery and perfidiousness of Syphax prevail over the
honest simplicity and the credulity of Juba; and the sly subtlety and
dissimulation of Portius over the generous frankness and open-heartedness
Whatever pleasure there may be in seeing crimes punished and virtue
rewarded, yet, since wickedness often prospers in real life, the poet is
certainly at liberty to give it prosperity on the stage. For if poetry
has an imitation of reality, how are its laws broken by exhibiting the
world in its true form? The stage may sometimes gratify our wishes; but,
if it be truly the "mirror of life," it ought to show us sometimes what
we are to expect.
Dennis objects to the characters, that they are not natural, or
reasonable; but as heroes and heroines are not beings that are seen every
day, it is hard to find upon what principles their conduct shall be
tried. It is, however, not useless to consider what he says of the manner
in which Cato receives the account of his son's death.
"Nor is the grief of Cato, in the fourth act, one jot more in nature than
that of his son and Lucia in the third. Cato receives the news of his
son's death not only with dry eyes, but with a sort of satisfaction; and,
in the same page, sheds tears for the calamity of his country, and does
the same thing in the next page upon the bare apprehension of the danger
of his friends. Now, since the love of one's country is the love of one's
countrymen, as I have shown upon another occasion, I desire to ask these
questions: Of all our countrymen, which do we love most, those whom we
know, or those whom we know not? And of those whom we know, which do we
cherish most, our friends or our enemies? And of our friends, which are
the dearest to us, those who are related to us, or those who are not? And
of all our relations, for which have we most tenderness, for those who
are near to us, or for those who are remote? And of our near relations,
which are the nearest, and, consequently, the dearest to us, our
offspring, or others? Our offspring most certainly; as nature, or, in
other words, providence, has wisely contrived for the preservation of
mankind. Now, does it not follow, from what has been said, that for a man
to receive the news of his son's death with dry eyes, and to weep at the
same time for the calamities of his country, is a wretched affectation,
and a miserable inconsistency? Is not that, in plain English, to receive
with dry eyes the news of the deaths of those for whose sake our country
is a name so dear to us, and, at the same time, to shed tears for those
for whose sake our country is not a name so dear to us?"
But this formidable assailant is least resistible when he attacks the
probability of the action, and the reasonableness of the plan. Every
critical reader must remark, that Addison has, with a scrupulosity almost
unexampled on the English stage, confined himself in time to a single
day, and in place to rigorous unity. The scene never changes, and the
whole action of the play passes in the great hall of Cato's house at
Utica. Much, therefore, is done in the hall, for which any other place
had been more fit; and this impropriety affords Dennis many hints of
merriment, and opportunities of triumph. The passage is long; but as such
disquisitions are not common, and the objections are skilfully formed
and vigorously urged, those who delight in critical controversy will not
think it tedious.
"Upon the departure of Portius, Sempronius makes but one soliloquy, and
immediately in comes Syphax, and then the two politicians are at it
immediately. They lay their heads together, with their snuffboxes in
their hands, as Mr. Bayes has it, and league it away. But in the midst of
that wise scene, Syphax seems to give a seasonable caution to Sempronius:
But is it true, Sempronius, that your senate
Is call'd together? Gods! thou must be cautious;
Cato has piercing eyes.'
"There is a great deal of caution shown indeed, in meeting in a
governor's own hall to carry on their plot against him. Whatever opinion
they have of his eyes, I suppose they had none of his ears, or they would
never have talked at this foolish rate so near:
'Gods! thou must be cautious.'
Oh! yes, very cautious, for if Cato should overhear you, and turn you off
for politicians, Caesar would never take you; no, Caesar would never take
"When Cato, act the second, turns the senators out of the hall, upon
pretence of acquainting Juba with the result of their debates, he appears
to me to do a thing which is neither reasonable nor civil. Juba might
certainly have better been made acquainted with the result of that debate
in some private apartment of the palace. But the poet was driven upon
this absurdity to make way for another; and that is, to give Juba an
opportunity to demand Marcia of her father. But the quarrel and rage of
Juba and Syphax, in the same act; the invectives of Syphax against the
Romans and Cato; the advice that he gives Juba, in her father's hall, to
bear away Marcia by force; and his brutal and clamorous rage upon his
refusal, and at a time when Cato was scarcely out of sight, and, perhaps,
not out of hearing, at least some of his guards or domesticks must
necessarily be supposed to be within hearing; is a thing that is so far
from being probable, that it is hardly possible.
"Sempronius, in the second act, comes back once more in the same morning
to the governor's hall, to carry on the conspiracy with Syphax against
the governor, his country, and his family; which is so stupid, that it is
below the wisdom of the O--'s, the Mac's, and the Teague's; even Eustace
Cummins himself would never have gone to Justice-hall to have conspired
against the government. If officers at Portsmouth should lay their heads
together, in order to the carrying off J---- G----'s niece or
daughter, would they meet in J--- G---'s hall, to carry on that
conspiracy? There would be no necessity for their meeting there, at least
till they came to the execution of their plot, because there would be
other places to meet in. There would be no probability that they
should meet there, because there would be places more private and more
commodious. Now there ought to be nothing in a tragical action but what
is necessary or probable.
"But treason is not the only thing that is carried on in this hall; that,
and love, and philosophy, take their turns in it, without any manner
of necessity or probability occasioned by the action, as duly and as
regularly, without interrupting one another, as if there were a triple
league between them, and a mutual agreement that each should give place
to, and make way for the other, in a due and orderly succession.
"We now come to the third act. Sempronius, in this act, comes into the
governor's hall, with the leaders of the mutiny; but, as soon as Cato
is gone, Sempronius, who but just before had acted like an unparalleled
knave, discovers himself, like an egregious fool, to be an accomplice in
Know, villains, when such paltry slaves presume
To mix in treason, if the plot succeeds,
They're thrown neglected by; but, if it fails,
They're sure to die like dogs, as you shall do.
Here, take these factious monsters, drag them forth
To sudden death.'--
"'Tis true, indeed, the second leader says, there are none there but
friends; but is that possible at such a juncture? Can a parcel of rogues
attempt to assassinate the governor of a town of war, in his own house,
in mid-day, and, after they are discovered, and defeated, can there
be none near them but friends? Is it not plain, from these words of
'Here, take these factious monsters, drag them forth
To sudden death'--
and from the entrance of the guards upon the word of command, that
those guards were within ear-shot? Behold Sempronius, then, palpably
discovered. How comes it to pass, then, that instead of being hanged
up with the rest, he remains secure in the governor's hall, and there
carries on his conspiracy against the government, the third time in the
same day, with his old comrade Syphax, who enters at the same time that
the guards are carrying away the leaders, big with the news of the defeat
of Sempronius; though where he had his intelligence so soon is difficult
to imagine? And now the reader may expect a very extraordinary scene:
there is not abundance of spirit indeed, nor a great deal of passion, but
there is wisdom more than enough to supply all defects.
Still there remains an after-game to play:
My troops are mounted, their Numidian steeds
Snuff up the winds, and long to scour the desert.
Let but Sempronius lead us in our flight,
We'll force the gate, where Marcus keeps his guard,
And hew down all that would oppose our passage;
A day will bring us into Caesar's camp.
'_Semp_. Confusion! I have fail'd of half my purpose;
Marcia, the charming Marcia's left behind.'
"Well! but though he tells us the half-purpose that he has failed of, he
does not tell us the half that he has carried. But what does he mean by,
'Marcia, the charming Marcia's left behind?'
He is now in her own house; and we have neither seen her, nor heard of
her, any where else since the play began. But now let us hear Syphax:
'What hinders then, but that thou find her out,
And hurry her away by manly force?'
But what does old Syphax mean by finding her out? They talk as if she
were as hard to be found as a hare in a frosty morning.
'_Semp_. But how to gain admission?'
Oh! she is found out then, it seems--
But how to gain admission! for access
Is giv'n to none, but Juba and her brothers.'
But, raillery apart, why access to Juba? For he was owned and received
as a lover neither by the father nor by the daughter. Well! but let
that pass. Syphax puts Sempronius out of pain immediately; and, being
a Numidian, abounding in wiles, supplies him with a stratagem for
admission, that, I believe, is a non-pareille.
'_Syph_. Thou shalt have Juba's dress, and Juba's guards;
The doors will open when Numidia's prince
Seems to appear before them.'
"Sempronius is, it seems, to pass for Juba in full day at Cato's house,
where they were both so very well known, by having Juba's dress and his
guards: as if one of the marshals of France could pass for the duke of
Bavaria, at noonday, at Versailles, by having his dress and liveries. But
how does Syphax pretend to help Sempronius to young Juba's dress? Does he
serve him in a double capacity, as general and master of his wardrobe?
But why Juba's guards? For the devil of any guards has Juba appeared with
yet. Well! though this is a mighty politick invention, yet, methinks,
they might have done without it: for, since the advice that Syphax gave
to Sempronius was,
'To hurry her away by manly force,'
in my opinion, the shortest and likeliest way of coming at the lady
was by demolishing, instead of putting on an impertinent disguise to
circumvent two or three slaves. But Sempronius, it seems, is of another
opinion. He extols to the skies the invention of old Syphax:
'_Semp_. Heav'us! what a thought was there!'
"Now I appeal to the reader, if I have not been as good as my word. Did I
not tell him, that I would lay before him a very wise scene?
"But now let us lay before the reader that part of the scenery of the
fourth act, which may show the absurdities which the author has run
into, through the indiscreet observance of the unity of place. I do not
remember that Aristotle has said any thing expressly concerning the unity
of place. 'Tis true, implicitly he has said enough in the rules which he
has laid down for the chorus. For, by making the chorus an essential part
of tragedy, and by bringing it on the stage immediately after the opening
of the scene, and retaining it there till the very catastrophe, he has so
determined and fixed the place of action, that it was impossible for an
author on the Grecian stage to break through that unity. I am of opinion,
that if a modern tragick poet can preserve the unity of place, without
destroying the probability of the incidents, 'tis always best for him
to do it; because, by the preservation of that unity, as we have taken
notice above, he adds grace, and clearness, and comeliness, to the
representation. But since there are no express rules about it, and we are
under no compulsion to keep it, since we have no chorus, as the Grecian
poet had; if it cannot be preserved, without rendering the greater
part of the incidents unreasonable and absurd, and, perhaps, sometimes
monstrous, 'tis certainly better to break it.
"Now comes bully Sempronius, comically accoutred and equipped with his
Numidian dress and his Numidian guards. Let the reader attend to him with
all his ears; for the words of the wise are precious:
'_Semp_. The deer is lodg'd, I've track'd her to her covert.'
"Now I would fain know why this deer is said to be lodged, since we have
not heard one word, since the play began, of her being at all out of
harbour; and if we consider the discourse with which she and Lucia begin
the act, we have reason to believe that they had hardly been talking
of such matters in the street. However, to pleasure Sempronius, let us
suppose, for once, that the deer is lodged:
'The deer is lodg'd, I've track'd her to her covert.'
"If he had seen her in the open field, what occasion had he to track her,
when he had so many Numidian dogs at his heels, which, with one halloo,
he might have set upon her haunches? If he did not see her in the open
field, how could he possibly track her? If he had seen her in the street,
why did he not set upon her in the street, since through the street she
must be carried at last? Now here, instead of having his thoughts upon
his business, and upon the present danger; instead of meditating and
contriving how he shall pass with his mistress through the southern gate,
where her brother Marcus is upon the guard, and where she would certainly
prove an impediment to him, which is the Roman word for the baggage;
instead of doing this, Sempronius is entertaining himself with whimseys:
'_Semp_. How will the young Numidian rave to see
His mistress lost! If aught could glad my soul,
Beyond th' enjoyment of so bright a prize,
'Twould be to torture that young gay barbarian.
But hark! what noise? Death to my hopes! 'tis he,
'Tis Juba's self! There is but one way left!
He must be murder'd, and a passage cut
Through those his guards.'
"Pray, what are 'those his guards?' I thought, at present, that Juba's
guards had been Sempronius's tools, and had been dangling after his
"But now let us sum up all these absurdities together. Sempronius goes at
noonday, in Juba's clothes, and with Juba's guards, to Cato's palace,
in order to pass for Juba, in a place where they were both so very well
known: he meets Juba there, and resolves to murder him with his own
guards. Upon the guards appearing a little bashful, he threatens them:
'Hah! dastards, do you tremble!
Or act like men; or, by yon azure heav'n!'--
But the guards still remaining restive, Sempronius himself attacks Juba,
while each of the guards is representing Mr. Spectator's sign of the
Gaper, awed, it seems, and terrified by Sempronius's threats. Juba kills
Sempronius, and takes his own army prisoners, and carries them in triumph
away to Cato. Now, I would fain know, if any part of Mr. Bayes's tragedy
is so full of absurdity as this?
"Upon hearing the clash of swords, Lucia and Marcia come in. The question
is, why no men come in upon hearing the noise of swords in the governor's
hall? Where was the governor himself? Where were his guards? Where were
his servants? Such an attempt as this, so near the person of a governor
of a place of war, was enough to alarm the whole garrison: and yet, for
almost half an hour after Sempronius was killed, we find none of those
appear, who were the likeliest in the world to be alarmed; and the noise
of swords is made to draw only two poor women thither, who were most
certain to run away from it. Upon Lucia and Marcia's coming in, Lucia
appears in all the symptoms of an hysterical gentlewoman:
'_Luc_. Sure 'twas the clash of swords! my troubl'd heart
Is so cast down, and sunk amidst its sorrows,
It throbs with fear, and aches at ev'ry sound!'
And immediately her old whimsey returns upon her:
'O Marcia, should thy brothers, for my sake--
die away with horrour at the thought.'
She fancies that there can be no cutting of throats, but it must be for
her. If this is tragical, I would fain know what is comical. Well! upon
this they spy the body of Sempronius; and Marcia, deluded by the habit,
it seems, takes him for Juba; for says she,
'The face is muffl'd up within the garment.'
"Now, how a man could fight, and fall with his face muffled up in his
garment, is, I think, a little hard to conceive! Besides, Juba, before he
killed him, knew him to be Sempronius. It was not by his garment that he
knew this; it was by his face then; his face, therefore, was not muffled.
Upon seeing this man with the muffled face, Marcia falls a raving; and,
owning her passion for the supposed defunct, begins to make his funeral
oration. Upon which Juba enters listening, I suppose on tiptoe; for I
cannot imagine how any one can enter listening in any other posture. I
would fain know how it came to pass, that during all this time he had
sent nobody, no, not so much as a candle-snuffer, to take away the dead
body of Sempronius. Well! but let us regard him listening. Having left
his apprehension behind him, he, at first, applies what Marcia says to
Sempronius. But finding at last, with much ado, that he himself is the
happy man, he quits his eve-dropping, and discovers himself just time
enough to prevent his being cuckolded by a dead man, of whom the moment
before he had appeared so jealous; and greedily intercepts the bliss
which was fondly designed for one who could not be the better for it. But
here I must ask a question: how comes Juba to listen here, who had not
listened before throughout the play? Or how comes he to be the only
person of this tragedy who listens, when love and treason were so often
talked in so publick a place as a hall? I am afraid the author was driven
upon all these absurdities only to introduce this miserable mistake of
Marcia; which, after all, is much below the dignity of tragedy, as any
thing is which is the effect or result of trick.
"But let us come to the scenery of the fifth act, Cato appears first upon
the scene, sitting in a thoughtful posture; in his hand Plato's treatise
on the Immortality of the Soul, a drawn sword on the table by him. Now
let us consider the place in which this sight is presented to us. The
place, forsooth, is a long hall. Let us suppose, that any one should
place himself in this posture, in the midst of one of our halls in
London; that he should appear solus, in a sullen posture, a drawn sword
on the table by him; in his hand Plato's treatise on the Immortality of
the Soul, translated lately by Bernard Lintot: I desire the reader to
consider, whether such a person as this would pass, with them who beheld
him, for a great patriot, a great philosopher, or a general, or for some
whimsical person who fancied himself all these? and whether the people,
who belonged to the family, would think that such a person had a design
upon their midriffs or his own?
"In short, that Cato should sit long enough, in the aforesaid posture,
in the midst of this large hall, to read over Plato's treatise on the
Immortality of the Soul, which is a lecture of two long hours; that he
should propose to himself to be private there upon that occasion; that he
should be angry with his son for intruding there; then, that he should
leave this hall upon the pretence of sleep, give himself the mortal wound
in his bedchamber, and then be brought back into that hall to expire,
purely to show his good-breeding, and save his friends the trouble of
coming up to his bedchamber; all this appears to me to be improbable,
Such is the censure of Dennis. There is, as Dryden expresses it, perhaps
"too much horseplay in his raillery;" but if his jests are coarse, his
arguments are strong. Yet, as we love better to be pleased than to be
taught, Cato is read, and the critick is neglected.
Flushed with consciousness of these detections of absurdity in the
conduct, he afterwards attacked the sentiments of Cato; but he then
amused himself with petty cavils, and minute objections.
Of Addison's smaller poems, no particular mention is necessary; they have
little that can employ or require a critick. The parallel of the princes
and gods, in his verses to Kneller, is often happy, but is too well known
to be quoted.
His translations, so far as I have compared them, want the exactness of
a scholar. That he understood his authors cannot be doubted; but his
versions will not teach others to understand them, being too licentiously
paraphrastical. They are, however, for the most part, smooth and easy;
and, what is the first excellence of a translator, such as may be read
with pleasure by those who do not know the originals.
His poetry is polished and pure; the product of a mind too judicious to
commit faults, but not sufficiently vigorous to attain excellence. He has
sometimes a striking line, or a shining paragraph; but, in the whole, he
is warm rather than fervid, and shows more dexterity than strength. He
was, however, one of our earliest examples of correctness.
The versification which he had learned from Dryden, he debased rather
than refined. His rhymes are often dissonant; in his Georgick he admits
broken lines. He uses both triplets and alexandrines, but triplets more
frequently in his translations than his other works. The mere structure
of verses seems never to have engaged much of his care. But his lines are
very smooth in Rosamond, and, too smooth in Cato.
Addison is now to be considered as a critick; a name which the present
generation is scarcely willing to allow him. His criticism is condemned
as tentative or experimental, rather than scientifick; and he is
considered as deciding by taste rather than by principles.
It is not uncommon, for those who have grown wise by the labour of
others, to add a little of their own, and overlook their masters. Addison
is now despised by some who, perhaps, would never have seen his defects,
but by the lights which he afforded them. That he always wrote as
he would think it necessary to write now, cannot be affirmed; his
instructions were such as the character of his readers made propers That
general knowledge which now circulates in common talk, was in his time
rarely to be found. Men not professing learning were not ashamed of
ignorance; and, in the female world, any acquaintance with books was
distinguished only to be censured. His purpose was to infuse literary
curiosity, by gentle and unsuspected conveyance, into the gay, the idle,
and the wealthy; he, therefore, presented knowledge in the most alluring
form, not lofty and austere, but accessible and familiar. When he showed
them their defects, he showed them, likewise, that they might be easily
supplied. His, attempt succeeded; inquiry was awakened, and comprehension
expanded. An emulation of intellectual elegance was excited, and, from
his time to our own, life has been gradually exalted, and conversation
purified and enlarged.
Dryden had, not many years before, scattered criticism, over his prefaces
with very little parsimony; but, though he sometimes condescended to be
somewhat familiar, his manner was in general too scholastick for those
who had yet their rudiments to learn, and found it not easy to understand
their master. His observations were framed rather for those that were
learning to write, than for those that read only to talk.
An instructer like Addison was now wanting, whose remarks being
superficial, might be easily understood, and being just, might prepare
the mind for more attainments.
Had he presented Paradise Lost to the publick with all the pomp of system
and severity of science, the criticism would, perhaps, have been admired,
and the poem still have been neglected; but, by the blandishments of
gentleness and facility, he has made Milton an universal favourite, with
whom readers of every class think it necessary to be pleased.
He descended, now and then, to lower disquisitions; and, by a serious
display of the beauties of Chevy-Chase, exposed himself to the ridicule
of Wagstaffe, who bestowed a like pompous character on Tom Thumb; and to
the contempt of Dennis, who, considering the fundamental position of his
criticism, that Chevy-Chase pleases, and ought to please, because it is
natural, observes, "that there is a way of deviating from nature, by
bombast or tumour, which soars above nature, and enlarges images beyond
their real bulk; by affectation, which forsakes nature in quest of
something unsuitable; and by imbecility, which degrades nature by
faintness and diminution, by obscuring its appearances, and weakening
its effects." In Chevy-Chase there is not much of either bombast or
affectation; but there is chill and lifeless imbecility. The story cannot
possibly be told in a manner that shall make less impression on the mind.
Before the profound observers of the present race repose too securely on
the consciousness of their superiority to Addison, let them consider
his Remarks on Ovid, in which may be found specimens of criticism
sufficiently subtile and refined: let them peruse, likewise, his essays
on Wit, and on the Pleasures of Imagination, in which he founds art
on the base of nature, and draws the principles of invention from
dispositions inherent in the mind of man with skill and elegance,
such as his contemners will not easily attain. As a describer of life and
manners, he must be allowed to stand, perhaps, the first of the first
rank. His humour, which, as Steele observes, is peculiar to himself, is
so happily diffused as to give the grace of novelty to domestick scenes
and daily occurrences. He never "outsteps the modesty of nature," nor
raises merriment or wonder by the violation of truth. His figures neither
divert by distortion, nor amaze by aggravation. He copies life with so
much fidelity, that he can be hardly said to invent; yet his exhibitions
have an air so much original, that it is difficult to suppose them not
merely the product of imagination.
As a teacher of wisdom, he may be confidently followed. His religion has
nothing in it enthusiastick or superstitious: he appears neither weakly
credulous, nor wantonly skeptical; his morality is neither dangerously
lax, nor impracticably rigid. All the enchantment of fancy, and all the
cogency of argument, are employed to recommend to the reader his real
interest, the care of pleasing the author of his being. Truth is shown
sometimes as the phantom of a vision; sometimes appears half-veiled in an
allegory; sometimes attracts regard in the robes of fancy, and sometimes
steps forth in the confidence of reason. She wears a thousand dresses,
and in all is pleasing.
"Mille habet ornatus, mille decenter habet."
His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not formal,
on light occasions not grovelling, pure without scrupulosity, and exact
without apparent elaboration; always equable, and always easy, without
glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never deviates from his
track to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious ornaments, and tries no
hazardous innovations. His page is always luminous, but never blazes in
It was, apparently, his principal endeavour to avoid all harshness
and severity of diction; he is, therefore, sometimes verbose in his
transitions and connexions, and sometimes descends too much to the
language of conversation; yet if his language had been less idiomatical,
it might have lost somewhat of its genuine Anglicism. What he
attempted, he performed; he is never feeble, and he did not wish to be
energetick; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences
have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: his periods, though
not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever wishes to attain an
English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious,
must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.
[Footnote 154: Mr. Tyers says, he was actually laid out for dead, as soon
as he was born. Addisoniana, ii. 218.
A writer, who signs himself T.J. informed Dr. Birch, (Gen. Dict. i. 62.)
that Mr. Addison's mother was Jane Gulstone, a circumstance that should
not have been omitted. Dr. Launcelot Addison had by his wife six
children: 1. Jane, born April 23,1671. 2. Joseph, 1st May, 1672. 3.
Gulstone, in April, 1673. 4. Dorothy, in May, 1674. 5. Anne, in April,
1676; and 6. Launcelot, in 1680. Both Gulstone and Launcelot, who was a
fellow of Magdalen college, Oxford, were reputed to be very well skilled
in the classicks, and in polite literature. Dr. Addison's living at
Milston was 120_l_. per annum; and after his death his son Joseph was
sued for dilapidations by the next incumbent. The writer abovementioned
informed Dr. Birch, that "there was a tradition at Milston, that when at
school in the country, (probably at Ambrosebury,) having committed some
slight fault, he was so afraid of being corrected for it, that he ran
away from his father's house, and fled into the fields, where he lived
upon fruits, and took up his lodging in a hollow tree, till, upon the
publication of a reward to whoever should find him, he was discovered and
restored to his parents." M.]
[Footnote 155: "At the Charter-house (says Oldmixon, who was personally
acquainted with Addison, and as a zealous whig, probably encouraged by
him) he made acquaintance with two persons, for whom he had ever after an
entire friendship, Stephen Clay, esq. of the Inner Temple, author of the
epistle in verse, from the elector of Bavaria to the French king after
the battle of Ramilies; and sir Richard Steele, whom he served both with
his pen and purse." Hist. of England, xi. 632. M.]
[Footnote 156: Spence.]
[Footnote 157: This fact was communicated to Johnson, in my hearing, by a
person of unquestionable veracity, but whose name I am not at liberty to
mention. He had it, as he told us, from lady Primrose, to whom Steele
related it with tears in his eyes. The late Dr. Stinton confirmed it to
me, by saying, that he had heard it from Mr. Hooke, author of the Roman
History; and he, from Mr. Pope. H.
See in Steele's Epistolary Correspondence, 1809, vol. i. pp. 208, 356,
this transaction somewhat differently related. N.
The compiler of Addisoniana is of opinion, that Addison's conduct on
this occasion was dictated by the kindest motives; and that the step
apparently so severe, was designed to awaken him, if possible, to a sense
of the impropriety of his mode and habits of life. ED.]
[Footnote 158: He took the degree of M.A. Feb. 14, 1693. N.]
[Footnote 159: A letter which I found among Dr. Johnson's papers, dated
in January, 1784, from a lady in Wiltshire, contains a discovery of some
importance in literary history, viz. that by the initials H.S. prefixed
to the poem, we are not to understand the famous Dr. Henry Sacheverell,
whose trial is the most remarkable incident in his life. The information
thus communicated is, that the verses in question were not an address to
the famous Dr. Sacheverell, but to a very ingenious gentleman of the same
name, who died young, supposed to be a Manksman, for that he wrote the
history of the Isle of Man. That this person left his papers to Mr.
Addison, and had formed a plan of a tragedy upon the death of Socrates,
The lady says, she had this information from a Mr. Stephens, who was a
fellow of Merton college, a contemporary and intimate with Mr. Addison in
Oxford, who died near fifty years ago, a prebendary of Winchester. H.]
[Footnote 160: Spence.]
[Footnote 161: A writer already mentioned, J.P. (Gen. Dict, _ut supra_,)
asserts that his acquaintance with Montague commenced at Oxford: but for
this there is no foundation. Mr. Montague was bred at Trinity college,
[Footnote 162: Lord Somers, on this poem being presented to him,
according to Tickell, sent to Addison to desire his acquaintance.
According to Oldmixon, he was introduced to him by Tonson. M.]
[Footnote 163: Spence.]
[Footnote 164: See Swift's libel on Dr. Delany. Addison's distress for
money commenced with the death of king William, which happened in March,
1702. In June, 1703, he was at Rotterdam, and seems then to have done
with his _squire_: for in that month the duke of Somerset wrote a letter
to old Jacob Tonson, (of which I have a copy,) proposing that Addison
should be tutor to his son, (who was then going abroad.) "Neither
lodging, diet, or travelling," says the duke, "shall cost him sixpence:
and over and above that, my son shall present him, at the year's end,
with a hundred guineas, as long as he is pleased to continue in that
service." Mr. Addison declined this _magnificent_ offer in these words,
as appears from another letter of the duke's to Tonson: "As for the
recompence that is proposed to me, I must confess I can by no means see
my account in it." M.]
[Footnote 165: In this letter he uses the phrase _classick ground_, which
has since become so common, but never had been employed before: it was
ridiculed by some of his contemporary writers (I forget which) as very
quaint and affected. M.]
[Footnote 166: It is incorrect that Addison's stay in foreign countries
was but short. He went to travel in 1700, and did not return till the
latter end of 1703; so that he was abroad near four years. M.]
[Footnote 167: Addison's father, who was then dean of Lichfield, died in
April, 1703; a circumstance which should have been mentioned on his tomb
at Lichfield: he is said to have been seventy-one.]
[Footnote 168: Rosamond was first exhibited, March 4th, 1707, and, after
three representations, was laid aside. M.]
[Footnote 169: Thomas _earl_ of Wharton was constituted lord lieutenant
of Ireland Dec. 4, 1708, and went there in April, 1709. He was not made a
_marquis_ till Dec. 1714. M.]
[Footnote 170: The first number of the Tatler was published April 12,
1709. The last (271) Jan. 2, 1710-11. The first number of the Spectator
appeared March 1, 1710-11, and N°. 555, which is the last of the seventh
volume, was published Dec. 6, 1712. The paper was then discontinued, and
was recommenced, June 18, 1714, when N°. 556 appeared. From thence, to
N°. 635 inclusive, forms the eighth volume. M.]
[Footnote 171: This particular number of the Spectator, it is said, was
not published till twelve o'clock, that it might come out precisely at
the hour of her majesty's breakfast, and that no time might be left
for deliberating about serving it up with that meal, as usual. See the
edition of the Tatler with notes, vol. vi. No. 271, note; p. 462, Sec. N.]
[Footnote 172: Newspapers appear to have had an earlier date than here
assigned. Cleiveland, in his Character of a London Diurnal, says, "the
original sinner of this kind was Dutch; Gallo-belgicus the Protoplast,
and the Modern Mercuries but Hans en kelders." Some intelligence given by
Mercurius Gallo-belgicus is mentioned in Carew's Survey of Cornwall, p.
126, originally published in 1602. These vehicles of information are
often mentioned in the plays of James and Charles the first. R.
See Idler, Nº. 7, and note; and Idler, Nº. 40, and note. Ed.]
[Footnote 173: The errors in this account are explained at considerable
length in the preface to the Spectator, prefixed to the edition in the
British Essayists. The original delineation of sir Roger undoubtedly
belongs to Steele.
See, however, Addisoniana, vol. i.]
[Footnote 174: That this calculation is not exaggerated, that it is even
much below the real number, see the notes on the Taller, edit. 1786, vol.
vi. 452. N--See likewise prefatory notice to the Rambler, vol. ii. p.
viii. of the present edition. ED.]
[Footnote 175: Tickell says, "he took up a design of writing a play upon
this subject when he was at the university, and even attempted something
in it then, though not a line as it now stands. The work was performed by
him in his travels, and retouched in England, without any formed design
of bringing it on the stage." Cibber (Apol. 377.) says, that in 1704 he
had the pleasure of reading the first four acts of Cato (which were all
that were then written) privately with sir Richard Steele; and Steele
told him they were written in Italy. M.]
[Footnote 176: The story about Hughes was first told by Oldmixon, in his
Art of Criticism, 1728. M.]
[Footnote 177: Spence.]
[Footnote 178: Alluding to the duke of Marlborough, at that time
suspected of an ambitious aim to obtain the post of general in chief for
[Footnote 179: Spence.]
[Footnote 180: The Guardian was published in the interval between the
Spectator's being laid down and taken up again. The first number was
published March 12, 1713; and the last appeared October 1st, 1713. M.]
[Footnote 181: From a tory song in vogue at the time, the burden whereof
And he, that will this health deny,
Down among the dead men let him lie.
[Footnote 182: Addison wrote twenty-three papers out of forty-five, viz.
Numbs. 556, 557, 558, 559, 561, 562. 565. 567, 568, 569. 571. 574, 575.
579, 580. 582,583, 584, 585. 590. 592. 598. 600; so that he produced more
than one half.]
[Footnote 183: When lord Sunderland was appointed lord lieutenant of
Ireland, in 1714, Addison was appointed his secretary. Johnson has
omitted another step in his promotions. He was, in 1715, made a lord of
[Footnote 184: August 2.]
[Footnote 185: Spence.]
[Footnote 186: It has been said, that Addison first discovered his
addresses to the countess of Warwick would not be unacceptable, from the
manner of her receiving such an article in the newspapers, of his own
inserting, at which, when he read it to her, he affected to be much
astonished. Many anecdotes are on record of Addison's tavern resorts when
Holland-house was rendered disagreeable by the haughty caprices of his
aristocratic bride. When he had suffered any vexation from her, he would
propose to withdraw the club from Button's, who had been a servant in the
countess's family. ED.]
[Footnote 187: Spence.]
[Footnote 188: Spence.]
[Footnote 189: This is inaccurately stated. Pope does not mention the
conjecture of Tonson at all. Spence himself has mentioned it from
Tonson's own information; for he has subscribed the name of Tonson to the
paragraph in question, according to his constant practice of stating the
name of his informer. M.]
[Footnote 190: Spence.]
[Footnote 191: This account of Addison's death is from Dr. Young, who
calls lord Warwick a youth finely accomplished; and does not give the
least ground for the representation in the text, that he was of irregular
life, and that this was a last effort of Addison's to reclaim him.
M.--Dr. Young was far too much of a courtier to see the vices of a
peer, but even his guarded statement does give ground for Dr. Johnson's
conclusion. His words are, "finely accomplished, but not above being the
better for good impressions from a dying friend." ED.]
[Footnote 192: Who died at Bilton, in Warwickshire, at a very advanced
age, in 1797. See Gent. Mag. vol. lxvii. p. 256. 385. N.]
[Footnote 193: Spence.]
[Footnote 194: Tonson and Spence.]
[Footnote 195: Spence.]
[Footnote 196: Spence.]
[Footnote 197: Spence.]
[Footnote 198: "Paint means," says Dr. Warton, "express, or describe
[Footnote 199: But, according to Dr. Warton, "ought not to have
[Footnote 200: Spence.]
[Footnote 201: The person meant by the initials, J.G. is sir John Gibson,
lieutenant-governor of Portsmouth in the year 1710, and afterwards. He
was much beloved in the army, and by the common soldiers called Johnny
[Footnote 202: Taste must decide. WARTON.]
[Footnote 203: Far, in Dr. Warton's opinion, beyond Dryden.]
[Footnote 204: But, says Dr. Warton, he sometimes is so; and, in another
manuscript note, he adds, often so.]
John Hughes, the son of a citizen of London, and of Anne Burgess, of an
ancient family in Wiltshire, was born at Marlborough, July 29, 1677. He
was educated at a private school; and though his advances in literature
are in the Biographia very ostentatiously displayed, the name of his
master is somewhat ungratefully concealed.
At nineteen he drew the plan of a tragedy; and paraphrased, rather too
diffusely, the ode of Horace which begins "Integer vitas." To poetry
he added the science of musick, in which he seems to have attained
considerable skill, together with the practice of design, or rudiments of
His studies did not withdraw him wholly from business, nor did business
hinder him from study. He had a place in the office of ordnance; and was
secretary to several commissions for purchasing lands necessary to secure
the royal docks at Chatham and Portsmouth; yet found time to acquaint
himself with modern languages.
In 1697 he published a poem on the Peace of Ryswick: and, in 1699,
another piece, called the Court of Neptune, on the return of king
William, which he addressed to Mr. Montague, the general patron of the
followers of the muses. The same year he produced a song on the duke of
He did not confine himself to poetry, but cultivated other kinds of
writing with great success; and about this time showed his knowledge of
human nature by an essay on the Pleasure of being deceived. In 1702, he
published, on the death of king William, a Pindarick ode, called the
House of Nassau; and wrote another paraphrase on the "Otium Divos" of
In 1703, his ode on Musick was performed at Stationers' hall; and he
wrote afterwards six cantatas, which were set to musick by the greatest
master of that time, and seem intended to oppose or exclude the Italian
opera, an exotick and irrational entertainment, which has been always
combated, and always has prevailed.
His reputation was now so far advanced, that the publick began to pay
reverence to his name; and he was solicited to prefix a preface to the
translation of Boccalini, a writer whose satirical vein cost him his life
in Italy, but who never, I believe, found many readers in this country,
even though introduced by such powerful recommendation.
He translated Fontenelle's Dialogues of the Dead; and his version was,
perhaps, read at that time, but is now neglected; for by a book not
necessary, and owing its reputation wholly to its turn of diction, little
notice can be gained but from those who can enjoy the graces of the
original. To the dialogues of Fontenelle he added two composed by
himself; and, though not only an honest but a pious man, dedicated his
work to the earl of Wharton. He judged skilfully enough of his own
interest; for Wharton, when he went lord lieutenant to Ireland, offered
to take Hughes with him, and establish him; but Hughes, having hopes or
promises from another man in power, of some provision more suitable to
his inclination, declined Wharton's offer, and obtained nothing from the
He translated the Miser of Moliere, which he never offered to the stage;
and occasionally amused himself with making versions of favourite scenes
in other plays.
Being now received as a wit among the wits, he paid his contributions
to literary undertakings, and assisted both the Tatler, Spectator, and
Guardian. In 1712, he translated Vertot's History of the Revolution of
Portugal; produced an Ode to the Creator of the World, from the Fragments
of Orpheus; and brought upon the stage an opera, called Calypso and
Telemachus, intended to show that the English language might be very
happily adapted to musick. This was impudently opposed by those who
were employed in the Italian opera; and, what cannot be told without
indignation, the intruders had such interest with the duke of Shrewsbury,
then lord chamberlain, who had married an Italian, as to obtain an
obstruction of the profits, though not an inhibition of the performance.
There was, at this time, a project formed by Tonson for a translation of
the Pharsalia by several hands; and Hughes englished the tenth book.
But this design, as must often happen where the concurrence of many
is necessary, fell to the ground; and the whole work was afterwards
performed by Rowe.
His acquaintance with the great writers of his time appears to have been
very general; but of his intimacy with Addison there is a remarkable
proof. It is told, on good authority, that Cato was finished and played
by his persuasion. It had long wanted the last act, which he was desired
by Addison to supply. If the request was sincere, it proceeded from an
opinion, whatever it was, that did not last long; for when Hughes came
in a week to show him his first attempt, he found half an act written by
He afterwards published the works of Spenser, with his life, a glossary,
and a discourse on allegorical poetry; a work for which he was well
qualified as a judge of the beauties of writing, but, perhaps, wanted an
antiquary's knowledge of the obsolete words. He did not much revive
the curiosity of the publick; for near thirty years elapsed before his
edition was reprinted. The same year produced his Apollo and Daphne, of
which the success was very earnestly promoted by Steele, who, when the
rage of party did not misguide him, seems to have been a man of boundless
Hughes had hitherto suffered the mortifications of a narrow fortune;
but, in 1717, the lord chancellor Cowper set him at ease, by making him
secretary to the commissions of the peace; in which he afterwards, by a
particular request, desired his successor, lord Parker, to continue him.
He had now affluence; but such is human life, that he had it when his
declining health could neither allow him long possession, nor quick
His last work was his tragedy, the Siege of Damascus, after which, a
Siege became a popular title. This play, which still continues on the
stage, and of which it is unnecessary to add a private voice to such
continuance of approbation, is not acted or printed according to the
author's original draught, or his settled intention. He had made Phocyas
apostatize from his religion; after which the abhorrence of Eudocia would
have been reasonable, his misery would have been just, and the horrours
of his repentance exemplary. The players, however, required, that the
guilt of Phocyas should terminate in desertion to the enemy; and Hughes,
unwilling that his relations should lose the benefit of his work,
complied with the alteration.
He was now weak with a lingering consumption, and not able to attend
the rehearsal; yet was so vigorous in his faculties, that only ten days
before his death he wrote the dedication to his patron lord Cowper. On
February 17, 1719-20, the play was represented, and the author died.
He lived to hear that it was well received; but paid no regard to
the intelligence, being then wholly employed in the meditations of a
A man of his character was, undoubtedly, regretted; and Steele devoted
an essay, in the paper called the Theatre, to the memory of his virtues.
His life is written in the Biographia with some degree of favourable
partiality; and an account of him is prefixed to his works by his
relation, the late Mr. Buncombe, a man whose blameless elegance deserved
the same respect.
The character of his genius I shall transcribe from the correspondence of
Swift and Pope.
"A month ago," says Swift, "were sent me over, by a friend of mine, the
works of John Hughes, esquire. They are in prose and verse. I never heard
of the man in my life, yet I find your name as a subscriber. He is too
grave a poet for me; and I think among the mediocrists, in prose as well
To this Pope returns: "To answer your question as to Mr. Hughes; what he
wanted in genius, he made up as an honest man; but he was of the class
you think him."
In Spence's Collections Pope is made to speak of him with still less
respect, as having no claim to poetical reputation but from his tragedy.
[Footnote 205: He was educated in a dissenting academy, of which the
reverend Mr. Thomas Rowe was tutor; and was a fellow-student there with
Dr. Isaac Watts, Mr. Samuel Say, and other persons of eminence. In the
Hora Lyricae of Dr. Watts, is a poem to the memory of Mr. Rowe. H.]
[Footnote 206: This, Dr. Warton asserts, is very unjust censure; and in a
note in his late edition of Pope's works, asks if "the author of such a
tragedy as the Siege of Damascus was one of the _mediocribus_? Swift and
Pope seem not to recollect the value and rank of an author who could
write such a tragedy."]
DUKE OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE.
John Sheffield, descended from a long series of illustrious ancestors,
was born in 1649, the son of Edmund, earl of Mulgrave, who died in
1658. The young lord was put into the hands of a tutor, with whom he
was so little satisfied, that he got rid of him in a short time, and, at
an age not exceeding twelve years, resolved to educate himself. Such a
purpose, formed at such an age, and successfully prosecuted, delights as
it is strange, and instructs as it is real.
His literary acquisitions are more wonderful, as those years in which
they are commonly made were spent by him in the tumult of a military
life, or the gaiety of a court. When war was declared against the Dutch,
he went, at seventeen, on board the ship in which prince Rupert and
the duke of Albemarle sailed, with the command of the fleet; but, by
contrariety of winds, they were restrained from action. His zeal for the
king's service was recompensed by the command of one of the independent'
troops of horse, then raised to protect the coast.
Next year he received a summons to parliament, which, as he was then
but eighteen years old, the earl of Northumberland censured as at least
indecent, and his objection was allowed. He had a quarrel with the earl
of Rochester, which he has, perhaps, too ostentatiously related, as
Rochester's surviving sister, the lady Sandwich, is said to have told him
with very sharp reproaches.
When another Dutch war, 1672, broke out, he went again a volunteer in the
ship which the celebrated lord Ossory commanded; and there made, as he
relates, two curious remarks.
"I have observed two things, which I dare affirm, though not generally
believed. One was, that the wind of a cannon bullet, though flying never
so near, is incapable of doing the least harm; and, indeed, were it
otherwise, no man above deck would escape. The other was, that a great
shot may be sometimes avoided, even as it flies, by changing one's ground
a little; for, when the wind sometimes blew away the smoke, it was so
clear a sunshiny day, that we could easily perceive the bullets, that
were half-spent, fall into the water, and from thence bound up again
among us, which gives sufficient time for making a step or two on any
side; though, in so swift a motion, 'tis hard to judge well in what line
the bullet comes, which, if mistaken, may, by removing, cost a man his
life, instead of saving it."
His behaviour was so favourably represented by lord Ossory, that he was
advanced to the command of the Catharine, the best second-rate ship in
He afterwards raised a regiment of foot, and commanded it as colonel. The
land-forces were sent ashore by prince Rupert; and he lived in the camp
very familiarly with Schomberg. He was then appointed colonel of the old
Holland regiment, together with his own; and had the promise of a garter,
which he obtained in his twenty-fifth year. He was, likewise, made
gentleman of the bedchamber. He afterwards went into the French service,
to learn the art of war under Turenne, but staid only a short time.
Being, by the duke of Monmouth, opposed in his pretensions to the first
troop of horse-guards, he, in return, made Monmouth suspected by the
duke of York. He was not long after, when the unlucky Monmouth fell
into disgrace, recompensed with the lieutenancy of Yorkshire and the
government of Hull.
Thus rapidly did he make his way both to military and civil honours and
employments; yet, busy as he was, he did not neglect his studies, but, at
least, cultivated poetry; in which he must have been early considered as
uncommonly skilful, if it be true which is reported, that, when he was
yet not twenty years old, his recommendation advanced Dryden to the
The Moors having besieged Tangier, he was sent, 1680, with two thousand
men to its relief. A strange story is told of danger to which he was
intentionally exposed in a leaky ship, to gratify some resentful jealousy
of the king, whose health he, therefore, would never permit at his
table, till he saw himself in a safer place. His voyage was prosperously
performed in three weeks; and the Moors, without a contest, retired
In this voyage he composed the Vision; a licentious poem, such as was
fashionable in those times, with little power of invention or propriety
At his return he found the king kind, who, perhaps, had never been angry;
and he continued a wit and a courtier, as before.
At the succession of king James, to whom he was intimately known, and by
whom he thought himself beloved, he naturally expected still brighter
sunshine; but all know how soon that reign began to gather clouds. His
expectations were not disappointed; he was immediately admitted into the
privy council, and made lord chamberlain. He accepted a place in the high
commission, without knowledge, as he declared after the revolution, of
its illegality. Having few religious scruples, he attended the king to
mass, and kneeled with the rest, but had no disposition to receive
the Romish faith, or to force it upon others; for when the priests,
encouraged by his appearances of compliance, attempted to convert him,
he told them, as Burnet has recorded, that he was willing to receive
instruction, and that he had taken much pains to believe in God, who made
the world and all men in it; but that he should not be easily persuaded
"that man was quits, and made God again."
A pointed sentence is bestowed by successive transmission on the last
whom it will fit: this censure of transubstantiation, whatever be its
value, was uttered long ago by Anne Askew, one of the first sufferers
for the protestant religion, who, in the time of Henry the eighth, was
tortured in the Tower; concerning which there is reason to wonder that it
was not known to the historian of the reformation.
In the revolution he acquiesced, though he did not promote it. There
was once a design of associating him in the invitation of the prince of
Orange; but the earl of Shrewsbury discouraged the attempt, by declaring
that Mulgrave would never concur. This king William afterwards told him;
and asked what he would have done if the proposal had been made? "Sir,"
said he, "I would have discovered it to the king whom I then served." To
which king William replied, "I cannot blame you."
Finding king James irremediably excluded, he voted for the conjunctive
sovereignty, upon this principle, that he thought the titles of the
prince and his consort equal, and it would please the prince, their
protector, to have a share in the sovereignty. This vote gratified king
William; yet, either by the king's distrust or his own discontent,
he lived some years without employment. He looked on the king with
malevolence, and, if his verses or his prose may be credited, with
contempt. He was, notwithstanding this aversion or indifference, made
marquis of Normanby, 1694; but still opposed the court on some important
questions; yet, at last, he was received into the cabinet council, with a
pension of three thousand pounds.
At the accession of queen Anne, whom he is said to have courted when they
were both young, he was highly favoured. Before her coronation. 1702, she
made him lord privy seal, and, soon after, lord lieutenant of the north
Riding of Yorkshire. He was then named commissioner for treating with the
Scots about the union; and was made, next year, first, duke of Normanby,
and then of Buckinghamshire, there being suspected to be somewhere a
latent claim to the title of Buckingham.
Soon after, becoming jealous of the duke of Marlborough, he resigned the
privy seal, and joined the discontented tories in a motion, extremely
offensive to the queen, for inviting the princess Sophia to England.
The queen courted him back with an offer no less than that of the
chancellorship; which he refused. He now retired from business, and built
that house in the Park, which is now the queen's, upon ground granted by
When the ministry was changed, 1710, he was made lord chamberlain of the
household, and concurred in all transactions of that time, except that he
endeavoured to protect the Catalans. After the queen's death, he became
a constant opponent of the court; and, having no publick business, is
supposed to have amused himself by writing his two tragedies. He died
February 24, 1720-21.
He was thrice married; by his first two wives he had no children; by his
third, who was the daughter of king James, by the countess of Dorchester,
and the widow of the earl of Anglesey, he had, besides other children
that died early, a son born in 1716, who died in 1735, and put an end to
the line of Sheffield. It is observable, that the duke's three wives were
all widows. The dutchess died in 1742.
His character is not to be proposed as worthy of imitation. His religion
he may be supposed to have learned from Hobbes; and his morality was such
as naturally proceeds from loose opinions. His sentiments with respect to
women he picked up in the court of Charles; and his principles concerning
property were such as a gaming-table supplies. He was censured as
covetous, and has been defended by an instance of inattention to his
affairs; as if a man might not at once be corrupted by avarice and
idleness. He is said, however, to have had much tenderness, and to have
been very ready to apologize for his violences of passion.
He is introduced into this collection only as a poet; and, if we credit
the testimony of his contemporaries, he was a poet of no vulgar rank. But
favour and flattery are now at an end; criticism is no longer softened by
his bounties, or awed by his splendour; and, being able to take a more
steady view, discovers him to be a writer that sometimes glimmers, but
rarely shines; feebly laborious, and, at best, but pretty. His songs are
upon common topicks; he hopes, and grieves, and repents, and despairs,
and rejoices, like any other maker of little stanzas: to be great, he
hardly tries; to be gay, is hardly in his power.
In the Essay on Satire he was always supposed to have had the help of
Dryden. His Essay on Poetry is the great work for which he was praised by
Roscommon, Dryden, and Pope; and, doubtless, by many more, whose eulogies
Upon this piece he appears to have set a high value; for he was all his
life improving it by successive revisals, so that there is scarcely any
poem to be found of which the last edition differs more from the first.
Amongst other changes, mention is made of some compositions of Dryden,
which were written after the first appearance of the essay.
At the time when this work first appeared, Milton's fame was not yet
fully established, and, therefore, Tasso and Spenser were set before him.
The two last lines were these. The epick poet, says he,
Must above Milton's lofty flights prevail,
Succeed where great Torquato, and where greater Spenser, fail.
The last line in succeeding editions was shortened, and the order of
names continued; but now Milton is at last advanced to the highest place,
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